Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

At the Akwesasne Customs Controversy Discipline Matters: So Do Media


A few weeks ago I wrote a column for IT in which I called for a national meeting of the Mohawk people to address the border issue since this is a concern for all of us whether we live in Kahnawake, Kanehsatake, Wahta, Tyendinaga or Oshweken.  It is now a crisis which will effect Native people across the continent and calls for the active, visible participation of other nations must be sent far and

wide.  Our Mohawk Nation leaders should send an appeal for international support including asking human rights observers to come to Akwesasne to monitor the situation and insure that the US and Canada will not bring to bear excessive force.  We will also need skilled arbitrators to work towards a permanent solution in which our treaty and aboriginal border crossing rights are respected.

But this means the Mohawk people must show restraint and be careful

about the images the media will be transmitting around the world. We

know that the external governments take into consideration the quotes

and photographs of our people as they debate what to do in response to the closure of the Canadian customs complex. We know our own people are

extremely sensitive to photos of men wearing masks, dressed in paramilitary gear and waving the blood red death head banner.  We were deeply  effected by these symbols in 1990 and do not want this struggle, which is legitimate, to be obscured or hijacked by those who are not in a position of true leadership.

Thee is no reason for any person to hide behind a mask, not if they are proud of what they are doing.  Our ancestors who did take part in actions to defend the people never felt the need to be ashamed of their actions so

 why deny their identity? Clearly,some want to instill fear in the Canadian government but this means the federal authorities are more likely to come at Akwesasne with a closed fist rather than an open mind.  And those red flags are not representative of the Mohawk people.  We were given the purple and white which are colours of peace and clarity. The late Louis Hall-Karoniaktajie created the blood red

flag after studying the Nazis and how they mastered the psychology of symbols in their propaganda campaigns. His intent was to shake us awake

but those flags are now only confrontational when we need to be on our

best behaviour.  By replacing those flags with the Aiionwatha banner we

show our willingness to resolve this problem using reason and unity.  Too many good Mohawks will stay away if they suspect that leadership is being coerced by those who have agendas other than the obvious need to restore Akwesasne to tranquility.

We cannot, however, call into question the energy and support every

Native man and woman brings to this situation.  Each one has made a decision to place their freedom and well being at risk and for this they command our respect.  What is needed are leaders who can direct the men, similar to what Dave Richmond and the late Joe Swamp were able to do in 1979-80; both were cool under stress and led by example. The Nation needs to select find these crisis leaders a

nd give them direction and authority for as long the situation requires.

For the leadership this means having the courage to speak plainly, and

firmly, to the Mohawk people about what kind of actions is acceptable

on Kawehnoke and, more precisely, what is not.  In former20times our

Mohawk men were highly trained in collective military action.  This took place over a number of years and involved formal instruction in areas such as tracking, hand to hand combat, wilderness survival, complex field maneuvers, communications, tactics and strategy.  We were expected to be in peak physical condition before taking part in this kind of activity which was tightly controlled by field commanders and the nation’s councils.  We also had to respond to the recommendations of the women since they had to carry the burden of our actions. Very little was left to chance.  We survived because we were disciplined,

adaptable and had specific goals as defined by the leadership.  Our men were held to the highest standards of personal conduct and this tradition needs to be explained to anyone who elects to take part in the events at Kawehnoke.

We are now in a time of risk.  Canada cannot long abide by having one of its more important ports of entry closed.  It has to react.  The closure of the customs offices was not initiated by the Mohawks but whatever happens we will be held to blame if the border is forced open.  If anyone dares to carries a weapon or try and impress the media by waving a machine gun then Canada will have no choice but to apply massive force in conjunction with the United States.  Just two weeks

ago Canada and the US agreed to sweeping new policies in which both

nations agreed to allow their respective police agencies to cross the border in their law enforcement activities.  This was specifically designed to address the smuggling crisis at Akwesasne.  It means the US can now actively patrol all of Akwesasne and those who advocate resistance to Canada must take this into consideration as the Americans are far less tolerant of acts of defiance than the Canadians.  The US now has the power to intervene and will, at the least provocation, use it.

All of this means the Mohawk leadership will be held liable if this

degenerates into violence. They have to address not only the arming of

the Canadian customs agents but the reason the agents feel they are at risk.  This is rooted in the smuggling culture which has come to dominate our lives.  Ultimate credibility, and resolution, will come about when smuggling is curtailed.  If our leadership abandons

Akwesasne to the smugglers by refusing to tackle this problem than Canada will claim it has to act accordingly in defense of its citizens. 

  The closure of the Canadian customs presents the Mohawk leadership

with several opportunities.  They can press Canada to work out a trade

and commerce compact in which the movement of legitimate goods from one community to the next is carefully regulated by the Mohawk Nation. They can stand in defense of the Jay Treaty and take a vital role in insuring all Natives are protected under its provisions.  They may work with the media to project a positive image of the Mohawk people.  They may develop methods by which all Mohawkcommunities sit down together and discuss issues of common concern using the Native media as was created to do so.Or, they may not.n which instance, we are in for one very bad summer.


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