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ACTIVIST SEES APATHY OVER SENECAS' SUIT

When Rus Thompson came up with the idea of organizing bus trips to lobby elected leaders in Albany and Washington, D.C., about the Seneca land-claim suit over Grand Island, he thought it would catch on like wildfire among town residents.

That was nearly three months ago, and now Thompson -- who got only nine inquiries about the two trips -- said he's disappointed by what he sees as apathy on the part of his fellow islanders.

After all, he said, the five-year-old land-claim suit for ownership of the island puts residents' homes and property in jeopardy -- and even if that threat is more technical than real, the suit is still creating havoc with the town's economy.

"It totally surprised me," said Thompson, a Love Road resident and small-business owner. "People are just too complacent. (As though) it's all just going to get taken care of and we don't have to do anything about it."

The bus trips will be in limbo until enough interest is generated to fill at least one bus, Thompson said.

Town Supervisor Peter A. McMahon -- who had originally supported Thompson's idea and said he would join the bus trips -- said he can't explain why more people didn't respond. "I'm at a loss," he said.

But McMahon doesn't think the root cause is apathy about the Seneca suit in general.

"I know for a fact there are a lot more people concerned," he said. "Maybe they just don't think it will make a difference."

The land claim for the town, filed by the Seneca Nation of Indians in 1993, is based on a 1790 federal act requiring that the U.S. government approve any transactions between individual states and Indian tribes. The Senecas are disputing an 1815 tribal sale of the island to New York State, claiming that the sale was never properly ratified on the federal level.

McMahon said Grand Islanders will get a chance to learn the latest details in the Seneca suit in a cable-TV program that will be aired live on the island Tuesday night.

The one-hour TV program, to include lawyers and officials from both sides of the case, will be produced by Adelphia Cable and will air on Channel 18 at 7 p.m. Tuesday, he said.

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