Just after the migrant deaths in Akwesasne, Canadian immigration legislation must reckon with its colonial background

On March 29, two family members of 4 died even though attempting to cross the St. Lawrence River from Canada to the U.S. Their bodies were being found in Akwesasne Mohawk territory which straddles the Canada-United States border.

Media protection immediately began to frame the lethal incident as an concern of illegal human smuggling. Studies characterized the Akwesasne Mohawk territory as a “smuggling hotspot” and an “best area for trafficking of people and contraband.”

Content articles showcased exposés on migrants who aided smuggle men and women throughout the border as properly as Akwesasne individuals who assisted in crossings rendered illegal by U.S. and Canadian governments.

This style of information protection, which focuses on people today, will allow governments on each sides of the border to elude responsibility for enacting insurance policies which limit solutions to cross borders lawfully, make irregular crossings extra perilous and deflect blame onto all those facilitating people crossings.

But possibly the most glaring omission in media coverage is any significant reflection on what it signifies for this tragedy to arise on Indigenous territory.

Indigenous communities and the border

Scholars have drawn interest to historical amnesia when it will come to colonialism and racism in the western media coverage of migration. Unless of course this amnesia is addressed, the precarious conditions, suffering and dying that numerous migrants fleeing persecution and displacement encounter will go on.

The Akwesasne tragedy have to be understood in the context of colonial record and the imposition of the U.S.-Canada border on Indigenous nations.

The Canadian aspect of Akwesasne beside a frozen St. Lawrence River in March 2022. The Indigenous territory straddles both of those sides of the Canada-U.S. border.
(AP Picture/Seth Wenig)

The 1783 Treaty of Paris recognized a rough first boundary concerning American settler claims and British settler claims, which ran by the St. Lawrence River, present-working day Akwesasne territory and the Good Lakes.

The 1794 Jay’s Treaty codified the inherent legal rights of Indigenous Peoples to go freely throughout the border and to carry out trade and commerce. Still, in observe, neither colonial govt expended substantially effort to watch or prohibit the motion of individuals throughout the boundary.

But as American and Canadian governments hungrily expanded to the west, the thought of freedom of movement for Indigenous Peoples commenced to fade absent in the deal with of settler colonial goals.

Instead, Indigenous Peoples had been created foreigners in their personal land with mobility and land legal rights inferior to these of European settler migrants. Following the Métis-led 1885 North-West Rebel was put down, Canada executed a regime of racialized migration regulate regarded as the Indian move system.

This technique produced it unlawful for Indigenous folks to leave their reserve without having a pass issued by an Indian agent for a distinct duration and purpose. Those caught violating pass problems confronted jail time and could be “deported” back to their reserve. The pass technique remained enforced in some places right up until the 1940s.

As Historian Benjamin Hoy writes, “[f]rom the very outset, Canada and the United States believed that making a countrywide border on Indigenous lands necessary erasing pre-present territorial boundaries.”

Colonial dispossession

Canadian immigration legislation has traditionally served as a critical system of colonial dispossession. The initially Immigration Act of 1869 was built to advertise “a liberal policy for the settlement and colonization of the uncultivated lands”, notably as part of westward expansion.

It did this by actively encouraging white European settlers to come to Canada by granting them protections and legal rights. These incorporated journey aid, economical homesteads, no removal soon after arriving and naturalization right after three years’ residence.

In addition, the 1872 Dominion Lands Act granted huge plots of land to any settler who compensated a smaller charge and built particular enhancements on the land. But this land was not Canada’s to assert, grant or promote, but instead belonged to Indigenous nations whose traditional territories were being swept up by way of armed service violence and unfair treaties.

A red and yellow flag with an Indigenous man's profile in the middle flies in front of a Canadian border crossing.
A Mohawk flag flies in entrance of a Canadian border crossing near Akwesasne. Canadian immigration regulation has traditionally served as a key mechanism of colonial dispossession.
THE CANADIAN Press/Ryan Remiorz

Undermining Indigenous self-dedication

Canada has ongoing to assert unilateral sovereignty in immigration while at the same time erasing numerous Indigenous legal guidelines and customs.

This arrived to a head in the 2006 federal court case of Sister Juliana Eligwe, a Nigerian nun in Canada who confronted deportation. Sister Juliana claimed asylum in Canada, expressing that she would experience persecution if she returned to Nigeria.

Sister Juliana labored as are living-in nanny and housekeeper. She also volunteered with the Sandy Bay Ojibway Very first Country in Manitoba where by she supported youth encountering the psychological trauma of shedding friends and cherished kinds to suicide.

In a bid to prevent her deportation, the First Nation produced Sister Juliana a band member. The First Nation’s lawyers argued that Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act should really be browse in a way that identified the inherent right of Indigenous communities to identify political membership, as nicely as any member’s suitable to enter and remain in Canada.

The court turned down that argument, stating the To start with Nation was attempting “to usurp the discretion of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration by accepting non-inhabitants as band users and thus granting them lasting resident position.”

Ultimately, Sister Juliana was deported to Nigeria, one more region deeply afflicted by the legacies of British colonialism. In siding with the federal govt, the court docket proficiently took away the Initial Nation’s suitable to decide on its have membership.

A crucial component of the fact and reconciliation system is for settlers to admit treaty relationships with Indigenous communities and their treaty legal rights to be on this land. It is untenable that immigration policy remains untouched by the obligations of reconciliation and decolonization.

To assistance stay clear of extra tragedies at the border, Canada need to make a dedication to reckon with its unfair and colonial heritage of immigration. One particular of the very first techniques is to acknowledge and respect Indigenous sovereignty, legislation and treaty relations when it comes to immigration.

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