|• Language||English (de facto)
|• Land||85.89 km2 (33.16 sq mi)|
|Time zone||Eastern (EST) (UTC−5)|
|• Summer (DST)||EDT (UTC−4)|
|Postal code span/zip code||H0M 1A0, 13655|
|Area code(s)||518, 613|
The Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne (alternate spelling Ahkwesáhsne) is a Mohawk Nation (Kanien'kehá:ka) territory that straddles the intersection of international (United States and Canada) borders and provincial (Ontario and Quebec) boundaries on both banks of the St. Lawrence River. Most of the land is in what is otherwise the present-day United States. Although divided by an international border, the residents consider themselves to be one community.
It was founded in the mid-18th century by people from Kahnawake, a Catholic Mohawk village south of Montreal. Today Akwesasne has 12,000 residents, with the largest population and land area of any Kanien'kehá:ka community. Beginning in the eighteenth century, Akwesasne was considered one of the Seven Nations of Canada. It is one of several Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) territories within present-day Canada; others are Kahnawake, Wahta, Kanesatake, and the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, founded after the American Revolutionary War.
- 1 Geography
- 2 History
- 3 Communities, hamlets and villages in Akwesasne
- 4 Government
- 5 Education
- 6 Media
- 7 Attractions
- 8 Recent political activism
- 9 Akwesasne in Popular Culture
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Akwesasne territory incorporates part of the St. Lawrence River, the mouths of the Raquette and St. Regis rivers, and a number of islands in these three rivers. The territory is divided north/south by an international boundary. The northern portion is further divided by the Canadian provincial boundary between Ontario and Quebec.
Because of the St. Lawrence River to the north and New York State, USA to the south, the Quebec portion of the Akwesasne reserve is an exclave claimed by Canada. To travel by land from Tsi:Snaine (Snye or Chenail, Quebec) or Kana:takon (Saint Regis, Quebec) to elsewhere in Canada, one must drive through New York State.
In the U.S. state of New York, the territory of Akwesasne coincides with what is called the St. Regis Indian Reservation. This portion of Akwesasne is bisected by New York State Route 37. This major state highway in the North Country of New York, extends for 127.40 miles (205.03 km) on an east-west axis.
Beginning about 1000 AD, nomadic indigenous people around the Great Lakes began adopting the cultivation of maize. By the 14th century, Iroquoian-speaking peoples, later called the St. Lawrence Iroquoians, had created fortified villages along the fertile valley of what is now called the St. Lawrence River. Among their villages were Stadacona and Hochelaga, visited in 1535-1536 by explorer Jacques Cartier. While they shared certain culture with other Iroquoian groups, they were a distinctly separate people and spoke a branch of Iroquoian called Laurentian. By the time Samuel de Champlain explored the same area 75 years later, the villages had disappeared.
Historians theorize that the stronger Mohawk from the South waged war against the St. Lawrence Iroquoians to get control of the fur trade and hunting along the river valley. By 1600, the Mohawk used the valley for hunting grounds and as a path for war parties.
In the early 17th century, some mixed Iroquois (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca) migrated from present-day New York to Kahnawake, a Catholic mission village established south of Montreal by French Jesuits. Kahnawake is a Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) word meaning "at the rapids". Here, many First Nations people converted to Roman Catholicism. During the colonial years, this community participated in the fur trade. Some men regularly traveled to Albany, New York for better prices from the English and Dutch than the French were willing to give.
Due to exhaustion of land at Kahnawake and problems with traders' rum at the village, in the mid-1750s about 30 families migrated upriver about 20 leagues to set up a new community. Leaders included the brothers John and Zachariah Tarbell. Father Pierre-Robert-Jean-Baptiste Billiard accompanied the migrants as their priest. French officials supported the move, paying for a sawmill at the new mission. With tensions rising prior to the Seven Years' War (also known in North America as the French and Indian War), the French wanted to keep the Mohawk as allies, away from English influence.
The Tarbell brothers were from Groton, Massachusetts, born to English colonists, and they had been taken captive in 1707 along with their older sister Sarah, then 14, during Queen Anne's War. John and Zachariah were 12 and 8, respectively. The three children were taken by the French and Abenaki raiders some 300 miles to Montreal. They all became Catholic and were renamed. Sarah/Marguerite entered the Congregation of Notre Dame, a teaching order founded in Montreal by French women in 1653. Adopted by Mohawk families in Kahnawake, the two boys became thoroughly assimilated: learning the language and ways, and being given Mohawk names. They later each married daughters of chiefs and reared their children as Mohawk. The brothers each became chiefs (as were some of their sons.) They were examples of the multi-cultural community of the Mohawk, who absorbed numerous captives into their tribe. In 1806, Catholic Cayuga, Oneida and Onondaga from Ogdensburg, New York joined the St. Regis band.
Starting in 1755, French-Canadian Jesuit priests founded the St. Regis Mission at Akwesasne. The Tarbell brothers were listed among the founding chiefs, representing numerous clans as of 1759, in papers of Loran Kanonsase Pyke, the patriarch of Akwesasne’s Pyke family.
The Jesuits first built a log and bark church at the mission, then a more formal log church. In 1795 the Mohawk completed construction of a stone church, which still stands. Named after the French priest St. Jean-François Regis, the mission was the source of the French name of the adjacent Saint Regis River, an island in the St. Lawrence River, and the nearby village. The church was long a landmark to ships on the river approaching the rapids. In New York, the name was later adopted to apply to the Saint Regis Indian Reservation. The villagers have since renamed their community Kana:takon (the village, in Mohawk).
After victory in the Seven Years' War, the British took over Canada and New France east of the Mississippi River. They allowed the Kanien'kehá:ka to continue to have Catholic priests at their mission. The Jesuits helped preserve Mohawk culture, translating the Bible and liturgy into Mohawk. They observed Mohawk customs, for instance, refusing to marry individuals who belonged to the same clan. Through the 18th and 19th centuries, they maintained parish registers that recorded the Mohawk names for life events, even when the people had taken European names as well.
At the time of the American Revolutionary War, the Mohawk, Onondaga, Seneca and Cayuga were allied with the British against the American colonists. Forced to cede most of their remaining lands in New York to the new government after the colonists' victory, many of the Iroquois people migrated to Canada, where many settled at the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation. Some Mohawk joined the growing community at Akwesasne. Under the Jay Treaty, the Iroquois retained rights to cross the newly established borders between Canada and the United States in order to maintain their trade and tribal ties.
Battle of the Cedars
The Battle of the Cedars (French: Les Cèdres) was a series of military confrontations, early in the American Revolutionary War, which involved limited combat. The actions took place between May 19 and 27, 1776, at and around Les Cèdres, Quebec (located 28 miles/45 km west of Montreal), in the later stages of the American colonial invasion of Quebec that began in September 1775. No casualties occurred.
Claude de Lorimier, a British Indian agent from Montreal, traveled west to Oswegatchie (Ogdensburg, New York), where there was a fort garrisoned by a company of the 8th Regiment of Foot under the command of British Captain George Forster. De Lorimier proposed recruiting some Indians to launch an attack on Montreal, then held by the American Continental Army, from the west. When Forster agreed, Lorimier went to Akwesasne, where he recruited 100 warriors for battle. The British-allied forces took some American prisoners during the encounters, but these were later freed.
20th century institutions
Kana:takon School, originally called the Saint Regis Village School, was run by the Catholic Sisters of Saint Anne until the 1970s. Today, the mission is still active and includes a rectory, the large stone church dating to 1795, and a cemetery. Parish records show that the Jesuits respected Mohawk traditions, recording their Mohawk names through the 18th and 19th centuries, even after they had also taken European names.
The Roman Catholic parish at Akwesasne falls under three dioceses because of international borders and provincial boundaries: the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall, Diocese of Valleyfield in Canada, and the Diocese of Ogdensburg in New York.
The United States federal government encouraged the tribe to adopt a constitution and elected government following passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The Mohawk chose to retain their traditional chiefs.
In the 1940s Ernest Benedict founded Akwesasne's first newspaper, Kawehras! ("It Thunders!"). Benedict covered the resistance of many Mohawk to the system of elections imposed by New York State on the "American" side of Akwesasne; it insisted on representative elections. On May 24, 1948, a vote was held in which "The Six Nations Chiefs," based on historic clans and hereditary office, received 83 votes as opposed to "The Elected Chiefs" who only got 1, and "The Seven Nations Chiefs," who didn't get any. The elected chiefs resigned from office, but the federal government continued to require the tribe to hold elections.
Both the federal government and New York State encouraged the tribe to adopt representative elected government, but they resisted. They were put on the list for termination in the 1950s, but Congress never approved this.
In 1969 Benedict founded the North American Indian Travelling College (now known as the Native North American Travelling College), which serves as a cultural center, publishing house, and resource for classes and lectures at Akwesasne and beyond. It operates an art gallery and theater at Akwesasne.
In the late 1960s, a period of heightened Native American activism, Benedict also started Akwesasne Notes, which was highly influential and became the largest native newspaper in the world. Among its noted features were a series of posters included as centerfolds. A supporter gave the newspaper Edward Curtis photographs, which editors combined with quotes from Native American authors for the popular poster series.
In the 1990s, the people of Akwesasne raised money in a variety of ways to fund a renovation of their St. Regis Church. They wrote a history of the church and its priests.
Communities, hamlets and villages in Akwesasne
The three main areas:
- Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island, Ontario)
- Kana:takon (Saint Regis, Quebec)
- Tsi:Snaine (Snye, Quebec or Chenail, Quebec)
- Raquette Point, New York
- Rooseveltown, New York (disputed)
- Hogansburg, New York
- Frogtown, New York
- Pilon Island, Ontario
- Yellow Island, Quebec
- St. Regis Island, Quebec
- Sugarbush Island, Quebec
- Outlying islands
To the southeast Akwesasne borders the towns of Fort Covington, New York and Bombay, New York. Sections of the southeastern portion of Akwesasne are considered by the Town of Bombay to be within the town's jurisdiction. To the west is the Town of Massena, New York. Many islands in the St. Lawrence River are part of Akwesasne. Generally the Akwesasro:non are majority English-speaking in daily use; they have more interaction with the people of Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, which have stronger economies, than the French-speaking towns of Quebec.
Akwesasne is governed by three bodies: the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs (traditional government), the elected Mohawk Council of Akwesasne in the North, and Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in the South. The latter are the two recognized by the governments of Canada and the United States, as well as lower-level jurisdictions.
Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs
The Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs (MNCC, colloquially "the Longhouse") is the traditional governing and religious body of the Mohawk (Kahniakehaka) people. The MNCC operates as a member nation of the Iroquois Confederacy or Haudenosaunee.
Mohawk Council of Akwesasne
The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA) is a government whose representatives are elected within the northern districts of the territory claimed by Canada. The MCA was developed from the Indian Bands system introduced by the Indian Act of Canada and the Act's historical and legal predecessors. They are known to Canada as Mohawks of Akwesasne Bands 59 and 15.
The MCA operates as a non-partisan, representative democracy divided into three geographic and administrative districts. The districts are Kana:takon (Saint Regis, Quebec), Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island, Ontario) and Tsi:Snaihne (Snye, Quebec). The several islands of the St. Lawrence River within the jurisdiction of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne are generally counted as being a part of the nearest mainland.
General elections are held tri-annually, with 12 representatives (Chiefs) chosen from the districts and one Grand Chief. Each district elects four Chiefs, and all districts vote to elect a Grand Chief; making a council of 12 plus 1. A by-election may also be held if one or more of the seats become vacant.
Chiefs of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne
- Grand Chief
- Kana:takon District Chiefs
- Lawrence King
- Agatha Florance Phillips
- Julie Phillips-Jacobs
- Steven Thomas
- Tsi:Snaihne District Chiefs
- April Adams-Phillips
- Joseph Lazore
- Karen Loran
- William Sunday
- Kawehno:ke District Chiefs
- Abram Howard Benedict
- Wesley Benedict
- Brian William David
- Louise Thompson
Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe
The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe (SRMT) is a government elected by residents of the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, a southern district of the territory within the border of the United States. The SRMT operates as a Constitutional republic. The Tribal Council is composed of three Chiefs, three Sub-Chiefs and a Tribal Clerk. Elections are held each year on the first Saturday of June to choose one Chief and one Sub-Chief for a three-year term. The Tribal Clerk is chosen every third year.
Council of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe
- Chief Beverly Cook
- Chief Ron Lafrance Jr.
- Chief Paul O. Thompson
- Sub-Chief Eric Thompson
- Sub-Chief Michael Conners
- Sub-Chief Shelley Jacobs
- Tribal Clerk Corleen Jackson-Jacco
Governance: Canada and the United States
In 1960 First Nations people were enfranchised in Canada. In 1985 Status Indians who voted in a Canadian election were allowed to retain their status. Previously they would have become non-Status, as per the Indian Act. It is uncertain how many Akwesasronon participate in Canadian elections.
Akwesasne is currently represented in Canada's Parliament by:
- Anne Minh-Thu Quach -New Democratic Party (Beauharnois-Salaberry, Quebec)
- Guy Lauzon -Conservative (Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, Ontario)
In 1924 Native Americans were enfranchised in the United States if they had not been previously; by that time, two-thirds were citizens. During the era of Indian Removal of the 1830s, Native Americans who chose to stay in historic territories of the South became state and federal citizens; those who moved to Indian Territory were not considered citizens. As Native American lands were purchased during the nineteenth century and their claims were extinguished, more were classified as US citizens as they moved to reservations.
Akwesasne is represented in the United States Senate by:
Akwesasne is represented in the United States House of Representatives by:
- United States Representative: Bill Owens (D-21st, NY)
Akwesasne is represented in the New York State Assembly by:
- New York State Representative Janet Duprey
Akwesasne is represented in the New York Senate by:
- New York State Senator Betty Little
Akwesasne has five elementary schools on the territory. Three schools are under the direction of the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education:
- Akwesasne Mohawk School K-4, K-5 grades 3,4,5,6
- Kana:takon School K-4, K-5, grades 7, 8
- Tsi:Snaihne School grades 1, 2 in the English program, and pre-kindergarten to grade 5 in the Kanien'kehá:ka Immersion Program
One school is under the direction of the Salmon River Central School District:
- St. Regis Mohawk School Pre-K to grade 6
One school is run independently:
- Akwesasne Freedom School, Pre-K to grade 8, featuring Kanien'kehá immersion to strengthen language and culture on the reserve. With children learning Kanien'kehá, many parents and other adults are now taking language classes, too. The Akwesasne model of language and cultural revival is being followed by other communities.
Generally, Akwesasnro:non travel off the territory for secondary education.
Post-secondary education is offered on the territory through Iohahiio Adult Education and State University of New York (SUNY) extension programs with the SRMT.
97.3 CKON-FM is the community radio station. It first went on air on September 29, 1984. CKON is owned and operated by the Akwesasne Communication Society, a community-based non-profit group. It has a country music format, but also has adult contemporary music during evenings, a free format on Fridays and oldies on Sundays. CKON also broadcasts coverage of home and away games of Cornwall Colts and Akwesasne Wolves hockey teams and of the Akwesasne Lightning lacrosse team.
Online and Print Media
- Akwesasne Annual International Pow-wow
- Akwesasne Cultural Center
- Akwesasne Mohawk Casino
- Annual Akwesasne Winter Carnival
- Iohahi:io Akwesasne Adult Education Centre
- Mohawk International Raceway - formerly known as Frogtown International Speedway; a dirt track racing oval and host of outdoor concerts.
- Ronathahon:ni Cultural Centre - formerly known as the Native North American Traveling College
- Strawberry Music Festival
Recent political activism
1969 border crossing dispute
In the winter of 1969 Cornwall City Police were confronted by a demonstration by Akwesasro:non at the North Channel Bridge of what is now called the Three Nations Crossing. By blocking traffic on the bridge, Akwesasro:non sought to call attention to their grievance that they were prohibited by Canadian authorities from duty-free passage of personal purchases across the border, a right they claimed was established by the 1794 Jay Treaty A film featuring the events of that confrontation, called You Are on Indian Land, was produced by the National Film Board of Canada.
2001 "anti-globalization" direct action
Initiated in October 2000 by L. Fantoni and T.F.G. Casper on the heels of the anti-International Monetary Fund/World Bank protests in Prague, a collective soon formed and developed its own variation of the Tute Bianche tactic of the padded bloc. The collective organized several actions and events highlighting the inadequacy of borders, in support of immigrant rights and against racism and racialist hate groups.
In April 2001, this collective, along with the Direct Action Network, was active in organizing a US / Canada border crossing over the Three Nations Crossing. This event preceded demonstrations surrounding the 3rd Summit of the Americas, a summit held in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. An estimated 500 anti-globalists, along with a few Akwesasro:non, challenged the legitimacy of the US/Canadian border. Although the Collective successfully and peacefully crossed into Cornwall, Ontario, Canada, they never made it to Quebec City.
2009 border crossing dispute
On 1 June 2009, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) border services officers at the Cornwall Port of Entry walked off the job in response to encampments of Akwesasro:non across the road from the customs facility. The latter were protesting Canada's arming of CBSA border services officers. The encampment, styled as a "unity rally", was branded as a campaign to bring awareness to complaints of alleged Human Rights abuses committed against Akwesasro:non by the CBSA border services officers.
The protest continued for several days but reached its peak at midnight of 1 June, when the new policy of arming border services officers with Beretta Px4 Storm sidearms went into effect. The border services officers left at the end of their shift. A new shift did not arrive, leaving the port of entry vacant.
Cornwall City Police blockaded the north terminus of the Three Nations Bridge to deny travelers entry into Canada. At the request of Canada, the New York State Police likewise blocked access from the United States onto the bridge. Akwesasne was cut off from its major access point into Canada and from free travel within the territory until a temporary border post was erected on July 13, 2009.
Police, border patrol, state troopers, RCMP, and various government agents blocked the road leading to the homes on Cornwall Island, Ontario, from May 2009 until July 2009. Each time Mohawks attempted to leave their homes or return to their homes in Akwesasne, they were interrogated by government agents. Some Mohawks moved out of their homes citing stress from this situation. Other residents were ordered to pay costs of $1000 each time CBSA agents chose to impound their vehicles, sometimes more than once per day where residents needed to use their vehicles for several trips. Some residents traveled instead by boat to seek medical attention, purchase water, and groceries.
History of disputes
The area has been the scene of several disputes on the rights of the residents to cross the border unimpeded. These issues have been a concern for Canadian authorities, as the area is alleged to be a large-scale, cigarette-smuggling route from the U.S. There have been arrests and seizure of goods in the past.
In addition, there have been internal issues, with residents of Akwesasne divided as to which council (elected or traditional) they support. Political rivalries were expressed as one group brought gambling onto the reserve, bringing huge returns to casino owners. In 1989 unidentified suspects threw firebombs at a chartered bus. In a separate incident, someone used a shotgun to fire at a bus in the customs area.
The political feuds have led to outright violence, with two Mohawk men killed at Akwesasne in 1990 and thousands of residents leaving their homes because of attacks on houses and vehicles, and general unrest. The Warrior Society, a self-appointed security force, used assault rifles and bats to break up anti-gambling roadblocks at the reservation entrances. They threatened to shoot any outside law enforcement officials if they entered the reservation.
Akwesasne in Popular Culture
Frozen River is a 2008 American film written and directed by Courtney Hunt. It is set in the North Country of Upstate New York, near Akwesasne and the Canadian border, shortly before Christmas. Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) is a discount store clerk struggling to raise two sons with her husband, a compulsive gambler who has disappeared with the funds she had earmarked to finance the purchase of a double-wide mobile home. While searching for him, she encounters Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham), a Mohawk bingo-parlor employee who is driving his car, which she claims she found abandoned with the keys in the ignition at the local bus-station. The two women, who have fallen on hard economic times, form a desperate and uneasy alliance and begin trafficking illegal immigrants from Canada into the United States across the frozen St. Lawrence River for $1200 each per crossing. Frozen River received two Academy Award nominations: Best Actress (Melissa Leo) and Best Original Screenplay (Courtney Hunt). Misty Upham was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female.
The 2011 documentary Skydancer by Katja Esson highlights life in Akwesasne and the uncanny ability of its community members at ironworking 
- Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- Indian Act
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- Statistics Canada. 2007. Akwesasne, Quebec (Code2469802) (table). 2006 Community Profiles. 2006 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 92-591-XWE. Ottawa. Released March 13, 2007. http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/2006/dp-pd/prof/92-591/index.cfm?Lang=E (accessed April 12, 2012).
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- A LONG Time Ago
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