Clair Heath is originally from the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation where she grew up. Later in life she moved to California where she has been for the past 13 years, but decided to spend the summer in Canada this year.
Heath, who has a valid status card and duel citizenship, didn’t expect to have problems when she tried to cross the border at Climax, Saskatchewan with her clothes and personal items and a valid status card.
After casually looking over the status card the boarder guard asked her what she had in the car.
“I told him, I am here in Canada for the summer and the stuff in my car is personal stuff like my clothes and such,” says Heath.
When asked if she was moving to Canada, she told the guard that she was considering moving back to Canada, but had not made that decision yet, and that maybe by the end of summer she would know for sure. But for now, she only intended to stay for the summer.
He ordered her to come into the customs building and list what items she had with her in the car and an estimated value.
“He asked if I was bringing more stuff across in the fall,” she says. “I told him that I was not sure yet if I was staying or not.”
The guard told her that even if she is considering moving in the Fall, she still needed to list what she might be bringing in at that time, should she chose to stay.
“I don’t know what I would be bringing if I decided to move across,” Heath recalls. “And that I can only guess.”
He told her that unless she declared right there and then what she might be bringing over, they would charge her duty on whatever was brought across in the fall. She complied and jumped through the hoops “because it seemed easier,” she says.
Clair’s car was recalled and was back in California so she was driving a rental at the time of the first crossing. Later on, she got a call that her car was ready so she went back across to get her own vehicle in California and brought some more stuff with her at that time as well.
Unfortunately, she crossed at the same place, and encountered the same guard.
The guard asked her if she was going to be bringing her car into Canada. She said yes, but was still not sure if it was going to be permanent move, reiterating that she was going to be in Canada only for the summer.
The guard would not allow her to bring her car across without paying a non-refundable duty of just shy of $1,700. Even should she decide not to stay in Canada, he told her that the money would not be returned to her.
Heath just paid it rather than argue, hoping that she could find someone to help her challenge the situation.
Ironically, Clair’s brother is Larry Sault who, among other things, is president of the Indian Defense League located at Six Nations. The IDLA’s activities are focussed on border crossing issues for North American Indians in compliance with the Jay Treaty. According to that treaty there would be no border for Indians living on either side of the white man’s border.
Sault brought his sister’s problem to this past weekend’s regular meeting of the IDLA, held at Chiefswood Park, seeking direction from its members on what they could do about the issue.
“I have had two experiences of the same thing,” said Sault. “I have advised her that she has a permanent residence at Six Nations, she is not a visitor.”
Two years ago, Sault himself brought a pickup truck load of furniture from California when he moved back to Canada. He crossed in Buffalo and they tried to make him jump through the same hoops as Clair did.
“I said absolutely not,” says Sault. “I am a North American citizen. I do not pay duty. I do not pay taxes coming up from America whether this stuff in my truck originated in America or not.”
According to Sault, they detained him for two hours at the boarder nonetheless but when a superior officer happened to walk by and notice what was happening, he told the younger officers that as long as he has an Indian status card, there is no problem with him coming across with his things.
“If our people do not know their rights, things like this happen all the time,” says Sault.
It seems to Sault that boarder guards, especially west of New York and Michigan, have no idea how to deal with status Indians at the boarder.
“If you try and educate the boarder guards about Native Rights, they get mad at you and make things even more difficult for you,” he says.
Clair felt abused and brow beaten into submission by this particular guard and did not know what to do about it, other than do what he said.
Heath argued that she did not come into Canada on a Canadian or American citizenship, but rather on her status card as a North American Indian.
“He said, that doesn’t matter,” says Clair.
Sault would like to see the IDLA go after Clair’s $1,700. “Unfortunately, our elected system of government is doing nothing about issues like this and neither is the Confederacy,” he says.
In fact it is his view that the Chiefs of Ontario, or the American Congress of American Indians, both of which he has been a member, do not do enough about keeping the boarder open to North American Indians.
The IDLA advised Clair to secure a lawyer to fight the matter, and stated that the IDLA would be in her corner to work with that lawyer to educate him and the government border guards about the rights of Indigenous people in North America.
Sault said that he is aware of a lawyer in Buffalo who specializes in border issues, and that he will be setting up a meeting for his sister and himself.
IDLA vice-president Bob Douglas wishes they could get more into these issues, but laments of lack of funding and personnel to do so.
Clair Heath and her brother Larry Sault intend to challenge the government’s boarder crossing policies after Chair was charged with $1,700 in duty for a car she was trying to drive across the boarder to visit with friends and relatives in Canada for the summer. Sault is president of the Indian Defense League. (Photo by Jim Windle)