The April 19 “Day
of Rage Against Globalization” near the Akwesasne Mohawk territory began in an
abandoned, weed- choked parking lot shadowed by a GM plant. Organizer Shawn
Brant, a Mohawk activist from the Tyendinaga reserve near Belle- ville,
Ontario, was frying some of the 2,400 pounds of pickerel speared from his home
territory and trucked several hours to the site in upstate New York, just a
few hundred yards from the St. Lawrence River.
the water here is polluted,” Brant said, as organizers and reporters milled
around the dusty lot designated as a staging area for the action after tribal
leaders made it known that the activists were not welcome on the reservation.
teemed with fish that sustained Mohawk communities in the St. Lawrence Valley
for centuries—until it was spoiled by toxic discharges from nearby industrial
plants and by massive dredging projects that created an international shipping
fish fry was a gesture of welcome for a caravan of 500 or so environmental,
labor, and human rights activists who were on their way to Quebec City to
protest the Summit of the Americas. It was also a show of unity between
anti-globalization forces and Mohawk activists who have endured years of
struggle for environmental justice and native sovereignty. The meal, along
with an open speaking forum and a song about imprisoned Native activist
Leonard Peltier, steeled protesters for a mile-long march across the
international bridge that spans the river to Cornwall Island, Ontario.
weren’t sure what to expect as they approached the bridge. Fear of violence
had spurred Mohawk tribal leaders to bar activists from assembling on the
reservation, close schools, and set up random police checkpoints to monitor
heavily armed U.S. and Canadian law enforcement agencies massed along the
border were expecting, it didn’t happen. Marshaled by traditional Mohawk
warriors in olive green jackets and red armbands, demonstrators carried signs
and banners, banged on drums, and chanted anti-corporate messages as they made
their way across the bridge.
They were met
by lines of Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Ontario Provincial Police on
foot and ATVs, along with a wall of border patrol agents blocking lanes and
perched on the roofs of Customs buildings. A few dozen Mohawk children and
adults watched from behind a fence as Brant stopped at the foot of the bridge
to address the crowd.
“You were told
the people who are coming here are rioters, they’re going to destroy your
homes, they’re going to burn your businesses. That’s not the case. They’re
here on your behalf,” he said. “Free trade legalizes the poison that
governments throw into our water.”
complied with an order from Canadian customs officials to file back into the
cars and vans that had been following them to be processed at the border.
Still, agents ran background checks on each protester, searched vehicles,
rifled through bags and trunks, copied documents, and hassled activists about
their plans for the Summit.
officials said they denied entry to only two protesters, either because of
prior convictions or what they described as “intent to commit criminal acts”
while in Canada. But, delayed at the border for hours while their comrades
were processed, most activists turned around in solidarity with those denied
entry to Canada. When they made it back to the U.S., protesters were met by
state troopers and tribal police and threatened with arrest if they stopped
anywhere on the reservation. Most left the area to find another place to cross
authorities might have viewed the day’s events as a victory for “law and
order,” their reaction only drove home arguments against corporate
globalization more clearly.
Alcoa, Reynolds Metals, and GM plants—already the source of pollution that has
hit Mohawk residents hardest—have announced another round of layoffs in recent
months, with corporate officials blaming “the competitive global environment”
and workers wondering every day how long it will be before the factories
the message was clear: If the multinationals could dump their industrial
leftovers in the St. Lawrence River and then delay cleanup for years, how much
easier would it be to do the same and worse in Guatamala, Paraguay or Haiti,
where every job offered by export companies would attract impoverished and
repressed workers by the thousands?
standing on the border of two illegitimate countries with a history of 500
years of oppression,” said New York City activist Nisha Anand, whose parents
emigrated from the state of Punjab in India, another region that continues to
experience the devastating effects of colonialism. “The FTAA is a
reaffirmation of the freedom to rob and exploit poor and indigenous people.
It’s had different names, it’s taken different forms. They’ve been able to get
away with it. (But) the FTAA is trying to make it legal.”
territory, which straddles the international border and is nestled between two
counties that regularly compete for the highest jobless rate in New York, is a
community plagued by the poverty, substandard housing, and alcoholism endemic
to many reservations.
and engine parts factories, all three of which are unionized, have been among
the few places over the last half-century that have offered steady work at
good wages to Mohawks.
But those jobs
have come with a high price. In addition to the destruction of traditional
hunting and fishing, PCBs, dioxons, heavy metals, and other pollutants have
left the Mohawk community with birth defects, miscarriages, and cancer.
Mothers are advised not to breastfeed their children because of industrial
contaminants in the food chain.
the FTAA—which could allow corporations to weaken environmental standards
through lawsuits—would make an already horrible situation worse. “The
statement to the Canadian government and the United States and to the world is
that the injustice in the environment, they’re not going to push it aside,”
said local Mohawk activist Stacey Boots, whose father John—another organizer
of the April 19 action—is a veteran of native sovereignty struggles at
Akwesasne in the early 1990s.
“We have many
problems and governments are not looking toward solutions. They have pushed us
into reservations that economically are just above the minimum living
standards,” he said. “We are trying our hardest to talk to these governments
and these international industries and they don’t seem to be listening. Make
them listen to you,” Boots told demonstrators bound for the FTAA talks.
delegates from 34 countries assembled in Quebec City did their best to ignore
the tens of thousands penned behind the “Wall of Shame” during the Summit,
activists who came to the border at Akwesasne did broadcast their
anti-corporate message to the throngs of Canadian and American media drawn to
the protest. As they spoke to the world, anti- globalization and native rights
activists used the event to communicate with each other and strengthen
movements for justice in diverse communities affected by the FTAA. “We are
looking to give out numbers and names. We’re looking to become friends,” Boots
told reporters at the rally. “We are setting an example for the whole world.”
Guardino is a newspaper reporter and a freelance writer who lives in northern
New York state.