A decision by Mohawk leaders to evict all non-aboriginals from the Kahnawake reserve just outside Montreal has fueled the racism debate, and begs the question of when the preservation of bloodlines can or ought to be justified.

So here’s the dilemma – when is eviction for not being of the desired race not racism?

In other words, when is affirmative apartheid o.k.?

According to Canada’s Montreal-based Mohawk leaders, white people are not welcome to live on their reserve, and those who are white and living with Mohawk partners have been served with eviction notices. Several have left, several more are packing up, but most haven't revealed their intentions yet, according to newspaper reports over the weekend.

To put it bluntly, as the leaders did, inter-racial couples have to separate or move out. Plain and simple, no matter that it will rupture families or victimise innocent children who are not Mohawk enough to be Mohawk and not white enough to be white. Biological integrity is all, they say.

The obvious retort is, would it then be wrong – morally and/or legally – to evict Mohawk from white enclaves in downtown Montreal? The answer is that it would be wrong on both counts.

Hence this purging of non-aboriginals from the Kahnawake reserve on the south shore of Montreal is raising some ugly issues about preservation of desired bloodlines, and many claims of reverse racism.

History, within living memory, is littered with fall-out from efforts to preserve desired bloodlines, but it is safe to say that has usually been so-called Western nations who have done the selecting.

The complications for the Mohawk are many. Their ruling body, called a band council, is within its legal rights under the Indian Act and Mohawk Band law to determine who lives on its territory and the Council claims to be concerned only with preservation of its own people and culture.

Just, they say, as the federal and provincial governments determine the make up of Canada by setting immigration quotas and criteria, they in turn set the criteria for their reserve. The Council claims its policy is not race-based. But it is. It’s just ugly to put it that way.

Twenty six non-aboriginals who have lived on the reserve for varying amounts of time were served eviction notices to leave the 7,500 strong Mohawk community.

They are being kicked out because they are the thin edge of the bloodline dilution wedge, and were their number to multiply, the Mohawk say they can envisage a future in which their community could no longer be considered native Indian. Then it would be Mohawk who lose their identity.

Given what Canada’s First Nations have suffered in the past, as have other colonized peoples, who can blame them for their fears?

Since 1981 there has been a prohibition on mixed marriages staying on the reserve, and five times in the past 130 years the band council has enforced eviction for reasons similar to the current crop.

But this is 2010 and issues of human rights are supposed to be paramount.

Canada is a country that refuses to issue entry visas to outspoken racists, but its federal government has washed its hands of this controversy saying meekly that while it doesn’t like the situation it is for the First Nations to decide.

From the safety of Opposition, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has described the actions as unacceptable, and very non-Canadian. He’s asked in a “brotherly manner” for a rethink. How Canadian.

Going a little stronger, prominent human rights lawyer Julius Grey reckons the climate is right to challenge the constitutionality of blood percentage-based evictions. He told the National Post that “if people identify themselves as Mohawk and follow certain cultural practices, that should be enough”. What he added was potentially oil on the fire of race relations. “I don’t believe groups have a right to survive … I think individuals have a right to belong to groups …if some people who do not qualify by blood wish to join that will in fact improve their [the group’s] chances for survival”.

It all makes more attractive the late Dame Whina Cooper’s urging Maori to have babies with Pakeha to increase the Maori population. Sentiments that are obviously anathema to the Mohawk band council… and probably Hone Harawira.

What makes this whole issue even sadder than it is, is the Mohawk and other native reserves throughout Canada are plagued with the issues that come from being over-represented in society’s negatives – unemployment, under-education, incarceration, health issues for starters. Much of that results from serious bootlegging, counterfeit cigarette and drug operations that are carried out within the confines of reserves.

As one Mohawk woman noted, they’re the ones who should be facing eviction; and that’s hard to argue with.

As the number of blog comments deleted from various newspaper sites here in Canada for violating the conditions required for publication indicates, this is an ugly issue that has stirred a predictably disquieting reaction.

Comments (16)

by Tim Watkin on February 22, 2010
Tim Watkin

I'm left thinking 'two wrongs don't make a right'. Having been a victim of racism doesn't make it ok for you to be racist.

The spokesman's defence is interesting... it's not racism, it's just the law. Like a law can't be racist?

Stiil, it begs the question whether racism is warranted if it's a way to preserve cultures. We separate kiwi from stoats to preserve them, so is cultural diversity any less important than bio-diversity... Yes, I'm being provocative on purpose. Please discuss.

by Graeme Edgeler on February 22, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

There are white enclaves in downtown Montreal?

by Lyndon on February 22, 2010

I recall a series of speeches by someone from Canada on RNZ, talking about being a native and such. IIRC one issue was that the weird blood quanta issues arise as much from the government's criteria as the tribes'. YOu can see how that would end in this sort of thing.

by Ewan Morris on February 22, 2010
Ewan Morris

Jane, this is a complex issue with a historical background that your post really doesn't do justice to. The emphasis on bloodlines is something that has its roots in past Canadian government policy, although it is certainly sad to see it being perpetuated today by groups like the leaders of the Kahnawake reserve. There is a report here (admittedly several years old) on the issue of Indian Status and Band Membership which provides some more background, including previous attempts to restrict membership at Kahnawake: http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/library/PRBpubs/bp410-e.htm. Your suggestion that Hone Harawira might object to intermarriage between Maori and non-Maori is just ignorant and offensive. One of the great things about New Zealand is that we do not have this nonsense about "blood quota", in part because Maori (including Hone Harawira, I'm sure) accept anyone with Maori whakapapa as being Maori - much to the disgust of those Pakeha who like to complain that "there are no real full blood Maori left" and so on.

by stuart munro on February 22, 2010
stuart munro

I think the missing element from the reservation dispute is goodwill, and any race based action will be always be dangerous without it. Ignatief's advice may seem naive, but I think it was correct.

The experience of greivance based reform in South Africa, how ever justified, is nevertheless no model for an ideal society.

Do we not have blood quota in New Zealand? I'm afraid that we do - the helicopter pilots imprisoned for greenstone theft claimed right by marriage into the relevant iwi, but the decision nevertheless went against them. Similarly, the right to take muttonbirds was and presumably remains determined by blood.

One of the great things about being abroad, for a male pakeha; is that entire weeks go by without some complete stranger asserting in the media that I am a racist .

Racism is the great bogeyman in NZ, second only to paedophilia, and, as a rule both are the subject of a hysteria which has not resulted in either enlightened or pragmatic corrective social policy.

If you talk to foreigners who become NZ residents, they will tell you that NZ enjoys a comparatively low level of racism, and that the public vitriol seems excessive. I maintain that it is, and that any attempt to resolve race issues without goodwill is doomed to fail. But then, a fair amount of public comment on race issues is not intended to resolve anything, but rather to create exploitable political cleavages.

None of which exempts us from the responsibility to address pernicious social indicators in health, crime, and education.

by Andrew Geddis on February 22, 2010
Andrew Geddis

What kind of terrible, terrible people would force individuals to leave the place they have called home for a number of years, just because they happen not to have the right parentage?

How about Canadians?

by Tim Watkin on February 22, 2010
Tim Watkin

Except that, Andrew, those Canadians in your link story are telling people to leave their country regardless of their bloodline, or even ethnicity. (The story reported that two-thirds of Canadians thought any immigrant in the country illegally should be deported, regardless of whether they had family in Canada).

The Mohawk law is based on race, the Canadian law is based on national sovereignty. To my mind that makes the Canadian law more defensible.

by Andrew Geddis on February 22, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Except that, Tim, the Mohawk have sovereignty over their own territory that is every bit as "national" as Canada's is. Their band rules (i.e. their "laws" that specify who is/isn't allowed to be on Mohawk land) state that Mohawk parentage is required for residency (for reasons that are every bit as much to do with Canada's laws defining who is/isn't an "Indian" as to do with anything else - see Ewan Morris' post above). Just as Canadian laws say that if you have Canadian parentage, you can live there. If not, then if Canadians want you out, you're on a plane back to China, Nigeria, Mexico or New Zealand.

Like we do in New Zealand - even to the parents of New Zealand citizens.

by Tim Watkin on February 23, 2010
Tim Watkin

You're still being selective Andrew. I acknowledged that both the Mohawk and the Canadians have their own legitimate law. The difference is what that law's based on.

You can migrate to Canada without being of Canadian bloodline or parentage. Jane, for exampe, can live there. You can't migrate to the Mohawk reservation. Jane couldn't live there.

I take Ewan's point about Canada's laws, but the Canada/Mohawk comparison just doesn't work because one is based on race (for whatever reasons) and one isn't.

by Andrew Geddis on February 23, 2010
Andrew Geddis

But Tim, imagine if Canada was to cancel Jane's visa and deport her. As long as it was done in accordance with Canadian law, what would her complaint be? "You're kicking me out because I'm not Canadian!" ... to which the response would be "Exactly - only Canadians have a right to live here unless we say otherwise". Point being - ALL rules of membership to a society are discriminatory between those who are allowed in and those who aren't.

Consequently, all sovereign entities restrict which outsiders may/may not live within its boundaries (and the Mohawk regard themselves as every bit as sovereign as Canada) based on the perceived needs of the society (i.e. what skills are needed, etc). The Mohawk's "needs" are strongly circumscribed by Canada's Indian Act, which says that to be a "real" First Nation member (i.e. a "status Indian") you must have more than 25% First Nation blood. So given that Mohawk effectively are told by Canada "your very existence as a people is defined by your bloodline", it seems a little odd to turn around and lambast the Mohawk for saying "we only will allow those with Mohawk blood to live on the little remaining land left to us."

Now - for all that, the whole way Canada deals with the question "who is a First Nation member" is deeply problematic, and is resented by many, many First Nation members. Furthermore, the rules of the Mohawk band at issue seem particularly hard-line, while the band council seems to be particularly bloody minded in applying them. See, for example, this quite thoughtful commentary on the current controversy.

by Justin Maloney on February 23, 2010
Justin Maloney

I don't agree with the evictions. I've spent some time living near the area we are talking about. I would liken the way the local Mohawks were considered by Québécois to being like the many Australians consider Aborigines. Generally deride them as being a problem, and best they stay out of 'good society' and on their reserve. Its worth considering that point when judging their actions.

I believe the law they have been given to work with is more the problem than the peoples attitudes to evicting. A bit like trademarks, where if you don't defend them they become common use terms and invalid. The Mohawks have to preserve a level of bloodline or lose their rights under the law, they have to defend that bloodline some way or another. Remember most Québécois weren't that keen on integrating the Mohawks at all.

I sympathise with the Mohawk in this, although I would like to think there are better ways to deal with the issue.

by Andrew Geddis on February 23, 2010
Andrew Geddis

And yet more bigotry ... just because this woman is an Austrian!

"Claudia Dallarosa, 42, a vineyard worker, has been told to leave New Zealand by the end of March after her application for an extension of her work visa was turned down.

She has lived in New Zealand for nearly five years but Immigration New Zealand said she must go because Kiwis are available to do her job.

However, her 16-month-old New Zealand-born daughter Pania, who has a British father with New Zealand permanent residency, may have to stay behind.

Pania's father lives on the West Coast and sees his daughter intermittently. Miss Dallarosa feared that if she applied for permission to take Pania to Austria, her father would challenge her and win."

by Justin Maloney on February 23, 2010
Justin Maloney

Not sure we should jump to the conclusion that race and nationality are (or should be) the same thing. Discrimination based on nationality is loosely accepted as part of a nations sovereignty, whereas the same can't be said for race

by Andrew Geddis on February 23, 2010
Andrew Geddis


"Race" is a construct, based on long discredited notions about bloodlines and visible characteristics. "Nationality" is as much a construct, based on legally defined membership of a society within an arbitrarily drawn line on a map. They are alike in that they are both fictions. They are different in that each fiction has a different supposition underpinning it.

by Justin Maloney on February 24, 2010
Justin Maloney

Andrew, nice definition there.

The key factor is that you cannot change your "race" as it is physically part of you. Whereas you can (theoretically) change your "nation".

It is that lack of (perceived) freedom of choice that makes discrimination based on race so abhorrent (and illegal) to many.

Conversely it seems to be OK to discriminate based on ones nationality. I suspect because this is because there is an underlying assumption you are free to change it. Therefore, any consequences of that 'choice' of nationality are yours to bear and not discriminatory.

I am not saying that this isn't contradictory or that the line between race and nationality is clear and valid. But it makes for an interesting argument around what is 'fair' discrimination.

by stuart munro on February 25, 2010
stuart munro

There was a time when ethnicity softened the lines on race and nation; so that a person might join a society by marriage, and became by courtesy a full member. New Zealand has abandoned this courtesy, and it is by no means clear in what way the interests of the state are served by this derogation of ancient privilege. But  it certainly increases the arbitrary powers of petty bureaucrats to oppress.

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