ONEIDA TERRITORY, NY: What they did to Liddy

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December 2, 2002

ONEIDA TERRITORY, NY: What they did to Liddy

by Kathleen Kern

Unlike other members of the Oneida territory who have spoken out against

the powers that Oneida CEO Ray Halbritter has assumed, “Martha” fears

confrontation. She wakes up every morning with a headache after a night of

fitful sleep and lives in dread of violent harassment by the non-Native

tribal police installed by Halbritter. More than the fear of violence,

however, the slander keeps her up at nights–Halbritter and his supporters

calling the dissidents violent, “hate-mongers,” and supporters of racist

non-Native groups who have challenged Oneida land claims.

But after what happened to Liddy Wilson, she had to speak out.

Elizabeth “Liddy” Wilson was a 78-year- old amputee. Martha used to bring

her boys over to sing for her in the Oneida language.

In 1993, Halbritter, the self-appointed leader of the Oneida Nation,

entered into a secret casino-licensing deal with New York Governor Mario

Cuomo. Liddy Wilson’s daughter brought her to a press conference held by

Oneidas who were upset because Halbritter would not disclose what he gave

away in exchange for permission to open a casino. Halbritter sent spies to

note which Oneida attended the press conference. Those attending had their

benefits–including heating assistance, legal aid and financial

stipends–cut off.

Shortly before the casino deal, Halbritter had received a federal grants to

supply transportation and food for elderly Oneida in the area to come to the

territory for a daily meal and an Indian Health Service grant to dig new

wells. Liddy Wilson’s new well went through a salt vein. When she called

the Indian Health service asking how she was to survive with a well full of

salt water, people there laughed at her and told her that now she would not

have to add salt when she boiled her potatoes. The Elder bus also stopped

coming to pick her up for the daily meal.

Halbritter’s people told Wilson they could restore her benefits if she

swore an oath of allegiance to Halbritter’s government, and she

refused. Shortly afterwards, she had surgery on the unamputated foot and

was put on blood thinners. At home alone, she bumped the stitches and

began to bleed uncontrollably. Her cordless phone was found in a pool of

blood next to the wheel chair in which she had died.

“With all this money couldn’t the Oneida nation have paid for an attendant?”

Martha asks.

Wilson’s death galvanized Martha to participate in a 1995 march

protesting Halbritter’s abuses of power. Halbritter disenrolled her from

the Oneida Nation along with the other march participants, accusing them

of “threatening lives, welfare and property of the Oneida people.”

Every day, Martha feels closer to nervous breakdown. “I wonder sometimes

whether death would be better. I am trying to make a difference because I

don’t want future generations to live like we do.”

Speaking of Halbritter’s continuing persecution and slander of those who

have resisted his administration, she asks, “What have I done other than

say what they did to Liddy was wrong?”

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