The insurgency began under the cover of darkness. Well-armed militants crossed the border from Canada into New York, taking possession of 612-acres deep in the Moss Lake wilderness.
But this is no history of the French & Indian War. These events unfolded on May 13, 1974. The so-called militants were Mohawk Warriors. The most amazing thing about this is that at first, New York state under then-Gov. Malcolm Wilson responded by doing nothing.
That changed when the shooting started.
This little-known episode in New York State History is unpacked in a new book titled, “This Land is My Land: An Insider’s Account of the 1974 Attempt to Reclaim New York State.” It’s written by Lou Grumet and John Caher.
Grumet is the insider. He was the state’s lead envoy in negotiating with the Mohawk following what became known as the Moss Lake invasion. He spoke with Capital Tonight about the negotiations that he led at the behest of then-Secretary of State Mario Cuomo.
“What they really wanted was land,” Grumet recalled. “They wanted to be left alone and they wanted to stop seeing the drug abuse and the suicide rate that they’d seen on the reservation.”
From the perspective of the Mohawk, New York state had insulted them, violated compacts and treaties, submerged their land underwater in the interest of progress and desecrated their ancestors’ graves. Yet, Grumet and Cuomo were able to hammer out a deal.
It included land that New York state would lease to the Mohawk on a renewable basis in Clinton County. Also part of the deal: The Maytag Foundation bought a large piece of land and set up a trust (Turtle Island Trust) allowing the Mohawk to live on it.
“So, the Mohawks never acknowledged in any way that they weren’t living on their land, and we never acknowledged that we were giving them land,” Grumet said.
Ultimately, the new community was called “Ganienkeh."
But there is one piece of the negotiation that New York State never implemented.
From Grumet’s recent column in the Albany Times Union:
“Forty-five years ago, New York state promised to establish an entity to deal comprehensively and in good faith with the long-lingering issues of the Iroquois Nations. Consistent with its long history of shortchanging its indigenous community, New York reneged.”
While there are three or four different agencies that deal with particular Native American issues, there has never been a single “New York State Bureau of Indian Affairs” established. Grumet is hopeful that Gov. Kathy Hochul steps up and completes the 45-year old deal that he and former Secretary of State Mario Cuomo hammered out with the Mohawk. And for a very good reason.
“Violence. I’m afraid that one day they will bring serious violence,” Grumet said. “And it’s not going to be stopped and they’re not going to be talked out of it. People are going to be killed. And most of these issues, when you sit down and talk about it, and actually listen to the other side, are resolvable.”