The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) has been fighting back against Ontario’s online gaming system for years. They’ve long argued that the province’s policies conflict with federal law and compromise the jurisdiction Kahnawake has been building for the last 25 years.
This was one of the main agenda items on the docket for Tuesday’s meeting between Canada’s minister of justice, David Lametti, MCK grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, and MCK chiefs Mike Delisle, Jr., and Ross Montour.
Alongside the Ontario online gambling issue, they raised concerns over Quebec bills 21 and 96, as well as the inconsistent implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
In November, MCK filed a notice of application with the Ontario Superior Court against iGaming Ontario (IGO) and the Attorney General of Ontario in a bid to have the system thrown out.
“We don’t like to take jurisdictional issues to a foreign court, whether it be provincial or federal, but we at that point had no choice,” said Delisle, whose portfolio includes gaming and external government relations.
“It’s taken away part of the economy and our jurisdiction within Kahnawake, externally through the gaming commission licensing, and economically through Mohawk Online,” Delisle explained.
Now they’re looking to the federal government for more support when it comes to how similar issues may unfold in other provinces as governments across the country line up to make similar changes that would threaten Kahnawake-owned online gambling providers.
In June 2021, Canada passed Bill C-15 to adopt UNDRIP. According to Delisle, Lametti called the implementation of UNDRIP the government’s ‘singular focus’ since September.
But Delisle said that since then, “several ministries have done things contrary to what we believe are in the spirit of the declaration itself.”
One example provided by Delisle is changes proposed to the Indian Act, introduced by Indigenous services Minster Patty Hadju in December, which surround registration and membership.
Delisle said the changes lack adequate consultation. “How can you be talking about reconciliation and adoption of a declaration when you’re not even involved in discussion and dialogue with the parties that it affects?” he asked.
Council has sent the government of Canada a several-page letter indicating some of the injustice that has been executed in different ministries.
The January 10 meeting also saw conversation around some controversial pieces of Quebec legislation: Bill 21, which bans public servants from wearing religious symbols and Bill 96, which imposes stricter rules for the use of the French language in government settings.
In June 2022, Prime Minister Trudeau said in the House of Commons that if Bill 21 ends up in front of the Supreme Court, his government “will be there to ensure that we protect the fundamental rights of everyone, Quebecers and Canadians.”
Lametti has also made comments to this effect, stating that the government would intervene at the Supreme Court level.
According to Delisle, the representatives from MCK asked Lametti if the federal government is still planning on taking action against Bill 21, and he confirmed that their stance has not changed. MCK inquired further as to whether the Trudeau government would take a similar stance against Bill 96, and were told that the feds are “awaiting the full rollout of how and when it would be an imposition on Indigenous and human rights,” said Delisle.
When asked how he felt leaving Tuesday’s meeting, Delisle said, “Overall I’d say disappointed,” citing the lack of action taken on the online gaming issue and the slow pace of consultation efforts across the country, leaving the MCK “more than frustrated.”
Delisle added that “(Lametti) did acquiesce to some of the things that we are discussing, proposing, and demanding,” but that he’s not able to discuss that publicly at this point.
“We’d rather have dialogue than not. I’ll leave it at that.”