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First Nations fight fiercely for sovereignty

by admin November 3, 2009

Kenneth Deer has never voted in a municipal, provincial or federal election, and is proud of it. “In most Iroquois communities, there is a voter turnout of about 20 per cent vote in civic elections,” said the Mohawk editor and publisher of Kahnawake’s newspaper, The Eastern Door. “Most believe longhouse government is the best form of government,” he explained last Sunday to a group of Montrealers visiting the reserve.
Mohawks like Deer consider themselves members of the Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy, not citizens of Canada. When Deer travels, which he does often due to his work over the past 20 years with the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which meets annually in Geneva, he uses a Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse) passport. It is issued by the Iroquois and recognized more often than not by immigration controls around the world. If it’s not acknowledged as legitimate, Deer says he simply doesn’t travel to those countries.
This passport is one example of what Indigenous Sovereignty means to the Mohawk people in Quebec. In Montreal this week, non-Aboriginals had a chance to learn why some First Nations fight so fiercely for their rights to self-determination and sovereignty, in a country whose nationality they refuse to adopt. About 50 urbanites from the Montreal area toured Kahnawake last Sunday, the final event in the week-long series of events and lectures around the issue of Aboriginal sovereignty. The cross-cultural talks, panel discussions, documentary screenings, and parties took place in Montreal and other major cities across the country.
Chad Diabo, one of the members of Defenders of the Land, the coalition that organized the events, grew up in Kahnawake and now works for Kahnawake Community Services. He said one goal was to “get out to a new population, a new Canadian-Quebecer audience to talk about the issues and the struggles we’re having as Indigenous people.”
Last Thursday, as Diabo helped workers from Concordia’s le Frigo Vert set up the vegan “Anti-Colonialist Feast” at the Native Friendship Centre on St. Laurent Blvd., he said the average Canadian’s perception of native issues is largely negative.
“What gets out to the media is the negative,” said Diabo. “But they don’t seem to talk about [the government’s] policies when they don’t involve us in the decision-making process. They don’t talk about how they shift resources around, or the hoops we have to jump through to get to those resources.”
Defenders of the Land is the year-old coalition of Aboriginal communities across Canada… …that organized the Indigenous Sovereignty weeks. Its primary goals are to have Canada honour historic treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and to sign and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The non-binding UN declaration was passed 143 to 4 in September, 2007 in the UN’s General Assembly. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States voted against it.
At the time, Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Chuck Strahl, said the declaration was “inconsistent with the Canadian Constitution, the Charter, several acts of Parliament, and existing treaties,” citing problems with the wording regarding provisions on lands, territories, and resources. Australia has since signed on to the declaration, but Canada still refuses on the grounds that it gives preferential rights to certain groups not accorded to others.
Sarita Ahooja from the Indigenous Solidarity community, which co-organized the events, said this coalition is “just the beginning of creating this solidarity across groups so that we can educate the public on questions like, what does the Indian act do? What kind of legislation affects aboriginal peoples?”
Diabo said this week is not about changing government policy however; it’s to inform the public about the daily problems faced by Aboriginals, “such as addictions, socio-economic problems, poverty, (and) poor water treatment,” he said. “Everyday Canadians aren’t told about what daily life is on the reserve&- it is horrendous.”