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The Kahnawake Issue

February 6, 2010

This broke into the Quebec news recently.

An ugly little piece of new, any which way you cut it. Nominally they have the level of independence to do this, and it’S what they democratically want to do. And it would certainly feel out of place for us to tell them what they can and cannot do in defending their culture – something they are entitled to do.

But ethically, this particular itteration is edging dangerously toward several definitions of crime against mankind (deportation on racial basis (cf. Nuremberg trials), forced removal (International Criminal Court founding act), Apartheid (UN general assembly resolutions, 1976)…

There are, of course, distinctions, but not enough of them to make this something I’m comfortable seeing so close to home.


This is from one of the comments on the article.

If you are wondering why we have so many social problems and don’t speak our language… look back in time. The priests came here and put us onto reserves. Forced their religion upon us, forbade us from practicing any of our traditional ceremonies, beat us for speaking our own language and made us feel ashamed of our native identities.

Not altogether false, but a lot of mashing together, and a few key points being easily forgotten there.

Kahnawake, like nearby Kanesatake, got *started* as villages for converted natives, to have their own church and their own community (And their own priest who wouldn’t get killed by the non-converted part of the community). Mohawks did use the region as the northern reaches of their hunting grounds (the Adirondack mountains) prior to European arrival, so their claim to the land is not entirely without basis (although not very strong: other tribes also claimed the laurentian valley, and another tribe entirely did have a village right next to Kahnawake as late as 1540), but their actual settlements were much further south (around, appropriately enough, the Mohawk river of New York State).

Later, under British rules, other Mohawk (and Iroquois in general) refugees removed themselves to the shores of the Saint Lawrence after a certain American founding father (eg, Washington) ordered some of his troops to engage in constructive military reprisal (what would be considered, if it were done today, pretty much war crime/crime against humanity/attempted genocide). This was about three quarters of a century after the founding of Kanesatake/Kahnawake) .

Now, it’s quite possibly (in fact, given Canadian history, eg residential schools, exceedingly likely) true that afterward priests, missionaries and assorted “teachers” did attempt to force Mohawk culture out of the Mohawks. It’s definitely true that the federal government (not the priests) cut apart their reservations left, right and center, and the provincial government built infrastructure all over the place for the use of the rest of the province, not the Mohawks.

But let’s not forget the whole story, shall we?

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