Another Voice: Governor’s silent actions echo with disrespect for the Seneca Nation

By Rickey Armstrong, Sr. | The Buffalo News – May 8th, 2023

The ideals of diplomacy and mutual respect have been echoed in Native Nations’ treaties and agreements with other governments for centuries. In fact, the Treaty of Canandaigua between the Haudenosaunee and the United States, supported by George Washington, sought to establish a firm and permanent friendship between our peoples.

Unfortunately, President Washington’s professions of friendship and respect for the Haudenosaunee don’t seem to carry much weight in Albany’s Executive Chamber.

Upon coming into office as Seneca Nation president in November, I sent a letter to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul requesting a meeting. When my letter went unanswered, I sent it again, this time by registered mail. It was met with the same silence.

Also in November, representatives from the Seneca Nation and New York State began negotiations on a new gaming compact. As negotiations have continued over the last several months, the Nation has sent additional correspondence to Gov. Hochul regarding the negotiation process. Like our initial correspondence, each has gone unanswered.

With negotiations ongoing and the New York State Legislature’s remaining session calendar growing short, we recently requested that the counsel to the governor attend our most recent in-person negotiation meetings with the state – even offering to change the meeting location from Niagara Falls to Albany in order to accommodate her schedule. More silence.

Given this pattern of silence, it came as quite a surprise to learn – secondhand no less – that on Monday, May 1, Gov. Hochul was traveling to speak at the New York State Machinist Union’s annual convention. The location of the meeting is at the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino, located on Seneca Nation Territory.

The governor, even in the midst of final preparation and passage of the month-delayed state budget, made time to meet with an important constituency. That’s understandable. The Seneca Nation has an extraordinary respect for and a working relationship with organized labor.

Thousands of dedicated skilled tradespeople have helped build our casino facilities and resorts, as well as health centers, government and public safety buildings, infrastructure projects and other important Nation projects on our territories – largely funded with gaming revenues – over the past two decades.

But the governor didn’t just travel to Western New York for this meeting. She came to Seneca land and Seneca property. Our territory was apparently acceptable enough for her to meet with a group important to her political objectives, but the Nation itself – a supposed partner in a compact that has been transformational to Western New York – doesn’t merit even a response, much less an actual meeting. The smack of that insult should echo across New York.

Tens of thousands of individuals, families and businesses throughout Western New York and across the state – Native and non-Native – are depending on the Seneca Nation and a fair and equitable gaming compact for their livelihoods. They – and we – deserve more than a continued and embarrassing pattern of disrespect from New York’s highest office.

Rickey Armstrong, Sr. is President of the Seneca Nation.