Kahnawake evictions ugly step backwards

As non-native residents of the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal pack up their belongings or dig in to challenge eviction notices recently delivered by the Mohawk band council, many Canadians are left either shaking their heads in disbelief or shrugging with the kind of reservation that comes with the sneaking suspicion that for too long there have been different rules for different people in Canada.

Indeed, consider what would happen if a gated community in Kamloops limited residency to whites, if Kamloops Indian Band members were forced back on the reserve, or if Sikhs were considered outside the standards established for acceptance in a city neighbourhood, simply because they carry a kirpan or wear a turban.

It goes without saying that North American society has moved beyond the point at which discrimination is tolerated on the basis of colour. At least most of North American society has.

Not so in Kahnawake, where similar evictions of non-whites have happened in the past. And while the chief justifies the eviction based on an attempt to preserve the Mohawk bloodline, it's an unwelcome and ugly step backwards decades after the end of segregation in the U.S. and the closure of residential schools in Canada.

Racist? Kahnawake Chief Michael Delisle Jr. doesn't think so.

Said Delisle in a statement: "While the media has had a field day with this story and some have used the word racist, we will, once again, state the issue isn't about anyone's feelings towards non-natives. It is simply an issue of residency and our right to determine who can and cannot live on the 13,000 acres we call home."

No matter how he tries to sugar coat it, there's no denying that breaking up families, kicking out longtime residents, and evicting 26 individuals based on their race is at the least un-Canadian and at the worst contrary to the law.

Let's hope one of the poor souls who finds his or herself on Delisle's hit list take the matter to court, where the Canadian justice system can weigh in on the matter. Will the Mohawk council abide by a court determination? Probably not, but perhaps a court finding will either embarrass the band into reversing the evictions or get further clarification on what laws Indian bands must follow and what ones they can freely ignore.

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