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May 23, 2013

Tribe eager to reclaim land

AKWESASNE — Terms outlined but never ratified in a 2005 land-claims agreement between the state and the St. Regis Mohawk tribe will be the starting point for renewed talks.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Tribal Council chiefs announced a deal Tuesday that ended the tribe’s future withholding of a share of slot-machine profits and resurrected interest in settling the 31-year-old land-claims lawsuit the tribe has pending against the state as well as Franklin and St. Lawrence counties.

The tribe has released $30 million to New York state, half the profits collected since 2010 and withheld in protest to slot machines added to the Ganienkeh territory's bingo operation in Altona. Still in escrow is $30 million, withheld pending resolution of the land-claims suit.

'BACK ON THE TABLE'

Representatives from both counties are expected at the table when Cuomo convenes the first new negotiating session in Albany within the next 10 days, said Tribal Chief Ron LaFrance.

He led a news conference at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino on Wednesday, when the Tribal Council emphasized its desire to have the longstanding issue resolved.

“Everything that was in the 2005 land claims is back on the table,” LaFrance said. “We’re the largest-growing community in the North Country. We have exploding population, with 400 people living in the Town of Massena and more in Fort Covington and Bombay.

“We recognized we don’t have enough land base,” he said. “We’re looking to expand our economy, and the only way to do that is a larger land base.

The land-claims suit has been in court for 31 years, LaFrance said.

"They stuck us here in this place, and we want to defend our boundaries.

“We are reclaiming our cultural heritage. The governor knew we’d push back, and we needed our issues settled," he continued. “We won’t go away; we can’t go away. We’re always here, and we can’t pick up and leave. 

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