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A chance for Mohawks to recover land

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The St. Regis Akwesasne Mohawks may be close to achieving their historic land claims.

The U.S. attorney general’s office is disagreeing with a recent federal magistrate’s recommendation that portions of the decades old Mohawk claim be dismissed.

Central to this decision is the legal doctrine laches. Laches means that the court can deny a claim in the absence of a statute of limitations if a long delay in making the claim could unfairly prejudice the defendant party.

The doctrine of laches emerged when New York Indians sold their property to New York state and abandoned their lands. However, in the case of the St. Regis Akwesasne Mohawks, they continue to reside on their reservation lands and have federal recognition.

Between 1816 and 1845, New York purchased numerous sections of the reserve by treaty or land purchase. The 1790 Indian Non-Intercourse Act required states to gain congressional consent to undertake Indian land purchases. Most of these New York purchases were not approved by Congress.

The historic doctrine of laches regarding Indian land claims is based upon early 19th century Indian tribal land cessions and tribal removal. In the instance of St. Regis Indians, they continue to reside at Akwesasne, function as a recognized tribe and occupy their territory.

If the attorney eneral’s office memorandum on Mohawk tribal land claim is accepted by the U.S. Second District Court of Appeals, it would hopefully open the door for the Mohawk land claim and others.

Robert Wells

Canton

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