Cannabis is not a traditional medicine like tobacco, says Mohawk Nation

The Mohawk Nation's Kahnawake branch says it’s against using inherent rights to defend cannabis industry as it is not considered a medicine traditionally used by Mohawk people.

'It's like saying that we have an inherent right to pineapples,' says Kenneth Deer

The Eastern Door of the Longhouse on Kahnawake Mohawk Territory. (Matthew Anderson)

While Mohawk cannabis retailers are wanting to challenge federal and provincial control of marijuana, traditional Mohawk leaders are speaking out against the industry in its entirety.

Kenneth Deer said the Mohawk Nation's branch in Kahnawake, Que., is morally opposed to cannabis and view it as a "mind-changer."

"We shouldn't be using things that affect the way we think and also the way we behave," said Deer, secretary of the Mohawk Nation's Kahnawake branch. 

"That's why we don't support alcohol, in the same way we can't support cannabis." 

The Mohawk Nation is a member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy or People of the Longhouse. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is a constitutional democracy that existed before Canada's elected band council systems.

But its position on cannabis is something echoed by Serge "Otsi" Simon at the Mohawk Council of nearby Kanesatake.

"My stomach just cringes because there's some out there that are using the marijuana issue as an inherent right or a traditional practice or some nonsense," he said.

"There's a reason why we call it kaien'kwáksen [bad smoke]. It's not a good smoke. It's a bad smoke."

The position is a contrast to Mohawk cannabis retailer Seth LeFort's plan for a constitutional challenge with claims of "inherent right as onkwehón:we [the people] to make medicine and to have an economy."

'We're not treating it like tobacco'

The Mohawk Nation's Kahnawake branch (more commonly referred to as the 207 Longhouse) said it's against using inherent rights to the industry, as cannabis is not considered a medicine traditionally used by Mohawk people.

Kenneth Deer is the secretary of the Mohawk Nation’s Kahnawake branch. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

"We're not treating it like tobacco because we don't think it has the same inherent right as tobacco," said Deer. 

"It's like saying that we have an inherent right to pineapples."

Even if it were a traditional medicine, like tobacco, Deer said the longhouse would be against its commercialization.

"We believe that if it's a gift of the creator it is hard to commodify,' said Deer.

"Our people want to make money, quick or fast money or big money — just like tobacco. It doesn't take into consideration the collective rights of everybody to tobacco, so there was very little sharing."

Kahnawake's cannabis law not ready

The longhouse position comes days before the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake plans to poll its community on cannabis dispensaries and production facilities for its proposed Cannabis Control Law.

"Extensive consultation has demonstrated clearly that the community supports the need for our own laws and regulations," said council chief Rhonda Kirby in a statement..

"However, there is still one question that needs to be clarified: does the community actually support the sale of legal cannabis within the territory?"

While a moratorium was issued more than a year ago on the production and sale of cannabis in the Mohawk community until the law is enacted, Deer said the longhouse is against having dispensaries and grow-ops in Kahnawake regardless, as they feel it will cause "disharmony and strife" and threaten the community's "peace and security to our border crossing rights."

"If Canadians want to use it, fine, let them mess up their brains. But our people, we shouldn't get engrossed in that," said Deer.

About the Author

Jessica Deer


Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. A former staff reporter for the Eastern Door, she works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.