(updated with added links)
The Canadian government seems to be cranking up its anti-Mohawk propaganda these days. The main PR line is “Mohawk = criminal.”
It won’t matter if it’s tobacco or armed customs guards, drug raids in Quebec or blocked bridges along the St. Lawrence system. The underlying theme is that Mohawks are choatic, lawless creatures who don’t need negotiations – they need a good smackdown by government authorities.
Peter Van Loan, the federal minister in charge of public safety, likes to talk tough. He told a CTV program on the weekend that the federal government might even consider moving the port of entry. Comments like this are inexcusable. They exacerbate a situation which could become dangerous. Facts are needed – not ad hocery that serve to rile local prejudices, and set up massive police or military action at Akwesasne.
Fact: it is a government blockade. The federal government pulled out which caused the shutdown of the bridges and U.S. Customs.
For Canada to move the port of entry would require tearing up international treaties and agreements stretching back to pre-Confederation and are the foundations of the St. Lawrence Seaway and international crossings at Akwesasne and elsewhere along the border. Van Loan is suggesting Canada may do so unilaterally. Even if it entered into talks to do so with the U.S., it doesn’t make sense and would likely be shot down by the Obama administration.
But there are other initiatives that Ottawa wants to push through. Ottawa plans to dump its responsibilities to Indians in a big way. It calls it “encouraging partnerships” with provinces, unilaterally changing the Indian Act. The federal government of Stephen Harper wants to ram through Parliament what federal governments have been trying to do for decades, best articulated in the 1969 White Paper Policy on Indian Affairs (which should be required reading in schools).
This border crossing issue is just the thing the Harper Government needs to inflame Canadians against Indigenous rights. It’s also a way to divert attention away while it rips up the rights of Indians without their consent.
It will be a disaster even if Harper succeeds. It could be a long, hot summer.