Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ottawa XPress on Katenies and Kahentinetha

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Katenies and Kahentinetha
by Sara Falconer for the Ottawa XPress

You'd think it would make national headlines: two grandmothers arrested at a border crossing, one forced to the ground by four armed guards, the other in handcuffs, having a heart attack. But a telling silence surrounds these allegations of brutality against Mohawk women by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).

On June 14, Katenies and Kahentinetha, publishers of Mohawk Nation News (, were crossing the border at Cornwall after a visit to family members in the United States. When it was discovered that Katenies had an outstanding warrant for allegedly "running the border" in 2003, they were forcibly pulled from the car.

Both women say that they were beaten by multiple CBSA guards. Sixty-eight-year old Kahentinetha suffered a heart attack while she was handcuffed. Her brother, a local lawyer who was crossing the border at the same time, intervened and she was taken to a hospital by ambulance.

Akwesasne, where Katenies lives, is a Kanion'ke:haka (Mohawk) community that stretches across so-called Ontario, Quebec and New York. And therein lies the problem: Many indigenous people do not recognize the jurisdiction of colonial law over their lives and territories. It's not lawlessness, but rather adhesion to a constitution and a law that is thousands of years old.

A CBSA investigator who testified against her at her July 16 bail hearing said that Katenies "has nothing but contempt for the Canadian judicial
system." He admitted that it is "not uncommon" for Mohawks to cite the lack of jurisdiction to border officials, although he called Katenies "an extreme case." The CBSA did not respond to calls for further comment.

But just as this is no isolated incident, there is little to indicate that Katenies is particularly extreme. Since 2003, she has steadfastly challenged the Canadian government to prove that it has any jurisdiction over Mohawk people or land. Despite the fact that she formally filed a motion to dismiss based on this issue in 2007, there has been no response.

"I've had no respect. No one has looked at what I've put forward," she said. "I don't see why you should incarcerate me and beat me into submission without answering my question." Against protests by the Crown, she was released into the custody of her mother, Nancy Davis, who told the court with a smile, "I'm the only one who has authority over my daughter."

Kahentinetha is now resting at home in Kahnawake. Katenies' next court date is July 14 in Cornwall. Her supporters are encouraging people to pack the courtroom.

"It's this kind of behaviour that motivated criticism of Harper's symbolic apology [for residential schools]," says Karen Cocq of No One Is Illegal Ottawa. "The Canadian state has clearly not relented in its brutal colonial assault on First Nations people in this country. It's a case of their actions speaking louder than words." Visit for updates.