The New York Times owes the Mohawk people an apology. Its Feb. 19 article,
titled "Drug Traffickers Find Haven in Shadows of Indian Country," unfairly
paints a grim picture of the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation and this
depiction needs to be corrected.
Most troubling is the author's decision to create an impression that Indian
country and our reservation in particular is a haven for drug traffickers.
The factual information in support of the article is actually a
contradiction of the title. The story begins with an overview of the arrest
of John V. Oakes on our reservation. Then, interlaced throughout the
article, are examples from other reservations where drug trafficking rings
were broken up and individual arrests made. It is ironic that the story
uses excerpts from statements made by captured criminals to say that
reservations are a haven. We ask: if they are such a haven, then how did
those drug traffickers get captured?
Ask any law enforcement agency and they will tell you that making drug
trafficking arrests is dangerous work and takes considerable time to
develop the case. To say that the problems and challenges in making these
arrests are unique to Indian country is just plain wrong. They hold true
across America and are an integral part of the challenges in the war on
drugs for everyone.
The article also leaves the erroneous impression that reservations are part
of the problem but not part of the solution. We know there are tribal
members in our community engaged in illegal activity involving smuggling.
We have seen firsthand some of the tragic consequences of this lifestyle.
We also know that our location as a border community contributes to the
decision of Canadian- and American-based crime organizations to use
individuals in our community as part of their smuggling enterprises. It
certainly presents us with law enforcement challenges that others don't
have to face.
But the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has taken active measures to prevent illegal
activities on our reservation. Over the past three years, we have
increasingly diverted tribal funding to law enforcement as federal grants
have disappeared. Our current financial commitment to law enforcement is
unmatched in tribal history. In addition, our tribal police force
coordinates its activities with outside law enforcement agencies including
the U.S. Border Patrol, Customs and Immigration in Canada, the FBI and the
New York State Police. Our tribal police force is the only tribal police
force in New York state certified by the state police.
As the article's author, Sarah Kershaw, pointed out, our law enforcement-
and border security-related efforts receive little or no federal homeland
security funding due to a quirk in the law which severely limits tribes
from securing these resources. This is the real "black hole" that exists
for our community. We continue to work with Congress to correct this
inequity, but in the meantime, our tribe is absorbing the cost of the
United States' border security responsibility. Indeed, our tribe is working
above and beyond our call of duty to address these law enforcement
So for Kershaw to state that the 11,000 Indians living in our community
have long dipped their hands into the rewarding tills of smuggling is
irresponsible reporting and sensationalism at its worst. Why Kershaw would
choose to belittle an entire community is beyond our comprehension. Nothing
could be further from the truth. Indian country, and our community in
particular, wants tribal members to be just as safe and drug-free as anyone
else does. Instead, she chose to use a few examples to paint a negative
picture of our community to support her title.
The reference to tumbledown government housing and worn-down trailers on
our reservation is stereotyping on the part of Kershaw. This may have been
part of our history but it is no longer the case. As a community, we have
worked hard to address the housing needs of our community. Over the past 10
years, over 200 new homes have been built for tribal members through our
Akwesasne Housing Authority. These homes are constructed to standards
established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They
are neither tumbledown nor worn-out. We are proud of the gains we have made
in meeting the housing needs of our community. It was unfair for Kershaw to
embellish her story by mischaracterizing our community in this manner.
We are astounded by the statement that casino money is fueling the surge in
trafficking and that it was providing a fast-growing source of customers
and well-financed partners for outside drug traffickers. We would like to
know the basis for this statement and what research was undertaken in
reaching this conclusion. Indian gaming has allowed tribes across the
country to raise the standard of living in their communities, to provide
needed jobs and to fund important governmental services. To take a potshot
at it in the context of an article on drug trafficking is reprehensible.
Indian gaming is one of the most over-regulated types of gaming in the
United States. Our Akwesasne Mohawk Casino is overseen by our Tribal Gaming
Commission, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, the New York
State Police and the National Indian Gaming Commission. We spend over $3
million annually in regulatory costs. There are also strict requirements on
how tribes can spend the revenue generated from Indian gaming. It must be
used to provide essential governmental services in our community.
We believe that The New York Times had an opportunity to raise an important
social problem and present the need for solutions. We would be the first to
applaud such an effort. Unfortunately, the Times chose to use the issue to
paint an uneven and unfair picture of Indian country. It has done a huge
disservice to its readers and in the process, insulted Indian country and
our tribe when we have done nothing against it.