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Abandoned Akwesasne customs building’s fate comes down to community vote

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AKWESASNE - In less than two weeks time, a decision on how to approach the long-abandoned customs buildings at the Cornwall Island border will come to fruition.

Through online voting and an in-person vote on April 26, the Akwesasne community will decide to whether to have the structure demolished or not.

There are two separate questions on the ballot for voters to consider. The first question is “Do you support the demolition of the abandoned Customs Buildings (Kawehno:ke) using labour and services procured in Akwesasne?” The second one asks “Do you support the removal of the Akwesasne Peoples Fire buildings from the corridor, no later than the demolition of the Customs Buildings?”

“There are two questions and we encourage all members to vote and give their opinion. If you don’t have a computer at home they can approach us and we can set up a way for them to vote,” Director of the Akwesasne Justice Department Joyce King said. “If they choose not to do online voting they can come to the physical voting station on the 26th and vote there.”

The former customs buildings was abandoned by the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) on May 31, 2009 and there has been significant deterioration since.

If the building were not to be taken down, any future use would require “significant investment of both time and money to bring the buildings up to safe and usable environmental standards,” according to a public notice released by the office of the Chief Plebiscite Officer.

The Public Works and Government Services Canada agency currently holds title to the building and is in discussions with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne to procure a qualified team to safely dismantle it.

“I don’t think it is usable. It has deteriorated over time and would cost too much to use it,” Ms. King said. “The (Akwesasne Peoples Fire Buildings) did not undergo an environmental assessment because it was a temporary structure and if the removal happens it could be put in a different area.”

The second question deals with the potential removal of the two Akwesasne Peoples Fire buildings which are located at the corridor, adjacent to the customs buildings. The location acted as a gathering place for residents both prior to and immediately after the CBSA’s abandonment nearly five years ago.

It originally held a tent in which community briefings were held. Temporary wooden structures were later constructed by a community group known as the “Akwesasne Peoples Fire.”

These buildings were originally built without consultation from the community and were being built on lands that had not been environmentally assessed by the MCA Department of Environment, according to the public notice.

In August 2011, the MCA became a co-defendant in a suit against the Federal Bridge Corporation Ltd (FBCL) to ensure that “rights of the Mohawks of Akwesasne within the corridor were addressed.”

Online voters are required to get a PIN number from Plebiscite Officer Leona Benedict and then log in through http://akwesasne.simplyvoting.com.

“Then when they are online they can enter their PIN and then there’s verification and they answer the question,” Ms. King added.

Polling locations on April 26 include:

■ Kana:takon – St. Regis Recreation Centre

■ Tsi Snaihne – Iohahi:io Adult Education Centre

■ Kawehno:ke – Tri-District Elders

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