Anti-Redskins campaigner runs abusive tribal government, Oneida members say

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
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Ray Halbritter, the disputed tribal leader pushing for the Washington Redskins to change their team name, employs a crisis communications firm that also represents and a lawyer who represents IRS scandal figure Lois Lerner as he struggles to protect a casino empire that disenfranchises valid members of the Oneida Nation.

The Daily Caller revealed last week that Halbritter, who schmoozed with President Obama at a pricey 2012 fundraiser, is not a legitimate member of the Oneida Indian Nation, which he leads as official Representative and CEO of the tribe’s affiliated corporation.  TheDC also reported that Halbritter pays his 450 to 1,000 tribe members approximately $16,000 per year despite raking in between $115 million and $300 million per year in profits from casinos and federal subsidies.

Halbritter, who was removed from his leadership by Indian leaders in 1993 only to be re-instated by the federal government under pressure from a pro-casino congressman, even ordered land evictions of Oneida tribespeople who oppose his profit-driven leadership, including his own aunt.

While Halbritter uses legal and PR muscle to shore up his image, however, he is coming under fire over his management with his putative tribe.

Activists accuse Halbritter of creating a “foreign government” that gives him “sole say” over the tribe’s business. A group of opponents of the Turning Stone Casino in New York State describe Halbritter’s tribal government as an abusive, neglectful regime, featuring Halbritter in a short video asserting, “He who has the gold makes the rules.”

Halbritter appeared to descend into public-relations crisis mode last week after The Daily Caller drew on historical U.S. Census Rolls, genealogical documents, and revelations from New York Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney to reveal the doubtfulness of his leadership claims. Halbritter condemned TheDC’s reporting as “bigotry” and claimed that “you don’t have to be an Indian” to have an opinion on the Redskins issue.

“It’s a page out of the bigotry playbook, and it’s unfortunate. They can try to distract everyone, but [the Redskins’ name] is the issue. And you don’t have to be Indian to know the name is offensive,” Halbritter told The New York Post.

The newspaper didn’t have much luck looking into Halbritter’s world. “Tribe officials refused to let a Post reporter speak with members other than Kandice Watson, Oneida Nation’s director of education and cultural outreach, or even get out of the car during a closely monitored driving tour of the reservation last week. And Halbritter would make himself available only by phone for 10 minutes, as a Manhattan-based ‘crisis communications expert’ listened in and tried to control the conversation,” the Post reported Sunday

The Oneida Indian Nation employs the crisis communications firm Red Banyan Group, which also lists and various pro-Israel lobbying organizations, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as clients.

“Crisis communications, known also as crisis PR or crisis management, is a specialized type of strategic communications…Red Banyan Group has provided public relations counsel to domestic and international companies of various sizes who have been in challenging situations and found themselves in need of crisis communication experts,” according to the firm’s website.

The Red Banyan Group employs at least one consultant in New York City.

Additionally, Halbritter’s regime employs a lawyer who represents disgraced former IRS official Lois Lerner, the Washington-based apparatchik who oversaw the improper targeting of conservative and tea party groups during the last election cycle.

Washington-based super lawyer William Taylor, who is currently negotiating for immunity for Lerner, still serves as outside counsel for the Oneida Indian Nation, according to a source. Taylor has been working for the Oneidas since 1986, according to documents obtained by TheDC, helping to build the empire that was solidified by the tribe’s gaming compact with then-New York governor Mario Cuomo in 1993.

Halbritter’s status as Representative of the Oneida Indian Nation is still not recognized by the Grand Council of Chiefs of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy.

Conflict within the Oneida tribe exploded during Halbritter’s leadership. In 2002, Maisie Shenandoah reportedly accused her nephew Halbritter of “operating under self-assumed authority.” The following year, Halbritter’s government ordered home evictions of dwellers on Oneida Nation land, including his own aunt Maisie.

Maisie Shenandoah’s daughter Diane called her mother’s eviction “a disgrace.”

The Oneida Indian Nation did not return a request for comment.

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