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This week, eight Saint Regis Mohawk tribal members were arrested by New York state police and charged with trespassing and conspiracy, for attempting to reclaim tribal land on Barnhart Island.

On the evening of May 21, 2024, New York State Police responded to Barnhart Island in upstate New York for a criminal mischief complaint, according to police. The property is currently owned by the New York State Power Authority, and the group of tribal members did not have permission to be on the property, police said.

“An investigation determined a group of tribal members of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe were trespassing and intentionally damaging the property,” police said.

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Facebook photos and video show a backhoe at the scene, and also a newly erected sign calling for “repossessing lost lands and human rights.”

In response to the event, The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, and Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs issued a press release condemning the actions of its eight tribal members.

“We understand the feelings of some tribal members that we own Barnhart Island since it is part of our historic homelands,” the groups wrote. “However, we do not feel this action is productive or helpful and can set back our progress in the land claim settlement, which is nearing a positive resolution and could bring over 14,000 acres of Mohawk homelands to the community.”

The council added that Barnhart Island was historically Mohawk land, but has not been under Akwesasne’s possession since the 1820s “due to illegal takings.” The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, and the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs are currently engaged in a settlement process with New York State to address longstanding land rights issues, they added. The proposed agreement would recognize the rights of access by Akwesasne community members to Barnhart Island.

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About The Author
Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna KunzeEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Senior Reporter
Jenna Kunze is a staff reporter covering Indian health, the environment and breaking news for Native News Online. She is also the lead reporter on stories related to Indian boarding schools and repatriation. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Tribal Business News, Smithsonian Magazine, Elle and Anchorage Daily News. Kunze is based in New York.