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Mohawks rally to speak out against border-crossing issues

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MASSENA — Hundreds of Mohawks and other Iroquois Confederacy members marched across the Massena-Cornwall International Bridge on Friday morning in a peaceful effort to call attention to border-crossing issues, which they say have inhibited travel through their land.

The march, organized by the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs, began at the Nation Council building along Route 37 at 9 a.m. and ended at the Brookdale Avenue traffic circle, where Iroquois chiefs presented a letter to Canadian officials addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The march shut down the bridge from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., as well as sections of Route 37 and Brookdale Avenue, for the safety of the approximately 600 demonstrators who made the long walk in the cool, sunny weather.

“These are your divisions, not ours. You cut our ancestral land in half,” said Richard Oakes, a representative for the Mohawk Nation Council, while presenting the letter addressed to Mr. Harper. “We will travel freely between those lands. We send you this letter so we can hold these discussions in peace.”

The procession was led by Iroquois Nation chiefs and Mohawk Nation Council officials wearing traditional clothing, and was followed by vehicles toting trailers, where elderly demonstrators rode if they weren’t up to walking the approximately 7-mile route. Many wore purple bands wrapped around their arms, some carried purple Iroquois Nation flags and others dressed in traditional native garb, such as moccasins or buckskins. A few demonstrators chanted and pounded small drums through much of the march.

After presenting the letter for Mr. Harper, marchers went back to Cornwall Island, where they ate lunch while waiting for two school buses to drive loads of tired demonstrators back to the Mohawk Nation Council building.

The march received support from the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, and was attended by chiefs from the Onondaga, Oneida and Tuscarora nations, as well as Mohawk chiefs. A meeting was held the day before the march, and was attended by representatives of all six Iroquois nations.

The march was scheduled the day before Onondaga Nation Chief Oren Lyons is to go to New York City to prepare a presentation to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which will meet from Monday to May 31 and will feature representatives from indigenous groups around the world. Mr. Lyons will present a number of Akwesasne grievances to the U.N., including allegations of abuse, harassment and mistreatment by the Canada Border Services Agency, and the requirement that Cornwall Island residents report to the CBSA port of entry whenever they cross into U.S. territory.

A call to CBSA for comment was not returned.

Tribal officials say the relocation of the port of entry from Cornwall Island to Cornwall in 2009 has created a significant inconvenience for Cornwall Island residents traveling to the U.S., who must drive to Cornwall to check in with the CBSA before they can turn around and drive back south to their homes on the island.

Mr. Lyons said the relocation has caused traffic jams and routinely delays ambulances, school buses and firetrucks bound for Cornwall Island. Mr. Lyons and other demonstrators said they believe that the CBSA should accept their Iroquois identification cards, and that its insistence upon seeing proof of either American or Canadian citizenship is a violation and an insult to the sovereignty of the Akwesasne people.

“This blockade is a violation of the human rights of the Mohawk people. It’s humiliating and destructive,” Mr. Lyons said. “It destroys any idea of sovereignty.”

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