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Indigenous Intercontinental Highways

The uneven progress associated with fossil fuel pipeline projects on Turtle Island has taken on international dimensions recently. Eminent domain protests and leaking piped networks now routinely are in the news. Three-dimensional terrain mapping that aids in laying out these pipeline projects ignores international borders, seeking only the most efficient routes. A new era among North American Indian border nations to restring historical confederacies and efficiently work together, may also be a timely development.

One only needs to look at the dozens of Onkwehonweh (Original People) population groups that have been bisected by the United States borders to see that language and culture can survive despite isolation. Language dialects may somewhat differ, but the traditional songs are sung in much the same way that they were before the international borders were put in place, under arms.

Although the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory is possibly the best known for the imposition of foreign borders within it, many other reservation intersections also come to mind.

The Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona published a special treatise on this topic, "Native Nations and U.S. Borders: Challenges to Indigenous Culture, Citizenship, and Security."

This study quickly identifies the conundrum.

Borders alienate original inhabitants, as much as they empower newcomers. Regional existences create unified cultures, which lines on maps cannot negate. Involuntary division lends itself to the ensuing reformative solution.

The book’s introduction states:

“…the two sides of an international boundary may compose a single contiguous space: a homeland, or a network of relationships reaching far back to a distant past, or a set of natural and cultural resources that are used in common and need to be protected and sustained…”

On the northern United States borders alone, including Alaskan Native communities, this has affected at least ninety-one distinct cultural groupings. As migratory people, these People’s became landlocked by the “imaginary line” as many have taken to calling these demarcations. These divisions also forced certain groups to co-exist when historically they may have been at odds with each other.

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As the pipeline projects snake their way through many original lands, that resultant capital investment may also serve to alienate less advantageously placed communities. Earlier in 2013, news that American and Canadian-based activists vowed to block three such projects was announced, including both legal as well as more direct approaches to do so.

A community organizer thinking politically would look at these elements and inventory these dynamics. ”If these people cannot begin working together towards immediate common goals now and longer term ones later, then when could this take place otherwise and under what conditions?” Now may be ideal.

A fundamental step in this direction could take the form of unity councils within similar language groups, before regional associations could be established. Eventually, both border-shadowing as well as border-spanning socio-economic networks could be implemented. Real political presence could then be applied to natural resource stewardship in the areas of conservation, as well as commerce.

These alliances will be contested by national governments. Criminal prosecution that would be used to discourage individual activists would be untenable with larger populations, all demanding jury trial; taxing judicial resources and citizen patience.

Current events lay out the landscape of what would be politically involved here.

The recent Canadian study by the Macdonald Laurier Institute of Ottawa, Ontario has been publicly discounted by the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne as a one-sided presentation. This report does concede a generality which is unavoidable. On the topic of Sovereignty and Territorial Control, the report states “control over space and people that the government claims in the Mohawk territories is weaker than in the rest of Canada and, in practice, it is the object of constant implicit and explicit negotiations.” The conservative think tank is, in part, named after the first Prime Minister of Canada, John A. Macdonald.

Another take on this overall subject is the just-published Department of Homeland Security (DHS) response to ongoing inquiries from United States Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana). This 2013 report cites friction over federal agency operations within Indian country and unidentified tribal governments located on the United States border. The elitist law enforcement protocols that have been engineered to firewall elected and traditional council participation are contrary to consensus law and order in even the least assertive tribal communities. The name of the government whitepaper is deeply implicative, entitled Partnership Agreements and Enhanced Oversight Could Strengthen Coordination of Efforts on Indian Reservations. The report extols the value of the overtime-intensive Operation Stonegarden program, as well as calls for the development of omnipotent law enforcement oversight on reservations.

Untapped, latent pathways exist between Indigenous cousins and relatives everywhere. These familial ties are the circulatory system of Turtle Island. At its longest stretches, the red road truly is an intercontinental highway.

Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War Two veteran. He attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, earning degrees in Communication and Library Science, as well as Mercyhurst College where he earned a graduate degree in the Administration of Justice. He has worked across Indian country, from the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana (where he married his wife) to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and now resides in Kanienkeh.