Red Flag Express №26

Armed guards, out of Akwesasne!

It’s now been more than a month that the Cornwall Customs office and the Seaway International Bridge linking Cornwall with Massena, New York have been closed. Border guards left their position overnight between May 31 and June 1st, because of opposition from the Akwesasne Mohawk community (where the office is located) to see armed Canadian Customs officers on their territory.

That day, June 1st, border guards were to begin carrying their new weapons. This is part of the Harper government’s plan, within its “security” offensive to respond to U.S. imperialism’s preoccupations (or demands?), who decided to arm all its 4,800 Customs officers by the year 2016. This reactionary and presumably dangerous measure to all Canadians is even more unacceptable for the Mohawk Nation, who never renounced its right to sovereignty.

As early as February 2008, the Akwesasne Mohawk Council adopted a resolution against arming Customs officers, following a town hall where community members voiced their opinion that way. For months, the Council unsuccessfully tried to negotiate with the federal government. On May 29, about a hundred people demonstrated against arming Customs officers and followed with a vigil in front of the Customs office. As a result, border guards left the job, the office closed down and on top of this, the government decided to close the bridge! This reaction shows once more how little the Canadian imperialist bourgeoisie cares about Native rights.

The Akwesasne reserve is located on a much bigger territory where Mohawks lived much before the first settlers’ arrival. This territory sits on both sides of the artificial boundary imposed by the Canadian and U.S. states. It is not rare that some members of the same family live on the U.S. side and others on the Canadian side.

The closing of the bridge is causing lots of difficulties to Mohawks and is an obvious violation of their territorial rights. During the first week, hundreds of children were prevented from going to school; men and women couldn’t go to work; sons and daughters couldn’t visit their elders and provide much needed care. At least, Cornwall police and New York state troopers now allow residents, service workers, deliveries and emergency vehicles through, while the bridge remains closed for any other purpose.

Mohawks have many reasons to oppose arming Customs officers. They consider that the least weapons there are on their territory, the better. They are refusing that representatives of a foreign state roam on their territory that way. They are also worried, rightfully so, of the insecurity this risks to cause: the racist record of Cornwall Customs officers speaks for itself on this.

Hundreds of complaints have already been filed by residents for incidents that occurred in the last few years, going from an intimate body search on a teenager to administering a series of X-rays to a pregnant woman, including interrogating children kept away from their parents.

Until now, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan refused to budge – actually, he won’t talk to anyone. This zealous conservative suggested he could order the Customs office permanently closed and relocated outside the reserve.

Residents have received support from other communities. On June 7, Mohawks from the Tyendinaga reserve in central Ontario closed the Skyway Bridge in solidarity with Akwesasne. Five days later, their action was brutally repressed by a morning commando assault by a hundreds OPP cops, following which at least three demonstrators were injured and a dozen others arrested, including well-known activist Shawn Brant. The previous days, women from the Six Nations community also blocked part of Highway 403 near Hamilton. Let’s add that on May 27, Cornwall city council adopted a resolution supporting the demands from the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.

For now, colonial authorities (i.e. the Canadian and Ontario governments) chose not to directly attack Akwesasne Mohawks. Their fear of a bloodbath, or worse a “New Oka” that could stain Canada’s already battled reputation did probably stop them, but such an unfolding still remains possible.

As Mohawk Nation author and elder Kahentinetha wrote in a text published by the Mohawk Nation News agency, “We, the Haudenosaunee are the legal sovereigns of Great Turtle Island. Canada has no jurisdiction over us or our territory. It’s a nation-to-nation issue which they have to respect if they are to act legally.”

The position of Akwesasne Mohawks is legitimate, and they are perfectly right to fight for their rights. The fact that in doing so, they are questioning the Harper government’s reactionary and dangerous security obsession is only one more reason for proletarians and oppressed people across Canada to support them.

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