Niagara Gazette

Local News

November 2, 2010

Seneca Nation elects Robert Porter president

Former counsel, law professor leads Seneca Party sweep into office

ALLEGANY TERRITORY, SALAMANCA —  Seneca Nation voters today elected Robert Odawi Porter as their president – a man raised on the Allegany Territory, educated at Syracuse and Harvard universities and with a career as a distinguished law professor and expert in tribal law.

Enrolled Senecas voting today on the Allegany and Cattaraugus territories gave Porter 1,671 votes and his opponent, former president Maurice A. John Sr., 500.

Seneca presidents serve two-year terms in rotation from their two main territories, Allegany and Cattaraugus. Current President Barry E. Snyder Sr. is from Cattaraugus, so the next president is from Allegany. Porter will be sworn in Nov. 9 in the traditional Canvass Day Ceremony on the Cattaraugus Territory.

Porter, the Seneca Party’s nominee, led a party sweep of significant Nation offices. The party is a political force within the Nation with eight of the last 10 presidents coming from that party.

 “I want to thank the Seneca people and my fellow Seneca Party members for this historic victory,” said Porter, 47. “Our Nation’s success has generated new and more intense threats to our sovereignty from outside forces and starting today we will combat those with renewed energy and more creative policies.”

“We face lawsuits aimed at stopping our casino construction in Buffalo, Congress targeting Seneca mail-order businesses, New York State’s efforts to tax our territory commerce and violate our treaty rights, and federal agencies trying to interfere with our internal self-governance,” Porter said. “The Nation is experiencing multiple attacks on our very existence like we haven’t seen in more than 200 years.”

Porter becomes the 67th man chosen Seneca Nation president in 108 general elections since 1848. He is believed to be the first graduate of Syracuse University to be elected as head of a sovereign nation.

 “On top of so many threats, the Nation’s economic foundation is undergoing considerable change,” he said. “The Nation’s gaming enterprises, while still quite lucrative, face increased competition. The tobacco businesses operated by the Nation and Seneca entrepreneurs are not just facing new pressures from outside governments, but are also confronting a shrinking customer base.”

            “I can assure you that the threats that we now face are real and that they are not going to end any time soon. If we do not have strong leadership in the coming years, it is possible that many of the hard fought gains that we have achieved for our people could be eroded or even lost. We must approach these challenges with unity and resolve and we will triumph.”

Also chosen on Election Day were Seneca Party candidatess Brad John of the Cattaraugus Territory as Treasurer [1,834-113 votes]; Diane Kennedy Murth of the Allegany Territory as Clerk [1,803]; Allegany Councilors, incumbents Al George [1,818] and Tina Abrams [1,698]; Darryl John [1,757] and Darlene Miller [1,758]; Cattaraugus Councilors, incumbents Richard Nephew [1,629] and Travis Jimerson [1,683]; Nikki Seneca [1,723] and Bryan Gonzales [1,535].

The pillars of Porter’s platform are to improve government services and financial accountability; make government more open and accessible; promote ethical behavior of government officials; reduce casino debt and secure the Nation’s long-term financial health; protect annuities, senior benefits and improve Seneca quality of life; invest in youth to promote a strong Seneca society in the future; fight aggressively all threats to the Nation’s sovereignty and


“Tonight is a time of celebration and the start of a new direction for the Seneca Nation. I want to acknowledge our democratic process and note that for more than 160 years the Nation has calmly chosen its leaders in fair and open elections.”

Porter served as the Nation’s counsel, its highest legal position, nine of the last 18 years. He is also chairman of Seneca Holdings LLC, the Nation’s investment company, and a law professor at Syracuse University, where he is currently on leave.

“Despite all the challenges the Nation faces, I continue to be inspired by the opportunities that lie ahead. We are a strong and vibrant people who have survived repeated efforts to extinguish us,” Porter said. “We have invaluable treaty protected homelands that continue to give us sustenance. And we still have a defined culture and heritage that make us a unique people in the world.”

Porter’s wife, Odie Brant Porter, is executive director of the Seneca Nation Capital Improvements Authority, they have four children and live on the Allegany Territory.

“I listened to you during the campaign and I promised to give you back your government during the next two years,” Porter added. “Only together can we build on the commitment and achievements of our ancestors to make life better for ourselves and the future generations.”

Upon graduation from Harvard Law School in 1989, Porter joined the firm of Dickstein, Shapiro & Morin in Washington, D.C. and practiced business law and government relations. In 1991, Porter was appointed the first Attorney General of the Seneca Nation.

He successfully pursued amendments to the Nation’s constitution to strengthen its judiciary, authored a variety of comprehensive Seneca laws, represented the Nation in its own courts, and successfully negotiated various conflicts with New York State and its governmental subdivisions.

During this time, he was also served as adjunct professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law and visiting assistant professor at the University of Tulsa College of Law. In 1995, Porter left his position with the Seneca Nation to become an associate professor of law at the University of Kansas and adjunct professor at Haskell Indian Nations University. He became tenured in 2000 and in 2002 joined the law faculty at the University of Iowa.

Since 2003, he has been professor of law, dean's Research Scholar of Indigenous Nations Law, and Director, Center for Indigenous Law, Governance & Citizenship, College of Law at Syracuse University.

Porter, an author of more than 25 articles in scholarly journals, wrote a book Sovereignty, Colonialism and the Indigenous Nations, A Reader, in 2005 (Carolina Academic Press). He has also presented at academic symposia including at Harvard Law School, the London School of Economics, Cornell University and Syracuse, from which he graduated in 1986 magna cum laude.

“For most of my life, I have prepared for the opportunity to serve our people and fight for our Nation,” Porter said. “As your president, I will fight to protect our sovereignty and all of the benefits that the Creator bestowed upon us, especially our priceless land base and the annuity payments that it generates. I will be your tireless advocate and I will give my best efforts to keep our Nation strong and prosperous.”        

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