Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Native American Reservation on US Canada Border Hard To Patrol

Andrew Thomas is the Native American tribal police chief who patrols the St. Regis Mohawk reservation lands spanning the American and Canadian border. The Saint Lawrence River and several islands fall in between, making these 12 miles among America's most popular smuggling areas. As the U.S. tries harder to secure its borders, Thomas and his officers -- three per shift -- are America's first line of defense. For their efforts, they get $5,000 in homeland security money a year. "Pennies," Thomas says. At night, the St. Lawrence River hums with the sounds of smugglers slipping from one side of the reservation to the other in their stripped-down boats. They carry marijuana, Ecstasy, money, and human cargo. The Native American tribal police, too, have a boat, but not enough people to operate it. "An expensive paperweight in the parking lot," Thomas calls it. Derek Champagne is district attorney for Franklin County which surrounds the Native American reservation. Champagne prosecutes all county crimes, on the reservation and off. "I'm slowly pulling my hair out," he says. "If we're gonna have a border, it should really mean something." In a videotape of the St. Lawrence River filmed last winter, trucks drive freely over the now-frozen border while in other parts of St. Regis, land roads connect the U.S. and Canada with no checkpoints and no questions. Earlier this year, Champagne showed the tape to a state terrorism conference in Albany. "People said, 'That's our border?' " he says. Like other tribes that live along 260 or so miles of U.S. border with Canada and Mexico, the St. Regis can't get homeland security money directly from the U.S. government. Money comes once it's filtered through the states. A bill to give certain border tribes, including the St. Regis, direct money is pending in Congress.

At least nobody has to worry about smuggling Native American art since there's no need to. Native American art and Canadian art is duty free which makes shipping them across the US - Canadian border a snap. To see some great examples of such work, see Native American Art.


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