Onondaga lawsuit may be dismissed

Onondaga lawsuit may be dismissed

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John Ahni Schertow
October 1, 2007
 

Two of the convenient loop-holes in U.S. law is threatening a lawsuit filed by the Onondaga Nation, Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

The Onondaga lawsuit is asking the court to declare New York violated federal law when it obtained around 4,000 square miles of land from the Onondaga in the late 1700s and early 1800s. They’re not asking for money, or property damages or even the return of the land. They just want to the state to admit it did wrong. Additionally, they are asking the Court to acknowledge their title to a 40-mile stretch of land that goes from Pennsylvania to Canada.

New York State, however, says the lawsuit/land claim should be disregarded because the Onondaga waited too long to file. There is indeed a time limit for Indigenous Nations to file lawsuits…

It’s also in danger of being cast aside because of the inaction of the U.S. Interior and Justice departments. Apparently, the U.S. Constitution gives states (e.g. New York) immunity from being sued by an Indigenous Nation unless the United States itself intervenes. As of yet they have not done so, and most likely will not.

Excerpt of the article from onondaganation.org – Two-and-a-half years after the Onondaga sued, the two federal departments – rocked by recent resignations and allegations of ethical lapses – have not notified the federal court if the United States will intervene in the case and join in the suit against New York.

Unless the United States joins, the Onondaga’s suit against New York could get dismissed as soon as next month.

That’s because the U.S. Constitution gives states immunity from lawsuits filed by Indian nations unless the United States intervenes.

New York has asked District Judge Lawrence Kahn of Albany to dismiss the case, citing its immunity, among other grounds. Lawyers are scheduled to appear Oct. 11 in Albany before Kahn. The judge is not expected to rule from the bench.

The Interior Department plans to make a recommendation on the Onondaga Nation land claim to the Justice Department within two weeks, said Shane Wolfe, Interior’s press secretary. He declined to reveal what the recommendation will be. Justice Department spokesman Andrew Ames also declined to say if the United States will join the Onondaga suit…

If the suit against New York is dismissed, Onondaga Nation lawyer Robert “Tim” Coulter said the Onondaga will ask the court to allow the case to proceed against a handful of corporate property owners who were also named as defendants.

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