Waneek Horn-Miller, Mohawk Olympian and Human Rights Advocate, and Dr. Kahente Horn-Miller, New Sun Visiting Aboriginal Scholar, Carleton University, are sisters, and members of the Kahawake First Nations, near Montreal.
Waneek is in a common-law relationship with a non-indigenous man, they have two children, and own a house on the reserve. In Kahnawake, if you marry out, you are supposed to move out.
Now seven people, including Waneek, are suing the band council over its law that bans "mixed-race" couples from living on its territory.
In the past few years, we have witnessed a reinvigoration of the indigenous rights movement in Canada. This movement is being given new life by a generation of Indigenous Peoples who are savvy in social media and the subsequent globalization of issues.
Urban, reserve, full-blood, part-native, non-native and all different kinds of people have come together in the fight to have indigenous rights recognized and historical wrongs remedied. In turn, it appears that the Canadian public is beginning to understand and be mobilized because, "it’s the right thing to do."
These positive turns in mainstream opinion about Indigenous Peoples, and the subsequent momentum, are greatly affected by events such as the recent eviction movement in our community of Kahnawake on Montreal's South Shore.
Those fighting against the Enbridge pipeline, the tar sands expansion, fracking and deforestation often cite the actions taken by the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawks) during the Oka Crisis as the inspiration for their courage and fighting spirit and became our allies. Paradoxically, those same people are watching as our community fractures from within.
Indian Act and blood quantum sever kinship ties
One of the most devastating impacts of the Indian Act is the issue of blood quantum imposed as the measure of indigenous identity.
In turn, this thinking has become ingrained in how we perceive ourselves in relationship to our families and communities. Kinship ties are meant to last through the generations yet, by its very nature and direct consequences, the Indian Act severs these extended kinship and clan relations.
Nowhere in the Indian Act does it require an individual to have cultural or linguistic knowledge, provide a community contribution or even simply have community recognition as measures that define community membership.
Those are all seen as great qualities to have, but “official” membership is seen by many in Kahnawake as simply about blood quantum and what rights, services and privileges the correct percentage of blood can get.
The blood quantum measurement instills fear of loss of blood — a fear of fading away.
'Nowhere in the Indian Act does it require an individual to have culture or linguistic knowledge, provide a community contribution or even simply community recognition as measures that define community membership.' - Kahente and Waneek Horn-Miller
This is classic "divide and conquer" in a few ways.
First, with lack of mandatory community contribution, more people on reserve puts added pressure on already limited resources. It pits the full-bloods against the mixed, which in turn creates an ingrained cast system within the reserve.
As one chief on the Kahnawake council stated: “Those 4000 plus waiting to get on our band list are going to compete for the money.”
Second, it creates an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation in the community against community members. It alienates the allies and non-native spouses who feel targeted and become victims of harassment and violence.
Mohawk citizenship traditionally about relationships, responsibilities
We ought to look at the bigger picture and ask ourselves, “What is our overall goal?”
The language often used by Kahnawake is rooted in nation building. Terms like "inherent rights" and "Mohawk sovereignty" are the same ideas that undergirded the actions of our ancestors.
Our historical concept of a nation was about relationships between people and the mutual responsibilities of living side by side in North America.
If we want to continue to use this language, we should at least understand its implications.
The true conception of citizenship came from our ancestors in the form of the Great Law of Peace and spread throughout the world. Citizenship and a citizen’s related responsibilities and contributions are one of the cornerstones of the power of a nation.
Since our indigenous nations had the Indian Act imposed upon us and our lands and rights slowly whittled away, we have fought to be recognized by the international community as nations.
There has been a tremendous amount of effort by both indigenous and non-indigenous people to re-educate, turn public opinion and have Canadians understand they are also treaty peoples and have an obligation to fairly and equitably partake in the treaty process.
Kahnawake attacking the human rights of its citizens
'Kahnawake blatantly attacking the human rights of its citizens and masking it as cultural and community preservation, will not get us any closer to our goals of justice in Canada and international recognition as a nation.' - Waneek and Kahente Horn-Miller
One thing that “Canadians” hold dear is the concept of human rights.
Kahnawake blatantly attacking the human rights of its citizens and masking it as cultural and community preservation will not get us any closer to our goals of justice in Canada and international recognition as a nation.
The determination and resilience we showed in the summer of 1990 is something we are admired for.
Our community has forgotten that. We are respected for these qualities. As we now turn that ferocity on our own people, we not only fracture and weaken the Mohawk Nation but all the Kanien’kehá:ka communities will also feel the reverberation.
Our ancestors were able to develop ways to live in harmony and peace that should be applicable today.
In moving forward, we also need to look back and remember that our ancestors set a good path for us, one that we need to get back on.