Tribe Encouraged by Congressional Request for Investigation on Federal Protection of Tribal Lands

Sep 9, 2016

Akwesasne, New York — The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council was pleased to learn on Seskehkó:wa/September 8, 2016 that Congressman Dr, Raul Ruiz (D-CA) has requested an investigative report from the U.S. Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) of federal policies intended to protect the health and environments of tribal communities. Dr. Ruiz; who serves as a Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs; was joined by twenty-four members of Congress in signing the letter in response to developments impacting the ancestral lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota.

For the past several years, members of Tribal Council have been reaching out to federal officials and agencies to voice Akwesasne’s environmental concerns and issues. These efforts resulted in the House Natural Resources Committee convening a roundtable discussion with tribal leaders on Ohiarí:ha/June 14, 2016, which included the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe. The events taking at the Standing Rock has since served to galvanize Indian Country and helped initiate federal action to better address the environmental injustice occurring to tribal communities.

“Akwesasne has an unfortunate history of industrial development and environmental contamination that we recently shared with our brothers and sisters of the Standing Rock Sioux,” said Tribal Chief Ron LaFrance, who recently returned from a trip to Cannon Ball, North Dakota along with Sub-Chief Cheryl Jacobs. Chief LaFrance added, “We shared our experiences and lobbying work being done to solidify pathways towards addressing the need for more tribal input in the development of federal policies and legislation. We extend our appreciation to Congressman Ruiz for submitting the letter to the GAO and for respecting the right of tribes to have a say in decisions that impact our people and our lands.”

In the letter, Congressman Ruiz notes that the situation in Standing Rock is not an isolated incident where tribal concerns and recommendations for the protection of Native lands have been disregarded. He notes the roundtable discussion with tribal leaders on Ohiarí:ha/June 14, 2016 to discuss environmental issues has made evident that injustice is still taking place in Indian Country. The testimony of tribal leaders; including one from the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council; indicated a troubling pattern of inconsistent or complete lack of consultation, insufficient risk prevention and mitigation, and inadequate funding for environmental monitoring and remediation.

Tribal Chief Eric Thompson shared the sentiment of many tribal leaders, “The historical implications of the federal government’s failure to fulfill its trust responsibility for tribal lands is far-reaching. There has been a persistent lack of accountability, in our opinion, with regard to large corporation's for their pollutants and its damage to our land, water and air. We are pleased that measures to address these environmental injustices that have plagued Indian Country is coming to fruition through the cooperative efforts of Congressman Ruiz and his colleagues.”

Executive Order 13175 requires executive agencies to engage in regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with tribal governments in the development of federal policies that have tribal implications. In some cases, tribes are consulted however, recommendations from tribal leaders often fall on deaf ears.

For years, the St. Regis Mohawk tribe has been raising serious concerns with superfund mitigation efforts at the former-General Motors site located immediately upriver and upwind from our community. Tribal Chief Beverly Cook, Sub-Chief Michael Conners, and Chief Thompson noted that while the EPA sought the Tribe’s input, it did not meaningfully take it into consideration when approving the federal cleanup plan for the remediation site. A similar disregard is currently taking place with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on the environmental impact the Dakota Access Pipeline will have on their historical and cultural sites, as well their people’s health in the event of a rupture.

“Federal agencies and large corporations need to realize that what we do to the land, the water and to the air that we also do upon ourselves,” said Tribal Chief Beverly Cook. Chief Cook added, “As an medical doctor, Congressman Ruiz understands the close correlation between environmental health and the health and well-being of our people. We are pleased that he acted swiftly in calling for a thorough review on the adequacy of federal policies that are in place to protect tribal lands, as well as how they can be improved. We look forward to our ongoing work with Congressman Ruiz and other key members of Congress to safeguard public health by requiring environmental cleanups to the levels that our people have been insisting and deserve.”

Congressman Ruiz identified a number of questions for the GAO to answer in its investigative report in the areas of tribal consultation, programs and policies that protect tribal communities, and an analysis of superfund sites near tribal lands. To download a copy of the letter, please click here:

Congress members that signed the letter include:

Raul Ruiz, M.D., (D-CA)

Raúl M. Grijalva, (D-AZ)

Tony Cárdenas, (D-CA)

Betty McCollum, (D-MN)

Norma J. Torres, (D-CA)

Grace F. Napolitano, (D-CA)

Daniel T. Kildee, (D-MI)

Ann Kirkpatrick, (D-CA)

Jared Polis, (D-CA)

Derek Kilmer, (D-WA)

Gwen Moore, (D-WI)

Ben Ray Luján, (D-NM)

Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ)

Pete Aguilar, (D-CA)

Gene Green, (D-TX)

Lucille Roybal-Allard, (D-CA)

Keith Ellison, (D-MN)

Mark Takano, (D-CA)

Yvette D. Clarke, (D-NY)

Linda T. Sánchez, (D-CA)

Alan S. Lowenthal, (D-CA)

Jared Huffman, (D-CA)

Donald S. Beyer, Jr., (D-VA)

Wm. Lacy Clay, (D-MO)

Xavier Becerra, (D-CA)

Photo Caption: Congressman Raul Ruiz, D-CA (far right) held an Environmental Justice Roundtable Discussion on Ohiarí:ha/June 14, 2016 in Washington, DC. with Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Sub-Chief Michael Conners, Chief Beverly Cook and Chief Eric Thompson to discuss health and environmental issues that impact the community of Akwesasne due to industrial pollution.


The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council is the duly elected and federally recognized government of the Saint Regis Mohawk People. ­