AKWESASNE – In May of 2009 massive community opposition to the presence of armed border guards forced the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) to abandon the customs house in the Kanienkehaka territory of Akwesasne. Since then the building has been sitting empty and unused. A group of grassroots activists organized by Stacey Boots of Akwesasne are planning to change that later this month.
“At noon on March 22nd, after we burn tobacco, we’re going to gather at the people’s fire, which is right next to the customs house, and we’re going to walk over and take it over, we’re going to enter the building, from that point forward it is our building,” stated Stacey Boots in an interview with the Two Row Times.
Boots told the Two Row Times that the land for the customs house was acquired by the CBSA in an underhanded way, informing us that his great-grandfather “sold the land under false pretences” and was pressured into signing a deal. He hopes through this action, the abuses and deception by the Canadian state regarding this land will be brought to light.
When asked why he had decided to organize this action, Boots said, “I’m putting myself out there because my grandfather sold that land, and who better to fight for this than me?” He also made it clear that justice is motivating the group, “It’s the wrongdoings that they’ve done to our people in Akwesasne.”
Since the CBSA abandoned the customs house, guards have been stationed across the river in the city of Cornwall and the people of Akwesasne are now forced to pass through customs to simply leave the island, this despite the fact that Kanienkehaka people have been there long before there was ever an international border. “Our families and our community is in turmoil over this bridges and this customs [house]… “We’re pretty much tired of all the lies they’ve told us,” stated Boots.
The union for the CBSA border guards has made it clear that they do not intend to return to the island and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne has been in discussions with the bridge authority in order to tear down the building. A new low-level bridge from the island to Cornwall was also opened earlier this year.
The organizers of the action stated that they intend to let the community decide what to do with the building once it has been recovered. “It’s up to the community to decide what they’re going to do with that building,” stated Boots; although he did suggest the space could be used for dialysis or other health services.
For the organizers this situation ultimately boils down to a question of sovereignty and self-determination. “The Canadian government has moved their border line… How could they say that it’s Ontario? It is no longer Ontario, it is Akwesasne, it’s always been and it always will be,” said Boots, “We’re going to push on, we’re going to self-determine what’s going to happen in Akwesasne.”
Boots has invited supporters to come to Akwesasne to support the action on March 22nd at noon, “We’re Mohawks, we’re strong people, and we thank you for your support.”