To The Editor,
Upon hearing the announcement that Representative William Owens will not seek re-election, I was gratified. Besides wishing him well in his retirement, I will also recount where his political shortcomings have aggravated the formal relationship between his federal government and the people of the Akwesasne reserve.
The relationship between Onkwehon:weh (original people, aka Mohawk) and Europeans was originally forged through trade agreements that were mutually beneficial. The settling of violations of those agreements had to be accounted for in some way. Onkwehon:weh relied upon the Two Row Wampum (Kaswentha) to mediate differences between their own peoples prior to the European contact. After the 1492 Encounter, the Two Row Wampum was adapted to account for the vastly different cultural ways. In essence, the Two Row Wampum relies upon Onkwehon:weh staying in their canoe while the Europeans stay in their own ships, relatively speaking. In other words, stay out of each other’s business to maintain the peace. In the case of agreement violators, the offenders, when caught, were turned back over to their own people. Owens’ statements gloss over his understanding of this tradition.
Take for instance this statement by Representative Owens, concerning the relocation of the Canadian Security Border Services (CBSA) inspection point to the Massena Port of Entry of the International Bridge. “It eliminates the potential for us to have another shutdown at the border,” Mr. Owens said. “The Mohawk community likes this idea as well. We really have all three groups behind this idea.”
Excuse me Representative Owens. You never checked with anyone in Akwesasne before you said this. It was a patently false statement and could have led to an increase of tension at this port of entry. Even former U.S. Customs officials have expressed to me the fallacy of the reasoning. The CBSA will have no jurisdiction to prosecute anyone from that geographical position; neither their own citizens nor American citizens nor Onkwehon:weh. In short, that is pretty far out to think that way.
Another area of concern is the militarization of the region. The congressional committees that Owens has served on include Appropriations sub-committees for Defense and Homeland Security. He has also served as the co-chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus. To what effect on Akwesasne has this influence wrought? In this era of law enforcement incrementalism, it has resulted in the layering of efforts to control people living on their own lands under fiat of the war on terrorism.
The definition of terrorism in Akwesasne, by the way, is when large swaths of Indian-titled land are historically usurped through fraudulent means (Macomb’s Purchase) and the post-colonial governments elect to look any other way but at that problem. And then in follow-up, these governments prosecute the victims of those land-grabs, sometimes for “stealing” their own land back! This is terrorism with a visible hint of insanity thrown in for bad measure.
To show the priorities of these committees, in the American Southwest they fund a combined tribal-federal border protection unit called the “Shadow Wolves” which are relied upon to interdict contraband in that area. On the northern border however, that has not taken place. It is possible that the still-firm understanding of land-based rights by Akwesasne residents is a deterrent. For whatever the reason, the failure to seek partners with the political capital to bring border security here echoes the futility of U.S. efforts to provide international border security in places like Afghanistan.
When the Owens re-election campaign workers from SUNY-Potsdam attempted to contact my wife for her support during his last election, I spoke with one of them. I related my concern for these issues to this worker and said that when I brought this to the attention of the congressional office for a response, I never heard anything back. “Why do you think that was?” I asked the young lady. She dug in and told me that the Congressman was busy working with business allies in Cornwall, Ontario in order to make the North Country economically stronger. My final words to her were that he had never come to Akwesasne to speak to businesses there, and that if those went out of business, that would definitely make the region weaker. The phone line clicked off in response.
Whomever is the next person elected to this congressional seat, they will be reminded of the Two Row Wampum. Truly there is not another five years to spare with more indifference, fraying ties and misplaced priorities. At its’ best the North Country is a multicultural region. At its’ worst, it is a political Siberia. The choice is in the handling.
Chaz Kader, Turtle Clan
Clerk, Men’s Council
Kanienkehaka Kaianerehkowa Kanonhsesne
Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War II veteran. He attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, earning degrees in Communication and Library Science, as well as Mercyhurst College where he earned a graduate degree in the Administration of Justice. He has worked across Indian country, from the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana (where he married his wife) to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and now resides in Kanienkeh.