The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake has warned the federal and Quebec governments it is asserting its sovereignty over the community’s territory, taking control of highways, railways and waterways, and declaring the community a duty-free zone.

The move was prompted by Quebec’s recent changes to its tobaccco-tax laws and has been described as a unilateral declaration of sovereignty. Highways and other routes that crisscross Mohawk land will remain open, the Mohawk Council said, but governments will be taxed for their use.

“We will begin our jurisdictional control over economic-development matters with attention concentrated on third-party interests in land being nationalized or taxed,” said the Mohawk Council.

“We will also initiate user fees on our highways, waterways, railways and on utilities. We will plan a tax protest starting in Kahnawake. As part of our economic development, we will establish a duty-free zone for the territory of Kahnawake.”

The council called the Quebec government’s tax changes an attack on Aboriginal rights, a charge that was later backed up by other First Nations leaders. Quebec decided recently to start collecting tobacco taxes through manufacturers, rather than retailers. Merchants would be reimbursed later for taxes they paid on cigarettes sold to Native people.The government accused some Mohawk cigarette dealers of not charging taxes to non-Natives.

The Mohawk Council said Quebec and Ottawa haven’t cooperated with its attempts to resolve tax and other issues.

“The attempts to limit and control our rights to the point of their extinction is tantamount to absolute assimilation and political genocide.”

Mohawk Grand Chief Joe Norton also blamed successive governments for the “deterioration and erosion” of Mohawk land and rights, and using Mohawks as a “political football.”

“Mr. Jean Charest and his jackals took great delight in making the Quebec governmentsquirm at our expense (on the tax issue),” Norton said.

-With files from The Montreal Gazette