Recently, Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, running for the Republican Party nomination for President in 2016, offered his thoughts on erecting a physical wall between the U.S. and Canada. Reportedly, Walker was prompted to this consideration after hearing from unnamed law enforcement officials while campaigning in New Hampshire, who supported the idea during a town hall style meeting there. Walker went on the Sunday morning talk show circuit afterwards and declared the proposed wall a “legitimate” idea.
Some Native people living on both sides of what they consider an imaginary line likely almost fell out of their chairs when hearing about this. At least I did.
In attempting to verify this story, I tried to do a little fact checking. First, who were these unidentified “New Hampshire law enforcement officials” exactly? No names or agencies were ever recalled by Walker or anyone in his campaign. In fact, Gov. Walker quickly clammed up about this wall idea rather quickly once the idea was thoroughly derided, so the sources of the comments became obscured quite quickly. An inquiry with New Hampshire Public Radio also went unanswered as to the idea originators.
I’ll just cut to the chase and call these unnamed public servants complete jackasses. In the words of famed Mohawk oral historian Tekarontake (Paul Delaronde), “they who know so little” about what they said should have just kept quiet all along.
Rarely have two adjoining countries shared so much in common historically as have the U.S. and Canada. Austria and Germany come to mind. But the list is short. Language is one point of unity. English is the predominant shared language in both the U.S. and Canada, owing to their respective links to the former British Empire.
Now they each belong to the Five Eyes intelligence gathering network, along with other English-speaking countries including Australia, New Zealand as well as England. And with the Anglo connections lies a legacy of subjected Native populations who are still sorting out the disrupted pieces in the historical aftermath marked by colonization.
Well-travelled Canadian author / commentator Dr. James Laxer has often lectured of the complex relationship between the USA and Canada as a faculty member at York University in Toronto. In 2003 he publishedthe Border: Canada, the U.S. and Dispatches from the 49th Parallel. An avid runner, Laxer physically covered the span of the U.S. – Canadian border, all the while worried about the sweat-drenched clothing persistently found in his trunk during customs inspections.
“Living next door to a supernova is not a pleasant prospect,” Laxer wrote on the independent status of Canada as a government. Separating the shared economies by a border wall, symbolic or otherwise, completely complicates the reality of Fortress North America. A lower-valued Canadian dollar invites an active export market, from which the American markets benefit. Free market theory is ripped apart when the trade flow is literally balanced atop the same towering wall.
ALL HANDS ON DECK
Canadian news cycles have recently seen the anniversary of the 1990 Oka Incident when Mohawk land defenders held out against the armored vehicles of the Canadian armed forces in Quebec over an ill-fated golf course expansion. The incident took place in the deep shadow of the buildup of American military forces during the first Persian Gulf War against Iraq. Still, the American military was aware that several Mohawks serving in the U.S. Marines Corps sought to be granted leave so they could return to their First Nation homes to help defend them. In fact the tradition of “Canadian Mohawks” serving in the U.S. armed forces is quite well documented and continues to this day. Would the northern fool’s wall upset this lucrative recruit pipeline as well?
Requests for a response on the Walker comments were submitted to the U.S. Homeland Security Department but were not made available by the time this commentary was completed. A pressing concern with Gov. Walker dropping in the American media polls was if he withdrew from the race before I finished writing this? Does a dead tree make more noise if no one cares if it falls?
Of course the befuddled Walker made the statement in an off-handed publicity-seeking response to previous statements made by poll leading candidate Donald Trump, regarding the southern U.S. border. Still, he was derided on both sides of the line for a disingenuous strategy.
The elected St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, itself possibly affected by a border wall that would likely be intended to be placed in its proximity, made its own position clear in a provided statement:
"As the U.S. federally recognized government in Akwesasne, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council looks forward to consultation on any proposed federal measure involving our territory. It will serve as an opportunity to share the long-history of proactive measures our tribal police department and community have taken to secure and protect our borders, which is supported by the cooperative working relationships we have with external law enforcement agencies."
Retired Chief Paul O. Thompson of the tribal council tells people that such respect plays out in small but telling ways. His best memory of this came when retired Massena Port of Entry Customs director Robert Johnston would pay a visit to meet with the chiefs, “He would look us all in the eye, he would speak to us in the Mohawk language, and he would leave his weapon in his office because he knew that he was under our protection,” Thompson stated.
Johnston has his own opinions on the need for a border wall. “They would never build it here at the busiest port of entry in this stretch of the line, I know that. The Mohawks would never let them. However, I do have my own concerns about people entering Canada under false pretenses and then using that access to try to enter the United States. Some of these are long-held views. I used to call into the “Lowell Green” Canadian national radio broadcast and share my views. Lowell postures as a conservative but when I listened to him, he sounded liberal. Clearly, there are different opinions in both countries. Americans might blame Canada for some incidents. In turn, some Canadians relish in seeing America stumble too. A man-made wall won’t change any of that,” the retired American Customs officer concluded.
Native people all along the “imaginary line” have long felt the effects of involuntary separation from their own families, including the Iroquois Confederacy, Blackfoot Confederacy and the Ojibwe Nation. Many military veterans live among these Turtle Island residents.
One such Native veteran, Bob Houle, remarked upon hearing of Walker’s statement, “Why don’t they just hire military veterans to help patrol the darn thing? It would be cheaper than paying for the steel alone and all that money goes away once it is spent, left to rust. Veterans getting paid spend their money right where they live and would be happy to do it,” the retired U.S. Army veteran noted.
Canadian Armed Forces Lt. Col. Douglas Bland (retired), an author and Queen’s University lecturer, has written of potential U.S. military intervention within Canadian borders in his 2010 novel “Uprising.” When things got out of hand for the Canadian government, the U.S. sent in the air cavalry and then never left, leading to annexation of the country shortly thereafter, all resulting from a fictional Native revolt. “Building a 5500+mile 'wall' from coast to coast -- and I assume out to sea also -- and manning it is infeasible if it were intended to stop a few people crossing over. Jamming the border would do great harm to the U.S. economy and would never be tolerated,” Bland remarked.
Lest anyone forget, a fence was once planned on the Akwesasne Territory through an American Youth Corps project, and some trees were even cut down by chainsaw wielding teenagers. All was going ahead until the work crew came into contact with the Bear Clan member Kanaseraka on the Racquette Point land of his ancestors. The workers were dismissed as trespassers, the chain saws placed in the bed of his work truck, and a two-year standoff with New York State and police agencies was commenced, presaging the decade of Native activism that culminated at Oka.
For a governor of Wisconsin as a northern state close to Canada, Scott Walker seemed unlikely to fall on his own sword as he did. Since that cat is now out of the bag, the lesson should be clear. Fools and their political dreams are sooner or later dashed when talk of walls are involved.
Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War II 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.