Descendant of Kahnawake ironworker hopes to put a name and a face to Bill S-3 amendments

Even though Charles Kader and any children he would have are now eligible for Indian status under recent amendments, he still doesn't qualify for membership in Kahnawake under the community's law. ​

Charles Kader is 'chasing the dream' of Kahnawake membership

Charles Kader grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. It's the place where is great-grandfather Frank Mayo settled after leaving the Mohawk community of Kahnawake to ironwork. (Charles Kader)

Like many Mohawk families, Charles Kader's has a rich history in ironwork and plied their trade away from home. But at what cost?

His great-grandfather left Kahnawake for New York to sling steel in the late 1930s and then "boomed out" further west to Pennsylvania, where he settled. Kader's grandmother and his mother both married non-Indigenous men.

Even though Kader and any children he would have are now eligible for Indian status under recent amendments, he still doesn't qualify for membership in Kahnawake under the community's law. ​

Kader, 49, has always been cognizant of his mixed heritage and its impact on his status in the community that he hopes to one day call home. 

"My greatest sense of belonging in Kahnawake is when I walk through the graveyard up at the end of Mayo Lane and see family members' names on those stones. I know they are not judging me," he said. 

Marrying out

Growing up in Pennsylvania he knew from a young age that he was different from his cousins who grew up on-reserve.

Kader recalled one of the first times he visited Kahnawake, Que., when he was five.

"I might have made my Ukrainian grandfather a little sad," he said. 

"I wanted a blood transfusion from my relatives to take out my Ukrainian blood and replace it with Mohawk blood."

His great-grandfather Frank Mayo settled in Erie, Penn., with his wife Mary Jacobs. Their daughters worked as domestic housekeepers for people living in high rise apartment buildings in New York.

While two of the daughters met and married men from Kahnawake, Kader's grandmother Anne married Steve Evans, who was working as a short-order cook at local diner she frequented.

Evans was Ukrainian and later took up ironwork just like his father-in-law and brothers-in-law. Their daughter Annabelle, Kader's mother, also married a non-Indigenous man.

Between 1876 and 1985, women with Indian status who married a non-Indigenous man lost their status, and their children were denied status.

"Ironworking shows us we are human. You simply cannot change what the heart desires," said Edward Kader, Charles's younger brother.

"Without the trade, Charles and I would not have been born."

Mother regains status

Their mother received Indian status in 1992 under section 6(2) and 11(2)(b) of the Indian Act. At the time, there were no provisions for the registration of a person, one of whose parents is entitled to be registered under Section 6(2) and whose other parent is non-Indigenous.

That changed in 2011, and more recently Bill S-3 amendments expand registration to one more generation of descendants of First Nations women who lost status as a result of sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act. It means Edward's children are now eligible for Indian status.

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, however, has called the amendments a "threat of assimilation." They've long maintained their own membership requirements separate from Indian Act registration.

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake is wary of Bill S-3 amendments and their potential effect on membership. (CBC)

Of an estimated 35,000 to 65,000 people who the Mohawk Council say could be eligible for status under Kahnawake as a result of S-3 amendments, the council said few would meet the community's membership law criteria of having at least four Mohawk great-grandparents.

The Kader brothers only have two, but want to be accepted. 

'Chasing the dream'

"We've all been chasing the dream," said Charles.

"If I can exemplify one voice of that alleged number that's going to overrun the walls, I intend to make a good difference when I'm given the chance to be a member."

He feels he has made a difference in Akwesasne, the Mohawk reserve near Cornwall, Ont., where he's been living since 2005, but Kahnawake is where all his extended family reside. 

Joe Delaronde, the press attache at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, said council's concern with S-3 is partially over people who would be eligible for status who have not maintained ties to the community over several generations and may be just "attracted to things like free education and tax-free status."

Delaronde believes Charles is different, though. The two are distant cousins.

"Given my personal druthers, a guy like that kind of does belong here because he's proven over a long period of time now that he's not just a guy looking for something for free. But the law is the law."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawake, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.