Members of the Mohawk American Indian tribe beg to differ.
Two chiefs of the Mohawk tribe from the St. Lawrence River Corridor and the U.S.-Canadian border areas met Tuesday with the U.S. Coast Guard at the Canada Institute to discuss increasing border security to prevent smuggling of tobacco to Canada.
“Normally,by the time the government finds out about this stuff it’s five years too late,” Chief Steve Thomas,representing the District of Kana:takon,said. “So all we are doing now is public relations.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police seized 598,000 cartons and unmarked bags of contraband cigarettes in 2011.
The problem is getting tribal,U.S. and Canadian law enforcement agencies to work together.
The Akwesasne community lives along the shore of the St. Lawrence River and on islands in the river. The Mohawk people’s territory is divided by the U.S.-Canadian border separating New York and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.
“We have negotiations ongoing with Canada and Ontario to legitimize First Nation’s trade with Canada and the U.S.,” Thomas said. “We are trying to fix this mess that somebody cast upon us.”
The tribe,a member of the First Nations,is exempt from the Canadian sales tax on cigarettes,which is more than the sales tax in the U.S. That makes its territory a hot spot for the purchase of cheap tax-free tobacco products that are smuggled into Canada.
“We have 24 officers that,24 hours a day,patrol Akwesasne,” Thomas said. “We’ve been asking for a dedicated marine unit. We put up with this. This is a police state … there are cameras on every border road leading in and out of this territory.”
The U.S. and Canadian border is 5,525 miles,the longest international border shared between two counties. New York occupies 445 miles,including the Mohawk territory.
“In the United States,there tends to sometimes be an arrogance that comes with discussing the ‘northern border,’” Michael Parks, retired U.S. Coast Guard rear admiral,said. “I refuse to use that term in my lexicon because I don’t see it as the northern border. … It’s not Canada’s northern border.”
Both chiefs described the trouble they have had with law enforcement in each country.
Chief Brian David,who represents the residents of Kawehno:ke,said the tribe is largely not included in the lawmaking process for security until the laws are almost complete.
“It’s only at that point that the authorities comes to us and ask,what do you think about this?” David said. “What does it matter? Ninety-five percent of the work is done.”
In 2012,590,000 Canadians purchased cigarettes from a First Nations Reserve.
For an area like Akwesasne,where a person can walk across ice on the St. Lawrence River if it is cold enough,catching smugglers becomes more difficult without across-the-board cooperation from law enforcement.
“I think we need to be very transparent,honest and willing to discuss those things that we agree on and accept that there are things that we are not going to agree on but don’t let those stop us,” Parks said. “I think that that’s the real coin of the realm here when dealing with our First Nation partners as well as Canada and the United States,Ontario,Quebec,New York,all those various agencies,all of those jurisdictions.”
Reach reporter Caitlin Turner at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.