Mohawk Council Stumped over Membership Issue
Members of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake want to evict non-natives from their reserve; they just don’t know how.
In February, the MCK handed out 35 eviction letters to residents of the small Mohawk community. The eviction notices were delivered to non-natives or Mohawks living with non-natives in Kahnawake—located across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal.
Recipients of the letters were given 10 days to leave town, but in the six months since that deadline has expired, only eight people or families have made arrangements to move.
During a Sept. 3 town meeting, the MCK conceded that the evictions would be nearly impossible to enforce. According to Article 107 of the Indian Act, local officers of the peace do not have the authority to act on community membership issues—meaning that even if Mohawk Peacekeepers forcefully removed people from the reserve, the evictions could be overturned in court.
“It is unlikely that the evictions would hold up in our own court much less an outside court,” said Joe Delaronde, a former MCK Grand Chief and current spokesperson for the council said. “We’ve been trying to set up our own justice system here, a system that gets away from the Indian Act, because the original stated purpose of the act is the assimilation of Native Americans.”
Despite the fact that the 35 people and families facing eviction represent less than one per cent of the reserve’s population, Delaronde sees their presence as a threat to future generations of Mohawks.
“As a people, we have so little left,” he said. “If we don’t act now and we just keep letting outsiders in, this won’t be our reserve anymore.”
In 1984, Kahnawake passed a membership law requiring that, in order to live in the community, a person must have at least four Mohawk great grandparents. The law also stipulates that anyone marrying a non-native would forfeit his or her right to live in Kahnawake.
The MCK issued similar eviction notices in the 1980s and 90s, but both attempts failed, as there was no real system in place to enforce the evictions.
Tracy Deer is an award winning documentary filmmaker and a co-publisher of The Eastern Door, a local Mohawk newspaper. Deer and other Kahnawake residents have been circulating a petition to stop the evictions.
“Assimilation is when you force people to move out of town for falling in love with non-natives,” said Deer. “These people won’t be able to raise their children in a Mohawk community.”
The membership law has personally affected Delaronde. His sister moved from Kahnawake to Ottawa after marrying a non-native.
“It’s a very difficult situation,” he said. “But this is a native reserve. A lot of the people living here illegally are doing so to avoid taxation from the Quebec and Canadian government. And we have to provide them with services like policing and snow plowing. It frustrates the community.”
The MCK, said Delaronde, is just responding to pressure from its constituents. Pointing to an online poll conducted by kahnawake.com, Delaronde claimed the majority of Kahnawake’s 8,500 inhabitants want non-natives to be evicted.
The poll asked, “should the MCK evict non-natives from Kahnawake?” Of the 251 respondents, 152 voted ‘yes,’ 40 voted ‘no’ and 59 voted ‘it depends.’
“There isn’t a family in town that this issue doesn’t affect somehow,” said Greg Horn, who conducted the poll. “But there’s still a strong feeling in the community that you can’t live here if you’re not native. It doesn’t mean you can’t spend most of your time here or send your kids to school here, you just can’t live here.”
While Deer acknowledged the community is divided over the issue of membership, she doesn’t believe the poll accurately reflects the community’s true feelings on the issue.
“We’re far from united,” she said. “The online poll has over 100 votes in favour of evictions, but the petition I helped start has over 100 signatures against it.”
This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 05, published September 14, 2010.
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