About 30 years ago, Al Arbour Diabo dumped a bag of dirty laundry at the boots of a border agent and started kicking around his underwear.
“Look!” he said. “Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday.” Behind him, a queue of drivers laughed and beeped their horns at the spectacle.
The agent hadn’t accepted his ironworker’s pay stub as proof that he’d been away, nor did she feel the other evidence he had on hand sufficed. So he popped the trunk and got out his laundry bag.
Before long, the agent’s supervisor appeared to find out the source of all this ruckus. After Diabo explained, the supervisor summoned the agent to his office and sent Diabo and family on their way.
“Pick up your clothes, put them back in your car, and go,” he said.
Decades later, Diabo is still having trouble at the border, in ways that reflect the times. His wife was selected - randomly, she was told - to submit a COVID-19 test by courier or face the consequences, which can include fines and the suspension of border crossing rights.
Recently, Diabo and his wife returned from a few days at Lake George. The border agent demanded they show the ArriveCan app, which they did. Diabo said he’s looking forward to the app being done away with, when the guard reportedly told him that the ArriveCan is here to stay.
Diabo protested that the application is a form of harassment. “It’s an infringement on our rights,” he told the agent.
Next thing Diabo knew, he was selected for a random COVID-19 test just as his wife had been. Diabo said this would be the last time they submit to such a test.
“He said, ‘The law’s the law,’” said Diabo.
He sees ArriveCan and the COVID-19 tests, which he does not believe are random, as an infringement on Onkwehón:we rights.
“They love that, they love tormenting us because they’re jealous of our freedom we have,” Diabo said. “But you know, they’re slowly but surely trying to take it away from us."
Diabo is far from alone among Kahnawa’kehró:non in terms of complaints of mistreatment at the border, many of whom see ArriveCan as one more tool at the government’s disposal to restrict border access to Indigenous people despite Jay Treaty rights to the contrary.
However, there are strong indications that the app, co-created by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), is here to stay - public safety minister Marco Mendicino said at a June press conference that the app has capacity beyond COVID-19.
Global News reported in July that the CBSA, which had been planning on introducing a border app, intends to use ArriveCan for this purpose due to the public’s familiarity with it.
Hannah Deer was coming back from a horse show in Pennsylvania with a friend recently and refused to cooperate with the requirement to use ArriveCan.
“We were allowed to pass. They cannot stop us as Indigenous people,” she said. However, they were given a yellow slip and made to go inside. Finally, they were sent home with two COVID-19 tests each and told they were supposed to quarantine for 14 days.
“They weren’t worried about where we’d come from or if we were bringing anything back, just the app,” she said.
“Once the camel’s nose is in the tent, next thing you know the whole body’s in there,” said Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chief Lindsay LeBorgne, to whom Diabo complained about his border experience.
“You keep letting a little bit go, a little bit go. That’s the way they do this. Freedom doesn’t die all at once, it dies a slow death of 1,000 cuts.”
He believes no one should be subject to ArriveCan, but he feels the requirement is especially onerous for Onkwehón:we who have a unique right to cross the border. He said MCK chiefs have broached ArriveCan with government officials and that Council should pursue an exemption if the app is made permanent.
“We’re keeping an eye on it. We are voicing our objection to it, loudly,” he said.
“We feel it’s an impediment to us crossing the border. We’re supposed to have free access to the border, and yet they have this thing.”
The issue was even on the agenda of the public meeting held this week in Kahnawake.
“The government is taking too much of people’s freedom away, particularly us, and I don’t like it, and I don’t think any other Mohawks like it,” said LeBorgne.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door