Now is the Time for a Peaceful Resolution

By: Ralph Eannace
Oneida County Executive

     Today, America wages a war to root out terrorism and prevent the horrific tragedies of September 11th from ever occurring again.

     Attacking the foundation of terrorism is not just the work of governments and armies. It is a challenge and a duty for us here in the Mohawk Valley. The poison of terrorism is brewed from the roots of hatred. Sadly, hate is not only stirred and manipulated on foreign soil, but even in this precious land of ours, born 225 years ago affirming that "all men are created equal."

     Although the great majority of Americans responded heroically to the events this fall, unfortunately the fear, ignorance, anger and intolerance of some citizens made Arab-Americans and Muslims of all nationalities the victims of threats and ridicule. From the nightmare of the Ku Klux Klan to the unfairness suffered by impounded Japanese-Americans and spied-upon German-Americans in World War II, to the discrimination immigrants of all generations have faced, the story of our American journey is that of a people who are not perfect, but who face up to our flaws and heal them by embracing one another.

     On a more local front, most Central New Yorkers have responded to the Oneida Indian Nation Land Claim with patience and support for both sides while we attempt to settle many legal and political issues. Unfortunately, the Oneida Indian people, many of whom were numbered among our allies in the Revolutionary War and our neighbors in our generation, are lately the recipients of direct and indirect threats, as well as hateful name-calling and race-baiting, perpetrated by some individuals who do not represent our community as a whole.

     The land claim and the efforts to build a new homeland by the Oneida Nation have created very serious issues for us all. We have been working very hard to resolve these issues by negotiation and by litigation. Recently, all sides are indicating a stronger interest in resuming face to face negotiations, as it should be. However, respect is an integral part of our civil society. No matter how deep our passions and convictions, how large the debate looms over issues like sales tax; or how wide and deep is the chasm between sides, we cannot lose sight of the principles we inherited from our ancestors and hold in trust for our children. Resolution of the issues between us can never be achieved by fostering cynicism or dismantling the bonds of community. We have seen in our history that the chains of prejudice enslave both the victims and the perpetrators, and that chains forged by one generation shackle countless innocents to a blighted future.

     The unique status of the Oneida Indian Nation is complex. Laws and court rulings that govern emotional issues of land ownership, tax fairness and sovereignty strike at the heart of much that we hold dear. However, all of us who live in this area must work to resolve these issues. We have only to look at the escalation of hatred that has scorched the earth of foreign lands to understand our need to find a solution that will allow neighbors to share more than just geography.

     Unsupported accusations, hateful speech and threats will only poison this process. We cannot achieve fairness in large issues without achieving decency in small ones. Demeaning a people creates a further barrier to negotiation, which as many judges in this case have already told us repeatedly, still holds the potential to resolve much more than any court decision ever can. Oneida and Madison County governments have shown time and again that we will not settle on terms that we do not believe our people can live with well into the future. But the honest defense of deeply held principles, conducted with civility and courage, and as Ray Halbritter has suggested, with imagination as we look for new solutions, is the only long-term process that can bring long-term success. America is great because for 225 years we have taken widely differing principles, passionately held beliefs and deeply divisive issues and found a way to bond together through the ideals we hold in common.

     We can rise to this latest chapter in the enduring American challenge to bring everyone to the table of hope and prosperity. Hatred brought us images of smoke smudging a blue New York City sky. Unity brought us the image of four men including a Native American raising an American flag on the island of Iwo Jima.

     To our neighbors of the Oneida Indian Nation: I am hopeful that 2002 will bring a quick resumption of the face to face negotiations that stalled 18 months ago.

     To the State of New York, the Federal Government, and all of our neighbors here at home: I hope we can all prepare the way in 2002 for a more lasting unity and prosperity.