Cigarettes, Canada, and the Mohawks

An important story from Canada is also a chance to watch a coordinated media-police operation unfold.

We start with three (Mohawk) indigenous communities around Ontario/Quebec. Kanehsatake, Kahnawake, and Akwesasne, and also Tyendinaga. The communities are frequently harrassed by police and authorities, and there is of course the long-term history that cannot be ignored.


An important story from Canada is also a chance to watch a coordinated media-police operation unfold.

We start with three (Mohawk) indigenous communities around Ontario/Quebec. Kanehsatake, Kahnawake, and Akwesasne, and also Tyendinaga. The communities are frequently harrassed by police and authorities, and there is of course the long-term history that cannot be ignored.

In recent years, these communities have traded in one of their traditional commodities: tobacco. In addition to providing incomes and a degree of autonomy from the Canadian state, the trade has been a pretext for that state to intervene in the affairs of these people. Very recently, people from these communities have been trying to make noise to call attention to what they believe is some sort of police or military intervention in their communities. They suspect it will be based on the pretext of the cigarette trade. They saw the signs of this upcoming attack weeks ago. It was reported in the Toronto Star, but a piece on the Mohawk News Network has better context. The signs included low-flying helicopters, a few late-night helicopter landings, and police and military sneaking around.

The saying goes: Don’t believe anything until it’s been officially denied. If that’s the case, then the article by Chris Malette of the Belleville Intelligencer (a paper near the native communities in question) with its sarcasm and its ignorance of Canada’s history and current foreign policy is a very useful piece.

Next up: a piece by CTV, a Canadian private television network. CTV somehow has come into the possession of a ‘dramatic video’ showing Canada’s federal police, the RCMP, ‘chasing smugglers’ in a boat on a river. The piece refers to the ‘growing problem’ of contraband cigarettes. It features, predictably for the North American media, a lot of police sources, and ends with a quote from the Kahnawake band council.

What’s the motivation? The long-term goals have not changed since founding: destruction of any hope of an independent indigenous society and forced ‘assimilation’ into second- or third-class status. As to the question of “why now”, Canada has a new government, consisting of reactionaries whose intellectual heroes include people who deny the existence of indigenous people (I’m referring specifically here to Thomas Flanagan). Prime Minister Stephen Harper won’t allow a parliamentary vote on Canada’s combat missions in Afghanistan. He went off to visit the troops to give them hope in a foreign adventure that is risking their lives and those of Afghans in a mission whose principle goal is establishing Canada’s subordination to the US military. In all things, Harper is taking the lead of his friends in Washington. And Washington’s principle has long been based on using lots of violence in politics (which isn’t to say that Canada lacks its own traditions in this regard, only see the piece by the Mohawk News Network linked above for examples). So, whether it’s racist vendetta or just violent political strategy, everything’s lining up for a domestic adventure to match the Canada’s foreign ones.

Where does the chance to watch an operation in real time come in? Remember that the communities have been warning of a possible intervention for weeks. They said that they expect the intervention around April 1. Weeks after that, yesterday, the police used the CTV to put a story out attacking native communities for contraband cigarettes. Expect more ‘dramatic’ footage’, from police sources and repeated in the media, over the coming days.

In conclusion: I’ve said twice this is a rare opportunity to see a coordinated operation unfold. I’ve heard – albeit indirectly – from people in the Mohawk communities that they would prefer people not just watch, passively. A group of gangsters in Ottawa aren’t going to make native people disappear any more than any government that has fantasized about it over the past few centuries. Still, Canada can inflict a lot of harm if it isn’t stopped.

A lot of people from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty are involved, and will be involved, in this in the coming weeks. If you want to get involved, they might be a place to start.

Author: Justin Podur

Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

3 thoughts on “Cigarettes, Canada, and the Mohawks”

  1. Good luck–let’s hope that
    Good luck–let’s hope that most Canadians can see through this attack and will protect the gains that have been achieved through solidarity.

  2. Im from Akwesasne, and I
    Im from Akwesasne, and I agree with you. I see helicopters flying around all the time, and even when people are just cruzin around in there boats police helicopters will follow them.

  3. I’ve managed to save up
    I’ve managed to save up roughly $77466 in my bank account, but I’m not sure if I should buy a house or not. Do you think the market is stable or do you think that home prices will decrease by a lot?

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