Dedicated lanes and training improving relations between Mohawks, border guards in Akwesasne

A dedicated lane at the Cornwall Port of Entry that was put in place as a six-month pilot project three years ago, will soon become permanent.

The lane is to make travel faster for Akwesasne residents living on the Canadian side of the border.

It was a collaboration between the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA.

Grand Chief Abram Benedict said it’s been well received.

“We’ve heard the positive feedback on you know residents coming from Cornwall Island heading into the city of Cornwall use the domestic lane, so it does cut back on the time that takes for people to get from Akwesasne, Cornwall Island to Cornwall,” he said.

In 2009, CBSA made the decision to shut down the customs plaza on the Island.  It chose to move to Cornwall due to Mohawk citizens’ concerns about border guards being armed in their community.

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Since then, community members have had to go through customs even if they were staying in Canada. The dedicated lane has made life a little easier for Island residents but they still have to contend with long wait times at the toll booth.

According to Benedict, there’s been talk of relocating the tolls.

“Right now, as it exists, when you come from either Akwesasne New York, or Akwesasne Cornwall Island, heading into the city of Cornwall, you come to the tollbooth first and then once you go through the tollbooth you go through the CBSA.

“What we want is it to go to the CBSA first and then the toll plaza second.”

Benedict said relations with the CBSA has improved over the years with the training of officers.

“As new officers come to the area and work at the Cornwall Port they need to understand who the Mohawks are and why it’s significant for us to be able to get through quickly, why our rights should be recognized and why your communities are broken up by Ontario, New York, Quebec, and an international border.”

The domestic lane will officially become permanent in September, however, there are no immediate plans to move the toll booths which are operated by the Seaway International Bridge Corporation.

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