New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Indian Problem.

Am I the only one surprised to learn that New York’s Indian nations are not represented on the state’s economic development regional councils?

The state’s Indian nations are major job providers and revenue sources in western and central New York.
Sen. George Maziarz, chairman of the Committee on State–Native American Relations, says he was surprised the Seneca and Oneida nations did not have a seat at the table.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo cannot talk about encouraging economic development while ignoring this group of significant players in the upstate economy.

Indian nations own businesses that run gaming facilities, gas stations, convenience stores, private-label water bottling, wholesale and retail tobacco manufacturing, film production, and tourism and hospitality services—among others.

In Republican parlance, Indians are job creators. Cuomo’s economic development plans should embrace them. Indian nations receive federal grants, including stimulus funding, but not regional council grants. Why?

Tracy Lloyd, a lobbyist representing the Seneca Nation, says “the nations were not invited to participate in the councils”—though some detractors claim the nations would have declined any invitation.

Even though aides to Cuomo have met with the nations, some believe they are being ignored. If this is true, the governor is making a serious miscalculation. The nations are far from supplicants coming to Albany to see the Great White Chief with hat in hand.

The Indian nations are not your typical special interest. They see themselves as stewards of the environment. All of the nations want to stimulate the state’s economy in ways that create and attract new jobs to central and western New York.

The Seneca Nation is the fifth-largest employer in western New York, and has invested tens of millions of dollars in the region. If they and the other nations were left out by design, we’re missing an incredible opportunity to bring their entrepreneurial energy into the economic fold.

They recently took out a full-page ad in an upstate newspaper asking Cuomo to honor the 2002 compact giving “the Senecas exclusive rights to gaming in Western New York.”

If Cuomo hopes to squeeze the Indian nations with his gambling amendment, he’s playing a weak hand. The Onondaga don’t favor casino gambling, while the Seneca, Oneida and Saint Regis Mohawk just want their geographical exclusivity honored.

The Seneca are withholding the state’s share of casino revenue because of a dispute over three nearby racinos. The Cayuga and Onondaga continue to press land claims in Cayuga, Onondaga and Seneca counties. And all continue to dispute the tobacco and gasoline taxes. (More…)