CIU members meet with Grand Chief for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne

February 23, 2023
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On February 21, 2023, Customs and Immigration Union members had the opportunity to meet with Abram Benedict, Grand Chief for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne as part of an ongoing conversation between Akwesasne community leaders and our union to better understand and address long-standing concerns between Akwesasne residents and Cornwall port of entry border officers.

Amongst other union members, present at the meeting were CIU National Human Rights Representative Murray Star, CIU Eastern Ontario Branch President Todd Matejka, as well as CIU Eastern Ontario Chief Steward John Bay. This is the second meeting between CIU representatives and Mohawk leaders in the past few months, following a visit to Akwesasne by CIU National President Mark Weber in late December 2022, during which CIU representatives met with both the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the hereditary Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs.

The CIU leadership is hopeful that this recent open forum meeting between union members and Grand Chief Benedict will pave the way for a continuing collaboration to resolve entrenched tensions and make transiting through the Cornwall POE less cumbersome for residents of Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island), and safer for all.

Transiting from the island to the mainland should be a non-event for residents of Kawehno:ke. Sadly, that is currently not the case, due in large part to poor design in and around the Cornwall POE, chronic understaffing at the port, and CBSA’s general inaction regarding both residents’ and CIU members’ concerns.

Beyond the broader systemic context, CBSA needs to put in the work to address these specific issues, mend the relationship with the Akwesasne community, and ensure a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. This means proper training for management and officers alike, thoughtful consultation with Akwesasne and CIU leaders, and careful consideration of equity needs. While CIU cannot do the employer’s job for them, we can begin building bridges where they won’t and demonstrate to them how this complex situation can be addressed.

CIU is thankful to Grand Chief Benedict and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, as well as the hereditary Chiefs, for their openness in establishing an ongoing dialogue with the union, so that we may better appreciate the issues at hand. We would also like to recognize the work of John Bay who, as Chief Steward for his port and only Border Officer working at the Cornwall POE who is also a member of the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, was instrumental in laying the foundation for this important initiative.

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