AKWESASNE – Word of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) raid on an Onkwehon:we encampment in Rexton, New Brunswick reached Akwesasne this past week and social activists immediately got busy. Both sides of the imaginary line were bustling with activity as community members responded to the anti-fracking protest crackdown.
Members of both the Akwesasne People’s Fire on Kawehnoke (Cornwall Island) and the Idle No More Akwesasne groups quickly organized watch fires on both sides of the International Bridge. Supporters slept on-site in some cases as dozens of volunteers rotated through the watch shifts. Car horns were heard through the night as passing drivers expressed their appreciation for the display of solidarity.
John Boots of Kawehnoke confirmed the presence of a fire near the Cornwall Island crossroads.
Idle No More Akwesasne member Jose Verdugo provided the Two Row Times with some insight into the Akwesasne protests.
“We are here to show support for the victims of the RCMP attack in New Brunswick on shale mining protesters; the Mi’kmaq people. These fires instill a reminder to people that not everyone has it easy. Standing up to foreign governments who oppress others is a calling for us here,” Mr. Verdugo related.
Asked if the protesters were part of Idle No More Akwesasne or another group, Mr. Verdugo said that was not the way they were looking at it. “We are here united as individuals, working together. Friends and allies have been bringing us food, water and firewood all night. The car and truck horns started honking as soon as the sun set. There are many supporting points of view on display at the fires,” he said.
Jose spoke further on the multiple fires in Akwesasne. “Right now we are south of the imaginary line. Later on we may be somewhere else. We have an open line with all of the volunteers, including those on watch north of the line, standing by the People’s Fire there on Kawehnoke. No one is alone. There have been no problems,” he offered.
Asked about any law enforcement contact with the fire watchers, Jose said there had been nothing like that to report. “At the south fires, we have seen fewer New York State Police than normal on patrol, and no marked U.S. Customs and Border Protection Services Agency vehicles at all. We have even seen the RCMP undercover Chrysler 300 heading to Tsi:Snaihne for patrol. Some local police honk at us also. They are turning around farther away, down the road, since we have been here,” he replied.
After being asked how long the fires would be kept lit, Mr. Verdugo stated that it would be for as long as necessary. “The fires will stay lit, and the people will share the schedule to do this. We are sleeping here right on the ground when we get tired but someone is always up on watch. The Men’s Council has provided a good shelter to stay in here so we can do this for a while,” Verdugo answered.
In closing, I asked Jose how much this attack on anti-fracking demonstrators really affects people in Akwesasne, where there is no fracking. Mr. Verdugo responded, “The location on the map is no more important than the activist cause. This is all about human rights. I wish that there were more concern for the treatment of others by more people, but the fire has again been lit for this generation of Onkwehon:we to make a stand. The real people know that these incidents of abuse are not uncommon. We have to recall the past and still move forward.”