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Ganienkeh must be treated as sovereign, spokesman insists

News ArchivePLATTSBURGH — Ganienkeh translates into "Land of the Flint," and one perspective of its inhabitants is as unyielding as stone.

"We are not a tax-exempt people," said Tekarontake, a spokesman for the Mohawk community in Altona. "We are non-taxable. Ganienkeh must be treated as sovereign, spokesman insists

By SUZANNE MOORE, Staff Writer
Press Republican News
4/18/05

PLATTSBURGH — Ganienkeh translates into "Land of the Flint," and one
perspective of its inhabitants is as unyielding as stone.

"We are not a tax-exempt people," said Tekarontake, a spokesman for the
Mohawk community in Altona. "We are non-taxable.

"We are not New York state citizens; we are not U.S. citizens."

Ganienkeh, he said, is a sovereign nation, in all actuality entitled to a
total 9 million acres in New York state and more in Vermont and Quebec.

That sovereignty, at an April 5 hearing of State Legislature committees in
Albany, was the root of the argument made by three women of Ganienkeh who
protested land-claim settlements such as the one recently negotiated
between the state and the Akwesasne Mohawks.

That sovereignty is at the heart of every bone of contention between the
state and Mohawks, including their refusal to pay land and school taxes,
to charge tax on their sale of gasoline and cigarettes and to enforce
state and federal laws in their community.

"These are issues between nations," Tekarontake said.

Created in 1974 through a lease agreement between New York state and
buffer entity Turtle Island Trust, Ganienkeh is not recognized federally.

The lease with New York state has expired, but Tekarontake said there was
never any expectation by the state that the Mohawks would ever relinquish
its possession of Ganienkeh.

"Most of our agreement wasn’t in writing," Tekarontake said.

TIME TO WORK TOGETHER

Assemblyman Chris Ortloff (R-Plattsburgh) believes the Mohawks need to
follow New York state laws, as everybody else does — even if it takes
force to make them do so, he said when pressed to speculate.

"They are human beings like the rest of us ... it’s time for all of us to
live together as peaceful, law-abiding neighbors, and there is one law —
the law of the state of New York," he said.

"They can’t just set themselves up because they’ve got more guns than we
do.’’

The state should eject the Mohawks from Altona and create a state park on
those lands, as was intended originally, the assemblyman said.

"Force," Tekarontake said. "That’s always been New York state’s and the
United States’ solution.

"That’s a sick mentality. Might makes right?"

The picture drawn by the assemblyman is a skewed one, Tekarontake maintained.

"Ortloff continually brings up the situation of the two people shot in
Moss Lake," he said. "We feel this misleads the people."

MOSS LAKE SHOOTING

Tekarontake, now 52, was among the group of Mohawks who took over that
Adirondack campground in 1974, holding out for reinstatement of tribal
lands.

He doesn’t deny that it was Mohawks who fired the bullets that struck a
girl and a man riding past the campground in cars.

But before that happened, he said, "our community was shot at 16 times."

Tekarontake said authorities were notified about the attacks.

"No action was taken."

That’s why, he said, the Mohawks took measures of their own, shooting at
vehicles he said they knew carried those who’d been firing guns at them.

"What the security force was told at the time was ‘Shoot at the tires,
shoot the engines," he said, adding that it was accidental that the
bullets struck anyone.

HELICOPTER SHOOTING

Tekarontake offered his perspective, too, on another violent incident
linked to his people, when, in 1990, a helicopter was fired upon and
forced to land in Ganienkeh.

"That helicopter was shot before it ever reached the territory,"
Tekarontake averred.

He was one of the Mohawks charged with obstruction of justice when he
refused to let police into Ganienkeh to investigate.

He’d told them he didn’t have the power to give the OK.

"They would have made a sweep of the whole territory," he said, "and for
what?"

And, he repeated, Ganienkeh is a sovereign nation — State Police have no
jurisdiction there.

LONGTIME FIGHT FOR RIGHTS

Tekarontake’s great-grandparents lost their home to construction of the
St. Lawrence Seaway in the early 1900s.

Later, his grandfather was part of an abortive effort in the Mohawk Valley
to regain the ancestral homeland.

Now, Tekarontake speaks with pride of Ganienkeh, where an undisclosed
number of Mohawks follow a constitution that strongly influenced that of
the United States.

They raise most of their own food, operate their own school and medical
clinic and plan future growth to be funded by the profits of a bingo hall
and gas station.

Ganienkeh employs about 50 Americans but doesn’t pay the employer’s share
of unemployment or Social Security insurance.

A separate country does not have that responsibility, Tekarontake maintained.

And for that same reason, he said, Ganienkeh has every right to sell
tax-free gas and cigarettes — regardless of the objections of neighboring
purveyors of those products.

"People keep talking about a level playing field," he said. "There is no
level playing field for us."

NO OUTSIDE FUNDING

The Mohawks at Ganienkeh don’t accept any state or federal funding, he said.

"We can’t get loans, can’t put land up for collateral," he said. "We’re a
proud people — we’ve always taken care of ourselves."

Tekarontake believes his people and New York state can come to a meeting
of the minds.

"All these issues can be resolved at the table," he said.

But there’s no altering the basic truth, as seen from Ganienkeh’s side.

Neither New York state nor the United States own the land, Tekarontake said.

"All our people share the title to our lands," he said.

"It belongs to the future.

"It belongs to our grandchildren and the generations to come."

— Staff Writer Joe LoTemplio contributed to this report.
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