Kahnawake's new membership law to end decade-long hold on applications from 'mixed race' children

Kahnawake's soon-to-be enacted Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawà:ke Law is expected to resolve a decade of stalled membership applications.

New law expected to be enacted July 3

Kahnawake's soon-to-be enacted Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawà:ke Law is expected to resolve a decade of stalled membership applications. (CBC )

After more than a decade, Kahnawake's controversial membership law will be soon be amended, resolving an issue affecting "mixed race" residents who have been waiting in limbo to apply to be on the community's registry.

"It means the world," said Angelika Delormier, whose mother is from Kahnawake and her father is from Poland.

The 25-year-old has lived in the Kanien'kehá:ka community just south of Montreal her entire life, raised by her mother and stepfather.

"Since I was a kid, I've felt out of place in the world of politics because I never had a voice," said Delormier.

"Even though I was young I was chastised for being different but understood it wasn't fair."

Since 1984, Kahnawake has determined its own membership separate from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

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The federal government has 11,023 people registered to Kahnawake's band list. The number is significantly more than the 6,685 people the community defines as members under its membership law, which was recently renamed the Kanien'kehá:ka of Kahnawà:ke Law.

"It's time for Kahnawake to reclaim our right to self-determination in determining a way of how we determine who our people are," said Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, membership portfolio chief at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake. 

Although Delormier has federal status, she's not enrolled on the Kahnawake Kanien'kehá:ka Registry (KKR) and is unable to vote in band council elections, hold office, participate in legislative hearings, receive funding for post-secondary education, or serve as a board member for several community organizations.

Angelika Delormier has been waiting seven years to apply to become an official member of Kahnawake. (Submitted by Angelika Delormier)

"If I can be on the KKR, that means I can finally be an integral part of making decisions about the place I live and called home my entire life," said Delormier.

Hold on applications

According to the community's law, Delormier and others in her situation with one non-Indigenous parent can only apply to become a member once they turn 18. However, in 2007 the body responsible for processing applications dissolved, resulting in 68 applications being put on hold until the amended law is enacted.

That number doesn't reflect children who have since reached age of majority. The council's membership department is unsure how many people will meet the new eligibility criteria.

The new law is expected to be enacted on July 3, after its final legislative hearing took place Tuesday evening. Sky-Deer said she is hopeful applications will be accepted as soon as the fall, once regulations are finalized and a new registrar tasked with processing applications is hired.

"There have been numerous people who have been waiting for this moment to be able to apply and get their recognition and be able to exercise certain entitlements and benefits here in the community,' said Sky-Deer.

"So I'm just so relieved and excited that we're at this crossroads in our community and ready to see things move forward."

Why the long wait?

The membership law was one of the first pieces of legislation to go through the Community Decision-Making Process, a consensus building process to develop and amend Kahnawake laws. The lengthy process began in September 2010 and consisted of dozens of consultation sessions on aspects of the entire law.

"We had to take the time to do its due diligence and go through every section," said Sky-Deer.

"So, yes, it has been time-consuming. But I think we have a really good product in terms of determining who are our people."

A lawsuit filed in Quebec Superior Court over sections of the law also stalled several hearings, prompted the development of a separate residency law, and struck down provisions that revoked someone's membership for marrying or commencing a common-law relationship with a non-Indigenous person.


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.