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Canada vs. Denmark: Little-known border disputes

Did you know that Denmark and Canada are at war? And that they are negotiating — have been for four decades — for peace?  And what’s the war about? Borders and protecting territorial integrity. You see, half way between Greenland (Danish sovereign territory) and Ellesmere Island (part of Canada) in a straight of water known as Kennedy Channel is a lump of rock called Hans Island. 

And there’s a third party involved as well, the Inuit people who call the island Nunavat — but no one is listening to their millennia-old claims. Nope, there’s the pride of two countries controlling borders at stake.

OK, OK, no one is shooting at anyone. The Canadians and Danes are more civilized than that. And no one is detaining “immigrants” there either. What happens is, every year or so, the Canadian Marines launch an attack on the island, armed with cases of Canadian whiskey. Once on dry rock, they leave their cases and steal the Schnapps the Danes left there long before. 

Oh, and they drop the Danish flag (carefully putting it into a case of whiskey) and raise the mapleleaf flag. Then they leave, mission accomplished ...  and you guessed it, the Danes eventually show up and reverse the process. So no one’s shooting anything, unless you consider the shots of booze each side consumes.

Is that boundary important? You bet. Control of the Kennedy Channel is critical for fisheries and maritime movement of vessels from Baffin Bay to the top of the Arctic Ocean. And if you consider the northwest passage around the top of the globe, and global warming making summer transit across all of the Americas to Russia as now possible, the Kennedy Channel takes on increased economic and military importance. Add to that the potential for more fossil fuel discoveries ... what seems like a silly dispute over a lump of rock becomes the stuff politicians and diplomats love to sink their teeth into, make their careers on — not to mention all the well-meaning people already claiming natives’ rights.

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And perhaps that’s what is really wrong there — every politician wants a piece of the action. And on our southern border too. 

Look, currently I live in what was once Apache land, then it became Spanish territory, then Mexican. We negotiated a deal with our defeated neighbors down south (after we sacked Mexico City in 1847 — yes all the way down there, killing thousands. 

We called the truce deal the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. In it we claimed possession of 525,000 square miles that today makes up all or parts of present-day Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. 

Oh, and for good measure when the Buterfield stagecoach line pointed out that some dope in D.C. had misdrawn the map in the treaty (well, that’s what Butterfield claimed), the United States simply redrew the map in 1849 and took another 5,650 square miles. 

This caused some anger by the multi-generational Spanish settlers and to save further conflict, the U.S. diplomat in D.C., James Gadsden, in 1853  paid for another large part of “desert southwest” and established today’s borders. 

Not one person in New Mexico, Apache, Mexican, or Spanish settler family, was ever consulted. Oh, and the railroad company (which runs 40 percent of all fresh produce and cattle west to east across the nation) uses this forcibly purchased land.

The point here is this:  borders are arbitrary, they are created by people far away from the local inhabitants. They always, and I mean always, leave a sour taste in the mouths of families and tribes split apart. 

And such distaste breeds revolution (Pancho Villa), multi-generational resentment, or for example in the case of lines drawn in London dividing Iran and Iraq, millions of deaths over the decades.

Borders can make a stable country, a country within which one set of laws and financial rules can build multi-generational stability and growth — but only if the new nation remembers that they most likely stole, beat up and conquered peoples to achieve those borders. 

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Allowing border tensions to ease lets off pressure — pressure that we, down here in the desert southwest, still see rising daily — especially with Health and Human Services and Immigration & Customs Envorcement dividing innocent families — that’s a rallying cry that authorities sitting behind desks in D.C. may not be properly evaluating. 

It is worth remembering that the border is not really America, it is a pencil line drawn on a map by some bureaucrat sitting 2,000 miles away who is being influenced by a stagecoach line and then a railroad company. Money spoke in 1853 — still does today — but money is not families, is not American values, no more than cases of booze and a flag really establish sovereignty for Hans Island.

 

The columnist comments on national and world event from his home in New Mexico.