Columnists

Jessica Yee
Akwesasne under siege

| June 5, 2009

“Things are escalating in Akwesasne. The Indians aren’t being peaceful anymore,” the news reporters are saying.

500 years of colonization and the continuous refusal to acknowledge our fundamental human rights do not produce peaceful results. I’ll tell you that right now.

But I’m not currently in Akwesasne -- my home community which has been under siege by the Border Patrol Services for quite some time now. Yes, the existence of a transnational border that tears a community apart is a sign of putting us under siege. Only this time, since June 1, 2009 to be exact, they want to legitimize and regulate their firearms against us.

So if you want to get a first hand account of what’s going on there right now -- I implore you to ask someone who belongs to and is in the community as we speak. But I do have some things to say about this situation which has been a long time coming.

The media have repeatedly asked me about which "side" do I think is right, do I agree with the border being closed, do I side with the “warriors” who refused to back down to the rule of the governments, or am I simply indifferent to it all since I live in Toronto now?

I actually know precisely where I stand – as a Kanionke:haka woman, a Mohawk woman, who belongs to the Haudenosaunee people, and as young person who is part of the next seven generations, I am on the side of my community who is on the side of the land - of Mother Earth. As women we are titleholders and caretakers of the land. And I know very well that the border should not be there.

I am also not a trade economics ignoramus -- I recognize why countries feel the need to have borders, make passport and visa systems, promote capitalism, etc. But what I have never understood is how can you really separate a people and a community? How can you tell a nation to pick a side? The answer is to conquer them -- that's how they tried to do it to us -- and that’s also why.

What the border has done to far too many of our First Nations communities is horrific and atrocious on so many levels -- and it has poisoned our minds to think in singular factions, instead of a full circle. Billy Two Rivers, an Elder and community activist from Kahnawake spoke to me about that this past weekend. “They have no right to tell you which side you belong to. Oh sure, they say it’s St. Regis on the ‘Canadian Side’ and Hogansburg on the ‘American side,’ but that is all your lands. It’s gotten to the minds of our people -- and that has got to stop.”

It is incredibly degrading to have to show proof of citizenship simply to see your family or go to the other side of your own community -- and sure we might have some sort of a special “border-crossing lane” but its mere existence is enough to put insult to injury -- which continues to do much harm to our people. Borders were created to separate and destroy us, all across Turtle Island, but I don’t know how much other people remember this when it’s not going on in their territory.

So what’s going on in Akwesasne now is not an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon of telling the government to shove it -- the issue runs much deeper than that. The border might be there, but we are NOT a conquered people.

Which way is going to best resolve this situation I’m not sure of yet but I do know we have a right to stand up for our own community, which will never solely be in Canada or the United States. We belong to Mother Earth in whom no one has claim over – and where there aren't any borders.

 

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Comments

Interesting article, which made me go to the Akwesasne website to look up how the Jay Treaty fits into this. It is definitely worth a read, at http://www.akwesasne.ca/jaytreaty.html

Aboriginal Border Crossing Rights and the
Jay Treaty of 1794
Prepared by the Aboriginal Rights and Research Office
Mohawk Council of Akwesasne
Kentenhko:wa / November 19, 1999
Based on the legal history in that article, it seems clear to me that the 1956 decision was non-sensical, because either Canada, as the inheritor of British policy towards First Nations people in the Americas, must now be considered one of the"Countries of the Two Parties on the Continent of America", or else it has no right of jurisdiction at all over First Nations affected by the treaty.
But, by the same token, the very recognition under the Jay Treaty of Aboriginal Rights (or re-affirmation if you will) seems also to be conditional upon, or at least co-existent with, recognition that the border between the Two Parties does not run around Akwesasne, but right through its middle. And that strikes me as direct recognition that Akwesasne is not a sovereign nation (and not one conquered) but one that has voluntarily relinquished its sovereignty, except in certain particulars that we now call Aboriginal Rights, to the USA and Canada. Based on that, it may not be wise to have a border crossing within Akwesasne, but Canada is within its rights to place one there, whatever the sentiments of the inhabitants of Akwesasne. Similarly, inhabitants of Akwesasne may have legitimate moral objections to having armed border guards at that border post, but no legal or treaty case or pre-existing Aboriginal right to oppose them being armed at all.
Now, I am no expert, and may well have misunderstood the nuances of the Jay Treaty and its historical significance and implications today. But, in that case, and I mean this sincerely, I would very much like someone more knowlegeable than me from Akwesasne to explain where I am wrong.

Borders come from fragmented thinking.  From labels such as 'over here' and 'over there'.  'Civilised' humanity are a lost people, we have an indentity crisis born from distinguishing far too much between 'you' and 'me'.  As a people, we need to rethink the entire concept of labelling and indentification.  Maybe then we will start to understand the conflict of borders etc.

Elle
how to break a habit

 

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