You are here
NEW YORK -- A federal appeals court rejected arguments that the Oneida Tribe of Indians of New York no longer exists, saying in a split decision Monday that tribe members do not have to pay taxes on some properties including convenience stores and gas stations in Sherrill, N.Y.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made the ruling in a case that highlighted a dispute over whether Indians can be forced to pay taxes on properties that are sprinkled through an area that includes non-Indian properties.
In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals court noted the Bureau of Indian Affairs recognizes at least 32 acres of land in Madison County and that the relationship between the federal government and the Oneidas has never been terminated or abandoned by the tribe. It said the federal government never approved the alienation of the land at issue, according to the Associated Press.
As the appeals court noted, the case was the latest in a series of legal disputes over the last 150 years. The disputes involve direct descendants of the original Oneida Indian Nation, one of six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, one of the most powerful Indian tribes in the northeastern United States at the time of the American Revolution.
The Oneidas once lived on about 6 million acres in central New York State that stretched from the Pennsylvania border to the St. Lawrence River and from the shores of Lake Ontario to the western foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, the court said. The 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua recognized that the Oneida reservation covered approximately 300,000 acres, including land in Sherrill and in Madison County.
During the 1800s, much of the reservation was sold to non-members of the tribe, and some published accounts suggest that the number of Oneida Indians in the state shrank to fewer than 200 and less than 100 acres of Indian land remained unsold. Gradually, members of the tribe began repurchasing parcels, including a gasoline station, a convenience store and a textile plant in Sherrill.
In February 2000, the tribe sued the city after Sherrill began eviction proceedings because taxes went unpaid on the property. The lawsuit sought a declaration from the courts that the tribe did not have to pay taxes on land that was part of its lands. In 2001, a lower court judge ruled that the city of Sherrill could not tax or evict the Oneidas from land city lawyers had argued was given up by the Indians in the 1838 Treaty of Buffalo Creek.