The 1950’s

Having survived the termination attempts by outside governments, the Tribal Council continued to govern the southern half of Ahkwesáhsne under the Three Chief System for the next four decades. Relations with their Mohawk neighbors north of the 45th parallel as well as traditionalists within their reservation boundary would at times become very strained, as a quick survey of newspaper articles from this period will attest.

The campaign to assimilate natives into the mainstream, which failed in the political arena, moved to other arenas in the 1950’s. In 1954, New York State legislators proposed to eliminate the special “Indian Schools” in favor of contracting with local school boards to educate reservation children.66  This development hardly compared, however, with the monumental changes brought on in the 1950’s by the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Today there is a tendency to look upon the Seaway as being catastrophic to our natural resources, but when it was first proposed there was a general sense of optimism about the economic prosperity the project would bring to the region. Like their non-native neighbors, the Mohawks of Ahkwesáhsne were for the most part excited by the prospect of construction jobs and employment in factories lured to the area by cheaper hydroelectric power. If there was any concern, it was for the loss of lands in the construction itself.

Archaeologists were already hard at work surveying the valley of the St. Lawrence River in advance of the destructive flooding when Tribal Chiefs Norman Tarbell, Hubert Garrow and Andrew Bero filed suit to collect $33.8 million from the State of New York for Barnhart Island, site of a major hydroelectric power dam development.67  By April of 1955, their counterparts on the “Canadian” side of Ahkwesáhsne were meeting with their Indian agent, T. L. Bonnah, to see what could be done about the flooding of ten islands under their domain.68

Although the two sectors of Ahkwesáhsne faced a common threat in the Seaway appropriations, it was not a time of great unity between “American” and “Canadian” Mohawks. In 1954, the Tribal Council attempt to remove non-natives living on the reservation, going so far as to appeal to an outside court to have them evicted.69  In June of 1955, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that residents of the “Canadian” side of Ahkwesáhsne had to pay duties on goods purchased in the United States, despite their claim of exemption under the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation (1794), also known as Jay’s Treaty.70  By December of that year, the Tribal Council went to court to expel two of these “Canadian Indians,” John Tebo and Joseph Jacobs, from the “American” side of the territory.71

In January of 1957, the Tribal Council’s Barnhart Island claim survived a dismissal motion in the New York State Court of Claims.72  By February, the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation was authorized by a Federal court to acquire 88 acres of reservation land in Racquette for the creation of a shipping channel.73  The compensation for this land revived the conflict between the Tribal Council and the traditionalists, as documented by The Massena Observer:

The Elective Chiefs: Alexander Solomon, Lawrence Terrance, and Louis Jacobs; were represented by Attorney Arthur B. Hart of Massena. Their plan is one that would allow the three chiefs to have complete authority for the handling of all monies involved in the sale or transfer of land on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, both presently and in the future. Their proposal did not specify details on how much of such monies would be allocated to the tribal members and to individual land owners.

The Six Nations Confederacy Chiefs were presented by chiefs, James Thompson, Ira Benedict (Canadian), Charles Jacobs and Alex Gray. This group was not represented by a lawyer and did not present a plan to for the distribution of monies. This set of chiefs do not recognize the International Boundary lines.

The Six Nations Council Chiefs were represented by Chiefs Frank Terrance and Mitchell Back. They expressed the opinion that their group should be given the monies for distribution and such action would have to be handled through the authority of Head Chief Thomas at Onondaga. No equitable plan for distribution was mentioned.

The individual land owners felt very strongly that they should be the full recipients of the monies based on their legal right of ownership of condemned lands…74

In May, a federal judge ruled that seven land owners would divide $30,000 in compensation, roughly half of a proposed settlement for the appropriated lands.75  That summer, a young traditionalist named Francis Johnson, also known as “Standing Arrow,” announced that several thousand like-minded Mohawks would leave their reserves in Canada and reclaim ancestral lands in the Mohawk Valley. They were angry that the Canadian government was seizing Kahnawà:ke lands for another shipping channel.76 
The Tribal Council, on the other hand, had no intention of abandoning their home along the St. Lawrence. In October, a federal judge ruled that the chiefs would determine how $84,000 in compensation from the Seaway would be divided up.

1958 began with a setback for the Tribal Council’s Barnhart Island claim. On January 3, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York reversed the Court of Claim’s 1957 decision and dismissed the claim without costs. On June 25, 1958, the Court of Appeals of New York affirmed this decision, remitting it back to the Court of Claims. The Court of Claims affirmed the previous judgment and dismissed the case without costs on July 9, 1958.78

That summer, the Tribal Council prepared for another battle with outside authorities, this time over requirements that Indians must pay state income tax. More than 200 subpoenas were issued to reservation residents, prompting the Tribe to pursue a legal remedy.79  In October, Franklin County Judge Ellsworth M. Lawrence ruled that they were liable to pay the tax, a ruling that the Tribe appealed.80  In January of 1959, a local newspaper reported that the Indians were tearing up their summonses and refusing to pay.81 A month later, the Tribe suffered a blow in the Barnhart Island claim when the United States Supreme Court declined to review their case.82

In May of 1959, tensions on the reservation were further strained when a Mohawk was involved in a shooting incident with New York State Troopers. One trooper was killed and another was wounded before the Mohawk man was shot by the wounded trooper.83

In June, Tribal Chief Alexander Solomon was re-elected for another three-year term in what was considered a referendum on the elected system. Solomon got 121 votes compared to 74 for Antoine Cole and 18 for Peter Loran. Traditional Tuscarora activist Mad Bear Anderson, aligned with local traditionalists, was rumored to be preparing a march on the polling station to destroy the ballot boxes.

“The Longhouse group seeks to have an independent nation in both the United States and Canada,” Solomon stated, “with allegiance to no laws other than their own. Such a form of government could not possibly succeed,” he said.

Solomon outlined the policies of the elective chiefs by saying: “We want to live in peace and cooperate with the state and federal government. We resent the actions of Madbear and the Longhouse group and would like to see legal steps taken to have him removed from the reservation. I would even appeal to the people and officials of New York State to aid us in having him ousted from the reservation so that peace and order could be restored among our people.”

Madbear, in reply to this, said if a eviction notice were served on him he would tear it up.

The feelings of the third faction involved in the dispute, those supporting the elective system but opposing the policies of the current chiefs, were forcibly expressed by Mrs. Theresa Lazore Terrance who operates the Bear’s Den Restaurant just outside Hogansburg.

“We have sat back too many years and let the elective chiefs run things the way they wanted,” she said. Mrs. Lazore went on to say that meetings of those opposed to the present chiefs had been held prior to the election and this was their first attempt to really organize and effect a change in the ruling chiefs.

“Even if we lose today,” she went on, “we will continue our fight to have an active voice in our government but will follow the normal processes of law to do it through the election system.”

When asked her opinion of Madbear Anderson, she sated bluntly, “We don’t think Madbear belongs here. He belongs on his own reservation.”84

The following week it was reported that the Tribal Chiefs accepted $15,000 from the New York State Department of Public Works to extend a highway through the reservation.85

The summer of 1959 was also tense for those Mohawks living north of the international boundary. A dispute over lands leased for the use of a Seaway contractor had resulted in the blockading of roads by three Cornwall Island families.86  They claimed $45,000 in back rent was owed for the lands used by the Seaway, and they threatened to block all traffic across the Cornwall-Massena International Bridge unless it was paid.87  By November, it was announced that the St. Regis Band Council had brokered a resolution to the dispute.88

The Tribal Council also made some headway in resolving its own dispute with the Seaway. In December of 1959, Chiefs Alexander Solomon and Thomas Tarbell announced that a proposed $10 million settlement deal would have to be decided by the entire tribe.89

As for the continuing dispute between adherents of the traditional and elected form of government, the decade came to an end with a major defeat for the former in the New York State Supreme Court. A judge ruled that the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council had the authority to ask Franklin County District Attorney Henry A. Fischer to remove John Tebo from the American side of the reservation. Tebo, who had been born in the U.S. but was a member of the Canadian band at Ahkwesáhsne, had purchased 4 acres of land on the American side in 1956 without getting permission of the Tribal Council. He argued that the state court had no jurisdiction, citing the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua:

…Tebo appeared specially to contest the jurisdiction of the court, contending that the St. Regis Tribe was governed by the Treaty of 1794 which granted to the people of the Six Nations the sole right to govern themselves without interference by the courts, also that the court could not settle jurisdictional disputes as to property within the reservation and that the elective chiefs who filed the complaint did not lawfully represent the American branch of the tribe. The court overruled these objections, determining that the Treaty of 1796 -- not 1794-- was applicable to the American branch of the St. Regis Indians; that section 106 of the Indian Law did not preclude the court from finding Tebo an intruder and that the Legislature of the State of New York provided the manner and method for the election of chiefs and there was no evidence before the court of non-compliance with the law -- section 110 of the Indian Law. Section 106, mentioned herein, governs jurisdiction of Council of Chiefs to determine disputes.90

The Treaty of 1796 cited by the judge was the one we know as The Treaty with the Seven Nations of Canada, signed on May 31, 1796:

From a reading of the two treaties involved, set forth in the record, it conclusively appears that the Treaty of 1796 was intended to govern the St. Regis Indians. Not only does it refer to the tribe by name but provides, among others, for the tract of land now known as the St. Regis Reservation in Franklin County. The Treaty further provided for the State of New York to compensate the seven Canadian tribes and they relinquished all their rights to lands within the State.91

Two decades later, another unsuccessful attempt would made by traditional Mohawks to argue the Treaty of Canandaigua as a defense. This happened in the case of The People of the State of New York, Plaintiff, v. Harriet Boots, et al., Defendants. The judge in that case relied on the precedent set in Fischer v. Tebo to dismiss that defense and to reassert that The Treaty with the Seven Nations of Canada was the only one that applied to Ahkwesáhsne.92

66  “Special Indian Schools Would Be Eliminated,” The Massena Observer, February 18, 1954.
67  “Archaeologists Are Exploring Indian Remains Along River From Barnhart to Rockaway,” The Massena Observer, August 12, 1954.  “Indians’ Suit In Court Next Month,” The Massena Observer, December 23, 1954.
68  “Indians Seek Compensation For Islands,” The Massena Observer, April 28, 1955.
69  “Non-Indians Can’t Reside on Reservation Says Ruling of Appellate Division,” The Massena Observer, March 29, 1954.
70  “Indians Must Pay Customs Duty,”  The Massena Observer, June 21, 1956.
71  “Indians Seek To Expel Canadians,” The Massena Observer, December 20, 1956.
72  “Indians Win First Round In $33 Million Island Claim; Dismissal Denied by Judge,” The Massena Observer, January 7, 1957.
73  “Reservation Land Goes To Seaway,” The Massena Observer, February 28, 1957.
74  “Indian Land Monies Case Set May 6,” The Massena Observer, April 25, 1957.
75  “Court Orders $30,000 Pay For Land,” The Massena Observer, May 9, 1957.
76  “Indian Six Nations Meet Sunday,” The Massena Observer, August 22, 1957.
77  “St. Regis Tribe to Divide Funds,”  The Massena Observer, October 28, 1957.
78   The St. Regis Tribe of Mohawk Indians v. The State of New York, Court of Claims of New York State, July 9, 1958.
79  “Indians Plan Rally Tonight On Tax Fight,”  The Massena Observer, August 11, 1958.
80  “Indians Are Not Exempt From State Income Tax Judge Lawrence Rules,”  The Massena Observer, August 23, 1958.
81  “Indians Continue Battle Against State Income Tax, Tear Up Summonses,”  The Massena Observer, January 29, 1959.
82  “Indian Island Claim Denied,”  The Massena Observer, February 26, 1959.
83  “Murder in First Degree Charge Placed Against Papineau in Hospital,”  The Massena Observer, May 25, 1959.
84  “Orderly Indian Election Gives Chief Another Term,” The Massena Observer, June 11, 1959.
85  “Indians Get $15,000 Check For Land For Highway From State DPW Officials,” The Massena Observer, June 18, 1959.
86  “Indian Dispute Settled,”  The Massena Observer, July 30, 1959.
87  “Indians Threaten to Halt Traffic Across Island In Dispute Over Land Rent,”  The Massena Observer, September 22, 1959.
88  “Indian Land Dispute Is Settled,”  The Massena Observer, November 5, 1959.
89  “Entire Tribe To Decide on Lease Issue,”  The Massena Observer, December 15, 1959.
90   In the Matter of Henry A. Fischer, Jr., as District Attorney of Franklin County, Respondent, v. John Tebo, Appellant.  Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department, New York, December 31, 1959.  (9 A.D.2d 470)
91   Ibid.
92   The People of the State of New York, Plaintiff, v. Harriet Boots, et al., Defendants.  County Court, Franklin County, New York, October 20, 1980.  (106 Misc.2d 522)

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