Mohawks defend sovereignty at Akwesasne
Published Jun 14, 2009 9:12 PM
The Mohawks of Akwesasne are defending the sovereignty of their territory by
protesting a Canadian government plan to arm border guards at Akwesasne with
guns as of June 1. On June 8 Mohawks at Tyendinaga in eastern Ontario blockaded
the Skyway Bridge to show their solidarity with Akwesasne.
Canadian border agents walked off the job on June 1, and the Canadian Borders
Services Agency preemptively shut down the Cornwall Island border crossing
after the Akwesasne Mohawk leadership said it would not allow armed border
guards on their territory.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, who has refused to consult with
the Mohawks, has said the border crossing would not reopen until the Mohawks
accepted armed guards at the post. The Canadian government plans to have all
Canadian customs officers carry guns by 2016, and implementation of this
program has already begun.
Although initially Mohawk residents of Akwesasne were prevented from crossing
the bridge to get from one side to the other of their own reserve, the crossing
was reopened to Mohawks in June. The Mohawks are maintaining a 24-hour
encampment at the border crossing. Some news reports state that the Canadian
government is considering relocating the border crossing outside of Mohawk
The Mohawk territory of Akwesasne straddles the jurisdictions of Ontario,
Quebec and New York state, and is an international border crossing between
Canada and the United States. Out of 119 land-border crossings managed by the
CBSA, it is the only crossing located in the middle of a First Nations
Mohawk land was illegally expropriated for this purpose. For decades, the
Mohawks have resented and protested being forced to cross through U.S. and
Canadian customs in order to travel within their own territory, and they have
endured a long history of harassment by border guards.
The Canada Customs port of entry is located in Kawehnoke, a residential
district of the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, and is the location of a school bus
stop, recreational fields, a large number of homes, a district convenience
store, several small businesses and other typical features of a populated
residential area. The Mohawks have protested for months due to their concern
that the community would be endangered if CBSA agents were to carry
Akwesasne Mohawks account for nearly 70 percent of traffic that passes through
the border facility. This includes Kawehnoke residents who use the border
crossing several times each day on their way to work or school; to carry on
daily business; to visit friends and family; or to attend the health, social,
cultural or recreational facilities and events throughout this territory
bisected by the international border.
As one Akwesasne Mohawk, Larry King, told the Ottawa Citizen shortly before the
June 1 deadline, “The CBSA is a foreign, oppressive force who occupies
our sovereign community and territory. [They are] unwelcome, uninvited and now
carrying firearms. For lack of a different description, that is considered by
some an act of war.” (May 29)
Canada gov’t denies Indigenous sovereignty
Numerous other Native struggles and blockades are currently taking place across
Canada against a backdrop of a Conservative Canadian federal government led by
Stephen Harper. Some First Nations people had hoped for a better relationship
with Canada because of Harper’s much-publicized apology last year for the
crimes committed against thousands of Indigenous people by the government
during the residential school era. At that time tens of thousands of Native
children were snatched from their homes, put in residential schools, and all
too often beaten, molested and even killed.
Harper’s government, however, has increasingly signaled that it will not
recognize the sovereignty of Native nations. Harper and his cronies are moving
to what they call a more “market-oriented” approach in relation to
First Nations. Ottawa has now stated that it will withhold additional funds to
Native nations that are not considered by Ottawa to be sufficiently
Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, recently
contrasted the benefits of cooperation and partnership with the situation at
Akwesasne. Strahl said the government of Canada does not recognize the
Mohawks’ sovereignty claim and the rule of law applies to everyone:
“Mohawk communities have a particular perspective about pre-Confederation
and so on. I hope that nothing I’m saying is disrespectful but my
observation is ... if you don’t develop healthy working relations and
partnerships with other levels of government and your neighbors, you will
suffer because you lack opportunities.” (National Post, June 3)
First Nations across Canada have a common source of frustration: They are not
consulted on laws or policies that impact them directly.
The Canadian government, like the U.S. government, has refused to support the
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This
declaration provides minimum standards for the survival of the world’s
Canada is also preparing to host the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British
Columbia. Some First Nations and lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer activists,
residents who have been forced out of Vancouver’s Eastside, and others
are opposing the Olympics and have threatened to disrupt the games. The border
guards are expected to be part of a heavy security effort during the
To show support for the Mohawks of Akwesasne, contact Canadian officials:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington St.,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2 Canada; fax 613-941-6900; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, Parliament Hill Office; phone
613-996-7752; fax 613-992-8351; e-mail email@example.com.
Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Chuck Strahl, 10 Wellington
St., Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0H4 Canada; phone 819-997-0002; fax 819-953-4941.
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