Innocent until proven non-status

Last week Six Nations Elected Council made a choice – after being presented with an official complaint – to send a letter ordering a young non-status man off the territory. There are many facets to this dispute; including details about what happened between the evicted and the family who lodged the complaint. My condolences to both parties. Your pain is evident and I’m very sorry you have had to walk through this.

Over the weekend, I witnessed all kinds of ugliness come out across social media from the hearts of many in the form of Facebook comments, Tweets and Instagram replies to this situation. In those forums there was a loud and oppressive voice coming from both indigenous and non-indigenous people alike; the cold, callous voice of apathy topped with a dollop of discrimination and misunderstanding for good measure. This left me depressed and my spirit literally ached for two days as I tried to reconcile in my mind…”what about those two little Haudenosaune girls?”

After much thinking and pulling myself away from Facebook fights I have come to some personal conclusions. First of all, I do not believe that the Elected Chief and Council or the Six Nations Police are to blame here. Band Council has a set of rules they follow when they receive a complaint about non-status people found living on the reserve. As elected officials and police officers, carrying out administrative duties such as by-law violations is just part of the job. Blaming Council is oversimplifying the problem.

This current Chief and Council are doing hard work fighting for Six Nations on many fronts. Chief Hill continues to represent the people in Ottawa, protesting the imposition of Bill C-10 and the FNEA. In recent months this has directly resulted in the treaty rights of the people of Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve being declared and taken into consideration in forums such as the current conservative-heavy House of Commons, who would otherwise steam roll forward happily pressing the Haudenosaune out of our sovereignty and into the fabric of Canadian citizenship. It is a lot simpler to criticize what the Elected Council is doing from the sidelines than to actually walk a mile in their shoes.
Next, to punish a Haudenosaune for building a life with a non-status person by excluding them from residing in their own territory is wrong. We live in a society where open-mindedness and inclusion regardless of orientation is valued. Loving a non-status person is not a crime, and building a family with a non-status person should not be an offence punishable by deportation. This young family recently evicted was following suit to a culturally appropriate matrilineal standard. Traditionally speaking, children follow the nation and clan of their mom, and the husband would move into the longhouse of the mother. In the very least, in a society desperately trying to break free of paternalism, this young man recognizing the matrilineal importance of his daughter’s identity should be commended.

It is important to remember that blood quantum is not an invention of the Haudenosaune. It is the gross, green and hairy leftovers in our post-colonial refrigerator. Measuring blood race quantum is a racist colonial construct that does not equate indigenous identity. I would like to ask the elders this question: when did Haudenosaune citizenship become based on the Canadian Governments standard of who qualifies as a Status Indian?

So what are we left with when we articulate some logic surrounding the residency bylaw in its current form? It is in place to protect what land and resources we are dolled out by the Canadian Government. That is all. For that reason I agree that there should be a residency by-law but I also believe it should carry standards applicable to all residents of Six Nations, status and non-status.

Why not use the traditional system as the perfect framework to build an ethical by-law that is based on inclusion and not exclusion? Why not make non-status friends who marry in and wish to live on Six Nations sign an agreement that says they will not be a jerk neighbour? Likewise, why not create a by-law that says if you have a jerk neighbour, status or non-status, you can apply to have them evicted and make them pay a huge fine if they don’t stop being a jerk? What if your neighbour is a convicted pedophile or a known crack dealer? Shouldn’t we as a community, be able to kick a person like that out of Six, band member or not? It is food for thought, and empowering to think that we have the opportunity to foster a better and healthy community by creating standards that go beyond the status card.

Keeping a good mind, loving one another, walking in peace and being thankful are the four pillar teaching of being a Haudenosaune. Perhaps the current by-law it fit in the 1980’s, but the standard should no longer be ‘innocent until proven non-status’. For the sake of the coming faces, it is time for us to re-think our identity, take baby steps toward decolonization, and self-determine what it means to be a Haudenosaune and what it should mean to be a citizen of Six Nations.

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