WASHINGTON (CN) – A group of Cayuga Indians whom the United States recognized as the New York tribe’s governing body can intervene in the challenge to that designation filed by a rival faction, a federal judge ruled.
Though it had previously been the role of the Cayuga Nation’s clan mothers to select a council of chiefs to govern, a faction known as the Halftown Group persuaded the Bureau of Indian Affairs two years ago to replace this process with a mail-in survey.
Relying on the results of that survey, the bureau recognized the group, also known as the Cayuga Nation Council, as the nation’s governing body in December 2016.
This prompted a federal complaint by a rival faction that purports to represent the interests of the clan mothers.
Alleging violations of the Administrative Procedure Act, the challengers said they were locked out of secret meetings between government officials and council members when the decision was made.
Last month, the Halftown Group moved to intervene in the lawsuit, seeking to support the U.S. government.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted such intervention on Friday, saying that the council has standing because it could suffer irreparable harm if the court rules in favor of the clan mothers.
“It would undermine putative intervenor’s current recognition as the government of the Cayuga Nation and their relationship with the federal government, and place at risk the Putative Intervenor’s receipt of funds from federal contracts,” the 14-page ruling says.
Kollar-Kotelly rejected the challengers’ argument that the council would not be harmed by the outcome of the case because it had already received the funds from a Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act contract, which were granted as a result of the results of the mail-in survey.
But Kollar-Kotelly found that the language of the contract contradicts that claim, as the contract matures in September and an outstanding balance on the contract remains.
Kollar-Kotelly also noted that she was skeptical of the claim of no harm because the plaintiffs have indicated in court filings that they want to stem secondary effects of the decision to recognize the council as the Cayuga Nation government, primarily that the council would use the decision to consolidate exclusive authority over all the nation’s dealings with federal agencies.
“Accepting plaintiffs’ representations that the decision could — at least as a practical matter — have these effects, it appears to the court that vacating that Decision would harm the Putative Intervenor,” the ruling says.
Dan French, who described himself as general counsel for the Cayuga Nation, said in a brief phone interview that the council is “pleased with the ruling.”
“The nation believes they have a unique interest that needs to be protected,” he said.
Attorneys for the clan mothers and the council of chiefs did not respond to an email seeking comment on the ruling.