St. Regis Land Rights Lawsuit Nears Settlement
The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has entered into an agreement with the State of New York and St. Lawrence County that would settle a decades old land rights lawsuit, clarify jurisdictional matters, and finalize the resolution of a dispute over gaming revenues in the tribe’s exclusivity zone. But a final settlement cannot be enacted without support and sign-on from Franklin County.
On May 28, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe (SRMT) chiefs and leaders from New York state and St. Lawrence County signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will allow the tribe to buy 4,800 acres of identified aboriginal lands from willing sellers and restore the acres to the reservation.
St. Lawrence County will not lose any revenue from the deal; instead, it will profit. New York State will pay the county property taxes for any lands the tribe buys back. St. Lawrence County will also receive one-time payments of $2 million and $1.5 million from the state and the tribe, respectively, and annual payments of $4 million from New York State to be paid in perpetuity. The county could use the unrestricted funds as it sees fit.
“This is a step towards the final settlement which would resolve the [land rights] lawsuit,” the SRMT chiefs told ICTMN. The SRMT’s land rights claim includes an area of approximately six square miles guaranteed as Mohawk territory in the 1796 Treaty with the Seven Nations. In November 2012, the federal government intervened in the case on the tribe’s side.
The MOU also ends an old dispute over gaming revenues by finalizing payments to the local communities. The tribe discontinued slot revenue-sharing payments to New York in late 2010, maintaining that the state had violated the tribe’s gaming exclusivity zone by allowing the installation and operation of slot machines at the Ganienkeh Territorial Bingo, which is located in Clinton County about an hour away from Akwesasne, the Mohawk territory. The tribe and state reached an agreement last year, ending the dispute. The payments outlined in the MOU are in addition to the local share of casino revenues generated under the tribal-state gaming compact. Under the existing distribution formula, the estimated annual payments include approximately $1.45 million for St. Lawrence County and $725,000 each for the Towns of Brasher and Massena.
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