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Media Release: Akwesasne Community Activists Arrested on "National Reconciliation Day"; bail hearing today in Cornwall

June 15, 2009

Media Release: Akwesasne Community Activists Arrested on "National Reconciliation Day"; bail hearing today in Cornwall

Kahwenoke, Akwesasne, Sovereign Mohawk Territory
June 15, 2009.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

AKWESASNE COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS DENOUNCING CBSA AND POLICE HARASSMENT AND RACIAL PROFILING ARRESTED IN CORNWALL ON NATIONAL RECONCILIATION DAY

Bail hearing for Dwayne David set for 9:30am Monday, June 15th at 29 Second Street West, Cornwall, Ontario

On June 11th, dubbed "National Reconciliation Day" to conmemorate the one-year anniversary of the Government of Canada's official apology to First Nations for the residential school system, Akwesasne community residents Khristy Sawatis and Dwayne David were arrested by Cornwall police.

Dwayne David remains in police custody until his bail hearing, which has been set for 9:30am on Monday, June 15th, at the Ontario Court of Justice, located at 29 Second Street West in Cornwall, Ontario. Akwesasne residents, outside supporters, and media will all be present.

Only a few nights prior to his arrest, around the sacred fire at the main crossroads on Kahwenoke ("Cornwall Island") across the International Road from the now-abandoned Canadian Customs and Immigration building, David commented on the reaction to the apology of many traditional Akwesasne community members, many of whom are residential school survivors themselves: "The real people cried, because it wasn't real. It was a show."

The Government of Canada attempted to put on another show to mark the one year anniversary of the apology, organizing activities on Parliament Hill for what has been called "National Reconciliation Day." The irony of the name was not lost on the community, considering both the timing of the arrests and of the fact that Canada has still not directly contacted the community of Akwesasne or even the federally-recognized Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA).

Around the same time as David's detention, while addressing the crowd gathered in Ottawa, MCA Grand Chief Tim Thomson publicly accused Federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan of being "a liar" for claiming to have carried out "consultations" with the community of Akwesasne about the government's plan to arm the Canadian Border Services Agency's employees in unceded Mohawk territory. This plan has been called a "declaration of war" by MCA Chief Larry King and many others in Akwesasne.

"They can't give them guns on their hips and expect us not to do anything about it. You don't fight with somebody your whole life and then give them a gun," said Stacey Boots, currently detained in the Quinte Detention Centre in Napanee on charges stemming from his participation in the Skyway bridge blockade carried out last week in Tyendinaga to support Akwesasne. "It's inevitable that someone's going to get shot."

Khristy Sawatis and Dwayne David, husband and wife, are among the most vocal community activists in denouncing the Canadian Border Services Agency's longstanding and documented history of harassment, racial profiling, and serious abuses. Over 300 cases have been documented.

The bail hearing for Akwesasne community activist Dwayne David will take place this morning at 9:30am in Cornwall. He faces charges of obstruction, flight from police, dangerous operation of motor vehicle, and three counts of breach of recognizance. The first three charges are related to his intervention last week in an argument with local police officers blocking the entrance to the Seaway bridge in Cornwall to everyone except for local traffic, emergency vehicles and now also services and contractors.

According to community witnesses, the police officers were reportedly harassing from David's wife Khristy Sawatis when she was returning home from Cornwall. Police demanded to see identification, to which Sawatis responded with her full name and address as per the regulations of sections 32 and 33 of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. Neither Sawatis nor David were detained for any reason at the time and drove home safely. Sawatis was detained on June 11th when leaving the Cornwall courthouse on one count of obstruction for failure to identify herself to local police officers who are reportedly very much aware of her identity because of her vocal denouncements of harassment and racial profiling by police forces, CBSA, and judicial system.

Upon her near immediate release, Sawatis was informed of an outstanding arrest warrant for her husband Dwayne David. He was detained on the aforementioned six charges when he voluntarily reported to the local Ontario Provincial Police headquarters to inquire about the warrant.

Despite the provocations and arrests, the community of Akwesasne maintains a clearly articulated united position against guns for CBSA in their territory. The three band and tribal councils and two Longhouses have maintained the main fire since the beginning of April and many more fires have been burning since shortly before a deadline at midnight on Sunday, May 31st, when CBSA officers peacefully left the Customs and Immigration building and police forces blocked both bridges connecting the island to the north and south. The border crossing remains closed.

"It's just another thing that we accomplished as a People, as a Mohawk People. It's limitless now..." explained Stacey Boots. "We took one good step forward in our community."

Pressure is also mounting from other places such as the City of Cornwall, which has passed a resolution expressing support for Akwesasne. A recent Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce survey found that local businesses are losing up to $10,000 per business day and that there are "more than 2.5 million individual and commercial crossings at Cornwall each year." Nevertheless, 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."

"Right now everybody is happy to wait it out. Look at everyone..." exclaimed Akwesasne community member Jojo Francis, gesturing towards the lacrosse game, the women's meeting, and children playing. "They can wait all they want!"

"We're our own country. There's Canada. There's the States. This is Indian Country," another Akwesasne community member concluded, echoing the words of the majority of residents. "Leave it alone. This is our land."

* * * * * * * * * *
To set up interviews with Longhouse authorities, the traditional Men's Council, and/or other members of the community of Akwesasne, contact: 514-583-6432, sandra.m.cuffe@gmail.com

To contact the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA): Brendan White, MCA communications, 613-551-3287, bwhite@akwesasne.ca; Chief Larry King, 613-551-1930; Chief Nona Benedict, 613-551-5421.

For photos, consult the "Akwesasne" set at http://flickr.com/photos/lavagabunda and contact 514-583-6432 or sandra.m.cuffe@gmail.com for higher resolution files.

[As there was no community meeting on Sunday in which a media alert could have been collectively written and unanimously endorsed by the community, this media alert was compiled and prepared by Dominion Newspaper Cooperative contributing member Sandra Cuffe (http://akwesasnecounterspin.wordpress.com), with the participation and/or support of individuals from Dwayne David's family, Longhouse elders, the traditional Men's Council, the MCA, and other Akwesasne community members.]


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