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Mohawk Nation plans march across international bridge

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MASSENA — A peaceful cross-border protest is expected to shut down traffic on the Massena-Cornwall International Bridge for several hours Friday morning.

Protesters will gather at 9 a.m. at the Mohawk Nation Longhouse on Route 37 and march in protest of the actions and policies of the Canada Border Services Agency.

Rick H. Saaltink, general manager of the Seaway International Bridge Corp., said local police agencies will close the bridge for the duration of the protest, as it “wouldn’t be safe to mix traffic and pedestrians.”

Mr. Saaltink said he expects large numbers of tourists and commercial travelers to be affected by the protest, since Monday is Victoria Day, a federal holiday in Canada, and many Canadians may seek to cross the bridge Friday to get an early start on a long weekend in the U.S.

The march, organized by the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs, is in protest of the relocation of the port of entry from Cornwall Island to Cornwall, Ontario; identification requirements at the port of entry, and long-standing grievances claiming racial profiling and harassment of Mohawks by CBSA officials.

“Since the imposition of the Canadian port of entry within Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, the Kanien’keha:ka have experienced and endured racial harassment and mistreatment, the denial of Haudenosaunee citizenship, arrest, and the confiscation of property by the” CBSA, according to a news release from the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs. “Since the port of entry was relocated to Cornwall four years ago, this mistreatment and abuse has intensified.”

Calls to the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs were not answered.

Mayor James F. Hidy said that while he was sympathetic to the cause of the demonstrators, closing the bridge “is not the right thing to do. Any closure will impact commerce, a fair amount of tourism and the people who navigate back and forth for work,” Mr. Hidy said. “I think the timing is just not right.”

Mr. Hidy said he had met with tribal leaders since the last march on the bridge and had sent two letters to the Canadian government supporting the efforts of demonstrators.

“In my opinion, they are not asking for more than what could probably be resolved,” Mr. Hidy said.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray also urged the Canadian government to address the concerns of Akwesasne residents. Mr. Gray also thanked demonstrators for making the community aware of the four-hour march and for pledging to try not to exceed that time frame.

Shannon Burns, communications manager of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, said that while the council is not involved in organizing the march, it is supporting the efforts of demonstrators.

The Mohawk Council also supports the efforts of the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs to relocate the port of entry from Cornwall to the U.S. side of the bridge, according to Ms. Burns. She said the relocation has put a significant inconvenience on Cornwall Island residents traveling to the U.S., who must drive to Cornwall to check in with the CBSA before they can turn around and drive back south to their homes on the island.

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