Home Supporting structure More violence and surprise demolitions on Cayuga tribal lands as leadership dispute continues

More violence and surprise demolitions on Cayuga tribal lands as leadership dispute continues

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Remains of the farmhouse where Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’s eldest, Wanda John, once lived. Photo: Megan Zerez/WSKG

Read the original WSKG story here.

As the sun set, Wanda John’s son emerged from his mother’s half-demolished farmhouse in rural Seneca County. The walls are a mess of splintered wood and plaster, scattered clumps of pink fiberglass.

The family went to the site to try and salvage what they could – drums and rattles used in sacred ceremonies, old lacrosse trophies, a turtle-shaped toy that belonged to one of the little ones -children.

John’s former home is one of several Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ, or Cayuga Nation, buildings demolished last week by order of the tribe’s federally recognized leader, Clint Halftown.

John’s family said they believed the surprise demolition was an act of retaliation for his past criticism of Halftown.

The property also housed a barn and a makeshift longhouse where she and other Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ held ceremonies and traditional language lessons for the children of the tribe.

The Varick longhouse had temporarily replaced a Halftown longhouse demolished in 2020.

John and his family had built a makeshift longhouse in a barn on the property. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, of which the Cayuga are a part, does not recognize Halftown as the chief of the tribe. However, the U.S. federal government considers Halftown the official representative of the Cayuga Nation, giving it control of the tribe’s federal funding.

This has led to clashes over the years. Some of Halftown’s critics said the leader uses surprise evictions and demolitions to target those who criticize him.

“One of them put his foot on my neck”

John has lived in Varick’s house for two years.

But she said she received no warning before the Cayuga Nation Tribal Police hired security guards and a wrecking crew showed up at the house on Wednesday.

“I was dragged out of my house. I had bruises all over. They slammed me on my porch, I thought I was going to pass out,” John said. “And then one of them put his foot on the back of my neck here.”

His bruises were still visible several days after the incident.

John said she managed to call her daughter-in-law before police confiscated her mobile phone and handcuffed her in a squad car.

“Empty and Neglected”

Video posted to social media shows bulldozers on site and a growing crowd of onlookers outside the rural property, some clashing with police and guards.

Seneca County inspectors also arrived at the site halfway through the demolition and issued a stop order, although it appears demolition continued after the response.

Seneca County officials arrived on the scene and issued a stop work order, still visible on the front of the house. The workers continued with the demolition despite the order. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

In a statement, federally recognized tribal officials Clint Halftown and Sharon LeRoy accuse John of illegally selling marijuana outside the home, despite the fact that the sale of the drug is legal on tribal land.

A spokesperson said Halftown ordered the house demolished because it was vacant and neglected.

Protesters challenged those claims during a demonstration on Friday evening. About 20 people, including members of other Haudenosaunee tribes, gathered in front of a dispensary belonging to the Cayuga Nation under the eyes of tribal police.

“Caring for Each Other”

Bear Clan Sachem (Chief) Sam George said John had kept the Victorian farmhouse in top condition.

“We had the [Seneca] The county attorney takes the [building] code people there and they said [the house] was in immaculate condition, until [Halftown’s] destruction,” George said.

As for rent, George said community members sometimes step in to help John pay the bills during the pandemic.

“We were taking care of her, we were taking care of each other,” George said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Maria Stagliano, spokesperson for the Cayuga Nation, made the following statement.

“This property is owned by the Cayuga Nation and has not been leased to Wanda John or any member of her family now or at any time in the past. In fact, Ms. John lived in another Nation-owned house near Route 89 for which she did not pay rent for about a decade. It was not “his house”. Anyone on the property was a trespasser and was there illegally. Additionally, evidence recovered from the scene suggests that they appear to have run an illegal marijuana mail-order business and may have committed other criminal acts there. This illegal operation has been referred to federal authorities for further investigation and prosecution. These are the facts, pure and simple. They pretend to be the victims in an effort to further scam the public into supporting their lost cause.

The Cayuga Nation has purchased several parcels of land over the past few decades in an effort to rebuild the reservation that was taken from them. Clint Halftown, as a federally recognized leader, and the Council of the Cayuga Nation, have made many efforts to improve the lives of all citizens of the Cayuga Nation, including this effort to clean up old properties and make way for to more secure structures that enhance the Cayuga Nation as a whole and its citizens. Clint Halftown is committed to providing and renting Nation-owned housing to any Nation member who wishes, provided they pay rent and meet their end of the bargain. Ms. John and her allies refused to do the right thing for over a decade, period.

Being a citizen of the Cayuga Nation does not give anyone the right to steal, engage in criminal activity, or claim land of their choosing. The Cayuga Nation is a thriving business whose goal is to better the citizens of the Cayuga Nation as a whole, not freedom for all to occupy land as these intruders did. They mask their criminal activity as “traditionalism” to win the sympathy of white non-Natives who understand very little of the nuances of Native American governance structure and rights, and they perpetuate the appearance of a “conflict” of leadership when the overwhelming majority of The Cayuga Nation supports the current and legitimate leadership of the Nation.