Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe Advocates Environmental Justice for Akwesasne

Despite objections from the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe the construction and capping of a 150-wide berm containing PCB-contaminated materials at the Former-General Motor's industrial landfill continues to shadow over the Mohawk community of Akwesasne.

Despite objections from the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe the construction and capping of a 150-wide berm containing PCB-contaminated materials at the Former-General Motor’s industrial landfill continues to shadow over the Mohawk community of Akwesasne.

Participated in EPA Listening Session in Washington, DC

 Published October 7, 2016

AKWESASNE — On September 28, 2016, members of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council participated in the Fourth Annual Tribal Leaders Listening Session hosted by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Director Gina McCarthy in Washington, DC. Tribal Chiefs Eric Thompson and Beverly Cook were in attendance to share the Tribe’s concerns with cleanup efforts at two industrial sites located immediately upwind and upriver from the Akwesasne community.

“We have made it a priority to voice our community’s environmental issues to federal agencies and to insist we be included in the development, implementation and monitoring of cleanup efforts at polluted industrial sites,” said Tribal Chief Eric Thompson. He added, “We appreciate the invitation by EPA Director McCarthy to participate in the listening session as we continue advocating for the complete removal of contaminated materials at the RACER site and our dissatisfaction with the proposed remediation of the Grasse River. We completely object to the EPA’s less expensive proposal to cap the toxic sediment and on-site storage remedy.”

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe submitted its own recommendation for the cleanup of the former-General Motors site that entailed the removal of all PCB-contaminated sediment. The approved remedy however, includes placing a ‘cap’ over the toxic material that will remain at the RACER site. Despite the Tribe’s objections, a similar remedy will allow toxins discharged by ALCOA to remain in the Grasse River.

“We take immense pride and responsibility to preserve and protect the environment for the benefit of our community members—now and into the future” said Tribal Chief Ron LaFrance. He further stated, “Industries have come and gone from our area, but they have been allowed to leave their toxic legacy behind in Superfund sites. We cannot allow that to happen again and encourage ALCOA to leave a legacy of being environmentally responsible by properly remediating the Grasse River.”

The Tribal Council’s outreach efforts have gained traction and most recently, have contributed to Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) requesting an investigative report from the U.S. Governmental Accountability Office on the effectiveness of government-to-government consultation and the extent to which the impacts of Superfund sites located on or near tribal lands are being mitigated.  In addition, there will be an examination of federal policies intended to protect the health and environment of tribal communities.

 “The health of our people and our ecosystem are intertwined and the efforts to safeguard them lie on our shoulders,” said Tribal Chief Beverly Cook. “Our environment has endured decades of contaminants. Through clinical and social research, an emerging body of evidence indicates ongoing exposure to lighter chlorinated PCB’s that are being released into the air are linked to the development of diabetes and disruption of reproductive systems in our community. Speaking to Director McCarthy, we were able to reinforce why our recommendations for the cleanup of the Superfund sites, specifically the removal of all PCB-contaminated material, is so important to the health of our community.”

Tribal Council actively engages in government-to-government consultation through a federal lobbying strategy developed in collaboration with James Meggesto, Partner of Holland & Knight, LLP and an enrolled member of Onondaga; and Kayla Gebeck, Public Affairs Advisor from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. Years of discussions with federal officials resulted in the convening of a congressional roundtable that included the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe to discuss Environmental Justice in Indian Country with members of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources and the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs on June 14, 2016.

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