Rebuilding the longhouse: Obstacles to and opportunities for settling the Cayuga Indian Nation land claim through negotiation (New York)

Brian Booth Blancke
Dept. of Anthropology, Syracuse University
July, 2005


On November 19th, 1980 the Cayuga Nation of New York filed suit against thousands of property owners, two counties, seven towns, four villages, a number of corporations and two colleges for the repossession of their original 64,015-acre reservation. The suit was filed because the negotiated settlement of the Nation's land claim collapsed, a settlement that took the Federal Government, the Nation and the State of New York eighteen months to negotiate. Twenty-five years later, despite subsequent rounds of negotiation and the best effort of renowned mediators, the claim has still not settled out of court. Why? What are the obstacles to settlement?
A month before the Cayuga Nation filed its land claim, a negotiated settlement of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Penobscot Nation's land claims to sixty percent of the State of Maine (some 12 million acres) was implemented by the same Congress that voted down the Cayuga settlement. Why do some land claims settle while others do not? These questions lie at heart of this research. Indian land claims are Gordian knots of politics, personalities and laws. How can they be untied, or rather cut? To answer this question, a comparative, historical case-study was done of the Cayuga and the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot land claim negotiations. Both negotiations took place during the same period of time (1977--1980), with some of the same federal officials, over the same type of legal claims. By comparing a case that failed (Cayuga) with a case that succeeded (Passamaquoddy and Penobscot), a parallel case-oriented strategy, the differences in the cases and their outcomes were explored and insights into settlement dynamics were generated. Four factors---the shadow of federal Indian law, Congressional and Executive leadership, the availability and location of land, and public opposition to settlement---interacted to create paths of success and failure in these two cases. Interestingly, these factors/obstacles are related to the architecture or structure of negotiation rather than to the interpersonal process at the bargaining table. Based on this research, implications are drawn for negotiation theory, future research and for policy and practice, especially for the negotiators in the Cayuga land claim.