I am an upset and concerned Grand Island, New York resident. You may or may not be aware of the current plight of Grand Island and all of its 16,000 innocent residents. We are currently defendants in a class action lawsuit alleging that the Seneca Nation of Indians owns title to our property.
I moved to the Island in the summer of 1993. A month after I closed on my home, the Seneca Nations of Indians filed a lawsuit claiming that they owned title to Grand Island. They argued that the US Government as required by the Trade and Intercourse Act never properly ratified the transfer of the land to New York State in 1815.
The immediate reaction on the Island was one of concern, title insurance companies stopped writing policies for a couple of days and the Island was abuzz with talk of the lawsuit and possible outcomes. Government officials immediately downplayed the suit as being without merit. First we heard the argument that the Seneca’s massacred the Indian tribe that originally inhabited the Island, therefore they never had rightful title. We were told that the original transfer would probably upheld since the State has faithfully made payments for the last 180 years in accordance with the transfer agreement. Then we heard that the Indians had transferred the Island to Britain before the transfer to New York State and documents had been found in Britain as evidence. The State unsuccessfully filed motions to have the case dismissed on both merits and due to the argument that the Indians could not sue the State in Federal Court.
Along the way the US Government turned its back on the innocent property owners of Grand Island by saying that they were actually going to defend the Indians in this case!!!!!!
Over the last seven years, our government leaders have led us to believe that this case would probably be dismissed without going to trial. What has become clear is that few of the original arguments seem to be “holding water” as the trial is currently scheduled for the spring of 2001 unless a settlement can be reached. What happens if a judge and/or jury that hear this case are sympathetic with the Indians and their cause? What would happen to our homes and rights as property owners? Would we actually become tenants to Indians and be liable to them for damages? What happens to a resident that encounters some form of hardship and cannot sell their property in a time of need? I have actually heard that if the Indians were given back title to the Island, the property owners could live there to their deaths and will the property back to the Indians. What did the innocent residents of Grand Island do to deserve this?
Based on the possible outcomes, and the failed attempts at dismissal, it does not appear that sufficient resources are being devoted to the defense of this case. What is equally alarming is the fact that the Island residents seem to get very little information about the progress of this case. It is almost as if our leaders do not want the Island residents to get involved or “rally the troops” over this situation. Maybe some of our leaders know that this case could potentially tarnish a political record if it became more public. I just hope that our leaders are not planning to push this out indefinitely until they have moved to the next political rung, leaving the Island residents suffering into the future.
The additional problem with this case is that it could very easily set a dangerous precedent for the United States and every State in the Union. There are currently at least three other Indian land claims against New York State winding their way through the court system. One claim is for almost the entire city of Syracuse, New York. I have read that the Seneca Nation of Indians is also considering a claim against land near Rochester, New York. I have heard that the Federal Government actually has the power to ratify these past land transfers that would end the Indian’s legal grounds. I am just wondering why the Federal Government would not step in to help the innocent property owners in these lawsuits before this all gets out of hand. It is not like the State forcibly took Indian land so many years ago. They made agreements with the Indians that included compensation and future monetary consideration that has been faithfully paid to the Indians for the past 200 years.
I recently read that the Federal Government moved to exclude all individual property owners from ejectment and liability related to the Oneida Indian land claim against New York State. Why is this not being done for the property owners of Grand Island? This would help to alleviate the tension that has clouded the Island for the last seven years.
I feel that that should be some sort of relief given to Grand Island residents and all other innocent citizens that are currently involved in similar lawsuits. The ultimate relief would to be to somehow get these cases resolved quickly and without any liability to the current property owners. The Federal Government should immediately ensure that the rights of the innocent property owners will not be affected no matter the outcome of the cases. If this relief is not possible, I feel that property owners should be given monetary relief due to plummeting property values and relief from foreclosure and accrued interest on mortgages in case of hardship. As this case is currently scheduled to go to trial in the spring of 2001, it is only going to get worse.
The innocent property owners of Grand Island and all the other claim areas should immediately have assurances that our rights as property owners will not be affected now or in the future. any assistance with this matter would be greatly appreciated.
3373 Stony Point Rd
Grand Island, NY 14072