The chief of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe issued notice to a five-person committee that their responsibility has been limited and their monthly stipends reduced by nearly 90 percent.

Sally Leaf, chairman of the tribe's claims committee, said Wednesday that she and another committee member - the only two members who were at the Tribal Operations Center in Grove when Chief Paul Spicer served notice of the change - were asked to leave the building.

“He presented the letter and told us that we needed to gather all of our personal items and vacate the building because the locks will be changed and we will not be allowed back in,” Leaf said.

But, four of the five committee members regrouped at the site, gathered some supporters together and decided to stage a sit-in until they knew that their records were safe.

Spicer called the action a “seizure of tribal property” and “another attempt by a dissident group of 40 to 50 tribal members who refuse to accept defeat.”

The claims committee, a five-member board established by resolution in 1985, is responsible for disbursing financial assistance to tribal members in need, according to Leaf.

“We as a committee are unbiased and we try not to get involved in the politics,”

Leaf said. “We are here to help the people.”

As of late Wednesday, the Bureau of Indian Affairs had been called to the scene and was waiting on direction regarding the removal of tribal documents from the Tribal Operations Center in Grove where the committee houses its records.

“They are still out there,” Spicer said shortly before 9 p.m. Wednesday. “Me and the people that are aligned with me left the scene.”

Leaf said the plan was to move the records to a secure location and resume the task of evaluating applications for assistance, once the group is available to set up an office.

“Our role is to assist tribal members with social service which includes eye, dental and hearing assistance,” Leaf said. “We also have an emergency fund that allows us to provide financial assistance for home repairs … or if a member has lost their job, we help them financially.”

The committee serves all of the 4,000-plus members nationwide and processes an estimated 400 to 500 applications a month, according to Leaf.

Spicer said the committee has not been disbanded and was not asked to leave the building, but that the tribe's business committee did restrict the authority of the committee - limiting the funds available to the group to what he said was initially provided to them by resolution in 1985.

That resolution, according to Spicer, allowed the claims committee to issue checks drawn only on the interest generated from a claim paid by the State of New York - a figure that could not been confirmed by the News-Record.

“This is a move to stop the bleeding,” Spicer said, alleging that the committee had previously over-stepped its authority and disbursed funding outside of what was authorized.

Additionally, the committee members' $1,000-per-month stipend has been reduced to $125, according to the letter presented by Spicer.

The chief said that the stipend alone will exhaust two-thirds of the money available for use by the committee, leaving the group about $3,500 to dispense to tribal members.

Spicer said the welfare committee will take up any shortfall in funding assistance.

“This is all just political … ” Leaf said. “But, we have work to do. There are still applications here that we have not looked at. If we don't, there are people who will not get their money.”

A welfare committee will be appointed today that will take on the bulk of the responsibility previously held by the committee, according to Spicer.

Leaf said the claims committee had no warning of plans to restrict its authority and was taken by surprise when Spicer annouced the change.

As of late Wednesday, the committee had allegedly left the tribal center after BIA officials secured the committee's documents.