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More than 200 Mohawk backers arrive from across Canada

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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CORNWALL ISLAND, Ontario — Supporters of Akwesasne Mohawks caravanned across Canada on Tuesday to join a protest against arming guards at the border station on Cornwall Island.


A group calling itself a "peace caravan" made its way from the Six Nations Reservation outside Brantford, Ontario, to Cornwall Island. More than 200 people crammed into about 50 vehicles to talk about the issue over a traditional meal of fried bread and corn soup.


"Basically, this is all about support for us and talking to each other, sharing stories," Nona Benedict, who helped organize the caravan, said. "It's all about peace and unity."


The Seaway International Bridge, which connects Cornwall to Massena via two spans, has been closed for a month to people traveling from the United States to Canada, because of a dispute between the Mohawks and the Canada Border Services Agency about a plan to arm border guards.


The officers on Cornwall Island, whose border station is on Mohawk land, were scheduled to be armed June 1. Mohawks have said that arming the guards infringes on the tribe's sovereignty. A protest of several hundred residents prompted the border guards to leave their posts just before midnight May 31, forcing the closure of the bridge.


The caravan brought people from as far away as Nova Scotia, Ms. Benedict said. It was the brainchild of a group from Six Nations and was organized by Akwesasne Women's Fire, a group that grew out of the bridge conflict.


"They have extended a hand in friendship and support and we're going to give them a hug," said Ms. Benedict, a member of the women's group.


The caravan is part of an ongoing show of solidarity with the Akwesasne Mohawks from those of other tribes. Several reservations in Canada have blocked roadways and bridges in support of the protests here and six "peace fires" are burning around the Akwesasne reservation.


The Mohawks are refusing to call off the protest without negotiations with either CBSA President Stephen Rigby or Minister of Public Safety Peter van Loan. Since the bridge closure, neither has offered to meet with the tribe, Mohawk Council of Akwesasne spokesman Brendan F. White said.


Though numbers at the protest site across from the customs building have dwindled, the protesters say they will be there as long as necessary to ensure that armed agents do not come to Cornwall Island.


"Nobody knows how long this is going to last; that's why they keep chopping wood" to keep the peace fires burning, an Akwesasne resident said. "If this goes till the snow flies, we'll still be here. I think we're going to win out in the end; the will of the people is there."

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