it’s simple simpson

I’ve been pondering some of the commentary published in recent weeks about the Kahnawake band council’s decision to evict 26 people. Most of that commentary came from pundits at national newspapers, although one national newspaper actually paid an individual to spout some rather noxious stuff disguised as informed opinion. But I digress…

I’ve decided to look at one example by a more respected pundit. His name? Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail. His take was entitled: “Suppose there was a place the Charter didn’t apply…

You already know the story. 26 people face eviction from Kahnawake. Most are White and have never been band members. Others are Mohawk with White partners but stripped of their membership by the band council. Some are married. Some have children. One Mohawk man, a Vietnam veteran, was stripped of membership at the request of his own family.

Not every Kahnawake Mohawk agrees with the evictions although there was enough support when the band council put its proposed by-laws on membership and residency to a community vote a few years ago. Still, if the Kahnawake band council isn’t embarrassed by it’s by-laws and the way it’s dealt with the issue in the media, it should be.

Simpson condemns the evictions as a “race-based” violation of human rights. But it seems that his target isn’t only that exemption to human rights legislation built into the Indian Act by the Federal Government of Canada. Nor is it just the Kahnawake band council and it’s by-laws.  Nope. He seems to be aiming at uppity Mohawks everywhere and the reserve system in general. In fact, after reading that column several times, I came away confused about what pissed off Simpson more – that exemption or Mohawk resistance to assimilation.

Simpson writes that the band council’s actions “reflect an attitude of self-segregation that is the unfortunate flip side of aboriginal sovereignty that has been the intellectual framework for policy for four decades.”

Of course, there’s the rub. Mohawks don’t consider they are Canadian. They don’t recognize Canadian sovereignty on their territories. They are a self-governing ‘nation’ that has ceded nothing to Canada. They have their own rules, traditions, police forces, governance. If what other Canadians would consider basic human rights are abused, well, apparently that’s just the way it goes, according to the federal government.

According to Simpson, all Mohawks and their communities are apparently involved in “Internet gambling and cigarette smuggling” and these activities are the “mainstay economic engines on the Mohawk territories.” The root of this evil, according to Simpson, is their damned refusal to be assimilated, to give up the ghost, to fade into history and become… just like him in every way except for his privileged status as a White man.

His implied solution? Well, it’s seems to be the same one that Canada’s has tried over and over for more than 160 years. Cultural, legal, historical obliteration. Yeah, that’ll serve ’em right.

How to justify this… um… violation of human (and now Indigenous) rights? Well, we all know those uppity Mohawks are out-of-control criminals – every damn one of them. What with their cigarette factories and tobacco stands and their Internet gambling servers.

Well, hold on a sec. Let me paint you a slightly different picture of Kahnawake.

I know people from Kahnawake who serve in the military (Canadian and American).  I know others who work as civil servants in local, provincial and federal governments. Still more who are carpenters, plumbers, general labourers, construction workers, printers. I’ve worked with a few as journalists and TV and radio producers. Some are senior managers of large companies or are management consultants, university professors, teachers, computer techs, and on and on.

Kahnawake is dotted with convenience stores, snack shops, restaurants, gas stations and car repair shops, craft stores, a few designer clothing businesses, a business complex, police and fire departments, a Canadian Legion and social clubs like the Knights of Columbus, a pharmacy, medical centre, print shop, etc.

Is Kahnawake dotted with cigarette factories and tobacco stands? Yes. Does it have a company that runs Internet gambling? Yes, it does. Is that all there is to Kahnawake or any Mohawk territory? Hell, no. Any journalist who makes that kind of claim is either lying or is not doing his or her job by presenting an accurate, truthful picture for the reader to consider.

Simpson didn’t need to resort to nasty racial stereotyping to make his point. Is he arguing that the Charter of Rights should apply? Well, it already does. Is he arguing that the Canadian Human Rights Act should apply? Well, it will – next year. But the decision to exempt reserve band councils was a decision made by… (wait for it) the Government of Canada. Why? To exclude its Indian Act.

Has the band council acted illegally? No. It is simply following the ground rules as laid out by the Indian Act and Indian Affairs. Will it become illegal next year? Possibly, if those by-laws haven’t been repealed or amended, when that exemption to the Canadian Human Rights Act expires, if and when someone files a complaint about discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (the same body that a lot of Conservatives want to eliminate).

It’s the a funny thing about discrimination. It tends to hold up a mirror exposing those who make it possible for racism and discrimination to exist in the first place. So take a good look, Mr. Simpson.



Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canada, Canadian politics, human rights, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights, journalism, racism

14 responses to “it’s simple simpson

  1. Pingback: Stageleft: life on the left side » A Two-Fer From My Favorite Bloggers

  2. Throbbin

    You make good points Shmohawk.

    But, I do want to ask you – do you agree with the evictions? Not the legality, not the Constitutionality, but the principle?

    I understand the motivation, just not the action. Cultural preservation is important. But if I were from Kahnawake, I wonder if I would be ‘allowed’ membership or ‘allowed’ to live there. I’m a half-breed myself.

  3. shmohawk

    Apologies Throbbin for getting back so late.

    Now to your querstion:

    I think the evictions stink. The world is full of discriminations. Some we like. Others we don’t. This is one that I personally dislike because it goes against my understanding of my Mohawk traditions and customs. But also I think we should be welcoming people – not aiding the Government of Canada in its efforts to destroy what’s left of us.

  4. me

    Excellent post, Shmohawk. And I agree with your reply to Throbbin. I also understand the motivation but not the action. We should be welcoming of others into our community, encouraging them to learn the language and culture…and not do the government’s job for them.

  5. shmohawk

    I know me. I mean, I know who “me” is. This is getting really confusing. Me is not “me” but I know who “me” is.

    (sigh) I give up. Come back and raise hell anytime.

  6. shmohawk

    Just did a little housekeeping. That’s all. Changed one word. Corrected some formatting.

  7. Susann

    does it have a company who runs internet gambling….yes.

    Um Um
    One company? just a little internet gambling?

    How about servers located on the reserve handle over 55% of all worldwide internet wagering.
    Calvin Ayre or bodog ring a little bell?

    55% of all global online gambling.! Just a spit in the eye of the US gaming laws, and here in Canada, a glorious future of thousands more addictions (gambling this time) for our beleagured social health care system. Nice.

  8. shmohawk

    Nowhere did I imply support of online gambling. I have no idea who you refer to. I don’t understand why you bring in health care and gambling when that isn’t the topic either of Simpson’s column or my post. (pssst…. Are you on drugs?)

  9. Jennifer

    Good point about the Human Rights Act. Crazy. I guess by keeping the Indian Act outside of the Human Rights Act, people subject to the Indian Act lack a recourse if they experience discrimination.

    The kind of separatism being supported in Kahnawake could also lead to situations where people living in the community would not have outside recourse if they are harassed, threatened or abused. It seems like the council wants to implement its version of Mohawk law without really entering to discussion or debate with any counter-balancing organizations that might be able to serve as watchdogs to protect people from discrimination or harm.

  10. shmohawk

    One Canadian judge (whose name I can’t remember) commented in a decision that the removing the Indian Act exemption from the Canadian Human Rights Act could lead to the erosion of those collective (Aboriginal) rights recognized (but not fully defined) in the Charter of Rights. It gets complicated when one realizes that those collective rights are held by those Indigenous nations that the Indian Act shoved aside, so Canada could create band councils.

    Of course, this is exactly what a lot of the anti-Indian (the assimilationist crowd) not only want but advocate openly. They say they are advocate the individual human rights of Indians on the reserve. What they don’t say, but understand quite well, is that in doings so they are also advocating the destruction of collective rights – Indigenous rights. Which is one reason why Canada refuses to sign the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

  11. Jennifer

    I don’t mean to suggest that individual rights as they are understood by the Canadian government should supersede collective rights of Indigenous peoples.

    But what should people do if they are being threatened or harassed by a faction in their community?

    Who or what organization would you turn to?

  12. shmohawk

    Like I said, it’s complicated. That’s why that Canadian judge, in his judgement, issued a warning – to native organizations and Canadian governments and agencies. Collective rights are recognized in Canada’s Constitution but the Charter of Rights and Canadian Human Rights legislations are very much about individual rights.

    I suspect the present Conservative Government in Ottawa could care less about protecting the collective rights of Indigenous people as it interferes with its goals to eliminate them. But then past Federal Governments haven’t been all that supportive either when they were in power.

  13. Susann

    (Psst are you on drugs?) No I´m not Shmo, I was only elaborating on the massive gaming facilitation there. Internet servers located there provide platforms for almost all the worlds online gambling, while being illegal elsewhere. Your post seemed to minimize it a little too much.

    And thank you for your just posted comment, which to me is amazing and provides me incentive to do much more reading on the subject.

  14. shmohawk

    Susann, I understand. I downplayed a lot of things because they would distract from my chosen topic. My battery is running out. I would love to trade comments or carry on a discussion but I can only get access to the Internet once or twice a day, or every other day. So do read up on whatever caught your interest and let’s continue at some point. Just know that I may only reply every second day or so. (and I just knew you weren’t really on drugs)

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