Mixed-race couples challenge Kahnawake residency rules

Several mixed-race Mohawk families have taken their fight against the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake's residency laws to the Quebec Superior Court in Longueuil.

Mohawks and non-Indigenous partners seek court ruling on Mohawk Council of Kahnawake residency laws

Among those challenging the law is Waneek Horn-Miller, who grew up in Kahnawake — but after marrying a white man, her family cannot live together in the community. (Barry Gray)

More than a dozen people appeared in court Tuesday to challenge a Mohawk Council of Kahnawake law that prevents non-Indigenous people from living on the Mohawk territory south of Montreal.

It's known as the "marry out, stay out" law.

These mixed-race families argue the Mohawk council's residency laws are unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Among those challenging the law in Quebec Superior Court is Waneek Horn-Miller, who grew up in Kahnawake. Because she married a white man, her family cannot live together in her home community.

"As Indigenous people, we have very strong ties to the land where our ancestors are, and I also feel very strongly about contributing to my community," Horn-Miller said. She said she wants to help build Kahnawake and move it forward.

Horn-Miller was a teenager during the 1990 Oka crisis, a land dispute that resulted in the death of a provincial police officer, when she was stabbed in the chest by a soldier's bayonet while protecting her younger sister.

Horn-Miller now lives in Ottawa but said she desperately wants to move back to Kahnawake.

"I don't believe you should have to pick between your heart, which is the love of a wonderful man which has made my life incredible, and my community," she said.

Non-Indigenous people welcome, but not to stay: council 

For the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, the law is a tool with which to protect the community's culture, traditions and even language.

Joe Delaronde, spokesperson for the council, said that people in his community are disappointed the dispute is now before a non-Mohawk tribunal.

"The real concern for us is that a community law is being challenged in a Quebec court when, really, we've made that determination all along," Delaronde said outside the courtroom in Longueuil.

The council feels "extremely strongly" that the matter should be decided internally, he said.

The bottom line is that non-Indigenous people are welcome in the community but cannot live there, Delaronde explained.

"The fact of the matter is, we are on a postage stamp next to Montreal surrounded by Quebec, Canada, the United States, everybody," Delaronde said. "It's very difficult to maintain identity, language, culture."

With files from Jay Turnbull