By Adam Brazeau
CORNWALL, Ontario - A pair of Akwesasne residents have taken their fight to separate from the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA) and form their own band council to the federal government - but whether or not their so-called crusade has hit a glass ceiling is up for debate.
© Adam Brazeau
Beverly Pyke and Nelson David White, leaders of a grassroots group in Akwesasne, held a press conference in Cornwall on May 23.
Beverly Pyke and Nelson David White, leaders of a grassroots group in Akwesasne, held a press conference Friday in Cornwall.
Pyke and White publicized their goal to make Indian Reserve Number 59 an independent administration while showcasing a 26-page "document for independence" recently sent to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.
"With a cracked foundation, how will we be able to survive as a people?" asked Pyke.
The event was more of an information session since both are forced to wait for the government to intervene before proceeding.
Pyke and White decided to separate themselves from the MCA in November. But renouncing their MCA membership could mean all their treaty, aboriginal, and burial rights will be stripped away.
Pyke said among the concerns on Cornwall Island and other portions on the Ontario side of the reserve are land claims and title changes when landowners pass away.
"With over 200 land disputes on the territory, the council stating that it is up to the federal government to resolve them and the federal government telling us that it is up to the council to resolve, where do you turn in attempting to resolve these issues?" said Pyke.
White said of the nearly 3,000 residents on the Ontario portion of Akwesasne, a dedicated group of 60 people support their cause. But only three guests were in attendance at the press conference.
White added their supporters are too afraid to publicly join in their initiative to separate.
Pyke said she didn't feel safe holding the event in Akwesasne and made no attempt to invite the MCA.
"I fear for myself. I don't want to be on the territory right now," she said. "I didn't invite them because I didn't want this to be a disruptive forum."
Pyke was recently turned down by the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Affairs Canada in her request to have funding set aside for an off-reserve office for her fledgling council.
The ministry has also given no indication that it plans to recognize a new band council.
Since they've already mailed all the necessary paperwork to numerous politicians including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, both are hoping Valcourt will point them in a new direction.
"We can no longer be under the umbrella of the MCA," said Pyke. "We feel it's in our best interest to not fall prey to the current leadership in their quest to become a municipality."