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Tracey Deer, creator of Mohawk Girls, fears eviction from her native Kahnawake where show is set

Tracey Deer, the filmmaker behind the popular TV show Mohawk Girls, recently married a non-Indigenous man and expects to be evicted from Kahnawake, the community celebrated on the show.

'Now that I'm married, they want to evict me. I will no longer be considered a Mohawk of Kahnawake'

Tracey Deer recalls the moment that changed her life, on August 28, 1990, when she was in a convoy of cars leaving Kahnawake that was pelted with rocks by an angry mob as they drove into Montreal. Now it is some of her own people who are saying she's not welcome. (Carrie Haber/CBC)
This is the second in CBC's new podcast series, Montreapolis. You can hear a full feature interview with Tracey Deer on the podcast, bringing you conversations with people who make up modern Montreal. Click here to subscribe.

Tracey Deer, the filmmaker who created the popular TV show Mohawk Girls, says she expects to be evicted from Kahnawake, the community where the show is set and filmed.

"Now that I'm married, they want to evict me. I will no longer be considered a Mohawk of Kahnawake. That is super, super devastating," Deer told CBC Montreal's new podcast Montreapolis in a wide-ranging interview.

Approximately 20 families have received eviction notices as part of the Kahnawake Mohawk Council's longstanding and controversial law that bars mixed-race couples from living on the territory.

Deer got married last fall. She and her husband, who is non-Indigenous, have not received an official eviction notice yet.

'Mohawk Girls' not universally loved in Kahnawake

Deer has helped put Kahnawake on the map with her successful dramedy series Mohawk Girls, which delves into the struggles and sex lives of four young women living there. 

The show is filmed on the territory and features several local actors.

Mohawk Girls, produced by Rezolution Pictures, has been nominated for several Canadian Screen Awards over its four seasons. A fifth and final season should begin filming later this year.  
Deer's dramedy Mohawk Girls follows four 20-something women in the Mohawk territory of Kahnawake, south of Montreal. (Éric Myre)

The series is lighthearted in tone, but it doesn't shy away from controversial issues, including Kahnawake's residency law.

Deer said while she has several fans in Kahnawake, reaction to the show there isn't always positive.

"There are definitely those people here who hate it and think I'm a traitor and that I'm making us look terrible," Deer said.

Tracey Deer's hit show 'Mohawk Girls' hasn't shied away from looking at controversial issues in Kahnawake, including the residency laws. (Photo by Philippe Bosse/Rezolution Pictures via mohawkprincess.com)

Unspoken rule: Mohawks marry Mohawks

Deer and her husband live in a house she owns on the reserve, right next to the house she grew up in, where her mother still lives.

She keeps a small office in the basement where she works on her film and TV projects.

Growing up, Deer's parents never explicitly told her she had to marry a Mohawk man, but she said it was an unspoken assumption in the community that Mohawk women had to marry Mohawk men and have Mohawk babies.  

She did end up marrying a Mohawk, whom she later divorced.  

After that, she decided to expand her search for love beyond Kahnawake. She met her current husband through a matchmaking service.

Deadline to 'vacate' set for May

The residency law has been on the books in Kahnawake since 1981. The band council says the purpose of the law is to help preserve the Mohawk nation and keep the community alive.  

The council is currently reviewing the law, and an updated draft should be released soon. But there seems to be no question of softening it. 

In an open letter published in February, the council said the new law will "address the challenge of enforcement."

This sign is posted on a telephone pole in Kahnawake. (submitted by anonymous Kahnawake resident)

The council also sent out a new round of letters to mixed-marriage couples living on the reserve in February, asking them to make arrangements to vacate the territory.

"If you have not yet done so, we ask that you take the letter seriously and govern yourselves accordingly, as the next action step will be implemented on May 1, 2017," the letter reads.  

It's not clear what that "action step" will consist of.

The Mohawk filmmaker looks back on a late August day in 1990 when she was in a convoy of cars pelted by rocks hurled by angry white men. She was 12. The incident shaped her life. 3:14

Memories of 1990 Oka crisis

Deer was forced to leave Kahnawake due to circumstances beyond her control once before, during the 1990 Oka crisis, when she was just 12.  

She and her mother and sister were part of a convoy of women, children and elderly people who were evacuated from the reserve over safety concerns.  

The Mohawks in that convoy were jeered and pelted with rocks by an angry mob of non-Indigenous protesters on the Montreal side of the Mercier Bridge. It was a shattering experience, she said.

Kahnawake-born filmmaker Tracey Deer brings the raw, funny and rarely explored experiences of women on the rez into the spotlight through her hit TV series, Mohawk Girls. Her place in her own community is now uncertain. 35:36

Prepared to move 

Now, it's Deer's own people who are judging her.

Deer and her husband oppose the law and would like to fight it, but her husband has a son who lives with them, and they're thinking of having children together.  

She said she doesn't want her children to face the same identity struggles she faced during the Oka crisis.

Deer said the family already has a home off-reserve and will move there if necessary, for the sake of the children.

"I'm not going to put them through that. They're not going to grow up being told that they're not important because I love their father," Deer said, her eyes welling with tears.

You can hear a full feature interview with Tracey Deer on CBC's new Montreapolis podcast, bringing you conversations with people who make up modern Montreal. Click here to subscribe.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that Tracey Deer and her husband had received an eviction notice. In fact, they have not received an official notice yet.
    Apr 06, 2017 2:27 PM ET

About the Author

Steve Rukavina

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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