Peace: First on Akwesasne’s mind
The Mohawk community of Akwesasne has remained vigil and peaceful since the border crossing on our traditional territory was closed more than two weeks ago. Since then, our community has kept six peace fires near the Canadian Customs Port of Entry on Kahwehnoke (Cornwall Island, Ontario). Our community maintains the peace fires and continues to seek a peaceful resolution to the bridge closure.
The border has been closed since June 1, when Canada’s customs officers walked off the job and abandoned their post. It triggered the closure of this international crossing by the U.S. border agency and Cornwall Police. It was a direct result of Canada custom’s failure to listen to the Akwesasne community’s vigorous and peaceable objection to the planned arming of customs officers.
Trouble at this border crossing started a few years ago when border guards became aggressive and began intimidating our people. They focused much of their abuse on our youth, but our elders, women and children also suffered. The thought of arming these aggressive border guards causes much fear in the Akwesasne community, but we will not respond in the same manner. It is the reason why we seek a non-violent solution and remain vigil at the peace fires.
Old and young gather around the peace fires and at the tent next to the customs facility. Our young play the ancient game of lacrosse on the lawn. Elders sit around the fires and share wisdom gained through years of experience. Women prepare food and feed all those who come to keep vigil. And men, chosen by our clan mothers, are keeping the peace.
The peace fires are kept burning around the clock. They are called “peace fires” by the community and they chose “six” for the Six Nations Iroquois, the ancient Confederacy of Nations of which the Akwesasne community belongs. Prayers for peace are said every morning. Wood and sacred tobacco is given to flames that long for peace.
Ernest Kanientaronkwen Benedict is a 91-year-old elder and resident who says that it is the Akwesasne community’s true belief that peaceful and direct talks between leaders are the key to resolving difficult situations. It is an act of diplomacy that our people are well-versed in and have practiced since the founding of the Confederacy. It is a legacy of peace.
This is the protocol we use for a friendly first meeting with our neighbors or visitors to our territory. We give words of peace to our guests in a special welcoming ceremony, where we clear grief and unclear thinking from their minds.
At Akwesasne, we all urge the Canadian minister of public safety to display clear thinking and be willing to talk to Akwesasne leaders.
The pursuit of peace is often a long process, but as we take this journey we can look to our proud Mohawk identity and traditions to help guide our way.
– Chief Howard
Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs