Bordering Injustice: Part I
One thing that has always bothered me is stereotypes, and I don’t just mean about anything, specifically about Native American people. But even more specifically, about Akwesasne and the people that live there. There is a film that was released in 2008 about a white woman who lives is the North Country near a small reservation located near Massena, NY. Being students here at St. Lawrence, it’s easy to name the only reservation near Massena. Akwesasne is the only reservation located near Massena, and it is the only one that sits on top of the Canadian/American border with both crossings in the middle of the territory. This film is called Frozen River, and it was written and directed by Courtney Hunt, a well renowned director for her abilities and skill and whose husband is actually from a close town to Akwesasne, Malone, NY. In an article from the timesunion.com, Hunt told reporters that the issue made a good story after hearing tales of Mohawk smugglers taking illegal cigarettes across the border to be sold. As much as I wish I could say there is no factual evidence behind this statement, there are. Smuggling has been an issue within Akwesasne for a long time, BUT it is not only within Akwesasne that this is problematic. Let’s think of any community that sits near or on a border, now let’s think of the issues there and then compare them to Akwesasne. We aren’t the only ones with this problem, and we won’t be the last.
A social stigma that I am unfortunately and consistently placed in is that we are all smugglers, and we are all rich. I for one am not rich, nor is anyone in my family a part of this criminal act. I can say however, that there are those few individuals who partake in this activity, but if I could tell you all one thing about my community it would be that we are a positive community to live in and that we strive for what is good and right. This film brings to light a very important issue, and it also shows how forced it is to be the only issue that we have. Akwesasne, like many other communities (not just Native American communities) have general problems with societal threats like drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, and other criminal activity. Just because I am from Akwesasne, doesn’t mean that I’m a participant in the few cases of smuggling that we have there. Just because someone is black doesn’t mean they live in the ghetto right? Or just because someone is tall and athletic looking doesn’t mean they play basketball or volleyball, right? Stereotypes are what unfortunately make our society a sad place to be if you're different. And especially in a society that thrives off of originality, being too far from what is "acceptable" difference is bad.
Living on top of a border where two (almost) completely different countries live on either side is a difficult situation no matter who you are. For those living on the reservation, however, it's a far more difficult issue that you can imagine. The Jay Treaty of 1794 was a treaty that was made between the United States and Britain in order to end the war of that time as a means of creating a peaceful agreement of trade and commerce. This treaty also included the importance of First Nations/Native American people, by acknowledging their rights that pre-existed such as relationships with other tribes and Native communities for their benefit and/or profit. This treaty marked the understanding that Native American and First People's had rights to continue on their practices such as traveling between both countries to other Native land, and today it is still viewed as such. This treaty today allows people of Akwesasne to cross freely (as in without paying toll) from Canada to the US with our goods (groceries, clothing, necessities). Even though we have this recognition, there is a lot of ignorance within the border agencies that disregaurd our rights to travel around on our own land. This makes it extremely frustrating, especially when you know you have to deal with the "21 questions" at the border (after waiting for up to an hour sometimes in line).
Besides that, many Mohawk people that live in Akwesasne have what is called dual-citizenship, which gives them the ability to be recognized as either an American citizen, or Canadian citizen. Most however, will recognize themselves as being First People or Native American. The issues that we have with these borders though, is that they sit on top of our territory that was promised to us by New York State and Canada, and because of this, along with other factors, there is a lot of tension between Akwesasne and both border crossing agencies. More recently though issues of assault, harassment, and threats have become the root of our hostility. More to come in my next post on this issue.