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By Mike Hudson

It's been a strange week for the Tuscarora Nation of Indians.

People who have been denied permission to hook their homes up to Niagara Mohawk power for years and even decades are now receiving that permission. And numerous sources report that many Tuscarora are receiving "white envelopes" containing cash at their homes and workplaces.

Recently, the Niagara Falls Reporter printed a copy of a $300 bank check signed by Chief Leo Henry to a member of the nation with "For Loyalty" marked on the memo line. Since then, sources said, such payments are being made in cash.

Also last week, as part of a child custody case in Niagara County Court, Francine and Susan Patterson, wife and sister of Neil Patterson Sr., signed documents representing themselves as the Clan Mothers of the Sand Turtle and White Bear Clans. The Tuscarora clan system, and indeed the entire Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, recognizes neither of those clans, which were invented as late as the 1980s in order to appoint chiefs who otherwise could not have been appointed.

Neil Patterson and his son, Neil Patterson Jr., were rejected in their own bid to become chiefs representing those clans in an April ceremony on the Tonawanda Seneca reservation.

But the sudden availability of electrical power, the payoffs and the renewed attempt to legally legitimize the two nonexistent clans may be coming too late to help the Tuscarora leadership. The U.S. Justice Department and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are both investigating, and prominent Niagara Falls attorney John Bartolomei is preparing a class action, civil RICO lawsuit on behalf of the many Tuscarora who have yet to benefit from the $100 million New York Power Authority settlement connected to the 2007 NYPA relicensing agreement.

Since 2005 -- two years before the agreement was finalized -- $12,484,752 has been paid to the Tuscarora leadership, a group made up of Henry, the Pattersons and Grand Island attorney Kendra Winkelstein, a group known to many on the reservation as the "Gang of Four."

The vast majority of the roughly 700-member Tuscarora Nation have no idea what the money is being spent on, how much Henry, the Pattersons and Winkelstein are paying themselves or anything else regarding the windfall. "Council meetings" scheduled on the spur of the moment with no written notification are held at the Patterson home.

One program undoubtedly funded is the Tuscarora Oral Histories Project, overseen by the Pattersons and their Tuscarora Environment Program. Interestingly, the names of the 40 "elders" allegedly interviewed were redacted from the final product, making it impossible to determine whether the interviews are genuine.

Also unlisted are the qualifications of the interviewers to do such specialized work. Academic researchers with anthropology, library science or journalism backgrounds generally conduct legitimate oral history interviews.

George Orwell once wrote that whoever owns the past owns the future, and the establishment of what exactly constitutes Tuscarora "custom and tradition" may determine the success or failure of the state and federal investigations, and the class action lawsuit.

The Tuscarora keep no written records as to their laws and beliefs, a situation that makes oral history essential in determining issues such as individual rights, succession of leadership, clan legitimacy and a host of other questions.

Why a company specializing in environmental issues would conduct such a project is anyone's guess. But the fact that the Pattersons control the company has led some to believe that the oral history was created merely to bolster their own claims of authority.

The controversy over who is rightfully in charge among the Tuscarora goes back more than 50 years. In a Nov. 8, 1954 letter to the editor that appeared in the old Niagara Falls Gazette, Wallace "Mad Bear" Anderson addressed the issue. Anderson was a medicine man and founder of the Indian Unity Movement, the forerunner of the American Indian Movement.

The Tuscarora are comprised of seven clans -- the Deer, Bear, Wolf, Turtle, Snipe, Beaver and Eel. These clans have been historically documented back to the 1700s, and are the basis of authority among all Iroquois tribes, including the Tuscarora.

Clan membership is passed down through the generations maternally. Each clan has a Clan Mother and is entitled to one chief or sachem and one sub-chief.

The illegitimate White Bear Clan was created by the Niagara County Baptist Convention and the Sand Turtle Clan by a former chief of the Deer Clan who was about to be deposed.

"Any future attempts to 'raise a chief' into one of these bogus clans will be stopped," Anderson wrote. "I write this account in good faith, with no attempt to hurt anyone's feelings, but instead to try to save our clan system from disruption by the type of Christian elements who burned our two longhouses to the ground in times past."

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct. 11, 2011