VIDEO: Covid Pandemic worsens border crossing situation for Akwesasne Mohawks

Canadian Border Service Authorities are making Mohawks feel like immigrants on their own land by failing to recognize Mohawk Nation issued “red cards” and insisting on INAC cards

Jackie Hall interviews Kawenniiosta Jock about her experiences with CBSA in Akwesasne.

By Jackie Hall

AKWESASNE — The Kaniehkehaka people living in Akwesasne face a unique situation, imposed upon us by foreign government agencies. All throughout Anowarekeh (Turtle Island), the Onkwehon:we (original to this land) people deal with foreign government agencies daily. For some it may not be so obvious; when you think about the AFN, or the Band Council or Tribal Council organizations on your territory, do you think of them as a foreign government agency?

These foreign government employees look like us, they talk like us, and they’re related to us. So, having a foreign government agency imposed upon us, is not always obvious to some. Many Onkwehonwe have become accustomed to the presence of this foreign system on their homelands, and don’t know any different. Many of our people cannot see past the high rates of poverty, incarceration, abuse, addiction, murder, displacement, disease, discrimination and all forms of racism; because these immediate “in your face” issues are a part of our daily lives.

In Akwesasne, the systemic racism our people have to endure anytime we wish to travel through our homelands, is an issue that needs to be addressed. Having a physical barrier spread across our territory, enforced by outside agents with no connection to this land, is an “in your face” issue that has become commonplace for Akwesasronon. 

Kawenissosta Jock stopped by CBSA at Akwesasne border crossing Feb 8th, 2020.

It has also become commonplace for Onkwehonwe people to register for an INAC card. The Indian Act system is set up in a way where our people feel we have no choice but to be assigned a number by a foreign government, just to have access to “benefits.” The benefits given to us by the federal government of so called “Canada,” were once called trust monies, allotments, rental fees and payments for the leased land the settlers were allowed to sustain themselves on. Our people were made to think that we need to ask for something that rightfully belongs to us.

In Akwesasne, we not only ask for what belongs to us, we answer to these foreign government agencies to avoid having our property taken from us.  Now that there is an international border running through our homeland, the Canadian Border Services Agency has been imposed on Akwesasne. There was a time when the CBSA was located directly on Kawehnoke, built on land stolen from the Boots family. The CBSA moved their station to the North Shore of Akwesasne, in the so called “City of Cornwall” after the people forced them to leave when the CBSA armed themselves. 

Since the CBSA abandoned their station on Kawehnoke, Akwesasronon are forced  to drive right past Kawehnoke and check in at CBSA in the so called “City of Cornwall” before turning around and driving back to Kawehnoke; if Akwesasronon decide to not check in, they face a $1000 fine when they next drive through the CBSA checkpoint. 

Having an international bridge run through Kawehnoke (a.k.a Cornwall Island), subjects Akwesasronon living on Kawehnoke to restrictions, interrogation, abuse and racism anytime they leave the island. When it comes to identification, both the US and Canadian Customs accept the INAC cards as a form of ID, from Onkwehonwe travelling through their borders; but the Haudenosaunee passport a.k.a the “Red Card” is still a hit or miss when travelling through CBSA.  

Since the Coronavirus arose, and the U.S and Canadian borders have been closed to travellers, a new issue arose for the people of Akwesasne. Before the borders closed, CBSA said it would not impact Akwesasronon, and even Band Council stated it would not impact our right to travel freely. 

So, when Akwesasronon who do not recognize the Indian Act, and don’t register with the Band Council are being treated like immigrants on our homeland, it is a huge issue. Many Kaniehkehaka people who chose to stay original and follow the Kaienerakowa, do not have INAC cards and are not required to have one. So, when Akwesasronon travel through CBSA with anything other than an INAC card, they are now subject to being treated like immigrants on their own land. One could hope these insults and abuse will subside when the borders reopen, but there is a possibility this treatment will become our new normal.

What will be done about it? 

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