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Tuscarora local government akin to dictatorship without police power

Niagara Falls Repoerter

March 27, 2012

By Frank Parlato Jr.

After months of hard pounding and harsh criticism by his detractors, with only silence on the part of Tuscarora Chief Leo Henry, his supporters have finally come to his defense.

And ironically his detractors have gone into hiding.

Is it because Henry has, through a trial of public fire, won a basic consensus that he is the right man to continue to lead the small but proud Tuscarora Nation?

Or is the sudden silence of a once-sturdy group of detractors caused by fear of retribution? Has Henry's power made cravens of people who have long held that Henry wields unfair control on the reservation and rules with an iron fist?

One thing is true, unlike elected officials -- including the leaders of the Seneca Nation, who are elected -- Chief Leo Henry has total control of the millions in resources that come into his hands every year from federal and state governmental agencies -- monies that are meant for all Tuscarora people.

Henry, his critics and supporters acknowledge, follows the golden rule: "He who has the gold, rules."

The harshest monetary criticism -- as reported first in the Niagara Falls Reporter -- has been that Henry feathered his nest from hoarded millions in New York Power Authority money meant for all Tuscarora people, but held in mutual funds accounts earning dividends that perhaps do nothing more than pad his salary.

The money he controls gives him authority not granted by the Tuscarora people, or by custom or tradition, but by agreements with outside agencies, and is meant and in some cases does provide most of what can be described as local governmental services, including school, health care, even electrical service, and even who can or cannot have a septic tank.

Leo Henry is akin to almost the entire local government. He has no police power, of course. But he has the power to unilaterally deny electrical service, for instance, to people, or deny the children of an un-favored family the right to be picked up by a school bus.

Named sources in the health care field have told us he has denied free health care to perhaps as many as 100 fully qualified individuals.

His alleged arbitrary and capricious deeds and alleged politically or personally motivated vendettas have been the subject of more than 30 stories in this publication.

One thing is clear: The Tuscarora do not hold elections. Henry, absent a strong movement by the people, is seemingly chief for life.

Even if all the clan mothers were to gather and seek his removal, it is unclear that it would have binding force.

In the old days, the braves would physically remove a chief who defied the consensus of the clans. But no one has legal authority to physically arrest or punish Henry should he decide to ignore the clan mothers.

He has signed legal documents with the federal government and state agencies, and, significantly, has been granted authority from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to sign such documents that give the tribe money from outside sources.

He is, in effect, the appointed chief for life -- appointed by the U.S. government!

The Tuscarora people have no voice in their own government. It was decided by Washington who would control their money.

And as far as the governance and control of money that funds local services, Henry is the dictator.

It would be like if Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster were not elected, but appointed for life by a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., and had total personal control of all city funds, could decide who gets electricity and who doesn't, who gets health care -- based entirely on his own personal preferences and with no right of appeal.

Clearly, somebody -- his opponents, if they aren't hiding under their sheets trembling -- ought to think about having elections and forming a constitution that would be binding upon federal and state agencies.

A real discussion on whether the clan mother system can work in the modern age -- when few of the Tuscarora live entirely off the land and many depend in part on the aid of the federal and state governments, and where, unlike the old days, they cannot use physical force to subdue a recalcitrant chief -- is required. Henry's opponents -- even some who are otherwise successful and bold businessmen -- are seemingly in hiding, afraid to speak out.

In spite of the fact that they have an unelected man in total control of their resources, there are a number of Tuscarora who like it that way.

An argument could be made that the chief of the Tuscarora people has diligently worked to improve the lot of the people and maintain the culture of the Tuscarora. More on that in subsequent stories.

Meanwhile, more than $10 million of Power Authority money rests safely in various accounts in the name of the Tuscarora Nation, with the sole signatory on the accounts Leo Henry, while many people who live on the reservation are without water or power.

Next week, we plan to look into the development and activities of the Tuscarora Environmental Program.



  Copyright © 2008 Frank Parlato Jr.