Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Caledonia’s Mohawks have plenty of reasons to mistrust the law

On April 22nd The Montreal Gazette ran a racist editorial highly critical of the Mohawk land reclamation going on in Caledonia. Today the newspaper published an excellent response by Kenneth Deer, editor/publisher of the Eastern Door newspaper in Kahnawake.
The editorial in Saturday’s Gazette, “Enforce the law for natives, too,” deserves a response.


To be blunt, natives who have followed the law, given in to Canadian jurisdiction and meekly turned the other cheek are the ones who have suffered the most, are generally impoverished and have lost hope for the future. Many have just disappeared or succumbed.

The healthiest natives are those who resist assimilation, remember their history, practise their culture and fight for what is theirs.

The history of North America is built on the destruction of indigenous peoples. Laws were made to remove and disempower the first peoples of this continent. Historically, the justice system has been unjust to Canada’s indigenous peoples.

Now to ask natives to respect the laws of the society that has benefited the most from this unjust treatment is asking too much.

Canada’s land-claim system is patently unjust and biased. Why should native peoples who have lived here for centuries have to prove they were here first? The onus shotild be on Canada to prove it owns the land, and justify how it obtained title.

The issue in Caledonia is not frivolous. The claim that “there’s not much real evidence” of a legitimate complaint is incorrect. There is a long and well-documented history of questionable land transactions that would never have been allowed if the transactions were between non-natives.

Your statement that Dudley George was killed by a police bullet “under circumstances that still remain unclear” is quite remarkable because the police sergeant who fired the gun was convicted of a crime. The circumstances were clear to the judge; why not to The Gazette?

It seems that Canadians love their justice system except when, on occasion and not too often, it sides with natives. Then the justice system is flawed, according to many. You write that “courts have been consistently generous — many say too generous — in accepting native arguments.” Obviously, the author of those words has little experience with the court system in Canada. Natives have lost far more cases than they have won, and some of these losses reek of bias, racism and discrimination.

Some courts are finally listening to native voices and that should be a good thing.

Finally, let us return to the issue of law and order and the rights of native peoples.

The relationship between the Mohawks and the Canadian government is a political one — a relationship that now spans more than a century, preceded by a century of relations with the British.

The Mohawks at Six Nations were allied with the British in the American War of Independence, and again during the War of 1812. One could argue that without the help of the Mohawks and other nations in the Iroquois Confederacy (the Haudenosaunee in our language), Canada would be part of the United States today.

As an ally, the Mohawks fought like brothers side by side with the British. The British made commitments to the Mohawks, which the Canadian government inherited in 1867. Canada has not lived up to these commitments, and that is a violation of law and order - a violation that lies at the root of the confrontation in Caledonia today.

You cannot enforce law and order on one nation of people and not the other. The issues are political in nature and must be settled politically. The occupation at Caledonia is a symptom of a breakdown in the political process. Canada cannot continue to ignore its trust relationship with the Mohawks; if it continues to do so, there will me more confrontations.

Mohawks have the high moral ground on these issues. Canada’s justice system does not.

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1 comment:

  1. The law is a game which the Rich play at everyone else's expense. In fact, to be legitimate 'for real', "law" must be an agreement among the people -- and not the imposition of the powerful upon the weak.

    A sign of the decay of the present bourgeois order (a long, slow decay, in fact) is the obvious truth that most of those who enjoy the benefit of the present system -- including those who love enforcing it -- have come to assume that the "law" is some god-given law of nature.

    Nothing doing -- and of this difference of opinions revolutions are made.