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Tribal government officials waiting to see if Cornwall Island protest occurs

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AKWESASNE - Canadian recognized tribal government officials were stuck playing the waiting game Friday afternoon, one day before a potential protest on Cornwall Island (Kawehno:ke) that could shut down the international bridges connecting Massena and Cornwall, Ont.

Bridge spans from the town of Massena and Cornwall are connection by a short stetch of land on Cornwall Island that once housed Canadian Customs.

When the Canadian Border Services Agency made a move to arm its customs officers in 2009, Mohawk protests caused the CBSA to close the bridge for six weeks. The customs and toll booths were then temporarily moved to Cornwall, where they have remained since.

The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne issued a press release Thursday noting they were aware of potential plans by community members to claim ownership of the abandoned Canada Border Services Agency’s former Port of Entry building on Cornwall Ilsand.

“At this time, MCA’s Emergency Measures Program is preparing for this event with public safety as its first priority. Therefore, the community should prepare for a possible disruption to traffic and/or a possible bridge closure through Kawehno:ke,” the release said.

“In an article published in the Two Row Times (Six Nations), Akwesasne community member Stacey Boots publicly stated his intentions to enter the CBSA building this Saturday. ... In an effort to receive information that can be passed on to the community, MCA scheduled a meeting with Mr. Boots, which he later cancelled. MCA is continuing to reach out to him for confirmation of his plans and additional information.”

MCA Communications Unit Program Manager Shannon Scully Burns said that the council had not heard from Mr. Boots and had no further updates as of Friday late afternoon.

The Federal Bridge Corporation has a policy to shutter bridge traffic if there is the possibility of danger to the travelling public.

“Individuals who illegally enter the building will be subject to criminal charges. In addition, the building has been deemed unsafe and unsanitary due to lack of plumbing and asbestos contamination. MCA has been in contact with Public Works, the owners of the building (leased to CBSA), to determine its status and condition. The building should be considered a health risk,” the release said.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Emergency Planning Department was notified of the possible action and they also said they do not plan to partake in “any demonstration that may prohibit our people from crossing the bridge to travel within our territory.”

The tribe said they had not been contacted by Mr. Boots directly.

St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Director of Communications Allyson Doctor said that despite the uncertainty of what would transpire this weekend the tribal council’s priorities remain the same.

“We do understand that any threat to occupy the former CBSA building is likely going to result in closure. Our main priority is to ensure the safety of our people and we are just concerned about people from the health and safety perspective,” she said. “We haven’t received any further information.”

Efforts to reach Mr. Boots were unsuccessful.

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