Direct action needed to resolve the Akwesasne border problem

by Doug George-Kanentiio
News From Indian Country  10-09

The Akwesasne community is being manipulated into a crisis by the Canadian Border Security Agency. They knew that by placing a facility in Cornwall it would provoke the Mohawk people and they would then use an incident to point an accusatory finger our way and state that their fears were justified and that the need to carry weapons is essential.

The CBSA may also think that by taking Mohawk cars and assessing huge fines the residents of Akwesasne will be so upset as to demand the leadership compromise and allow the custom agents to be armed once they return to Kawehnoke.

The CBSA could not press the Mohawks into blocking the bridge on June 1 nor could they produce any proof that anyone in their employ was at any time in physical danger. They lied then and are acting in a manner which is dishonest and without cause.

They refuse to acknowledge that their agency wanted a confrontation ten weeks ago so they could make use of the May 27th international intervention agreement the Canadian government signed with the US. And, just as in June, this recent incident involves a joint attempt by the Canadian and American authorities to intimidate the Mohawk people.

But will it work?

The Mohawk leadership has a tough task before it: how to secure our aboriginal rights in a time of enhanced policing by the US and Canada. There are a number of options to consider before a real fight breaks out.

First, the lines of communication between the Mohawk leadership, the US Department of Homeland Security and the CBSA must be kept open. We have to be able to speak with each other, to respond to problems quickly and to draft policies designed to protect our aboriginal status and treaty rights.

We must also be conscious that what happens at Akwesasne will effect Native people across the continent and we are being used as a test case. With that in mind we should press for a task force composed of all three parties with the duty of investigating the border issue and then submitting possible solutions. The task force should do what any effective committee does: hold public forums,give the people the chance to air their grievances and take their ideas into consideration.

Second, the Mohawk people have a right to cross freely from one part of our territory to another. We need a security service at the customs complex on Kawehnoke to check all vehicles entering that district and then determine who may drive from the crossroads and who may not.

Such a security service would be far more effective that the CBSA in protecting out borders and they may work out a method of assuring the Canadians that no illegitimate trafficking is taking place.

Third, the Mohawk leadership must acknowledge the real concerns the Americans and Canadians have about smuggling. The transfer of contraband, as contraband is defined by the Mohawks, leads to serious problems in all three nations. We have to recognize that what takes place here is part of a vast criminal network which contaminates whomever it touches.

No family at Akwesasne is immune from its effects. And it result in violence, corruption and death. No solution is possible until the Mohawk leadership addresses this crisis. The Canadians and Americans are right in seeking an end to smuggling but the imposition of external rules cannot work. The Mohawk people must be mad enough to rise as a community and say “ENOUGH!” Then give their respective leaders the authority to stop the smuggling.

Fourth, a free trade agreement needs to be negotiated with all three nations whereby the Mohawk people have the option of carrying on legitimate business with Natives from other nations. Naturally, such trade has to be subjected to the rules and regulations of Akwesasne. Voluntary compliance does not work but the rules must be designed to secure economic prosperity for the Mohawk people. No such agreement would ever be considered, however, until the Mohawks of Akwesasne can demonstrate the ability to govern ourselves in a responsible way.

Fifth, the border must be redrawn around Akwesasne or at least moderated in its effect. Once, we were a single people under one government. That ideal is still a possibility if Canada and the US are informed that is the will of the Mohawk people and that after a popular vote such a system will be in place. A rational person would come to the conclusion that this is the ultimate solution.

Should the current government in Ottawa continue its tactics of harassing the Mohawk people then the leadership should seek meetings with the leaders of the Liberal and New Democratic parties as a means of applying pressure on the Prime Minister. The border issue must be expanded beyond a regional concern since it does encompass aboriginal rights. The Conservative government is on shaky grounds and a vote of "no confidence" in Parliament will bring it down. MP Guy Lauzon must also be held accountable for his inaction on this issue.

Finally, the Mohawk people have another power-the economy. The fact is that Akwesasne keeps Massena, Malone and Cornwall afloat. A well organized and complete boycott of all businesses in Cornwall will result in tremendous pressure coming from the non-Natives. We spend millions of dollars in Cornwall each month so each and every resident of Akwesasne should be asked to stop spending there until the CBSA backs down. An election in Canada will soon happen and we must see beyond Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The patience of the Mohawk people over the past few months has been historical but it is not limitless. It is now the task of the Mohawk leadership to carry out the will of the people and resolve this issue once and for all. But if Canada refuses to negotiate in good faith then what is left but to permanently close the northern span of the International Bridges.