After fighting in the American Revolution on the side of the Colonists, the Oneida People and other Native Americans have a new fight. The battle is no longer in establishing a new United States, but establishing sovereign Indian nations including one for the Oneidas. Nation Representative Ray Halbritter says that was done with the Treaty of 1794 and enforced by the courts over the years. He says, "We wanted the Treaty to be honored. We wanted, essentially, our land back."
Getting that land has been one battle, but the relationship between the Oneidas and the county that shares the same name has been another. County Executive Anthony Picente says, "Initially the relationship was a positive one. There was a great deal of communication and collaboration. There were still some of the outlining issues of property and tax revenue issues."
Those two topics are simply stated, but carry with them epic challenges. For a time, the county argued the Oneidas were a sovereign nation and were not required to pay property taxes. It's a story with a rich modern history of conflict. Picente says, "For the last 30 years (or plus), obviously there are strong feelings on both sides that aren't going away overnight. There are going to be areas of compensation that not everybody's going to be happy with. That goes for both sides...the governmental side that goes for the schools the counties, the towns the people...and that goes for the Oneidas themselves. But that's what compromise is about. When what when you negotiate is about."
The Town of Verona Supervisor, Owen Waller says, "Sometimes I think it's adversarial. Communication is the key. We find out things here at the town, probably second or third or last sometimes. We should know early because we're the ones that have to process the infrastructure. "Whether it's about land ownership, property tax, sales tax, water usage or just community relations, people from local municipalities, county officials and representatives from national levels continue to work on establishing amicable and even profitable relationships.
Picente says, "We should be a part of that in a better way, I think. I'm committed to trying to find a way to make that work. What's next? I don't have specifics but I've never stopped the lines of communications. I won't. And, depending on how much longer I have in this office, that's one of my goals before I leave here."
While the Oneidas think of their past, Ray Halbritter and the Oneida Nation Enterprises are moving forward. Exit 33 is a major development underway. It's the largest construction project at the resort since the Turning Stone Tower and the Lodge back in in 2004. Exit 33 will feature four entertainment choices: A rock and roll club, a country music dance hall, a piano bar and a lounge. Set to open in July 2013, Turning Stone's 20th anniversary, Exit 33 is sure to attract more attention and more revenue. That begs the question: Would the Nation be embroiled in lawsuits and controversy, if stakes weren't so high?
Picente says, "Probably not. And, that's a good question, because when they were on their reservation...when they had the bingo hall...nobody looked at revenues. Nobody looked at property issues. Nobody was concerned about them buying more property at that time, so those are all good questions."