Former Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller among Mohawks suing Kahnawake council

Waneek Horn-Miller is a Kahnawake Mohawk, a former Olympic athlete and an avid human rights activist. She is fighting for her right to live in her community with her non-native partner, Keith Morgan (left) and two children. (Waneek Horn-Miller)

Waneek Horn-Miller is a Kahnawake Mohawk, a former Olympic athlete and an avid human rights activist. She is fighting for her right to live in her community with her non-native partner, Keith Morgan (left) and two children. (Waneek Horn-Miller)

Seven plaintiffs say the Kahnawake membership rules infringe on their human rights

By Kate McKenna, CBC News, Nov 02, 2014

Seven people, including former Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller, are suing the Kahnawake Mohawk Council over its law that bans ‘mixed-race’ couples from living on its territory.

Kahnawake’s controversial membership law is something Horn-Miller has struggled with for years.

She is hopeful the lawsuit, if successful, will force the Kahnawake Mohawk Council to rewrite the rules on who is entitled to live on the reserve on Montreal’s South Shore.

Under the so-called “marry out, stay out” policy, Mohawks living in Kahnawake are supposed to leave the territory if they marry a non-Mohawk. That’s been a law on the band council’s books since 1981, although it has seldom been enforced.

That could soon change.

Eviction letters were sent out in 2010, and Kahnawake Grand Chief Michael Delisle said in August that his council was planning to send out more eviction notices.

“All we are trying to do is preserve, not only culture and language and identity, but who we are as a people,” Delisle told CBC News at that time. “It needs to be controlled by us, and not by outside entities.”

The council has said it has the support of the majority of band members.

However, some of those targeted for eviction have told CBC News that the move towards enforcing the “marry out, stay out” rule is divisive and is encouraging harassment and even vandalism.

Increasing tension

Horn-Miller says she’s among those who have been harassed by fellow Kahnawake Mohawks because of her relationship with a non-native man.

In 2010, while eight and a half months pregnant, Horn-Miller says she received an anonymous petition, signed by 60 of her neighbours, demanding that she leave the territory because of her relationship.

Then, this past August, a group of people who support the proposed evictions held a rally and left anonymous, unsigned letters to community members, telling them to vacate.

“To be treated this way, it’s really hard,” said Horn-Miller. “Like I said, it’s heartbreaking, and that doesn’t even chip away at the surface of how I really feel.”

Horn-Miller is a well-known defender of Mohawk rights whose activism dates back to her involvement in the Oka crisis as a teenager, and she has been lauded as a model for aboriginal athletes, as a one-time co-captain of Canada’s Olympic women’s waterpolo team.

She says she wants to return to her community to raise her family.

Right now, she’s living in Ottawa while her partner finishes his medical residency, but she owns a home in Kahnawake and plans on returning – with her partner and two children.

“To support the growth of the Mohawk nation is always my intention,” she said.

Horn-Miller believes measuring aboriginal lineage – including blood quantum and Kahnawake’s rule that a band member must have four Mohawk great-grandparents– is antiquated thinking designed to destroy a culture.

“We’re not just useless sacs of DNA that are to be counted for federal transfer dollars. We have to instill a sense in our people that you are a person, put on this earth to make it better.”

Lawsuit claims rights are infringed

The lawsuit claims the council doesn’t do enough to stop harassment of people in mixed relationships.

Plaintiffs claim the membership rule contravenes their human rights, as outlined in both the Canadian Charter and the International Declaration of Human Rights.

Horn-Miller and the other six plaintiffs have asked the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake to acknowledge their rights were infringed, and they are seeking $50,000 per plaintiff in damages.

Horn-Miller says, for her, it’s not about the money. She says she just wants the membership rule abolished permanently.

In a statement, the MCK said it can’t comment further on the case because it is in front of the courts.

Posted on November 2, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. A statement by Jeremiah Johnson from the August 16, 2014 story says it all.
    “decision to live on the reserve with a white man is “a slap in the face of those who are abiding by the law and the will and customs of the people here.” He was one of the first to support the evictions, although he has family and friends who have “married out” and moved away.

    “It’s important we act,” he said, “Because if we don’t the time will come one day when we’re so inter-married that the government is going to say ‘You’re no longer Mohawk people, you’re no longer a native community.’ We’re going to lose our rights.

    “We’re not doing this out of malice. It’s not because we hate anybody. It’s really because we love our community and want to preserve it for future generations.””

  2. It’s not that simple. This argument is much too polarized and that is the divide and conquer goal of the system. How about going back to ancient ways and bring in the outsider rather than casting him out?? There was a time in Mohawk history when Mohawks took French children and raised them as Mohawks to increase the Mohawk population. I’m not saying kill the parents but you lose the children if people who marry out have to leave.

  3. There was a time in Mohawk history where we had plenty of ancestral lands to be welcoming and inclusive. The settlers came to divide and conquer, hence the beginning of being displaced from our original homelands onto the reservation for the purpose to number the Native Population (band cards), to control and hopefully assimilate. Then your governments created the Indian Act, not us. Now you want to say Reservations/Territories are not for Indians? The non-natives don’t have enough land? We have to give everything away until we have no place left to live amoung ourselves to learn our own languages, cultures and ceremonies? Either your born Mohawk or your not. We don’t want to be forced into the melting pot to melt away from existence. We think of the Collective and not the individuals wants and needs. We should give our land away to make Waneek happy? Lose our membership, lose our residency rights, lose our right to self-determination, open the flood gates to welcome everyone now, say goodbye to our future Mohawk children not yet born, no land for them to live on anyway. That has been the hope of many, get rid of the Indian problem, no more indians, no more treaties, no more land claims. Nothing but words in the future history books. The mainstream Government and people, feel the Natives should have no where to live anymore unless they want to rent from the settlers.

  4. The Supreme Court of Canada already ruled in Alberta (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development) v. Cunningham that an Indigenous community has the right to exclude non-members from their lands in order to protect their culture. Section 15 (2) will apply in this case.

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