Not My Canada Day or July 4, Crossing Borders Is Getting Harder

A recent interrogation at the Canadian border served as a reminder that for this Haida Indian, neither July 4 nor Canada Day are cause for celebration.
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I have been an artist and fashion designer for 35 years. I was born in Alaska, and for 38 years I've lived in Canada. Today was not a good day. I was pulled over at the Canadian border for what was not a random check. This was different, as I've crossed the border several thousand times. The patrol officer looked at me, grabbed his yellow pad, and started writing, asking me numerous questions. I immediately knew I was going inside for more questioning. I asked him if this was a random check, and he said, “No, it is not, we are selecting some Nexus people.”

NEXUS is a joint program with the Canada Border Services Agency that offers prescreened, approved travelers faster processing when entering the United States and Canada. NEXUS cards provide dedicated lanes to avoid fewer questions by agents and long inspection lines. Customs and Border Patrol estimates that it takes NEXUS card holders 10 seconds at the border guard’s inspection booth.

I immediately thought of racial profiling: “What’s a brown girl doing with a nice car? Why is she so confident? She seems too perfect, something must be wrong with her.” Two Border Patrol agents tell me to go inside and wait while they search my car. They take my cell phone and demand my password. I put my finger on it to open it with my fingerprint, but that’s not good enough. They need my password. I then answer 21 questions and over and over again with a few of the same to try to trip me up and make me nervous. I have nothing to be nervous about. I am straight, direct, and honest with receipts ready. Still they detain me.

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I was in control of my emotions, but inside I was angry. I’ve seen it too many times. But I have to not say anything until she comes back 40 minutes later and hands me my keys and says I can go now. I was trying not to show my anger, but I turned to her and asked, “Why was I selected? Is this normal procedure for Nexus card holders?” She replied that they weren’t too busy so they were selecting people for searches. There were lots of people in the border patrol office, and all of them, I repeat all of them, were brown—not one white person among us.

Those that know me well know I wouldn't pull the "Do you know who I am?” card, but it seemed like the time. So before I left the building, I said to her, “Do you know I am an Order of Canada recipient and this year I was voted one of British Columbia’s 150 celebrated people for Canada’s 150th birthday? She look at me like I was a few cards short of a deck, and said, “Good, we can stop anybody.” I replied, “I’m a good citizen.” As I drove home, the anger turned to laughter; she must have thought I was a bit of a crazy woman, full of myself, and perhaps lying. I had to laugh, what else could I do?

On second thought, there is something I should do, but I'm just not sure yet what that is. There are many brown people, "Natives of North America,” that are dual citizens. We Haidas we are border people, just like all the tribes linking that 49th parallel. But we are all citizens of North America and our homelands. I felt hostage for a brief time, like I was in a foreign country, not my Canada. My story is not as horrendous as so many other Natives have experienced, but the feeling of violation is still there.

I am a business woman that sells my products in both countries. I am considered a role model citizen and business person. I was selected as a green company during the 2010 Winter Olympics. I managed a lot in my career, and I’m proud of the impact my clothing line has had on so many people. I successfully led my team with my vision and passion for art and design, and been solely independent as an owner. I’ve done it with no partners. Over my career, I’ve dressed thousands of people, including several celebrities, and been called a Native “blue-chip company,” impervious to economic downturns.

My independence doesn't come from what Canada or the United States granted me. My independence runs deep in my blood, ingrained in me from my ancestors who were tribal traders before the borders crossed our lands. My independence comes from my cultures and what I can offer the world.

To be pulled aside and treated like a criminal at the border is not a good reflection on Canada or the United States. It is not my Independence Day or Canada Day celebration. I’m proud to be a Haida citizen everyday.

Dorothy Grant’s work is featured in 15 museum collections across Canada, United States and United Kingdom. In May 2015, Dorothy received the "Order of Canada" for her contributions to Canada's fashion industry and for mentoring youth through her example as a designer and entrepreneur. She is a member of the Order of Canada, the Order of B.C., has an honorary degree from the University of Northern B.C., and has received numerous business awards. In 2010, she was named one of B.C.’s 100 most influential women.