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Tribal Court Dismisses Challenge to Mohawk Soy Project Investment

Jan 20, 2017

AKWESASNE — Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Court Judge Barbara R. Potter issued a decision on Tsiothóhrha/December 28, 2016 dismissing all claims in a case challenging the manner in which the Tribal Council managed an investment through the Tribally owned economic development arm, the Tewathahonni Corporation.

The 2013 Tribal Procedures Act is aimed at transparency in the decisions made by Tribal Council. “The Tewathahonni Corporation Board of Managers includes our elected Tribal Council and three Tribal Members with extensive business, investment and operational experience,” shared Tribal Chief Beverly Cook. “Collectively, we work hard to ensure that our community is aware of opportunities that position us to continue to be leaders in job creation and the building of our economy. Initially, negotiations prohibited public disclosure of certain details of the soy project investment and it was our Board’s responsibility to maintain confidentiality in this developing business relationship.”

Mohawk Soy, LLC was developed by the Tewathahonni Corporation as an equity investment in Soyway, a soybean processing facility that will be located adjacent to the Mohawk Territory in Massena, New York. The project involves construction of a facility that will crush and process tons of soybeans for sale as livestock feed and other byproducts. Mohawk Soy, LLC will hold 14% equity in Soyway.

The initial proposal made to the Tewathahonni Corporation was an investment opportunity of $3.5 million. “With an eye on the future of industrial agriculture as a revenue stream for our community, the Board of Managers determined an investment of $2 million will secure job opportunities and develop ancillary business projects for our local entrepreneurs,” remarked Tribal Chief Eric Thompson.

A tribal member’s lawsuit argued that the Tribe’s use of funds, which was technically the Tewathahonni Corporations funds, did not follow the Tribal Procedures Act, which requires an “expenditure of over $2.5 million” be brought to referendum. The tribal member further alleged ethics violations, voting rights and financial disclosure concerns in an amended complaint.

The SRMT responded that a referendum was not required as it was a Tewathahonni Corporation investment, not a Tribal Council expenditure of Tribal General Funds, and the investment did not meet the threshold required to hold a tribal referendum.

Judge Potter affirmed in her 14-page decision that there was no negligence by Tribal Council and dismissed all of the tribal member’s claims, finding specifically that their allegations were not based on fact, Tribal Council did not work outside of the bounds of the Tribal Procedures Act, and a referendum for the Tewathahonni Corporations investment was not required.

Tribal Chief Ron LaFrance Jr. reacted and expressed his vision for a robust, self-sustaining economy, “The Mohawk Soy, LLC has the potential to bring significant revenues to the Akwesasne community. This ruling allows the Tewathahonni Corporation to diversify our economy, create jobs and other spin-off business as a result of the decision handed down by the Tribal Court.”

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