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Another Voice: Seneca Nation's interest in dialogue rejected by state

By Todd Gates

A recent Buffalo News editorial severely colors the facts surrounding the Seneca Nation’s completed payment obligations under our gaming compact, as well as the events of the past six months.

The compact was signed by the Seneca Nation and New York State in 2002. The language of the agreement has never changed in the ensuing 15 years. The compact lays out, in plain language, what is specifically required of both parties. The Seneca Nation agreed to share a portion of slot machine revenues with New York State for a prescribed period of time. According to the compact, the payments were to be made for 14 years. The Seneca Nation honored that commitment, sending more than $1 billion to Albany.

In exchange for the more than $1 billion it received, New York State was to respect and protect the Seneca Nation’s exclusive gaming rights for the 21-year duration of the compact. The state previously violated that requirement, and has threatened to do so again. Yet, The News calls on the Seneca Nation to comply “with the understanding of the original compact.” The fact is that we have complied with the compact, to the letter. New York State has not.

The editorial is similarly one-sided in portraying what has transpired since the Seneca Nation made our last required payment. In March, I had two conversations with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The governor asked me directly if I would be willing to meet with him. I said that I would, a sentiment I repeated in a letter to him on March 31. That same openness and willingness for dialogue was repeated extensively in correspondence between our respective staffs, and in many public comments over the past several months.

I also made outreach to local leaders. The mayor and City Council of Salamanca invited nation representatives to a public meeting. In comparison, the mayor of Niagara Falls said he would rather not meet with me until I met with the governor.

The Seneca Nation left every door open for productive dialogue, but the governor has refused to meet with me for six months, while regularly attacking the nation’s character in the media. He canceled meetings with me on July 27 and Aug. 22. Again, The News seems to want to blame the Seneca Nation for the fact that the elected leaders of New York State and Niagara Falls would not engage with us.

Finally, the editorial states that I “balked” when the state initiated the compact’s arbitration process earlier this month. Nothing could be further from the truth. Upon receiving the state’s notice, I immediately stated that the nation would follow the compact’s prescribed arbitration process, just as we have followed every provision of the compact for the past 15 years.

Arbitration will let the facts, not the governor’s fictional narrative nor The News’ skewed representation of the compact language, stand on their own. The Seneca Nation is ready.

Todd Gates is the president of the Seneca Nation of Indians.

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