Press-Republican

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July 10, 2013

Most land-claims dismissals upheld

AKWESASNE — A federal judge agreed with an earlier court ruling that it would be unfair to disrupt owners now occupying parcels in dispute in the St. Regis Mohawk land-claim area.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Kahn did agree that about 2,000 acres, known as the Bombay Triangle, are part of the reservation as drawn up in the Treaty of 1796 that established the original reservation boundaries.

Kahn said U.S. Census data showed Mohawk ownership and presence in the claimed areas and that the triangle “does not have a clearly ‘non-Indian’ character.”

Therefore, that specific portion of the Mohawks’ lawsuit can continue through the courts, if the tribe wants to pursue it.

EARLIER DISMISSAL

Kahn accepted most of the recommendations made in October by Judge Therese Wiley Dancks.

She had dismissed the Mohawks’ claim to roughly 10,000 acres of land in the towns of Massena and Fort Covington as well as three islands in the St. Lawrence River, including Barnhart Island on which the New York Power Authority Robert Moses Power Dam is situated.

WANT TO NEGOTIATE

In a statement released Tuesday, Tribal Council chiefs said they favor a negotiated settlement to resolve lingering land-claim issues, even though continuing the legal challenge is still an option.

“We are disappointed that Judge Kahn dismissed the tribe and the United States’ arguments with regard to the island claims,” said Chief Ron LaFrance.

He said Kahn based his decision on perceived owner disruption and fairness issues “without fully addressing the ownership and occupation of the islands, where very little disruption would occur had the court allowed the claims to remain.

“Although we feel vindicated with regard to the claims to the original reservation, short of a negotiated settlement of the Mohawk claims, this 32-year-old legal battle is far from over,” he said.

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