Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions have routinely been asked concerning the basis of the land claims.The basis of the land claim suit is that the State broke the Federal law, which was the 1790 Non-Intercourse Act. We are suing on this basis. The only reason we are in court right now is because Congress never approved the sales of these lands in the 1800’s. The lands were never stolen, they were sold.

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
What does the MOU mean for us?

We are a long way from a final settlement; this MOU is the first step towards having the opportunity to expand our territory, provide expanded educational opportunities for our children, and provide our people with a means to less expensive power. The priority for the Tribal Council and MCA in reaching agreement remains the ability to increase our land base for the benefit of generations to come.

What are the steps to a final agreement?

We should think of the MOU with St. Lawrence County as a stepping stone to expand our land base. The next step involves negotiations between New York State and Franklin County, and an MOU signed between the State, Franklin County and SRMT.Once these two steps have been negotiated, a final settlement agreement will be required and an Act of Congress to expand the size of our reservation.

Why are we settling? What happens if we don’t settle?

This litigation has been in the courts for over 30 years. During the last three decades, many settlement proposals and counter-proposals have been proposed and rejected, either by the Mohawks, or by the State and local governments.

In 2005, all parties agreed to a settlement with terms very similar to the terms outlined in the recent MOU. The local governments withdrew from the agreement before it could be ratified.The MOU provides additional incentive to local governments to accept negotiated settlement as the means to a resolution that benefits all parties—both Mohawk and non-Mohawk.

The Mohawk claim is the only viable claim remaining in front of the federal courts in New York, and large portions of this claim have been dismissed and are on appeal. But there is still much to be resolved in court. Unfortunately, resolution could take another 20 years which benefits no one.

Why settle at all if we are winning in court?

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe has invested heavily in the North Country and sees great value in working collaboratively with local governments. Tribal Council hopes that the local community agrees that a settlement of our differences that draws clear lines about land ownership, taxes, services and jurisdiction is in the best interest of both the Tribe and the surrounding counties. We would like to work together but we cannot do this alone. We believe that a settlement that benefits all parties financially and that provides clarity to governance and citizens on the title to their land will help to foster strong relationships among the communities.

Land Ownership / Title
Will tribal members living in the land claim areas who did not pay their property taxes over the past several years have to pay back taxes before the land is considered tribal land?

No. In the final settlement, the State is responsible for clearing up the title to land. Mohawk’s who have lost title for non-payment of taxes will regain their title and rightful ownership.

Will the non-natives living in the land claim areas have to pay taxes to the tribe?

Non-natives living in the settlement areas will continue to pay taxes to the State unless they wish to transfer their title to the Tribe.

Will the tribe take over the roads maintenance duties such as paving, repairs and plowing?

The Tribe is prepared to enter into agreement with municipalities to address those infrastructure requirements.

Is the tribe going to buy the land and then re-sell to enrolled tribal members?

Under the settlement, the Tribe will be able to purchase land from willing sellers. A lot of the land owned by individual Mohawks currently may be brought in to the reservation and sovereignty of the Tribe by simple title exchange with the Tribe. The Tribe will be reviewing policies to ensure that all Akwesasne Mohawks have the ability to add their land back to tribal ownership and reservation status.

What if people aren’t willing to sell their land, then what?

The agreement states the Tribe is to be notified of all lands within areas designated in the Settlement Agreement that may come up for sale or auction as a result of a foreclosure by the State or St. Lawrence County, and the Tribe is to be given a right of first refusal to purchase such parcels, at the assessed value without any applicable exemptions, as well as parcels in those areas that have passed to the State under the N.Y.S. Abandoned Property Law.

Land will only be able to be purchased from willing sellers.

How do we know the sellers are not going to increase the price of the land?

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe is the only viable purchaser of property in the area and the Tribe will not pay more than fair market value.

Why is it that Indians don’t pay property taxes on the reservation and why does the settlement continue this practice?

Indian land is not taxed because it is held differently under federal law. Just like the federal government does not have to pay taxes on its land, tribal land is also not subject to tax. The federal government pays local communities in various types of funds that make up for the loss of taxes. This settlement will do the same for the Counties.

Why can’t the Tribe buy land like everyone else without having to add it to the reservation?

The Tribe has no interest in purchasing any land that would be subject to state and local jurisdiction.  The Tribe is a government and, just like New York, would not buy land in Canada and subject itself to Canadian laws. The Tribe has no plans to buy land that is subject to another sovereign authority. To the extent a settlement prohibits the Tribe from purchasing land to add to its reservation, by acreage or location limits, private sellers will not be able to sell property to the Tribe.

Won’t the local governments be harmed if land is removed from the tax rolls?

No, because a negotiated settlement includes a provision for the State to make payments to the local governments in lieu of the taxes for land added to the reservation. 

How does Land in Trust differ from a negotiated settlement?

The land is added to the reservation under federal law and the State has no obligation to make the local governments whole for lost taxes.

Power/NYPA Agreement
What is included in NYPA’s settlement?

Under the terms of this MOU, NYPA has agreed to make payments to the Tribe of $2 million per year for 35 years, for a total of $70 million.

Why are we not getting free power?

While not free, the settlement would provide for 9MW of power to be provided to the Tribe for distribution at the lowest available rates.

Education/SUNY Tuition
When can students expect to have SUNY tuition be waived?

Upon final settlement, Mohawks enrolled at Akwesasne will be eligible for free SUNY tuition and mandatory fees.

Who is eligible for the tuition waiver?

The term, Mohawks enrolled at Akwesasne, includes members of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, Mohawk Council of Ahkwesasne and of the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs regardless of residency.

What is included in the tuition waiver?

This is a tremendous opportunity for our people to attain a higher education. Tuition and mandatory fees are included. But this is not 100% of the entire expense a student will incur. Room and board, books, and other fees are excluded. Graduate and Post-graduate tuition are included.The entire cost of tuition, and room & board at SUNY institutions can be found at: http://www.suny.edu/smarttrack/tuition-and-fees/ .

How will students apply for the waiver?

Representatives of the Tribal Education Division will be working with students, parents and post-secondary programs (MCA) and the Mohawk Education Committee to develop a pathway for our students to take full advantage of this incredible opportunity.

Why are the Mohawks entitled to a free education?

The reason SUNY tuition is part of the settlement is because the State decided to offer non-monetary benefits to the Tribe so it did not have to pay state revenues in settlement, thereby avoiding a direct impact on the state budget.

Copyright © 2015 Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe