Land ownership dispute brought authorities to reservation

AKRON, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Genesee County Sheriff’s Office and State Police were on standby on Thursday on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation in Akron after threats of violence were made over a land ownership dispute.

Around 7 a.m. that morning, civil paperwork from a State Supreme Court Justice was delivered to Thomas Peters, the current operator of the Arrowhawk Smoke Shop. Apparently, the owner of the store had passed away. The owner, who was a Native American, left the store to his daughter in the will and the paperwork from the court explained the decision made to give the store to the daughter and allow her access.

Small group of Native American involved in peaceful demonstration
Small group of Native American involved in peaceful demonstration

Peters, who was the brother of the owner and lives above the store, was kicked off the land.

“These people here have no right to be here and so our government on the reservation here is trying to have them removed,” Peters said.

He says because the decision was made in a state court, he does not have to follow it. He argues the reservation is sovereign land, and he does not have to abide by the judge’s ruling or the will, which was created through New York State.

Peters was not allowed back to retrieve his property until shortly before 4 p.m., increasing frustration over the situation. He feels the judge overstepped his boundaries.

“She was to come out secure the estate, these properties and inventory them. It was not to say whose property it is, that’s still pending in court,” Peters said.

The manager’s niece, who was executor of the will, is a Native American and she is a member of the Tonawanda Indian Reservation. Peters says regardless, the judge can’t rule on matters regarding the reservation.

“He’s making decisions on this reservation. He doesn’t have jurisdiction here. Our tribal leaders right here are trying to defuse the whole matter here,” Peters said.

Emotions were running high and a small fire began in one of the buildings on the property. This followed threats of violence. It is unclear what sparked the blaze, but the threats combined with the fire prompted a massive police response. Around 3:30 p.m., the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office requested State Police provide backup as they gathered on the reservation.

Genesee County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Gordon Dibble said, “This isn’t a typical situation. I’ve never seen anything like this in my 37 years.”

But around an hour and a half later, following extensive negotiations, tribal leaders came to an agreement and authorities left the scene.

Peters said, “She would leave with her support people, whatever you want to call them, and the property will be taken care of by the chiefs, they’re going to post some guards and this is still going to continue in court.”

Family members say this dispute has been ongoing for years and will likely continue until the matter of the owner’s last will and testament has been settled.

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