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By Mike Hudson

A vocal critic of the clique governing the Tuscarora Nation of Indians watched helplessly last week as his business went up in flames.

Ed Farnham Jr. said the 4,000-square-foot building -- which housed his own Tuscarora Roofing business, along with Tuscarora Propane and the Mount Pleasant Native American Gift Shop -- was completely destroyed in the early-morning blaze Tuesday.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Volunteers from Sanborn, Lewiston 1 and 2, Niagara Active, Upper Mountain, Bergholz, St. Johnsburg and Shawnee, plus air reserve station firefighters, responded to the scene. Cambria, Wendelville, Ransomville and Youngstown volunteers provided backup, and Tri-Community Ambulance was at the scene.

The building was totally involved, with flames shooting through the roof, when the first trucks arrived, fire officials said.

"I got a call just after 1 a.m.," Farnham said. "They told me I'd better get down there because my building was burning down."

The gift shop, owned by Elaine Mount Pleasant, was a total loss, Farnham said.

"That's a shame, since many of the things in there were one-of-a-kind items, irreplaceable," he said. "She lost everything."

The building was insured for $75,000, Farnham added.

"We'll rebuild, bigger and better than ever," he said. "You pick yourself up and charge ahead."

Suspicious fires are nothing new on the Tuscarora Reservation. In recent years, the lone Catholic church there has been burned, along with two longhouses used to conduct tribal business and ceremonies.

Farnham was a member of a committee set up by the Tuscaroras to determine the fate of the recent $100 million state Power Authority relicensing agreement. He later told the Niagara Falls Reporter that the committee was nothing more than a dog-and-pony show set up to lend an air of legitimacy to what eventually became a simple money grab.

Members had no idea as to the amount of the settlement they were supposed to be discussing until it was revealed in a May 17 Reporter article.

"I was stunned," he said. "We had been given different numbers, $21 million up front or $55 million over the life of the agreement, but nothing like this."

The $100 million is set up to be paid to the Tuscarora in installments of $2 million a year over the 50-year term of the agreement. The state negotiated with Neil Patterson Sr. and tribal Clerk Leo Henry, who have since deposited much of what's been received so far into a dizzying array of bank accounts, investment-based certificates of deposit and mutual funds set up under the Tuscarora Nation name.

Records made available to the Reporter show $3,004,503 was deposited in checking, savings and money market accounts at an area bank, while $5,115,300 was divided between CDs with names like Global Basket, U.S. Industry Titans, and Income Opportunity. Another $1,461,887 is contained in the Franklin U.S. Government, Real Estate and Total Return funds and the Templeton Global Bond Fund.

The total amounts to $9,581,690, not a dime of which has been distributed among the Tuscarora people.

Another $7 million has reportedly been spent on a new 33,000-square-foot community center on the reservation. An experienced appraiser who toured the property on behalf of the Reporter said construction of a single-story, wood-framed building should have cost around $2 million.

Sources on the reservation told the Reporter that Neil Patterson Sr. paid himself $87,000 in less than a year for the work as a consultant on the construction project, though it is unknown what, if any, qualifications Patterson has, or what exactly his "consulting" consisted of.

According to the 2010 Census, 1,155 people live on the Tuscarora Reservation. A number of these are not enrolled members of the tribe, but based on the census figure each person would get $1,731 annually for the next 50 years. To put it another way, a Tuscarora child born in 2008 would have received $85,550 by the time she reached 50.

The Seneca Nation of Indians, like the Tuscarora, are members of the Six Nations, or Iroquois Confederacy. But while the Senecas distribute income made at three tribal casinos among the enrolled membership and undertake projects like the building of new health clinics on the reservation, the Tuscarora leadership has squirreled the money away, and many on the reservation are poor.

Neil Patterson Sr. told members of the tribe at the time of the settlement that they would spend any money they received on liquor and drugs if an equitable distribution was made.

The Tuscarora Nation has been embroiled in controversy over the legitimacy of the tribal leadership since April 30, when a Condolence Ceremony -- an Iroquoian ritual at which chiefs are elevated -- was held at the Tonawanda Seneca Reservation.

Neil Patterson Sr. and his son, Neil Patterson Jr., put themselves forward for chiefdom, but were denied after protests by several Tuscarora Clan Mothers, including Linda Hill of the Bear Clan and Lena Rickard of the Turtle Clan.

The Pattersons head up something called the Tuscarora Environment Program (TEP), which solicits grant monies from the state and federal governments. As with the $100 million Power Authority settlement, only the Pattersons and tribal Clerk Leo Henry have any idea about how much the program receives every year, how the money is used, or how much the Pattersons are paying themselves out of the grant money.

Grand Island attorney Kendra Winkelstein, who's not a Native American, is also being paid with funding dedicated for the Tuscarora, though the amount she receives is not public.

TEP publishes a magazine, maintains a website, doles out scholarships, grants or denies applications for phone and electric service, has a paper-recycling program, is involved in the lucrative Greenway project, operates a library, and runs a myriad of other programs, all subsidized by state or federal grants.

Comically, the Pattersons, Henry and Winkelstein refer to themselves collectively as "the Nation" in literature distributed by the Tuscarora Environmental Program, and have routinely denied tribal members access to electric and phone service under agreements made with National Grid and Verizon that forbid individual members of the tribe from applying for these services on their own.

Numerous sources on the reservation have told the Reporter that electric and phone service -- along with permission to dig a new well or install a septic system -- are routinely denied to those who have fallen out of favor. This despite the fact that one megawatt of electricity, enough to power every single building on the reservation, is received by "the Nation" each year under the terms of the Power Authority settlement.

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice designed to find out if the $100 million Power Authority settlement and other monies being directed toward the Tuscarora Nation by other state and federal agencies are being properly used is currently underway. Whether or not the fire that destroyed Farnham's business will become part of the investigation depends on what fire investigators working on the case can discover.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 16, 2011