Akwesasne – Protesting community issues has been a family tradition and my family has been a promotor of education for as many years as I can remember.
My father protested the New York state education department in the late 60’s. The community boycotted the Salmon River Central School District. Native students are allocated monies to pay for their education from the state and the aboriginal population was not allowed to have a say in the direction that this funding would take. By keeping the students out of school and due to the lack of funding for those days that they weren’t in school, the school district allowed the community to have representation. My father was one of two people to become the first native representatives.
He was part of the education committee and he became the first President of the Akwesasne Library and Cultural Center. He developed a relationship with St. Lawrence University that continues to this day.
My parents had 12 children of whom there are 8 of us still alive. All of the children that survived to adulthood had at least a high school education. Many of us have more than that. We have professionals in the family and still believe that struggles should be fought with words rather than guns.
My family has given the ultimate sacrifice in fighting for our rights and beliefs. My brother Mathew was shot in the back on May 1, 1990 as he was exiting a vehicle in the district of Snye to assist a family that had been shot at all evening.
The ambulance was not allowed into the area and he was driven to Fort Covington in the back of a pickup truck. The ambulance from Fort Covington drove him to the hospital in Malone. He later succombed to the injuries that he received.
The funeral for Mathew was held in Kanatakon after a two night wake at the family residence. His body was carried to the church by the men. They alternated as they carried him for approximately one mile. At the border to Kanatakon all of the vehicles were searched by the Surete de Quebec. they were looking for weapons.
The tactical force searched the church before we got there and no one was allowed into the church until the funeral procession arrived. People were lining the streets before and after the funeral procession and taking videos and pictures.
My family was beaten, fire bombs thrown at our family residence,and shots fired at our homes because we did not agree with casinos and we were considered anti’s. It did not end with Mathew’s death, harassment continued long after his death. People would yell slurs at us as we were trying to get our lives back together. Yes, we have given the ultimate sacrifice by giving a life for the benefit of the community. No one has ever been charged with Mathew’s murder.
My parents have the answer now that they are both deceased.
After Mathew’s death, I returned to work in Kahnawake where I was a teacher at the Kahnawake Survival School. On July 11, 1990 the Oka Crisis began.
My daughter and niece had to be smuggled out of Kahnawake and taken to Plattsburgh so that they could be picked up by my family. They spent the rest of the summer with my parents.
With one of my friends I went to the front lines to see what support I could be. I was still suffering from my brother’s death and when I heard the men loading their guns, I realized that I could not support the fight at the front lines. I went home and rented videos to people that wanted to leave the struggle for a few hours as all of the media outlets were focused on the crisis.
I stayed as long as I could before I could no longer deal with the situation in Kahnawake.
This is the background that I come from and I will use words rather than guns to continue native struggles. My family has paid many times over for change in the community.
With this life experience I came to Kawehnoke last spring. On May 1, 2009 I watched as they were setting up for the protest against the arming of CBSA agents on Kawehnoke. It was the 19th anniversary of my brother Mathew`s death. We have a family get together in the Adirondacks to remember our brother and other deceased members of the family. I left the island and pondered the situation that would be coming in the following days. How long was it going to last and what would the results be.
I attended the protest over the bridge and watched from our van. I was still leary and could not committ to the struggle at that time. I had many thoughts running through my head and wondered what was going to happen. Is someone going to die in this struggle or can it be handled with clear minds.
I was there the night that CBSA walked away from the Port of Entry on May 31, 2009. It was with shock that I saw the officers leave their post. We decided to return to Cornwall that night. We weren`t prepared for an overnight stay.
The next day we walked over the bridge and went to the protest site. Once we went there and made the decision to be there, there was no looking back. It was not a decision to attain readily but with much serious thought and soul searching. Was I ready to make the sacrifice needed to support the cause. The answer so far has been yes.
We have been assisting members of the community when we are asked to help with issues at the current port of entry. A rapport has developed with some supervisors and some of the agents at the port. It has not always been easy, they have had their screaming matches and now have a respect for each other.
We have been working with different agencies and people to try to resolve the issues relating to the arming of the border guards.
My partner has seen the highs and lows that I have had since 1990. I have suffered from post tramatic stress from my brother Mathew`s death and I lived through the Oka Crisis.
One of the images I have is riding through the country with one of my brother`s and saw a farm tractor on the side of the road. I didn`t see a tractor, I saw an armored personnel carrier! That was from the army being in Akwesasne and Kahnawake during 1990.
I personally don`t want to see the army in any native community again.
My motivation and that of my partner should not be questioned, we are there to see a peaceful resolution to the question of the arming of the border guards.
The anniversary of the beginning of the physical presence of onkwehonwen on Kawhnoke at the 4 corners is fast approaching. May 1, 2009 is the day that it began. May 31, 2009 is the date that CBSA walked out. We are still waiting for a peaceful resolution.
Beverly Pyke is a member of the Akwesasne Peoples Fire and a retired teacher who taught special needs students in a high school setting in Kahnawake for a number of years. She is a mother, grandmother and the eldest of the Pyke children.
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