Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today ratified the formal agreement between New York State, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and Saint Lawrence County that resolves decades-old tribal land disputes and finalizes distribution of millions of dollars in gaming revenue to communities in the region.
The agreement was signed by the Governor, representatives of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, NYPA and local government officials. The Memorandum of Understanding settles decades of expensive litigation and provides significant economic benefits to St. Lawrence County and local governments. It is the latest milestone in building upon the historic agreements forged by Governor Cuomo and Tribes over gaming revenue and land claims across New York State last year.
"For decades, the state and the Mohawks were at a stalemate. We can now look forward to years of mutual respect and cooperation," said Governor Cuomo. "It is only through true partnership and a willingness to move forward for the good of all parties that such success is achieved. I congratulate and thank the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and our partners in county and local government for working together to make today's agreement a reality."
Chief Ron LaFrance of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council said, "We are proud to stand here with our neighbors from St. Lawrence County and we hope that our friends from Franklin County will also come to the table. The settlement of our land matters will benefit our entire region, just as the benefits of our Tribe's economic expansion have reached far into our neighboring communities. Shared economic success and friendship know no boundaries. We have invested more than $100 million in local planning, infrastructure and construction projects over the past three years. We have worked together to build our business and improve the quality of life across our communities. This is our home -- forever. No single issue holds more importance to our people than restoring our territory. Our hope, our energy and our focus is on working through this matter in a continued spirit of partnership."
Chief Beverly Cook of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council said, "Our Tribe and our people have worked toward this agreement for 32 years. Our Council is carrying the work from our past leaders forward; we've built on each other's efforts, and we remain committed to a negotiated settlement that benefits our Mohawk people and our neighbors."
Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council Chief Paul O. Thompson said, "This is a historic time for our Mohawk people, which has been born of the hard work, vision and dedication of many of our leaders over several years. The terms to which we agree today not only repair our past by allowing our Tribe to recover our lands, but they also provide opportunities for our future generations through education. As Tribal leaders, that is our commitment and responsibility -- to ensure that our future generations have the opportunities they need, and that the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe needs, to succeed and flourish."
Jon Putney, Chair of the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators, said, "Today's signing of the MOU is good news for the residents of the communities of Massena and Brasher, and for all of St. Lawrence County. After years of discord, we have the framework that protects the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe's gaming exclusivity and provides millions of dollars to our local governments and school districts. I commend Governor Cuomo for helping forge the path forward and bringing all parties together for this historic moment."
Tony Arquiette, St. Lawrence County Legislator representing the Towns of Brasher and Massena, said, "I applaud Governor Cuomo and the leadership of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, as well as my colleagues in local government for coming together to reach this new understanding. Decades of dispute have only hurt our communities and kept much needed funding away from our localities. This signing of the MOU is a victory and good news."
Under the agreement, the Tribe is permitted to acquire, only from willing sellers, identified lands in St. Lawrence County and return them to the Tribe's territory. In return, local governments will receive economic benefits that include one time payments of $2 million and $1.5 million from the State and the Tribe, respectively, as well as an increase of $4 million dollars in annual payments from the state share of casino revenues, in addition to the existing local annual share of approximately $2.9 million. The St. Regis Mohawks will release to the State the remaining balance of gaming revenues withheld in prior years. The agreement also includes provisions for payments to St. Lawrence County and respective towns from the State sufficient to hold them harmless from the loss of future property and school taxes for parcels that become part of the Tribe territory.
Congress is required to extinguish all Mohawk land claims against St. Lawrence County, the State of New York, NYPA and all other land claim defendants prior to the full agreement taking effect.