A Strange and Historical Bad Land Claims Settlement for the Mohawks by Doug George-Kanentiio

kanentiio AAkwesasne – The May 30 announcement by the St. Regis Tribal Council that it had reached a “settlement” with New York State is one of the strangest in Native land claims history.

The settlement begins with a bold lie: that of the three Mohawk governing councils at Akwesasne, this most factionalized of Native communities, one-the New York State created St. Regis Tribal Council -has decided that it would unilaterally bring a “forever” end to all Mohawk claims against the US and the State without consultation, consensus or approval of the Mohawk Nation Council or the Canadian based Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.
Never mind that there are over 40,000 Mohawks living on seven territories: Ganienkeh, Kanesatake, Kahnawake, Tyendinaga, Wahta, Ohsweken and Akwesasne and none of them, with the exception of a few Tribal officials, knew anything about the agreement.  Their opinions were never solicited nor is there any provision for their approval in a settlement which wipes out their valid claims against the US and New York for the blatant theft of over 9,000,000 acres of aboriginal Mohawk territory and the forcible removal of their ancestors from our homelands.

That the Tribal Council would assume it has the authority, never given, to represent all Mohawks on this most vital and delicate of issues is nothing short of pure arrogance without basis in history or fact.

Yet New York State will go ahead and enter into the settlement since it maintains that a single signature by any governing agency located on Mohawk territory is sufficient to extinguish all Mohawk claims which was its exact position in 1797 when Joseph Brant betrayed all Mohawks by unilaterally signing away our native lands when it was abundantly clear to the Americans that he had no such authority.

Since then the Mohawks have lived on restricted reservations, confined at times by force of arms by a vindictive New York which has taken a hostile, active role in opposing the unification of the Mohawks on any issue particularly land and jurisdiction. Hence, the creation of the St. Regis Tribal Council in 1892 by the State Legislature and the pouring of millions of dollars in support to that colonial entity.

It is therefore no surprise that a State agency, the Tribe, would be given the power by the US to once again cede all of Mohawk lands for less than a pittance and a weird pittance it is.

In the May agreement the Tribe agrees to the following:

-elevate a county, St. Lawrence, to equal jurisdictional status with a supposed “sovereign” tribal entity
-agrees to abide by all county, state and federal regulations on lands returned to the “Tribe”
-agrees to pay $4,000,000 annually and forever to St. Lawrence County with additional money to be given to nearby Franklin County
-agrees to pay nearly $4,000,000 more to St. Lawrence and Franklin counties from its casino operation
-agrees to compensate both counties for lost tax revenues and school fees on lands returned to the “Tribe”
-agrees to surrender any claim on the highly lucrative hydro electricity generating dam on contested lands in St. Lawrence County
-agrees to abandon any liability claims against St. Lawrence County and New York State for the generations long extraction of natural resources on contested Mohawk lands and despite the enormous financial benefits both the county and state have profited from those lands
-agrees to pay the New York Power Authority millions of dollars in “reduced” electrical rates despite the fact that NYPA uses Mohawk resources (both land and water)
-surrenders any right to have St. Lawrence County or New York to do environmental assessments or clean up contaminated soils and water on Mohawk territory
-agrees to waive and surrender any claim to hold the county, New York State or the US federal governments liable in any way for the displacement of Mohawk people, the subsequent harm to culture and health or in any way provide compensation to any Mohawk entity for such harm

As is well known, and elementary, in any negotiation that what is not expressly cited is considered excluded. So the Tribe, in another strange decision, decided not to protect Mohawk  jurisdiction or freedom from external taxation. The Tribe made no mention of the vital trade and commerce issues nor did it exempt itself from the criminal or civil laws of either county or state. 
It is hard to see what exactly benefits the Tribe in this very bad agreement. The Tribe may get 3,000 plus acres of land but only under highly restrictive  conditions. It gets $2,000,000 a year from the NYPA but must immediately pay that back in hydro fees. If  New York, the real culprit, gives anything at all it is from money the Tribe gives to the state under the provisions of the National Indian Gaming Act.

So the odd, disturbing and outright bad agreement awaits the signature of a Tribal official.  But which one of the the three “trustees” would sign such a deplorable agreement when it provokes more internal dissension and will spark years of litigation? 


Which trustee will sign away the birthright of all Mohawks and wipe out the seventh generation? And which one will be condemned by history for doing so?



Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the former editor of the journal Akwesasne Notes. He was a member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian, co-founded the Native American Journalists Association and is a columnist for News From Indian Country. He resides in Oneida Castle, NY with his wife Joanne Shenandoah when he is not at his cabin east of Thompson Island. He is the author of “Iroquois on Fire” among other books.

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  1. Re= 1797 Indian Land Settlement with New York.
    You suggest that “in 1797 when Joseph Brant betrayed all Mohawks by unilaterally signing away our native land” etc.
    With all due respect Sir I believe you are wrong stating that, yes he did sign the document but only as a witness.

  2. Actually, William, Joseph Brant was using the outhouse at the time the document was being signed, and wasn’t even in the room to witness the event. Your research is a little shabby, Sir. A quick net search of “The Treaty of Big Tree” will prove that you are {MODERATED}

  3. So, doo-doo is too strong a word for CFN?
    Oh well.

  4. Author

    Now Furtz do you really think doo doo is too strong for CFN? Not sure which doo doo you’re referring too? Some comments that make it through are simply caught in our spam filter.

  5. Furtz!
    Thank you for your well written reply about Capt. Joseph Brant and my shabby research.
    The Treaty of Big Tree ( Aug 20 1797 till Sept 16 1797 )
    The Mohawk Indian Land Claim settlement with the state of N/Y was apparently signed in March 29/1797. With all due respect to you which I’am not to sure you deserve, my so called shabby research came from a book JOSEPH BRANT 1743-1807 by Isabel Thompson Kelsay Pages 550-551 and 552.
    Have a nice day.

  6. William, there were many factual errors and omissions in Isabel Thompson Kelsay’s biography of Joseph Brant, including the fact that Brant was indeed relieving himself in an outdoor privy at the very moment that the treaty was being signed. Google it.
    And thanks… I’m having a great day!

  7. Furtz,Perhaps you also have a hang-up with the history book From “Royal Township To Industrial City” Cornwall 1784-1984 by Elinor Kyte Senior(Pointe Maligne) where she clearly states that Sir John Johnson after making an agreement with the ST Regis Chiefs 1784 re their land Claim and after a conferance with Gen Haldimen sent up Capt Joseph Brant to finalize that agreement which he did do. Have No Concern.
    This very important part of our History may be gone if our Mayor Kilger has his way with the backing of City Council by entering into a divestiture agreement with Akwesasne / a 50-50 Partnership on our Port and Port lands, which I believe would be nothing but a sell out.

  8. Furtz you are a riot LOL LOL. ROLF! but I do happen to agree with you because most likely chief Brant was so intoxicated that he signed over everything not knowing what had happened so he went to the outhouse for a leak. Came back shaking one leg after another and passed out cold. LOL LOL. ROLF! You are funny indeed Furtz. I am laughing so hard just now and will sign off for the night. You made my night of laughter.

  9. We weren’t there. So, lets not assume on what happened. You know what you assume…..you make an ASS out of U and ME.

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