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The Whole Orchard – Season 2, Episode 3: Policing in indigenous communities

So-called Canada. The Whole Orchard launches its third episode of the second season. This month, the podcast addresses the stakes surrounding the police in Indigenous territories, whether led by native people or settlers.

Originally published by Convergence des luttes anticapitalistes.

We talk about the Kanien’kéha language camp in Akwesasne and the relation of Indigenous communities with police forces with one of the founders of the camp.

Music

References

To learn more about the langugage camp: https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/reclaiming-land-language

Episode transcription

In our surveillance societies, where our every move is spied on, controlled, calculated and recorded in huge databases, reflecting on the colonial, capitalist and oppressive role of the police and prisons is more than ever necessary.

When new videos of police interventions create scandal because of their racist violence, the leaders, the police and the politicians talk about bad apples. But if we look at the basic trend, these blunders have been repeated for decades. Police misconduct is systematic; police violence is systemic.

In this second season of The Whole Orchard, we offer you a more specific way to think about these issues. Still in the form of interviews with passionate activists, we’re addressing, among other things, the impacts of these institutions on sex workers, policing in Indigenous communities, anti-carceral feminism, the militarization of police forces, transformative justice and migrant prisons.

It is time to put an end to the hypocritical and misleading liberal view that all police vices are the fruit of a few rotten apples. From the roots to the sprouts, police departments at all levels embody decaying apple-trees in a filthy orchard of trash.

Let’s take on the whole Orchard!

INTRODUCTION

All too often, the government deploys small armies to dislodge Indigenous peoples who want to protect their waters and lands, once again demonstrating the colonialist nature of the police in so-called Canadian territory.

Following the Commission Viens from 2019, a bunch of recommandations were emitted to give more autonomy and power to Native Police forces. Such recommandations are intriguing since we know that such police forces are lead by the autority of Band Councils, which are often criticized to be a part of the colonial system. Indeed, the Band Councils emerged from the Indian Act that was passed in the 1860s. This resulted in a second set of authority over the native communities, since all native communities already had some form of traditionnal governance. Further enforced by the INAC, the Indian and Northern Affairs of Canada, the new Band Councils’ authority claimed it could decide on behalf of entire communities so they could interact with the government.

It seems that while there is already tension over those issues in the reserves, giving the Band Council political control over the police forces, would create even more tensions and allow for political repression inside the reserves themselves. Would more native police actually help these communities, or encourage infighting? How would that play out within activists struggles actually going on on the reserves? The case of Akwesasne provides interesting reflexions on the matter. Recently, the Dundee land claim has been approved, which means that a 20 000 acres of land has been ceded to the Canadian government for 240 million dollars following a referendum that had a 28% participation in the population of Akwesasne. Obviously, the Band Council led those negociations, creating a lot of tension on the reserve.

As a hint of response, a group of residents started having a land back camp on non-occupied land nearby. The camp is to foster using Kanien’kéha language and culture-based learning.

We interviewed a member and founder of the language camp to try to understand the relationship between the Mohawk police and the residents on the reserve.

QUESTION: First off, could you explain what was your vision was for the camp, and how it came about ?

So this wasn’t exactly my vision but like it was a consensus among the clan family that I belong to. So back almost two years ago after the Dundee land claim went through and… It was technically approved, our clan gathered and we met and we talked. People discussed having a land based language camp which is why my clan mother probably stated that we never ceded the land, we never gave it up and it’s the women’s… it’s the women’s responsibility to take care of the land and the water. She specifically said, she publicly stated that we wouldn’t be able to do something like this, and knowing that our family, part of the wolf clan family, we have never ceded or surrendered anything and I can only speak on the behalf of my clan family, not on the whole nation. So this vision came about through those meetings, when we were trying to decide what we were gonna do as a reaction to the INAC band council technically taking a pay out to surrender traditional territories. After meeting with people like Isaac Murdoch, and their language school, their land based camp they have and hearing their story, it made me realize that this is something we need on top of like making a stand that we never ceded any land. It really… how do you say that, was a culmination of a lot of different nations and different tribes and different groups of people doing different things like at the same time. Or right before we started this I was in Six Nations and they are taking land back in a different way, they are not doing land based language teaching right away but that’s a part of it. It might happen in the future but it was not the main objective as soon as they got on the land to start teaching a language and land based teaching, so When I left Six Nations I just knew that we agreed on this as a clan to do the land based language teaching and i also learned how to effectively run a camp while taking land back in a sense that its against the Canadian law, so yeah, its kinda… It is just a mixture of everything we went through in the lasts two years and different experiences I guess. but it ultimately comes from the consensus of our clan that «yeah, we were going to do a land based language camp here», so yeah, that’s how we started.

QUESTION: What’s been the response from the community and the other clans around Akwesasne? Also, what’s been the response from the Mohawk Band-Council of Akwesasne (the MCA) ?

So… surprisingly we have a lot of, I almost call it silent support because we’ve had one other Bear Clan family publicly stated they’re against it and I had a young women and her family stay here for the first week with me that belong to that family so like they made it known we’re here, and then afterwards, when people started finding out, we started having a community, started doing fundraising for us to be able to buy the supplies we have in the building in the structure and everything. That was all made possible by community support. We hardly put our own money in anything except to take care of our family here. So I think the support has been great except for the fact that people that work for band council cannot publicly… like we have fundraising where it shows people names on auctions items or like the raffles. People that work for MCA band council cannot support us in that way because if their name’s put out there they will probably get like reprimanded for financially supporting us in any way because we are going against the system they work for. So an absolute majority of the community that works for the band council, so a lot of times we got support but it’s from certain pockets and certain groups of people that don’t answer to them. So that’s was has been difficult. But I know we’ve had… like… the chief that belongs on there and my clan title, he showed up here and come talked to me and he’s like what can we do the help and come back. So we got the kids verbal support supportive of the clan mother’s but he takes directions from the people and from her, so like, it was good that he came here to show up. Then we’ve had people from… we had two separate long houses with two separate beliefs of Kaianere’kó:wa and the Handsome Lake. Both of those long houses support what we’re doing, people, not the whole longhouse but people that sit in those houses, we’ve had people show up here from both. And that’s a big deal for us in Akwesasne, but not many people see that because its’ just us out here. So I think the support’s been good. But we’ve been told for over a hundred years that we can not be on this land. So it’s gonna take time for people to stop thinking in that way to be comfortable enough to take a step out here and not be afraid, yeah.

QUESTION: Just to backtrack a bit and lead into the next question, about the MCA, what was the answer from the authorities ?

I’ll talk about MCA first. They basically have been trying to silence us in a way that they are trying to pretend we’re not here. But at the same time I… but just about a month ago, I have to tell a story about this ‘cause it relates. There is a group on what’s so called Cornwall Island on the Ontario portion on Akwesasne, there’s a group that is trying to reinstate the Saint-Regis Iroquois Indians band office, which is what we were called, the Saint-Regis Iroquois Indians and then… a few decades ago, someone fraudulently changed the name to Mohawks Council of Akwesasne and this leads to a lot of confusion because the Saint-Regis Iroquois Indians uh… this establishments is very similar to Six Nations in the way that we’re not just Mohawk. We had Onondaga, we had Abenakis in Akwesasne, we had… It was so prevalent that even though we only have Wolf, Bear, Turtle for our clans in the Kanien’kehá:ka nation, we had the Snake clan that would sit in for the council and they had a voice. So that shows the prevelance that there was a Onondaga’s and Abenaki. So by then changing the name to Mohawk Council of Akwesasne it makes everyone think there is only Mohawks here and it’s not. Because if you’re not… If you are a deer clan or snake clan, then you are not a Mohawk. But we have a lot of them here.

So this group are actively trying to reinstate that name to remind people that we’re not just all Mohawks but at the same time they have a group in that office that call themselves land defen… protectors. They’re going around and they’re dealing with land disputes within the boundaries of the reserve. So people like if say Travis passed away and his family try to kick me off the land I was on because it belong to their family. Like that kind of things, that’s what they’re doing. So I guess because they are technically terrorizing community members, they started up a petition against these land protectors. So MCA put a statement out, saying there’s a petition against these land protectors and all this and then right at the bottom it says there is a group on Hopkins Point road and they need to respect the owners or whatever, like saying here like trying to lump us in with that group when we are not affiliated with them. So their response is by trying to umbrella, like include us in this petition that has nothing to do with us to remove us from this land. So basically the band council is actively trying to find a way to remove us from this land. That’s their position. While at the same time trying to keep support and keep attention from here. So it’s like that thing, where it’s like a hush hush, like let’s deal with this under the rug. That’s what MCA’s done.

QUESTION: How about other police forces and how does MCA relate to other colonial police, like the Ontario Provincial Police, the OPP, the Sureté du Québec, the SQ or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the RCMP? 

I don’t know this is relative. So MCA has a conservation department. So when we first got down here they were the ones that found us. And from what I’ve been told, conservation is the only ones that ever come down this road and since we’ve been here, RCMP, SQ and Akwies have started coming down here. The first time I met with the RCMP they were in… like they were communicating with conservation because one of the conservation officers is my cousin. They… it seems that they were trying to use that against me cause I was talking to him because he’s my family. I told them things, and he went straight back to the RCMP and told them what I said. So they’re almost acting as agents for the RCMP. And that’s our Band Council conservation department that come down here. And I’ve got video footage and evidence of them meeting at the end of this road talking. And soon as they see me they disperse, they got in their vehicles so that tells me they have something to hide. And then since shortly after this occurred, this camp, now conservation you have to call the police station to get a hold of them. So now they have become almost a policing agency in themself and they actually don’t even do their job very well for conservation here as you can see. Like there’s garbage and non-native hunters and all that, and that’s their job. They’ll drive right by the non native hunter that come down here and bother us. So that tells me that… that I don’t know how long the relationship been with conservation and RCMP, but to me, that’s a problem because they have no business in our business. And… on top of that, they have, the SQ liaison comes down here everytime the with the Akwesasne Mohawk police liaison. So now the SQ is using this as a way back into in Akwesansne because they’re not there, they got kicked out. And the RCMP too. So this SQ goes down in to [Kana:takon] right in the middle in Akwesasne… meet with everyone in Akwesasne Mohawk police station and they drive down here. So he’s trying to form this established relationship with them right now and it’s all stemming from here. So I told him that he’s not going to use us as a way in. And so we have the conservation working with the RCMP and the Akwesasne Mohawk police working with the SQ.

QUESTION: You spoke a bit earlier about how a lot of people tend to romanticize the idea of community policing and having a police officer that knows you and understands you. Could you speak a bit about the reality of MCA police in Akwesasne and how they relate to decolonial struggles and how it feels to have a police that is related to you and that knows you?

Well, I can tell you one thing, so… even though they call it community policing that right there is an issue. We never allowed police here. We established the Akwesasne… there is like a Peace Keeper program, the Peace Keeper are people from our community and we have a whole story of how that came to be whenever it is, either SQ or RCMP we used to have one officer that dealt with us that was RCMP then we had one RCMP officer around in Akwesasne a long time ago and then something happen, I don’t if SQ made their way in, but one of these cops pointed their gun at someone, pointed at their back walking on the road and someone had to stop that cop and that day, women, my people all gathered and walked right up the hill and they kicked that cop out and from then on, we had our own community Peace Keepers, we had people protecting us and… Okay, this is what happen… At the fire this summer, I heard a lot of stories we had the Peace Keeper program and then on uh… they say, you see this study through, I don’t know if its the Canada Archives, but they did a study very specifically on Akwesasne to determine if like the first nations funding was sufficient and their study found that it was not and it wasn’t efficient and it wasn’t good enough and instead of more funding to training our community how to keep the peace, they decided, «oh no we’re gonna make this new thing», and its like a joint task force between RCMP, SQ, like New York State police and like four I think officers specifically trained in that joined task force on top of our community policing3, so then here comes in where our new Peace Keepers get trained as OPP they come in trained like OPP police officers, they don’t have that same mentality that our old peace keepers had, like if you see someone drunk, you know them, you’re gonna bring them home and make sure that their mom is gonna take care of them. We don’t have that anymore. Now we’ll have people getting brutalized and tazed and shot and jailed and get no medical care because those officers are no longer community minded, or half of them are not from here and most of them aren’t native, so we have no more community police and we have OPP police officers that throw on Akwesasne Mohawk Police Badge over their OPP badge and come here with their assault rifles visible, and they treat us like we’re all terrorist or savages, they don’t respect us whatsoever, so that become the issue in itself because, the Akwesasne Mohawk Police is a standalone organization who answers to nobody. So… if we put in a complaint against these cops that brutalize us, the farthest up it goes is to Shawn Dulude, ex-SQ chief of police and its as high up as it goes, and if anything it might go to band council who pays their checks, so band council is who they may answer to but they claim they’re two separate entities and as of right now they’re actively separating themselves from the band office which tells me that they’re trying to become a… almost like a literal standalone police force who would answer to nobody but Shawn Dulude and everyone takes issue with him not being native, from Quebec, ex-SQ officer, so he runs the whole department, so we have a lot of issues with the way thing are being conducted in our community and so I don’t even feel comfortable saying I’d rather have Akwies come down here instead of SQ and RCMP, I’m not even comfortable saying that, because they’re one and the same.

QUESTION: Before colonial police was introduced to your traditionnal territory, was there a need for anything analogous to policing, was there a distinct group of people to inforce rules or decisions ?

So before police we had the Indian agent, and the indian agent was only responsible for paying… like collecting leases and paying us, yeah, so that indian agent was responsible for handling all our affairs between the government and us. And then there’s even the story of Jake Ice, so this why we have such tumultuous relationship with the police, right where I grew up in Kana:tokon the Indian agent office were right on top of the hill where I lived and they were trying to force us to start voting in the INAC system, they’re trying to like, I don’t know, force it on us and nobody wanted it, we had our own governance and we basically tied up the Indian agent and the cops and locked the door shut when the vote was supposed to happen and then they left and then we thought got rid of them, and then a few weeks later the cops come rolling across our river and go to the Indian agent office and call for all the chiefs and hum, one Jake Fire, which was Jake Ice brother showed up there and right away he seen one of the cops that he tied up and he knew there was trouble and he tried to yell out and the village is so small and so populated that like people heard them and his brother and supporters came running up there and seen him in handcuffs and then his brother Jake Ice was a big guy, he was in recovery, he used to be an alcoholic, he went after that cop to try to get his brother and that cop shot him dead and then they arrested all the chiefs and their supporters and they would put them in jail for a year, until they agreed to participate in the INAC system for band council, so, this all happen and we have a statue of Jake Fire right in Kana:tokon that was our first case of colonial policing like 1888, right around the time Dundee, like they say the surrender and ballot surrender happened, because that was right around the time that the INAC and the Indian Act system became established here like 1888 or around that time, like the 1800s, but before that, before the Indian agent or any kind of colonial police, we had life chiefs here, at the Saint-Regis Iroquois Indians, which was a seven nations governance system, which is basically our traditional like Six Nations7 confederacy type of governance system, but it consisted of the Saint-Regis Iroquois Indians, the Kanesetake, the Abenaquis, it wasn’t the original Six Nations and in there, they had their own catholic type of life chiefs and we still conducted ourselves in a way that was similar to Kaianere’kó:wa but like the Catholicism mixed in because that’s the only way we could survive our culture, alongside these colonial people who were trying to destroy us and bring us to residential schools and kill our whole culture, the only way we could make it survive was by appeasing the gavel, like getting on our knees and pray with you, but behind their back we were still doing our ceremonies so we still conducted ourselves in a way that people only had to put a broom across their door and nobody would come through their houses ‘cause they weren’t home, they could leave their doors unlocked, like rape and murder wasn’t prevalent, smuggling didn’t become a thing until like that prohibition stuff and alcohol and then like smuggling started being a thing and I think that’s where police thought they had good reason to start coming in here and harassing us, but even before that when you ask me, my mind went to… mmm… way long before we were in long houses, and like Mohawk Valley before the French Jesuits came and gave us alcohol, our people lived as a clan in the long house and they say we didn’t became nuclear families until alcoholism came in because the men would be getting drunk on one end of the long house room and the children were over here afraid because they’d be getting violent and that’s how the colonizers got us to sign treaties and touch the pen and everything’s gone, so that’s when we started moving out in our own homes and like domestic abuse and stuff started becoming a thing and then that’s where I think there became a need for Peace Keepers and stuff, was when alcohol came in ‘cause we no longer lived the Kaianere’kó:wa8, so it goes pretty far back.

QUESTION: Do you want to tell us how people can support this ?

Well here specifically we have a Kanienkehakalandback@gmail.com for like donations and to watch we have, we only have facebook so you need an account but they keep updates on what’s going on here and there will be a time where we’ll need support and more people to be here physically but right now we really don’t… it’s not as much as like a physical support we need in a way like, we’re here teaching our children and stuff but we do need help building it up here, to make it a place where we can teach our youth and teach our people land based language teachings and in others like settlers and non-native people who are interested, but right now we’re at a point where we’re ourselves trying to get our language and our culture back. We have to work on that like teach my children, teach myself before I can start like teaching people from the outside that want to be a part of it. And I would really highly suggest people figure out who’s territory they live on and find out if they have ongoing struggles and various things like that, that they need help with, because its really the responsibility of those people because their ancestors made agreements with our ancestors to have that peace and that friendship to continue with those relationship they’re building, so its almost who… where you live is your responsibility, that land is just as much your responsibility as it is that native’s person, if they’re struggling and fighting against something, trying to protect their environment, trying to keep themselves safe from being murdered of missing or police violence, it is really up to those allies to start stepping in and start supporting those people, yeah. ​​​​​​​

CONCLUSION

As we’ve seen, native or not, police is police. Better life doesn’t emerge from violence and oppression. Having a way of supporting the repressive part of the native communities makes it possible for the govermnent to pretend they are helping those communities, while at the same time making sure that their poverty is maintained. Keeping communities from coming together by enforcing laws specifically aimed to put them in jail creates divisions along what is considered legal or not. Those laws are based upon a colonial and white-supremacist justice system. Punishment and jail won’t resolve the reason why people are breaking the law in the first place. Therefore there is hope in community initiatives like the Kanien’keha language camp, that aims to keep alive less repressive traditions.

That’s all for this episode of the Whole Orchard, we’ll be back soon with a new one. You can join us at the 15th annual anticapitalist mayday demo, which will start off at 5pm at the so-called Place du Canada. This year’s theme is: Colonial & Ecocidal, Capitalism is WAR! 


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