Regis Mohawk Reservation
Akwesasne Freedom School
St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, New York; Quebec and
Akwesasne Mohawk Tribe
Hogansburg, NY 13655
Total area -
Total Labor Force 698
High school graduate or higher 57.0%
Bachelor's degree or higher 6.6%
Unemployment rate 18.6%
Per capita income $6,880
Population 1 ,974
LOCATION AND LAND STATUS
The Akwesasne Mohawk community literally straddles the border between
the U.S. and Canada along the St. Lawrence Seaway spanning
portions of two New York State counties and two Canadian provinces. On
the American side of the border the reservation covers 14,648 acres; on
the Canadian side, the reservation extends for another 7,400 acres.
Because the State of New York never ceded any land to the federal government
following the ratification of the tribe's constitution, the Mohawk Reservation
has never been federal territory New York State granted its portion of
the land to the tribe in 1796 under a treaty signed with the Seven Nations
Confederacy, to which the St. Regis Mohawk belonged.
CULTURE AND HISTORY
The Mohawk were traditionally known as the "Keepers of the Eastern
Door" of the Iroquois Confederacy. Their original homeland was a
section of the middle Mohawk Valley of New York State; their hunting territories
extended north into the Adirondack Mountains and south almost to the present-day
city of Oneonta. During the late 1600s a number of Iroquois, particularly
Mohawk, migrated up to the St. Lawrence River region. Around 1755, a group
of Christian Mohawk from the French Mission of Cauglanawaga migrated to
St. Regis, New York. The French Jesuits had encouraged the migration of
this small party because of population pressure at the Caughnawaga Mission
and the need to follow the activities of the British along the St. Lawrence
frontier. The St. Regis Mission is the oldest permanent settlement in
northern New York, predating non-Indian settlements by almost fifty years.
During the Revolutionary War, while most of the Seven Nations Confederacy
supported the British, the St. Regis Mohawk were among the minority who
supported the Americans. In 1796 the land claim of the Seven Nations was
signed whereby New York State ceded over six square miles and some additional
collateral land in return for a promise by the Indians to abandon any
further land claims in the state. The state had agreed to pay annuities
to the tribe under negotiated treaties; in the mid 1830s it modified the
practice by beginning to make payments only to the New York side of the
reservation. In the 1930s, the federal government proposed the Indian
Reorganization Act, which the St. Regis Mohawk formally rejected in 1935.
In 1953 the federal government moved to terminate the reservation, an
attempt which the St. Regis successfully overturned.
Prior to the 20th century the St. Regis Mohawk subsisted primarily through
farming, fishing, and trapping. Men worked in the Adirondack lumber camps
in late fall and winter; women wove the splint and sweet grass baskets
which gained them international recognition. Throughout the 20th century,
farming, fishing, and logging radically subsided, largely due to declining
environmental conditions. In response, many Mohawk men have found employment
in the region's steel and iron works, centering around Montreal and Utica,
NY. Renewed interest in traditional Mohawk culture and language began
in the 1930s, exemplified by the establishment of the Akwesasne Freedom
School and the adoption of the Longhouse Religion. The modern day economy
is based largely around the service industry and tourism, primarily high-stakes
bingo and dirt-track stock car racing. The reservation also capitalizes
on its tax-free status on products like gasoline and cigarettes, offering
Tribal councils have been devised for both the U.S. and Canadian portions
of the tribe. The U.S. council is made up of three chiefs, three sub-chiefs,
and a tribal clerk. Each serves a three year term. Elections are held
each year in June, with one chief and one sub-chief chosen per election;
terms are therefore staggered. The honorary title of Head Chief is given
to the chief who is serving in the final year of his present term. The
tribal clerk is chosen every third year. The Canadian council consists
of a chief and eleven councilors. The councils work in concert to provide
jobs, better housing, health facilities, and recreation.
AGRICULTURE AND LIVESTOCK
Though farming was once a thriving activity in the region, there is now
only one working farm on the reservation. As stricter environmental controls
are gradually enforced on the industries along the St. Lawrence Seaway,
some agriculture, particularly dairy farming, might be expected to make
a modest comeback.
Five different Mohawk-owned construction contractors are located on the
New York side of the reservation. These contractors provide an important
source of employment and revenue for the region.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS
The tribe has begun execution of the White Pines Plaza project, a proposed
tribally owned retail shopping mall. The project should generate approximately
350 permanent and seasonal jobs. A comprehensive feasibility study was
completed in August 1994 with overall favorable findings, and construction
was slated to begin by late 1994. Additionally, the tribe is in the process
of developing on reservation utility and cablevision services. And finally,
during the summer of 1994 the tribe unveiled a comprehensive plan for
the redevelopment of the Plattsburgh Air Force Base which will create
jobs and bolster the regional economy of northeastern New York state.
The Mohawk traditionally worked in the Adirondack logging camps. Due to
modern methods and overlogging, the timber industry supports only a fraction
of the employment that it once did.
The Mohawk have been on the cutting edge of gaming, opening the first
slot machines for Indian gaming in the 197Os. Billy's Bingo Hall is located
in Hogansburg and offers a $1,000 giveaway every day, a $3,200 Bonanza,
quickie games, warm-up games, and a variety of packages. The Mohawk Bingo
Palace also offers high-stakes bingo and theme nights throughout the year
offering cash and prizes. Mohawk Bingo also features a full service restaurant,
a non-smoking room, and a gift shop selling souvenirs and discount cigarettes.
Games are called in French and English.
GOVERNMENT AS EMPLOYER
Since 1973, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council has successfully garnered
state and federal funds for an array of tribally administered programs,
all of which employ primarily Mohawk people. Currently these contracts
and grants fund employment for approximately 200 people.
The manufacture of steel and iron has traditionally employed significant
numbers of the St. Regis Reservation membership. Though this industry
has recently declined, there are still two tribally affiliated steel erector
contractors doing business in the region. Additionally, the reservation
boasts the largest manufacturer of lacrosse sticks in the U.S. and Canada.
Tribally affiliated businesses in the region are numerous. They run the
gamut from cellular phone systems and computers to smokeshops and construction
contractors. Several stores and galleries which feature handmade Indian
art objects and crafts are located in the area, including Iroquois Bone
Carvings and Mohawk Impressions. Currently the largest revenue-producing
businesses on the reservation involve high-stakes gaming and the sale
of gasoline and tobacco products.
TOURISM AND RECREATION
The Frogtown International Speedway, a dirt-track stock car racing venue,
attracts many visitors to the reservation. The speedway is open from mid-May
to mid-September and offers three classes of races. The tribe's Cedar
View Golf Course offers an 18-hole course, restaurant, pro shop, and bar.
The golf course is located two miles from the Canadian border in Rooseveltown,
New York. Many visitors enjoy the Akwesasne Museum and Sweetgrass Gift
Shop which features a permanent collection of Mohawk and Iroquois artifacts,
contemporary Mohawk and Iroquois artisans' exhibits, special exhibits,
demonstrations, and workshops on basket making. The museum offers guided
tours by appointment, and carries videos, tapes and books on Native Americans.
The gift shop offers baskets, beaded and silver jewelry sweatshirts, T-shirts
and more. In July, the tribe celebrates Friendship Days, with singing,
dancing, Mohawk arts, Iroquois food, games, and often canoe races.
Route 37 is an east-west highway serving the reservation. Commercial airline
and train services are available in Massena, five miles from the reservation.
Truck and bus lines serve the reservation directly.
A 1992 waterline extension project has established water service to the
western portion of the reservation. The eastern portion is slated for
imminent development. A comprehensive reservation sewage treatment facility
is currently under development. Electricity is provided by Niagara Mohawk.
The tribe completed its Health Care Facility in 1991.
Public schools are available in nearby Fort Covington and in Massena.
The tribe also, runs the Freedom School, which emphasizes traditional
culture and language. The Akwesasne Library/Cultural Center is located
in Hogansburg and publishes The Ka ri wen ha ri, a monthly newsletter.
In addition, the Indian Time building houses the Indian Time newspaper,
Akwesasne Notes, and CKON radio station.
All of the above information is from "Tiller's Guide to Indian Country"
by Veronica E. Velarde Tiller.
BowArrow Publishing Company Albuquerque NM USA.
SSBN 1-885931-01-8 Copyright 1996.
Used by permission.