AKWESASNE –– A handful of protesters stood along Route 37 near the St. Regis Mohawk tribal offices Thursday afternoon to protest the Tribal Councils signing of a memorandum of understanding with officials from the state and St. Lawrence County regarding off-reservation land claims.
According to a news release from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, the signing of the MOU with the state brings the 32-year land settlement dispute closer to a resolution than ever before.
While members of the Tribal Council said they were pleased with the agreement, the protesters said they see it as giving up. Some called for the impeachment of council members who support the agreement.
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.
We had the first unified agreement in May of that year, had very specific protections for Mohawk sovereignty, a financial settlement. It involved a payment of $32 million a year to the Mohawk people by the Power Authority of the State of New York and the return of 24,000 acres of land in Brasher State Forest and the return of the Fort Covington and Massena sections that were once part of the reservation, he said.
The new agreement has been all secret and done according to what New York state dictates, he said. The Tribal Council, if you read the agreement, pays for its own land claim and whatever money comes to them is actually coming from the casino; it is just being redirected back to the tribe. The money paid comes from money that should be used for communal purposes on the reservation, Mr. George said. Again the tribe is actually paying $1.5 million to St. Lawrence County for its land claim, which is ridiculous.
Mr. George also said the Tribal Council does not represent the entire Mohawk people. The Tribal Council claims to represent all of the Mohawks, including the traditional people and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne of the Canadian side. ... They did not consult with either council and dont have the approval of either council. No representative from either council at any point were involved in these negotiations.
In an email statement, Mr. George wrote:
By what right does the St. Regis Tribal Council surrender, for all time, the land rights of the Mohawk Nation? By what right does it concede to New York state authority, agreed to abide by county building codes or refute the tax free rights of the Mohawk Nation? By what right does it claim to represent the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne or the Mohawk Nation Council when neither entity was consulted or involved in this agreement? By what right does it forever surrender the territorial rights of the Mohawks of Wahta, Kanesatake, Kahnawake, Ohsweken, Tyendinaga and Ganienkeh? By what right does this New York State created agency abrogate our title to over 9,000,000 acres of land in what is now New York State? By what right does the tribal council attach communal resources to pay millions of dollars to local counties when many Mohawk people remain in dire need? By what right does the tribal council concede to New York State criminal and civil jurisdiction? By what right does the tribal council exempt New York State from any liability or damages for the dispossession of the Mohawk people from their ancestral lands and the subsequent death of thousands of our people? By what right does the tribal council restrict the Mohawk people to a few thousand acres in a state forest? By what right does the tribal council concede our aboriginal authority to control our waters and seek fair value for their usage? By what right does the tribal council refuse to expressly protect our sovereignty, our exemption from all state and federal taxes and all state regulations?
Mr. George also asked for the people to not allow the trustees to sign the settlement, because there is no provision for peoples approval.
Roger Jock, whose traditional name is Kanerahtiio, stood along side the road with a few others to protest the signing of the MOU on Thursday. Mr. Jock stated the protest was to bring awareness to the people about the land claim settlement.
It is awareness awareness of an issue that has been on going for the well-being of our people for a long time, he said.
The whole thing is trying to understand how you negotiate on something that is yours already. The lands in question have always been our lands. Why did we have to negotiate with the state or county about lands that are ours already? Mr. Jock asked.
If they go ahead with this deal, then the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe will be paying for their own way through this. The state is not going to have to put anything up for this, it will all be coming from the revenues from the casino and the tribe, Jock said. It is a win-win for the state of New York. There are a lot of things that are not being talked about that should be talked about in this whole thing ... They are going to give us land back in this whole thing. Back means it was once was ours, isnt that what that means?
Mr. Jock also stated he does not think all of the parties involved really thought about the end game and that the tribe has given up so much in these talks, the biggest being sovereignty.
He said that he believes the Mohawk people are in the dark and do not understand what is in the land claim settlement.
It is a wake-up call. We have to wake the people up and make them look at whats going on. If it calls for an impeachment of the Tribal Council at this time, then the tribal people will make that step, Mr. Jock said. Oh yes, I think it is necessary. The Tribal Council has been getting away with a lot of things and they need to be held accountable for their actions. They represent the people and the land.
Mr. Jock stated people were coming to him and asking him what he was going to do about this land claim in light of the recent newspaper articles.
This is me doing what I want to do, Jock said, gesturing to himself as he protested. We can raise awareness at the 11th hour, we can raise awareness now.
Mr. George said, It is one the most blatant abuses of peoples trust and it is a huge step back from what we proposed back in 1988. It is up to the Mohawk people on whether they accept this or if they want to express their disapproval and take effective action to stop this agreement from being imposed upon them without their consent; this is critical without knowledge or consent.
Rarahkwisere, another protester, said, This is all Indian land; the Supreme Court has ruled time and time again that this is all Indian land ... When someone steals your bike, do you go to court and go have a judge rule if it is yours? No, you just go get on your bike and say this is my bike ... We own the land already ... we dont own it, it owns us. We are just custodians of the land, we are all custodians of the land. We watch it for our children; it is all for the children and the faces unseen.