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.