The Founding Fathers of the Tribal Constitution

As we noted in previous chapters of this history, proponents of traditional and elected governmental systems at Ahkwesáhsne often came to blows over their conflicting ideologies. With the takeover of their headquarters of May 29, 1979 still fresh in their memories, supporters of the Tribal Council realized that they needed to do more to strengthen the elected system.

At the monthly meeting of the Tribal Council held on January 5, 1980, the groundwork was laid for a tribal constitution. The council at the time consisted of Chiefs Rudolph Hart, Sr., Reginald E. White, Leonard V. Garrow, and Clerk Leonard P. Beaubien. The meeting minutes tell us that Lincoln White got the ball rolling:

Lincoln White made a motion that the Tribe be empowered to adopt a constitution as the basis for all tribal operations and that this constitution shall be adopted at duly constituted meetings called by the Tribal Council on a majority vote basis, and that the constitution and/or the by-laws be amended at any time by the majority of the voters at a duly constituted meeting. This motion was passed.

Lincoln White made a motion to accept the Preamble as follows:

“We, the members of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, in order to secure to us and to our posterity the political, legal and civil rights guaranteed to us by Treaties and by the Constitution and Statues of the Untied States; to guarantee individual rights and freedom of religion; to exercise the right to self-government; to promote the betterment of our Tribe; to administer our affairs, both as a self-governing body and as a proprietor of our tribal assets; to maintain our tribal customs and traditions; to utilize, increase and protect our tribal resources; to secure educational advantages and vocational opportunities, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”

Motion passed.

Buddy Cook made a motion to adopt Article 1, the name, as follows:

“The name of this tribal organization shall be St. Regis Mohawk Indian Tribe.”

Motion passed.

Lincoln White made a motion that Article II, Jurisdiction, be approved, as follows:

“The jurisdiction of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe shall extend to all lands included within the boundaries of the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation within the United States consisting of reserved treaty land pursuant to the Treaty of 1796 between New York State and the League of Seven Nations of Canada, ratified by the United States Senate, and such other lands as may hereafter by added thereto.”

Motion passed.

Cecil Garrow made a motion that those at the meeting who voted for the constitution sign a document stating that they were present and voted. Motion passed.115

Attached to the minutes was a list of those who were in attendance and voted in favor of the preamble and Articles I and II of the constitution: Margaret C. Lazore, Beatrice V. White, Viola J. White, Nancy Solomon, Carol Terrance, Mae Betters, Elaine Ransom, Gerald Terrance, Lincoln White, Basil J. Cook, Rudy Hart, Bill Bigtree, Ronald White, Donald White, Cecil M. Garrow, Jack Terrance, Minerva White, Harry P. Cook, T. V. Herne, Julius D. Herne, Margaret C. Terrance, Helen Laughing, Marshall J. Garrow, and Esther C. Loran.

Work on the development of the constitution continued throughout the 1980’s, but this was overshadowed by the civil conflicts that erupted over illegal bars and casinos. Once again, supporters of the elected form of government in Ahkwesáhsne saw this civil strife as a call to continue the work of developing a tribal constitution.

115  SRMT Tribal Meeting Minutes, January 5, 1980.  (Original document contains two version of the minutes, one with detailed discussion and one highlighting motions, as well as an addendum with the names of tribal members present.)

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