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Court allows Seneca lawsuit on Thruway to proceed

The Seneca Nation is celebrating a victory in an ongoing lawsuit concerning the use of its lands for the construction of the New York State Thruway.

On Thursday, the United States District Court for the Western District of New York issued a decision denying New York state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Seneca Nation regarding the validity of the easement for the New York State Thruway that runs through the Nation’s Cattaraugus Territory. The decision may clear the way for the lawsuit to proceed.

“We are happy with this decision and hope that we can finally bring a fair resolution to the Seneca people after more than six decades of seeing 300 acres of Seneca homeland illegally used to benefit New York State,” said Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. “Just as important, I hope this decision offers an example for how state governments need to be held accountable in their dealings with Native nations.”

The portion of the road is between Exit 58 in Silver Creek and Exit 57 on the Interstate 90 and impacts about six miles of highway.

Grounds for this case originate in 1954, when the Nation was pressured to grant an easement for a thruway to be constructed through a portion of its Cattaraugus Reservation, which it has always owned and occupied as a federal Indian reservation. In 1954, land easements on Nation territory required federal approval to be deemed valid, but New York State did not take action to get approval from the Department of Interior to construct the Thruway.

This is a long-standing dispute between the Nation and the state. The nation has openly denied the validity of the purported easement for many years and has asked the state Thruway Authority (NYSTA) to remit Thruway tolls to the Nation, but the authority has refused.

“The unsanctioned presence and operation of the Thruway on our land not only violates our sovereignty, it has hindered our ability to realize the full economic development potential of the Cattaraugus Territory,” Armstrong said. “We are seeking, at long last and moving forward, to right an egregious wrong.”

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