Onus on Kahnawake, not Canadian government

An emphasis on the preservation of race and bloodline, shunning racial intermingling, expelling those not pure — we once lived in a dark time. But is it behind us?

Just this month the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake — a reserve south of Montreal — gave eviction notices to 26 people in its community. The reason: they’re not racially pure.

The Council singled out non-aboriginals living on the reserve, including those married to or in relationships with Mohawks. The band council’s argument is that Mohawk identity is being threatened and they’re merely “revitalizing the community” to safeguard against assimilation.

What it boils down to is this: rather than defining themselves by their unique practices, customs and traditions, the band council equates Mohawk identity with Mohawk bloodline. In their membership rules — which they have a right to make under section 10 of the Indian Act — it is stipulated that an individual must, among other things, have at least four Mohawk great-grandparents to be entitled to reside on the reserve.

But regardless of what many newspapers across Canada have published, it’s not that simple. When aboriginal rights and identity are involved, it never is.

A provocative argument supporting the evictions is that the Canadian government, through its own definitions of aboriginals — more specifically, of Indians and non-Indians under the Indian Act — indirectly coerced the band council into issuing evictions.

Imagine an undercover cop who pressures a teenager into snorting cocaine by using the drug himself. Then, high off his ass, cuffs the kid when he conforms. Entrapment, that’s what the argument amounts to: the Canadian government created racist definitions of aboriginals; then, when a band council applied those definitions to its membership rules, accused the council of being anti-family, anti-Canadian racists.

The argument is provocative because Canada’s Indian Act, though amended since its inception in 1876, is racist in the same way the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake is: in defining status and non-status Indians, the Act stipulates certain lineage requirements.

But the reasoning falters when other factors are included. For instance, the Supreme Court of Canada has taken a tolerant approach to aboriginal rights, focusing less on each individual’s lineage and more on whether or not the aboriginal group is partaking in practices, customs and traditions that can be reasonably traced back to those existing before European contact. In addition, it’s clear the Canadian government has taken a laissez-faire approach with regards to who can reap the benefits of its subsidies — some of the non-Natives being evicted have lived on the reserve for up to 10 years.

The idea that the Canadian government will someday go around to reserves and test everyone’s blood is paranoid at best. Besides, looking at the history of the Kahnawake Mohawks reveals interracial mixing existed as far back as the late 1700s, and that many “pure” white children were brought up as Mohawks.

The Canadian government can’t be blamed for the racist actions of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake. In the eyes of the band council, it seems the Canadian government is either too narrow in their definitions on aboriginals or purposely overcrowding what little land aboriginals have left by having criteria that are too accommodating. The concepts of “purity” and “race” are losing relevance. Rather than getting bogged down by elusive ideas, the emphasis should be placed on historical practices and customs, something the Canadian government has moved towards.

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