Marry out, move out: Member of Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke speaks out

Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer says it’s ‘time to set the record straight’ on Kahnawake’s contentious law.

Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer says it’s ‘time to set the record straight’ on Kahnawà:ke’s contentious law

If you marry out, you stay out. That’s the rule for Mohawks living in Kahnawake. This ban first came into effect in 1981, but was not widely enforced for years. (CBC)

No one is telling the people of Kahnawà:ke that they cannot date or fall in love with non-native people. But, if they do, the general rule is that they leave the reserve.

Community members have grown up hearing that if you are with someone who is non-native, you leave the reserve with them.

But why would our community encourage a practice like 'Marry Out, Move Out'  in today's society?

I think it is time to set the record straight and give people on the outside some perspective on the matter.

What led to the ban in the first place

The Indian Act was indeed meant to assimilate us. Prior to 1985, if a native woman married a non-native man, she and her children lost their rights and status and had to leave the reserve. 

If a native man married a non-native woman, the woman gained status as did her children.  They were able to stay on the reserve. Why do you think the Canadian government set it up this way?

In our traditional political structure, the Mohawk woman carries and passes on the clan and is responsible for teaching the children our customs, traditions, language and culture. The Indian Act breaks the clan lin.

There was also concern about the ability of community members to freely work across the border — as ironwork in the States has been our livelihood for more than a 100 years. In order to work in the U.S., you must provide proof of having at least 50 per cent indigenous blood (also known as blood quantum). 

So first of all, people in the community were very upset about this unfair and sexist application of the Indian Act.

Secondly, community members wanted to protect our indigenous blood lines that defined our existence and connection to our ancestors.

That's what led to the ban on all mixed marriages within the territory on May 22, 1981. The first membership law was drafted by the community in 1984. It was made clear that non-natives who were not here prior to the 1981 moratorium could not live here.

The most recent version of the law drafted in 2003 still maintains that non-natives with no lineage do not have the right to live in  Kahnawà:ke.

Is it still 'the will of the people?'

At the present time many people are defying this law. I hear the argument that "this is not the will of the people in the community today."

I don't know if I can attest to that statement as I believe an overwhelming majority of people still believe that this is our land and territory and we have the right to determine who can live here.

"Is it too much to ask to keep our 'reserve'reserved for the use and benefit of our people," Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer asks. (Radio-Canada)
We are in the process of revisiting the membership law and making amendments where we see fit. Whether the people will decide that they will allow non-natives to live in our territory after this next round of deliberations remains to be determined.

However, a random sample survey that was conducted in 2011 shows that approximately 80 per cent of people believe that non-natives should not be allowed to live here with their native spouses.

The members of this community made a law to preserve our identity, our land, our rights, language, and culture. We want to coexist, with us natives remaining in our canoe and the non-natives in their ship travelling the same river together — the "Two Row Concept".  (The Two Row wampum is one of the oldest treaty relationships between indigenous people and the European who came to this continent.)

Non-native people can live anywhere they want. We like keeping this little piece of land for Onkwehón:we. (Translation: "Real People", meaning original inhabitants of this land.)

'People don't understand us Mohawks'

Years of multi-generational traumas caused by oppression, racism, attempted assimilation, residential schools, Oka Crisis have made it difficult for many in the community to trust non-natives.

We can peacefully coexist, but a good majority of people in Kahnawà:ke don't want non-natives living next door and in their neighbourhoods because this is all that we have left.

Is it too much to ask to keep our "reserve" reserved for the use and benefit of our people?

People on the outside just don't understand us Mohawks.

We are who we are — which is not Canadian. We are stubborn and we are fighters for what we believe in. The people who are violating our law need to ask themselves: fight against your own people by defying our law, or abide by it, leave with your partner and maintain the peace?

To make matters worse, 16 people are bringing this lawsuit to Quebec Superior Court without giving our internal law-making process a chance to see change. This has caused many people in the community to become very angry.

If you try to do "everything in your power"  to get your way, you just might get it, but at what cost?

This lawsuit can be detrimental to all First Nations' jurisdiction across Canada.

I cannot sit by and support further erosion of our rights as Indigenous Peoples by Kahnawà:ke members and their spouses who want to try to further entrench Canadian law and jurisdiction against our nations in the name of love.

Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer is a member of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke.