UPDATED (Poll added) -Let’s talk about the border crossing: Chief Brian David & Idle No More Ahkwesáhsne – a CFN Exclusive!


CFN – In 2009, a disagreement between Canada Border Services Agency and residents of Akwesasne (alternately spelled Ahkwesáhsne) resulted in the CBSA temporarily re-locating the Canadian Port of Entry to nearby Cornwall. The temporary situation became a long term pain for natives and non-natives and one which has negatively impacted the impression of travellers passing through Cornwall.

With the construction of Cornwall’s new low level bridge nearing completion, once again attention is turning to the concern over the future location of our Port of Entry.  Will it be at the foot of the new bridge in Cornwall?  Will it share space with the U.S. Port of Entry in nearby New York State? Or will an other option be chosen.  Atahontsison, a resident of Cornwall Island and spokesperson for  Idle No More Ahkwesáhsne, is advocating that CBSA return to it’s abandonned Port of Entry on the Island.


The existing and new low level bridge under construction between Cornwall and Cornwall Island
The existing and new low level bridge under construction between Cornwall and Cornwall Island

Speaking of “the Island”, a term frequently heard in the Cornwall area in reference to the community of Akwesasne, our viewers may be interested to learn that Akwesasne or “the Rez” is a much larger area than Cornwall Island that includes two Canadian enclaves along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River as well as a series of non-bridged islands on both sides of the Ontario/Quebec border.  And that’s just the Canadian portion of Akwesasne.  A very large area of the reserve lies in New York State, a small portion of which is visible to those travelling along State Highway 37.

The St. Regis and Snye districts are physically in Canada and part of the province of Quebec by virtue of the fact that they lie north of the 45th parallel, an invisible line which constitutes some parts of the Canada/U.S. border.  However, it is impossible to access either of those two regions by land without first travelling through New York State.  Each of these districts sits on the northern tips of small peninsulas along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River.  One passes from St. Regis NY to St. Regis QC by driving or walking a single step along the main road.  In the Snye area, a maze of roads, some of which converge at a point known as Spaghetti Corner, criss cross the New York and Quebec parts of the Snye.  At one time a small border house stood in the Snye, but has long ceased to exist.  Close family members live on both sides of the international border which bi-sects their community.


Our map above illustrates how the community of Akwesasne criss crosses provincial, state and the Canadian/U.S. international boundary. Some refer to it as a jurisdictional and practical nightmare.  In Akwesasne, we’re dealing with two Canadian provinces and one U.S. state, two countries and four counties as well as multiple telephone exchanges and three dioceses. On the U.S portion of the reserve, NY State Hwy 37 runs through parts of it.

As if all of this were not enough to create a sense of disjointedness, having the Canadian Port of Entry in Cornwall effectively isolates residents of Cornwall Island from the rest of Canada.  They cannot leave the Island without passing through Canadian Customs (even though travelling within Canada) or  through the U.S. Customs.  In the words of Atahontsison, he feels as though he’s caged in.  The Cornwall Island resident points to Section 6 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees mobility rights for all Canadians travelling within the country.

“Right now there’s a checkpoint in the middle of Canada.” Atahontsison, Resident of Cornwall Island and spokesperson for Idle No More Ahkwesáhsne

Our exclusive video clip provides some real insights to the physical lay of the land in Akwesasne and the impact of the border and Port of Entry on the people of Akwesasne and all who travel through the territory.  Kahwenoke District Chief Brian David had CFN witness his signature on the petition dealing with relocating the Canadian Port of Entry.

Chief Brian David was first to sign Petition
Chief Brian David was first to sign Petition

On Saturday, March 23 starting at noon, Idle No More Ahkwesáhsne will conduct a demonstration to address this border problem for the people of Akwesasne and to show resistance to those that they feel are trying to infringe on First Nations rights and privatizing their natural resources by endangering the water. There will be petitions to sign – one petition opposing omnibus bills that have an effect on First Nations and the environment and one stating that they want the Port of Entry moved to a place where it is not violating the rights of natives and all Canadians. Organizers point out that this will be a peaceful demonstration, so all are asked to please come on out with a good mind. All nations are welcome. We’ve been asked to assure CFN viewers that there is no intention to obstruct the flow of traffic that day; this is an opportunity to stand in solidarity.

Brian David is District Chief for Kahwenoke (Cornwall Island).  David elected to be the first person to sign Idle No More Ahkwesáhsne’s petition concerning the Cornwall Port of Entry in an effort to support the initiative to re-establish dialague among the people of Akwesasne, residents of the neighbouring areas and CBSA.

“It gives me pleasure to be the first to sign this petition … The CBSA has never really known for sure how thick the ice was in terms of whether or not they’d be welcomed back. I think this is a good time to take the pulse of the community … to make that determination.”   Kahwenoke District Chief Brian David, MCA

UPDATE: Take our (unofficial) poll:
When the current north span bridge is replaced by the new low level bridge, should the Canadian Port of Entry in Cornwall, ON return to its post on Cornwall Island?
[emailpetition id=”3″]
[signaturelist id=”3″]

Don Smith reports on a variety of topics, notably good news items as well as social justice issues.

(Comments and opinions of Editorials, Letters to the Editor, and comments from readers are purely their own and don’t necessarily reflect those of the owners of this site, their staff, or sponsors.)


  1. Excellent coverage. Thank you, Don.

  2. It’s about time someone is on the ball.
    Now,all we need is some bright person in the CBSA agrees.

  3. Excellent coverage Don, we need more people like you. Thank you

  4. very good coverage Don. Thank you

  5. I just tweeted about this story Don. Thank you for making it clear to me. As a Cornwall native, I am embarrassed at how little I understood about this history. The text, the video, and the map were so helpful!

  6. Well done Don,a very in depth look at how easy all could be resolved.Here is hoping that cool heads prevail

  7. Thanks this is impressive and very informative. Everyone should have a look!

  8. Is the Charter mobility issue a big or real concern? Are there not stickers on resident cars for quicker access? Would it be much more of a delay than say by stopping to pay a toll?

  9. So after 4 years they are now OK with having armed CBSA on their land?

    I mean Canadian Land….no wait Akwesasne land, I’m confused they are stating that it’s Canadian when it’s to their benefit but then if it’s to their disadvantage then it’s Akwesasne.

    Although it was interesting to read/hear about St. Regis and Snye they really have no impact on the US/Canada Cornwall border crossing. That would have been a good separate article not something that is included in this one to gain sympathy.

  10. Author

    Hi Eric. In regard to Mobility Rights, there is much more concern than passing through a bridge toll booth, although Akwesasne business people have told me that having the toll booth in Cornwall is negatively affecting Island businesses, including the arena.

    For all of us, in additon to the toll booth, there is an actual Customs/Immigration post where one’s time of entry/exit is logged and where official identification, such as a passport, must be presented. This is where the Charter Mobility Rights concern comes into play, not just for natives, but for everyone.

    Imagine if you lived in a small village such as Long Sault or Williamstown and had to go through a Custom/Immigration checkpoint each and every time you entered and left the village in order to access any other part of Canada. Would that not have a serious impact on you psychologically?

  11. Nice work Don Smith. It’s nice to read and watch an article with the facts so clearly stated. Now can we see one about how or if this issue effects Cornwall residents?

  12. Author

    Pat. You commented that: “Although it was interesting to read/hear about St. Regis and Snye they really have no impact on the US/Canada Cornwall border crossing. That would have been a good separate article not something that is included in this one to gain sympathy.”

    The Snye/St. Regis enclaves aspect could have stood as a separate article, but it is very much relevant to the Cornwall Island situation. In all three situations, people whom our government classifies as Canadians cannot access other parts of Canada by land without entering the United States or without at least passing through a Customs/Immigration checkpoint. And not just natives, but all of us.

    For example, let’s say that someone in Cornwall does supply teaching for AMBE and is assigned to teach in St. Regis in the morning and Snye in afternoon (a very real situation). Such persons have to deal with crossing into the United States four times in the course of the day in order to work in other parts of Canada. If those same people supply teach on Cornwall Island the next day, they never leave Canada, yet have to pass through Customs/Immigration upon returning to Cornwall just the same.

  13. Thank you Don, it is educating to see what residents must go through for day to day life from a different angle than just driving through a few times a year.
    In one regard, having a Customs booth on either side of you would increase security I would think, but we are not used to a police state either. Although, we are seeing increased measures at entertainment facilities, cameras and detectors at malls and airports.

    Some business operators in Cornwall are probably glad to increase their chances for sales if the toll stops people as the island operators would be to have it moved. Like our other roads though and because of our tax rates, a toll should not be there at all.

  14. Don, I guess i must have missed the purpose the article then. I thought the article was suppose to be in reference to the CBSA location not the rigmarole for the Akwesasne people. Since the Snye/St. Regis enclaves will not be affected by the location of the Cornwall CBSA post.

    Also, I’d be curious as to the underlying reason that the Akwesasne people want the CBSA post on Cornwall Island. It would seem to me that having both the US and Canada post combined would be a good solution for them. That would allow free access from Cornwall Island to the main land, It would keep all the guns off Cornwall Island, It would give them back a portion of their land (where the current post sits).

    I also don’t see how the Toll both location is affecting businesses on Cornwall Island. The Toll was previously at the base of the bridge before any arena or stores. I think the larger affect on that one would be the economy which people realized it was too expensive to pay a toll to go to the arena and possibly island shopping. The arena would have also been greatly impacted by the Benson Center.

  15. Author

    Pat, in the video clip, Chief David says that he’d like to take the pulse of the native community / determine how thick is the ice with regard to how the community feels about the possibility of the Port of Entry returning to the Island. Thats’s one of the two available petitions. He’s also requesting more open dialogue with the larger communiity, including Cornwall. The article wasn’t assuming that all share that perspective.

    In order for the rest of us to have meaningful input, it sure helps to be able to see the situation from various angles.

  16. Author

    Pat, you also stated that: “I also don’t see how the Toll both location is affecting businesses on Cornwall Island. The Toll was previously at the base of the bridge before any arena or stores.”

    The facility occupied by the former Port of Entry on Cornwall Island is still there; we conducted our interview there. It is immediately south of the main east-west road (Island Road) that affords access to the arena.

    Some have advocated moving the toll booth to the American side so that people on both sides pay when actually crossing from one country to another rather than Cornwallites paying a toll to see or participate in a hockey game on the Island.

    Others have suggested moving the toll to the former Port of Entry area on the Island.

  17. Don, for purely practical reasons, where/when can the petition be signed? Will the gathering be proximal to the Cornwall booth? Just trying to picture where to park for easy access. Chief Brian David was first to sign Petition The Walmart parking lot might be ideal.

  18. BTW when I mention “when,” can petition(s) be signed in advance? Also, for anyone who might not be in town on the 23rd, or who may not be able to attend onsite, could CFN have an electronic version of the petition? Might be a great way to assist the community in getting its desired pulse on peoples’ positions.

  19. Author

    Where will the petitions be available? That’s a great question and thank you for asking.

    Atahontsison explained to me that the petitions will be available on the 23rd starting at noon as people pass the former Port of Entry on Cornwall Island, where we shot our video interview.
    It would be helpful if it were also available online or elsewhere. The suggestion has been passed along. I’ll post an update as more information becomes available.

  20. Aren’t they the reason why the port of entry was moved off the island in the first place? I seem to remember a bulldozer being parked in the middle of the road. Why should we open our border crossing up to those shenanigans again? Besides, if it goes back on the island, smuggling rates will likely increase again.

  21. Business at the arena is hurt due to current set up where U.S. fans or players that need to go to Cornwall Island Arena must go to Cornwall to report and must pay the toll when Cornwall is not their distination at all. This causes many not to bother going at all.

  22. Author

    Jeff, I would imagine that CBSA and the larger community would be seeking some re-assurances in that regard prior to making a possible decision to return to the abandonned Port of Entry. Some might respond that such action was taken as an act of desperation that their concerns over armed guards very close to an elementary school and residential area weren’t being heard. It’s a good question, one that merits some serious dialogue between the parties. Who from the Akwesasne community would like to respond to Jeff’s question?

  23. The border agents need guns, so that’s a moot point. What about the smuggling? I don’t see any good reason to move things back to the way they were before. As the old saying goes – “Fool me once, shame on you . Fool me twice, shame on me”.

  24. Jeff, you make several interesting points and comments ! But Don, what are you on ? lol
    ” I would imagine that CBSA and the larger community would be seeking some re-assurances in that regard prior to making a possible decision to return to the abandonned Port of Entry. Some might respond that such action was taken as an act of desperation that their concerns over armed guards very close to an elementary school and residential area weren’t being heard. It’s a good question, one that merits some serious dialogue between the parties.”
    What an absolute paragraph of unadulterated “BS” ! The only reason, they wish to have the POE moved back to it’s original location, is to get the smuggling operations back to their levels prior to CBSA moving from the Island . Prior to CBSA vacating, a very large percentage of the businees (smuggling), was to transport their goods by boat, to the island. From the island, they can then by-pass the POE entirely ! It gives the smugglers a clear , uninterupted shot at the Canadian mainland ! With the POE in Cornwall, it screws up their operations big time. It forces them , to travel by water, the weather is bad some times, the poor dears can get wet & best of all, they can be seen by law enforcement on the river, much more easily. Don, your article, was incredibly one-sided & it’s a shame that CBSA, RCMP, U.S. Customs, N.Y. State Police cannot comment on this very serious issue ! Their combined, intelligence units would most definitely give you a different outlook & perspective ! Persinnaly Don, I think you were “hood-winked” ?

  25. Author

    Fool Me Once, just wondering if you’re familiar with CFN’s Mission Statement: http://cornwallfreenews.com/mission-statement-contact-us/ ?

    A few excerpts:
    CFN is an online newspaper whose Mission is to give voice to the many who’d never have an opportunity to have a voice whether via op-ed, letters, or comments on stories.

    And that by creating a forum to share unfiltered news and opinions that we may as a society speak to each other and exchange ideas that can lead to growth of our culture, community and society in a positive manner and show people that they do count; their voices do count, and that anyone can change their world.

  26. Author

    This situation is extremely complex to say the least. In my experience, most people have no concept of the lay of the land on “the Rez”; that in itself is a huge obstacle to understanding. My clip and text was created to afford some insight and potential for empathy, as well as a starting point for some real dialogue. “Fool Me Once”, did you watch the clip?? Really?

    Also, you may wish to revisit my posts from March 13, 2013 at 8:26 am and March 13, 2013 at 8:48 am.

    When we lack sufficient perspective we do well to take advantage of opportunities to see situations from as many vantage points as we can.

    This involves much more than the location of a Port of Entry. It’s a mistake to confuse symptoms with underlying causes just as it’s a mistake to confuse bandaids with real solutions.

    I posted this article to provide an opportunity for some genuine dialogue among affected parties.

    I posted this piece under my real name, rather than hiding behind multiple pseudonyms as some do, “Fool Me Once”. Psedudonyms are meant to protect those who are vulnerable, not those who want to bully others and hide while doing so. Perpetuating stereotypes that paint an entire group of people with the same brush is anything but productive and does nothing to build a better society. Let’s have some meaningful exchange here, shall we. All who agree, please click the thumbs up below this comment. Nia:wen/thanks 🙂

  27. I think I just fell in love with you Don. 😉

  28. CFNs mission statement shouldn’t have to be dragged out. All newspapers are supposed to give “a voice” to people. Don did that, and more. He used geographical facts and descriptions about the “inconvenient truths” affecting peoples’ daily lives, and also gave us information about the upcoming protest and the petitions.

    Using the word hoodwinked – meaning the interview subjects were engaging in some kind of deception – only dredges up ugly prejudices, including unfair suggestions about Don; that he was being naive or gullible of something.

    Don was the vehicle so “we” could hear.

    Issues concerning the position of the crossing that could impact unlawful activity, is a separate article where the reporter would interview law enforcement agency spokespeople.

  29. I voted no on the petition above I like customs in Cornwall

  30. FOOL ME ONCE =

    You got it right on .

    They can talk all they want but CBSA will not return to the Island .

  31. Thank you for posting my “NO” I like the CBSA in Cornwall. It was the chiefs of MCA that had the community gather to throw them out in the first place. What has changed it is almost the same council.

  32. The community could use the old port for a medical facility; you know hire some FN doctors to serve FN people.

  33. Author

    Right now the poll tally is:
    Yes = 9 votes
    No = 1 vote

    Tomorrow is the big day.

  34. Just close the Port of Entry and be done with it.

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