Published on September 27, 2010 by John
The Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne (alternate spelling Ahkwesáhsne) is a Mohawk Nation (Kanien’kehá:ka) territory that straddles the intersection of international (United States and Canada) and provincial (Ontario and Quebec) borders on both banks of the Saint Lawrence River. Most of the land is in what is otherwise the United States. Although divided by an international border, the residents consider themselves to be one community. Beginning in the mid-18th century as one of the smallest Mohawk communities on the St. Lawrence River, today Akwesasne has 12,000 residents, resulting in the largest population and land area of any Kanien’kehá:ka community. It is one of several Kanien’kehá:ka territories within present-day Canadas: Kahnawake, Kanesatake, and the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation.
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The name Akwesasne in Kanien’kehá (Mohawk language) means “Land Where the Partridge Drums”, referring to the rich wildlife in the area when founded. Beginning in the 18th century, it was one of the Seven Nations of Canada.
Akwesasne territory incorporates part of the St. Lawrence River and the mouths of both the Raquette River and the St. Regis River, as well as a number of islands in all 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.
The Three Nations Crossing connects Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island, Ontario) to the City of Cornwall in the north and Rooseveltown, New York in the south.
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, Akwesasne coincides with 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, archeological and linguistic studies since the 1950s have demonstrated they were a distinctly separate people. They 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 are continuing to examine this culture and drastic change, but theorize that the stronger Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) waged war against the St. Lawrence Iroquoians to get control of the fur trade and hunting along the valley below Tadoussac. (The Montagnais controlled Tadoussac.) By 1600, the Mohawk used the valley for hunting grounds and as a path for war parties.
Akwesasne was founded in the late 1750s by Kanien’kehá:ka people (also spelled Onkwehonwe) from the Kahnawake community, established downriver since the early 18th century in present-day Canada across the St. Lawrence River south of Montreal. Kahnawake included mostly Kanien’kehá:ka (known for years among English speakers as Mohawk) and other First Nations people, some of whom migrated from traditional territory in present-day New York and converted to Roman Catholicism. French Jesuits established a mission and church at Kahnawake. During colonial years, members of this community were actively involved in the fur trade. Some 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 the desire to leave a community damaged by traders’ rum, in 1754 the mature brothers John and Zachariah Tarbell were among the leaders of a migration of about 30 families to set up a new community about 20 leagues upriver along the St. Lawrence River. Father Pierre-Robert-Jean-Baptiste Billiard accompanied the migrants as their priest. French officials supported the move and new mission; they paid for construction of a sawmill at the new community. With tensions increasing prior to the Seven Years War (also known in North America as the French and Indian War, the French wanted to keep the Mohawk away from English influence.
The Tarbells were of English descent from New England. They had been taken captive as young boys from Groton, Massachusetts on June 20, 1707 with their sister Sarah by Mohawk during Queen Anne’s War and “carried” 300 miles to Canada. Sarah was sold to/redeemed by a French family. A year later she was baptized as Catholic, renamed Marguerite, and entered the Congregation of Notre Dame, a teaching order founded in Montreal in 1653. Adopted by Kanien’kehá:ka families in Kahnawake, the two boys became thoroughly assimilated: being baptized as Catholic, learning the Mohawk language and ways, and being given Mohawk names. They each married daughters of Mohawk chiefs from the Kahnawake community, and reared their children in its traditions. Well-respected, they both became chiefs (as were some of their sons.) They did not return to New England until March 1739, when they visited some family with the help of a guide and translator. They sometimes traveled to present-day Albany, New York for better trading prices from the Dutch and English. With many descendants into contemporary times at Kahnawake and Akwesasne, the extended Tarbell family is one of the largest.
Starting in 1755, French-Canadian Jesuit priests founded the St. Regis Mission at Akwesasne, together with the group of converted Kanien’kehá:ka (also spelled Onkwehonwe) from Kahnawake. First they built a log and bark church, then a more formal log church. In 1795 the Mohawks completed construction of a stone church, which still stands. Named after the French priest Saint 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. 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 their victory in the Seven Years War, the British took over Canada and New France east of the Mississippi River. They added to good relations with residents of Akwesasne, built through trading in the New York Colony, by allowing the Kanien’kehá:ka to continue to have Catholic priests at their mission.
At the time of the American Revolutionary War, the Mohawk and three other Iroquois nations were allied with the British against the rebellious American colonists. Forced to cede most of their remaining lands in New York to the new government after the colonists’ victory, the Iroquois nations 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 Mohawk had rights to independently cross the borders of their old territory.
Battle of the Cedars
(See 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 The Cedars, 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.
The Roman Catholic parish at Akwesasne falls under three dioceses because of international and provincial borders: the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall, Diocese of Valleyfield in Canada, and the Diocese of Ogdensburg in New York.
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
Sugarrbush Island, Quebec
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, so neighboring communities include :
Lake Saint Francis and Salaberry de Valleyfield, Quebec
Township of Summerstown, Ontario
City of Cornwall, Ontario
South Stormont, Ontario
Township of Dundee, Quebec
Village of Massena, New York
Alexandria Bay, New York
Akwesasro:non have little contact with neighboring towns in Quebec. Partly this may be due to their being majority English-speaking in daily use (rather than French-speaking). Also, they are more oriented to the stronger economies of Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York.
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.
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 triannually, 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
Michael William Mitchell
Kana:takon District Chiefs
Agatha Florance Phillips
Tsi:Snaihne District Chiefs
Kawehno:ke District Chiefs
Abram Howard Benedict
Brian William David
List accurate as of 27 June 2009 MCA election.
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 claimed by the United States of America. The SRMT operates as a Constitutional republic.
Chiefs of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe
Chief Mark Garrow
Chief Monica Jacobs
Chief Randy Hart
Sub-Chief Stacy Adams
Sub-Chief Pamela Brown
Sub-Chief Shelley Jacobs
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 Akwesasro:non participate in Canadian elections.
In 2009 Akwesasne was being represented in Canada’s Parliament by:
Claude DeBellefeuille -Bloc Québécois (Beauharnois-Salaberry, Quebec)
Guy Lauzon -Conservative (Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, Ontario)
In 2009 Akwesasne was being represented in the United States Congress by:
Senator Charles Schumer (D- NY)
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D- NY)
Representative: Bill Owens (D)
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 community radio station. 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 as well as Akwesasne Lightning lacrosse team.
Akwesasne Womens Fire
Indian Time Newspaper
Akwesasne Mohawk Casino
Akwesasne Cultural Center
Ronathahon:ni Cultural Centre – formerly known as the Native North American Traveling College
Mohawk International Raceway – formerly known as Frogtown International Speedway; a dirt track racing oval and host of outdoor concerts.
Akwesasne Annual International Pow-wow
Strawberry Music Festival
Annual Akwesasne Winter Carnival
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
The NYC Ya Basta Collective was a group of anti-globalization activists, based primarily in NYC, active from roughly October, 2000 through October, 2001.
Initiated in October 2000 by L. Fantoni and T.F.G. Casper on the heels of the anti-IMF/ 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) agents at the Canada Port of Entry at Akwesasne-Cornwall 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 guards. 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.
History of disputes
Further information: Cornwall Island (Ontario)
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.