Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Chief participates in White House tribal summit in Washington
AKWESASNE -- Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Chief Beverly “Kiohawiton” Cook took part in The White House Tribal Nations Summit on Tuesday, Nov. 16, the first convening of tribal leaders since the Obama Administration in 2016.
Chief Cook took part in an administration listening session with senior government officials on tribal priorities and concerns, which touched upon underfunded tribal healthcare and historical trauma.“Our issues are not dissimilar from our relatives across Indian Country,” shared Chief Cook during her opening remarks that included nine (9) invited tribal leaders from across the United States.
“Our reservation is directly adjacent to a superfund site as a result of the actions of [the] General Motors Power Train Factory that closed down, filed bankruptcy, left the area, and also left land saturated with PCBs that leach into the Saint Lawrence River.”
Chief Cook has been an integral part of efforts by the Tribal Council over the years to seek environmental justice for the Akwesasne community, which entailed advocating for the complete removal of all contaminated materials due to the impact it has on public health.
Tribal Council continues to argue that the EPA’s remediation of the superfund site is not satisfactory, as it leaves toxic sediment on-site and adjacent to a residential area of Akwesasne.
Speaking before U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), Bureau of Indian Affairs Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland, Office of Management and Budget General Counsel Sam Bagenstos, and White House Special Assistant to the President Libby Washburn; Chief Cook shared, “Cases of cancer, respiratory and metabolic diseases, such as hypo thyroid, diabetes and disruption of reproductive cycles of our women are commonplace these days. It’s extremely concerning when we have a grossly underfunded Indian Health Service to rely on.”
Environmental contamination and an increased rate of disease and illness, decreased land base as a result of the wrongful taking of ancestral lands, and children torn from families and shipped to residential schools are some of the factors that contribute to “historical trauma” continuing to be experienced by Akwesasne residents. Efforts to address these generational events and strengthen cultural connections, language, and family relationships are a tribal priority however, the pool of available federal funding to support these tribal initiatives is limited.
Reflecting on traumatic events, Chief Cook stated before the panel, “That’s also why when we are forced to compete with other Tribes for funds to aid us in building programs for substance abuse and mental health services that are a result of the historical and generational trauma that our relatives suffered, we feel abused or at the very least not understood.”
Noting Akwesasne’s best efforts over the years to establish and support community programs and organizations, Chief Cook emphasized there are still steps that must be taken to help bolster the Nation-to-Nation relationship under the Biden Administration, such as access to increased funding and investments in tribal communities.
“The wrongs must be made right in an act of reparation and further relationship building. The funds the tribes spend trying to convince Congress to fulfill their treaty obligations takes away from the very ones we advocate for,” concluded Chief Cook on Tuesday’s listening session.
To view and watch The White House Tribal Nations Summit that included Chief Beverly Cook’s remarks, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61gU9HQP_0Y