By Denisa Krásná
Last semester, I studied as an exchange student at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. I was fortunate enough to meet the head of the Canadian Studies department David Rossiter during my first quarter at Western who helped me to look for internships in my field. I successfully passed an interview at Cascadia Cross-Border Law, a law firm specializing in immigration and Indian law with offices in Bellingham, WA, Vancouver, BC, and Anchorage, AK. As my Masters program is in North-American cultural studies, the internship at Cascadia Cross-Border Law was particularly fitting because it combined both American and Canadian studies. In my studies, I mainly focus on indigenous issues, and Cascadia offered me the opportunity to explore several areas of Indian law.
Greg Boos, the senior lawyer at Cascadia, specializes in indigenous cross-border rights, an issue that I, coincidentally, had researched for my American Indian Experience class at Western Washington University where I studied as an exchange student last semester. I had previously focused primarily on the southern tribes on the U.S.-Mexican border – the Tohono O’odham Nation in particular – whose sovereignty is now threatened by Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. Therefore, I could apply this knowledge in researching the situation on the U.S.-Canadian border and compare the two borders. My main task was to assist with research, updating, and writing Greg Boos’ and Heather Fathali’s paper on the Jay Treaty, titled “Canadian Indians, Inuit, Metis, and Metis: An Exploration of the Unparalleled Rights Enjoyed by American Indians Born in Canada to Freely Access the United States”. Moreover, I was helping to plan and organize a conference on the Jay Treaty and its potential.
A major part of my research involved working through 400 pages of archival documents from the year 1794, regarding the Jay Treaty negotiations, conducted primarily between John Jay, the Envoy Extraordinary from the United States to Great Britain, and Lord Grenville, the British prime minister. A seemingly tedious task of writing a synopsis for each letter exchanged between the parties, turned out to be both intellectually stimulating and engaging. Not only did I learn to read a variety of contemporary handwriting styles, but I also got a chance to understand the legal processes of that time. Since the Jay Treaty includes articles regarding several pressing contemporary issues, I learned more about how the U.S.-Canadian boundary line was negotiated, how the merchants trading to North America affected by the American Revolutionary War were compensated, and how other legal disputes were to be settled. Article III of the Jay Treaty recognized that aboriginal peoples of North America had always travelled across the continent freely and that the boundary line settled by the U.S. and Great Britain in the Treaty of Paris could thus not apply to them, especially since a great part of the boundary was established on Indian lands. Moreover, Article III was agreed to be permanent, and not to be abrogated by any war or conflict. Nevertheless, as I learnt through further research, Canada does not recognize the validity of the rights laid out in the treaty and considers the treaty partially nullified by the War of 1812, even though the Treaty of Ghent of 1815 reaffirmed the indigenous right of free passage (Boos et al. 347-348). The treaty is still in force in the United States and allows certain American Indians born in Canada to freely enter the country and remain there indefinitely (Boos et al. 345).
However, significant progress is now being made in Canada with regards to the Jay Treaty. Looking into the contemporary situation was another major part of my research, and my findings are now being incorporated into Greg’s and Heather’s updated paper. I was happy to find out that in June 2016, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples issued a study titled “Border Crossing Issues and the Jay Treaty” in which they pressured the Canadian government to work closely with First Nations on addressing the border crossing issues (7). The committee especially stressed the everyday problems faced by the Mohawks of Akwesasne (9). The committee recommended an appointment of a special representative who would cooperate with First Nations on finding possible solutions to their problems (12). The Canadian government responded to the report and appointed Fred Caron as the Special Representative responsible for co-operation with First Nations (Senate of Canada). He is supposed to report back at the end of this year.
A major part of my research involved working through 400 pages of archival documents from the year 1794
I also learned from my research that there is a great need for education on the issue, as many American Indians are not aware of their rights. Cascadia and the Northwest Indian College are currently working on spreading information about the Jay Treaty and its potential. Together, they decided to co-host the Jay Treaty conference which I helped to plan and organize. It was scheduled for May 21 and 22, but had to be postponed to the fall due to the passing of several Lummi members. As disappointing as this was for all of us in Cascadia, we did not hesitate in the decision to postpone the conference. As proper several-day-long ceremonies are the Lummi tribe’s tradition, it would have been against everything we stand for not to respect the tribe’s traditions. Since we still had some speakers flying in from as far as Boston, I had the privilege to lunch with two of them. As I was in charge of writing the speakers’ bios, I had already explored their work – which definitely eased the conversation and centered it around contemporary indigenous issues.
On several occasions in my internship, I had to deal with what I find the most challenging aspect of my field of study, i.e. balancing two of my fundamental life philosophies. Although a firm advocate for indigenous rights and decolonization, I am also an animal rights activist. Raised vegetarian, and gradually becoming vegan, I strongly disagree with any form of animal exploitation. An inherent respect for nature and the environment is one of many aspects I admire the most about indigenous cultures, including their traditional sustainable ways of living. I also recognize the importance of language and cultural preservation and will always argue for both. That being said, I draw the line at any form of killing, anywhere where it is no longer necessary (obviously excluding the Inuits, and other peoples who have little other choice). For this reason, studying hunting and fishing rights cases makes me uncomfortable because it is expected from me to be naturally on the tribe’s side. Similarly, reading about a study informing that “the proportion of Alaska Natives allowed to hunt marine mammals decreases” provokes conflicting feelings in me (Dunham). The slow disappearance of unique Alaskan cultures makes me sad, but fewer dead whales makes me ecstatic. I will always prioritize life over tradition, but I acknowledge that this is a sensitive issue, and hence try to avoid touching upon it in my research. I must note that I greatly appreciated interning in a firm where I was understood and where my life philosophy was respected.
there is a great need for education on the issue, as many American Indians are not aware of their rights
Being an intern for Cascadia-Cross-Border Law firm was an amazing experience that greatly contributed to my academic growth. I would never have expected to find an internship so fitting to my studies, and for this reason, I am even more grateful for this opportunity. I am confident to say that I have improved my research skills, gained valuable knowledge in many areas – especially of Indian law, met important scholars in the field and made many valuable contacts. Greg Boos was always open to any discussion and continues to email me any resources that he believes I may find helpful in my research. In return, I promised to send him an English version of the new Winnettou film. But most importantly, this internship has showed me how I can practically apply the knowledge gained in my degree program and has motivated me to try to further pursue a career in indigenous studies.
Boos, Greg, et al. “Canadian Indians, Inuit, Metis, and Metis: An Exploration of the Unparalleled Rights Enjoyed by American Indians Born in Canada to Freely Access the United States,” Seattle Journal of Environmental Law: Vol. 4 : Iss. 1 , Article 12, 2014. Print.
Deer, Sarah and Kathryn, Mary. “The Rapidly Increasing Extraction of Oil, and Native Women, in North Dakota.” The Federal Lawyer. April 2017: 34-37. Print.
Dunham, Mike. “Study: Proportion of Alaska Natives allowed to hunt marine mammals decreases.” Alaska Dispatch News. Alaska Dispatch News, 14 Nov. 2016. Web. 31 May 2017.
Senate Of Canada. “Minister heeds Senate report with First Nations border-crossing appointment.” Senate of Canada. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2017. <https://sencanada.ca/en/newsroom/minister-heeds-senate-report-with-first-nations- border-crossing-appointment/>
Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. “Border Crossing Issues and the Jay Treaty” Senate of Canada: June 2016. Pdf. 24 May 2017.
Denisa Krásná is an MA student of North American culture studies, researching mostly indigenous issues. Although she already holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Spanish, her love for languages led her to also study French at The Open University in Scotland. Her biggest dreams are equality for all species that inhabit this planet and an eco-justice. She’s a travel and outdoor enthusiast who enjoys hiking in all weathers, climates, and environments. She loves watching rain while drinking a cup of tea and knitting with her boyfriend’s Scottish cats Emma (Goldman) and Rosa (Luxemburg) on her lap. Living and volunteering in Edinburgh Student Housing Co-op only deepened her anti-capitalist conviction and interest in the rights of minority groups. She’s also obsessed with Lord of the Rings.