Feature President

A message from President Rickey L. Armstrong, Sr.


Our winter weather has been so fickle, again, this year! One week it’s devastating us, the next it warms up and brings spring-like weather. No wonder there has been so much sickness in our communities. It got so warm I was anticipating the musical sounds of mosquitoes.

In late December of 2022, Governor Hochul vetoed Senate Bill 5701, the Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act, which would have protected burial grounds across New York State. The procedure proposed in the bill requires all activity at the site to cease until the case is given to the State archaeologist, who would then deliver their report to the Native American review committee. If the review committee determines the remains are of Native American origin, the descendants or culturally affiliated group would be given complete discretion over the disposition of the said remains. We have lived, raised our families, and been laid to rest in our ancestral lands from time immemorial. Due to forced relocation from our expansive ancestral lands to our present-day territories over hundreds of years, the final resting places of all our ancestors is likely unknowable, but the legislation in Senate Bill 5701 would have finally given our communities a true voice in honoring our moral and ethical obligation to protect those most sacred sites from desecration and destruction. Governor Hochul’s veto of this bill is yet another disturbing display of blatant disregard for Native issues and priorities coming from New York’s Executive Chamber. At our January Council meeting held on the Allegany Territory, the Seneca Nation passed a resolution to denounce Governor Hochul’s veto of this bill as it demonstrates an utter disregard for fundamental rights of Native Nations, Native people, and all New Yorkers. The resolution further authorizes me to submit a similar resolution to the United South & Eastern Tribes (USET) and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). This is one more example of how for more than two centuries, our governments, our people and our priorities have been greeted with deafening silence and contempt from New York governors.

To protect our ancestral remains, we have the federal legislation, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA), which provides a process for federal agencies and museums that receive federal funds to repatriate or transfer from their collections certain Native American cultural items to lineal descendants, of which we are included. NAGPRA also provides a process for federal agencies to address new discoveries of Native American human remains and sacred objects inadvertently discovered on federal or tribal lands.

I am honored to announce that the Seneca Nation has been chosen to host the 2023 World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference (W.I.S.P.C.), November 14th, 15th & 16th, 2023, at the Seneca Allegany Casino and surrounding meeting spaces on the Allegany and Cattaraugus territories. It is well documented that Indigenous populations throughout the world have very high rates of suicide in all of our communities. “The U.S. suicide rate is up 33% since 1998, but for American Indians and Alaskan Native women and men, the increase is even greater; 139% and 71%, respectively, according to an analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. Native communities experience higher rates of suicide compared to all other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., with suicide being the eighth leading cause of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives across all ages. For Native youth ages 10 to 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death; and the Native youth suicide rate is 2.5 times higher than the overall national average, making these rates the highest across all ethnic and racial groups”. [NICOA website] W.I.S.P.C. was first held in 2016 in New Zealand; in 2018 it was held in Australia. The 2021 conference was planned to be hosted in person by the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba, Canada; but was presented virtually, due to COVID-related complications. As the Seneca Nation is active with several national native organizations, we will be reaching out to the other 573 federally-recognized nations for input, support, speakers and other relevant contributions. Our co-chairs for this planning committee are Arlene Bova (Allegany Councillor) and Presley Redeye (Cattaraugus Councillor). They are supported by various SNI department directors and employees and there is also an international planning component, which includes global representation of Indigenous peoples. The committee is planning to host a community meeting on both territories to recruit members from our communities to assist with the planning, organizing, and presenting for this important conference. We’ll keep our communities updated, as the conference approaches. If you are interested in assisting with this international project, please feel free to contact Millicent Proud, in my office. She may be reached by calling (716) 945-1790, X5108; or by email at: millicent.proud@sni.org.

I understand preparations are underway for our Mid-Winter ceremonies to be put through. It looks like both Coldspring and Newtown longhouses began earlier this week and will go until the beginning of February. I’m hoping we’ll be fortunate enough to avoid a second blizzard this winter. Stay safe and stay warm.

Rickey L. Armstrong, Sr.