In the face of environmental devastation Mohawks have battled to preserve who they are, confronting state and federal governments and the scientific industrial complex to maintain their homeland
"This is God's country here," an Akwesasne Mohawk woman explained to me as we sat at her kitchen table over cups of coffee.
She stared past me out her kitchen window that overlooks the St. Lawrence River, and the General Motors Central Foundry. She had just been describing how she stood in her front yard and watched men in "moon suits" work to clean up the industrial site a few years prior.
Akwesasne is a Mohawk community that straddles the borders of New York, Ontario and Quebec. The portion south the United States/Canadian border is known as the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.
The portion north of the border is known as the Akwesasne Mohawk Reserve. The entire community, currently about 13,000 people spanning across 25,712 acres, is called Akwesasne, "land where the partridge drums."
Sitting at the confluence of the St. Lawrence, St. Regis, Raquette, Grasse, and Salmon Rivers, the community has relied for generations on the abundance of fish and wildlife and the rich alluvial soils.
Akwesasne is downwind, down river, and down gradient from one federal and two state Superfund sites, one of which, General Motors (GM) was placed on the National Priorities List.
"They'd come in here in their space suits and take your water, a sample of it. If that's not alarming, then I don't know what is."
She described how "we used to play in that dump. We used to go play in it. We would just scavenge in the junk and go sort through it, pick aluminum and stuff like that, play with paint."
She reduced the family's fish consumption after the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal government issued advisories against eating locally caught fish, and after her husband started noticing changes in the fish. But she was not sure these changes came in time to protect their health.
She had always wanted a big family, but several miscarriages (which she connected to exposure to the contamination) made that impossible.
Even so, when I asked her if she ever considered moving, she said no.
As a resident of the Raquette Point region of the St. Regis Mohawk reservation, she had the dubious honor of both living on a beautiful waterfront property, and having a front row seat to observe a Superfund cleanup.