A bridge to nowhere?

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Another summer and another Canadian tradition is in full swing, First Nations People blockading bridges, roads, railway lines, customs check points and whatever else they need to do so as to get Canadians’ consciences to realize the injustice being imposed upon their people and their country. Let’s be very clear. The disturbance at the Cornwall International Bridge is an act of civil disobedience and thus far has resulted in no violence. This follows a long history mastered by such individuals as India’s Gandhi, America’s Martin Luther King and the likes of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela to name but a few. All chose non-violence to make their point heard around the world, which eventually did change their situation and in a small part, changed civil rights around the world, bridging gaps between peoples.

The problem at our bridge seems on the surface very reasonable to the Honourable Peter Van Loan, Minister for Public Safety (in this case his ministerial title emerges a little ironic to me). All border-crossing guards are to be armed. OK, that’s easy to understand until you ask ‘of the entire border crossings to the United States, how many are situated on First Nations Territory?’ Then when you ask ‘has this Minister met with elected leaders of Akwesasne to work out any potential difficulties either before, or since this predicament occurred?’ I am led to understand that since elected, MP Guy Lauzon has never asked for any meetings nor ever met with any Akwesasne Chiefs on or off the reserve. (I may only presume the thinking is why meet when they don’t vote in any Canadian election) But with an economic effect reported in this newspaper by numerous local business persons stating that the bridge closing accounts for 30-40% of their business you’d think MP Lauzon would have attempted to help those business people by meeting on occasion with Chief’s from Akwesasne. A failure is a man who has blundered, but is not able to cash in on the experience and I’ll bet after this state of affairs gets resolved, that MP Lauzon’s policy of not meeting with Elected Chiefs will not change, for they still will not vote in Canadian Elections and getting re-elected, to him, is paramount.

With respect to the Territory of Akwesasne, to the best of my knowledge, there is no record in history of a nation that ever gained anything valuable by being unable to defend itself, and that’s what the Mohawk People of Akwesasne are doing, governing there civil laws and standards within the boundaries of their historical homeland. The lawlessness-acts taking place here is that of our Federal Government by forcing their perception of arming the border guards in a territory that is not under their direct control and trying to do so without proper consultation. I’d ask any Canadian, what would you do should the case be reverse? Would you not protect your homeland? Your children and family’s safety?

Minister Van Loan and our local MP Lauzon, who have been firmly seated in authority, have learned to think of personal preservation and not progress, which is not the highest level of statesmanship. The leadership shown by Grand Chief Tim Thompson has thus far been exceptional and may only be described as heroic. However, the in-your-face approach being proposed by some Akwesasne residents for opening their own border post does little to finding a meaningful solution, other than playing in the hands of those who would only see animosity between the Mohawks and the Federal Government as a means to an end. I’d advocate if history teaches anything it teaches us to hope for a better future, going backwards only keeps the status quo, and ironically here we need to build bridges, not walls.

MP Lauzon should be listening very carefully to Scott Armstrong, President of the Chamber of Commerce, for on this side of the border, he’s the only one thus far offering sound advice. Too bad he’s not on city council. Governments can encourage and cultivate a spirit of cooperation and harmony. Governments can provide a framework in which we may pursue happiness and well being, but they cannot make us happy and satisfied. Any effort to use the coercive power of government for that purpose not only fails every time but also produces low morality, which in turn only leads to undermining public cooperation. Presently, the governments’ handling of this crisis can only be rationalized as showing limited knowledge of our city, of our Mohawk neighbors and showing a condemnation approach to being creative and failing to understand that one federal approach to resolving issues along our Canadian borders does not fit all situations, especially in Akwesasne.

Chamber President Armstrong’s approach to bridge building is to get all parties back to a round table of discussions and finding a means of acceptable resolution. This situation now needs a hero, which is someone who is not fearful of the greatest obstacle to being heroic, who will not doubt whether his/her action may not be going to prove one’s self a fool, for the truest heroism is to resist that doubt – and the profoundest wisdom to move ahead and bridge building between people. The international bridge needs to be re-opened, as does the relationship between the people of Akwesasne and our federal government. Now is the time for a hero, for without one we have a bridge leading nowhere.

Organizations: Mohawk People, Chamber of Commerce

Geographic location: Akwesasne, United States, India South Africa

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