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, 162 Scene from Frozen Riverand 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 very161 Image of repremanded ciggarettes, taken from cbc.ca 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 Akwesasne160 Blockade of Cornwall Bridge to USA, photo taken from therightperspective.org 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. 159 Cornwall Bridge Crossing on Cornwall Island, AkwesasneMost 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.

Comments

Re: Bordering Injustice: Part I

Today I participated in reading buddies in Canton, where ironically enough, my fifth grade student was learning about Native Americans. She was learning about the Iroquois League, the use of the environment, some culture and the league, today. Mind you this section of the textbook took up TWO PAGES. That is it. She had to complete five questions on a worksheet about the reading. For someone that lives in an area that still has a large Native American population, that is quite sad. I then realized that the education system is one of the main ways in which these stereotypes are produced. The "Native Americans today" section of the reading expressed how the Mohawk help build skyscrapers and the league still actively works today. Once again.. that is it! I am not attempting to defend the stereotype, but unless your community rights those wrong ideas of "what a people are" or "stand for," these stereotypes continue. They are embedded in the impressional minds of millions of children of America. I even think it is still embedded in an average college student in the North Country as well. Many probably would not realize that a genocide against the Native Americans had actually occured.

Re: Bordering Injustice: Part I

Thank you so much for bringing up education! This is one of the hardest issues that is being faced today, especially for Native American people. Much of what is taught by schools is based on a general curriculum set out for them by a higher educations board, as well as it partially being based off of the type of text books being bought in bulk which is based off the largest state with the most people (i.e. Texas). Interestingly, these text books normally don't include much history or many facts about Native American people, not to mention the genocide that occurred to them. The issues of Native American suffering is the skeleton in the closet for America, and in my own opinion it's not something they would EVER admit to, let alone teach their children about.

What is most interesting about this though, is like you said, there is not enough education on the subject to even begin to erase the stereotyping of Native people. And because of the lack of education the cycle keeps on going, so what can we do? Well, the only thing we can do is to encourage the furthering of Native American education in schools, beginning with younger and younger students. The earlier the better, really. As much as I understand that it takes a community to educate a child, it is much harder when your community can't even be taken seriously because of preconceived knowledge.

Another aspect of this turns to the political implications of educating students on the history of Native American people and the American government. For one it would have to discuss the issue of genocide, which is also a United Nations Convention, with 42 signatories and more than 130 contracting parties that excludes the United States. Because the United States of America did not sign this they do not have a "set definition" of genocide, and if they should begin to educate its citizens in what happened to Native American people then they would have to recognize the fact that it was indeed a genocide, which would cause many other problems. Again, this is my opinion based on what I have learned over the years.

To educate and teach children about Native American issues has more implications and obsticles than we would like to see, and because of that there is a much broader area that needs to be covered by Native American activists and educators. Thank you again for bringing this issue up, because it deserves to be recognized and discussed.