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By Mike Hudson

An unscheduled, unannounced "whispering meeting" held at the home of Neil Patterson Sr. has Tuscarora Clan Mothers outraged and provided the latest chapter in the simmering unrest on the reservation that has already drawn the attention of state and federal officials.

At issue is the $100 million settlement the Tuscarora received under the state Power Authority relicensing agreement, and its control by Patterson Sr., Neil Patterson Jr. and Tribal Clerk Leo Henry. The Pattersons attempted to have themselves raised as tribal chiefs at a recent Condolence Ceremony held on the Tonawanda Seneca Reservation, but had their hopes crushed after the Clan Mothers spoke out against them.

By tradition, tribal council meetings are announced to the Clan Mothers of the Deer, Bear, Wolf, Snipe, Beaver and Eel clans. The Clan Mothers then tell the clan chiefs or other representatives when to attend.

Attendees of the so-called "whispering meeting" included the Pattersons, Henry, Francine Patterson and Kendra Winkelstein, the Patterson's Grand Island attorney. Previously, Winkelstein was best known for going to court opposing efforts by the Seneca Nation of Indians to open the Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo.

Clan Mothers -- including Lena Rickert and Dorothy Chew -- got wind of the meeting and attempted to send representatives. But the representatives were rebuffed, and the meeting was conducted by participants in whispers so that observers couldn't tell what was going on.

"We don't even know who is paying Kendra Winkelstein, the Pattersons or the Nation as a whole," said Ed Farnham, who represented the Bear Clan on the committee meant to oversee the Power Authority deal. "And nobody has a clue as to how much she's being paid."

Tuscaroras contacted by the Niagara Falls Reporter said they are angry and upset that Winkelstein, a white woman, is being allowed to sit in and have a voice at council meetings where traditionally only chiefs and Clan Mothers had a say.

They're also worried about a June 22 article in the Wall Street Journal that said tobacco giant Phillip Morris in close to an agreement with New York and 45 other states that would require taxes to be collected on low-priced cigarettes produced by manufacturers on the reservations.

In Western New York, the agreement would be devastating to Seneca and Tuscarora manufacturers of the popular Lewiston, Seneca and Smokin' Joes brands.

The Tuscaroras are upset because the Pattersons and Henry have invested millions in investment funds that hold stock in Phillip Morris' parent company, the Altria Group.

"They're trying to take away jobs here on the Tuscarora Reservation, and our money is being invested to help them do that," Farnham said, shaking his head.

In addition to Altria, the Tuscarora settlement money is also heavily invested in casinos like Harrah's, Las Vegas Sands, Motor City Casino and Venetian Macao, along with companies producing alcoholic beverages such as Anheuser-Busch.

Both gambling and drinking are anathema to traditional Tuscarora ways.

But the big questions remain and neither the Pattersons or Henry appears anxious to talk about it: What is happening to the reported $2 million a year that was meant to go to the Seneca Nation of Indians and why haven't those living on the reservation benefited from it in any way?

U.S. Justice Dept. officials have been contacted regarding the situation, and will likely look for answers at the Pattersons' Upper Mountain Road home. It's not hard to find. Someone has spray painted the words "Den of thieves" on the pavement at the beginning of the driveway.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com June 28, 2011