A comprehensive framework for risk analysis for indigenous Mohawks practicing traditional beliefs CALS Impact Statement uri icon


  • Abstract

    A new approach is taken to correct the adverse impact of conventional risk assessment of dietary pollutants on traditional Mohawks.


    Akwesasne, the Mohawk Indian Reservation lying across the Canadian border in New York (Franklin and St. Lawrence Counties), Ontario and Quebec, is downstream, down-wind and down-gradient from a set of major Superfund sites heavily contaminated with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls and related compounds). Conventional risk assessments (based heavily on computerized modeling and assessment practices developed in earlier research) have been applied by the US Environmental Protection Agency and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. These proscribe fish consumption, which is a critical part of the traditional diet of the Mohawks, but don't compel cleanup to limits which will permit the restoration of a traditional sustainable lifestyle. More importantly to the Mohawks, this disrupts the circle of "Thanksgiving" implicit in their relationship to their environment and its resources. This disruption further complicates health issues (diabetes, cardiovascular), for which the diet heavy in salmon and other fish of the St. Lawrence, Grasse, and Raquette Rivers was protective.


    A new comprehensive framework has been developed to take several factors into account when developing risk management guidance and communications. This treats the impacts initiated by the advisories as part of a risk cascade, similar to the ripples in a pond or cascades in a stream. The advisory itself becomes a vehicle bearing adversity that is more of a sacrilege than a toxin. Thus, rather than exclude risk management from the assessment process, this new framework brings the Circle of Life and Thanksgiving into the assessment itself. Because many tribal governments of indigenous peoples in both the U.S. and Canada are constantly faced with these types of choices, this concept has found great appeal to both political officials and environmental professionals in these communities. As a consequence, both legal and technological efforts are being created to apply this new framework to the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes Basins. The implications for larger projects, such as the Hudson River sediment excavation, remain to be realized.


    At this stage, the new framework is just being discussed among decision makers and their technical staffs, and programs will be presented in several venues over the next few months. Because this is changing a paradigm which was developed in 1982 and thoroughly ensconced in administrative law and practice, it may be some time before supporting data and analyses concerning the adverse impacts of health effects advisories and alternatives can be developed and be found acceptable to all parties. Most important to the native peoples, however, is the prospect that critically important issues in their lives will be addressed by this new approach. There are many communities among the Native Americans and First People in the U.S. and Canada, reflecting diverse religious and secular origins and values. Now, their beliefs may be even more heuristic in dealing with these issues.

    Funding Sources

    • Academic Programs Instructional Support (e.g., Institutional Challenge, Multicultural Scholars, Nat'l Needs, Hispanic Ed)
    • SUNY Minority Fellowship


    • St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, Environment Division

    Key Personnel

    • Anthony David, Program Manager, Water Quality SRMT, Environment Division