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We are seeing a new day, hopefully what will be a catalyst for bringing many of these disputes to closure.

Catskill casino OKed - for Wisconsin tribe

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When Eliot Spitzer was Governor, New York's legislature passed a law approving up to three casinos to be built in the Catskills Mountains, a day trip from New York City. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe was thought to be odds-on favorites for one.

But yesterday, it was a little known tribe from Wisconsin inking a deal with Governor David Paterson for a Catskills casino.

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The Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohicans will give up its 24 year-old claim to 23,000 acres of land in central New York.  In exchange, the state will support the tribe’s bid to build a gaming resort on 330 acres of land in Sullivan County.

Speaking at a ceremony in the Madison County town of Wampsville yesterday, Governor Paterson said the agreement sets a precedent for other Indian nations with land claims in New York to follow.

We are seeing a new day, hopefully what will be a catalyst for bringing many of these disputes to closure.  I know I’m going to be asked before I leave here why did you do it with this one, why didn’t you do it with that one?  This one and that one didn’t come forward.  The Stockbridge-Munsees did.

The deal still needs approval from the federal government.  By all accounts, that’s a tough road to hoe.  The Department of Interior has in the past ruled against so-called “off reservation gaming”.  The St. Regis Mohawks lost one such ruling in 2006.

The Stockbridge-Munsees don’t have reservation land in New York State.  But in an effort to placate the federal concerns, the tribe will get a 1.8 acre parcel of land within its land claim area of Madison County.  The Oneida Dispatch reports the land will become a public park.

At yesterday’s ceremony, it was telling that Stockbridge-Munsee president Kim Veeley didn’t even mention the casino plans.

Our agreement does not include much land, indeed it only includes less than two acres, but two acres might as well be 2,000 as it finally and unequivocally provides the recognition of our ancestral presence in Madison County that we have for so many years been denied.

Later in the day, Governor Paterson joined senator Chuck Schumer at an event in Sullivan County.  Both said they believed they could persuade the Obama Administration to support the Stockbridge-Munsee’s casino plans.

Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo, now the state’s attorney general, told the New York Daily News he supports the casino efforts.  He said he “doesn’t believe there will be any legal challenges”.

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