Taking charge of Akwesasne’s waters

By Doug George-Kanentiio ©
News From Indian Country 8-09

So Canada pulled a fast one by ignoring the Mohawk leadership and opening a temporary customs check point in Cornwall. This is all too typical of a government which treats Native people as irritants and liabilities.

Rather than sit down with the Mohawk people and negotiate in good faith the government elected to adopt a tactic which does nothing to resolve the longstanding problems the Huadenosaunee have with regards to our aboriginal rights to cross this land restricted only by the laws and customs of our respective Native nations.

So be it.

If Canada insists that we are subject to its jurisdiction then we should move quickly to assert our own authority over the lands and waters which are defined as Akwesasne proper.  Not the reservation but the area as our ancestors understood it to be: the Dundee region, the Nutfield Tract, the Long Sault islands and the city of Cornwall itself.

The quasi-secretive "land claims negotiations" must be concluded for direct action for which, as this summer has demonstrated, there is wide popular support.

Take a drive around the community and our need for more land is obvious.  If we are to return to a self sufficient economy and sustain our relationship with the earth we need the territory to do so. We need Mohawk colonists to move into Dundee, Croil Island or Glen Walter.


And we need to lead the movement to heal our region from the massive damages caused by the exploitation of our land, air and waters by the salt water people.  We can begin by doing what's right with the Kaniatararowenenneh and closing the St. Lawrence Seaway.

This billion dollar fiasco has been the primary cause of the loss of our language, the undermining of our culture and the contamination of our bodies.When the Seaway  opened 50 years ago Mohawks spoke Mohawk, they were healthy becuase the rivers and the land were fertile and provided most of what a family needed. Our life skills were tied to the land as were our values.  We possessed great knowledge as to plant and animal life.  Our politics may have been restrictive and our traditional spirituality qualified but we shared what we had and endured.

The Seaway destroyed this. It brought industries which fouled the air and contaminated the water.  The fish died, the people's diet changed, our live span was lessened. The Seawy brought ships which emptied their bilge waters into our river and brought in dozens of alien species which have caused, according to on estimate, $5,000,000,000 in damages, an amount far in access of any benefits the Seaway may have generated.

The Seaway did not bring the promised jobs but zebra mussels, lamprey eels,  purple loosestrife and many other harmful things (at last count 59 alien  invasive species); and still the holds of the ships are not adequately cleaned before they come through Akwesasne.

The Seawy does not make any significant money to warrant its existance.

According to the 2008 Annual Report of the St. Lawrence Seaway Corporation it had assets of $96,000,000 (this includes a rapidly aging infrastructure), generated only $18,000,000 in revenues but had to pay out $19,200,00 in expense for a loss of $1,200,000. Traffic on the Seawy is down 36% this year alone.

Now measure this with the environmental disasters casued by the Seaway. The loss of hundreds of millions of dollars suffered by the fishing business alone makes the Seaway a liability whose time has come.

Fifty years of erosion, contamination and destruction are enough.  The Mohawk leadership must take the lead and demand the Seaway's closure.

Along the way, the Mohawk people would be well served by a more aggressive policing of our waters.  We know our territory is from shoreline to shoreline so anything which intrudes into the river is a trespass. We can easily ask those non-Natives who have docks to pay an annual rental fee.

We can also use contemporary communications to issue fishing licences on the spot and violation tickets when warranted. We might even consider assessing a fee for each ship which uses our river and demand payment prior to entry-at least until the Seaway is closed permanently.

Yet St. Lawrence Seaway president Collister Johnson does not recognize the obvious.  He said, in a quote to the Montreal Gazette, that "we have ideas" as to the possible expansion of the Seaway.  Ideas he is not bothering to share with Akwesasne, just like those armed Canada Customs agents in Cornwall.