up in Western New York, Irene Jimerson would accompany her mother,
a Cayuga Indian, to tribal meetings at local community halls.
20 to 30 Cayugas, most of them adults, would gather to talk about
old and new business. Often discussion would turn to their ancestral
homeland that encompassed 64,000 acres around the north end of Cayuga
was always the wish the dream that all the people
had to be able to come and settle on our own land, Jimerson
was some 55 years ago. Today Jimerson, now 65, is among the first
wave of Cayugas to return home. She and about 20 nation members
have moved into houses that the nation recently acquired or built
with federal grant money in Seneca Falls.
the first time a Cayuga Indian has lived on the nations aboriginal
territory since the tribe fled from the area more than 200 years
ago, said Clint Halftown, the nations federally recognized
representative. The significance of his nations repatriation
is not lost on Halftown.
is a great day for the Cayuga nation. We actually have our people
back on our land ... and were not going away this time,
echoed his sentiments. She and her husband, Gerald, moved into one
of four contemporary-style ranch houses that the Cayugas recently
constructed on Spruce Lane off Route 414 South on the southern edge
of the village.
nation used a $438,321 U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant
available to native people to build the houses, which complement
the other single-family homes on Spruce Lane, a quiet dead-end street
with big trees. The back of the Jimersons property abuts the
nations 100-acre commercial vegetable farm, which produces
free vegetables for nation members.
the HUD money, the nation also bought four other houses, one on
Spruce Lane, one on Briarwood Circle a spur off Spruce
and two on Seneca Road. HUD has a specific block grant program for
members can rent or buy their homes from the nation. Jimerson and
her husband, who is a Seneca Indian, are renting and both said theyre
happy to be living in the Cayugas homeland.
been a dream come true ... . Were home now, Irene Jimerson
couples two-bedroom house has cathedral ceilings, an open
floor plan, two bathrooms and a full basement. The Jimersons fly
the Cayugas red and white flag, which depicts the nations
five clans the heron, snipe, wolf, bear and turtle.
the Cayugas lost their federal land claim in 2005 to regain sovereign
title to their homeland, the nation now owns more than 1,100 a acres
in Cayuga and Seneca counties, some 18 houses and several small
businesses, not counting their temporarily closed Class II video
gaming facilities in Seneca Falls and Union Springs.
leaders envision even bigger plans, Halftown said.
have 64,000 acres that is Cayuga Nation territory and its
our plan to reacquire the 64,000 acres no matter how long it takes.
Our plan is to move back our people, establish businesses to help
sustain us and keep going from there, Halftown said.
strategy includes moving the nations government headquarters
this fall to Seneca Falls. Those offices are in Gowanda, outside
Buffalo where many of the approximately 500 Cayugas including
the Jimersons and Halftown have lived for years. Halftown
said he, too, is going to move to his native homeland soon.
the repatriation of the Cayugas is adding fuel to the fire that
is the ongoing tax battle between the nation and local governments.
Thats because the nation has no intention of paying taxes
on the new houses and most of its other land holdings. Those properties
lie within the nations former reservation, which Halftown
said makes for sovereign tax-free territory as far as the Cayugas
have to understand that this is our land. Were not paying
taxes, Halftown said.
nations refusal to pay taxes continues to enflame local politicians
and many residents. They have tried for years to legally force the
Cayugas to pay property taxes on their burgeoning empire and remit
sales taxes on cigarettes sold at their lucrative LakeSide Trading
stores in Union Springs and Seneca Falls. So far, the Cayugas only
pay taxes on about 125 acres they have asked the federal government
to place in federal trust to make them sovereign and tax-free forever.
A decision is pending.
dont have any problem with them buying property and moving
here. But its follow the rules and pay the taxes like everybody
else. If you cant do that were going to fight you with
everything we have, said county lawmaker Robert Shipley, chairman
of his countys Indian Affairs committee.
Wheeler, vice chairman of the Cayuga/Seneca chapter of Upstate Citizens
for Equality, agreed. The group of several thousand local residents
has fought the Cayugas every step of the way over the tax issues,
and Wheeler said the Cayugas could wipe out Seneca Falls if the
nation continues to buy property and refuse to pay taxes.
Halftown is making good on his word .. . My hope is that sooner
or later someone will see the fallacy of this reservation stuff,
said the Cayugas are prepared to fight for what they believe is
their right to have sovereign land.
ready; were ready for it all, Halftown said.
the village of Seneca Falls, residents pay about $50 per $1,000
assessed value in school and other property taxes, according to
a local tax official. For a house assessed at $100,000, that tax
bill would total $5,000.
declined to disclose the value of the nations new homes on
Spruce Lane, but many others on the street are assessed at about
$125,000 or more, according to property tax records. Neighbor John
Jay Young Jr., who lives across the street from the
Jimersons, said he and his wife, Helen, pay about $6,500 a year
on their five-bedroom ranch, which he said is assessed at about
60, acknowledged that the Cayugas refusal to pay taxes would
put more of the burden on the rest of us, but said he
doesnt hold that against his new neighbors.
a complicated issue, Young said. He added he would like to
develop a friendly relationship with his new neighbors.
like to go over there and have a beer someday, Young said.
Cayugas are redeveloping their homeland and government infrastructure
as they return. Its a work in progress, Halftown said.
who have settled applied for housing and were given nation jobs.
For example, Irene Jimerson is managing LakeSide Trading in Seneca
Falls. Her adult son, Barry, moved next door with his family and
was appointed head of nation security. He drives a white pickup
truck with a Cayuga nation security emblem. Other Cayugas do building
and grounds work, such as mowing lawns.
of the new settlers are young adults like Brad Kettle, who said
he is searching for a fresh start in life. Kettle, 22, was raised
on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation, outside Buffalo, where he
said he cruised with the wrong crowd.
lived on the reservation my whole life so moving here was a perfect
opportunity for me to start over again, Kettle said.
Kettle, maintenance worker Aaron Childress, who is 30, said he thought
about returning to his homeland for a long time.
is our native land. Weve all been spread out throughout New
York and throughout the country, so this is a way for everyone to
come back together and start over, Childress said.
Irene Jimerson, who had never stepped foot on her native homeland,
the return home is bittersweet because her mother is no longer alive.
The significance, historical and otherwise, struck her when she
and her husband left Gowanda, heading east.
remember thinking, My God, Im actually going home.
I felt very emotional about it, but I wish my mother could have
come with us, Jimerson said.