Saturday, October 1, 2011

Cover-up? ‘or’ You can’t bury the truth.

The indigenous populations of North America have been poisoned, scalped, forced on death marches (Trail of Tears), systematically murdered (genocide) and driven off their land. The land they were given tin return typically was not prime pieces of territory. Out west they received land that was barely farmable and needed government subsidies to survive. Some of the tribes in the east however were able to retain parts of their ancestral homeland. Even in these places, over time, they had their territory altered when land was taken by eminent domain and poisoned by the surrounding industries. This is exactly what happened at Akwesasne (St. Regis Mohawk Reservation). In the 1950s the St. Lawrence Seaway came though northern New York. A large amount of the land was covered over by flooding when they constructed the hydroelectric dam and the locks. Some of the best pieces of their territory are now under water. Upstream from them ALCOA, Reynolds Aluminum, and General Motors polluted the land and the St. Lawrence River. In fact at one point liquid aluminum was trucked in open trailers from Reynolds to the GM plant for manufacturing. After it was demonstrated there were environmental problems from the old sites the federal government and the state came in and tried to cover it up legally and literally. Here’s the story of one Mohawk trying to fight back and save his family and his land from industrial waste.

On August 12, 2011 a news article in the Massena, NY Daily Courier-Observer entitled “Toxic Soil Removal Attempt Ends In Arrest At GM Site” (by Brian Hayden) and talked about Larry Thompson of the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.

Here’s the article: MASSENA — A Mohawk man long frustrated with the cleanup efforts at the General Motors-Powertrain site decided to take matters into his own hands on Thursday. Larry Thompson, who goes by the Native American name of Kanietakeron, attempted to remove contaminated soils on the GM site by digging into a 12-acre capped landfill area with an excavator on Thursday morning. For a period of over two hours, he dumped the contents of the landfill in a nearby spot.His wife, Dana Leigh Thompson, said the plan was for backhoes to take the contents from the landfill and then transport them to rail cars, which would cart the waste to a secure location. A group of fellow Mohawks looked on, and by 11 a.m., about one dozen state troopers were also on the scene. Mr. Thompson didn't get to finish his job. By 1 p.m., state police had arrested him. He was charged with two felony counts of second-degree criminal mischief for damage in excess of $1,500, as well as misdemeanor counts of second- degree reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. He was arraigned by Massena Town Justice Gerald P. Sharlow and remanded to the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility on $100,000 cash bail or $200,000 bond.

The fact is Larry Thompson had every right to be concerned over the capped landfill containing hazardous waste. An excerpt from “Clash of Cultures: Uprising At Akwesasne” pages 94-96 explains the environmental impact that hadn’t really changed since 1989. (excerpt)

After the industrial development of the area, the Mohawks noticed that their crops and livestock seemed diseased. They found cattle and crops dead and the health of the residents of the island impaired. Upon investigation it was found that the crops and animals were poisoned by fluoride. The Reynolds Metals Company (Reynolds), Aluminum Company Of America (Alcoa), and General Motors Corporation, Powertrain Division Massena (GMPT), industrial plants seemed to be polluting the Canadian islands downwind and downstream. In 1978, two US doctors conducted a study investigating the emissions from the Reynolds plant and the downwind consequences of the two smelters. They found that in nineteen years after the smelters opened in1959, twenty-five million pounds of fluoride had drifted over and settled on Cornwall Island and other areas of the reservation.[1] They found the children “were showing the brittle and stained teeth characteristic of excessive fluoride exposure.”[2] By April 1981, “Judge Howard G. Munson of the Northern New York District Court ruled that the band has a case against Reynolds, and Alcoa and ordered that the matter go to trial.”[3] Although the aluminum companies used legal tactics to delay the action, the Mohawks were given the ‘go-ahead’ by the court to sue for $50 million.[4]

On October 30, 1980, Health Minister Monique Begin announced a $1,600,000 study on the affects of the pollution on the health of the Mohawks at Akwesasne. The study investigated the “presence of such contaminants as mercury mirex, PCBs, and fluoride, on the health of the reserve residents.”[5] In 1985, a wildlife pathologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Dr. Ward Stone, tested the animal life. Capturing animals within three hundred yards of the GM dump, he dissected them and found that there was 875 parts per million[6] of PCBs and insecticides such as Dieldrin in the turtles.[7] Jay Palter, spokesman for Greenpeace Toronto, stated that a chlorine plant upstream, on the Canadian side of the border, was allegedly discharging mercury into the St. Lawrence River. “‘Fish taken from those waters,’ Palter said, ‘have been found with one part per million of mercury in their flesh, twice the limit for human consumption set by the province of Ontario.’”[8]

Since 1983, both the US and Canadian governments have tried unsuccessfully to respond to the pollution found at Akwesasne. Their attempts have been more bluster than actual solution. By 1985, the tribe was $2.5 million in debt from fighting Reynolds over fluoride contamination.[9] Reynolds paid $650,000 in damages to the tribe and cut emissions by seventy-five percent.[10] The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did attempted to help and raised the tribe’s funding 250 percent a year for air and water quality improvement programs. However, that meant they still only received $120,000.[11] In June 1989, the Mohawk tribe filed intent to sue the Alcoa, Reynolds, and GMPT for damaging the Raquette, St. Lawrence, and Grasse river systems.[12] By the end of 1989, nothing had changed for the Mohawks. They were confronted with the pollution and found no real answers or solutions. The Mohawks were losing out on their sovereignty with their land taken once more, this time ecologically.

The Press-Republican police log (Plattsburgh, NY) on August 13, 2011 had a little mention about a felony arrest at Akwesasne

AKWESASNE-A Rooseveltown man was arrested Thursday for allegedly using a backhoe to dig up a capped, contaminated landfill at the former General Motors plant in Massena. Larry Thompson, 56, was charged with two counts of second-degree criminal mischief and one count each of second-degree reckless endangerment, third-degree criminal trespassing and resisting arrest, said Massena-based State Police. He was arraigned in Town of Massena Court and taken to St. Lawrence County Jail. By Staff Writers Andrea Van Valkenburg and Denise Raymo

A few days later on August 15, Charles Kader, a Mohawk from the Turtle Clan, sent me a transcript of the hearing and told me I could publish it here. Here is the transcript as received, what do you think? Transcript:

Larry Thompson Hearing Over EPA Superfund Site Dig as recorded by Charles Kader.

The Town of Massena Court Room was the scene of Larry Thompson’s hearing following his arrest on Friday August 12, 2011. Town Justice Gerald P. Sharlow presided over the hearing, which was scheduled to begin at 1:00 PM but did not commence until 1:52PM.

Mr. Thompson was brought into the courtroom to cheers from a packed section of onlookers and supporters before he went into a conference room with his defense team.

A bearded elderly Caucasian male with a sign that read “PCBS ARE POISONS” repeatedly told assembled law enforcement officers in the hallway outside the hearing that they had arrested the wrong person and that they should be going after General Motors and the United States Government. The man was eventually allowed into the hearing after he put down his sign.

The public defender, Allison Appleby, requested that the defendant be allowed to offer an opening statement. The prosecutor, James Monroe, objected. The justice relented. Mr. Thompson stated his original name of Kanietakeron to the court to be his true name and that he asserted himself to be of the ancient ways. The defendant invoked the Great Law of Peace (Kaianerehkowa) as his constitution and that he followed no other document calling itself that. Mr. Thompson stated that he was duty-bound to honor the way he observes life. Mr. Thompson stated that the roughly 500 years that his people were affected by Europeans arrival on his people’s lands brought him to this day, and it would take 1-2 hours of education just to assist the Town Justice to see what was going on, this day. Instead, the defendant offered a nutshell version. Mr. Thompson grew up nearby the GM Plant site. The defendant stated that this was about the small people versus the corporation. The system is only reading from the letter A to the letter M, and not looking at the whole alphabet, A to Z, according to Mr. Thompson. Mr. Thompson stated that this leeching mound at the EPA Superfund Site had taught him about how an entire people get treated and he did not look forward to talking about his poor health, his sick family, and his dying friends. Thompson stated that he did not want to do what he had been involved in and that it was a deliberate protest, one that made him make a choice of what he could do personally.

The prosecutor, Mr. Monroe, called witness one, NY State Trooper BCI Andrew Gayeskie. The investigator recounted his involvement in the activities of Friday August 12, 2011. Gayeskie described seeing a man who had chained himself to the back-hoe steering wheel assembly and a man who would not stop digging at the mound of dirt. Mr. Gayeskie described Mr. Thompson dumping a pile of dirt in front of six NY State Troopers, before a bigger earth mover was summoned to attempt to block Mr. Thompson onto the former GM Site, but Mr. Thompson eluded the effort and retreated to an area below and outside the GM fenced property. It is alleged by Investigator Gayeskie that Mr. Thompson breached a gated section of the fence to gain initial entry.

The defense attorney questioned the investigator on the sequence of events. The investigator stated that Mr. Thompson informed him that he would not go into arrest easily. Gayeskie did make the arrest.

The prosecutor called David Graham, the Racer Trust site representative as a witness. Mr. Graham recounted his actions on that Friday morning. The Racer Trust employee started by retelling his publicized statements that suspicious vehicles were surrounding the old GM Site before he became aware of the unauthorized digging taking place in the rear of the contaminated property. The Racer Trust representative then described a 50 x 50 opening on the EPA Superfund Site mound that Mr. Thompson began enlarging as Graham watched.

The defense attorney, Ms. Appleby, then questioned Mr. Graham. Graham verified that he had not personally checked the lock on the gate that Mr. Thompson is alleged to have driven through, but that others working for him routinely did. Mr. Graham admitted that it was Brandenburg Contractors who drove the larger earth moving equipment which had been summoned to block in Mr. Thompson. Mr. Graham also admitted that he did not agree that two feet of topsoil was present in the area of the EPA Mound that Mr. Thompson began to operate his back hoe at, but it was actually a lesser amount.

The prosecutor called Daniel Casey, a construction manager with Arcadis, a contractor on the former GM Site for over twenty years. Mr. Casey submitted a cost impact report to the Town Hall court detailing the damages that Mr. Thompson is alleged to have caused during his actions on August 12, 2011.

Defense Attorney objected to Exhibit A being submitted to the court in this abrupt manner. Mr. Casey stated that he finished the report over the weekend, since the event took place. Casey detailed his ensuing conversations with Harris Environmental Controls, the EPA, New York Department of Conservation, New York State Troopers, as well as the Transportation Security Administration, the US Border Patrol and the Immigration, Customs Enforcement agencies.

The defense attorney objected again, stating that the report was based on hearsay and was lacking conclusivity, including actual estimated costs to repair the alleged damage that was incurred by the defendant. Mr. Casey detailed that the Brandenburg Contractor cleaned out its rail car that Mr. Thompson had been loading the dirt into for disposal. Mr. Casey admitted to the defense attorney that the gate had been bent back into shape and was still standing, using improvised materials.

Mr. Casey, the last witness, was excused and the defense attorney Ms. Appleby then objected to the inconsistency in testimony among all of the witnesses that were called, on the following points: the fence line still being intact at the present time despite contrary claims, the cost impact report veracity including fence replacement cost, and top soil cost. The fence may have been the scene of an accident but that was not a crime, according to the defense attorney, and that Mr. Thompson was a person of the land, and not likely to commit a crime against the land as has been described.

The issue of bail was raised for its excessive amount by the defense attorney and Mr. Thompson’s ties to the community were recounted as surety for a reduction action in the stated amounts from the day of the incident.

Mr. Thompson was given permission to present a closing statement on his own behalf, which he requested. The defendant stated that the land must always be considered, as the women are the titleholders of the land. The damages that he was involved with were minimal in connection with how much damage has already been done to this specific piece of land, according to Mr. Thompson. The people living here are dying a slow and painful death, Thompson stated, with the exposure still going on. Mr. Thompson described commonly going onto the site when he was younger with others, retrieving loose lumber and pallets lying around, with no fence in place, picking stuff off the ground, who left it there? The defendant disclosed the medical ailment of his nephew, and who was the bigger criminal, Larry Thompson or the corporation that made this incident take place? Thompson described the giving of small-pox infected blankets to Indians in the past, and now we are all affected by the molecules that this leeching mound is giving off each day.

Mr. Thompson continued that he has proven that this is Indian Land in the past and that he will do it again in this instance, it is not New York State. GM must be called onto the carpet for their actions; this sacrifice is something that we hoped that we would never have to do, according to the defendant. I am not the criminal, Larry Thompson stated. Look at the bigger picture, EPA can only do so much, according to Mr. Thompson. I did not wish to be stripped of my health, stated the defendant. What is it to be healthy, Thompson mused? There is such a pain in me; I was never able to run; now I cannot even walk, stated the defendant. My sister had her kidney removed last week, Thompson related. When I talked to Anne Kelly about this, years ago, before she was promoted to her present management position, she told me that this cap on the mound would continue to allow leeching, and that it was not a solution, that the air was bad, she knows this, Mr. Thompson stated.

Mr. Thompson continued in his statement, the United States bails out GM and GM has made billions, they are back on top, because of bankruptcy laws. New York has failed, according to Thompson. No license was ever issued or the process monitored, Thompson stated. The people have no recourse, Larry Thompson asserted. We are married to the land, and it brings to your attention the wrongs that have been committed, Thompson claimed. I do not blame the expatriated Indians who the United States holds authority over, I have never made an agreement or entered into a contract under duress, Thompson assured the court. I am still sovereign, and in all honesty, I have documents to prove this, Thompson stated. The defendant stated he is not involved in any social security system, no covenants, and no treaties. Only an agreement to share the land involves me, Thompson stated. The church and state had to get rid of the Indians, according to Thompson. A toxic bomb was placed there to accomplish this, Thompson asserted. Reynolds, Alcoa and General Motors are all guilty, Thompson stated.

Attention must be placed on General Motors for what they did to the entire North Country, Mr. Thompson stated. Do this clean up right, the defendant maintained in his statement. Remove it and get it out of here, Thompson insisted. It is unacceptable, according to the defendant. We will all sleep easier at night if this was done, Thompson asserted

A license to kill our people is what has taken place, Thompson continued. The people were starved and then told they could get food if they stayed in one place, according to Larry Thompson. The blankets were then given out when the people had nothing to make sure they stayed on the reservation, Thompson recounted. The United States acted in bad faith and fraud. This can still be brought up, how we became sacrificial lambs, Mr. Thompson maintained.

People are the power in our way, according to Mr. Thompson. Everyone thinks civilized Indians are the ones who follow another constitution. Thompson related. There were people who were left out of the United States Constitution, the defendant asserted. Why would the United States take the people’s power out of the US Constitution, Mr. Thompson wondered? I believe in the real constitution that has the mind and heart working together, Thompson maintained. I did not do this for myself but for all of the people out there, the defendant stated at the end of his statement. (END OF STATEMENT)

Justice Sharlow stated that this was a Municipal Court and that the phase for a trial hearing would find the Thompson statements more pertinent.

Justice Sharlow stated that the case would be presented to a grand jury. (Local research indicates that it may take up to six months for a grand jury to be called to return an indictment.) No date has been scheduled for the next step in the process, according to Sharlow’s closing remarks.

Justice Sharlow indicated that he was aware that Mr. Thompson has strong ties to the community and that as long as he promises to keep off the GM land and refrain from further criminal activity; his bail will be reduced to $5000 cash and $10000 bond.

Prosecutor James Monroe objected, stating that although an eloquent statement was exhibited, that $62,000 in submitted damages was noted by site engineers, that Mr. Thompson does not recognize this court or this jurisdiction, and the proximity of his home to Canada as all reasons to uphold the high bail amount.

The court hearing ended at 2:55 PM and court onlookers erupted in whoops and cheers as Larry Thompson was led away back to St. Lawrence County Jail in Canton, New York 30 miles away. His brother, Loran Thompson, spoke to reporters before following Larry to Canton to bail him out afterwards.

On August 12, 2011 a news article in the Massena, NY Daily Courier-Observer entitled “GM landfill investigation continues” (by Brian Hayden) spoke of the continuing investigation into the permanent cap over the site. Hayden in his article writes:

Massena-Local officials are still seeking answers as to why the federal government decided to permanently cap a 12-arce landfill at the General Motors Powertrain site. Last month, St. Lawrence County Legislator Anthony J. Arquiett, chairman of the North Country Redevelopment Task Force, launched a formal inquiry into the history behind the Environmental Protection Agency’s 1992 decision. That inquiry followed Larry V. Thompson’s illegal excavation of a portion of the landfill Aug. 11.

As of now Larry Thompson is still charged with two felony counts of second-degree criminal mischief and misdemeanor charges of second-degree reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. At this point the state and federal government is denying Thompson’s claims and maintains there is no leakage from the capped site. What do you think? Was Mr. Thompson justified in doing firsthand investigation of the site to protect his family? Do you think the state and federal government are trying to cover something up?

Back in the 1970s there was a little place outside Buffalo called Love Canal. It was a small housing project that had been built on an old Hooker Chemical waste site. Many died and many contracted various illnesses and cancers. At the time they said the site was OK too. But it wasn’t. What is your opinion? Comment below.

[1] Yves Lavigne, "US Court Upholds Indian Band's Right to Sue Metals Firms," The Globe and Mail, April 17, 1981.

[3] Lavigne, "US Court Upholds Indian Band's.”

[4] Ibid.

[5] CP, "Ottawa Backs Study of St. Regis Band," The Globe and Mail, October 31, 1980.

[6] . . . 3 parts per million of PCBs in poultry is considered unfit for human consumption; 50 parts per million in soil is hazardous waste. . .” Barth. "A Land Lost, a People in Agony."

[7] Ibid.

[8] Janis Barth, "Greenpeace Plan St. Lawrence Pollution Protest," The Post-Standard, May 13, 1988, B3.

[9] Barth, "A Land Lost, a People in Agony."

[10] Ibid.

[11] Barbara Stith, "St. Regis Mohawks Find Environment a Unifying Issue," The Post-Standard, February 25, 1990.

[12] CP, "Mohawk Tribe, NY State Suing Three Us Firms over Pollution," The Toronto Star, June 1, 1989.