39 acres of land in Ft. Covington returned to Akwesasne through ‘land-in-trust’ process
Friday, March 6, 2015 - 5:34 pm

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe (SRMT) says it has received verification that a 39-acre parcel in the Town of Fort Covington that was subject of a federal land-in-trust application has been taken into trust and will revert to the tribe’s control.

The land-in-trust process was initiated after the 2005 settlement negotiations deteriorated as surrounding counties pulled their support. In June 2014, the SRMT received notification that an administrative ruling had cleared the way for territory expansion as a result of a trust application for the 39-acre site filed by the tribe in 2007

Once the Secretary of the Interior recognizes land as part of Akwesasne, no further property taxes will be owed and the land will be treated, jurisdictionally, as reservation, the announcement from the tribe said.

When land is taken into trust by the federal government, it is protected from ever being considered state or county property, the SRMT announcement said. Federal law does not require that the county or town agree for land to be taken into trust, and it does not require that the towns or county be paid for any potential property tax loss in the future. Further, there are no financial obligations from the state to the county, as there would be under a negotiated final settlement agreement.

The Supreme Court has ruled that tribes have a right to take land in trust regardless of ongoing land claim litigation, the announcement said.

Additional parcels of land in the towns of Fort Covington and Bombay are now being identified to be included in a second land to trust application, which would be filed in a few months.

“We are considering both residential and commercial properties owned by the Tribe or tribal members,” said Chief Beverly Cook.

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state, St. Lawrence County and New York Power Authority on May 28, 2014. The tribal government said that it had anticipated a similar agreement would be negotiated between the state and Franklin County before long.

“During the past two years, Franklin County has continued to levy property taxes and foreclose on property owned by Mohawks. It is our duty to protect our people from additional foreclosures in the event we cannot reach settlement,” Chief Ron LaFrance said. “Although our first acquisition has taken almost seven years to complete, we believe that with recent changes to federal law and policy, future acquisitions will proceed much more quickly.”

The tribe said in the statement that it expects future acquisitions will progress at an expedited pace because the arguments raised in opposition to it have already been dismissed. Unlike settlement, there is no restriction on acreage or location and there are no future property tax payment requirements. Under a negotiated settlement, the county and towns receive the anticipated loss of tax revenue in perpetuity from the state. But under a land-in-trust acquisition, the tribe is only obligated to pay past-due taxes.

“We’ve stated consistently that a negotiated settlement where all parties’ terms are taken into consideration is and always has been preferred to the land-in-trust process,” said Chief Paul Thompson.

Mohawks currently own approximately 1,700 acres in the Town of Bombay and approximately 1,000 acres in the Town of Fort Covington, including properties in the Village of Fort Covington.

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe established a website to share the facts behind the proposed settlement terms with maps of the land claim area that can be viewed at www.resolvetheboundary.com.