Karl Dockstader shares his struggles with Canadian border security. EVAN LOREE Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Crossing borders can get complicated when you’re Indigenous — at least, that’s been the experience for Karl Dockstader. 

At a recent talk on Indigenous history at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum, Dockstader shared a personal story about crossing the American-Canadian border, calling attention to the difference between Canadian law and agreements made between Indigenous peoples and settlers hundreds of years ago.

He co-hosts the Indigenous-fronted radio show, One Dish One Mic, which airs on CKTB Radio every Saturday. 

During the talk on June 9, he said he was bringing a carton of cigarettes back from the United States in April 2022 when a Canadian border control officer told him he would have to pay duty taxes for them or he could not bring them across.

Dockstader is Oneida, one of the six Haudenosaunee nations, and as is customary in many Indigenous communities, he believes tobacco is a sacred medicine. 

It’s often used in traditional ceremonies or offered to others, such as an Indigenous elder or knowledge keeper, when asking for their help.

The Canadian government, however, treats tobacco as a controlled substance, so it does not receive a full exemption from duty taxes when crossing the border.

“That’s more your problem than my problem,” Dockstader said.

Dockstader said he refused to pay the $75 fee on his cigarettes because of a treaty right that allows him and other Indigenous people to travel freely across the U.S.-Canada border without paying duty on their goods, which he explained to the border officer.

The agreement that safeguards this right is called Jay’s Treaty, signed in 1794. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the federal government does not recognize it as legally binding.

He argues that the same right is granted under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

The document says Indigenous people have the right to maintain and develop relationships across borders, “for spiritual, cultural, political, economic and social purposes.”

It blows his mind, Dockstader said, to see the number of border patrol officers on either side of the Canadian-American border. 

That border, he said, was only made possible by drawing a line through Indigenous territories.

In the end, Dockstader decided not to pay the fee and crossed back into Canada without his tobacco.

“I want my damn smokes back!” Dockstader said to a few chuckles from his audience.

There were about 70 people at the museum’s talk focused on Indigenous history, which was organized by Tim Johnson, a senior advisor to Niagara Parks on Indigenous engagement and culture.

Three others spoke at the museum’s talk alongside Dockstader, including Tuscarora man and Indigenous historian Rick Hill, NOTL’s resident historian Ron Dale, and heritage manager for Niagara Parks Jim Hill. 

At the end of the talk, Johnson revealed that much of the content covered in the talk would be featured in an upcoming book called “Landscape of Nations: Beyond the Mist.”

Ron Dale chose to focus on the history of Indigenous people in Niagara, beginning about 500 years ago when the region was home to the Attiwandaronk.

Dale said the Attiwandaronk were almost 40,000 people in 1626, but after Europeans introduced smallpox to North America, their population dwindled to 12,000 by 1640.

Dale said they were eventually absorbed into their neighbouring nations. 

It was common practice for Indigenous nations to war with each other, he explained, and adopt each other’s survivors to bring up the nation’s population.

Jim Hill used his time to speak about some historic landmarks at Niagara Parks which are significant to Indigenous history. 

These included such sites as Norton’s Grove in Old Fort Eerie and the Memorial Cairn in Chippawa Battlefield Park.

According to the Niagara Parks website, Indigenous people fought on either side of the Battle of Chippawa but departed early after learning they were fighting their own people across the river.

Rick Hill detailed the history of Indigenous culture and mythology, sharing one story told among the Anishinaabek and Haudenosaunee people about the thunder beings.

Hill said the two cultures believe it is the responsibility of these supernatural beings to protect humans from famine and pestilence, represented in the story as serpents living in the Great Lakes.

Hill also spoke of the importance of corn, beans and squash in Haudenosaunee culture.

“The Three Sisters – the spiritual essence of corn, beans and squash – allowed the Haudenosaunee to settle in large villages,” he later told The Lake Report.

When sharing a bowl of the Three Sisters, Hill said, every person has the right to the dish, but everyone must leave some for the next person, and all are responsible for keeping the dish clean.

Stories like these, Rick Hill says, are an important part of his cultural identity, and sharing them is part of sharing the perspectives of Indigenous peoples.

“We have a lot to learn,” he said.

By Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 15, 2023 at 08:09

This item reprinted with permission from   The Lake Report   Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
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