Revitalizing the North Country
It's good to be reminded that sometimes front line Indians themselves, without the aide of Federal programs, or elected Tribal leadership for that matter, are quite capable of developing and implementing strategies that have far ranging impacts.
Operating outside established American law that seeks to regulate Indians is working very well at the Akwesasne Mohawk community. Business is booming and with the exception of the salaries earned at the BIA recognized Tribe and their gaming operations, New York State receives no money from Indian economic activities and no American cigarettes are sold, only native produced brands, further depriving a hungry and weakened State New York of our financial resources, while having great positive financial impact regionally.
At Akwesasne the business community understands their significant impact on the regional economy and has been taking steps to reach out and further tighten the prosperous relationships around them. The following presentation is a reminder of how people should and can work together.
Rotary Club of Malone Presentation
Charles Kader, Guest Presenter
Ladies and gentlemen of the Rotary Club of Malone, I would like to thank you for your participation in the Rotary International. You and your one million plus fellow Rotarians represent that social quotient of moving from witness to participant, creating action from inaction, and by providing ethical leadership demonstrations in your daily lives that call of “service above self” is made whole on the canvas of life.
I stand before you today in fellowship and honor. My family originated in these parts and I moved back to the North Country after growing up in Pennsylvania. I have worked closely with both the federally recognized tribal government, and more recently with the traditional Akwesasronon who are your neighbors. I have also served as the Chamber of Commerce liaison to local “Mohawk” businesses.
I mention these affiliations to underscore that orientation to the economies of the North Country that I am keenly aware of. It goes without saying that anywhere two currencies exist, separated by a significant body of water, untaxed trade will proliferate. Look no further back than 200 years ago, when Fort Covington-area farmers expressly made their produce and livestock commercially available to the British garrison in Cornwall-proper, who paid in silver, in preference over American troops who paid in American script, during the War of 1812. However, I am not here to focus on individual trade opportunities. Wider scale economic gain is required to benefit the entire North Country economic base.
The area that is under our feet right now is referred to as the homeland of the People of the Land of the Flint. In the Kanienkeha language, the homeland is called Kanienkeh, and the people refer to themselves as Kanienkehaka. It stretches from the Mid-Atlantic States more commonly thought of as Cherokee territory, however, Cherokee is an Iroquoian language, and this homeland extends into Upper Quebec. It was never ceded, sold off, or procured by another First People, and was treated with great respect by European colonial powers. The Two Row Wampum (Kaswentha) symbolizes the implicit agreement that these early power-brokers readily entered into. This wampum maintained the symbolic distance between mainstream and original governments that allowed each to co-exist without interference.
Today, the American federal government asserts that the Kanienkehaka are now United States citizens. This does not sit well with certain Kanienkehaka families, who are not enrolled members of the Saint Regis Tribe, and therefore are not represented by any elected government. The limits of the tribal governments focus on their immediate land bases, where the majority of their tribal enrollees live. Outside of that, there is not much more tribal internal support to push the fences out, so to speak. Conversely, the resiliency of the Kanienkehaka people within business circles is well known globally.
I like to look at existing conditions and see what can be done with them successfully, instead of bemoaning what is not there.
Problem number one for the North Country economy is lack of population. A stable population base attracts commercial interest. Numbers count. The sparse population in turn has left significant land parcels underutilized and possibly vacated. This trend agrees with the Onkwehonweh (original people) visionaries who were told that their land would be overrun but only temporarily, and then would be returned to them.
The current tax base contribution of vacant parcels is zero. To do something with this land, in sweeping fashion, will offset decades of regressive economic trending. The willingness to seek out partners and recognize common destinies is the root of any rehabilitation effort. Stubbornness never sells. Value is what you can get, not what you hope it is worth.
Doing it for ourselves.
In researching this presentation, I asked others what their ideas were, for economic development within Kanienkeh. Farmers told me to keep it simple. Managers said to keep the training to a minimum. Mechanics said to buy machines that could be fixed in the field and were based on a common platform.
The consensus regarding use of the land would be to encourage hayfield and switchgrass growth. The hay could be harvested for export to support agriculture projects, it could be used to create renewable housing materials, and livestock feeding would be more easily facilitated, while the switchgrass could be formed into pellet fuel as an alternative to hard wood pellets. A cooperative effort might be a way to diversify.
These projects would employ workers from both our communities. Smart and willing workers will be needed. All may apply. Not all will stay. Sweat is equity.
A similar pitch could be made to Saint Lawrence County audiences. Expanding on this regional approach, I personally would like to see localized currency equivalents to the United States dollar. A cooperative effort between Malone, Akwesasne and Massena businesses to redeem a self-contained denomination would work to offset the cash drain cycle that currently sees locally earned dollars head out of the region after only one or two transactions. Localized insurance also would be a goal; buy here, pay here.
Similar community denomination systems currently exist in both the USA and Canada, in thirty five states, including New York. The key to this type of transaction is that the locals using the homogenized currency receive more buying power by using the community currency, and this would create additional volume by sale with participating businesses. The real hedge of this supplementary exchange would be in the eventuality of electronic currency dominion. The extra distance of ten miles between Akwesasne and Malone has benefited Massena as a shorter drive to shop or eat by many Akwesasronon. Malone would benefit immediately in a mutually beneficial “free trade zone” that would soon see retail outlets looking to new ways to do business. Downtown Malone as an outdoor mall.
There are no red or blue Upstate county maps to interpret here. The color of the North Country map can best be exemplified by the famous New York loyalist militia, the Johnson’s Greens of the Mohawk Valley, during the American Revolution. A successfully green North Country will attract attention for tolerance and cooperation, based on common benefit. Neighbors should look forward to new and renewed relationships, instead of suspicion of potential customers. “One size fits all” social engineering has never set well in cross-border-cultures. The people are too hardy and the ties are too strong to both shores.
Thank you for listening to my basic approach to revitalization via land use through job creation. No one wants anyone more to leave these lands, especially your children. They are our future. We owe it to them to provide for their livelihood in some way to help to keep them here. The higher education opportunities will also increase regionally, further embellishing existing prestigious programs. Health care options favor a growing population base.
The Chambers of Commerce joining hands regionally also lends itself to enhanced networking on new and developing paradigms.
The finest accomplishment of a capital-based society is job creation, the economic fountain of youth. I dream of a “Made on Turtle Island” warehouse club that will buy as locally as possible, wherever local is, and rebuild the old American supply side capacity to a sustainable level as a trade imbalance-resistant domestic goods market. This region needs to stick together and embrace cooperation as a momentum building act.
Thank you very much for your time and interest.
Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War Two veteran. He attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, earning degrees in Communication and Library Science, as well as Mercyhurst College where he earned a graduate degree in the Administration of Justice. He has worked across Indian country, from the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana (where he married his wife) to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and now resides in Kanienkeh.