Kahnawake Residents File Human Rights Complaint over Membership Law

CBC News, March 1, 2016

Several residents on the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal have filed complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission over the community’s membership law.

Under the law, a community member who marries a non-native has to move off the reserve.

“I’ve lived a lot of places, but I’ve never seen as much discrimination as I have here in Kahnawake,” one plaintiff who did not want to be named told Radio-Canada.

Multiple complaints

Several complaints have been filed, including the following allegations:

  • One Mohawk woman who was dating a black man claimed to have left the reserve after being the victim of racism.
  • Another woman facing eviction worried for the security of herself and her family because of the tense climate on the reserve.
  • One plaintiff said they were incapable of finding work within the community because of their status.
  • A young person suffered physical and verbal abuse because of her mixed cultural heritage. She alleges that she and her father cannot walk on the reserve without fearing physical violence.

Fo Niemi, director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, is helping residents of Kahnawake file complaints.

“They complain about being exposed to a toxic environment,” Niemi said. “They live under harassment and threat. They say the band council did not do much to give them a sense of psychological and physical safety.”

‘We’re not racist’

Joe Delaronde, spokesperson for the Kahnawake band council, contests the allegations.

“We’re not racist,” Delaronde said.

“We have friendships with people who are non-natives. People marry [non-native] people, and we don’t have an issue with that. The only issue we’ve had goes with the residency.”

Delaronde added that he thought it was overstated that some people feel unsafe because of the law.

“Nobody gets beat up. [Residents] don’t throw rocks at them.”

Government seeks dialogue

The Department of Indigenous Affairs said in a statement that the federal government hopes the people of Kahnawake can come to a constructive and peaceful resolution on this issue through dialogue.

“The Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, has committed to meeting with Kahnawake Grand Chief, Joe Norton,” the office stated, “to renew a relationship based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation and partnership with the Kahnawake community.”

Tensions over the issue aren’t new. In the 1970s and 80s white people were being evicted from the reserve.

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