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Senecas enact business licenses on tribal land

A law on the books of the Seneca Nation of Indians since 1988 to license all businesses on tribal lands is being enacted with a mailing to 300 business.

Businesses have been sent packets containing the executive order, the 1988 business code and instructions to complete an application and pay a fee of $150 for non-Seneca businesses. Some Seneca businesses -- yet to be notified -- must pay a fee of $25.

Seneca President Robert O. Porter signed an executive order Aug. 11 stating that the "nation's business licensing code requires any person or business engaged in a business or commercial activity within nation boundaries to obtain a Seneca Business License."

The order is in effect for the Allegany, Cattaraugus and Oil Spring reservations. It is not clear whether the law would be extended to other Seneca lands in Niagara and Erie counties.

Porter stated in a release, "All individuals or entities doing business with the nation (or any of its wholly owned entities) and who do not currently hold a license are ordered to immediately file an application for the license within 60 days" of the order.

The order further stipulates "that any individual or entity which conducts business solely with the Seneca Gaming Corp. or any of its subsidiaries shall apply within 12 months" of the order.

Seneca cigarette and gasoline retailers have been licensed for several years. The expansion of the code will include all other businesses operating on the three reservations.

Tribal Communications Director Leslie Logan said Porter was out of the area and not available to comment.

Logan said the fees are "just a reasonable cost of doing business." She said a number of Seneca retailers let their licenses lapse because they are awaiting a decision regarding the federal Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act, known as the PACT Act. This prompted officials to look at shrinking revenues.

Without advance notice from the nation, businesses began receiving packets over the weekend and officials got calls seeking answers.

City government has taken financial hits in the last year after the nation withheld host fees to the state for the cities of Salamanca, Buffalo and Niagara Falls, where tribal casinos are located.

Mayor Jeff Pond said, "The licensing requirement has resulted in many questions from the community. I urge anyone with questions to contact the nation's Business Permits Office." The number is 532-4900, Ext. 5033.

Pond said the city is "concerned about the ramifications of this nation initiative and will seek clarification about this process."

Logan said exemptions to the code would include churches or anyone engaged in religious activities; an entity that is owned by the tribe; anyone with a home business grossing less than $10,000 a year; and anyone producing Seneca crafts earning less than $10,000 a year.

Failing to comply with the code may result in a nation order to cease business and punishment in the nation's court system. If the matter cannot be resolved there, the tribe's police marshals would remove people from the business and secure the property with a padlock.

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