Mohawks in talks with feds, Empire
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Further proof that the St. Regis Mohawks have a renewed interest in Sullivan County came last week in the form of a press release from their Tribal Council.
“We are still in the very early stages of reviewing our options and don’t want to raise any false hopes, either for the tribe or for Sullivan County,” remarked Tribal Chief James Ransom. “But we would be remiss not to take a look at our options for such a project.”
The Mohawks have been a longtime player in the Catskills, but their deal with Empire Resorts to open a casino at the Monticello Raceway fell through more than a year ago after former U.S. Interior Department Secretary Dirk Kempthorne nixed the approval of off-reservation casinos nationwide.
As a result, a tribal spokesperson said discussions are currently more focused on changing the federal government’s mind than renegotiating the agreement with Empire.
The election of President Barack Obama means Kempthorne has been replaced by Ken Salazar, who’s reportedly more favorable to off-reservation casinos.
“We made it clear last year that we would patiently wait for a new administration to arrive in Washington and one that would hopefully revisit the injustices that were done to our tribe,” said Ransom. “That time has come.”
So earlier this month, St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council members paid a visit to the department’s offices in Washington, DC, meeting with Associate Deputy Secretary of the Interior Laura Daniel Davis to make the case that Kempthorne’s decision was “an administrative breach of good faith in the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the federal government,” according to the release.
“At this stage, everything is preliminary,” acknowledged Tribal Chief Barbara Lazore. “But we felt it was important to tell our history of the past 14 years, which was dismissed at the stroke of a pen by the previous administration.”
Much of the Mohawks’ application to the federal and state governments is complete; thus, the Mohawks are once again talking with Empire about resurrecting their agreement, especially with the Senecas having announced a Bridgeville casino bid and the Stockbridge-Munsees continuing to pursue one, as well.
However, the Tribal Council has told Empire that any agreement will have to be approved by the tribe’s voters. Though such a vote has yet to be taken, tribal leaders are already evidencing support of the idea.
“We all know the potential benefits of a tribally-operated casino in this geographic location because it will provide employment for tribal members and boost the economy of Sullivan County,” said Lazore. “This development could allow us to continue on the path to economic self-sufficiency and could very well be the stimulus package for both communities.”