An expanding economy, housing, health and social programs have led the Seneca Nation of Indians to a period of growth, reports Seneca Nation of Indians President Maurice A. John Sr.
John gave a state of the Nation address to the Seneca people, at which time he outlined a future that could include contracts with the U.S. government, an improved relationship with New York state, wind energy, power generation, and expanded services and finances for the Seneca people.
‘‘We are in an unprecedented period of our history. We are enjoying success as never before,’’ President John told several hundred invited Senecas on their Cattaraugus Territory. ‘‘The Seneca Nation’s overriding goal is financial sovereignty for its people. This means having the financial resources to exercise our sovereign rights. For the first time in our history since the treaty of 1794, we have the resources to do just that,’’ he said.
John said the Nation’s goal is for its people to become ‘‘fully engaged’’ in the Nation’s life. He noted that Nation membership is higher than it has been for many years, and he said that annuities paid to its members will increase again this year.
‘‘The Seneca Nation, whose history precedes that of the U.S. government, continues to grow and emerge as a progressive and neighborly force for change and progress in New York,’’ he said.
President John noted that in 2007, the Nation expanded its housing programs, developed new water supply and treatment projects, announced a financial incentive plan to encourage healthier lifestyles among Nation members, acquired more than 75 acres of land, and he said it gave more than $1.5 million to 61 regional charities last year including the Buffalo Zoo, Carly’s Club, Niagara Falls Police charities, Cradle Beach, Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Make-a-Wish Foundation, Kids Escaping Drugs, Niagara University, the American Heart Association, Roswell Park, SABAH, St. Bonaventure University, the Variety Club, the Buffalo Museum of Science, the Salamanca Chamber of Commerce and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, among others.
‘‘The state of the Seneca Nation is good,’’ he said.
President John also noted that in the first three years of casino-gaming operations, the Nation returned to state and local governments almost $300 million in payments under a compact it has with New York state to operate three gaming facilities in Western New York – the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, the Seneca Allegany Casino and Resort in Salamanca and the Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo. Under compact terms, the Nation pays the state a share of slot machine revenues, and 25 percent of that share is returned to the municipalities that host the casinos. In addition, he said employees on the Nation’s $100-million payroll pay federal, state, county and local taxes. The Nation’s economy would rank the Nation fifth among Western New York corporations, with more than 6,500 employees, he said.
In terms of services, President John said the Nation expanded substance abuse treatment programs; widened its housing opportunities to help members strengthen its credit worthiness and brought expanded home building programs onto the territories. The Nation’s own mortgage program expanded from four to 75 low-interest loans to Nation members in the last three years, John said.
‘‘The Seneca Nation is a force for change and growth in Western New York,’’ President John said. ‘‘Our future is bright and through many partnerships and collaborations inside and outside our Nation, we will continue to grow.’’
He said his administration promoted a ‘‘good-neighbor’’ policy that resulted in positive relations with Erie, Niagara and Cattaraugus counties and improved relations with Albany and Gov. Eliot Spitzer. President John met with Gov. Spitzer at his offices in Manhattan and in Buffalo in 2007.
‘‘We reached an understanding with the governor about our sovereignty,’’ President John said. ‘‘We emphasized that with our rally last March in Buffalo. We want to continue our relationship as it stands with the state,’’ he said, adding ‘‘most of the leaders we interact with understand that everything we do flows to the Seneca people. As long as our friends understand and embrace that concept, we will always be friends.’’
In addition to those recent accomplishments, President John also discussed future plans for the Nation.
John said the Nation plans to apply its construction expertise and become a major contractor with the U.S. government and is also experimenting with wind and power generation. It will construct two $39-million sports complexes, one on the Allegany Territory and one on the Cattaraugus Territory, which John said will provide members with places to meet, congregate, exercise and play national games of heritage.
‘‘They will be beautiful facilities where our people, young and old, can work out and play lacrosse – ‘dewa ‘eo’ in our language. But they are more than just buildings. They are places where lacrosse – ‘dewa ‘eo’ – enriches us again. They are places that will help our people promote better health. They are places that will become community centers for families. They are places that will be social centers, where Seneca friends play – and bond with – other Seneca friends,’’ John said.
President John also outlined his vision for the Nation’s immediate future.
‘‘We must treat each other as the people we want to become,’’ he said. ‘‘I pledge my time, effort and energy to lead us in coming together around our shared culture. We must provide opportunities for our people – through education, better health, cultural appreciation and a stronger economy, so we can move forward as a strong Nation.’’
John told Senecas their Nation has more members, more land, higher incomes, better housing, greater educational opportunities, cleaner water, expanded health and substance abuse care, improved infrastructure and facilities, and more and better jobs.
‘‘And,’’ he said, ‘‘we have more goals.’’
By Sharon Turano
10 March 2008
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