How Wall Street blues affects Akwesasne or other reservations

By Doug George-Kanentiio©
News From Indian Country 11-08

For those who think that the events on Wall Street and the subsequent downward spiral of the US economy does not have an immediate affect on their lives, they should realize that as it goes with the Americans so it goes with us.

Every Mohawk family will be caught up in the recession as the free flowing money of the past generation begins to dry up. First will be the construction industry with new home purchases decreasing meaning less demand for electricians, carpenters, masons and plumbers.

Large projects demanding the specific skills of ironworkers have already been canceled or postponed, particularly those centered upon commercial gambling.

Already the Senecas have halted the building of a casino in downtown Buffalo while the Mohicans of Connecticut have sharply curtailed their expansion plans. The gambling industry as a whole is experiencing a diminishing of income as potential customers curtail their spending on non-essential activities.

The Foxwoods Casino, once hailed as the most successful gambling venue in the world, is now laying off hundreds of workers and reigning in its spending.  Others will no doubt follow suit including the casinos across the nation.

In Las Vegas the exceptional growth of that city is slowing considerably as hundreds of homes are either abandoned or headed for foreclosure because the owners cannot pay the high mortgages.  Housing loans, once so easy to get, are now subjected to higher lending standards which means fewer homes are either being built or sold.

Property values are also crashing which results in higher land taxes as those who do own their homes must make up for the fiscal shortfalls of those who have moved on. Someone has to pay for regional and state government services so along with increased assessments will be additional sales taxes on everything from food to clothing. Akwesasne is not immune from this as most purchases are made off the reservation from merchants who refuse to honor our tax exemption rights.

Automobile sales will also be harmed. Walking into a dealer and buying a car will require greater cash down payments and more expensive loans. Credit will not be as easily obtained and those with a poor economic report will be either rejected or subject to higher rates. On the flip side, there will be a growth in used car sales as buyers spend more time searching for deals on a cash only basis.


Spending by governments on non-essential programs will be cut. With less revenues coming in, national, state and local governments will be hard pressed not to slip into more debt. Additional sources for money will be sought including the imposition of state taxes on goods sold to non-Natives on Indian territory. New York State projects an eight billion dollar shortfall in income so there will enormous pressure on the governor to collect tobacco taxes on Native land.

This will mean the retailer has no choice but to charge the same prices as businesses off the reservations and removes whatever price advantage the Native shop owner may have had, which in turn may compel many of them to close resulting in many Mohawks losing their jobs.

But Akwesasne does not have to enter a depression if the leaders from the three councils have the vision and will to pool their intellectual talents and financial resources to develop a regional economic plan which makes use of our unique geographical location. We need to expand beyond gambling, tobacco and gas to create a more diverse economy.

We can set up a free trade zone covering all of Akwesasne in which products are shipped to our community, warehoused, inventoried and then transported to Native markets throughout eastern Canada and the US. We can form a joint negotiating team to meet with Canadian and American officials to alert them as to our goals and secure their cooperation. 

We should sponsor an economic development conference and invite Native leaders from throughout the east to discuss how we can provide mutual support by identifying what products we need and then making seed money available to Native businesses to respond accordingly. We can create our own transportation hub using our own vehicle registration regulations and restore central control over what is taken across our territory. This may well be the best chance to end smuggling and the intense harm it has brought to our people.

We can use our organizational abilities alongside our traditional values and skills to return to food production on the local level. Much of Akwesasne is capable of being cultivated with crops which can improve our health and stimulate our economy.

If we concentrate on buying from our Mohawk farmers we will insure a vital element in any nation; the control of our food. Small teams of cultivators can be sent around Akwesasne to reteach our people as to planting techniques and make family gardens once again an important part of every home. For the elders, these teams will prepare the soil, assist in seed planting and weeding. The benefits from eating our ancestral foods will be immediate meaning a reduction in the demand on our health service systems. Besides, locally grown food is always cheaper and less harmful to the environment.

Our three councils can go further, if they have the vision. We have enough land to start a collective buffalo herd as the Oneidas have done in Wisconsin.  The herd will provide much better meat than we get from cattle and pigs with far less fat content.

We can also eliminate invasive species such as the commorant birds and restock our local rivers. Removing the dam in Hogansburg will mean fish will have a chance to spawn in the upper St. Regis River which means more walleye, perch and bass. We have always been a people whose main animal diet was composed of fish so it would be natural to use our waterways in that manner. We would have to restrict non-Natives from entering our territory and exploiting our resources, but this can be done with a minimal of effort along with a well planned public relations initiative.

We can also use contemporary technologies to create alternative energy generating systems such as wind towers.  The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne is in line to receive a multi-million dollar settlement from Ontario - why not use that money to build the three wind towers to produce enough electricity for all of Akwesasne, save our trees and reduce the enormous amounts we now spend on fossil fuels and hydro? This would release millions of dollars annually, money which can then be spent locally on other essentials such as food, shelter, clothing.

The goal in these troubled times is for Akwesasne to reduce its fiscal expenditures off the territory and have our money change hands at least four times before it leaves the community. It means the selfishness and greed culture of the Americans, which led them into this mess, must be replaced with our traditional values of cooperation and collective action. Those in need are to come first and our communal wealth shared equitably. It was only three generations ago when Akwesasne was mired in the Great Depression, a time well remembered by our elders. 

They were able to survive because they relied on the families working together and, when needed, pooling their resources to provide for others. Bartering and trading were well honed skills which reduced the demand for hard cash. We can easily bring down the cost of home repairs and new housing by having a builders circle in which each family contributes a set amount of money and labour; out of that pool comes homes at a quarter of the standard cost and without mortgages or credit card debts. It works for the Amish who never worry about unemployment or going without.

As it was then, it can be again. It is a matter of whether we have the will to act now ahead of the storm or do we suffer in silence, passive victims of the times?