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November 22, 2012

Mohawks seek land-claim settlement

Ruling from US Distric tCourt keeps litigation alive

AKWESASNE — Renewed hope has the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council calling on the state, Franklin County and St. Lawrence County to settle longstanding land-claims issues.

The Mohawk tribe was the only one in New York that did not have its land claim against the state completely thrown out in a September ruling from the Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The portion remaining legally alive involves the Bombay Triangle, which is land near the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino.

But the tribe is trying at the same time to reinstate its claim to parts of Fort Covington and to three islands in the St. Lawrence River, according to a news release from the Tribal Council. 

One of those is Barnhart Island, on which the New York Power Authority hydroelectric plant stands. 

The council, which is the governing body on the American side of the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, is among three representative governments involved in the land-claims suit, along with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne on Canadian side and the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs representing the Iroquois Confederacy.

‘ENDURING PRESENCE’

In a ruling from the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of New York, Magistrate Therese Wiley Dancks said the Mohawks had established that Native people have lived on the triangle land continuously, unlike the Cayuga and Oneida tribes.

In supporting that stance, attorneys for the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief saying, “in other New York land claims ... dismissed by the Second Circuit, it was inarguable that the lands at issue had become heavily populated and developed by non-Indians in the years since New York unlawfully acquired the lands.

“That is not true here. The Mohawks … never departed the region and have remained a powerful, enduring presence both as a government and as a population in the region and within the specific claim areas.”

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