School District to negotiate special education services contract with the St. Regis Tribe.

The Massena Central School District recently announced that the district has been authorized to retain legal counsel to renegotiate an agreement between the district and the neighboring federallyrecognized St. Regis Tribe, pertaining to special education service provision for Native American students.

The efforts by both the Massena Central and Salmon River Central school districts to coordinate actions related to tribal contracts comes amidst a period of renewed communications between the executive branches of New York State government and the elected St. Regis Tribal Council.

Land claim settlements in a three-decade old lawsuit enjoining the St. Regis Tribal Council, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the Mohawk Nation against New York State may alter the landscape of both school districts, particularly with the Salmon River district, which has the highest Native American enrollment proportionately of any throughout New York State.

Previous members of the St. Regis Tribal Council have speculated that the Salmon River district could become the Akwesasne School District if the land it is located on were to be turned back over to Onkwehon:we control. The Salmon River district is also the most highly subsidized school district in New York State, by state taxpayers.

It is unclear what the costs to tribally operate the school district would be. The Massena Central School District might also be affected by a land claims settlement, due to a proposed tribal land swap with the Town of Brasher to relieve the Town of Massena from land claim impact, which originally derives from provisions of the 1796 Treaty between the United States and the Seven Nations of Canada, providing for a one mile square tract in Massena, as well as access to the Grasse River there.

Earlier in 2013, based in part on the journalism of native activists Matt Hill and John Kane, it was revealed that both school districts were owed significant amounts of tuition reimbursement for service provision to Akwesasne residents, by New York State.

According to published reports, Massena Central was owed $800,000 and Salmon River was owed $3.4 million. Massena Central was originally owed $1.68 million in tuition costs, extending back to the 2011-2012 school years. Salmon River costs go back even further to the 2010-2011 school years. Over 200 students from Akwesasne attend the Massena Central schools, while over 500 students from Akwesasne attend the Salmon River district.

One of the factors affecting the state reimbursement to the school districts is due to the timing of the annual renewal of the contracts between tribal governments and the school districts. The original Salmon River agreement with the tribe expired in 2010 and was just renewed in 2013, by Attorney Ahearn.

A litany of controversies involving the two school districts and the Akwesasne-based student bodies mark that recent relationship.

The Salmon River district  objected to the daily reading of theThanksgiving Address by Onkwehon:we on the school intercom system which led to a lawsuit, while Massena Central has cut back on Native American staffing levels to assist in the special education service provision.

Massena Central also at one time used a generic native mascot as the sporting team moniker, eventually changing the official image of the Massena Red Raiders to one without a native symbol associated with their sports teams.

One reason cited by some Onkwehon:we to attend Massena Central over Salmon River is the presence of football as a varsity sport at Massena.

Salmon River is well known as a state hockey team power player. Some Akwesasne residents have expressed optimism that a varsity football program will be restored to the Salmon River district if and when the tribe assumes control of the district. “What a team that would be,” mused one longtime regional high school sports follower on that possibility, noting that Massena Central may lose out the most in that outcome.

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