Salena Zito

The other economic chaos here surrounds the Seneca Nation’s casino, which juts out of the hemlock- and hickory-covered mountains just off Interstate 86.

Since August, when a battle heated up between the Seneca Nation and the state over collecting cigarette sales taxes, the Senecas began withholding billions of dollars in casino slots revenue from state and local governments.

Says Leslie Logan, the Seneca Nation’s foreign relations director: “We are withholding the money because the state broke their own promises of gambling exclusivity.” She points to slots operations in Hamburg and Batavia, N.Y., and the state’s Finger Lakes region.

Yet the sad story of Salamanca and the Seneca Nation really is the result of failed policies at a number of levels, on both sides, over many decades.

For two centuries, federal policy towards Native Americans has been riddled with inconsistencies, reversals and countless broken treaties, all resulting in bitter lawsuits and the alienation of all involved.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, created "to assist and protect" Indians, long has been known for mismanagement, corruption and creating dependency among Indians, according to U.S. history professor Jeff Brauer.

“It is this unfortunate history that besieges the citizens of Salamanca and the Seneca Nation, said Brauer. “They are now paying for the past mistakes and incompetence of the federal government.”

Their plight is compounded by the all-too-familiar pattern of many towns and cities in the Northeast: Over several decades, the Rust Belt’s state and local governments have failed to enact job-sustaining tax policies and, more important, have failed to invest in the infrastructure needed to compete with other regions of the country.

The result, in Salamanca as elsewhere, is sweeping, perhaps irreversible, economic and social devastation.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.