Skip to main content

Sovereignty Without Compromise, Since 1974: The Story of Ganienkeh

In 1974, a community of Mohawk Native Americans in New York declared their independence from the United States. And here's the thing: They won.
  • Author:
  • Updated:

Alex Jacobs, the Santa Fe-based Mohawk artist and poet who originally hails from Akwesasne, has been our guide in exploring and explaining the Akwesasne Notes posters of the 1970s; when we looked at the one for Ganienkeh, we thought the story needed a bit more telling. Here's what Alex has to say about this unique Indigenous community in upstate New York:

The Mohawk people call themselves Kanienkehake, People of the Flint. It is said in our migration story that the Iroquois (Haudenosunee – the People who Build) came from the direction the southwest, as tribes dropped off along the way, the remaining five Nations stopped in the area of present day New York (Pennsylvania, Ontario, Quebec, Vermont), because Ojibwe, Algonquin and Lenni Lenape were to the north and east, and the waterways were good for trade and settlement. The Adirondacks were named after an Algonquin tribe called the Bark-eaters, which is also the word for porcupine.

RELATED:Classic '70s Posters: Ganienkeh, the Mohawks Who Took the Land Back

On May 13, 1974, a group of Traditionalist Mohawk families mostly from Kahnawake (the Caughnawauga Reserve near Montreal) and also Akwesasne (St. Regis Reservation) and other communities, occupied Moss Lake, a girls' summer camp (frequented by the Rockefellers and Roosevelts) 12 miles south of the Canadian border near Old Forge, northeast of the Adirondack Preserve.

Q'orianka Kilcher shooting a scene with Mackenzie Astin, who plays Te Ata's husband Dr. George Clyde Fisher. Photo by Brian Daffron.

After three years of tense stand-offs, media headlines, virulent opinions and accusations, shootings and 200 negotiation sessions, New York's Secretary of State Mario Cuomo signed off on an arrangement through an intermediary trust for the 25 Mohawk families to move to their new settlement, over 600 acres at Miner Lake near Altona, NY, and the Canadian border. This is where the settlement of Ganienkeh (online: stands today. They have a lumber mill, gardens, fish pond, a holistic center, a new 9-hole golf course and of course a 1500 seat Bingo Hall that pays for most bills. They call Ganienkeh a “dry community” as substance abuse and other social issues were factors in leaving the reservations.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

The Mohawk at Ganienkeh claim that this was part of their historic territory, that New York State made an illegal treaty in 1797 when Joseph Brant sold and gave up rights to land in New York after the American Revolution. The 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua is also cited as giving the Mohawk continuing rights to the land in New York State, as well as the Two Row Wampum (Guswhenta) which affirms their sovereign status.

Ganienkeh at Moss Lake, 1974. Source:

At the time this was a very controversial event with Indians taking over state land so close after the Wounded Knee liberation/occupation and all the AIM references of previous occupations, plus the fact they came from Canada and were “foreign invaders” in the media. But more to the point is that the Indians won, reclaiming land back from the United States.

In their own words, “Ganienkeh is a branch of the original sovereign Kanien’kehà:ka Nation located within the sovereign traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka. Ganienkeh is NOT a reservation nor is it 'recognized' as a 'Tribe or Band' by the US or Canada. Ganienkeh does not accept funding from the United States or Canadian governments in any form and does not wish to be 'recognized' as a 'Tribe or Band' under any foreign law.”

Map of the Ganienkeh (Mohawk) territory, according to

The Mohawk Nation also claims some 9 million acres in New York, and while other Iroquois Nations have settled with the state, Mohawk land claims have been in political limbo for over 20 years. In 1993 another group of Traditionalist Mohawk families left Akwesasne to create a farming community in the Mohawk Valley near Fonda NY, called Kanatsiohareke, which was purchased through donations. The Kahnawake activist/artist/writer/historian Louis Karoniaktajeh Hall deserves some credit for Ganienkeh, Oka and other Warrior Society actions ever since he published his “Warrior’s Handbook.”

Alex Jacobs
Santa Fe
October 7, 2014