by Sandra Cuffe - BASICS #14 (June / July 2009)
As part of a national plan regarding border security to be put in place by 2016, the Canadian government insists on arming all Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) agents, even at their controversial post within the sovereign Mohawk territory of Akwesasne. After months of respectful communication opposing the arming with 9mm guns of the very same CBSA agents who have been accused of years of documented cases of harassment and racial profiling, the community of Akwesanse set a deadline of midnight Sunday May 31st for a resolution to the conflict.
The government of Canada responded to the deadline by presenting the community with an ultimatum shortly before midnight to accept either the arming of the CBSA or else face the immediate closure - by police! not the community! - of the two bridges and international border. The 400 or so Akwesasne community members immediately responded to the ultimatum with the same united position they have maintained for months: NO GUNS FOR CBSA IN AKWESASNE!
On June 11th, dubbed "National Reconciliation Day" to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Government of Canada's official apology to First Nations for the residential school system, Akwesasne community residents Khristy Sawatis and Dwayne David were arrested by Cornwall police. Both have since been released and continue to actively denounce the well-documented harassment and racial profiling of Akwesasne residents by CBSA, police and judicial authorities.
The Government of Canada and Assembly of First Nations (AFN) marked the one-year anniversary of the apology, organizing activities on Parliament Hill for what has been called "National Reconciliation Day." The irony of the name was not lost on the community, considering both the timing of the arrests and of the fact that Canada has still not directly contacted the community of Akwesasne or even the federally-recognized Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA).
Around the same time as David's detention, while addressing the crowd gathered in Ottawa, MCA Grand Chief Tim Thomson publicly accused Federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan of being "a liar" for claiming to have carried out "consultations" with the community of Akwesasne about the government's plan to arm the Canadian Border Services Agency's employees in unceded Mohawk territory. This plan has been called a "declaration of war" by MCA Chief Larry King and many others in Akwesasne.
"They can't give them guns on their hips and expect us not to do anything about it. You don't fight with somebody your whole life and then give them a gun," said Stacey Boots, who was released from police custody on Monday, June 15th after his violent arrest at the Skyway bridge blockade, carried out a week before in Tyendinaga to support Akwesasne. "It's inevitable that someone's going to get shot."
Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has not backed down from his position: "They'll have to accept armed border officers there. What we're looking at is a potential long closing, and as a result we are right now examining the long term viability of that particular port of entry... and that includes moving it."
"Right now everybody is happy to wait it out. Look at everyone..." exclaimed Akwesasne community member Jojo Francis, gesturing towards the lacrosse game, the women's meeting, and children playing. "They can wait all they want!"
"It's just another thing that we accomplished as a People, as a Mohawk People. It's limitless now..." explained Stacey Boots. "We took one good step forward in our community.
"We're our own country. There's Canada. There's the States. This is Indian Country," another Akwesasne community member concluded, echoing the words of the majority of residents. "Leave it alone. This is our land."
Sandra Cuffe is a freelance journalist, photographer and contributing member of the Dominion Newspaper Cooperative who has been embedded in the Mohawk community of Akwesasne since June 1st. For more information, see her blog: http://akwesasnecounterspin.wordpress.com