Following the migrant fatalities in Akwesasne, Canadian immigration law have to reckon with its colonial historical past

On March 29, two family members of four died though trying to cross the St. Lawrence River from Canada to the U.S. Their bodies had been identified in Akwesasne Mohawk territory which straddles the Canada-United States border.

Media coverage promptly started to body the lethal incident as an concern of unlawful human smuggling. Stories characterised the Akwesasne Mohawk territory as a “smuggling hotspot” and an “excellent place for trafficking of people and contraband.”

Articles highlighted exposés on migrants who served smuggle people today throughout the border as properly as Akwesasne men and women who assisted in crossings rendered unlawful by U.S. and Canadian governments.

This style of news coverage, which focuses on men and women, enables governments on equally sides of the border to elude accountability for enacting guidelines which restrict options to cross borders legally, make irregular crossings more unsafe and deflect blame on to those facilitating individuals crossings.

But most likely the most obvious omission in media coverage is any meaningful reflection on what it usually means for this tragedy to take place on Indigenous territory.

Indigenous communities and the border

Scholars have drawn interest to historical amnesia when it arrives to colonialism and racism in the western media protection of migration. Except if this amnesia is tackled, the precarious situations, suffering and dying that lots of migrants fleeing persecution and displacement experience will go on.

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

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

The 1783 Treaty of Paris established a rough initial boundary between American settler statements and British settler promises, which ran as a result of the St. Lawrence River, current-day Akwesasne territory and the Excellent Lakes.

The 1794 Jay’s Treaty codified the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples to transfer freely throughout the border and to have out trade and commerce. But, in observe, neither colonial federal government expended considerably energy to keep track of or restrict the motion of people today across the boundary.

But as American and Canadian governments hungrily expanded to the west, the idea of independence of motion for Indigenous Peoples began to fade away in the facial area of settler colonial aims.

Instead, Indigenous Peoples were being built foreigners in their possess land with mobility and land legal rights inferior to people of European settler migrants. Immediately after the Métis-led 1885 North-West Rebellion was put down, Canada carried out a routine of racialized migration command identified as the Indian move method.

This method made it unlawful for Indigenous men and women to go away their reserve without a move issued by an Indian agent for a particular length and goal. These caught violating pass circumstances faced jail time and could be “deported” back to their reserve. The go process remained enforced in some spots till the 1940s.

As Historian Benjamin Hoy writes, “[f]rom the quite outset, Canada and the United States believed that building a national border on Indigenous lands expected erasing pre-current territorial boundaries.”

Colonial dispossession

Canadian immigration law has historically served as a critical mechanism of colonial dispossession. The 1st Immigration Act of 1869 was developed to market “a liberal plan for the settlement and colonization of the uncultivated lands”, significantly as portion of westward expansion.

It did this by actively encouraging white European settlers to arrive to Canada by granting them protections and legal rights. These incorporated travel guidance, cost-effective homesteads, no removal immediately after arriving and naturalization right after 3 years’ residence.

Moreover, the 1872 Dominion Lands Act granted massive plots of land to any settler who compensated a small cost and produced specified advancements on the land. Still this land was not Canada’s to claim, grant or offer, but fairly belonged to Indigenous nations whose classic territories were being swept up by means of military services 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 in the vicinity of Akwesasne. Canadian immigration regulation has traditionally served as a key system of colonial dispossession.
THE CANADIAN Push/Ryan Remiorz

Undermining Indigenous self-dedication

Canada has ongoing to assert unilateral sovereignty in immigration whilst concurrently erasing diverse Indigenous guidelines and customs.

This came to a head in the 2006 federal court circumstance of Sister Juliana Eligwe, a Nigerian nun in Canada who faced deportation. Sister Juliana claimed asylum in Canada, saying that she would face persecution if she returned to Nigeria.

Sister Juliana worked as dwell-in nanny and housekeeper. She also volunteered with the Sandy Bay Ojibway First Country in Manitoba in which she supported youth suffering from the emotional trauma of dropping peers and cherished kinds to suicide.

In a bid to avoid her deportation, the 1st Country built Sister Juliana a band member. The To start with Nation’s legal professionals argued that Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act need to be browse in a way that identified the inherent ideal of Indigenous communities to ascertain political membership, as nicely as any member’s appropriate to enter and continue being in Canada.

The court docket rejected that argument, stating the 1st Country was attempting “to usurp the discretion of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration by accepting non-people as band customers and therefore granting them long term resident position.”

Finally, Sister Juliana was deported to Nigeria, yet another place deeply afflicted by the legacies of British colonialism. In siding with the federal federal government, the courtroom effectively took absent the To start with Nation’s ideal to choose on its own membership.

A critical element of the fact and reconciliation system is for settlers to acknowledge treaty interactions with Indigenous communities and their treaty rights to be on this land. It is untenable that immigration coverage stays untouched by the obligations of reconciliation and decolonization.

To enable prevent far more tragedies at the border, Canada need to make a commitment to reckon with its unfair and colonial historical past of immigration. 1 of the to start with measures is to acknowledge and respect Indigenous sovereignty, laws and treaty relations when it will come to immigration.

Sherri Crump

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