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On border issues, bridge the gap

The days when Indians marched across borders to assert and remind imposing governments of their inherent rights were probably thought to be over. In an era of heightened security and tightening travel restrictions between nations, it seems the ability of indigenous peoples to roam their own lands freely would be coming to an end. This might be true if not for the clarity of identity, strength of will, and enduring fire within Native peoples which cannot be extinguished.

At Akwesasne, where this hearty fire continues to burn in the people, another chapter in a long struggle to maintain border crossing rights is being written. Previous displays of grassroots support for a community’s right to pass through their own territory unmolested provide examples of the leadership required for such efforts. They remind the current generation that their elders once struggled, and now it is their turn to bear the responsibility.

When Native people resist U.S. and Canadian policies imposed upon them on their homelands, it needs to be said that peace is essential. Fortunately, the Haudenosaunee have a tremendous store of experience accepting and promoting peace. Jake Swamp, respected elder of the Mohawk Nation Council, reflected this in a writing for his Tree of Peace Society, which is world-renowned for promoting a message of Skennen:kowa (Great Peace).

“The Haudenosaunee have one of the greatest traditions of peace, not because everyone was full of love, sharing and respect. Just the opposite. Our people were caught in a seemingly endless cycle of hatred, violence and war. Our Great Law of Peace brought that strife to an end when people remembered the values of the Original Instructions. By keeping the peace in mind and treating everyone with respect and making sure that justice prevails, we can have what we call the Good Mind. Perhaps it is human nature to forget such things, especially when times are good. It takes hard work to keep the peace. It takes a strong mind to overcome heartache and tragedy.”

In this latest struggle among Haudenosaunee people to unite against manipulation and threats to their identity, there are encouraging efforts to bring good, strong minds to the table. It may take a shift in thinking, as Chief Swamp said, to awaken the discipline that may have gotten swept aside during times of abundance. A strategy that emphasizes organizing and responding with peace is always befuddling to an adversary but welcome to a brother, a term which Indian nations have used to address foreign leaders.

The generational struggle that is ever-present in Akwesasne has been one that other nations watch and learn from. To be always ready to stand up and declare, “This is our land” is nearly a genetic attribute of the Mohawk people. For this reason, it is critical that leadership and the citizenry conduct consultations in peace. These policies affect all Native people, because they all lose if one is defeated.

Now the governments which were aided by the Haudenosaunee people since their very origins are using the river to separate Onkwehonwe (Original People) from each other. It is not a wise tactic; the people draw strength from those waters. The river’s currents symbolize endurance and Mohawks have always defended it against such violations. Every boat trip across the river to reach the protest site puts people on the water, and reminds them of their purpose.

Canada, through the actions of its border guards, simply shut the door on negotiations and literally is blocking free passage for the Mohawk people. There should and we hope, will, be a wider effort among Native nations to support this latest struggle. We encourage Canada and the U.S. to open the passages between “them” and “us,” to let the people pass freely and solutions flow.