The Standoff: What Really Happened at Moss Lake

by | Featured, October 2022

Thomas Delaronde Tiohkwanóiron and his family were the last to leave Moss Lake in 1977.

In the early hours of the morning on May 13, 1974, a convoy of Native Americans from the Kahnawake and Akwesasne Mohawk reservations in Quebec crossed the border and made their way south, more or less following the tributaries of the St. Lawrence River, into the foothills of the Adirondacks.

Accounts vary, but there were at least a few dozen cars and a school bus full of young children. At Eagle Bay, a small hamlet between Inlet and Old Forge in the central Adirondacks, the group dispatched a couple of scouts to see if anyone was present at Moss Lake, a former summer camp for girls that had recently been turned over to the state. It was still dark when they arrived. Old camp buildings, large wooden structures with stone fireplaces built in the 1920s, were visible along the shoreline. But the 612-acre property was vacant.

With little fanfare, the Mohawks moved in. They had come to reclaim a small part of their ancestral homeland, roughly nine million acres of land stretching across much of northeastern New York State into Vermont and Quebec. The Mohawks have long referred to this territory as Ganienkeh, which means “Land of the Flint,” and this was the name they gave the Moss Lake encampment. It was a provocative gesture and an indication that the occupation—or repossession, as the Mohawks called it—was about more than any single piece of land. It was, in many ways, an attempt to reckon with a past that those in the region had spent little time contemplating.

One of six member nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Mohawks have a long history of inhabiting parts of what is now the Adirondacks and surrounding areas. The confederacy dates back to at least the 15th century and, according to several scholars, served as a model of governance for early European colonists. Ultimately the Mohawks, who fought on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War, were pushed out of their traditional homeland—referred to as the “Mohawk Valley” to this day—and forced to settle along the US-Canadian border and farther west. Subsequent treaties, many of which the Mohawk argue were illegally brokered, turned over enormous tracts of land to the state. In 1797 Joseph Brant, a Mohawk who had served as a British military officer and whose sister was married to the British superintendent of Indian Affairs, signed a treaty giving New York State about nine million acres of land, including Moss Lake, for the paltry sum of $1,500. The Iroquois Confederacy has never formally acknowledged the agreement.

In the late 1960s and ’70s, Native American activists across the country were pressing for a reappraisal of the US government’s relationship with tribes, demanding that stolen land be returned to its original inhabitants. Ganienkeh drew on the emerging influence of the American Indian Movement (AIM), which in February 1973 had seized the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, seeking to restore sovereignty over tens of millions of acres of land. The occupation sparked a 71-day standoff that resulted in the deaths of two Native activists and the shooting of an FBI agent. Louis Hall, a member of the Kahnawake reservation who had traveled to Wounded Knee, was one of the principal architects of the Moss Lake takeover, and in the months preceding the action had appealed to members of AIM to lend their support. In a manifesto published soon after the occupation, Hall outlined the broader ambitions of the Mohawk Warriors, as they called themselves, and made an explicit connection to the larger global struggle for Indigenous rights.

Ganienkeh, Hall wrote, was the “ancient homeland of the Mohawk nation, whose descendants … are moving back to repossess their natural heritage. Other native nations throughout the world have regained their lands and governments …. We too are human and should have the rights accorded everyone else in the world; the right to our nationality, the right of our nation to exist and the right to an area of land for our own territory and state where we can exercise our own proven government and society.”

This would be achieved by a commitment to radical self-sufficiency and the return to a traditional way of life: Raising animals and growing their own food. Rejecting an agreement with the state or federal government. And demanding complete control over their own affairs. They were asking for something at once prosaic and, at least to state officials and others in the region, profoundly unsettling—to be left alone.    

“We were asserting that we were citizens of a state that was independent of the United States,” said Doug George-Kanentiio, an author, activist and former member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian, who spent time at Ganienkeh and whose brother was one of the original members of the encampment. “That we were citizens of our own nation.”

The ensuing three-year standoff, which at times turned violent, would become one of the most contentious and, some would argue, unresolved conflicts over Native sovereignty in the Adirondacks. The Mohawks had support from church groups and other outside organizations but also faced intense local opposition. A coalition of property owners, who bristled at what they viewed as an illegal occupation, pressured the state to intervene. There were checkpoints set up at each end of Big Moose Road, and a near constant police presence in the area.

“They thought it was just a sit-in,” Laureen Delaronde, one of the founders of Ganienkeh, who is now in her 80s, told me. “But after three years we were still there.”

Oddly for an episode that garnered national attention, including coverage in The New York Times and Washington Post, the events at Moss Lake have been largely forgotten or perhaps willfully ignored. The standoff was widely covered in the local press, as well, including the Lake Placid News, whose editor Ed Hale was a close confidant of both sides. But unlike Wounded Knee, which has been well documented and was the subject of a feature film in 2009, there are only a few books and scholarly articles on Ganienkeh. The most recent book, published last year, was written by Lou Grumet, an aide to then secretary of state Mario Cuomo, and one of the principal negotiators of the settlement that would eventually lead to the dissolution of the camp at Moss Lake and its relocation to land near Altona, New York, about 20 miles northwest of Plattsburgh just beyond the Blue Line.   

Grumet’s book, This Land is My Land: An Insider’s Account of the 1974 Mohawk Attempt to Reclaim New York State (co-authored with John Caher), is evenhanded and offers a brisk account of the complicated legal and political landscape that informed the negotiations. Though Grumet clearly views the final agreement as a success, he is candid about the limitations of what the state was able to achieve. And what the Mohawks were able to claim as victory. There are larger issues, including the establishment of a state office devoted to Indian affairs and the return of wampum belts to the Iroquois, that to this day have never been addressed.

“We leveraged the Mohawk desire for land to construct a plan which persuaded them to move, establish a new community without any historic proportions—and then, and only then, would we try to set up a state mechanism to deal with long-range issues,” Grumet wrote.

But that never happened. According to Grumet, “Forty-five years later, those issues largely remain unresolved.” 

On a bitterly cold day in January, I drove from my home in Vermont to Moss Lake. I crossed Lake Champlain at the Crown Point bridge, the site of one of the earliest documented encounters between Europeans and the Iroquois in the Adirondacks. In July 1609 Samuel de Champlain traveled south along the lake that now bears his name with Algonquin and Huron guides who, he later wrote, told him that “these mountains [the Adirondacks] were thickly settled, and that it was there we were to find their enemies.” Crown Point would later serve as a key battleground in the Seven Years’ War between the French and the British (sometimes called the French and Indian War) and their Native allies on both sides, and then later in the Revolutionary War. From Crown Point, I drove west on small roads into the interior of the Adirondack Park. Eagle Bay, with a population of just over 140 people, has a bar and restaurant, donut shop and gas station. In winter snowmobiles often outnumber cars.

The trailhead parking lot at Moss Lake was empty. Sun filtered through the trees, casting shadows across the frozen ground. A small placard describes the history of the area, beginning in 1923, when the summer camp opened, through the state’s acquisition of the land 50 years later. The sign includes a single sentence devoted to the contentious events of the 1970s: “From 1974 until 1978 the site was occupied by the Ganienkeh Mohawk Indians, who eventually moved their settlement north near the Canadian border.”

It’s hard to imagine a more banal way of describing what happened at Moss Lake all those years ago. If nothing else, the sign raises more questions than it answers. (It even gets the date that the Mohawks left Moss Lake wrong.) Why did the Mohawk occupy this site? What were they trying to achieve? How was the standoff resolved? But it also reveals a certain lack of interest in the history of the region, one marked for centuries by conflict, cultural exchange and dispossession.

Chances are, most visitors coming to camp or hike at Moss Lake don’t pay much attention to the sign or gloss over the reference to the “Mohawk Indians.” As I skied through the woods along the 2.5-mile trail that hugs the perimeter of the lake, I couldn’t help thinking that, like the treatment of Native history in the Adirondacks more broadly, Ganienkeh has become little more than a footnote.   

 

Kristy Rubyor grew up in Old Forge and was just a young child in May 1974. She doesn’t have many memories of the Moss Lake takeover, but had several classmates who had to ride with a police escort along Big Moose Road to get to school. Now as assistant to the director of the Town of Webb Historical Society, she has overseen an exhibit dedicated to the events at Moss Lake. It opened in late 2019, to coincide with the 45th anniversary of Ganienkeh, but just a few months later the pandemic hit and the museum was closed. COVID aside, Rubyor says there hasn’t been much interest in the exhibit and that locals, in general, are reluctant to revisit those days. “Everybody has memories,” she told me. “But they don’t like to talk about them.” In response to a Facebook post Rubyor circulated on my behalf, seeking individuals interested in speaking to me for this story, only one seasonal resident reached out. Doug and Bonnie Bennett, who owned the Big Moose Inn at the time, one of the most popular hotels in the region, wrote in an email that it was a “very emotional time” in their lives and that they were choosing not to relive it.

The historical society is in a two-story 19th-century house in Old Forge. On a large rectangular table in the main room dozens of newspaper clippings have been copied and placed under glass. In broad strokes, the headlines tell the story of how local attitudes shifted from curiosity and concern to outright hostility and resentment before the state and the Mohawks reached an agreement.

Larger structural changes in the Adirondack Park also contributed to the sentiment among locals that they were being treated unfairly. The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) had been created in 1971, establishing new rules for development on state and private land within the park, and there was intense animosity toward the agency. “Abolish the APA” became a popular rallying cry. According to historian Phil Terrie, the APA’s new jurisdiction over private land was viewed as “an unnecessary imposition of bureaucratic red tape in local affairs, an assault on the local business climate, and an unconstitutional abridgment of property rights.” Moss Lake was part of the Forest Preserve and managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). But the state took a hands-off approach, and agreed not to set foot on Ganienkeh territory, largely to avoid a violent conflict. Many locals saw this as a double standard.

Marty Wasser, senior counsel for the DEC from 1975 to 1977, issued a memo early on, instructing the agency not to enforce the law on everything from hunting and fishing to the felling of trees while talks between the two sides played out. Known as the “Wasser memo,” it was unpopular among locals, but also employees at the agency who felt they were unable to do their jobs. A similar order had been handed down to state and local police.

Wasser, who is now a partner with a law firm in New York City, says the state’s primary goal was to make sure the situation did not spiral out of control. “The threat of violence was always real,” Wasser told me. “And there was no simple answer.”

Wasser was sympathetic to the local point of view, but felt the state had few good options. Attempting to forcibly evict the Mohawks, who were armed, would have almost certainly led to an unpredictable, possibly bloody confrontation, and turned Ganienkeh into a cause célèbre within the Native American community. “We didn’t want another Wounded Knee,” a DEC spokesperson told The New York Times in 1974. It also would have perpetuated the very patterns of injustice and refusal to address historical wrongs that had characterized relations with the Iroquois for hundreds of years. The state’s position, as Wasser’s memo made clear, was to let the Mohawks remain on Forest Preserve land as officials on both sides worked out an agreement. This took longer than anticipated.

In October 1974 the uneasy peace between Ganienkeh and surrounding communities fell apart. Until then, the relationship had been tense, but relatively stable. Church groups had been actively involved in supporting the Mohawks, providing winter clothing, food and other resources. National attention was somewhat muted. There was even an impression in some early accounts of the standoff that locals believed the Mohawk presence would be a tourist attraction and a boon for the local economy. But there was always an element of racism and vigilante justice among the local population. Teenagers and others would frequently drive by the main checkpoint making war calls mocking and trying to provoke the Native Americans. Occasionally locals lobbed firecrackers into the encampment or snuck in at night. On one occasion, a group of men stole the Ganienkeh flag, a symbol of Mohawk pride and autonomy. “The boys cut the flag into five pieces, each perpetrator keeping a section,” state troopers Romey Gallo and Wayne Martin wrote in their account of the events at Moss Lake. The Mohawks also reported being shot at on at least nine occasions. 

“Cars used to pass and shoot at the buildings,” Dawn Delaronde told me.

Eventually the Mohawks returned fire. Early in the evening on October 28, Mike and Stephen Drake, who had grown up in Inlet, drove by Ganienkeh whooping and hurling insults on the way. This time, instead of being ignored, they were greeted with gunfire. Alarmed but uninjured, they continued to the Big Moose Inn, at the northern end of the road, where Doug and Bonnie Bennett advised them to contact the police. But for reasons that remain unclear, the brothers decided to drive back past the gate at Moss Lake and this time their car was riddled with bullets. The Mohawks later claimed that the Drakes had fired first, but no evidence of a gun was found in the vehicle. Stephen Drake was hit in the shoulder. Several hours later a family of four from Geneva, New York, vacationing in the area, happened to drive by just before a roadblock had been set up in response to the first shooting, and their car was also fired at. Aprile Madigan, a nine-year-old girl, was shot in the stomach and chest and required emergency medical care to save her life. 

The Mohawks refused to allow federal investigators onto the property for nearly two weeks, in part because they feared the FBI would break up the encampment. Eventually the investigation petered out, leaving a bitter taste among the local population. No one was charged in the shootings. The Drakes filed a lawsuit alleging that the state had failed to protect them, but a federal judge ruled that the brothers were the responsible party and had “acted in reckless disregard for their own safety.” Soon after, a local citizens group, Concerned Persons of the Central Adirondacks, was formed and the battle lines hardened.

In many ways they have remained so ever since. For locals, the shootings typified what they viewed as the general lawlessness of the occupation and the state’s failure to do anything about it. For the Mohawks the violence directed at them reinforced the idea that the local population was never interested in hearing their story or acknowledging that the land had once belonged to them. Meanwhile the shootings obscured the Mohawks’ larger objectives and undermined their efforts to appeal to a broader public.

When I sat down at the table to read through some of the clippings in the museum’s collection, Rubyor handed me a slender brown leather book of photographs that she had found earlier in the week. Dated August 1978, it included a few dozen photos of the old camp buildings after the Mohawks had left. Much of the scrap material—the lumber, windows and even some of the nails—had been taken to Altona, where it was used in the construction of new homes. Piles of debris scattered along the shoreline were left behind. A note tucked inside the scrapbook reads, “The photographs in this book record the condition of Moss Lake Girls’ Camp after ‘Our Indians’ departed.”    

In fact, the buildings had been slated for demolition when the land was turned over to the state. But for locals, what had once been a distinguished camp for wealthy families from New York City, including Theodore Roosevelt’s granddaughter, was now ruined. Every year Jeff Longstaff, grandson of the family that owned the camp, gives a walking tour and detailed talk about the area. Rubyor says former campers, some in their 70s and 80s, often come along. But Jeff won’t talk about the occupation, leaving it out of the story.    

“We felt ignored here,” Rubyor told me. “Nobody understood what we were going through.”

Still Rubyor, perhaps because she was just a child at the time, remains open to learning from and hearing the Mohawk’s side of the story. She helped Grumet with some of the research on his book and has a genuine interest in presenting a more complete picture of what happened. That is part of the reason why she put the exhibit together.

“It was kind of an untold story,” she said. “And I want it to be told and preserved. The good, the bad and the ugly. Because every story has that.”

 

Landscapes are formed as much in the mind as they are out of rock and granite. “Adirondack” is often said to be derived from an Iroquois word meaning “bark eater,” a pejorative term used to describe the Algonquin, their erstwhile enemies. But this version is based on the accounts of 17th- and 18th-century European chroniclers. (A simpler explanation is that it referred to the porcupine or the beaver—species of great abundance in northern New York that eat the inner bark of trees.) There were other names for these mountains, names that reflect the longstanding presence of Mohawk, Algonquin and Abenaki tribes in the region. The Mohawk referred to the area as Tso-non-tes-ko-wa or “the mountains”; the Oneida, another Iroquois nation, called it latilu-taks, which means “they’re eating trees,” a reference to beavers; the Algonquin used the word Wawobadenik, which means mountain, to refer to Mount Marcy and perhaps to the larger region as well. But it was geologist Ebenezer Emmons who is credited with giving the Adirondacks its name in 1838 as part of a survey commissioned by the state legislature. Fifty-four years later, the Adirondack Park was established, setting aside millions of acres of land as “forever wild.” 

Around the same time, another idea was beginning to take root, this one far more consequential: that Native Americans had never inhabited and had rarely used territory within the Adirondack Park’s boundary, commonly referred to as the Blue Line, because of poor soil and cold weather. (Never mind that Indigenous peoples have lived in much harsher climates, including the Arctic, for millennia.) Alfred Donaldson’s popular two-volume history of the Adirondacks published in 1921, and cited frequently, claimed that the “consensus of authoritative opinion” was that “Indians never made any part of what is now the Adirondack Park their permanent home.” This myth has been surprisingly durable, obscuring a much more complex and turbulent past, as Melissa Otis outlines in her recent book, Rural Indigenousness: A History of Iroquoian and Algonquian Peoples of the Adirondacks.

Otis, who grew up in Elizabethtown, makes the case that not only were the Iroquois and Algonquin present in the Adirondacks long before the arrival of Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries, they also continued to leave their mark on the region as guides, laborers and entrepreneurs.

“The Adirondacks have been an Indigenous homeland for millennia,” she writes. And even though European interactions with Native peoples were well documented, she continues, late-19th and early-20th-century historians “made them invisible.”

In recent years new scholarship has upended the idea that Native Americans were largely absent from the Adirondacks. Over the last decade and a half, archaeological surveys near Paul Smiths, Tupper Lake and Long Lake have uncovered multiple historic sites dating back 1,500 to possibly 12,000 years. Tim Messner, an archaeologist at SUNY–Potsdam, whose work focuses on the Adirondacks, has studied one area near Long Lake, which is only 30 miles from Eagle Bay. There, Messner and some of his grad students found a hearth used for cooking, with remnants of charcoal that were a thousand years old. Another state survey near Tupper Lake, according to Messner, has turned up tools for cleaning hides and at least one fluted projectile point that is believed to be 11,000 to 12,000 years old.

Messner says he’s often asked whether these sites offer evidence that Native Americans permanently settled in the region, a kind of false or at least ahistorical standard used to justify the notion that nobody lived here before Europeans arrived. For most of human history, Messner points out, people did not live in any one place for long periods of time. They moved with the seasons or in pursuit of game or other resources.

“Hunting and gathering requires one to move,” Messner told me. “And with that comes a completely different way of thinking about home, a completely different way of thinking about where one lives.” Messner believes there are many other sites throughout the Adirondack uplands, creating what he describes as a “larger network of place.” In other words, history that has not yet been written.

In many ways, it’s not surprising that Ganienkeh would be considered an aberration rather than part of a continuum. It’s been viewed through the lens of 20th-century Adirondack historiography, which has kept Native Americans at the margins. This also means the broader political context—the Iroquois unity movement of the 1960s and 1970s—within which Ganienkeh emerged has been minimized, reinforcing the idea of the Adirondacks as a kind of island somehow immune to larger political currents. But the period following World War II was an especially fertile one for Iroquois activists, who were advocating for greater autonomy and in some cases restitution of stolen land or fraudulent treaties.

In 1957, for example, members of the Delaronde family who helped found Ganienkeh tried to reclaim land in New York’s Mohawk Valley, in some ways a precursor to the occupation of Moss Lake. Throughout the 1960s there were frequent skirmishes along the border region over the tribe’s ability to freely move between the US and Canada, protests against dam and highway development projects, and in 1969 the founding of the Iroquois newspaper Akwesasne Notes, which would play a pivotal role in raising consciousness within the community. Members of the Akwesasne and Kahnawake reservations were also involved in the seizure of Alcatraz in 1969—Richard Oakes, who had grown up at Akwesasne, was one of the group’s leaders—and a few years later the effort to reclaim land at Wounded Knee, in South Dakota. “The takeover at Alcatraz became the symbol to many young, disillusioned Indians like Oakes, stimulating a rash of similar protests,” writes Laurence Hauptman in his study of the post-war Red Power movement, The Iroquois Struggle for Survival. In February 1974, two months before the Moss Lake occupation, Louis Hall wrote a letter to the leaders of the American Indian Movement seeking assistance and laying out the Mohawk’s ambitious plan to “establish an Independent North American Indian State.”

To residents of the area and tourists visiting the region, these larger political developments would have seemed distant if they registered at all. Instead, their perception of Native Americans in the Adirondacks would have been shaped by the “Indian Village” at Enchanted Forest, a popular destination in Old Forge, or another similar attraction at Frontier Town in North Hudson, which featured a “Wild West” theme park that drew on conventional stereotypes of “cowboys and Indians.” In recent years, New York State has invested $32 million to revive Frontier Town, near Exit 29 on the Northway, long known as the “gateway to the Adirondacks.”

 

In July 1977 Mohawk leaders and New York State announced that they had reached an agreement to end the Moss Lake standoff. In exchange for about 5,000 acres of land in Clinton County that was purchased by private donors and placed in a trust, the Mohawks would leave Moss Lake for good. As part of the agreement, the state refused to grant them title to any land claims in New York or Vermont and the Mohawks were absolved of any legal culpability related to the occupation. In a joint statement, secretary of state Mario Cuomo and Art Montour, a spokesman for the Mohawks, wrote, “A new era of relations between Native Americans and other Americans has begun. For the first time in this century a state has been able to work out its problems with its Indian residents peacefully.”

The arrangement was novel in many ways. Robert Coulter, an attorney who represented the Mohawks at Moss Lake and who is now the executive director of the Indian Law Resource Center in Montana, says it was one of the first times a nonprofit was used to buy land on behalf of a group of Native Americans. This met one of the core demands of the Mohawk Warriors: that they not be forced to enter into a financial contract with the state. To this day the Mohawks do not pay taxes and all legal and financial matters are handled by the trust. “The Mohawks insisted, ‘We’re not going to buy back our own land,’” Coulter told me.

But the notion that the settlement would fundamentally change the relationship between the state and Native Americans proved to be overly optimistic. In fact, Cuomo, who would go on to become governor in 1983, seemed to lose interest in the issue and never fulfilled his promise of establishing an office devoted to Indian affairs. Mohawk land claims remain unresolved to this day and, according to Grumet, were never seriously considered. Ganienkeh has also been plagued by internal conflicts, much of it over the role of gambling in the community; a 1,500-person bingo hall opened in 1990 and provides much of the income for the community but was opposed by the Mohawk traditional council. The trust has also faced legal scrutiny and for several years in the mid-2000s, after turnover in leadership, neglected to file annual reports to maintain its nonprofit status, nearly leading to forfeiture of the land.

The Delarondes were the last family to leave Moss Lake in October 1977 and are the only original members of the encampment who still live on the territory in Altona. It took me several weeks to reach them through an intermediary, but they eventually agreed to meet with me. Ganienkeh is still a closed community and the only access is through a gated checkpoint off of Route 190. A wooden sign hanging above the gate, the same one that was at Moss Lake, reads, “Repossessed Area of Ganienkeh Territory: ESTD 50,000 B.C.” On a warm day in mid-April, I was escorted onto the territory, which includes a small number of residential homes, a traditional Longhouse built with some of the scrap wood and windows from Moss Lake, a gymnasium and a school. The community also operates a sawmill, a garage, two food-processing centers as well as a greenhouse and agricultural fields with cows and a couple dozen buffalo. Leadership refuses to disclose how many people live on the territory, but it’s clear that they’ve established a largely self-sufficient cooperative.

The Delarondes were sitting around the kitchen table in a small cabin overlooking Miner Lake. Ganenkieh memorabilia, including a poster created for the community in 1974, lined the walls. Thomas Delaronde, whose Mohawk name is Tiohkwanóiron, which means “precious group of people,” had suffered a stroke a couple of years ago and can no longer speak. He was joined by his wife, Laureen, and their daughter Dawn, who was 12 when the family left Akwesasne for Moss Lake in 1974.

Laureen brought out a book of photos of Ganienkeh, many of which she had taken. Looking at a group portrait, she joked that the men, including her husband, were all so skinny because food was scarce and they had little experience farming or hunting. Another photo showed the Mohawk Warrior Society flag (sometimes called the “unity flag” or “Indian flag”), created by Louis Hall in 1974, in snow-covered ground at Moss Lake. The flag, which features the visage of a long-haired Native American man against a bright yellow-and-red background, has gone on to become a symbol of Indigenous resistance across the country and around the world, appearing at protests in Canada and Standing Rock. 

Laureen has fond memories of Moss Lake and the youthful optimism that animated the project. But as the 50th anniversary approaches, only a handful of those involved are still around. She hopes that people will “understand and learn that it was a starting point. And a success. That it’s possible.”

Earlier this summer the Department of the Interior and the DEC announced that about 1,000 acres of land in Central New York’s Tully Valley would be returned to the Onondaga Nation, a sign that the issue is still very much alive. 

When I stepped outside into the late-afternoon sun, three boys, probably six or seven years old, were climbing a tree and jumping off into the last pile of snow in front of the Longhouse. They were speaking to each other in their own Native language, which even Thomas and Laureen hadn’t learned when they were growing up. They had been part of a generation forced to learn English and to assimilate into mainstream anglophone culture, much of which they later rejected. Now they are providing an alternative to their own children and grandchildren, who are growing up entirely outside of the reservation system on what is considered autonomous territory. As I got into my car to leave, it occurred to me that here, in a quiet corner of northern New York State, largely out of public view, a radical political experiment has been playing out. It may not be an independent nation, as Louis Hall had outlined in his manifesto, but it is in many ways a new beginning.  

Adam Federman is a reporting fellow with Type Investigations and the author of Fasting and Feasting: The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray.


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