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Imaginary Lines

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July 9, 2008

Imaginary Lines

Mohawk grandmothers assaulted at border, refuse court charges

Whose border? Akwesasne territory straddles the US-Canada border. Mohawk activists do not believe the Canadian courts have jurisdiction over Indigenous movement within their communities. Photo: Google

Based on an article by Nazila Bettache and Jaggi Singh, organizers and members of No One Is Illegal Montreal. The original version was published by No One Is Illegal Montreal.

A vehicle with two Kanion'ke:haka (Mohawk) women was stopped by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) at Akwesasne at 2pm on Saturday, June 14. The vehicle was crossing into Canada from the United States. Akwesasne is a Kanion'ke:haka Indigenous community that includes parts of Ontario, Quebec and New York, and residents, travelling within their community, routinely cross between states and provinces.

One Elder, Katenies, who does not recognize the authority of the CBSA over Kanion'ke:haka land, was consequently arrested. At least four male guards forced her face-down onto the ground, handcuffed her, and took her into custody, where she remained for three days.

CBSA guards also demanded that the other woman – Kahentinetha Horn, an Elder of 68 years – leave the car she was driving. She refused, and she too was overpowered by at least four male CBSA guards. She suffered a heart attack while in handcuffs. Because of the intervention of her brother-–a lawyer who was crossing the border at that time-–she was eventually taken to the local hospital in Cornwall, Ontario, by ambulance, and spent four days in the Critical Care Unit.

The two women are Mohawk rights activists, grandmothers, and publishers of Mohawk Nation News.

Katenies was targeted for arrest by CBSA guards on an outstanding warrant for allegedly running the border in 2003, and offenses resulting from her refusal to appear in court. Katenies has maintained since 2003 that border officials and the Canadian courts have no jurisdiction over Kanion'ke:haka people or land, and feels that a court appearance would validate a colonial justice system.

The charges the CBSA originally indicated they would bring upon Kahentinetha were never brought forward.

Meanwhile, Katenies was jailed and was granted a bail hearing at the Superior Court in Cornwall three days later, on Monday, June 16.

Supporters from Six Nations, Sharbot Lake and Akwesasne attended court to act as witnesses to Katenies' continued refusal to recognize Canada's courts. Several Elders from the Akwesasne community referenced the bridge blockades undertaken in the 1960s and '70s to assert the rights under treaty law of free movement of Indigenous peoples at the border. They consider Katenies' current stance as part of the same ongoing and long-term struggle for sovereignty.

At the hearing, the federal Crown lawyer objected to Katenies' release on bail. A senior investigator with the CBSA testified for the Crown. He outlined the various warrants and court dates in the case, and Katenies' continual and consistent refusal to recognize the authority of the Court, or the jurisdiction of the CBSA over the border.

In the words of the CBSA investigator, Katenies "has nothing but contempt for the Canadian judicial system." The investigator, who has lived and worked at the Cornwall border crossing for two decades, admitted that it is "not uncommon" for Mohawks to cite the lack of jurisdiction to border officials, although he called Katenies "an extreme case."

Both Katenies and her mother, Nancy Davis, addressed the court. Davis refused to tell the court whether she lived in the Ontario or Quebec part of Akwesasne, stating clearly that she "lives on Kanion'ke:haka territory" and is a citizen of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. She remarked with a smile: "I'm the only one who has authority over my daughter."

Under cross-examination by the Crown lawyer, Davis stated, "We feel we have the right to travel where we want, to go where we want. [The border] is an imaginary line for Americans and Canadians, not Mohawks."

Asked outright if she recognized the authority of the court, Davis replied simply, "No."

Katenies also addressed the court, reiterating that she did not recognize its jurisdiction, and refused to accept all charges, declining to have them read to her. When the court clerk tried to swear her in, Katenies stated, "I can only tell what I know."

Katenies emphasized that she continues to demand that the courts address the jurisdiction question; that is, under what authority can colonial Canadian courts, agencies or officials claim to have jurisdiction over sovereign Mohawks? She stated, "I'm a passionate person, I'm a mother and I'm a grandmother. But, I've had no respect. No one has looked at what I've put forward."

Katenies had already served the court with a motion to dismiss previous charges, and invoked the jurisdiction question, on January 18, 2007.

Under cross-examination, Katenies was asked by the Crown lawyer if she would accept paying a cash bond. She replied, "That would be extortion at this point because jurisdiction has not been dealt with." She added, "I don't see why you should incarcerate me and beat me into submission without answering my question."

She refused the accusation of contempt, stating, "It is [your law] and your constitution that you keep talking about. Why do you continue to ignore me and our people, who have our own land and constitution?"

In his final submissions, the Crown argued that Katenies "has nothing but complete disdain for the laws of these courts,” adding, "Quite frankly, Your Worship, both mother and daughter don't recognize our jurisdiction."

The Crown asked the court to keep Katenies in custody.

Nonetheless, the presiding Justice of the Peace, Ms. Leblanc, decided to release Katenies under certain basic conditions: that Katenies reside with her mother and notify the Akwesasne police of any change of address (Katenies has lived with her mother for the past eight years, since the death of her father); that her mother post a surety (a $1,000 bond without a deposit); and that Katenies appear in court or designate counsel to appear in court for her. Her next court date has been set for July 14, 2008, at 9am at Cornwall's Superior Court.

Links to background articles and interviews can be found here.

The following is an excerpt from a recently released report by Mohawk Nation News (MNN), “written in consultation with family members and with direct witnesses to the events described."

On June 14, Katenies, Kahentinetha [two Mohawk grandmothers, both part of the MNN network and known for their outspoken criticism of US, Canadian and international power cartels] and Sakowaiaks [a companion] went through the [Canada-US] border and were told to wait under the canopy. They sat peacefully for an hour, surrounded by guards. Some Mohawk Elders showed up to watch. Several other vehicles were searched and released. Only Indigenous people were stopped. Eventually a platoon of guards marched towards the car, all wearing leather gloves.... A chief later told them that the gloves were for protection from blood. It was a sign they planned an attack.

Katenies was dragged...from the car...They knocked her down, pinned her to the ground and forced their knees into her back. They handcuffed her and smashed and rubbed her face into the pavement. Sakowaiaks still remembers the sound of flesh hitting the pavement.

...She was imprisoned and held incommunicado. They would not let her mother see her or talk to her. She had heard her daughter was injured. She asked several times and was refused. Katenies asked to see her mother. The guards said she didn't ask for her. She was strip searched...

It was only after the assault on Katenies began that Kahentinetha was ordered to get out of the car. She saw...what they were planning to do to her. Kahentinetha had been beaten by police in the past...

She was handcuffed and imprisoned. Once in the cell...some of the officers deliberately tightened the handcuffs several times. This cut the circulation to her hands. They ignored her cries as pain shot up her arms. Flashes of light went off in her head and sharp pains shot into her chest. They yelled racial taunts and threats at her and kept ordering her to bend down. A man stood behind her and had his hands on her pants...

The medical record confirms that despite excellent physical condition, Kahentinetha had a trauma-induced heart attack.

This attack took place three days after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's apology for the abuses that took place at the residential schools.

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