FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
THURSDAY, AUGUST 6, 1998
TDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT MOVES TO RESOLVE INDIAN LAND DISPUTE
INVOLVING LANDS IN FRANKLIN AND ST. LAWRENCE COUNTIES, NEW YORK
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Department of Justice has moved to intervene in a private federal lawsuit brought by three tribes over Indian land in Franklin and St. Lawrence Counties, New York, the Department of Justice announced today.
These three groups--the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, the People of the Longhouse at Akwesasne, and the Mohawks of Akwesasne, claim they are the successors in interest to the "Indians of the Village of St. Regis" who signed the Treaty With The Seven Nations on May 31, 1796.
The Department's complaint, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Syracuse, alleges that the State of New York entered six "treaties" with individuals claiming to represent the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe between 1810 and 1845. Through these treaties, lands reserved to the Mohawks in the 1796 Treaty were conveyed to the State of New York, without the consent of the United States Congress. A 1790 federal statute prohibits the transfer of land from Indian tribes without Congressional consent.
"The Mohawks have an historical and federally protected right to this land," said Lois Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department's Environment Division. "The government alleges that New York violated these rights when it purchased the land without Congressional approval in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. It is time to right this wrong and compensate those who have been injured."
According to the original lawsuit and the government's complaint in intervention, the State of New York , during the nineteenth century, illegally obtained land that belongs to the three plaintiff groups and seeks damages to compensate the victims. The defendants in the lawsuit occupy some of the lands as successor in interest to the State of New York.
The suit also maintains that the State of New York illegally patented lands located on Baxter, Barnhart, and Long Sault Islands in violation of the 1814 Treaty of Ghent.
The Mohawks of the Akwesasne filed the original lawsuit in 1982, and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and the People of the Longhouse at Akwesasne filed an additional lawsuit 1989. The two suits, consolidated by the Court, challenges the validity of the land patents issued by the State of New York of approximately 17,000 acres, all located in Franklin and St. Lawrence Counties.
"Although we are intervening and are willing to litigate the case, we are also willing to engage in serious settlement discussions with the defendants, the state, and the plaintiffs," said Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
Similar Indian land claims in other states have been resolved through negotiation. In those claims, the tribes, the state, and the federal government have reached agreements that have compensated tribes and eliminated questions about the land title of present-day owners. In some of these settlements, tribes bought land from willing sellers to create or expand a reservation.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that no time limitation applies to this type of Indian land claim.