July 11, 2009

AKWESASNE: Day 36: Confusion and Indecision Shown by U.S. Customs

In the wake of Canada's Canada Day celebrations and on the United States' Independence Day, cracks began showing through on the US side of the blockade at Akwesasne. It was inevitable that with any number of normal events and occurrences that could fan the flames of the current standoff between the Kanienkehaka and the US and Canadian Borders Services that such an event would occur.

This event was as natural as life itself: a death of an elder in the community. The issue in this instance is that the Longhouse is on the south side of the River and the Longhouse cemetery is on the Island. After approaching US Customs multiple times to cease their illegal blockade of the bridge to Kawenoke, otherwise known as Cornwall Island, and allow this funeral to proceed as they have for generations, Customs refused to yield to the friends and family of the lost loved one. As the funeral was underway more and more People from the community of Akwesasne became disturbed by the refusal of the US authorities to back down from its ridiculous stance.

US Customs officials began to see more and more Mohawk People assembling at their door step and became concerned about being approached from the Island side as well. As the thirty to forty men came down from the bridge on foot to the customs booth rumors of hundreds more were sweeping through the crowd. As these men approached they noted the Border Patrol assembled under the bridge with their K-9 units. The New York State Police arrived to back up the customs agents and border patrol as the numbers of gathering Kanienkehaka continued to grow.

The first crack appeared when the border agents suggested that only the body of the passed on elder would be allowed to pass and that all others would have to enter through other border crossings. This concession must have sounded as stupid to those offering it as those rejecting it.

Finally, as the Longhouse funeral ceremony was finishing, the agents conceded, claiming they had gotten approval to allow the procession access to the bridge that had been blocked for 34 days.

The good decision to stand down and allow the funeral to proceed to the cemetery only stands now to confuse the issue. Will US Customs continue to be doormen or security guards for Canada? Is this, in their view, a one-time event? If so, then why would a funeral justify access from one part of our community to another, but not the need to check on a loved one or a child going to and from school. Is it just a numbers game? So what is the punch line to: How many Mohawks does it take to cross a bridge?

We should all thank Dave Richmond. He may have once again shown us the importance of our numbers. Even as the logs and embers were scattered we gathered to stand together not just to honor his life but to oppose the actions that dishonor all our lives. The United States didn't show compassion to the Kanienkehaka on the 4th of July. It showed that there is no justification for the role they are playing. All the bullshit about International policy and protocol turns out to be just as we suspected: bullshit. The events of this weekend established clearly that denying Onkwe Ohnwe access to Kawenoke is an arbitrary judgement call. Today between noon and 1PM a group of ten to twenty community residents crossed again to the Island from the South.

It may be premature to suggest that our people have regained full access to the island portion of Akwesasne, but Dave may have started the beginning of the end of the blockade and for that we thank him.

Posted on July 6th by Ohnkwe Ohnwe at Native Pride

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