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Tribal Council launches website to answer concerns about proposed land claims settlement

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AKWESASNE – The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe announced Monday that it will be launching a website to help the community understand the proposed land claims settlement.

According to a press release from the tribe, the website is being launched in response to the memorandum of understanding that was signed by leaders of the tribe, St. Lawrence County Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo that outlines the terms of a settlement between the tribe, county and state. The launch of the website also comes after a recent protest to the signing of the MOU.

A handful of protesters held signs objecting to the settlement in front of the Tribal Offices on Thursday, the day after the settlement was announced. While the Tribal Council has been pleased with the agreement, the protesters said they see it as giving up. Some called for the impeachment of the council members who support the MOU.

Doug George, a member of the Mohawk Nation land claims negotiating team from 1984 to 1991, said in a telephone interview that this agreement is nothing like what was proposed to the state back in 1988.

In an emailed response to the complaints, Tribal Council members said, “This litigation has been in the courts for over 30 years. During the last three decades, many settlement proposals and counter-proposals have been proffered and rejected, either by the Mohawks or by the state and local governments. In fact, in 2005, all parties agreed to a settlement with terms very similar to the terms outlined in the recent MOU. That settlement was never approved by the New York State Senate –– this proposal provides additional incentive to local governments to accept negotiated settlement as the means to a resolution that benefits all parties –– both Mohawk and non-Mohawk. As indicated by previous tribal leaders at a recent community meeting, the window on settlement is narrowing, and each time we return to the negotiation table, the state and local governments are less inclined to make concessions, as every court decision in the past 10 years has whittled away at Mohawk land claims. In fact, the Mohawk claim is the only viable claim remaining in front of the federal courts in New York, and large portions of this claim have been dismissed and are on appeal.”

During the negotiations in 1988, according theMr. George, the agreement stressed the need for popular participation, the need to have the Mohawk people informed and the desire for support from local residents for the land claims boundary. That has not been done with this agreement, Mr. George said.

He claims all of the negotiations and discussions about the land claims settlement have been done in secret and done according to what the state dictates.

One of the other protesters, Roger Jock, whose traditional name is Kanerahtiio, said that he believes the Mohawk people are in the dark and do not understand what is in the land claims settlement.

In a press release from the tribe regarding the new website, Chief Beverly Cook said, “Questions related to the status of our boundary have lingered for 32 years –– that’s a lifetime for many of our people. Throughout that entire time, there have been rumors and speculation about what resolving this issue would mean for the tribe and for our neighbors in Franklin County and St. Lawrence County. We’ve created a resource that will help people see and understand the facts behind a proposed settlement.”

According to the release, in the MOU there is a final settlement agreement that would permit the tribe to acquire identified lands in St. Lawrence County. The land will be returned to the tribe’s territory, but the tribe can only acquire the land from willing sellers. Local governments will receive payments from New York state covering any lost property taxes for the lands the tribe is able to acquire, according to the release. St. Lawrence County will also receive one-time payments of $2 million and $1.5 from the state and the tribe, respectively, as well as annual payments of $4 million from New York state to be paid in perpetuity. The funds would be unrestricted, allowing county officials free reign to do what they wish with the funds. According to the release, the agreement also clarifies matters related to jurisdiction and building codes.

“The MOU with St. Lawrence County is an important first step,” Chief Paul Thompson said in the release. “Now, we need our friends and neighbors from Franklin County to work with us, as the leaders of St. Lawrence County have, in this same spirit of cooperation. While we are not yet at the finish line, last week’s announcement is proof that we can move forward together. After 32 years, it’s time.”

According to the release, a complete settlement cannot be enacted without the support and sign-on from Franklin County, followed by local, state and congressional approval.

“We are a long way from a final settlement; this MOU is the first step towards having the opportunity to expand our territory, provide expanded educational opportunities for our children, and provide our people with a means to less expensive power,” stated the Tribal Council. “The priority for the Tribal Council, in reaching agreement, remains the ability to increase our land base for the benefit of generations to come.”

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