About a dozen protestors are occupying the site of a partially demolished Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ, or Cayuga Nation, home in the rural Seneca County. The house is one of three buildings demolished last Wednesday by the tribe’s controversial federal representative, Clint Halftown.
Activists, including some from the Ithaca Tenant’s Union, have set up a handful of tents outside the crumbling white and green farmhouse on County Route 124 in Varick. They are camped there in order to block further demolition of the house and a makeshift ceremonial longhouse in a barn on the property.
Halftown is still BULLDOZING Gayogo̱hó:nǫ’ homes! They need more people out there NOW, esp those willing to stay overnight or who have medical/legal training. Remember that we live on stolen land and, especially as Cornell students, enable this displacement unless we fight back. https://t.co/9QuFfrvb7u
— Tiffany Chen Kumar (@KumarForCouncil) August 9, 2022
A banner on one of the tents reads “Halftown Must Go.” It’s a reference to a dispute between a faction of Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ and their de facto leader, Clint Halftown, who ordered the demolition.
The U.S. government recognizes Halftown as the tribe’s official representative, which effectively gives him control over any money the tribe receives from the federal government.
However, chiefs and clan mothers of the Haudenausonee Confederacy, of which the Cayuga are a part, do not recognize Halftown. Halftown’s critics said his rise to power did not follow traditional Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ laws of governance, though Halftown has disputed that claim.
Wanda John said she has lived in the house since 2020. She and her family have been outspoken critics of Halftown.
John’s supporters say the house was demolished as an act of retaliation. Wrecking crews also damaged a ceremonial longhouse on the property before Seneca County officials intervened.
Some tribe members said Halftown has a history of evicting his critics or demolishing buildings they occupy, often with little to no advance notice.
John said she’s worried her children may soon face the same fate.
“[Halftown] has threatened two [other] homes already,” John said. “And my other son and daughter live down the road a ways.”
Halftown’s Washington D.C. based crisis communicator, Maria Stagliano, said the house was vacant and unfit for residents. Stagliano said John did not have the right to live there, even if she is a registered tribe member.
During several visits to the property, WSKG observed evidence to suggest that the building was well maintained and in use as a residence up until the demolition.
WSKG has not yet been able to determine if John was paying rent on the property, however. John was among 14 Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ families who received eviction summons shortly after the onset of the pandemic.
Stagliano also alleged John had been selling cannabis out of the home through the mail, which is a federal crime.
John disputes the allegation. She said the cannabis on the property was destined to be sold at her son’s small legal dispensary on tribal land near Seneca Falls.
It is legal to sell cannabis products on tribal land; Halftown operates LakeSide Trading, a popular legal dispensary, on behalf of the Cayuga Nation.
John is currently staying with family nearby. They are helping her salvage belongings from the wreckage.
Meanwhile, protestors continue to gather outside the remains of the house. They have been occupying the property for at least a week.