by Brandon Bonspiel

This summer, I am interning at the Akwesasne Justice Department. The Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk) community is geographically divided by the colonizing borders of Canada and the United States. As a member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Akwesasne has its own distinctive legal tradition. However, the rule of law imposed by Canada and the United States creates a complex layering of legal traditions within the nation.

Justice Department Building in Akwesasne.

Crossing the border is a daily, yet tiresome chore for the Akwesasro:non (people of Akwesasne). Multiple geographical territories signify, multiple legal jurisdictions. Akwesasne is comprised of; New York state Law in the southern district, Ontario provincial Laws on Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island), and Quebec provincial Laws in Kana:takon (St-Regis) and in Tsi Snaihne (Snye). Although I have been explained numerous times the tricky dynamic of the community, I often get the jurisdictions wrong. Finally, the community respects its deep and traditional laws. If you were not counting, that is four distinct legal traditions, all in the same community. This conundrum is unique to both Akwesasro:non, and legal interns alike. Laws do not harmoniously flow together; different laws apply to different individuals based on their residency within the community. During my internship, I will be working out of Kana:takon.

Thompson Island, Akwesasne.

Six weeks have come and gone since arriving in Akwesasne. During my first few days, I drafted a legal memorandum informing the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne of the newly enacted Bill C-96 (Quebec French Language Law). During my second week, I began researching the implications of C-92, a bill enabling First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples to create their own child welfare laws. As a member of the Justice Department this summer, we will work towards drafting the child welfare legislation for Akwesasne. This is no small task, considering the department constitutes only a handful of employees. Fewer staff allows for a greater exposure to a diversity of projects, which makes the internship truly valuable and unique

St-Lawrence River, West of Thompson Island.

I consider myself lucky to be working on legal memos and drafting legislation during my very first summer in Law School. Although my internship has just started, I have already learned so much and look forward to the next 6 weeks.