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Cuomo Vetos Bill That Would Have Created Path for Montaukett Indian Nation Recognition

Posted on 02 October 2013

By Kathryn G. Menu

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has vetoed a bill that would have established a procedure for the state to evaluate a claim for recognition made by the Montaukett Indian Nation.

Governor Cuomo vetoed the bill on Friday, and while New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele — the legislation’s sponsor along with New York State Senator Ken LaValle — expressed disappointment at the bill’s demise, Montaukett Sachem Robert P. Pharoah has urged faith for members of the Nation and its supporters.

In a message issued Friday by Sachem Pharoah, who lives in Sag Harbor, the chief said while the veto may seem like a “terrible blow” not all was what it seemed.

“Have faith,” said Pharoah. “It is not as bad as it might seem, nor will it delay our ultimate goal of recognition for the Montaukett. It could actually accelerate it.”

Pharoah notes Governor Cuomo vetoed the bill because he deemed a provision requiring the Montaukett Indian Nation to meet federal recognition criteria would be too great a burden on both the Nation and the State of New York.

“This bill would create a mechanism for the Montaukett Indians to petition New York’s Secretary of State for state recognition as an Indian nation,” writes Cuomo in his veto message. “The Secretary would be required to use the criteria for federal recognition and promulgate the necessary rules to evaluate the petition.”

“Unlike the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, the State does not have an administrative process to analyze the recognition of Indian tribes,” continues Cuomo. “This legislation would mandate that the State adopt the federal government’s intensive, expensive and lengthy process. The State does not have the extensive resources to conduct such an investigation. Nonetheless, I am directing the Department of State to move forward with an analysis to determine if State recognition is warranted.”

“Here is why this is a blessing in disguise,” said Pharoah, highlighting the fact that the Governor specifically directed the state department to study the merits of Montaukett recognition. Ironically, he said, this was the Nation’s goal in the first place.

According to the chief, the Nation had anticipated if the bill was adopted by both the Assembly and State Senate — and it was — and approved by the Governor, they would have had to negotiate with the Secretary of State to replace federal criteria for recognition with more reasonable standards on the state level.

“We had no way of predicting how easy this would have been,” said Pharoah. “Nor could we predict how long that process would take. Governor Cuomo’s veto allows us to bypass that complicated step and negotiate the criteria for recognition directly with the Secretary of State.”

Thiele, however, was disappointed in the Governor’s actions and said he believes the language of the bill was misinterpreted.

“In 1910, in the case of Pharoah v. Benson a state court, in resolving a simple land dispute, declared the Montaukett Indians to be extinct, while their leadership and members were sitting in the court room,” said Thiele in a press release issued on Friday. “A subsequent court decision in 1994 commented that this decision was of ‘questionable propriety’. My legislation was designed to give the Montaukett Indians an opportunity to reverse this century old injustice. Unfortunately, the veto will only serve to perpetuate this questionable court decision.”

According to Thiele, the legislation would have permitted the Montaukett Indians to submit a documented petition to the New York Secretary of State containing evidence to support state recognition. The Secretary of State would then evaluate the petition and make a recommendation for the approval or denial of state recognition. The Secretary of State would use the same standards as the federal standards for recognition.

However, said Thiele, the bill authorized the Secretary of State to adopt rules and regulations including “the level of proof and documentation necessary to meet the criteria.”

The final decision on state recognition would then be made by the state legislature.

Thiele said the veto message is inaccurate in its statement that the legislation would have mandated the state to adopt the federal government’s process for recognition.

“First, the legislation only required that the state use the federal standards for recognition, not the same federal process,” said Thiele. “In fact, the bill expressly states that the Secretary of State shall ‘establish the level of proof and documentation that shall be necessary to meet the mandatory criteria’. Further, under the bill, it is the Montauketts that have the burden to meet the recognition standards, not the State. In addition, it is well established in state administrative law that the Secretary of State, as part of the rules and regulations, could have charged a review fee in order to cover the state expense of review, just as the state does for every other state application, such as the review of permits, licenses, or environmental impact statements. This would not have cost New York State taxpayers a nickel. The better question is ‘what is the cost to our state to perpetuate this injustice?’”

All this said, Thiele said Cuomo’s directive to the Department of State to study the merits of Montaukett recognition will be something he follows closely.

“My resolve to obtain justice from New York State for the Montauketts is in no way diminished by the veto,” he said. “My efforts will continue and it is my hope that when the Secretary of State studies the issue, he will come to the same conclusion as I have: that the Montauketts state recognition should never have been extinguished in the first place. The Secretary of State should consult with the leadership of the Montauketts in undertaking this study, and it should be open, transparent, and expeditious so that the State Legislature can take action in the 2014 session.”

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