I. The Three Chief System

The territory of Ahkwesáhsne is located on the St. Lawrence River where it is joined by three Adirondack rivers, the Racquette, the St. Regis, and the Salmon. The 45th parallel runs through Ahkwesáhsne, placing us halfway between the equator and the North Pole. This geographical marker was used by British and American officials when drawing part of the border between their territories at the end of the American Revolution.

The community of Ahkwesáhsne identifies itself with a distinctly Mohawk heritage but acknowledges that it has historically been a place of refuge for other tribal peoples such as the Onondaga and Abenaki. This is embodied in the presence of clans such as the Snipe and Deer and the persistence of certain family names.

Today, the northern and southern sectors of Ahkwesáhsne are governed by elected councils, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, respectively. Traditional Mohawks who adhere to the Kaianere’kó:wa, or the Great Law of Peace, are represented by the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs and the Kanien’kehá:ka Longhouse. There are also community members who identify with the Seven Nations of Canada, a historic alliance of communities on the St. Lawrence River dating back to colonial times.

As this report concerns the historical evolution of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, it is important that the reader understands how the “Three Chief System” originated. Contrary to popular belief, it was not the creation of New York State and forced on us at gunpoint. Instead, it grew out of the cultural roots of our own traditional leadership customs and evolved over time. It was (and is) a reflection of a unique history that must be understood in its proper context.

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