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By Mike Hudson

While Neil Patterson Jr. has apparently given up on using the monthly newsletter of his Tuscarora Environmental Program (TEP) to defend the spending of $12.5 million the Tuscaroras have received so far under the $100 million state Power Authority relicensing agreement, he continues to collect grant funding from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

TEP serves as a conduit for the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force, an Iroquois organization formed for the individual tribes to identify environmental problems and work to correct them. The 5,700-acre Tuscarora reservation has a long history of environmental problems, few of which have been addressed since Patterson formed the agency in 1997.

Along with his father, Neil Patterson Sr., tribal Clerk Leo Henry and Grand Island attorney Kendra Winkelstein, Patterson Jr. is a member of the so-called "Gang of Four" who currently run the Tuscaroras' affairs. Documents made available under the federal Freedom of Information Act show TEP receives $257,640 a year under its contract with the federal government.

What sort of service is provided for those tax dollars? Not much, according to Jerome Dubuc, a lifelong resident of the reservation.

"When they widened Chew Road they laid down what they said was slag, four to five feet underneath the surface," Dubuc said. "They just sprayed tar and cinders over it."

Later, the roadway was found to have been paved with a highly radioactive blend of vanadium, chromium and other heavy metals said to have come from the processing of uranium for the atomic bombs used to end World War II.

"All these years that's been leaching into people's wells," he said. "It's in our drinking water."

Dubuc said whole families in the neighborhood between Mt. Hope Road and the Tuscarora Baptist Church have been lost to cancer, as was his wife, Faith. The couple's daughter was successfully treated for uterine cancer several years ago.

Patterson Jr., who is paid $39,000 a year plus benefits for his EPA work, is well aware of the problem, Dubuc said. "Their idea of remediation was to start giving the people around here bottled water," he said.

Ironically, it was Patterson's TEP that decided no environmental impact statement was needed prior to the signing of the Power Authority relicensing agreement. Records show that the Gang of Four received a payment of $5 million two years prior to the signing of the agreement.

Henry and the Pattersons control every facet of life on the reservation, from handling the millions of dollars the state and federal governments give the Tuscaroras each year down to deciding who may or may not benefit from basic services such as health care and electricity.

Henry spends much of the year at a home he owns in Bradenton, Fla., while Neil Patterson Jr. is said to have a home in the Syracuse area. Repeated attempts to reach Henry at the phone listed for his Florida home went unanswered. A later attempt connected to a phone company recording saying the line had been disconnected.

No tribal council meetings are scheduled until February, but it's unlikely that the Tuscaroras who are a part of the class action lawsuit being put together by prominent Niagara Falls attorney John Bartolomei will allow the Gang of Four to hide for long. Bartolomei's suit will address a broad range of issues, including the environment and the handling of the relicensing settlement, in an attempt to show that the tribe's leadership is essentially a criminal organization set up to benefit the leaders themselves.

Native American radio personality John Kane has also taken an interest in the plight of the Tuscaroras.

"We're talking about Tuscarora and how outside forces leave the Tuscarora people under a cloud of corrupt leadership and the scandalous management of $100 million from the New York Power Authority," Kane said.

Those outside forces, Kane said, are the state and federal governments themselves, particularly the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"The people have no say on who their leaders are," he said. "The federally recognized leadership is borne out of a combination of the boy's club claiming to be the 'Confederacy' and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"The BIA says if you are going to keep your heathen ways and stick to a traditional form of government, then we are putting our blinders on and don't want to know nothing about how it is supposed to work; just tell us who the leaders are," he added.

While some would argue the disputes on the reservation should be resolved quietly without airing any dirty laundry in public, Kane says the massive scale of the Tuscarora problem warrants the attention.

"You give these guys and their lawyer $100 million from the New York Power Authority and the power to dictate every aspect of Tuscarora life from who can have electricity, or can use the health clinic, or can get an ID card, and you see the reason why this corruption needs to be exposed to everyone," he said. "Most of the problems in Tuscarora are not internal but stem from outside influence, outside authority and outside money."

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 22, 2011