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Reservation Feud Over Gambling Turns Deadly

May 2, 1990 GMT

ST. REGIS INDIAN RESERVATION, N.Y. (AP) _ Gunfire killed two Mohawk Indians on Tuesday and police later closed off the reservation, torn by a 9-month-old dispute over casino gambling.

Troopers escorted investigators of the Quebec Provincial Force through the New York section of the reservation Tuesday night to reach the scene of the shootings, which occurred early Tuesday. State police said they were entering the reservation as a peacekeeping force.

The first victim, Matthew Pyke, 22, was shot while he was walking in the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation, in Snye, Quebec, during gun battle between rival factions.

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A second body was discovered Tuesday afternoon by Joe Gray, regional editor for the Daily Courier-Observer in Massena. Gray said he saw a man lying face- up a short distance from where Pyke was killed.

″I walked past this tree and saw a guy laying next to his house. He didn’t respond,″ Gray said. ″When I walked back, he hadn’t moved. I yelled to him several times and he didn’t move.″

The man was later identified by the Malone Evening Telegram as J.R. Edwards, a member of the Warrior Society, a faction that has appointed itself the protector of Mohawk sovereignty.

Pierre Lemarbre, a constable with the Quebec police, said he was a Mohawk in his 30s.

Gov. Mario Cuomo ordered state police to assist Quebec authorities in the investigation. State Police Supt. Thomas Constantine recommended that no forces other than state police be sent onto the reservation.

Troopers sealed off the reservation at approximately 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. Roadblocks were set up on all roads leading onto Indian land and even residents were not being allowed to pass.

″The troopers told us we couldn’t get in,″ said Tisha Jacobs. She and her family were waiting at a service station outside the reservation.

Anti-gamblers blamed the reservation’s self-appointed security force for the first slaying and also pointed a finger of responsibility at Cuomo, who they said has let the situation get out of control.

Pyke died at Alice Hyde Hospital in Malone after emergency surgery, said Joyce Conto, an emergency room staffer. He was shot, possibly twice, in the lower left part of his back, she said.

Joe Lazore, who accompanied Pyke to the hospital, said he was walking alongside Pyke when the shooting occurred. Lazore said the shots came from a wooded area on the American side of the reservation near the Salmon River.

The reservation, called Akwesasne by the Mohawks and some Canadians, occupies adjoining sections of New York state, Quebec and Ontario.

The shooting was being investigated by the Quebec Provincial Police, along with the Akwesasne Police Force and the New York State Police, said Constable Michel Martin.

″We don’t have much information yet. We haven’t even determined where the shots came from,″ Martin said.

Pyke and several others were helping families leave the Snye area following a ″barrage″ of shooting between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m., said Barbara Barnes, a spokeswoman for the anti-gambling faction.

There also was shooting at St. Regis, a community on the Canadian side of the reservation, and shots were fired at a refugee center on Cornwall Island, in the St. Lawrence River, where as many as 2,000 Mohawks are staying since fleeing their homes Friday after a week of nightly violence, she said.

Barnes said Pyke was opposed to the casinos and the presence of the Warrior Society, a heavily armed faction that has appointed itself the protector of Mohawk sovereignty.

″The people are in shock and they are angry, but not just with the Warriors. They are angry with Governor Cuomo. This could have been avoided. For a governor who says he stands by law and order, I can’t believe he’s let it come to this point at Akwesasne,″ Barnes said.

The Warriors denied responsibility for the death.

″The Warriors were not involved in the shooting,″ said Minnie Garrow, who was answering calls at the group’s headquarters. ″We feel badly about the loss of life.″

The gambling issue - whether casinos and bingo halls should be allowed on the reservation - has been at the center of escalating violence since last summer, when an FBI-led gambling raid triggered a 12-day standoff between the Warriors and state police.

The dispute also involves whether the reservation should be run by traditional or elected leaders and whether state and federal laws can be enforced on Mohawk land.

Sporadic shootings and violence were reported throughout the fall and winter, but tensions began to mount in March when gambling opponents blockaded roads leading to the reservation to keep outsiders away from the high-stakes casinos.

The anti-gamblers promised to maintain the roadblocks until tribal leaders addressed the reservation’s problems, but last week pro-gamblers tore down the blockades in a hailstorm of gunfire.

The first injuries came Thursday when Brian Cole, one of the barricade leaders, was badly beaten and suffered a fractured skull. He is still in an Ottawa hospital.

On Monday, the governor agreed to assign one of his top aides to help negotiate a resolution, provided the violence stopped and the casinos closed for now.

In Ottawa, Canadian Indian Affairs Minister Tom Siddon chastised Cuomo’s response to the escalating violence.

″It is our desire to see the state of New York co-operate and assist in dealing with the element (pro-gambling forces) on the New York state side that appears to be provoking this incident,″ Siddon said Tuesday in the Commons.

″And to this point we’re not satisfied the state of New York is responding adequately,″ he said.