Interior Department Rebuts Schumer, Reconfirms Oneida’s 300,000-acre Reservation
The Interior Department has re-confirmed its long held position that the Oneida Indian Nation’s 300,000-acre reservation has not been disestablished.
Scott Keep, Interior Assistant Solicitor for the Division of Indian Affairs, wrote to the U.S. Census Bureau Feb. 3 concerning a controversy over census maps raised last month by Madison County officials.
“Please note that we stand by the position stated in our letter of October 2010, that the Oneida Reservation has not been disestablished and is intact,” Keep wrote.
Last summer, the Oneida Nation’s general counsel Meaghan Beakman asked the U.S. Census Bureau to update its depiction of the Oneida Nation reservation to be in line with a map prepared by the BIA, which includes the nation’s 300,000-acre historic reservation. Earlier census maps erroneously showed the reservation to be only 32 acres. Interior’s October letter confirmed that the 300,000-acre reservation remains whole as part of the process of updating the maps.
But late last month, Madison County officials noticed the new map and responded with outrage, claiming it was changed without notice to the state or county and insinuating that something sinister had taken place.
“The County has preliminary information that this was made with the cooperation and support of the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” county officials said in a press release January 18.
The county officials got Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) involved and on Feb. 3 he issued a bombastic press release declaring that he had pulled off a “major victory’ for the counties by convincing Interior and the Census Bureau “to retract the unfounded and radically expanded Oneida reservation map that had been handed down in the dead of night.”
The nation responded in a prepared statement, questioning Schumer’s “interference” in the process.
"Every court that has ever considered this issue has ruled that the Oneida Nation reservation was never disestablished. Even after Sen. Schumer's interference, the Department of Interior's new letter still acknowledges that ‘the Oneida Reservation has not been disestablished and is intact’ and that ‘this position is legally binding,’” said Mark Emery, the nation’s director of media relations. “Severe legal issues arise when a member of Congress uses his elected position to unduly influence a regulatory process, and especially the Census Bureau, for improper political purposes. The Oneida Nation obviously will not permit such misconduct to occur. The Nation will be pursuing Sen. Schumer's misconduct with the appropriate authorities who have jurisdiction over these matters, and we will defer further comment to allow the legal process to run its course.”
According to federal law, only Congress has the authority to disestablish a reservation and that hasn’t happened.