Take a quick survey of the northeast corner of St. Lawrence County and the northwest corner of Franklin County, and one would see and hear from residents that the only real economic activity that is taking place these days is happening on our reservation.
Much of this activity is directly related to the success of our Akwesasne Mohawk Casino and the activities that spin off from it.
Reservation residents are still buying cars and other high-ticket items. Homes are being built, businesses are expanding and hiring, and people are working. Until now, the tribal government has been doing its best to keep our economy growing and healthy, but this may no longer be the case.
Members of the Akwesasne Mohawk Contractors Association are very troubled at the tribe's apparent and sudden reversal in their support of the Mohawk Preference Construction Policy at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino. This is a policy that was put in place to guarantee that jobs and contracts would be awarded to qualified local Mohawk contractors so that our economy remains strong and vibrant.
Although we initially questioned the tribe's hiring of Encompass, an out-of-state firm not registered to do business in New York, to coordinate the $74 million expansion, we remained optimistic that we would be able to secure good jobs for our Mohawk workforce. Unfortunately for all of us, it is becoming more evident that Encompass does not support our government's Mohawk Preference Construction Policy.
Recently, the Tribal Council indicated that Encompass is exempted from the Mohawk Preference Construction Policy and does not have to comply with it. As they serve as the tribe's representative and their contract is $60 million plus, this lack of enforcement drastically affects the credibility of our tribal laws and is a slap in the face to our Mohawk contractors.
We must remind everyone that this project was "sold" to our voting membership as a means to not only expand our gaming facility but as an opportunity to create quality jobs for our Mohawk businesses and our Mohawk people. The dream of the casino benefiting Mohawk people in real and effective ways is being threatened.
The tribal chiefs must protect their membership by directing the Expansion Project Team — namely the casino general manager, his legal team and the tribe's finance office — to aggressively ensure that the Mohawk Preference Construction Policy is fully and accurately implemented in real ways so to benefit skilled Akwesasne workers and Akwesasne area contractors.
This is not the first time the casino has refused to award contracts locally. And, this is a shameful reality. We believe that Encompass, with Tribal Council approval, has been ignoring very important policy standards.
For example, Encompass recently refused to alter/negotiate a large contract and imposed unrealistic deadlines on a Mohawk contractor after Encompass itself took more than 45 days to issue the original contract. Encompass has willfully failed to follow contract documents and specific terms that state that a five-working-day turnaround is required on a subcontractor's request for information.
Additionally, Encompass consistently fails to provide construction schedules for subcontractors and has yet to hold coordination meetings with all subcontractors.
The red flags are many in this case, and we would be remiss if we did not point out at least a few of them. We encourage the tribal membership's right to expect due diligence from its elected officials and their employees.
If you have any concerns regarding the tribe's actions in ensuring Mohawk participation in the casino expansion, please express those concerns and questions at the tribal monthly meeting on Saturday, Feb. 4.
Ron Garrow is president of the Akwesasne Mohawk Contractors Association.