Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On the Border of the Police State

One of the locations in the contiguous United States that deserves attention is along the US-Canadian border near Cornwall Ontario, Canada and Hogansburg, NY, USA. Some of the things going on right there near the border have a growing connection to the rest of us. The problems of your rights as a citizen are under attack and we see the beginnings here. The St. Regis Indian Reservation (Akwesasne) is in a fairly remote area and occupies a unique position geographically. It sits on both sides of the St. Lawrence River. Approximately two-thirds of the reservation lies on the US side of the border and one-third on the Canadian side. Akwesasne is located in part of two counties of New York State and two Canadian provinces and interacts with five different jurisdictional governments.”[1] The reservation is surrounded and divided by two federal jurisdictions: the United States and Canada. Additionally, the reservation must contend with the governments of New York State and the provinces of Ontario and Québec.[2] Residents of the reservation have three area codes: 613 that covers Southeast Ontario, 514 covering Southwest Québec, and 518 covering Northeast New York. Each serves a different portion of the reservation. This division is echoed by zip codes; the American side’s zip code is 13655 and the Canadian side is H0M 1A0. The population of this multi-jurisdictional community is about 13,000 people.[3] Because of this unique situation, school students are also affected. Some children from the US side of the border go to Canadian schools, and all or some Canadian children go to US Head Start programs.[4]

“There are three competing self-governments on the reservation with loyal followings; the Canadian Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, and the Longhouse Mohawk Nation. Traditionalists from both sides of the reservation follow the rituals and traditions of the Longhouse government however the federal, state, and provincial governments do not officially recognize the Longhouse government.”[5] The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council oversees “funding programs from Washington and Albany” and interacts with the US side of the reservation.[6] The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne connects with Ottawa for Canadian programs and agendas. Each recognized council has its band (membership) lists for its community. Technically, residents of the reservation cannot vote for both councils, however, there is nothing to stop a resident from one side of the reservation from moving from one voting roll to the other.[7]

Another factor the Mohawks have to contend with, in addition to the multiple institutions, are the various ethnic cultural differences in the area. They must interact with cultures such as the French Canadians, the English Canadians, and a distinctive rural northern New York culture found along the St. Lawrence River.[8] There seems to be more of an affinity at times between the northern New York Culture and the Mohawk culture. This probably stems from the rural nature of both northern New York and Akwesasne.

Most of the Canadian population lives within 100 miles of the US-Canadian border with a majority of their large cities in this area. The exception would be the Gaspé Peninsula in Québec, Newfoundland and Labrador. The opposite is true on the US side of the border in the east. The few cities you find in the US are relatively small. The largest city near the Reservation would be Burlington, Vt., 100 miles away, with a population of around 500,000. Plattsburgh, NY, the next largest city has a population of 20,000 and is 70 miles away. Massena, NY the closest village to the Reservation is 17 miles away and has 11,000 people. This compares to Cornwall, Ontario, Canada that directly borders the Reservation having a population of 45,000 people and the Ottawa-Gatineau metropolitan area, 100 miles away, having a population of 1,130,761.[9]

It is easy to see the various cultural differences and it’s not inconceivable that this could be a detriment to the Natives living in the area. In fact these cultural differences caused a number of problems between Akwesasne and the various surrounding jurisdictions. It has also created internal problems on the reservation with strife and divisions and even open gunfire between different factions. In 1990 this violence led to death. Since that time there has been a reconciliation of sorts among the Mohawks.

These circumstances bring up a number of situations. The members of Akwesasne do not recognize the border and they see it as an artificial line that runs through the territory they have occupied continuously since 1754. Even though through the early 1800s the border was crossed at will after the Jay Treaty the border became much less porous and Natives were eventually detained paying tariffs on goods being transported.

Beginning in the1950s the Mohawks tested the limits of trade and commerce and transported household goods from one part of the Reservation to another crossing the border in the process. Examples run from bringing a refrigerator across the border to mobile homes. This has created different factions on the Reservation. There are those who feel the border is being too restrictive for the Mohawks to cross in course of daily business. Another faction uses the border area and the river as a no-mans land transporting all types of contraband. This is not to the first era to witness smuggling. Certainly during prohibition liquor was moved in large quantities and no doubt there was the odd illegal immigrant. However, the area changed in the 1950s when the St Lawrence Seaway was completed. Not only were large amounts of land lost to the power authority for the construction of dams but the area also grew in population. This made it more difficult to move things from one side of Akwesasne to the other. From the 1970s to the 1990s the reservation became an avenue for medical contraband, cigarettes, and immigrants. For some who were moving contraband transporting illegal immigrants was preferred. If you are smuggling drugs and cigarettes and you have to drop the load you lose the whole haul. But if you are moving people, well, they can run, less of a chance that you lose money. This went on without many problems. Sometimes smugglers would be caught but most of the time they got through. Then there was the uprising in 1989-1990.

The uprising was really caused through poor cultural inaction between the parties concerned. Because of this forced and arbitrary division the Mohawks cannot really operate as a unified people. In 1989 there was a problem over casinos being operated on the US side of the border but with factions for and against it on both sides of the border. These differences were allowed to fester until people were killed in 1990. After that the police presence increased year after year with more attention to the drug and cigarette trade. As the police became more active the Mohawk smugglers increased. Many traffickers using high-speed craft go right by border patrol speedboats.

With the increased prosecution of the drug war and certainly after the events of 9-11 the reservation became a police state. There is the reservation constabulary on their respective sides of the border. They deal with the day-to-day police effort on the reservation and are answerable to the local Mohawk government. There are still the same federal, state and provincial law enforcement agencies. However, now they are in greater numbers with roadblocks around all the roads in the area. We are not talking about the typical police DWI stops or the rather benign inspection sticker/seat belt stops. These are roadblocks using federal Border Patrol Agents and at times, backed up by New York State Troopers. They have anywhere from 6 to 20 officers and multiple vehicles. I personally went through a roadblock on one of the main roads in the area with agents carrying sub-machine guns and machine pistols. The questions were calmly asked but the sight of so much firepower was very intimidating. “Where are you from? Why are you here? Where are you going? What are you going to be doing? Have a nice day!” All the time officers are walking around your car and peering into your windows looking for any probable cause to rip through your belongings.

Closer to the reservations it’s even worse. In the small villages of Winthrop, Brasher Falls, Bombay, North Lawrence, and Fort Covington the residents (American citizens) are under surveillance by federal and state agents. They say when they go through the federal roadblocks they get the “stink-eye” if they don’t have a place to say they are going or a reason for what they are doing. Heaven help you if you just want to go for a ride.

On the reservation there is a constant presence. Although the indigenous population doesn’t have to worry about the New York State Police, except on state roads, the Border Patrol theoretically can travel anywhere they like and have a no-knock jurisdictional power up to 100 miles from the border or coast since 9-11. In fact, at Akwesasne, the government forces have begun to run down pleasure craft and ram them. “On Monday April 12th, [2010] 11:00 p.m., Two Akwesasne men were rammed by a boat in Akwesasne waters by two Royal Canadian Mounted Police accompanied by two, U.S. Border Patrol and one Coast Guard, 5 boats in total.”[10]

Now the population has to be concerned with the federal government using unmanned drones out of Ft. Drum in Watertown, NY. They are using them for surveillance of the indigenous population and are able to go up to 30 miles into Canada.[11] “These can accurately fire missiles at specific houses, buildings and even people, just like in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They can take pictures and listen to conversations. . .”[12] For all practical purposes the Mohawks have no place that isn’t under the watchful eye of one government or another using the eyes of the border patrol. Along the border they practically live in a police state. But is it just the border or is this just where it is starting. The jurisdiction of the Border Patrol reaches up to a hundred miles from the border. This means federal roadblocks are allowed and they do not need any sort of probable caused to search your vehicle and under certain circumstances your residence.[13] If you draw a line 100 miles in from the border or coast you find a very large percentage of the US population falls under the jurisdictional area of the US Border Patrol or in effect Homeland Security. The area I live in is outside this “border area” but millions of Americans don’t even realize that they live within it. Who would think of Hartford, Conn. being a border city under Border Patrol jurisdiction?

Even those of us who don’t live in these “border” areas can feel an ever-watchful eye on us. After a while you don’t even think about the cameras. At the local college where I teach there are signs at all of the entrances that state, ‘You are under twenty-four hour surveillance while on campus.’ This includes the parking areas, parking garages, sidewalks, hallways and anywhere else they can fit a camera. Even the copy rooms have cameras. The only places that are not under the watchful of “public safety” are the bathrooms and the offices however; the offices have a two-way speaker/microphone in them so theoretically the administration/public safety could listen in on conversations.

It’s not just on the college campuses. Many of the stoplights have cameras on them and most highways have traffic cameras trained on the roadways. In fact in the city where I live they have detecting devices hooked up across the city to help pinpoint gunfire. The manufacturer of the devices states they can be additionally equipped with cameras to record whatever is going on. One wonders when state and local governments will employ their own drones like those that the federal government is operating over “border areas.”

It seems that it’s not just the Mohawks and those who live a few miles from an international border who have to worry about a growing and more interfering police state. But those who live a hundred miles from not just borders but beaches also should be concerned with a growing police enforcement presence. Some of us for now live outside these zones but it’s only a matter of time when what is happening to people closer to the border will be happening right here.

“Where are you from? Why are you here? Where are you going? What are you going to be doing? (Papers please) Have a nice day!”

[1] Ernest R. Rugenstein, "Clash of Cultures: Uprising at Akwesasne" (Ph.D. dissertation, Union Institute & University, 2009), 2-3.

[2] Michael T. Kaufman, "To the Mohawk Nation, Boundaries Do Not Exist," The New York Times, April 13, 1984.

[3] Russel Roundpoint, "Akwesasne, Ca.,” Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, (accessed September 10, 2007).

[4] Kaufman, "To the Mohawk Nation, Boundaries Do Not Exist."

[5] Rugenstein, "Clash of Cultures: Uprising at Akwesasne," 35.

[6] Kaufman, "To the Mohawk Nation, Boundaries Do Not Exist."

[7] Ibid.

[8] Rugenstein, "Clash of Cultures: Uprising at Akwesasne," 2-3.

[9] Chamber Directory Search Page. US Chamber of Commerce, Washington DC,, Accessed 2010.

[10] Norrell, Brenda, Akwesasne Men Rammed by Border Patrol, Hospitalized. Censored News,, Accessed 2010.

[11]Mohawk National News. Border Guards Gone: U.S. Drones Patrol Akwesasne. Bauru Institute and Press., content&view=article&id=922:border-guards-gone-us-drones-patrol-akwesasne&catid=52:north-america-indigenous-peoples&Itemid=74, Accessed 2010.

[12] Ibid.

[13] United States Government Accountability Office, Report to Congressional Requester: Available Data on Interior Checkpoints Suggest Differences in Sector Performance. Washington DC: United States Border Patrol, 2005, GAO-05-435.