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Indian Child Welfare Act focus of Niagara Square rally

File Photo
National Public Radio

The Seneca Nation has a new president, but some of the same issues remain and a new one will lead to a protest rally Thursday in downtown Buffalo.

Thursday's rally will be held in Niagara Square and is being run by Native American Community Services to protest a federal court decision that ruled the Indian Child Welfare Act unconstitutional.

"It's a civil issue, where we try to protect and make sure that our children stay with families from their own tribe to protect their heritage birthright," said new Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr.

The act covers Indian children who are removed from their families. If there is a problem or if they are adopted, that can only be done by the Indian nation to which they belong. A federal judge tossed out the law, ruling it as "race-based."

"It is detrimental to the Seneca, I can't say Seneca Nation. Any Native American tribe that's trying to make sure that their children are kept within their territory, with their tribe's people," said Armstrong. "So it's one of those things where we're going to have to keep looking at it and see what kind of options are available to us."

Armstrong is from the Allegany Territory. He was president once before and has served three terms on the Tribal Council.

Credit Rickey Armstrong Sr.
Rickey Armstrong Sr. was elected Seneca Nation President Tuesday.

The Nation has a system whereby the presidency alternates between a resident of the Allegany Territory, centered on Salamanca, and the Cattaraugus Territory, centered on Irving.

The Nation also is embroiled in a nasty fight with Albany, after deciding the Casino Compact called for only 14 years of payments to host communities and stopping the cash flow.

Armstrong tells WBFO that with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's re-election, relations will not change. He said the long arbitration process is continuing.

"From the minimal reading of the Compact which clearly states a 14-year payment obligation for the Nation is fulfilled. And, the issue for arbitration is scheduled for next month so we're focussed on preparing for those hearings."

Armstrong said there is nothing new about the fight with the New York State Thruway Authority over a section of the road that crosses Cattaraugus. The road is actually deteriorating on Seneca land because the Nation will not allow repairs unless it is a Seneca construction company.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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