In 1842 the Mohawk community of Akwesasne was bisected by the U.S.-Canadian border, severing their communal lands into two equal Canadian and American sectors. Today Akwesasne is a kaleidoscope of cultural and political elements in layered complexity. Traditional practices and law of the Mohawk nation coexist with the philosophies, policies, and regulations of one state, two provinces, two federal governments, and their respective officials. The result is a shifting design of interactions and tensions. Since the hardening of the U.S. border after September 11, 2001, daily life on the reserve is even more difficult.
It’s a hectic lunch scene, and the steaming corn soup is in demand at the Bear’s Den Trading Post on the United States portion of the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve. The soup is not as substantial as homemade—the ingredients are native; the chef is not—but the trading post’s abundant fare attracts the native peoples who work nearby, along with tourists to the reserve. In the next room fine jewelry by native artisans vies for space with toy plastic papooses and rubber tom toms. It’s a jumble of traditional and modern, authentic and contrived, much like life in Akwesasne.
Akwesasne is the nexus of a dizzying array of borders within borders and cultures within cultures. It is “the fire,” or capital, of the Mohawk Nation, which consists of eight communities spread across Quebec, Ontario, and New York. Akwesasne itself straddles all three. And the Mohawk Nation as a whole is part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, made up of the six nations of Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. So residents of Akwesasne have to contend with regulations and government structures from their community, the Mohawk Nation, the confederacy, three states, and two countries.
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