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AKWESASNE, April 23, 2007 – The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA) has announced that it has accepted the results of the land management public opinion poll that was held between September 22 and December 8, 2006. MCA will present the poll results to its membership and provide an overview of the report at the May 3rd General Meeting that will be held at the Snye Recreational Center. The input received from members will help guide negotiations with the Government of Canada on the right to exercise local jurisdiction over lands for the northern portion of Akwesasne.
“For more than a decade MCA has been assuming increased responsibilities for the administration and delivery of community programs and services, including the management of land in the Akwesasne community,” said Kawehno:ke District Chief Abram Benedict.” Chief Benedict noted, “The public opinion survey was a way to gauge support for MCA to negotiate with the Federal Government for the right to exercise local jurisdiction over Akwesasne lands.”A total of 2,250 surveys were mailed directly to Akwesasne homes and post office boxes, as well as distributed at locations throughout the community, to focus groups, and through door-to-door canvassing in the three districts of St. Regis, Cornwall Island, and Tsisniahne. Participation was voluntary and all 2,560 members over the age of 18 years were eligible to complete the survey. A total of 525 individuals participated and provided anonymous information.
A key finding of the public opinion survey is that nearly 81% of respondents are aware that Akwesasne lands are currently controlled and managed by the Indian Act and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). Yet, only 15% believe that the Indian Act and INAC should have control while 54% indicated that Akwesasne needs to move away from the current system. The majority of respondents believe that an objective and unbiased body needs to be entrusted with controlling and managing Akwesasne lands.
A survey focus group comprised of community members that work predominately on the issue of land disputes expressed their dissatisfaction with the Indian Act and INAC system for land management in Akwesasne. The group stated administrative problems and the amount of time required to resolve land disputes makes the current system unacceptable. Participants also distrust the INAC system due to the limited information that is available on how land decisions are managed.
When asked for their responses to owning land in Akwesasne, an overwhelming 97% of respondents firmly believe that membership to the Mohawks of Akwesasne should be a criterion. More than 41% indicated their preference for a combination of individual and collective ownership of land, while 38% selected individual ownership only.
On the transference of lands, 50% of respondent believe that a membership vote should be required to approve the transfer of community land to an individual. Additionally, many want the community to benefit from the sale of natural resources on community lands, while 68% feel that the individual should benefit from money earned on privately held land.
Nearly 73% indicated that they don’t have a land issue that needs to be settled. Yet, 59% feel that outside court shouldn’t have jurisdiction over land disputes on Akwesasne lands. On the question should MCA have jurisdiction, 39% indicated “yes”, while 37% stated “no” and 21% “don’t know.” Half of the respondents noted that they would abide by a decision on a land dispute if it were made by a local agency, such as the Mohawk Court (32%), Land Dispute Tribunal (24%), Mohawk Nation (23%), or MCA (16%).
In January 2004, MCA established the Akwesasne Land Code Task Force comprised of administrative staff, district chiefs, and community members to explore, develop and recommend steps asserting Akwesasne’s Land Management authority. The Land Code Task Force has been meeting regularly to look at steps Akwesasne needs to take in assuming local jurisdiction and management of lands.
A 2006 resolution by MCA re-mandated the Land Code Task Force to continue exploring and recommending requirements to re-assume local control and to seek input from membership on the issue of jurisdiction over lands in Akwesasne. The need for a poll was determined by the Task Force as a way of finding out how much the community knew about land management issues and to also begin to identify areas where community education and information is needed.
According to MCA Central Resource Services Director Travis Seymour, “The Land Code Task Force has proposed a draft code for land management in Akwesasne, known as ‘Akwesasronon Onkwewhentsia Shon:a,’ to exercise greater control.” Seymour added, “The Task Force intends on outlining other mechanisms in assuming local jurisdiction over local lands in future updates to the community.”
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