Schumer promises Indian Tribes permanent use of Old Senate Chamber

The Old Senate Chamber sits almost entirely unused, but for historic preservation purposes.

In recent days Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer has been privately promising tribal leaders permanent use of the Old Senate Chamber inside the United States Capitol building on a full-time basis, beginning later this legislative session.  The chamber is likely to be managed, at least initially, by the National Congress of American Indians, the largest association of sovereign tribal governments in the United States.

Despite a relatively cold relationship with Tribal governments in New York State, Schumer intends to institutionalize tribal leaders’ access to the Congress, in recognition of Tribes’ unique place within the United States Constitution.

Given that Congress has plenary power over Indian Affairs (in the view of the Supreme Court), it only makes sense that Tribal leaders should have access to such a chamber at the Capitol to discuss matters of the day and to engage in treaty-making with the Senate. It’s unclear how sovereign tribal governments will select delegates to sit in the chamber, or for how long the National Congress of American Indians will manage tribes’ use of it.

Sources close to Schumer expect that the chamber will be the principal location for Tribal governments’ participation in renewal negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  The successor agreement, the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, requires 6-year renewals of the Treaty, which has largely excluded sovereign indigenous nations on the continent.

“Schumer wants to make great strides on Indian Commerce issues, and wants the Democratic Party to be firmly supportive of tribal economic development, especially when it comes to Tribes ability to engage in trade,” the source explains.  “He has neglected real relationship building when it comes to the Tribes in New York, and he wants to fix that.”

The Majority Leader is expected to support federal recognition for the Shinnecock Nation on Long Island.

Schumer is also considering federal recognition of the Buffalo Creek Band of Haudenosaunee Indians, allowing the ‘urban Indian’ population that has predated the founding of the City of Buffalo to organize under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1935.

The Haudenosaunee people (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk) have lived at Buffalo Creek long before the genocidal military campaign ordered against them by General George Washington. But the population grew quickly following the Clinton-Sullivan military campaign, which burned more than 180 Haudenosaunee villages across the Finger Lakes and Northern Pennsylvania to the ground during the American Revolution.  The Haudenosaunee fled first to Buffalo Creek and then to Grand River in the 1780s.

When the Buffalo Creek Reservation, secured under the terms of the Treaty of Canandaigua, was defrauded from the Haudenosaunee in 1842, a third of those living there moved to the Grand River Territory in Ontario, a third moved to the Cattaraugus Territory, and a third remained at Buffalo Creek.

Many Haudenosaunee activists in Buffalo are now calling on Congress to federally recognize a tribal government entity that will give that distinct, confederated, cross-border diaspora the ability to self-govern in convergence at Buffalo Creek.



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