Without Job Options, Mohawk Reservation Unstable
ST. REGIS INDIAN RESERVATION, N.Y. — AFTER weeks of violence, an uneasy calm has been restored on this troubled 28,000-acre Mohawk Indian reservation. Yet even as the violence and news media attention subside, the reservation's underlying economic and political problems persist. Constable Gary Bruder of the Ontario Police Patrol was checking vehicles for weapons at the Cornwall Island reservation entrance the week two Mohawks were killed. He wonders what will happen once the police leave. ``What's to stop them from buying a weapon tomorrow?'' he asks.
Indians say the future doesn't hold much promise until long-term solutions are found. Unemployment is high at about 60 percent during most of the year except for summer, says Dennis Chaussi, economic development officer for the Canadian sponsored Mohawk Council of Akwasasne. During these months it drops down to 30 percent when jobs are more plentiful for the reservation's construction workers, he says.
Indians blame the Canadian and US governments for taking away their land and resources. They say their traditional fishing and agriculture industries are no longer viable because of industrial pollution. Chemical emissions from nearby pulp mills and aluminum plants have polluted the St. Lawrence River, affecting water and soil, they say. Without work, many turn to welfare.
In such an environment, the lure of easy money from casino work is hard to resist. Kellie Ransom, a waitress at the French Riviera Casino, was laid off when casinos were closed last month because of the violence. She says some 700 jobs will be lost if casinos close down. ``[The casino] brings jobs here, keeps people off welfare, helps people out,'' she says.
Indians here say the reservation's economic troubles are due to the lack of political stability. Three governments - Canada, the US, and the reservation's traditional council - are imposing their own rules at once. The result is a divided, unstable community that cannot support an economic infrastructure, says Brian Maracle, a free-lance Indian journalist based in Ottawa.
Such instability has scared away potential investors, agrees Mr. Chaussi. He says investors, planning to build on the reservation and to provide 50 jobs, put off construction plans. ``I've had telephone calls ... saying that they are kind of leery because of all the disturbance going on in Akwesasne,'' he says.
Mr. Maracle says one answer to the reservation's jurisdictional problems would be to change the international boundaries to go around instead of through the reservation. The Mohawk community would then be turned into a small sovereign state similar to Liechtenstein or San Marino in Europe, he says. The reservation could become a center for international banking, with tourism and postage stamp sales as income, Maracle says. ``People would then decide they don't have to gamble because we have these other sources of revenue,'' he says.
No matter what the solution, the Mohawk community needs to draw in business to survive, says Chaussi. He favors building an industrial park on the reservation. In addition, he says, government-sponsored initiatives help residents get loans. The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, for example, last year began to make loans to those wanting to start their own businesses. Funded by the Canadian government, the program offers loans of up to $75,000. Such programs are important because Indians find it difficult to obtain loans from outside lending institutions. Under Canadian and US federal law, banks are not allowed to retrieve Indian land or assets as collateral, Chaussi says.