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By Mike Hudson

When casino kingpin Mickey Brown has a problem, former Seneca Nation president Cyrus Schindler has a problem.

The two have been joined at the hip since 2002, when their alliance resulted in the creation of the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls.

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And, following Schindler's loss to Barry Snyder in the Sept. 27 Seneca Party caucuses last month, Brown definitely had a problem.

Snyder made no secret of the fact that his plans for the casino didn't include Brown, who he regards as an interloper with no respect for Seneca tribal tradition and sovereignty.

While he is an advocate of gaming, Snyder believes casino operations should be controlled by the tribal council and accountable to the Seneca courts.

His 549-487 victory in the caucuses virtually assured him of the tribal presidency, and he vowed that his first order of business would be to replace Brown as casino president.

Brown, who has been held in contempt by tribal courts, stood to lose the $1.2 million in salary and bonuses he collects annually.

So Brown called on Schindler, who turned his back on the Seneca Party to form his own Seneca Alliance Party (SAP), and run for president in the Nov. 2 general election.

The move shocked many Schindler supporters, who believed him when he said he wouldn't run after losing in the caucuses.

"This finishes Cy as far as the Seneca Party is concerned," said one source on the Allegany Reservation. "Traditionally, the Seneca Party and the Seneca Nation have been indistinguishable."

Schindler, who serves as chairman of the Seneca Gaming Corp., has allowed Brown and other casino executives to rake in millions of dollars while thousands continue to live in poverty on the Cattaraugus and Allegany reservations.

And the few Senecas who have found employment at the casino generally earn less than minimum wage, plus tips.

Additionally, Brown has been given power of attorney for the tribal council, an unprecedented development that gives him the authority to speak for the Seneca Nation.

Documents filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission in April include provisions that strip the Senecas of sovereign immunity, guaranteed under the 1795 Treaty of Canandaigua and jealously guarded by the Nation for more than two centuries.

In an attempt to get a $300 million loan for casino expansion, Brown has argued that sovereign immunity is a deal-breaker, since it precludes the ability to sue the Senecas in state or federal court.

Ironically, in a case before the Seneca Court of Appeals earlier this year, Brown's attorneys claimed that he enjoyed his own sovereign immunity, and was exempt from sanctions by the tribal court. In an unusual closed-door session, the tribal council upheld this view.

The depth of the rift caused by Brown in the Seneca Nation cannot be overstated.

When Schindler bolted from the Seneca Party, he took a number of councilors with him, including outgoing President Rickey Armstrong.

Snyder was forced to put together a new slate of candidates, including Maurice John and Joyce Beanie Jamieson.

To complicate matters further, a third candidate, Bobby Jones, has emerged, running on a platform that includes shutting the Niagara Falls and Salamanca casinos down altogether.

"The Seneca Party is split in half and we feel we can field a team and walk right into victory," he said.

Jones' party, Senecas for Justice and Preservation, is opposed to alcohol and gambling in any form, following the creed of the Seneca prophet, Handsome Lake.

If elected, Jones said he would hold an immediate referendum on the casinos.

"I'm in favor of putting padlocks on the doors," he said. "I represent people who want to pursue adhering to our traditions."

Reservation sources say the race is too close to call, adding that Jones' candidacy constitutes a wild card that could ultimately swing the decision, particularly on the more traditional Allegany.

Some are worried that the acrimony between the Snyder and Schindler camps may escalate into violence.

"There are going to be a lot of angry people, whoever wins," one Seneca told the Reporter. "And there will be those who won't accept the decision, regardless of the outcome."

For his part, Mickey Brown says he has no intention of staying on after his contract expires in 2007.

But one thing is certain. The fracture he has caused in the Seneca Nation will linger long after he is gone.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct. 12 2004