Governor's directive limits SUNY contact with Indians

Robert Taylor

ONEIDA NATION HOMELANDS, N.Y. ? Gov. George Pataki's office has ordered state colleges to limit their contact with Indian Nations.

The directive was detailed in a memorandum, dated Nov. 30, 2001, through State University of New York Counsel D. Andrew Edwards to presidents of State-operated campuses and community colleges. It instructs SUNY presidents to "direct your personnel to report all contacts with Indian tribes or nations (or anyone purporting to represent, speak on behalf of, or in any way be affiliated with an Indian tribe or nation), to contact me immediately upon such occurrence."

The memorandum further instructs the SUNY presidents to await further instructions from his office before engaging in any further contact, including correspondence, return phone calls, meetings and information sharing of any kind. The memorandum also requested that written descriptions of the contacts be sent to the SUNY counsel's office by "the most expeditious means."

A comment in the directive says that it is State policy to engage in government-to-government contact with federally recognized tribes, but contact with dissident factions or non-recognized entities causes tension and complications.

The motivation behind the governor's directive is unclear, but the memo does limit contacts between the SUNY system and Indians by placing the authorization for legitimate contact in the hands of the SUNY counsel.

Neither Edwards nor the governor's office have responded to requests from ICT to comment on the directive.

The directive surprised Horace Judson, President of SUNY Plattsburgh.

"I don't know what that means," said Judson of the memorandum. "It must be in response to some issue." Judson said he did not know what issue had prompted the order.

"I don't see what this (the memorandum) has to do with my academic mission," added Judson. "I can't imagine that it has the authority to do anything to the Plattsburgh academic mission."

Judson pointed to his institution's serious engagement with the Akwesasne community and its attempts to increase ethnic diversity on campus by encouraging Native American students to apply there.

Tony Chase, a document assistant to the SUNY Buffalo's president, Muriel Howard, said he was unaware of any memorandum ever being sent there.

"How could we not have contact?" said Chase. "We have Seneca Nation newspapers here. We have to have contact. How could they say this?"

SUNY-Buffalo is also the home of The Center of the Americas, a program that focuses on studying indigenous cultures.

Several campus spokespersons, including SUNY Press Officer Dave Henahan, promised to look into the matter and share any findings with ICT.

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