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Opening the Border for FTAA

IMC Global Update: Americans coming north to protest free trade talks in Quebec City next month will find the border open, if Shawn Brant has his way.
A Mohawk from the community of Tyendinaga and an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), Brant will take part in a plan to open the international border near Cornwall, Ont., on the weekend of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas talks in Quebec City (April 20-22). The border cuts through the Mohawk territory of Akwesasne, which overlaps Ontario, Quebec and the United States.

"My motivation is to assert and reinforce the sovereign integrity of Mohawk people within the Mohawk nation and to bring the organizing bodies together so we can stand and fight in preparation for the fall," he says, referring to a series of actions with which OCAP and allied groups plan to confront the Ontario government. "We will engage in attacks against the provincial economy, the provincial infrastructure. We will shut down highways, roadways, bridges until this government is brought to its knees."

As Brant describes it, people will assemble in Cornwall on April 19 and then move into Akwesasne, while supporters from the U.S. will gather on the American side of the border. And then?

"The Mohawks of Akwesasne will have pre-secured the bridge," says Brant, though he is reluctant to go into details. "That's probably something that wouldn't be best to publish, tactically," he says. "We are preparing for every possible scenario. Certainly an aggressive stand by the state would not stop us from pursuing our objective -- we'll respond to force with force and to opposition with opposition."

Meanwhile, OCAP is forming networks with Mohawk communities in the area. A recent OCAP tour raised interest among Oneida, Cayuga and Seneca communities south of the border.

The action has been endorsed by the Cornwall Labour Council (CLC), the Kingston-based People's Community Union (PCU) and members of the Mohawk communities of Akwesasne and Kahnawake. The CLC has sent letters to the elected leadership in Akwesasne, requesting their support.

Brant maintains that although some members of the Akwesasne Mohawk community may oppose a potentially explosive action, none oppose opening the border. "The border is a barrier to community life in Akwesasne," says Brant, who must submit to car searches and ID checks at Customs in order to visit relatives who live in the same Mohawk territory, but across the border. "It is the right of the Mohawk nation to determine who can cross the border," he adds.

According to Darren Bonaparte, the Akwesasne author of A Line on a Map: A Mohawk Perspective on the International Border at Akwesasne, the Mohawks have had a love-hate relationship with the border over the years. During Prohibition it provided opportunity for illegal profit through alcohol trading, and more recently cigarettes and foreign nationals have illicitly travelled north and south, respectively.

The border action was news to Canada Customs spokesperson Collette Gentes-Hawn. "Have we been officially notified?" she asks. Still, she's not surprised. "This wouldn't be the first time there are demonstrations on this bridge," she adds, noting that a court case relating to the border is outstanding. The case, launched by Grand Chief Mike Mitchell and the Mohawk Council, alleges that the feds knew about cigarette smuggling across the border, but used the Mohawks as scapegoats rather than acting against the tobacco industry.

According to Brant, the action is really about the free-trade-friendly policies of the Ontario government, which are of concern to poor people and First Nations alike: "[Free trade] does everything to help corporations, and absolutely shit to help people in poverty."
 
 

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