The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council is the federally-recognized government for the portion of Ahkwesáhsne that lies south of the 45th parallel. For most of its history, the tribe was represented by three elected chiefs with very little in the way of written rules. In 1995, a written constitution was brought to a referendum vote for acceptance by the tribal membership. It’s official title was Constitution of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe On-kwa-ia-ne-ren-she-ra (Our Laws). Depending on who you talk to, the constitution was either passed or voted down at this referendum. This fundamental difference of opinion has resulted in over twelve years of litigation and controversy.

As part of a strategy to bring final resolution to this issue, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council mandated the creation of a concise historical summary of the tribal constitution. This document will assist the tribal membership as they decide for themselves how their community will be governed in the future. Through a presentation of factual information, we hope to bring clarity to an issue that has become clouded with legalities and personal politics.

The history is based primarily on the voluminous written record that has been created over the years and supplemented when necessary with the personal recollections of individuals involved in the actual events. It is not an analysis or a legal opinion about the passing of the constitution, but a non-partisan chronology of key events that sets the constitution in its proper historical perspective.

Readers will notice that great attention is given to earlier forms of governance, starting as far back as the confederation of the Five Nations and continuing through the colonial period and into the modern era. A changing political world has necessitated an evolution of leadership forms over time, something that will no doubt continue as time goes by. With this in mind, one will see that the agonies of the “constitutional crisis” are worthy of our attention, even though many would much rather forget that period of time and put it behind us. Many of the same deficiencies that the constitution was meant to resolve still exist; all it takes is one contentious issue to bring those deficiencies back to the forefront of public debate.

While this history’s scope is broad in a chronological sense, it is by necessity somewhat shallow in that I was not made privy to the financial aspect of the constitutional debate. For instance, the documents provided for this report did not account for the legal expenses incurred by the various parties, nor did they delve into the role of outside business interests that no doubt played a role. What we see here are the ripples on the surface of the pond, not the giant bullheads swimming in the murky waters below.

With that limitation in mind, I can say with confidence that this is the most comprehensive study of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council that has ever been written.

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