Mohawks march on border in protest of arming guards
Posted By Michael Peeling
Cornwall Standard Freeholder [Ontario]
Monday, May 11, 2009
Hundreds of Mohawks marched across the Seaway International Bridge into Canada from the U. S. on Saturday to protest a plan to arm border guards.
And things are taking a more ominous tone as the protesters claim they’ll evict the federal government if necessary over the controversial issue.
The “unity rally,” organized by the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, started with residents of the First Nation – which straddles the borders of Ontario, Quebec and New York State – being bused from a tent set up beside the Canada Customs and Immigration office on Cornwall Island (known in Mohawk as Kawehnoke) into the U. S.
The tent is the staging ground for a month-long protest, which began on May 1, of the arming of Canadian Border Services Agency officers across the country on June 1, but particularly at the Cornwall Island crossing.
The protesters returned on foot led by Grand Chief Tim Thompson. They walked over the southern span of the bridge to the island behind a large banner reading “No Guns!” and chanting, “End the occupation of Akwesasne.”
Once the throng reached the yellow line indicating the border, they halted briefly before walking unchecked by CBSA officials into Canada. Many of the marchers made a circuit back around the customs and immigration building to stop by the checkpoint booths and office windows, where they chant, with signs reading: “The consequence of arming is eviction” against the windows and knock on the glass.
The protesters eventually marched back to the tent. An attempt to make a third circuit was met with little support.
MCA District Chief of Kanatakon (St. Regis, Que.) Larry King said the council worked out a safe passage for the protesters with the CBSA before the march.
“We’re marching to tell the federal government how strongly we feel about the message of no guns on our island,” King said. “There’s no need and no reason for the guards to have guns.”
King pointed out that Akwesasne Mohawk Police officers are armed and have an outpost at the border crossing if CBSA officials require assistance.
There are also unarmed Mohawk security officers contracted by the federal government to be stationed in the same building at all times.
The Mohawks of Akwesasne make up more than 70 per cent of the cross-border traffic at the Cornwall Island port of entry and feel they are unfairly singled out by border guards to be harassed and provoked into confrontations.
Community elder John Boots told of how his granddaughter, her boyfriend and their three children were pulled over at the border because the officers did not believe the one, two and four-year-olds were their children. She was still waiting to get their native status identification cards.
“The guards interrogated my great grandchildren to find out if my granddaughter is their mother,” Boots said. “How insensitive is that? One of them can’t even talk.”
Boots also said the CBSA attempted to brand a 14-year-old girl a terrorist and strip-searched her recently.
He added that the community is looking into getting help from the United Nations to address tensions with the CBSA.
MCA spokesman Brendan White says the council has a long list of complaints filed by tribe members over dealings with the CBSA, but none of them have been resolved to the complainants’ satisfaction by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
MCA spokesman Brendan White said the government never consulted with Akwesasne about the arming initiative, which was announced three years ago and is due to be complete by 2016.
White said a letter sent to past Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and requests to meeting current minister Peter Van Loan have been met with little or no response.
Thompson said Day refused to meet with the MCA over the arming issue.
“The time has come to express our displeasure over the arming of the guards,” Thompson said.
The march was not the end of the protest, said Thompson as he addressed the crowd. There are tentative plans for another rally in the coming weeks.
Rick Comerford, director general for the Northern Ontario Region of the CBSA, released a statement Saturday in response to the protest.
“The decision to arm border services officers ensures that they are given the tools they need to improve border security and enhance the safety of officers and the travelling public. Training and arming our officers to respond to potentially dangerous situations helps protect our communities.”
Comerford said he and CBSA president Stephen Rigby have met with the MCA to discuss the arming of border services officers at the Port of Cornwall as recently as May 4.
“We are committed to maintaining this dialogue,” Comerford said.
On the role of Canada’s colonial band councils, such as the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, see the following article:
How the Indian Act Made Indians Act Like Indian Act Indians (Warrior Publications)
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