Effects of polychlorinated biphenyls (pcbs) on the environment and the cultural integrity of the st. regis mohawk tribe in the mohawk nation of akwesasne

Kim McRae
Natural Resources, The University of Vermont and State Agricultural College
June, 2016


The following research project examines the effects of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the environment and the cultural integrity of the St. Regis Mohawk tribe in the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne. This indigenous community has been subjected to widespread long-term industrial pollution from nearby toxic hazardous waste facilities and Superfund sites. The Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne has the distinction of being the only tribe whose officially recognized territory straddles the border between the United States and Canada. Using qualitative methodologies, coupled with an interdisciplinary framework, this study successfully engages with Akwesasne community members to explore such issues as bottom-up approaches to addressing complex environmental issues, by gaining a comprehensive understanding of organizational structures and tribal governance networks. This study also identifies a clear parallel between the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne's struggles and history of environmental justice efforts in the U.S. by articulating the effects of environmental degradation on their cultural integrity, in addition to surfacing themes of resistance and resilience in the community as building blocks for future action. The research project focuses on the place of the community's voice in the transnational public policy response to PCB contamination in the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne. Three case studies were conducted in environmental organizations on the Mohawk Nation territory: the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Environment Division, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, and the Akwesasne Task Force on the Environment. These environmental organizations have been working to protect the environment for approximately three decades. A case study analysis relies on data collected from interviews with staff members to determine how they organized themselves to address the environmental and social disruption caused by exposure to harmful chemical pollutants. Strong parallels can be drawn as a result of an analysis of environmental justice literature, since native communities have not, traditionally, been included in the scholarly academic literature on the Environmental Justice Movement in the United States. In addition to information gathered from institutional policy actors and related stakeholders, in-depth interviews with community members revealed a community framework for future policy development and action. Finally, the research focuses on how those community voices articulate the impacts of PCB contamination on the natural resources in the area, and as a result, on the ability of the St. Regis Mohawk tribe to maintain their culture, heritage, ceremonies, and traditional way of life.