SUMMER OF 2020
Nya:wëh sgë:nö’ gagwe:göh,
As I have been gathering my thoughts to address the members of the Seneca Nation and report on the state of our nation, it is unavoidable to acknowledge the difficult times we have all been experiencing. I’m humbled by the spirit of hard work and perseverance which I have witnessed from the moment all of our lives were impacted by the global coronavirus pandemic taking place in the world. First and foremost, I would like to commend the Seneca Nation workforce for their cooperation and willingness to step up and contend with what has been a set of unprecedented circumstances. I am proud to say we have a team of very capable, thoughtful and dedicated employees whom shifted into emergency management mode, to coordinate manpower and other resources, to ensure we met the needs of our community. Please continue to care for one another, and to check on elders and neighbors, while practicing a safe social distance. I ask that you bear with us and know that we are all going to get through this by remaining strong and united.
Over the years, the Seneca Nation has become an economic force to be reckoned with. We are one of the largest employers in the Western New York and Southern Tier regions. We have gone through many social and financial transformations; and I’m sure there will be many more to come. As a safety precaution, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we temporarily suspended operations of our gaming enterprises. This was done to protect our members and to drastically reduce the number of outsiders entering our territories. While our gaming enterprises supply a major portion of the nation’s annual revenue, we have other sources of income, which allowed us to sustain modified essential services for our members. For future economic and development planning, we now have two sites added to our land base. In Irving, we have the parcel of land known as Hanover Field. In the city of Buffalo, we have a one-acre parcel, located at 180 Perry Street, with plans to construct our fifth gas station and convenience store, the Buffalo Creek One Stop. We are also visualizing additional properties to convert for providing health services for Senecas residing in the city of Buffalo. We will continue to work together, to produce projects which will enhance the Nation’s economy by supplementing casino revenue.
Our gaming compact with the State of New York is due to expire in 2023. We have reached out to the state to re-establish negotiations, but have not yet received a response. We will continue to pursue the best possible outcome. Although it was necessary to shut down each of our gaming operations due to the global pandemic, we are creating forward momentum in our phased re-opening plans for all of our establishments. I’m glad to report that all of our gaming enterprises have opened and are operating between 50%-60% capacity. Our re-opening protocol will continue to be mindful and conservative, as we move forward, so as to ensure the safety of all involved. Please keep in mind, it is forecasted to take approximately eighteen months to return to pre-COVID-19 level revenues. In the coming months, we will have a much clearer picture of how our gaming operations are doing. We should all be very grateful we are persevering and are moving towards a stronger economy.
In the fall of 2019, we announced that broadband internet service would be coming to the Cattaraugus territory. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), we entered into an agreement of shared costs to bring broadband to our territory, which USDA considers rural America. USDA determined that a large percentage of the country is not connected to the internet and over time, farming has become increasingly web-connected. We have made great strides with this project and the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted just how important this project truly is. To date, the Seneca Nation’s Broadband Task Force has secured $4,600,000 and the team recently applied for an additional $700,000 through the USDA ReConnect 2 grant program. The task force has worked diligently on an engineering and design study to plan the details for the network. The new network will provide high-speed internet to all residents living on the Cattaraugus Territory. The Nation anticipates beginning construction as early as August 2020 and completing the project by the end of 2021. The construction phase will require installing forty-three miles of optical fiber along utility poles on territory. Once the optical fiber is installed, they will run connections to approximately one-thousand residences. In 2021, the focus will shift to the Steamburg Community. The Nation plans to engineer and design a network for Steamburg and the hope is that we would have a network completed by the end of 2022. This project will ensure that nearly 100% of Seneca members will have access to high-speed internet services, bridging the technology and information gap that so many of us have been facing. This project will benefit the community by providing enhanced educational opportunities, advancing medical care services, providing businesses with the ability to operate more efficiently and promote economic development throughout the territory. Furthermore, this important project will provide a higher quality of life for all Cattaraugus Territory and Steamburg residents, and it will assist the Seneca Nation with continuing to provide many critical services to the community in the most efficient and reliable manner.
In March of 2020, we initiated a new source of elder funding via the Seneca Enhanced Elder Division (S.E.E.D.), which is managed by our AOA Program. Coincidentally, as AOA received the funding, COVID-19 hit and AOA primarily focused on home delivered meals to elders whom needed them. Services that will be available under S.E.E.D. will include Personal Care, Levels I and II, for elders whom would otherwise be referred to seek such services from the surrounding counties. AOA will be working closely with the private care provider and our Human Resources Department to recruit Senecas to provide this care to our elders. They are also in the process of contract negotiations with a long-term care facility to provide overnight care for our elders, so their caregivers may take a respite. This service will be available to those caregivers whom are providing round the clock in-home care to a loved one. AOA has had a minor home repair program in place for Elder’s homes; but S.E.E.D. funds will be expanding that program to include minor home repairs to a caregiver’s home, where there is an elder in the residence. Lee Redeye, of Lippes, Mathias, Wexler, Friedman, LLP, will soon be under contract to provide assistance with writing a will and to assist with basic estate planning services to our elders. In addition, S.E.E.D. will be offering a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) to elders whom do not qualify under the existing AOA grant program. A personal emergency response system is a pendant worn by an elder, which alerts emergency medical services, should an elder fall down. AOA will keep the community and our elders informed about their progress as they re-open and I strongly encourage our elders to take advantage of what they have to offer.
In the summer of 2019, as a Seneca Nation Capital Improvement Authority project, we began construction on the new fire hall for Seneca Fire-Allegany. The former fire hall was over forty-five years old and it would have cost more to make all of the necessary repairs, than it would have cost to build a new one. The new hall is 17,490 square feet, which includes a 5,500 square foot apparatus bay and a 2,000 square foot banquet room with seating for up to 160 people. The facility also contains five bunk rooms, five offices, male/female locker rooms and a commercial kitchen with a walk-in cooler and freezer. The new fire hall was officially opened, with a ribbon cutting ceremony, on November 22nd, 2019. Several of my staff are assisting Allegany fire hall leadership with developing a membership recruitment campaign, as well as recruitment open house events, in the future. In the spring of 2020, we launched Seneca EMS, a dedicated emergency medical service team for Seneca Nation. Seneca EMS provides the highest level of pre-hospital care during medical emergencies. There are two paramedic level ambulances housed at Seneca Fire Cattaraugus and one paramedic level ambulance housed at the Allegany Fire Hall. Seneca EMS now employs paramedics trained to the highest level of pre-hospital medical providers. This includes administration of medications, IV lines, advanced airway management, resuscitation of patients and advanced life support. I’m very proud to have our emergency medical services developed to this level of pre-hospital care.
In closing, again, I would like to sincerely thank our Seneca Nation workforce for the great job everyone has done – from home deliveries to our elders, distributions to our community members and keeping essential services available. We’ve been able to provide our community members with social service supports, which were not available to our neighbors in the surrounding areas. I’m grateful we had some financial reserves, which sustained us and made it possible to continue covering our employee benefits and taking care of our members. We have all benefited from sound financial decisions, good policy decisions; and we all learned a lot. On a daily basis, we had to make sensible decisions and consider both the short-term and long-term impact of those decisions. So many of you have gone far above and beyond what your position called for; and I’m grateful to you for that. This global pandemic is not over yet, but we are making our way to the other side and we managed better than most. In the days ahead, our energy will be focused on moving forward and rebuilding our economy. I must admit, living through these unprecedented times of COVID-19 presented many challenges and every day we faced unknown factors. No doubt, the lives of our members that it stole, will have a lasting impact in our communities.
Rickey L. Armstrong, Sr.