Mohawk Land Rights
The Indian Law Resource Center has been working for over 30 years to help the Mohawk Nation reclaim thousands of acres of land that is rightfully theirs.
Nearly 200 years ago, the homelands of the Mohawk Nation were illegally taken from them by the State of New York, and the people were relegated to a remote reservation of only a few square miles on the St. Lawrence River. New York State had stolen approximately 7,000 acres reserved to the Mohawks by federal treaty, taken in violation of federal law – the Federal Trade and Intercourse Act. After many years of court battles, negotiations, and at times, intense conflict, the Mohawk community decided it had little choice but to initiate a lawsuit in federal court for the return of their lands.
The Center helped the Mohawk Nation file a class-action case in the late 1980s, and we continue to this day to represent them in major federal litigation to resolve their land rights. Our client is the traditional Haudenosaunee government of the Mohawk Nation.
The goal of this land rights litigation is to secure a measure of justice for the Mohawk Nation, including the return of lands near the Canadian border that includes many islands in the St. Lawrence River. We want to begin to overturn more than a century of legal rulings that are racially discriminatory and thus opposed to the principle of equality before the law.
In 2005, we reached a historic negotiated settlement of the case, and a bill to implement the settlement passed the New York State Assembly. Unfortunately, adverse decisions in other court cases, the Cayuga case and the Sherrill case, caused some of the defendants to withdraw their support for the settlement agreement. We returned to court in 2006 and 2007 to defeat the motions filed by the defendants to dismiss the case. To do so, we called upon experts in history, law, demographics, and real estate appraisal, and documented exhaustively the Mohawks’ history of protesting the taking of their lands and of their continuing presence in the land claim area.
We continue to await a decision on the case; an appeal by the losing side will likely follow. As we litigate this claim, we continue to promote the settlement agreement reached by the parties in 2005. We believe that the settlement would benefit all parties and we are working with local governments and others to rebuild support for it. We believe that aggressive litigation and continued public education and work with county and state officials will, in time, lead to implementation of the settlement agreement.