Kahnawake Mohawk Council will not appeal Superior Court decision overturning 'marry out, get out' policy

Kahnawake's council is working on a revised version of its band membership law, after the court struck down a controversial provision barring residents who married non-Indigenous partners from living with them in the community.

Council also committed to paying $35K to 7 of the 16 plaintiffs, as ruling ordered

Kahnawake Mohawks protested in front of the home of one Mohawk man and his non-native wife in 2016. The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake has decided not to appeal a ruling striking down the 'marry out, get out' provision of its membership law. (CBC)

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) has announced it will not appeal a recent court decision striking down a controversial section of its membership law that barred residents who married non-Indigenous partners from living with them in the community on Montreal's South Shore.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Thomas Davis ruled the law, dubbed "marry out, get out" by many Kahnawake Mohawks, violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"It is clearly in our interest to move forward as a community and to put this unpleasant episode behind us as a community," said Grand Chief Joe Norton in a statement released Wednesday.

"It was unanimously agreed [by the Kahnawake Mohawk Council] that going to another court would not serve our purpose," Norton said.

Council also agreed to pay $35,000 to seven of the 16 plaintiffs, as Davis ordered.

This sign was posted on a telephone pole in Kahnawake, the Mohawk territory on Montreal's South Shore. (submitted by anonymous Kahnawake resident)

The MCK voted unanimously to forego the appeal, the statement said, however the decision to pay the plaintiffs was more contentious, passing nine votes to three.

"It is being done to avoid complicating matters," Norton said, noting "these are funds that could have been used to supplement underfunded organizations and activities" in the community.

"But we have to find a way to work around this," he said.

The council urged community members to remain calm and respectful in light of its decision to accept the court's ruling.

In the past, many Kahnawake Mohawks have bristled over the plaintiffs' decision to challenge the membership law through the Canadian court system.

"Obviously, we maintain the position that matters that are so integral to our identity have no business in outside courts," Norton stated at the time of Davis's ruling.

Council working on new membership law

The MCK is working to rewrite some of the current rules that Davis ruled discriminatory, which will be discussed by residents in a series of community meetings. 

A community meeting is planned for next week to discuss proposed amendments to a new version of the membership law, which has been renamed the Kanien'kehá:ka of Kahnawà:ke law (Kahnawake Mohawk Law).

Julius Grey, the lawyer who represented the 16 plaintiffs, said he welcomed the Mohawk Council's decision not to appeal the Superior Court judgment.

"The court ruling is a good one," he told Radio-Canada's Espaces autochtones. "It was very well written. So it saves everyone money, and it heralds better relations among residents of Kahnawake." 

Grey said he hopes that in the new membership law, the MCK takes into account the Superior Court judgment, otherwise he said the situation will "get worse."

He said the new law should "preserve fundamental rights but still continue the principle of an Indigenous government."

With files from Radio Canada