Grand Chief Michael Mitchell of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne offers students a broad overview of the governance history of the Akwesasne Mohawk and the efforts his people have made during his time in office to exercise true self-governance and rebuild their nation.
Mitchell, Michael K. "A History of the Akwesasne Mohawk." Native Nation Building: Governance and Development undergraduate course (faculty: Dr. Ian Record). American Indian Studies program, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 31, 2008. Presentation.
Michael K. Mitchell:
"[Mohawk language] What I said in my language is it's an honor to be here and I'm very nervous anytime I stand before a class that seem to be at the university level that have garnered so much knowledge from books that I don't quite know how I could relate, but I'm going to try.
I come from a territory that got dissected by the U.S./Canadian border. Half of Akwesasne is located in upstate New York and the other half is in Canada. Three quarters of what's in Canada is in the Province of Quebec and a quarter of it is in the Province of Ontario. So we have five jurisdictions on the outside perimeters of our reservation.
As I'm going along, I may be asking you some questions because I'm working on almost like an autobiography of my upbringing and political experience and a question I have is if any of you already know, what year did the American war of Independence end? Does anybody know? I should have you on Jay Leno. In the late 1700s, right? Because later on, it lead into the War of 1812, but around that time was when they put the international border. And for some reason it split our Mohawk community in half. So part of us became Americans and the other part Canadians. So you have brothers and sisters, one's American and one's Canadian at least by the standards on the outside.
We always consider ourselves to be nation members and citizens of the Mohawk Nation. And I don't know how much you would learn about the Iroquois in your American Indian studies but the Mohawks are part of the Haudenosaunee, Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the Six Nations. And the nations that make up the Iroquois Confederacy are the Mohawk, the Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Senecas and Tuscaroras. At the time, what we called the 13 Fires or the 13 Colonies, when Europeans were starting to settle in North America [want to break for a minute?] they met and got permission from the Iroquois Confederacy and established relationships with the Haudenosaunee as to where European settlers would take up residence. It started with the Dutch, Germans and later the English and each group that came, each group of settlers that came made treaties with the Iroquois.
Now in making these agreements there was one particular agreement that we know very well that was made in Albany, New York. It was called the two-row wampum because our people recorded our history in wampum belts. And this is a story that our people talk about in our earliest relations with European settlers. There was a belt that had two rows and our elders said that at that time it signified two ships, two vessels. One was a ship and one was a canoe and what they told the European settlers is that, "˜On this ship you came to this land to escape from religious prosecution, from not being able to practice your governments the way you would want to be represented and so in this land we're going to give you that freedom to do so, speak your language, practice your traditions, your culture, everything that you would like to be as a people will remain on that ship and in our canoe will be the same thing. Our governance, systems of government, our languages, our cultures, our traditions, our ceremonies, our religious beliefs will be in our canoe and they will go down the river of life together in parallel. I will never make laws, my nation will never make laws for your people and you will never do the same with us.' So it was that kind of a relationship. "˜But throughout time, we'll always be there to help you.' And as it was in the earliest times, Europeans were not aware of their surroundings, they were not aware of the many types of foods that they could cultivate and eat. So the Native Americans were the first ones to show them, the first time that they would ever have experienced squash, pumpkin, corn, beans and down the line, as well as medicines. In this exchange, Europeans showed them how to hunt, utensils, farming equipment, etc., so there was this exchange.
Anyway, in those days where they came from they told a story about being ruled by kings and queens, nobles, barons and peasants, religious prosecutions. So one of the earliest historical leaders in this country was Benjamin Franklin and in his earliest writings he talked about sitting at the council fire of the Iroquois and he watched how they governed their people, for it was something drastically different than what he was accustomed to and he invited others to come and observe when nations got together and talked about governance.
Their leaders were called [Mohawk language], chiefs. And contrary to the way politics are run today for both of us, because I'm an elected leader, usually have a term of three to five years. But in those days a Native American chief would be put up by the women of his nation. We all had our own clans. I belong to the Wolf clan. Among the Mohawks there's three major clans, the Wolf, Turtle and Bear. And so it would be the women of that nation is was said that would watch men form the time they crawl on the ground to the time they walk to the time they hunt to the time they marry, the women of that nation would know and judge the character of a man; how he provides, how he related, how he conducted himself as a human being, as a family person. If he was a good hunter, if he was a good speaker, if he knew ceremonial, cultural things that belonged to his nation, then they knew he would be a good leader. And so he didn't have to make promises to say, "˜I want to be a chief.' The women already had made up their mind that he would be a good leader.
And so when they picked a man to be the chief, the women had a fair notion what would make for a good leader and in them days, and we still have that system of governance today, a man had three chances in his lifetime, in his adult life, in his leadership life to be a good leader. If he did something against what would harm the people of his nation, the women would come to see him three times and straighten it out. He would have three chances to retain his chieftainship. And on the third time, they would have a head warrior with them to take his title away. It was considered a disgrace if a chief ever had to have his title taken away.
And with our tradition, a man who was a chief was given a headdress that had deer antlers and he carried that, he wore that in council meetings and in ceremonies and important events when they met with other nations. And so that symbol of office, if there ever came a time that he would be removed from office, there was a term called "˜de-horning a chief.' They would take his title away by taking his antlers away from him. He would never be recognized as a leader again ever in his lifetime. And so that was the system of governance for us. Then European governments came and said, "˜We have a better system.' And I'm going to talk about my experiences on the Canadian side, but there's parallels on both sides.
In Canada in 1867, they created a federal legislation called the Indian Act. It had three major objectives or principles. One was to Christianize the Indian nations, make farmers out of them, and educate them; what they call educating the Indian-ness out of them, make them non-Indians. And so they set up these residential schools. They would round up all the Native kids off their territories, send them hundreds of miles away in a church-run school and those kids wouldn't see their parents until eight, ten years later they would be allowed to come home. That was a system that ran and stopped probably around 1971, '73, they started closing off the so-called residential schools in Canada.
Did it work? Many times it did, for our people returned home strangers, no language any longer, no awareness of their customs and traditions, cultural values, can't speak the language, but they were educated. And the thing that happened with many is that they were lost. They couldn't mingle with their people, associate with them, but they couldn't survive in the cities, outside the reservations because now they had lost something very important, their spirit as Native Americans. So for many to get home, they had to relearn or get re-educated as to who they were. The churches played a strong part de-Indianizing of our people because all these schools were run by religious institutions.
Some significant things that happened is that when they started catching on as to the effects of residential schools in that just under a hundred years in Canada, is that suicide rates, social conditions prevailed on the majority of people who came out of residential schools. Suicide rates are high. In Canada there's 30 million people, population in the country. We form the majority of the prison populations in Canada because one other factor that was crucially important, alcohol wasn't meant for our people to touch. In the time that they drank they became...they lost their memory, they committed a crime, they killed somebody, they robbed something that would land them in prison, lifetime, 20 years. And so that became a big social impact in our development, progress as people.
We are now starting to realize the consequences because the values that we were taught as Native Americans, as Mohawks in nation for us, the virtue of what makes for a good person was in our cultural teachings, and when they took that away from us and tried to make us into something else, we couldn't adjust there, either. And so in Akwesasne, those that are on the Canadian side wound up in a school strange enough called 'Spanish.' On the American side they wound up in a residential school, which escapes me for the minute. Anybody ever hear of Jim Thorpe? What school did he go to? Carlisle [Indian School], that was the school where they sent our people on the American side, and a lot of our elders went to school with Jim Thorpe.
So they would return home. Now there are some people that use their education and they did make something of themselves but in between that was a sad story. So those of us that got an education within our community, there was a fight all the way through. I was raised by my grandparents and they gave me the cultural teachings, the language, ceremonial songs, what makes for a good person. Many of the stories of the nations that I find myself now being an elder in a community of sorts and as strange as it is, the governance that I told you a little earlier about how people get put up, my mother is a clan mother and they are the ones who put up leaders. And so I would say from the time I was small being raised that I had retained all these teachings that I was going to be a traditional chief, where the women would put you in office.
In the 1970s to "˜80s in our community, there was always turmoil between the elected leaders and the traditional people. And then for us there was elected leaders on the Canadian side and there's elected leaders on the American side and there was the Mohawk Nation traditional chiefs. So if it wasn't bad enough to have five governments on the outside, we had three inside the reservation. And like the Hatfields and McCoys, the elected leaders were usually the Christian leaders and the traditional chiefs were people who they called them the Long House people. They were the people who maintained the ceremonies, the language and the customs and traditions and they adhere to a traditional form of governance as I had told you.
Anyway, as in any society when they don't get along there would be skirmishes. So the nation people said, "˜We want to find a way to exchange our cultures in the event that maybe we could make for a better world in the next generation. So we're going to exchange some of our people.' So they send me over to the elected side and in 1982 I became, I was elected as a chief in the elected system and at that time I was probably the first one. We were referred to as pagans because we weren't Christian and the church taught them that if you're not a Christian you must be a pagan. So that was a very catchy name on council by my peers, to have a pagan chief. Not that I really knew much about it, so it didn't really bother me. But as I later found out, some cruel things. The priest in our reservation was a Mohawk from another reservation and so when you get somebody believing in something really hard, they espoused a lot of hatred and that existed in my time growing up. If you weren't a Christian Mohawk, then you were something of a lower class. My duty and responsibility was not only to be a good leader, but to change that whole image and that whole attitude of what makes for a good Mohawk person.
So two years later...they've only got two-year terms; we had another election. In that time, I looked at our elected governance, chief and council, the way they conducted their business. They didn't have any public meetings, they didn't show the community any of the minutes of their meetings so they know how much education dollars, how much housing dollars and welfare and house...so it was all like a big mystery. And usually it's a favorite; some people get catered to. If you elect a person and you represent so many of a large family, you're looked after. If they didn't think that you were supporting particular people on council, you didn't kind of work your way up the ladder.
So it was that kind of governance I wasn't really used to. So I started taking minutes of our meetings and I would show them around. Finally I did a small newspaper, I would ship them out into the community. I became very well versed on information that had to get into the community. So I took it upon myself -- because that was my tradition -- to take this information and provide it to the community. Now for some reason, the community liked having this information even though I was traditional and the next year they wanted me to become the Grand Chief of the reservation.
Now I'm going to go back a little bit. The first time I went for elections and I was put up, our traditional people don't vote. So I had to get elected by the other side. I still don't know how that happened, but it did and I got in. So the second time around when I competed for the Grand Chief position, a Grand Chief is elected among the general populace. A District Chief is elected from his own area. So I thought I was safe there. And to jump in that short time was a little difficult...and it was rough for somebody that came from the traditional side of the community. I got beat up going to work. The office that I had was occupied by protestors who didn't believe that the Grand Chief should be traditional. My life was threatened. And so it didn't kind of work out at the beginning, but if you have a thing in your mind that you want to try to govern, I had to mix my upbringing into my politics. So I found different avenues, different venues where I would get information to the community, "˜This is our situation.' And as I'm trying to fight off my opponents, I also had to fight off the governments on the outside. So I got together with the chiefs and we had some sessions, normally like you would anywhere else where you decide to get everything out in the open. And I convinced them that we're here for the same reasons -- to have effective governance.
Don't forget about the Indian Act that I told you, because not that long ago in our community the Indian agent ran everything. He controlled the chief and council, told them how to vote, what is the important issues and how they should govern, how they should make decisions. When I was coming out of high school was the last few days of the Indian agent was around in our reservation but the effects, government policy, everything was decided in Ottawa. If the chief and council made a decision about something, whether it's a school or a health facility, anything that would benefit the community, you had to ask for permission through the Department of Indian Affairs and they would let you know if you could do it. I was very much opposed to not having the community be the ones who decide on issues and I advocated that the people had to get involved.
Now we live on a reservation as I told you that's half in Canada, half in the States. For me to come from Cornwall Island, Ontario, I have to cross through the customs to the American side of the reservation to get to St. Regis, Quebec. If I have to go to Snye, I have to go back to the American side and get back into Quebec. So every day I'm going through borders. And when we had problems crossing borders, I convinced the community that we should stand up for ourselves. After a few meetings we got people worked up, we shut down the international bridge; fifty of us went to jail. But that was the first time in "˜70s that in Canada people started, Native people started organizing themselves, speaking up for themselves, and that was the time that changes started to happen. Then we started getting in touch with our brothers on the American side.
One of the things that happened, we affected government policy. I convinced Ottawa to allow us to hire our own people because they had non-Native coming on the reservation to be our education director, to take notes in terms of social programs, to take health information back and statistics that they kept and nobody really was comfortable with that kind of relationship. In the space of two years, I was able to convince the governments on the outside to allow young people who were coming out of colleges and universities to come home and work for us, stay home. They became our administrators, they became our teachers, they became our police people, our conservation, environment...we had jobs of all kinds, but they weren't really our people that were working there. So that was the changes that came about in the "˜80s. As the changes started to happen, confidence came back to our people, that confidence and tradition.
There's something important I left out, an event that happened in 1984, which was just as I was starting my second term, my first term as Grand Chief. The Pope came to Canada and he had asked the bishops that... he was tired of the churches in U.S. and Canada every time a figure like that would come around they would dress up the Indians, put the war bonnets on and put them on horses just the way you see them in cowboy and Indian movies. That was the perception. So as easterners we were not very much aware of the prairie Indians, they still would put western headdresses on our elders and parade them around. Well, the Pope that we had passed away just a few years ago, Pope John Paul. He didn't want that. He said, "˜I want to see real people. I want to see them how they do their spiritual practices, I want to experience it.' So the priests on my reservation wrote to them and said, "˜We just elected a pagan over here so I'll send his name up.' And I got a call from the Vatican and they said, "˜Would you be interested in putting a ceremony on for the Pope?' And I agreed. I went back to the Long House and I told them what had been requested and in their wisdom they said, "˜Maybe it would make for better relations because as long as they don't understand they've got hatred in their hearts.' And so we put together a small group. We went to Midland, Ontario to do this ceremony for the Pope.
When I got there, just imagine what it must have been in Woodstock when they had this great big celebration over there, change it around, the Pope was the main attraction but there were about I'd say 70,000, 80,000 people in these foothills, cameras, everything was broadcast worldwide. And this event that he was trying to pursue was one that he was pushing for all religions to have greater tolerance and understanding of each other. And this one mission that he had in North America was to understand the Native spiritual practices better. And so I worked with the Ojibwes and the Crees in Canada with the Mohawks to put together this ceremony. And we put together a healing ceremony that consisted of smudging, sweet grass, sage and tobacco, the three main things that we use to conduct our ceremonies. I'm a singer. I sang with a group of other young guys. And so the whole event was televised and when it come up to putting the words to him and singing and putting him through the ceremonies, the Pope started to have tears come down. And when we got done and everything was translated to him what we were saying, I knew that it had a profound effect on him.
So when it was over, and by the way about 500 perhaps maybe more than that of the same people that called us down and called us pagans were in the audience out there somewhere. I know because I put buses on to get them there and I paid for their gas as chief so I know somewhere they're out there. And it was slightly uncomfortable because they said, "˜Well, now that we've got a pagan chief we know we have to go out there. The previous chief would have given us money.' Well, I did give them money and I put buses on and I helped them get there so I knew somewhere they were in the audience.
But what happened that day was, the speech that he gave at the end of the ceremony where he said, "˜The European people that came across the salt waters, the religious, the churches that came across believed that the Native Americans in this country were godless, soulless people and ever since then we have advocated to everyone that the only one way they would be human beings if they became Christians.' Then he put down his papers and he looked right at them and he said, "˜That was wrong. For I have experienced a religious experience from these people that I want to talk about.' He proceeded to lay everything out for them saying, "˜The churches have been wrong. The White man has been wrong,' he says, "˜to even have thinking that you've got to be like us.' Then he talked about the residential schools, talked about the education systems. By the time he got done, he offered an apology on behalf of the Church. And then he told everybody, he said, "˜I know there were ways that you have shown the distaste of your own practices. I'm going to ask you to go home, incorporate your traditional teachings in the Church.' And from that time on for me life became easier because the protest, the occupations, the beating have stopped and I was given a chance to govern.
We went to the churches, me for the first time, to give talks like this about peace and brotherhood, because for me in my upbringing we also had a spiritual leader. He had a name, referred to as [Mohawk language] but we only refer to him as the Peacemaker because with him he came to our people like close to a thousand years ago at a time when there was warfare going on between nations. And he advocated the great peace, the Great Law of Peace where people would put away their weapons and always find a way in whatever you do advocate a more peaceful way to live. Now you also had in the Great Law of Peace the constitution and that constitution advocated fairness in representation, fairness in governance. The people were the ones who made decisions and put their leaders up more to be like servants and so [Mohawk language], a chief was really a person who followed the wishes of his Nation. And this is when I was telling about women wound up being the ones who elected their leaders. Very interesting concept: five nations in unity governing on the basis of peace on the law that was known as the Great Law of Peace.
This was the meetings that Benjamin Franklin sat in and he brought his people along to say, "˜Look at these people making decisions and look at the way they govern and the way they advocate their governance, is that they would find a way to speak, counsel, make decisions all on the basis of peace.' And so they influenced the Constitution of the United States. I offer you these tidbits of information because I know you're going to go back and check, where did this all occur. Well, today it's pretty well a foregone conclusion that these events did happen and that there were these early influences, but with us when governments met and they came to a decision, nations would have to all unanimously agree. That's something that Benjamin Franklin said, "˜My people cannot ever do.' So they opted out for majority decision. So that was the difference in our lifestyle back home in governance.
In my time, I tried to cooperate a combination of our traditional cultural practices in a modern elected governance system. And that law called the Indian Act in Canada, I opted out of the provisions of that so that I could replace it with some strong, Mohawk-flavored governance models; giving the power back to the people. That's why in 1982, '84 I was asked by the elders to consider being a chief maybe for a term or two just so that they could turn things around and maybe politics would get a little better. And as I said a while ago, in 2006 the second time that I retired, people kept putting me back in office and they always said, "˜For one more term, until we can find and develop new leaders that will take your place.' And I began to find myself stuck to a position that I was only supposed to be there on a temporary basis. Now mind you, the excitement of governing, the challenge of representing and serving your people is a fire that is always going to be ignited inside you if you're a leader. And so I agreed to keep going.
Now I serve on the advisory board for the Native Nations Institute, but I also serve in advisory capacity to many other developments, both American and Canadian, Native American leaders. Offer them advice based on many years of experience. I wasn't...I'm not going to lie to you, it wasn't always a peaceful leadership style based on peace. When I talked about shutting down international roads and bridges, took over islands but just to get people involved in a non-violent way without guns, without clubs, but simply assert yourself. And so I started doing this across Canada and people rose and life is better when you can speak for yourself and nations can speak out. And that was a time for us that led up to 2006 when I finally made my decision to pursue a private life, more or less. Elections are coming around back home next year and they said, "˜You had enough rest. You should consider coming back.'
Well, presently I'm working on my book. Basically I made a very fast cut through of my experiences but in more greater detail of events that happened in the United States with Indian Country, events that happened in Canada, because I offer certain parallels that are very distinguishable. But my survival in politics led to my knowing my traditions and my culture and my language, taking the best of the non-Native world and combining it, pushed education a lot but the social conditions in our community has improved. But being on that border, we got famous for something else. I don't know if you can guess at it but whenever there's a border there, what's likely to happen? Anybody take a guess? Smuggling took place and in a big way because we've got 100 miles of the St. Lawrence River of islands and in the dark of night, our people know that territory inside out. And so it started with cigarettes. Canadian companies, cigarette manufacturers would reroute their cigarettes from Buffalo, New York to Pennsylvania to New Jersey to Boston and make a big circle and then would bring them back in and they were using our people to bring them across the border. It wasn't long before people caught on and they started doing their own smuggling. It's still going on. So I had that to contend with. Pretty soon motorcycle gangs called the Hells Angels in Montreal started, "˜Hey, there's a profit to be made here,' so they started enticing people to bring drugs across. And then when that started, some of that drug stayed in the community. So for us it was always an ongoing battle.
When 9/11 happened, and if some of you have a good memory CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC all had giant screens with a map of Akwesasne saying, "˜Those terrorists came through that Indian reservation.' For two weeks that was going on. They were reporting that it had to be this complicated, unique Native community where they might have come through. The more they talked about it, the more they convinced themselves that that in fact happened. It wasn't until maybe two, three weeks later that they found out they didn't come through there, that they were in fact in the country. I was Grand Chief at the time and you will not know your gut, the heart, what it felt like thinking they crossed and killed so many people because of this border. And it's a border that much unlike...I went to visit the Tohono O'odham Nation here. Their reservation is the same way. Part of it is in the United States, part of it is in Mexico and they've got 85 miles of nation territory they have to watch over. People are coming over, but not to the extreme or as dangerous as people coming from Canada into the States because they have one thing in mind, smuggle something over. So now our concerns is explosives, guns, terrorism types, finding a way through our reservation.
So that became the greatest concern. So we made up our own border patrol program. We added to our police force. Now we work with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Customs, State Troopers and it's a program called IBET [Integrated Border Enforcement Teams], integrated policing. And that's becoming another big part of our reputation, coincide with the smuggling concern.
But all in all, you advocate to your young people, "˜Go to school, get an education, seek something out that you want to be but come back home.' And that thing that started in the 1980s is still going on today. And so I've just given you a very fast run-through of what life is like for where I come from. I don't know how much of it you can digest in a short time, but you invited me here to talk a little bit about where you're from and what you do or what you were doing and that's the story of Akwesasne. By the way, Akwesasne in Mohawk means "˜land where the partridge drums,' and at the earliest times along the St. Lawrence you still see quite a few, I guess you call them grouse, partridges, from that family, very prevalent on the St. Lawrence. And they call our place the home of the partridges. Anyway, that's my story."
"I've got a question about...you mentioned just now the jurisdictional agreements you have around law enforcement to try to control the smuggling and all that. I've had conversations with you before where you talked about the kind of early origins of when Akwesasne started really asserting their jurisdiction back over their own territory and I wonder if you could talk about that, because at least originally Canada and the provinces and even the states weren't too approving of that, were they?"
Michael K. Mitchell:
"That's right. On the Canadian side the Mounties enforce...Royal Canadian Mounted Police enforce the federal law and the Provincial Police, Ontario Provincial Police and the Quebec Provincial Police enforce the provincial laws. That was on the river and on the mainland. And they enforced the Criminal Code of Canada. And so as complicated as our territory is there was no room...we had a Native police force but they weren't giving them any respect. As a matter of fact there's a term I still remember. They called them "˜window dressing cops.' If they won't let you do anything but they were still complaining that they weren't arresting our people on driving intoxicated or speeding. They didn't keep up their quota so they had a very narrow definition of what makes for a good peacekeeper. And when I became chief, I wanted to see that change. But I found nowhere where that would happen. They had everything cornered off.
As a matter of fact, the time that I became chief our people were being arrested on the river for fishing, traditional fishing whenever they would net and have enough for their families, put away... The laws on the outside said, "˜You can't do that anymore.' So they started taking the boats, the motors, the nets, confiscating, making seizures. So when I became chief, our people came to me and said, "˜What has changed so much that we can't practice our traditions any longer?'
Well, I went to see the person who was the...the officer who was making these seizures on the river, in the middle of the river. I stopped him with a few other boats that were traveling with me, let's put it that way, and as nicely as I was talking to him asking him, "˜We don't need provincial, federal license to fish. It's in our treaties.' He says, "˜That's in the past. From now on you will learn to get a provincial license.' So I says, "˜But we don't have to.' And I was diplomatically I was trying to be...he was just squashing, didn't care about it. So I took it to the next level and I said, "˜Look, sir, if you don't tell us where the boats are that I can go get them, I might have to take your boat.' He just laughed. As soon as I give the signal, our guys are waiting, they shut the motor off and took his equipment out, tied a rope and we towed his boat back to St. Regis to the police station and we seized the conservation officer's boat.
When I got back, then I phoned Toronto, the main office of the Ministry of Natural Resources and told them what I had done and actually they said, "˜This could be an international situation, crisis of sorts so what can we do?' I said, "˜I guess we have to negotiate the release of our boats, half a dozen of them.' They just had elections in Ontario so there was new people there and they said, "˜Well, that man, the officer, is he a hostage, are you holding him in a hostage situation?' I said, "˜No. I'm holding his boat hostage.' "˜Well, is he allowed to go home?' I said, "˜Yep. If he can walk or swim, he can get back across the river, but the current is very strong, so he's going to stay here until we get our boat back.' So pretty well half the night we're negotiating back and forth. The Premiere gets on the phone, he says, "˜I want to put an end to this. I know you don't need fishing licenses to fish in your traditional territories. I'm well aware of that.' He says, "˜So I've got people looking for your boat.' As it wound up it was in Toronto. So he says, "˜We'll have them back by 9:00 in the morning.' So they returned all the boats. Naturally it helped my leadership because I was able to resolve the situation without any violence of sorts. And the same man that made these seizures was the same man that was made to bring them back the next day.
I wanted to see our own people become Conservation Officers so I went back to Quebec federal government in Ontario. "˜Nobody,' he says, "˜We never heard of that before.' Being an international community I picked up the phone, I phoned Albany, New York. They had a state troopers, conservation police training. I said, "˜Can I send some people down to be trained to become Conservation Officers?' They called back and said, "˜I don't see why not. These are dual citizens, you can do that.' So I sent two. Six months later they got home. They had the state trooper Stetson hats, 'Dirty Harry'-type .9 mm pistols, everything that's totally legally in Canada that's...they came back and they're certified police force and they hit the waters to start patrolling.
By that time we had set up our Mohawk Justice Court, we had laws that I had registered with the nation council and they started executing. And that raised in the community a perception that we could take care of ourselves, that we could have law and order and it could be done with our own people. And the attitude on the outside changed too. We didn't always have to be fighting each other. The right people came and the relationship led to us having more police under our jurisdiction, having our own justice, having our own courts and because I was able to diplomatically negotiate these things, it became a much better environment for us, on the river and on land.
I like being, talking about being a good strong advocate, a good leader, but some funny things happened along the way. Those two conservation officers that returned home, within that same week they were on patrol, they got a call from the island I was from and an incident had taken place. I'm in the main village with elders. We were talking about how we could build a new seniors' home for them and they walk in. So all the elders made a big fuss over them. "˜These are the people we've heard about. They've trained and now they're out there on the river, they're looking after our people and are giving out licenses for non-Natives and they're making them buy licenses from us. What a change! And they give them cookies and milk and everything.' They said, "˜We're really here to talk to the grand chief.' So I went over and said, "˜What's up?' He said, "˜Sir, there's been a murder on the island where you're from. We've investigated and found out that somebody in your family is involved and we need to talk to you outside.'
Geez, when you get news like that the first thing you do is boom, it hits you right here. Did somebody die in my family? Did something happen? Did somebody in my family do something? I went outside and he said, "˜There's a farmer up there who called us. We got there and found out that his pig had been killed. And the pig had piglets, six of them. They were all killed too.' And he said, "˜Chief, it was your dog that killed them. You're under arrest.' I said, "˜What?!' The first person on the reservation when they got back from training that was arrested was me and I tried to dispute it. I said, "˜Well, you got no evidence.' They had pictures. There was a trail of piglet parts down to my house, to my farm. Around the house, where he had dug up, there were piglet parts. I was raising an Alaskan malamute. So he was laying there, he had blood on his face; he had blood on his chest. They took pictures, a very thorough investigation. I had nothing I could say but the whole reservation was laughing up and down. "˜There's your conservation officers.' So they marched me across the street to the Justice and charged me and I had to go back for my hearing two weeks later.
In those two weeks, there was a lot of commotion, a lot of discussion "˜cause all I had to do was say, "˜Drop it,' or the elders would say, "˜Don't go there because how hard he's worked to get this program this far.' And people were either for or against. I went to court, I paid the fine and it was done. I said, "˜We have a very efficient peacekeeper and we all have to follow the law regardless who it is.' So that's how the law and order picked up in our community.
I just don't like telling this story but he heard it once and he always asks me about it. Anyway, thank you very much."