Stop in Cross-Country Investigation
16, 2013) TERRITORY OF AKWESASNE United Nations Special Rapporteur
James Anaya visited Canada this week on a special assignment, conducting
hearings across the country to examine the relationship between
the government of Canada and First Nations people. Mr. Anaya made
Akwesasne his first stop on Oct. 7, hearing presentations from community
officials on Akwesasne's experiences with the Canadian government.
"Mr. Anaya's last-minute decision to visit Akwesasne was a
pleasant surprise," said Grand Chief Mike Kanentakeron Mitchell,
who had been planning to present to the Special Rapporteur at a
scheduled hearing in Ottawa. "His eagerness to learn about Akwesasne's
situation as a border community provided us with the golden opportunity
to acquaint him with the daily complexities of Akwesasne life, and
the issues we have faced with the federal government."
"The Mohawk people and Akwesasne community are famous around
the world," said Mr. Anaya during a hearing planned at the A'nowara'kowa
Arena on Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island.) "This is the first community
I'm visiting during my nine day stay in Canada and this is a place
I've heard a lot about over the years."
Mr. Anaya said the United Nations requested permission from
Canada to conduct the research and report. On Oct. 15, Mr. Anaya
held a special conference describing his initial findings, and a
detailed report will be forthcoming in the months ahead.
"I'm hoping that by raising these issues with the Canadian government,
by including them in my report, and making appropriate recommendations,
that I will be able to draw further attention to these issues so
that you can move toward resolution of them," Mr. Anaya said, addressing
a group of Mohawk elders in a follow-up meeting at the Tri-District
Elders Lodge on Kawehno:ke.
the hearing, Mr. Anaya heard from Grand Chief Mitchell, Chief Brian
David, Justice Director Joyce King, youth representative Shara Francis-Herne
and Akwesasne's legal counsel Micha Menczer on Canada's violations
of the aboriginal, civil and human rights of the Mohawks of Akwesasne.
"Why do we face scrutiny [at the Canadian Port of Entry] when
proudly declaring our membership to the Kanienkehaka Nation?" asked
Francis-Herne, representing the Akwesasne youth. "Why do we feel
singled out and profiled, sometimes being made to feel criminal?
And why is it so hard for us to travel from one part of our community
to another? It is not about having special rights, it is about having
Council lawyer Micha Menczer pointed out how it's Akwesasne
community members trying to live their daily lives who are suffering.
The Mohawks, he said, are not asking for anything special, they
are simply asking to go about their lives without having their rights
violated daily. "Resolution is possible but Akwesasne must have
their rights respected and a willing Canadian government partner
to negotiate practical arrangements for daily travel in the community
across the international border. This has not been the case to date."
The Canadian government has a constitutional obligation to consult
with First Nations before creating regulations or policies that
impact their aboriginal rights or title. Canada has failed to consult
with Akwesasne or accommodate the Aboriginal rights of Akwesasne
members on a number of large issues. This has resulted in undue
hardship to the community members.
The Canada Border Services Agency ("CBSA") and Canada did not
consult with Akwesasne before deciding to arm border guards with
guns on Akwesasne Territory. CBSA did not consult Akwesasne before
closing down a border crossing and requiring that residents of Akwesasne
leave Akwesasne to report to Canadian officials as part of their
everyday routine life.
The Federal Bridge Corporation and Seaway International Bridge
Corporation did not consult with Akwesasne before relocating the
toll plaza on Cornwall Island to Cornwall.
The resulting change of the duty to report from Cornwall Island
to Cornwall has severely hampered the ability of community members
to go about their daily lives. The Mohawk people cannot travel to
school, work, sporting events, doctor's appointments, cultural workshops,
birthday parties, or conduct any of their daily business without
encountering lengthy delays in first leaving Akwesasne, to report
to the Canadian government, and then returning to Akwesasne. Akwesasne's
proposal to have alternate reporting arrangements (common in other
parts of the country) implemented in Akwesasne has not been accepted
by Canada. In the words of many community members: "We feel like
hostages in our own lands."
Community members who do not abide by the reporting requirement
are punished by having their car seized and a minimum $1,000 fine
applied. This has been called Canada's retaliation against the Mohawk
people for their refusal to allow guns on the territory.
Mohawk Council currently has several cases against CBSA before
the Canadian Human Rights Commission based on the unfair Duty to
Report, a lack of accommodation to emergency services utilizing
the bridge crossing at Akwesasne, and a failure of CBSA to recognize
tribal identification, Haudenosaunee passports and other identification
that allows Mohawks to identify themselves as Mohawks rather than
as Canadian or American citizens.
injustices against Akwesasne aren't limited to the bridge and border
crossing issues. Canada has failed to uphold their legal obligation
to consult with and accommodate the rights of the Mohawks of Akwesasne
in many other areas. This is seen in the enactment of several Bills
that significantly impact First Nations people. Those bills are
in relation to safe drinking water, marriage and property laws,
and education. If Canada is unwilling to consult with First Nations
before passing legislation that immediately affects them, then the
Federal Government should at the very least be incorporating clauses
that allow time and opportunity for First Nations to develop their
own legislation to regulate their own water, property, and education
"Mr. Anaya's visit comes at a time when Canada and First Nations
people are realizing the tensions that exist," said Grand Chief
Mitchell. "For years, Canada has tried to keep Indigenous issues
tied up in its bureaucracy and red tape. On many occasions the Canadian
courts have reminded the federal government that it's best to negotiate
a solution rather than expect the Canadian courts to interpret Indigenous
rights, then have the government fail to execute them."