AKWESASNE — Opponents of the memorandum of understanding that is expected to serve as a framework for a settlement of the long-standing land claim dispute between local communities and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe met Saturday to discuss ways to stop the settlement.
Approximately 15 people met at the Longhouse off Route 37 on Saturday morning to craft strategies for opposing the settlement, which has been approved by St. Lawrence County and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council. The meeting was considered a “people’s meeting” and those who were not members of the tribe were not invited to stay, organizers said.
A statement issued on letterhead of the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs before the meeting criticized the agreement, saying the Tribal Council did not speak for all those who would be affected by it.
“Firstly we were extremely surprised and dismayed to discover that the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council announced that the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs has supported this MOU. The Tribal Council does not speak for the Mohawk Nation,” the statement reads. “We would like to take this time to point out that the MOU was never made available for review by the Nation and was never presented at any session of the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs, nor has the Mohawk Nation leadership agreed in council to support any version of the MOU. Our Political system is based upon consensus and no consensus decision has been made to support the MOU,” the release said.
“As custodians of Haudenosaunee sovereignty in the Mohawk Nation Territory, the Nation needs to consider the territorial integrity of our overall ancestral homeland and protect our historic claim to the nine million acres of land in the traditional Kanien’keha:ka territory,” the statement continues.
“The MOU signed by the Tribe fails to provide these protections necessary to ensure that the rights of future generations are not lost. It also fails to ensure that the benefits of a settlement would come to all of Akwesasne,” the release said.
The statement carries the signatures of Eddie Gray, Aronhaires Herne and Howard Thompson, who identified themselves as representatives of the Turtle Clan, Bear Clan and Wolf Clan, respectively.
The group is not the first to oppose the MOU and land claim settlement.
A handful of protesters stood along the side of Route 37 near the St. Regis Mohawk tribal offices on May 29 to protest the Tribal Council’s May 28 signing of the memorandum of understanding. The protesters said the agreement benefits the state and county more than it does the tribe and they criticized the Tribal Council for what they said was the secretive nature of the negotiations that led to the agreement.
While Tribal Council members have said they are 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.
The MOU would allow the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council to incorporate lands in portions of the towns of Brasher and Massena that it purchases from willing sellers into the reservation. The state would compensate the towns for property taxes lost through the purchases. St. Lawrence County would 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.
The tribe would receive a guarantee of power from a hydro generating plant and free education within the State University of New York system for enrolled tribal members.
The MOU does not involve Franklin County, where the tribe is seeking lands in the towns of Bombay and Fort Covington. Tribal officials have said the entire deal cannot proceed without Franklin County involvement.
“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,” a Tribal Council statement released in response to the protest said. “The priority for the Tribal Council, in reaching agreement, remains the ability to increase our land base for the benefit of generations to come.”