Director of Justice Services Kevin Fleischer, membership registrar Rose-Ann Morris and portfolio chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer were among the resource staff on hand at Tuesday’s Community Decision-Making Process hearing for the Kahnawake Membership Law. (Jessica Deer, The Eastern Door)
Maureen Jacobs helped put a name and face to the subject of a controversial discussion on blood quantum at the latest Community Decision-Making Process hearing on the proposed amendments to the Kahnawake Membership Law.
Jacobs, the treasurer at the Golden Age Club, usually quietly sits at the back of the hall throughout the meetings, serving chips and beverages.
However, after listening to the discussion on Tuesday evening, she decided to address the crowd.
“I’m one of these faces and you’re talking about my future with my great-grandchildren and whether they get to stay here or not,” said Jacobs. “I’ve lived here my entire life. I’ve worked on this reserve, I’ve married on this reserve, and now you’re saying I can’t represent my great-grandchildren because I’m not Native enough?”
For the fourth meeting in a row, the two dozen participants who attended Tuesday’s CDMP hearing could not reach consensus on defining Kanien’kehá:ka great-grandparent.
Although the foundation of membership according to the law is based upon an applicant having at least four Kanien’kehá:ka or Onkwehón:we great-grandparents, there’s never been a definition for the term.
Earlier in the year, some participants felt the proposed definition of having “some Kanien’kehá:ka or Onkwehón:we lineage” was too vague. Subsequent meetings have revolved around discussions of adding a minimum blood quantum requirement of 50 percent to alleviate concerns.
“You can’t go any lower,” argued one community member. “If we go lower, we’re going to damage ourselves – If we go lower than 50 percent, we’re going to lose the lineage.”
Not everyone agreed.
“We can’t use numbers,” said another community member.
“I feel like we’re penalizing them for their parent’s decision to marry out when they shouldn’t be penalized for their parent’s decisions,” said another.
Membership registrar Rose-Ann Morris provided statistics on the Mohawk blood quantum of those listed on the Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnawake Registry (KKR) in an effort to help reach consensus.
As of April 30, there are 6,408 people who are listed on the KKR. While the majority of those members have a blood quantum that is over 50 percent, Morris said 48 members have a Mohawk blood quantum of less than 25 percent.
Eighty people have a blood quantum that falls between 25 and 30 percent, and 162 people have a blood quantum between 31 and 40 percent.
A total of 236 people have a Mohawk blood quantum that falls between 41 and 49 percent, while 655 people have a blood quantum of 50 percent.
“Based on those numbers, there are roughly 500 people on the KKR who wouldn’t be eligible to be a great-grandparent in the future if we go with the blood quantum of 50 percent,” said council’s membership portfolio chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer.
Jacobs explained that she was one of those statistics because of her family’s lineage during a time prior to the moratorium on mixed marriages was enacted in 1981.
“My father married a non-Native woman in 1950. I was considered half – or so I thought,” said explained Jacobs. “It turns out my grandmother was not 100 percent, which meant my father wasn’t 100 percent, which brought our lineage down below the 50 percent mark,” said Jacobs.
“My mother moved here when she was six years old – she married my father when she was 16. She never claimed to be Native, but that doesn’t mean that she didn’t raise Native children. This is my life you’re playing with here,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs’ situation triggered one community member to proposed alternative eligibility criteria to determine the applicant’s lineage using the term “Sha’tehatinekwenhsí:hen,” which translates to half-blood.
While there was no formal consensus on the term, the majority of participants seemed to have accepted the term as opposed to using blood quantum.
“The term itself is more expansive. It’s more open, it’s more welcoming,” said director of Justice Services Kevin Fleischer, offering legal advice. “I’d rather go into a court with a Mohawk term that has a cultural meaning as opposed to a number.”
The group was on the verge of a decision, when the discussion veered back into blood quantum, when one community member pointed out the contradictory eligibility requirements for the individuals on the KKR who don’t meet 50 percent blood quantum.
“An Onkwehón:we great-grandparent should be 50 percent or more,” they argued.
Fleischer warned that adding a blood quantum provision for people who are already listed on the KKR would create a two-tier system of membership.
“There shouldn’t be distinctions of membership – there’s not two tiers of it. You’re a member and should have all the same rights as every other member,” he said.
“This is perpetuating a second tier. If you’re saying someone isn’t good enough to be a great-grandparent, you’re saying they’re not really a member and that’s a problem.”
The discussion will continue at the next meeting on June 7.