Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe

Land In Trust


What is the concept of Federal Land in Trust as it relates to Akwesasne and the 39-acre parcel that has been taken into trust? When land is taken into trust by the Federal government, it once again becomes part of the reservation and it cannot be removed from reservation status by action of the State, individual members of the Tribe or the Tribal Council, without Congressional approval. At Akwesasne, a large portion of the land reserved for our use by the Treaty of 1796 was lost in a series of illegal transactions in the early 1800’s. Through the land in trust process, which includes a lengthy application process and environmental assessments, this illegally taken land may be returned to the reservation and will once again fall under our authority.  Once, completed, the State and County cannot change its status.  Federal law does not require that the County (Franklin) or Town (Fort Covington) agree for land to be taken into trust; however it does allow a period of comment from individuals and local governments. For the transfer station property, there was extensive litigation between the Department of Interior and the County and State that occurred before the land could be taken into trust.
Where, specifically, is the 39-acre parcel in Fort Covington? What is on the property? The 39-acre parcel is located in an agricultural area along County Route 43, within an area designated as reservation lands by the 1796 Treaty with the federal government. This land is utilized as a transfer station for the purpose of sorting and transferring solid waste to a landfill and is part of the Tribe's extensive solid waste program developed to prevent dumping, and to educate the community on environmentally responsible waste disposal. During the land into trust process, extensive environmental studies were conducted to ensure that the use of the property met all applicable environmental standards. It also contains an undeveloped wooded area.
Is taking Land in Trust better than a negotiated final settlement agreement with the State and surrounding counties (Franklin and St. Lawrence County)? The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe has consistently stated it is our preference to have a negotiated settlement for our land claim that benefits both our people and our neighbors; the land in trust process began seven years ago for the 39-acre parcel.
Does the Tribe intend to initiate future Land in Trust applications? The SRMT is initiating a second land in trust application to include both residential and commercial property owned by the tribe and tribal members. We are in the preliminary stages of identifying these properties with the intent of expanding our territory for our people to build homes and further develop commercial enterprise in the North Country.
Where, specifically, are the residential and commercial properties that are being included in the second land to trust application? We are in the preliminary stages of identifying these properties with the intent of expanding our territory for our people to build homes and further develop commercial enterprise to the North Country. After announcing the success of this initial acquisition at the monthly tribal meeting, several community members who live and own businesses within the boundaries of the reservation set aside by the 1796 Treaty expressed interest in having their lands taken into trust.
Chief Ron LaFrance says that "changes to federal law and policy" could allow the process to move forward faster. What are those changes, and how long do you think the next land-to-trust application will take? A few years ago the Supreme Court held that a decision by the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust status could be open to challenge for six years after the decision. The Department of Interior now requires that all legal challenges to the taking of the land into trust must go through an administrative process that would cut off challenges and allow the department to immediately take the land into trust if an administrative appeal is not filed within 30 days. If an appeal is filed, the land would be taken into trust if the appeal is resolved favorably. In addition, during the course of litigation regarding the transfer station, legal issues were raised as to whether Tribes in New York could utilize the land into trust provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act. Those legal issues were all resolved in the Tribe’s favor.
Chief Paul Thompson says negotiated settlements are preferable to taking land into trust. Does applying for more land into trust put pressure on Franklin County to move forward with land claims negotiations? Is that the intent behind the second land-to-trust application? The intent behind the second application is for the return of land to its rightful ownership and to provide for expansion of our home, Akwesasne. We’ve waited a long time for a final settlement agreement to be reached; the land in trust process has proven it is a viable option for us to reclaim our land and expand our territory. During the 26 years that the Tribe has been involved in litigation and settlement discussions, the County continues to foreclose on properties, and while not selling them, as they would other properties foreclosed on, they have taken legal title, but continued to assess taxes against these properties. It is the responsibility of the Tribal Council to do what is necessary to prevent these actions from continuing during the course of settlement negotiations. We have, however, maintained that we prefer a negotiated settlement with our neighbors, including resolution of jurisdictional issues. Akwesasne is forever our home; returning our land and resolving our boundary issue remains paramount.
How is the land claim connected to the land claims in Massena and Brasher Falls? The Mohawk land claim includes property located within the boundary of both St. Lawrence County and Franklin County.
Please explain more about the land claims in Massena and Brasher Falls. Is the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe is going to have to pay Brasher Falls, Massena, and St. Lawrence County? Upon final settlement agreement, all payments to St. Lawrence County will be made by the State, with the exception of a one-time payment of $1.5 million from the Tribe to St. Lawrence County. The distribution of those funds will be the responsibility of St. Lawrence County.
The SRMT signed a Memorandum of Understanding between NY State, St. Lawrence County and NYPA in May of 2014. What is the status of the land claim and the negotiations between the State and Franklin County? The MOU signed between the State, St. Lawrence County, NYPA and the Tribe was the first step in a long process that we hope, leads us to a final settlement agreement. The second step, as we anticipate, is for the State and Franklin County to come to similar terms as our neighbors in St. Lawrence County have done. The Tribe will not jeopardize negotiations by divulging any information concerning these discussions. Detailed information concerning the MOU is available on our website at www.resolvetheboundary.com, including benefits to St. Lawrence County and the Tribe.

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