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Seneca Nation Delivers Statement to UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Seneca Nation Councilor Nikki Seneca traveled to New York City to deliver a statement to the Tenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today.  This is the first time the Seneca Nation has taken issues, including treaty rights, to the international arena.

Councilor Seneca urged the members of the Permanent Forum and the international community to examine the federal and state obligations to respect and honor Native treaty rights and guarantees.  The Seneca Nation is calling for the UN Permanent Forum to provide recommendations for developing an international mechanism for resolving conflicts arising from treaty violations.

In a prepared statement Seneca said, “We join with the other distinguished delegates who have requested that the Permanent Forum continue its call for the 3rd UN Seminar on Treaties, Agreements and Other Constructive Arrangements to be held in 2012.”

The Seneca Nation’s three-page statement also called upon the Permanent Forum to encourage the United States to move forward with full adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights (UNDRIP). In December 2010 President Barack Obama announced his support of the Declaration but the United States, which to date has failed to formally adopt the document, has taken no meaningful action.

Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter said, “The UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights is a broad all-encompassing document that speaks to the many issues and concerns affecting Native people in the Western Hemisphere. The Seneca Nation looks forward to the day when the Declaration is not only adopted by the United States and all other major countries and nations, but when the goals of the Declaration are realized. For us of primary significance is enforcement of the treaties. Given our current struggles with New York State, the Seneca, along with other indigenous peoples could benefit from the backing of the world community to recognize basic human rights and to uphold the significant treaty rights of Native people.”

The Seneca Nation also stressed the need for the Permanent Forum to support development of a legal framework enabling implementation of Article 37 and Articles 20 and 21 of the UNDRIP which speaks to the interaction between treaty rights and Indigenous peoples’ right to economic development.

Councilor Seneca stated, “The right to development is a key aspect of Treaty rights. On behalf of  the Seneca Nation, I urge the United States to honor and respect its Treaty obligations with Indigenous peoples, which includes respecting the right to economic and social development and the right to develop natural resources, and to work with its Treaty partners to implement the Declaration as equals, on a Nation-to-Nation basis.”

The Seneca Nation has long referenced the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua that provides for the “free use and enjoyment of Seneca lands.” More than 215 years later, the Seneca are still challenged by New York State efforts to encroach on the Seneca’s sovereign right to regulate trade and commerce on their territories in Western New York. For nearly 25 years the State has attempted to impose and collect taxes on cigarettes sales made on reservation lands.

“The Seneca Nation is committed to economic self-sufficiency, empowerment, diversification and long-term economic development on our territories,” said Seneca. “The UN Declaration supports our drive for economic justice.”

The 1842 Buffalo Creek Treaty is frequently cited for the language that supports the Senecas’ protections from “all taxes, and assessments for roads, highways, or any other purpose…

Councilor Seneca said, “It is clear that taking our treaty arguments to the international level is the next necessary step. The Seneca Nation will continue to defend our sovereign status, defend our treaty rights, and call attention to the need for New York State and the federal government to honor our treaties. The United States is our treaty partner and it has an obligation to uphold the treaty protections. The world community must be made aware of the standing obligations and commitments to Native people.”

Last week a delegation of twenty students from the Salamanca High School attended the Model UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and delivered their own statement.

Courtney Crouse, a Seneca student at Salamanca High delivered the statement in New York City. The focus for the student group centered on the need for informed consent in the wake of major construction projects such as dams and the impacts on indigenous peoples and communities.

Courtney Crouse stated, “We would like to bring attention to the negative effects of dams on indigenous peoples. About 50 years ago, a third of our beloved homelands were flooded due to the construction of the Kinzua Dam.  The dam was built to improve flood control and water quality for various communities downstream. Many of the students here are grandchildren to the heartbroken elders that had everything taken from them. Our people fought on all levels - even submitted alternative plans, but all were rejected. We were given money and new homes as compensation to cover up the truth of what the Army Corps of Engineers had done. But no amount of money and no new homes could ever bring back what we lost. We did not just lose land.  We lost our way of life.”

In 1954 the Army Corps of Engineers undertook the building of the Kinzua Dam for the purpose of flood control protections several hundred miles downstream in Pennsylvania.  The Seneca lost 10,000 acres of prime agricultural homelands.

“Today we are still fighting,” continued Crouse. “The Seneca Nation is currently competing to gain control of the dam that flooded our homelands.  We were not informed of a pump storage project which produced electricity being attached to the dam. According to Article 32, Section 2, of the Declaration of Indigenous Rights, the U.S. was in violation of free, prior, and informed consent. On November 30, 2015, the current 50 year license will expire.  The Seneca Nation is best suited to use the dam in a positive way because we’re proposing more efficient operation, more power, and protection of the environment.”

The Seneca Nation of Indians has applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the Seneca Pumped Storage Project at the Kinzua Dam site. The pumped storage hydropower project generates 450 megawatts of electricity, and operates from the water resources from Nation’s reservoir upstream; water rights that were never conveyed to the Army Corps of Engineers or other agencies. Private energy interests have sold and profited from the hydropower production plant for 40 years without any form of compensation to the Nation. FirstEnergy Corp., headquartered in Akron, OH, currently holds the 50-year license to operate the pumped storage project.

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More About The Seneca Nation of Indians

The Seneca Nation of Indians, one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee [Iroquois] Confederacy, continues to live on its aboriginal lands in Western New York. The Senecas’ long history includes providing constitutional and governmental traditions used by founders of the United States. The Seneca Nation traditionally controlled trade and protected the Western Haudenosaunee territories as the “Keeper of the Western Door.” The Nation’s five sovereign territories comprise 31,095 acres along the Allegheny River; 22,011 acres along Cattaraugus Creek near Lake Erie known as the Cattaraugus Territory; one square mile in Cuba, called the Oil Spring Territory; 30 acres in Niagara Falls, and 9 acres in Buffalo.The Allegany Territory contains the City of Salamanca within its boundaries. Thousands of acres of land in southern New York and northern Pennsylvania were taken from the Seneca when the federal government built the Kinzua Dam.   More than 800 Seneca were forcibly evicted from their land in the early 1960s. The Nation today operates a $1.1 billion economy that employs more than 6,000 people.

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