Reserved For Natives Only – Whites Out

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.