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What Is the Mohawk Reservation?

The Mohawk Reservation is a sovereign territory in the U.S. and Canada, home to the Mohawk people, one of the original members of the Iroquois Confederacy. It's a place rich in cultural heritage, where traditions are preserved amidst modern challenges. Discover how this unique community balances ancestral customs with contemporary life—what might we learn from their resilience and adaptability?
Rebecca Mecomber
Rebecca Mecomber

The Mohawk Indians are a group of native Americans indigenous to what is now central New York state. They are one of the original Five Nations of the ancient Iroquois League and one of many of the remaining native tribes in the United States. The Mohawk Reservation, also known as the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation or by its Mohawk name, Akwesasne, is a small reservation in Franklin County, New York. It is one of several reservations in upstate New York, along with the Oneida and Onondaga reservations.

According to 2000 U.S. Census data, the population of the 14,500-acre Mohawk Reservation a little less than 3,000 residents. The Mohawk Reservation contains the villages of St. Regis and Hogansburg in northern New York state, near the Canadian border along the St. Lawrence Seaway. Disputes over tribal law and state and federal laws have been contested almost since the ink of the Treaty of Canandaigua was dried. Since New York State passed casino gambling laws in the 1980s, the Mohawk Reservation had built the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino and Mohawk Bingo Palace as of 2011.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Sometime before the year 1600, the Mohawk tribe and the Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga and later the Tuscarora tribes formed an alliance to defend each other during war and to promote peace amongst the tribes. The Mohawks, from which the mighty Mohawk River in central New York state is named, settled along the eastern border of the confederacy and were considered "keepers of the eastern door." They guarded the eastern portion of what is now the Mohawk Valley in New York state from invasions from fierce New England tribes and the Algonquians of the south.

Following in the footsteps of the other Iroquois tribes — except the Oneida — the Mohawks joined the British against the Americans in the American Revolutionary War. Led by charismatic Mohawk chieftain Thayendanegea — or Joseph Brant, his English name — the Mohawks savagely massacred small settlements along the Mohawk Valley trail from Cherry Valley to Oriskany, New York. Defeated by the Americans, the Mohawks, along with other British-allied Indian tribes, were stripped of their ancestral lands. These tribes fled for Canada, only to return to sign the Treaty of Canandaigua that promoted peace between the U.S. and the former Iroquois Confederacy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Mohawk Reservation?

The Mohawk Reservation, also known as Akwesasne, is a territory that spans the intersection of northern New York State in the United States, southeastern Ontario, and southwestern Quebec in Canada. It is home to the Mohawk people, one of the original members of the Iroquois Confederacy. The reservation is recognized for its sovereign governance, cultural preservation, and economic enterprises, including casinos and cross-border trade.

How large is the Mohawk Reservation and what is its population?

The Mohawk Reservation covers approximately 30,000 acres of land. As of recent statistics, the population of Akwesasne in the U.S. portion is over 3,000 residents, while the Canadian side houses a larger community. The total population of Akwesasne, including all districts, is estimated to be around 12,000 to 14,000 individuals, reflecting a vibrant and growing community.

What are the main economic activities on the Mohawk Reservation?

Economic activities on the Mohawk Reservation are diverse, including gaming, with the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort being a significant employer and revenue source. Additionally, the community engages in retail trade, manufacturing, and tourism. The reservation's unique geographic location facilitates cross-border trade, which is a critical aspect of its economy. The Mohawks also operate various small businesses and artisan crafts that reflect their cultural heritage.

What cultural traditions are preserved on the Mohawk Reservation?

On the Mohawk Reservation, cultural traditions are actively preserved and celebrated. These include the practice of the Longhouse religion, traditional lacrosse games, Mohawk language education, and various ceremonies and festivals throughout the year. The community places a strong emphasis on passing down stories, crafts, and customs to younger generations to maintain their rich cultural identity.

How does the Mohawk Reservation govern itself?

The Mohawk Reservation, particularly the U.S. portion, is governed by the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, which operates under a tribal council system. This government is responsible for managing services such as education, healthcare, and law enforcement. The Canadian side is governed separately by the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. Both governments work to ensure the welfare of their people and the protection of their sovereign rights.

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