The Akwesasne defenders called down to Plenty in Tennessee first and then Plenty called the Bronx Ambulance Center saying, “We need a three-person medical team to go to Akwesasne because it looks like there is going to be a big shootout between the Iroquois and the New York State Police.” James Mejia, Bob Connors, and I drove our ambulance and went there with the full support of Plenty. Under cover of night, we pulled up to the Rez. The New York State swat teams surrounded Akwesasne. They had it blocked off and weren’t letting anybody in. We waited until local Iroquois found us and told us how to get in and we came around that way.
We pitched a tent next to the Saint Lawrence Seaway that separates the U.S. and Canada. Akwesasne is located right there. The Mohawks had a boat and they just boated back and forth between Akwesasne’s U.S. and Canadian sides. They considered the river a part of their land. It wasn’t considered the U.S. or Canada, it was all their sanctuary — The Land. We woke up in the morning and took a survey of the situation. The defenders had dug trenches deep enough to walk in — person-tall trenches. All the men had guns and they were patrolling. The women and children pretty much stayed in the center up by the Ceremonial Grounds and the one building that housed the Media Center. They were trying to keep folks updated and aware, as best they could those days, about what was going on. We were there for ten days during the standoff. Everyday we thought, “Today is the day they are going to come in.”
James, Bob, and I camped close to the river. Saw the big ships come by. In some ways, it was idyllic. Living with Native Americans was, for me personally, something I had thought about as a kid. Seeing all those cowboy and Indian movies and always wanting to be on the side of the Indians.
The Iroquois could not have been happier to see us, because they had no medical there. They immediately accepted us as part of their community. We would spend some of our day teaching medical emergency classes, other times we were in the Media Center talking about issues, exchanging gifts, reading indigenous material. We absorbed a lot of history and received several wonderful books while we were there. I still have those books. I read them to my kids. Great stories: The Great Law of Peace, Migration of the Iroquois, Deskaheh — Iroquois Statesman and Patriot.
At night there were different ceremonies with dancing and chanting. As each day and night passed word would be delivered to the Rez regarding the negotiations between the Akwesasne lawyer and New York State. Three times a day there would be a community meal. We lined up on the Ceremonial Grounds and, knowing we were vegetarians, they made sure we got meatless meals. Then one day it was resolved. Governor Carey, the governor of New York at the time, gave the order to back off and the confrontation was over. We packed up in the dark and were just going to leave. As we started to drive off the Rez some Iroquois warriors stopped us at the Ceremonial Grounds and had the three of us get out and stand at the front of the Grounds. Everyone who was awake got in a line and individually shook our hands, looked us in the eye, and thanked us.
It was a spiritual moment filled with integrity, humility, blessings, and the power of gratitude. It was an energy exchange with a large group of people taking care of their own during a time of adversity.