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By Mike Hudson

The days of the "Chiefs Council" governing the Tuscarora Nation of Indians may be numbered, as an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department is heating up and enrolled members of the nation are becoming increasingly vocal.

The council consists of one actual chief, Leo Henry, who also serves as tribal clerk, along with Neil Patterson Sr., Neil Patterson Jr. and Kendra Winkelstein, a white woman and a practicing attorney based in Grand Island.

The four have complete control over tribal finances, including the $100 million settlement the Tuscarora received for signing off on the 2007 relicensing agreement with the New York Power Authority. With the exception of the Pattersons and Henry, none of that money has been distributed to members of the tribe, and it wasn't until a May 17 article in the Niagara Falls Reporter revealed the amount of the settlement that the Tuscarora people even knew how much they had received.

Likewise unknown is the amount Henry, the Pattersons and Winkelstein -- known as the "Gang of Four" on the reservation -- are paying themselves.

What is known is that Tuscaroras who run afoul of the gang are routinely punished by being denied electrical and phone service, permission to dig wells or install septic systems, and even medical care.

Dawn Phillips, a psychiatric social worker at Erie County Medical Center, grew up on the Tuscarora Reservation and went to school there. She is the daughter of a Tuscarora father and a mother from the Six Nations Reservation in Ohsweken, Ont.

Her experience is typical.

"I went to Leo Henry about five years ago because I was turned away from the Tuscarora Clinic and told that I needed a card that was distributed only by Leo to approve those who could receive health care," Phillips told the Reporter. "He told me at that time that I should go back to Canada."

Phillips replied that she met all his criteria on the letter he had posted at the Tuscarora Clinic and that she was eligible for the card, which in the past she hadn't needed in order to get services from the clinic. Henry said there were new rules he needed to impose in order to lessen the number of non-natives who were using the clinic. He refused her request for the card and told her she could no longer receive health services from the clinic.

"I mentioned to him that I could not understand how he could deny me access to health care services that are guaranteed me, as a Native American, by treaties with the U.S. government. He said that he makes his own rules," Phillips said. "I asked if the Department of Health, which is the governmental entity that funds the clinic, knows that he makes up his own rules, and he stated they don't care."

Phillips went back to see Henry in November of last year with her sisters, and was again denied the card to receive services at the Tuscarora Clinic.

"This is not an isolated case. In my professional capacity as a prevention case manager, intensive family case manager, addiction counselor, and medical social work manager, I have worked with over 100 people who were denied health care services," she said. "There isn't any rhyme or reason to how Leo makes his decision to deny services. In one family, he allowed a son to go to the clinic, but not the daughter, even though both share the same parentage."

Stories like this are common on the Tuscarora Reservation. An educated and articulate woman, Phillips said she believes the matter comes down to a question of basic civil rights.

"I have not heard anything mentioned about this treaty violation committed by a supposed 'leader' in our community," she said. "The despots of the Tuscarora Nation have been in power so long that no one dares to question their self-appointed authority."

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 9, 2011