Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Fifty Year Anniversary of 1968 Bridge Blockade

 

Kahn-Tineta Horn (center) and Mike Mitchell (right) listen to the Cornwall Chief of Police. All photos courtesy of Mike Mitchell.

By Kaniehtonkie

On an extremely cold morning fifty years ago in December 1968, about 50 Kanien'keháka, mostly women, gathered at the foot of the bridge on Kawehno:ke to protest. This protest proved pivotal in the movement of Native American/Aboriginal rights. It spurred protests on Alcatraz, the creation of Akwesasne Notes, the White Roots of Peace, the Native North American Travelling College and other notable organizations and civil rights protests.

This protest, one of the first of its kind, received international coverage. Many of those whom we look at as respected, quiet Elders stood in freezing cold weather so that we may cross the 'invisible' border over the St. Lawrence River to visit, attend appointments and shop for clothes, food, and other sundries unhindered by CBSA and its duties.

According to Mike Mitchell, "It was the women who met and shared their frustration of CBSA collecting duties on everyday items like groceries and clothing while crossing north onto Kawehno:ke. It was the women who organized the protest carefully to exclude many of the men and children. So, we were told to meet at 9am, after their children were in school and on a Wednesday when their men would be away working on iron. It was the women who calmed us while the OPP, RCMP and the Cornwall Police surrounded us and then later arrested us. It was the women who told the arrested men to be calm and to just go with the officer and do not be aggressive. Fifty people went to jail that day."

Mitchell added, "At the time, I was a young student at the National Film Board. At first, the women didn't want the press to be there, but later on the press were all over. The story of the protest became international, being published in the New York Times, Philadelphia and major newspapers. The local jails were full of Mohawks that night, Cornwall, Long Sault, Morrisburg. Bail was posted by people putting together their savings - the Benedicts from Kawehno:ke gave their life savings to get us out of jail."

Not leaving without a protest, this young man is carried away by the officers.

The ability for Mohawks to cross freely is based on the "invisible" duty-free crossing guaranteed by the 1794 Jay Treaty signed by Britain and the United States, Canada failed to honor the treaty. Later the duties, taxes were withdrawn by a remission order - "a remedy available under subsection 23(2) of the Financial Administration Act that provides the Governor in Council the power to grant relief from tax, or penalty (including any interest) where the collection of the tax or the enforcement of the penalty is unreasonable, unjust or contrary to public interest."

Clearly being unjust here. All those who were arrested on December 18, 1968 were later released and the charges dropped.

The film, 'You are on Indian Land' documented the protest and was released in 1969. This short documentary was one of the most influential and widely distributed productions made by the Indian Film Crew (IFC), the first all-Indigenous unit at the National Film Board. This film can still be seen online at https://www.nfb.ca/film/you_are_on_indian_land/

 

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