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KAWEHNOKE, AKWESASNE, MOHAWK TERRITORY–As part of a national border security plan slated for 2016, the Canadian government is arming all Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) agents.
The Canada-US border runs through the Mohawk community of Akwesasne. Like many other communities, the Mohawks have never given up their rights to the land, maintaining traditional government and sovereignty separate from the Canadian state.
Months ago, community representatives contacted the government to express concerns about giving 9mm guns to CBSA agents. In the past, instances of harassment and racial profiling have been reported, but the response was minimal. In June 2008, CBSA agents violently arrested two Mohawk grandmothers, one of whom suffered a heart attack. Both refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Canadian court in Mohawk Territory. Charges against one were dropped and the second was released with conditions.
After the government refused to reconsider its position, the community set a deadline of midnight on May 31 for a resolution to the conflict.
The government of Canada responded to the deadline by presenting the community with an ultimatum shortly before midnight. Akwesasne could either accept the arming of the CBSA or face the immediate closure of the two bridges—and the international border. Approximately 400 Akwesasne community members gathered around a sacred fire and announced their united decision: "No guns for the CBSA in Akwesasne!"
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."
Sandra Cuffe is a vagabond freelance journalist, photographer and organizer originally from Coast Salish Territories. She is a contributing member of The Dominion and Media Co-op, and Honduras correspondent for UpsideDownWorld.org.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.