The encroachment of European-Americans and the political complexities brought on by new international boundaries posed a considerable governmental challenge for the Saint Regis Mohawks.
After the American War of Independence, the Mohawk people found it necessary to deal with the government of the State of New York. In order to protect themselves and their best interests, the Mohawks decided to select representatives to interact with New York. In 1802, the New York State Legislature passed a law recognizing three trustees and a clerk as the Mohawk people's chosen representatives. The trustees and a clerk were selected at a community meeting held on the reservation.
The trustees primary purpose was to give a voice to the Saint Regis Mohawks who lived on the American side of the Mohawk territory, and thus in New York and to oversee certain aspects of the relationship with non-Native governments. It is not believed the trustees initially usurped the role of life chiefs (who were chosen in a more traditional manner and held their positions for life) who continued to control the internal affairs of the Tribe. However, two of the original trustees were also life chiefs. By 1818, two of the original trustees were dead and two new trustees where chosen, both of whom were also life chiefs. The unique mixture of tradition and adaptability, coupled with strong non-Native influences, brought about a new form of government. The present Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council has emerged from those changes. Throughout the 19th century this new government evolved to a point where the trustees were called chiefs, formalized democratic elections were scheduled each year and definite terms of office were established.
Today, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council is the duly elected and recognized government of the Mohawk people. Both New York State and the United States deal exclusively with the Tribal Council Chiefs in a government-to-government relationship.