IRVING — Barry E. Snyder, Sr., influential business and political leader of the Seneca Nation of Indians, passed away Tuesday after a brief illness. He was 79.
Snyder wielded significant influence in Seneca Nation affairs for more than half a century, during which time he served five terms as Seneca Nation President as well as Treasurer and a member of the Seneca Nation Council.
“Barry served our Nation during our time, but he will deservedly be looked upon as a leader for all times,” said Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr., a longtime friend and associate of Snyder. “Throughout his life and through his service, Barry elevated the Seneca Nation and the Seneca people. As President, he touched every facet of life on our territories.”
A member of the Seneca Nation’s Hawk Clan, Snyder was born on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation. Snyder attended the Thomas Indian School and was a member of the Gowanda High School class of 1957.
After graduating from high school, Snyder served two years in the United States Army and later worked as a barber and at the General Motors plant in Tonawanda. In 1960, he married Deanna Jimerson, and together they raised three sons, the late Barry E. Snyder, Jr., and Scott Snyder and Ryan Snyder.
“Service was at the heart of everything my father did,” said Scott Snyder, himself an eight-time chairman of the Seneca Party, co-founded by his father to represent the voice of the Seneca people. “He lived his entire life in service to the people and causes who mattered to him. He served his country, he served the Seneca Nation and the Seneca people and, above all, he served his family.”
Upon returning home from his military service, Snyder became involved in Seneca political and government matters. He went on to serve eight terms on the Seneca Nation Council and also served as Treasurer. Snyder was elected to the first of his five terms as Seneca Nation President in 1980, 1992, 2004, 2008 and 2012.
Among his administrations’ many accomplishments were the construction of world-class facilities for healthcare, education, recreation and public safety. The Nation also established new housing opportunities so the Seneca people can live on-territory and made incredible gains in renewable energy. In addition, the Nation launched its own Seneca Transit System and created Seneca Strong, a program aimed at combatting substance abuse and addiction.
The Nation’s most notable economic gain under Snyder’s direction was the success of its three Class III casino gaming properties: Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino in Niagara Falls, Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino in Salamanca and Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo. As the longtime chairman of the Seneca Gaming Corporation board of directors, Snyder played a critical role in setting the vision and growth strategy for the company, including completing significant expansions at all three locations.
“Barry was the driving force behind the company’s success and growth,” said Kevin W. Seneca, current Seneca Gaming Corporation Chairman. “Just like with his businesses on territory and how he approached his duties when he was in elected office, he had a vision for Seneca Gaming Corporation, and he was masterful at getting people to buy into that vision. I don’t think the company would be where we are today if not for his leadership.”
While his stewardship of the Seneca Nation’s gaming enterprise often kept Snyder in a visible public position, it was far from his first trailblazing effort for the Seneca Nation’s economy. In 1983, Snyder opened Seneca Hawk, the first gas station and smoke shop on the Cattaraugus Territory. He later helped the Nation bring high-stakes Bingo and Class II gaming to their territories.
As a leader, Snyder was known for always remaining calm, even in high-pressure situations. In the 1990s, he helped lead the fight against New York State taxation on Nation territories, along with his lifelong friend Maurice John. When protests broke out on Seneca Territory, Snyder helped restore calm in the community, even as the Nation successfully beat back the taxation attempts. Years later, Snyder negotiated a settlement with Governor Andrew Cuomo over the State’s violations of the Nation-State Gaming Compact.
“Barry understood that, in order to achieve our long-term goal of true sovereignty, we first need to achieve economic sovereignty,” President Armstrong said. “He advanced that goal more than any leader in our Nation’s modern history. He set lofty goals for the Nation, and he accomplished them.”
Aside from his business and political leadership, Snyder also devoted significant time and energy to helping combat one of the most serious health issues facing the Seneca Nation — diabetes.
In 2005, he and his wife established the Seneca Diabetes Foundation to support diabetes education, prevention and treatment and to fund research to improve the lives of those afflicted with diabetes. The foundation has raised more than $6 million to date and has awarded more than $425,000 in annual scholarships.
In 2018, ECMC renamed the ambulatory services building on its Grider Street campus as the Barry & Deanna Snyder Dialysis & Medical Office Building. It is the first health care building in Buffalo named for a leader of the Seneca Nation.
“Barry saw the importance of creating important pathways for the Seneca Nation with the greater community,” said Michael R. Militello, vice chairman of the Seneca Diabetes Foundation and a trusted friend of Mr. Snyder. “He used his influence and his position to benefit the health and well-being of the Seneca people.”
“My father touched more lives than he would ever admit,” Scott Snyder added. “He never regarded his accomplishments as his own. They were the shared accomplishments of the Seneca Nation.”
In addition to his wife, Deanna, Snyder is survived by two sons, Scott and Ryan; a sister, Maxine Jimerson; two brothers, Art John and Dale Snyder; his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandson and numerous relatives and friends. Mr. Snyder was a proud member of American Legion Post #1587.