Opinion: Who Decides Who is Mohawk?

One of the basic rights of any people is to decided who, and who is not, a member. This determination is done among families, religious groups, fellowship lodges, motorcycle clubs and nations.  It is one of the most important elements in defining true sovereignty along with culture, jurisdiction, land and history.

The Mohawk Nation has long had a rational and methodical way to acknowledge citizenship. It could be a status resulting from being born on Mohawk territory to parents recognized as citizens or it could be secured by following the path to becoming Mohawk.

To become a citizen without the benefit of birth an individual entered the territory and was sponsored by a family and/or a clan. The person was given sanctuary, afforded protection, taught the elements of Mohawk culture and began to learn the language and social patterns of the community. They were observed to see if they were contributors to their host family and were of good character. After a time they were brought before the clan and, if endorsed, taken to one of the naming ceremonies where their former name and identity was buried forever. The name they were given by their family and clan was affirmed as they were presented with a strand of wampum to raise before the people. They then spoke to accept their place within the sponsoring clan and as a new citizen of the Mohawk Nation.

Many thousands of people went through this process throughout Mohawk history. By accepting immigrants the Mohawks became stronger biologically and as a people. The talents of the immigrants and the pride in being accepted as a Mohawk were powerful factors in the ability of our ancestors to survive diseases, warfare and prolonged oppression by state, provincial and federal governments. These naturalization methods invented by the Iroquois were copied by the US and Canada to their mutual benefit although the Americans are clearly in an era of contraction and seek to restrict immigration based on racial factors rather than on need.

Still, neither Canada or the US are content to let the Mohawk people decide for themselves all matters involving citizenship. In Kahnawake the efforts by the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake to restrict residency to those who are band members was rejected by a Quebec provincial court. The MCK was also informed that new federal standards as to aboriginal status was being applied to them which means that the population of Kahnawake may well double but without the community’s approval or the additional resources meant to accommodate thousands more members.

This enrolment storm will also effect Akwesasne and make border issues more complicated since the US only recognizes those with 50% or more Native blood and denies aboriginal border crossing, work and residency right to all else despite what Canada may claim.

Now the US Customs has a new idea-one which give individual states the right to determine Native status and future border crossing procedures. It is fine to have a tribal, band council of “red” card but in the near future these must be supplemented with provincial or state driver’s licenses or enhanced ID cards. The result is that Native ID’s are by themselves not acceptable without documents issued by entities of lesser jurisdiction. Besides being a clear breach of the 1794 Jay Treaty this is an obvious tactic to monitor and control all border crossing and is becoming a part of the US policy of “zero tolerance”.

Both New York State and the US and Canadian governments need to be told that this is unacceptable as it qualifies the rights of the Mohawk people to self identify. What will follow next is denial of entry into either the US or Canada by those persons who refuse to carry alien forms of identification and even more individual conflicts with the border guards (call them agents if you will by they are guards keeping in and forcing out human beings under their physical control).

There is no doubt that none of the current Native ID cards meet international standards. They are easily forged and are missing key data elements like code bars or a computer reading strip. The red card in particular if of very poor quality and in many instances does not even have a laminated cover.

It is technically an easy fix. A company in Buffalo, NY specializes in enhanced, secure ID cards for local, state and federal agencies. It has a unit which costs $25,000 to produce the ID cards with either a computer chip, a strip or a bar code. The photos of the individual are printed on the card itself and cannot be altered. The company can put in place whatever design is made and whatever colour is chosen. They can provide formal instruction in operating the machine and since the resulting ID car surpasses New York State driver’s licenses their is no need to carry one of those.

The US and Canadian customs would  have no choice but to accept these new Mohawk Nation ID cards. They may also be used when purchasing products tax free from are merchants as the card may affirm the holder is making delivery of the item to Mohawk territory. The costs of the machine will be covered very quickly since there are thousands of Mohawks willing to pay $10 to be rid of yet another challenge as to who they are.

Interested?  Then call the Mohawk Nation Office and have your clan leader act to protect this all important right to self determination.

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