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Sun., Dec. 28
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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.

Protestors will gather at 9 a.m. at the Mohawk Nation Longhouse on state Route 37 in Akwesasne and set off to march in protest of the actions and policies of the Canadian Border Service Agency.

Rick H. Saaltink, general manager of the Seaway International Bridge Corporation, said the 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 expects large numbers of tourists and commercial travelers to be impacted by the protest.

He pointed out 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 of camping or other recreational activities on U.S. soil.

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, Ont., 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 press 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, he maintained that closing the bridge “is not the right thing to do. Any closure (of the bridge) 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 added that he’d met with tribal leaders since the last march on the bridge and had sent two letters to the Canadian government supporting to efforts of demonstrators.

“In my opinion, (the demonstrators) 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, they are supporting the efforts of demonstrators.

“Although MCA is not organizing the event, community members have a right to demonstrate how they so wish, and we can only encourage everyone involved to be mindful of one another (and) of the Akwesasne community,” Ms. Burns said.

The MCA 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.

Ms. Burns also said the CBSA has a long history of harassment and racial profiling toward Akwesasne residents. She said the MCA has brought a number of cases before the Canadian Human Rights Commission related to harassment and mistreatment from CBSA officials.

“We constantly hear complaints about CBSA officers. We’ve been hearing this for 10 years,” Ms. Burns said.

When reached for comment, the St. Regis Mohawk Council offered a brief statement of support for the demonstration. “The tribe supports the membership’s right to protest and their fight for our rights to cross into Canada freely,” tribal council Chief Randy Hart said in a statement.

But tribal council Chief Ron LaFrance stated he was not supportive of the efforts to relocate the port of entry to U.S. soil, saying the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs hadn’t consulted with the SRMT to determine how that move would affect Mohawks living in the U.S. Mr. LaFrance is concerned that locating the Canadian port of entry next to the U.S. port of entry will negatively impact traffic in Akwesasne and discourage tourism and commerce.

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