- The Washington Times - Monday, October 21, 2013

As he describes it, Ray Halbritter is simply on a crusade of conscience by spearheading the effort to expunge the “Redskins” name from the National Football League.

But that controversy, which continues to grow as President Obama and others weigh in on whether Washington’s football club should abandon what some see as a racially offensive name, has taken a detour in recent weeks. Questions have arisen about Mr. Halbritter’s past, his ties to Mr. Obama and political fundraising, clashes with others within the Oneida Indian Nation, and lawsuits that have challenged his legitimacy as the nation’s leader.

Mr. Halbritter, recognized by the federal government as the Oneidas’ official representative and a wildly successful businessman, is described by his critics as a “fraud,” and faces accusations that he is using the Redskins fight as a vehicle to boost his own political profile.

PHOTOS: Redskins name fight unearths questions about Oneida Indian Nation leader

“I hope it’s the arrogance before the fall,” said New York state Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, a Republican who says she will file motions in federal court challenging Mr. Halbritter’s status as the Oneida leader.

“I think he’s trying to get himself on the national scene. He co-opted this” movement against the Redskins‘ name, said Ms. Tenney, who represents Oneida County and other parts of upstate New York in the state’s legislature.

In recent weeks, she also has publicly disputed Mr. Halbritter’s lineage as a true member of the Oneida nation — an accusation that the tribe vehemently dismisses and characterizes as a vicious racial attack.

“Obviously, he’s a member,” said Joel Barkin, the nation’s vice president of communications, adding that questions about Mr. Halbritter’s status as Oneida leader are “absurd” and “insulting.”

Mr. Barkin also referred to comments to the website ProFootballTalk, in which he described critics as “the most committed bigots.”

The fierce backlash from Mr. Halbritter — the man behind the Change the Mascot campaign — and his allies doesn’t surprise Ms. Tenney and others who have dealt with him and challenged him in court for years.

In 1996, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Oneida Nation of New York alleging that the federal government — specifically, the Interior Department and its Bureau of Indian Affairs — violated the Oneidas’ national sovereignty by recognizing Mr. Halbritter as the nation’s leader.

The center said the woman who led that lawsuit, lawyer Barbara Olshansky, is no longer with the organization. Efforts to contact her were unsuccessful.

The lawsuit centered on the complaints of some Oneidas who claimed that Mr. Halbritter violated the Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee by entering the casino business, according to center documents and case records.

The Turning Stone Casino in upstate New York is a venture of the Oneida Nation, which also owns a variety of other stores and businesses.

Amid controversy over the casino, the Grand Council of Chiefs decided in 1993 to remove Mr. Halbritter from his post as official Oneida representative — a decision that the federal government doesn’t recognize, records show.

Another lawsuit was a 2004 challenge on behalf of some Oneidas. The lawyer who filed the lawsuit, Donald Daines, wrote that Mr. Halbritter “and his casino faction were improperly and illegally given power by the [Bureau of Indian Affairs] over the internal and external affairs of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York.”

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