CORNWALL, Ontario - A United Nations fact-finder hailed Akwesasne as a "famous" community while on a tour of First Nations territories across the country.
James Anaya made the nearby Mohawk reservation his first stop on Oct. 7, hearing presentations from community officials on Akwesasne’s experiences with the Canadian government.
Anaya has indicated Canada is at a crossroads in dealing with its native communities, and a deep distrust exists among First Nations peoples concerning the Canadian government.
“I’m hoping that by raising these issues with the Canadian government, by including them in my report, and making appropriate recommendations, that I will be able to draw further attention to these issues so that you can move toward resolution of them,” Anaya said, addressing a group of Mohawk elders in Kawehno:ke, Que.
Anaya's visit was welcomed by Mohawks in Akwesasne.
“Mr. Anaya’s last-minute decision to visit Akwesasne was a pleasant surprise,” said Grand Chief Mike Mitchell, who had been planning to present to the special rapporteur at a scheduled hearing in Ottawa. “His eagerness to learn about Akwesasne’s situation as a border community provided us with the golden opportunity to acquaint him with the daily complexities of Akwesasne life, and the issues we have faced with the federal government.”
Anaya said the United Nations requested permission from Canada to conduct the research and report. On Oct. 15, Anaya held a special conference describing his initial findings, and a detailed report will be forthcoming in the months ahead.
During the hearing in Akwesasne, Anaya heard from Mitchell, Chief Brian David, Justice Director Joyce King, youth representative Shara Francis-Herne and Akwesasne’s legal counsel Micha Menczer on Canada’s violations of the aboriginal, civil and human rights of the Mohawks of Akwesasne.
“Why do we face scrutiny (at the Canadian Port of Entry) when proudly declaring our membership to the Kanienkehaka Nation?” said Francis-Herne. “Why do we feel singled out and profiled, sometimes being made to feel criminal? And why is it so hard for us to travel from one part of our community to another? It is not about having special rights, it is about having human rights.”
Menczer pointed out how it’s Akwesasne community members trying to live their daily lives who are suffering.
“Resolution is possible but Akwesasne must have their rights respected and a willing Canadian government partner to negotiate practical arrangements for daily travel in the community across the international border," he said. "This has not been the case to date.”
Akwesasne said in a statement the Canadian government has a constitutional obligation to consult with First Nations before creating regulations or policies that impact their aboriginal rights or title. Akwesasne went on to say Canada has failed to consult with Akwesasne or accommodate the aboriginal rights of Akwesasne members on a number of large issues. This has resulted in undue hardship to the community members.
Akwesasne has also complained about a lack of communication concerning the border dispute on Cornwall Island and moving the toll booth for the Seaway International Bridge.
Akwesasne’s proposal to have alternate reporting arrangements (common in other parts of the country) implemented in Akwesasne has not been accepted by Canada.