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Senecas' Aboriginal Claim to Waterfront Disputed

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Debate over whether or not a casino will or should come to Buffalo's waterfront continues. One Seneca man believes at least one argument for the waterfront casino is false. He says the Seneca nation should not be making an aboriginal claim to the waterfront location.

Bob Jones is a Seneca who lives on the Cattaraugus reservation. But he also works long hours as a tile setter at the Seneca Niagara Casino.

Ironically, in his free time, Jones pours over genealogy materials looking for clues to argue against the Seneca's gambling business.

Jones said he has found evidence that shows the Seneca Nation of Indians is not aboriginal to the waterfront - or to anywhere even close by.

"My research shows that the door of the long house, or the most western town of the Senecas, prior to the revolution, was located upon the present farm of Alonzo A. Arnold in the town of Canadia on the east bank of the Genesee, some thirty miles above Little Beard's town," said Jones.

He added, "Now, if that was the case at that time, how is it that Seneca Nation of Indians claims that they have this land from the Genesee river, to Lake Erie and sown into the Ohio River Valley?"

Jones said the confusion comes in because most people don't distinguish between the present elected form of the Nation versus the traditional Senecas.

Jones said he found that the Cornplanter tribe of Senecas can rightfully claim to be aboriginal to the chosen waterfront location.

"A gentleman by the name of Cornplanter, or John Abeel, who was a half-blood himself - his father was an alderman and a political from Albany at the time - he had signed a couple treaties as the Seneca Abeel Tribe of Indians," said Jones.

"So, in my mind, based on what I'm reading and what I'm researching, it shows that there's actually two Seneca Nation of Indians - and actually three, you have the Tonawanda band of Senecas, which are federally recognized," said Jones.

But at least one New York state politician said it makes little difference which tribe claims aboriginal rights.

State Senator Dale Volker does believe the Seneca Nation will try to make an aboriginal claim for preference if they miss the December 9 deadline to break ground on a Buffalo casino. But Volker says it's not that easy.

"The courts have ruled that the Indians can't just declare pieces of property Indian land, and they can't be tax exempt, and all of that stuff," said Volker. "So, that what I think a lot of the media hasn't realized is that the whole system has turned and changed. They do not have the clout that they used to have, and it's much more difficult for them to do these things."

Volker questions whether or not the Seneca Nation has yet secured any waterfront land for a casino - and might still be looking elsewhere.

Buffalo casino opponents hope so. Jones suspects the issue will also continue to divide the Seneca people. But he said that might not be such a bad thing.

"People are finally having to do their genealogy, to do the research on the origins of the Seneca Nation so that we can divide up and find out who the believers are in the Handsome Lake vision, and who's not," said Jones.

"It might sound kind of corny, but there are still believers out there in the good traditions of our Nation and I think we need to be mindful," said Jones.

Still, Jones said he is mindful that the jobs created by Seneca casinos help to support many Seneca families, including his own.

Jones said it is just sad that they have to cross the line of tradition to do it.