Discrimination… (take 3)
There’s no denying that the Kahnawake eviction story is complicated and has more than a few twists and turns. It blew onto the front pages a little more than a week ago, then lay dormant for a couple of days until television picked it up. THEN it became a big story… again. And again.
But I can’t understand why. You see, this story has been ticking away for more than a decade. I’m not talking about past evictions. I’m referring only to this latest attempt by the Kahnawake band council to strike a balance between peoples’ fears that their language and culture is slipping away, and their attempt to slow that process and maybe survive as one community of a distinct peoples in this world.
It isn’t as though people didn’t know what the band council planned to do. Kahnawake’s council didn’t slip into the basement of the band office late one night, break out the brandy and cigars, and conspire to screw those non-Mohawks living in the community. Despite what some lunkheads are saying and writing out there, that didn’t happen.
Someone approached a councillor, then lobbied other councillors until the issue was put upon the order paper. Then council decided to do some research and put the findings back to the community for its consideration. And so it went, back and forth, over and over, year after year. This is the way it works at any council anywhere.
Council’s staff probably drew up draft versions of the by-laws for the community to consider. Kahnawake’s council likely hired legal beagles to pore over these and other draft documents. They must have discussed and debated the issues amongst themselves. Revisions, endless revisions. Then, once they’d gone through this – over and over – they put the issue to the community for a vote. The motion passed. The by-laws took effect. There it sat ticking away until last week.
The Montreal news media (newspapers, radio and TV) covered this story when it first broke all those years ago. I remember Joe Norton (former chief councillor), who seemed like he would be there forever, speaking to reporters about this at the time. Kahnawake’s community radio station and Eastern Door newspaper kicked this story around too. These by-laws should not have surprised anyone. As Joe Delaronde told CBC Radio this morning: “It’s been hard because there’s been consultations going on for years. I don’t even want to think how much money’s been spent on it.”
Don’t get me wrong. I hate unfeeling bureaucracies that blindly impose or enforce nonsensical laws or regulations that hurt people and their families. I hate discrimination, but I also know that there is discrimination both for – and against. The trick is to find some kind of balance between the two, sometimes an impossible task. But there’s too much in the media’s coverage lately that assumes that some evil is going on. I don’t think there is.
There are those who accuse the Kahnawake Mohawks of being racist because they want to develop membership codes and residency by-laws to protect their territorial integrity and save their culture from oblivion – or at least slow it down. “Racial purity” is how some numb-nuts on that council put it, and so it’s stuck. Give the council major points for lacking PR smarts. But consider the historical context behind those statements first.
Delaronde, the band council’s spokesthingy, says that 12 of the 26 people given eviction notices haven’t told council what they intend to do. A few have apparently told council that they’ll comply. Others have asked for more time. One or two say they have no have intention of moving and may fight the eviction order. But most have remained silent.
In the face of a media storm, the Kahnawake band council has announced that it’s planning to revise its residency by-laws. If so, then council should also suspend the evictions at least until it has done so. To push ahead now would be unfair to the individuals facing imminent eviction.