- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - A federal judge on Thursday rejected a challenge to the U.S. Interior Department’s decision to put more than 13,000 acres in trust for the Oneida Indian Nation and exempt the property from state and local taxes.

The decision in 2008 to put in trust most of roughly 17,000 acres proposed by the Oneida Indian Nation in Madison and Oneida counties didn’t exceed the department’s authority under the federal law intended to enable tribes to adapt to modern society, Judge Lawrence Kahn wrote. He noted that the land around the Oneidas’ Turning Stone Casino, including gas stations and golf courses, were re-acquired by the tribe two centuries after they last possessed it.

Upstate Citizens for Equality, which filed the lawsuit, didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment Thursday. Among its claims were that the Oneidas had ceased to exist as a tribe by 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed.

“Judgments regarding a tribe’s existence is a matter that is squarely in the (department’s) Bureau of Indian Affairs’ expertise,” Kahn wrote.

Citing previous court rulings, the judge also rejected the argument that there is “no legitimate link” between the historic Oneida Nation and the group officially recognized by the federal government “as a successor in interest.”

A spokesman for the department said the agency was pleased with the outcome.

“The federal court’s dismissal of the challenges to Oneida Nation lands put the disputes behind us,” the tribe said. “The Oneida Nation remains committed to continuing its efforts to strengthen this region’s economy and working toward a new era of shared prosperity.”

On its website, Upstate Citizens for Equality says that it was formed in August to give the landowners facing the Oneida land claim a voice and that it believes federal Indian policy is “fatally flawed” and discriminatory. The group says its various chapters have about 8,000 New Yorkers, including those facing other tribes’ land claims.

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