Tsiorasa Barreiro ’00, an Akwesasne native and executive director for tribal operations of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in Akwesasne, Franklin County, was recognized as a community leader and presented with the Cornell New York State Hometown Alumni Award Oct. 27.
The ceremony drew on historical connections between Cornell University and Native Americans in New York state as Barreiro’s extended family community gathered together. Barreiro’s many connections demonstrated how the tribe’s “full circle” concept aligns with the qualities the award celebrates: that students bring their educational experiences, skills and abilities with them as they return home to benefit their communities.
The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe operates community programs in education, health services, the environment, economic development and human services. All division directors report to Barreiro. The tribe has about 15,000 members, nearly 10,000 of whom live within the 21-square-mile territory that sits on the border of Canada and the United States along the St. Lawrence River. Dozens of Akwesasne students have attended Cornell over the decades.
Barreiro, who earned his bachelor’s degree in communication from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, minored in Native American studies and was president of Native American Students at Cornell.
After graduation, Barreiro worked for Cornell’s American Indian Program and served as the residence hall director of Akwe:kon on North Campus. He became vice president of the fifth-largest Native American-owned company in the U.S., Ongweoweh Corp. in Ithaca, before moving north to Akwesasne about five years ago.
Joel Malina, Cornell vice president for university relations, noted at the ceremony that Barreiro told him Cornell “exposed him to new ideas and cultivated a simultaneous appreciation for the immensity and interconnectedness of our world.”
At Akwesasne, Barreiro, who comes from a long line of tribal leaders, is active as a youth sports coach and mentor. As executive director, he has been instrumental in helping plan and complete projects and venues for the community, from new buildings and sidewalks to park expansions and venues for programming to help children and teens make positive life choices.
Barreiro “is exactly the person we seek to honor with our Hometown Alumni Award,” Malina said.
Barreiro was joined by his wife, Randi Rourke Barreiro, and their children, Kanatires, Tehokwirathe and Karakwatiron. Also joining Barreiro were his parents, Katsi Cook and Jose Barreiro. Malina noted that Cook is a Mohawk midwife who studied at Cornell and was instrumental in a major study in the 1980s on the effects of PCBs on Mohawk children; Jose Barreiro served as associate director and editor in chief of Cornell’s Akwe:kon Press and the journal Native Americas at Cornell from 1984 to 2002.
Tribal chiefs Eric Thompson, Beverly Cook and Mike Conners described Tsiorasa Barreiro’s dedication to his community and the impact he has had on the tribe for the past five years. Cook noted “how he works with his team and how he creates forward momentum by the sensitivity that’s in his heart and the gentleness of his mind.”
“The people I love most are here in this room,” Barreiro said, “and that really means a lot.” The award from Cornell is an honor, he noted. “Cornell has played a large role in my life and my family’s life. It’s not just four years at school; it’s our family experience – moving to Ithaca and experiencing everything we did there.”
From ages 9 to 15, Barreiro grew up in Ithaca, immersed in the Native American community at Cornell through his parents. “It was really great to see these pioneering projects and the engagement with the communities take place, and that’s something I hope we always continue at Cornell, because of that relationship with our Indian communities in New York state,” he said.
Barreiro described Cornell’s long history supporting American Indian and indigenous studies, from the Indian Extension Program in the 1920s to the modernization of the program in the 1970s, the establishment of the Akwe:kon program house in the 1990s, to the trust Cornell has built and sustained with the Haudenosaunee (Iroquios Confederacy) communities and in New York state today.
“I often say that here at home we do the best we can with what we have,” Barreiro said. “And that’s whether it’s our budget, our human resources or our heartfelt feelings for one another. And part of what we have is a special relationship with Cornell University.
“And that helps us to create better outcomes, and better conditions, for our people. So we’re going to continue to draw upon that relationship – whether it’s Cornell Cooperative Extension, the [American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program] itself, the Akwe:kon House – as we move forward.”
As part of the award, Cornell will donate $500 to the Akwesasne Boys and Girls Club, where the celebration was held, and $500 to the Akwesasne Freedom School, in Barreiro’s name.
The Cornell University New York State Hometown Alumni Award recognizes Cornell graduates who return to their home counties or regions to start or enhance a business or nonprofit, and who regularly volunteer and are making an impact in those communities.