Akwesasne (/aw-kwA-zawz-nE/) is a Mohawk Indian reservation located along the St. Lawrence River in northern New York and southern Quebec and Ontario. Home to the original inhabitants of North America, Akwesasne is full with rich history and exciting cultural experiences. The St. Lawrence River is a beautiful landscape to enjoy nature and the way the first people of the land interacted with their environment. Akwesasne is a community with strong roots in history and continues to engage in economic opportunities.
Akwesasne is located along the St. Lawrence River in northern New York, southwestern Quebec and southeastern Ontario at the convergence of the Grasse, Raquette, and St. Regis Rivers where they spill into the St. Lawrence River. Akwesasne is the only Native American community located across an international border and contains within its boundaries an international border crossing. The Seaway International Bridge connects Cornwall, ON, with New York State via Cornwall Island, which is locally known as Kawenoke (/gaw-we-nO-gA/). Neighboring towns include Massena, Fort Covington, Malone, and Cornwall. Akwesasne is 4 hours north of Albany, NY, and 2 hours southeast from Ottawa, ON and 2 hours south of Montreal, QC.
The Akwesasne land base is about 21 square miles and is home to an estimated 23,000 with a projected population growth of 3.6% per year. The predominant language spoke in Akwesasne is currently English. However, Mohawk is the official language of the people and about 30% still speak their national language.
The Mohawk people call themselves Kanien’kehá:ka (/gaw-nyaw-gA-haw-gaw/), which means ‘People of the Flint’. The Mohawks are members of the Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the Six Nations Confederacy or the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. This consists of an alliance of six Iroquois Nations: Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk, and later seven after the induction of Tuscarora. Haudenosaunee translates to “People of the Longhouse”, a longhouse being the traditional dwelling of the Iroquois people. The traditional government of the Haudenosaunee is comprised of 50 hereditary chiefs, as well as clan mothers and faith keepers. Each Nation has a certain number of chiefs and they conduct their business at the central fire, which resides within the Onondaga Nation. The Senecas and Mohawks are the Elder Brothers that protect the confederacy from the Eastern Door and Western Door of the Iroquois geographical territory.
Originally, the Mohawk territory extends from southern Canada, New York, and Vermont, with settlements in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. The Mohawk location as the Iroquois Nation closest to Albany and Montreal, and the fur traders there, gave them considerable influence among the other Tribes.
Due to its unique location between two counties, two provinces and a state, the politics in Akwesasne are understandably complex. There still exists the traditional government at Onondaga, in addition to two elected systems of government charged with facilitating discussions with Canada and the United States, respectively.
After the American War of Independence in 1783, the Mohawk people found it necessary to deal with the government of the State of New York. After many tribulations, and in order to protect themselves and their best interests, the Mohawks decided to select representatives to interact with New York. The elected community government to represent Akwesasne’s interests is known as the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.
The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne is the elected community government that represents Akwesasne’s interests with Canada. The elected form of government was forced upon Akwesasne in 1899, but did not take hold in the community until as recently as 30 years ago.
Although a challenging history, the Mohawk community at Akwesasne continues to survive and thrive to this day. A recent cultural resurgence and a large entrepreneurial spirit is represented by the cultural uniqueness and the nearly 300 local businesses in the community. The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe is participating in the development of a Tribal Corporation to oversee the creation and management of tribally owned and operated businesses. These include the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort, a 150 room hotel and gaming facility boasting over 1,800 slot machines and 30 tables games; Mohawk Networks, LLC, a telecommunications company and service provider currently offering Akwesasne TV and supplying internet service to surrounding communities through the subsidiary North Country Broadband; and most recently the investment in Mohawk Soy, a soybean processing plant co-owned and operated in the neighboring town of Massena.
Due to the uniqueness of the community and its strategic location it only made sense to develop a tourism industry for visitors of the world to come and experience Akwesasne’s historic geography, sprawling scenic landscape, and rich culture.