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Is the state of New York returning land to native Americans that was taken from them illegally

01:00 Tue 04th Dec 2001 |

asks pathfinder
A.
They're not returning it, but they will now pay the Cayuga Indians (see the 1934 picture of a tribal�chief on our home page - and a more recent one, of Chief Jacob Thomas, left)�for the�ancestral homeland they�lost more than 200 years ago. In July 1795, the 64,000 acres of land� - in the Cayuga and Seneca counties - were ceded to the State of New York� in a deal known as the Cayuga Ferry Treaty. Another three square miles -�the last of the tribe's land -�was ceded in 1807.

Q. Was the Cayuga tribe paid for it
A.
Yes, but they were only given a small amount of money - and the deal was illegal!

Q. Why
A.
It didn't have the necessary approval of the Federal Government. The US Constitution, ratified in 1789, specifically banned this type of treaty. However the federal�authorities didn't do anything to stop it - despite the fact that the President, George Washington, had expressed his apprehension about the deal.

Q. What happened to the Cayugas
A.
Some moved to Canada, or further west in the US. Most were poverty-stricken. After a while, there were only a few hundred families left. They never gave up on their claim to the land - or on getting a fair price for it.

Q. Did they claim it back
A.
Yes, from time to time, but the claims always failed. Then in 1980 the tribe filed a federal lawsuit against the State of New York. Four years later, a special panel recommended that the tribe be given 8,000 acres in Cayuga and Seneca counties for a reservation, plus a cash settlement of $15 million.

Q. Who owns that land now
A.
It's mostly publicly owned, and no private owners would have had to give up their property against their will.

Q. So what was the problem
A.
There was uproar, stirred up by a retired university professor. Local residents threatened to use guns to keep Indians off the land. People complained about their children going to school with 'dirty' Indians suffering from dysentery and infected with lice.

Q. What happened
A.
The lawsuit was not settled. Then in 1992 the Federal Government joined the suit on the side of the Cayugas, and in 1994 it was ruled that the tribe had a valid claim to the whole 64,000 acres.

Five years later�a court-appointed mediator proposed a settlement of around $125 million. The Cayugas accepted, but New York State didn't agree to its split of the payout.

Recently, there was been a ruling which ordered the state to pay the Cayugas a total of $247.9 million - including accrued interest. This is�believed to be the largest resolution of an Indian land claim in US history.

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by Sheena Miller

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