Canada | Opinion

Doug George-Kanentiio: Mohawk people can control our own

It has now been 30 months since the Canadian Border Security Agency abandoned its post on the Cornwall Island district of Akwesasne by manufacturing a so-called "crisis" brought about by its insistence that its officers must be armed.

The Mohawk people responded by rejecting this position since they knew that the officers would, in all probability, use those weapons against Natives who they had come to fear. They were afraid because the officers were never given cultural training which would have given them the necessary information and skills needed to respond to the unique characteristics of Akwesasne specifically and the Haudenosaunee in general. They did not know of our mannerisms, our history, our politics and economics; all of which are critical factors in determining our reactions to the CBSA's decision to bring weapons to our territory.

Their fears were compounded by the failure to make distinctions among the Mohawks, that Akwesasne is a highly complex community with many layers of leadership hence the necessity of having adequate, reliable communications.

The CBSA also failed to realize that while there are many factions among us the unilateral imposition of alien rules with regards to policing and law enforcement doesn't work and is certain to be met with resistance. The radical choice by the Agency to leave Cornwall Island could have easily been avoided had its employees known whom to contact during emergencies and when to leave crowd control to the Mohawk leaders.

They did not and made a bad situation more complicated by moving to Cornwall. The result has been a deterioration of those personal relationships which existed previous to May, 2009 and an increase in the tensions and stressed felt by Native people when they cross into the city. There is also justifiable frustration and anger due to the long lines across a bridge not designed to hold stationary traffic.

The residents and visitors to Cornwall Island are the most effected by this silliness to the point where they are risking arrest, confiscation of their property and fines for simply wanting to go home. This is simply crazy and to punish anyone for this is to concede to this madness.

There are solutions to this problem even at this late date.

It begins by recognizing that our status as a distinct people is not rooted in the Indian Act of Canada or through the "recognition" regulations of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. That Mohawks exist at all is because the people have historical integrity and the right to define for themselves their collective identity based upon family, community and culture.

Remember, both Canada and the US have tried many times to extinguish the Mohawk people beginning with the theft of our lands after the American Revolution, then the restrictions of reservation life imposed by Britain and the US followed by the failed attempt to have us move to eastern Kansas.

Those tactics caused the death of hundreds of Mohawks through communicable diseases and hunger which led to alcoholism, the degeneration of our bodies via diabetes and cancers then an overall diminishing of our health when our sustenance was changed from natural foods to over processed junk.

Given this, we know that to begin to arrive at a resolution we must think clearly and use the power of reason.

Reason says that we should be able to have our own checkpoints at the now closed customs house on Cornwall Island. We can have an on-site CBSA agent there working with Mohawk security to insure that those who claim aboriginal and Akwesasne status are in fact who they say they are. By doing so we eliminate the long drive into Cornwall. This can be backs up by electronic surveillance as necessary.

Rationally, we can state to the community that any product deemed illegal under Mohawk laws will be confiscated and that those who elect not to abide by our rules will be denied protection under Mohawk jurisdiction and turned over to the other authorities.

Common sense dictates that we can create our own Mohawk Nation Department of Motor Vehicles with our own inspection and insurance rules. The reason for this is clear: why spend millions of dollars securing alien licenses when we have the existing technology to make our own? Neither Canada or the US has the legal right to challenge this.

In December of last year, and in April of this one, I gave presentations to the Mohawk leadership about the viability of a Mohawk Nation DMV, one which would generate jobs and bring in a steady income. I pointed out that we had the computer programs in place and the licenses and license plates ready to go.

We could easily have all Mohawk drivers in all of our seven territories carrying Mohawk Nation permits and Mohawk Nation tags. When this happens we could then regulate vehicles as they pass through our territories and remove another fear of the CBSA and the US Customs. They would know for certain that the owner and operator of any vehicle with Mohawk plates was one of our own.

For those who want this to happen simply contact your respective council and let them know you want a Mohawk Department of Motor Vehicles and our group can make it so.

The CBSA will soon relocate to Rooseveltown which is a good idea. But the intrusions onto our status as a free, indigenous nation will continue as long as we concede to their rules. There are reasonable alternatives and no one should be punished or sanctioned for seeking creative solutions or by exercising their rights as Mohawk citizens.

Doug George-Kanentiio, is an Akwesasne Mohawk. He is the co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association, a former member of the Board of Trustees of the National Museum of the American Indian and the author of "Iroquois On Fire". He resides in Oneida Castle with his wife Joanne Shenandoah.

He may be contacted by calling 315-363-1655, via e-mail: or via surface mail: Box 450, Oneida, NY 13421

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