UN Special Envoy James Anaya Visits Akwesasne – Focus on Port of Entry Issues Over Seaway International Bridge

james Anaya2Akwesasne – United Nations Special Rapporteur James Anaya visited Canada this week on a special assignment, conducting hearings across the country to examine the relationship between the government of Canada and First Nations people.  Mr. Anaya made Akwesasne his first stop on Oct. 7, hearing presentations from community officials on Akwesasne’s experiences with the Canadian government.


 “Mr. Anaya’s last-minute decision to visit Akwesasne was a pleasant surprise,” said Grand Chief Mike Kanentakeron Mitchell, who had been planning to present to the Special Rapporteur at a scheduled hearing in Ottawa.  “His eagerness to learn about Akwesasne’s situation as a border community provided us with the golden opportunity to acquaint him with the daily complexities of Akwesasne life, and the issues we have faced with the federal government.”


James Anaya & Grand Chief Mike Mitchell
James Anaya & Grand Chief Mike Mitchell

“The Mohawk people and Akwesasne community are famous around the world,” said Mr. Anaya during a hearing planned at the A’nowara’kowa Arena on Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island.)  “This is the first community I’m visiting during my nine day stay in Canada and this is a place I’ve heard a lot about over the years.”

Mr. Anaya said the United Nations requested permission from Canada to conduct the research and report. On Oct. 15, Mr. Anaya held a special conference describing his initial findings, and a detailed report will be forthcoming in the months ahead.



“I’m hoping that by raising these issues with the Canadian government, by including them in my report, and making appropriate recommendations, that I will be able to draw further attention to these issues so that you can move toward resolution of them,” Mr. Anaya said, addressing a group of Mohawk elders in a follow-up meeting at the Tri-District Elders Lodge on Kawehno:ke.


During the hearing, Mr. Anaya heard from Grand Chief Mitchell, Chief Brian David, Justice Director Joyce King, youth representative Shara Francis-Herne and Akwesasne’s legal counsel Micha Menczer on Canada’s violations of the aboriginal, civil and human rights of the Mohawks of Akwesasne.



“Why do we face scrutiny [at the Canadian Port of Entry] when proudly declaring our membership to the Kanienkehaka Nation?” asked Francis-Herne, representing the Akwesasne youth.  “Why do we feel singled out and profiled, sometimes being made to feel criminal?  And why is it so hard for us to travel from one part of our community to another?  It is not about having special rights, it is about having human rights.”

Council lawyer Micha Menczer pointed out how it’s Akwesasne community members trying to live their daily lives who are suffering.  The Mohawks, he said, are not asking for anything special, they are simply asking to go about their lives without having their rights violated daily. “Resolution is possible but Akwesasne must have their rights respected and a willing Canadian government partner to negotiate practical arrangements for daily travel in the community across the international border. This has not been the case to date.”

The Canadian government has a constitutional obligation to consult with First Nations before creating regulations or policies that impact their aboriginal rights or title. Canada has failed to consult with Akwesasne or accommodate the Aboriginal rights of Akwesasne members on a number of large issues. This has resulted in undue hardship to the community members.

The Canada Border Services Agency  (“CBSA”) and Canada did not consult with Akwesasne before deciding to arm border guards with guns on Akwesasne Territory.  CBSA did not consult Akwesasne before closing down a border crossing and requiring that residents of Akwesasne leave Akwesasne to report to Canadian officials as part of their everyday routine life.

The Federal Bridge Corporation and Seaway International Bridge Corporation did not consult with Akwesasne before relocating the toll plaza on Cornwall Island to Cornwall.


The resulting change of the duty to report from Cornwall Island to Cornwall has severely hampered the ability of community members to go about their daily lives. The Mohawk people cannot travel to school, work, sporting events, doctor’s appointments, cultural workshops, birthday parties, or conduct any of their daily business without encountering lengthy delays in first leaving Akwesasne, to report to the Canadian government, and then returning to Akwesasne.   Akwesasne’s proposal to have alternate reporting arrangements (common in other parts of the country) implemented in Akwesasne has not been accepted by Canada.  In the words of many community members:  “We feel like hostages in our own lands.”


Community members who do not abide by the reporting requirement are punished by having their car seized and a minimum $1,000 fine applied. This has been called Canada’s retaliation against the Mohawk people for their refusal to allow guns on the territory.


Mohawk Council currently has several cases against CBSA before the Canadian Human Rights Commission based on the unfair Duty to Report, a lack of accommodation to emergency services utilizing the bridge crossing at Akwesasne, and a failure of CBSA to recognize tribal identification, Haudenosaunee passports and other identification that allows Mohawks to identify themselves as Mohawks rather than as Canadian or American citizens.


Canada’s injustices against Akwesasne aren’t limited to the bridge and border crossing issues.  Canada has failed to uphold their legal obligation to consult with and accommodate the rights of the Mohawks of Akwesasne in many other areas. This is seen in the enactment of several Bills that significantly impact First Nations people.  Those bills are in relation to safe drinking water, marriage and property laws, and education.  If Canada is unwilling to consult with First Nations before passing legislation that immediately affects them, then the Federal Government should at the very least be incorporating clauses that allow time and opportunity for First Nations to develop their own legislation to regulate their own water, property, and education laws.


“Mr. Anaya’s visit comes at a time when Canada and First Nations people are realizing the tensions that exist,” said Grand Chief Mitchell.  “For years, Canada has tried to keep Indigenous issues tied up in its bureaucracy and red tape.  On many occasions the Canadian courts have reminded the federal government that it’s best to negotiate a solution rather than expect the Canadian courts to interpret Indigenous rights, then have the government fail to execute them.”

.Photos courtesy of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne

townhall meeting


  1. I would keep the customs office on Canadian soil, and apply the trading rules to all equally. It is a bonus that such an entrance runs on Mohawk people and Akwesasne land – trade, retail income,etc. . Why give special treatment to anyone? Welcome to the 21st century.This little door from the U.S. to Canada is notorious for it’s smuggling, human trafficking, and scores of other illegal activity – like illegal cigarettes, so there is a need to enforce laws and to crack down on whomsoever is breaking the law, no matter what country they come from, or live in.

  2. A “bonus” Tom? Really? Please elaborate.

  3. I agree with Tom. we need to crack down on the Canadian government for all its human , constitutional rights violations and crimes against the indigenous people..

  4. Excellent report, admin. Let’s hope James Anaya’s visit gives the Harper government a resounding wake-up call and kick in the pants. Canadian governments in general and of both stripes have an abysmal record of respecting and protecting Canada’s native peoples’ human rights, none so poor or shameful as the present government. To think that one of Harper’s first moves in 2006 was to cancel the Kelowna Accord simply because it was a Liberal initiative! Harper’s grand apology in 2008 in the House of Commons? Just that: grand and hollow, because ever since he has responded to every appeal and claim with cold indifference and inaction, while jumping at every opportunity to berate other countries for their human rights records! Jaw-dropping hypocrisy. Nauseating opportunism. Total absence of humanity.

  5. Pastor Tom said, “Why give special treatment to anyone? Welcome to the 21st century”

    Finally we agree on something Tom!

    Yes why are returning Canadian pleasure boaters that use the St Lawrence River and cross to the US, stop party shop but when they return and dock on Canadian soil, they are only required to make a phone call to Canadian Customs to check in, but a Mohawk crossing his own territory for school, doctors visit or work, has to drive back off his territory enter into Cornwall and check in in person? Is it that people who own these big pleasure boats have money and influence?

    I agree Tom no one should be getting special rights!!!

  6. What I would do is like what Harper wanted to do and that is to take down the bridge entirely and not have one and that would help eliminate a lot of the smuggling coming across. It would not be a perfect method but would surely cut down for sure. About the native people they are not the only ones who are smuggling and that I sure do know – it is a lot to do with the whites in Cornwall and a lot who are well known and well connected. That island was given to the natives by the government and the best thing is to do away with the bridge of any sort and let them live on the island without any problems with smuggling. Back in the 90’s Cornwall was the “wild, wild west” with mayor Martelle as Wyatt Earp and his horse Jimmy. LOL LOL. One thing about Martelle was there was not one dull moment in Fossoli. LOL LOL or should it be called Tombstone. LOL LOL.

  7. @jules
    First Jules you should deal with facts and Stephen Harper never once stated that he wanted to take down the bridge.
    That being said let me see if I understand the gist of your post:
    You Jules are advocating that all the Mohawks be punished by removing the bridge because “it is a lot to do with the whites in Cornwall and a lot who are well known and well connected” (sic) to quote you directly.

    That is a pretty racist policy, punishing a group of Natives for the transgressions of whites, I feel a little slimy just trying to sort out your meaning!

  8. bobgeneric Harper sure did say that he wanted to remove the bridge from Cornwall and I read that and well remembered that. Back in the 90’s era I spoke to some well connected people in Cornwall who were white and I use the word were because they are now deceased. Both told my husband and I how the smuggling goes on and yes the whites are in this deeply and they are the ones who tell the border guards who to let in and the border guards let them in (the smugglers). This problem in Cornwall is not going away unless that bridge comes down completely and no more border guards of Canada left since they are all dishonest. We need the Big Brother kind of a thing to happen to discipline the sheeple. Cornwall’s reputation is black.

  9. The high level north side bridge between Cornwall Island and City of Cornwall was built when the MP for Cornwall was Transport Minister Lionel Chevrier . . . . and the high level bridge was to ensure that ocean going ships could sail to the Domtar paper mill. The alternative would have been a lift-bridge. Domtar is long gone . . there are no navigation locks on the Canadian side of the power dam to transit large vessels . . . the high level bridge is obsolete and incurs high maintenance and upkeep costs.

    With regard to the future location of Canada Customs . . . it would be disgrace to require Canadian Mohawk residents to pass through customs whenever they move from one Canadian location (Cornwall Island) to another Canadian location (City of Cornwall).

    On this basis, a customs office located on the south side of the southern bridge span has merit . . . all Canadians returning to Canada from the US will pass through that check point . . . and Cornwall Island residents will be accorded the constitutional right to the freedom to travel between their reservation and the City of Cornwall . . . equal to all other Canadians who travel domestically within Canada (Canada’s supreme law, the constitution, requires that all citizens be treated equally under the law). The idea of treating Cornwall Island residents differently than other Canadians may contravene a statute in the constitution.

    With regard to Pastor Newton’s comments . . . . Christian scripture makes no statement on the location of a customs office at Cornwall.

  10. Harry : Locating Canadian Customs on the US side would I feel be a dumb idea , however re Corn. Island residents, there could be a solution to that problem without moving Customs to the US side.
    I wonder if the special UN Envoy will go down to NB and check out the situation there including who other than the Canadian Taxpayers will pay for 6 ( six ) RCMP cars burned there ? Likely that won’t be in his report .

  11. CAN-AM . . . I’ve seen the arrangement at customs building at some border crossings in South America . . . an extended building that covers incoming and outgoing roadways. US and Canadian government officials appear open to having Canadian and US Customs buildings ‘right-across-the-road’ from each other, though Canada Customs will have to occupy a large area of land to provide for parking. At the present location and also at the previous location, Canada Customs often allowed for traffic to back-up all the way across the south side bridge.

    There are other possible locations for a bridge across the river . . . . a suspension bridge immediately downstream of the power dam across from Saunders Drive would be a possible location, with Canada Customs located on the north side. The US would want to keep their customs office at its present location . . . so you’d have one-way traffic southbound across the southern span from Cornwall Island, with one-way northbound traffic near the power dam.

    For Canadian citizens, there needs to be freedom of north-south movement between City of Cornwall and Cornwall Island. If Cornwall residents wish to visit Ottawa or Montreal, Canadian law does not require us to visit a customs office after having travelled from one part of Canada to another part of Canada.

    CAN-AM, please post your solution to the border problem at Cornwall.

  12. With regard to the smuggling problem across the St Lawrence River, the same problem exists elsewhere in the world . . . including along the borders of nations that impose extremely severe penalties for people who are caught smuggling . . . they don’t live for much longer after being caught. Yet the smuggling trade thrives and flourishes in those same nations. The smugglers are successful because they are smart . . . and they take precautions to avoid detection.

    Several years ago, some telecommunications technology appeared to allow journalists to send messages very privately across international borders . . . without local authorities tapping into the telecommunications or ‘jamming the signal’. Local authorities are often totally unaware of the existence of such telecommunications. Some smugglers overseas are using some pretty sophisticated transportation technology . . . such as submersible boats that ride below the water surface. It was quite by accident that a US Navy ship encountered such a vessel . . . loaded with illicit drugs.

    In Brazil, local authorities are actually aware of the existence of private telecommunications that operates independently of cell phone, phone lines, internet or radio frequencies. Except that they never know the exact source of transmission, neither do they know the recipient, nor do they know the code that has no relation whatsoever to the computer binary code . . . or even an encrypted binary code.

    Worldwide, the volume and tonnage of illicit goods moving across international borders is increasing. While local authorities may occasionally make a ‘big-bust’ and even increase their annual intake of unofficial trade, the percentage they intercept has been steadily declining.

    With regard to the unofficial trade going across the St Lawrence River, it is very unsophisticated compared to whatever else is occurring internationally. Authorities are only intercepting a small percentage of the total volume or tonnage that crosses the border. A Canada Customs office located in Cornwall would provide an illusion of intercepting unofficial trade . . . it will merely send the bulk of that trade to other locations and perhaps using different technology.

    Several South American political leaders have admitted failure in regard to government efforts to stem the increasing flow of unofficial trade that crosses their international borders. Back during the days of prohibition in the USA, there was an almost steady flow of booze that headed south from Canada into the USA. And the smugglers from that period were quite sophisticated as to how they moved the booze across the border.

  13. Harry writes “With regard to Pastor Newton’s comments . . . . Christian scripture makes no statement on the location of a customs office at Cornwall”. I guess Harry did not read my post – no Scripture was given. Or is Harry saying we should look in the Bible for the location of the custom office? silly for sure!

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