Mohawks, who are one of the six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, have traditionally not voted in Quebec or Canadian elections believing that, as Mohawks, they are neither Quebecers or Canadians, and should not interfere in other peoples politics.
Mohawks have been firm in this position for decades. But now, with the threat of Quebec separation again on the horizon, some Mohawks are reconsidering their traditional political stance and are now thinking about voting in the Quebec election on April 7th.
While this is not an election on Quebec separation or a referendum on the issue, voters will decide which political party will govern the province for the next four years. In a parliamentary system, the party with the most seats will form the government. There are four parties vying for a mandate but the two leading parties are the Parti Quebecois (PQ), which exists to separate Quebec from Canada and the Liberal party which wants to remain in Canada.
The PQ had a minority government before calling for an election in the hopes of getting a majority government and pursue its agenda. During the campaign, Quebec separation became a heated issue that is polarizing the voters in the province. Polls suggest that separation is not supported by the majority of voters so the PQ is trying to downplay its goal of separation and is stating that there will be no referendum on separation in their next mandate unless Quebecers ask for one. This has not lessened the suspicion that a referendum on Quebec separation may still be called in the next four years of the PQ form a majority government.
Hence the anxiety of some Mohawks who do not want to see Quebec separate from Canada. Emotions are running high in some and panic seems to be influencing their thinking. To break a long standing political stance of nation-to-nation, government-to-government relationship with Quebec and Canada based on the concepts of the Two Row Wampum would be major departure from the Mohawk’s own position of sovereignty.
And this is the dilemma. The sovereignty of Mohawks versus the sovereignty of Quebec and Canada.
Mohawks believe they are sovereign and act that way. That is what gives Mohawks their strength and a very unique relationship with Quebec and Canada today. Mohawk communities are very independent and assert their authority in any way they can much to the chagrin of Quebec and Canada. Mohawks are separate from Quebec more than Quebec is separate from Canada at this time.
And Quebec knows that. They know that Mohawks have a strong sense of nationality and exercise it more than other Indigenous Nations in Quebec. Jacques Parazeau, who was Premier of Quebec during the last referendum in 1995, once said that Mohawks are a problem. They block bridges and can be troublesome. Let the Mohawks stay in Canada. They can keep their land and it will be Canada’s problem to control them.
So much for Quebec separation.
It is this image of Mohawk sovereignty and independence that concerns Quebec. That is why if Mohawks decide to involve themselves in their electoral process, it undermines that image of independence and sovereignty. When Mohawks vote in a Quebec election, they are voting for a member of a political party who will be representing them in the Quebec National Assembly. Not a fellow Mohawk. And that elected person assumes a mandate from Mohawks to represent them which undermines the representatives that Mohawks appoint in their own political processes.
And the damage can be extensive. To illustrate this point, I have written a tongue in cheek discussion in a future separate Quebec.
A theoretical discussion between Prime Minister Pauline Marois and some Mohawk voters.
Time: in the future. Place: in office of the Prime Minister in an independent Quebec.
Prime Minister Pauline Marois sits at a table. Across from her is a couple of Mohawks who came to plead their case in an independent Quebec. Apparently, the Mohawks are not happy.
The Prime Minister (PM) speaks first and welcomes them to her offices. “Bienvenue, mes amis. I am delighted to meet with you. I am always open to meet with our First Nations whenever we can. What can I do for you?”
The Mohawks (MV) greeted her cordially. “We are grateful that you can find the time in your busy day to meet with us. We are dismayed that in an independent Quebec, we are not treated like a separate Nation. Our history here on this continent is much longer than yours and yet you ignore that history, declare independence and do not recognize our sovereignty. We have just as much a right to independence has your have.”
PM: “Oui, I recognize your long history and your language and culture, but that is all in the past. Today is a modern world were your past is no longer relevant. Your history and our history is linked and cannot be separated.”
MV: “We disagree. We have lived here for centuries. We are a Nation of People with our own constitution which is called the Great Law of Peace that predates European contact. This law establishes our Chiefs and Clanmothers, our Clan system, the duties of our men and women, and our spiritual cycle. With this constitution, we bonded the original five Nations, the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondagas, Cayuga and Senecas. Later we added the Tuscaroras. This powerful federation of Nations dealt with the nation of France, your predecessors. We are the decedents of those Mohawks. We have never given up our sovereignty or our land over the years. We have a right to independence just as you do.”
PM: “I see. That is very impressive. So you are Chiefs and Clanmothers under this constitution?“
MV: “Um, no, not exactly. We study that in school and our elders teach us these things. There are people in our communities that do follow that constitution but we are not one of them. But we are still the same People. We follow the Two Row Wampum which states that we are two separate nations living side by side and not interfering with each other. We strongly believe in this.”
PM: “Yes, I have heard of the Two Row Wampum. Your traditional people came here to the National Assembly in the early 1980s and made a splendid presentation. We have one of those wampums somewhere around here. I understand that is why you don’t vote in our elections.”
MV: “Well, that used to be the case. But those of us here who have come to see you and the people we represent, we voted in the last election and referendum.”
PM: “So, you have joined the great democracy of Quebec. I welcome you warmly. I hope you voted PQ”
MV: “Not exactly. We voted Liberal and against separation in the referendum.”
PM: “Hmm, I will have to write that down in my little black book. You know if you want help from me, it would have been better to vote more wisely. But now that you have joined our democracy, I can remove the Two Row Wampum from the National Assembly and put it in a museum. It certainly is now in the past and not a living document anymore. Me, I don’t vote in your elections but now that you have voted in mine, you have violated your own wampum. So you can no longer claim to have a nation-to-nation relationship any longer.”
MV: “But not everybody voted in the elections. There are people back home who don’t vote and still follow our constitution and honour the Two Row wampum concept.”
PM: taking off her crown and placing it on the table: “Let us talk man to man, metaphorically speaking of course. Yes, those pesky radicals back at your home still live by your traditions. They are strong willed and firm in their convictions. It took a long time to get people like you to cross over to our democracy. Well, you and I, we will have take care of that. I will recognize you as the leaders of the Mohawk and give some extra funding, allow you to speak your language, as long as your community becomes French speaking in the next twenty years, but no more talk of sovereignty and no more Two Row. You have given that up. We will have our own Two Row between Canada and Quebec. One ship with the Maple Leaf and one ship with the Fleur de Lys. You are in the ship with the Fleur de Lys.”
MV: “This is not what we came here for.”
PM: “What did you expect when you decided to interfere in our political process? That you can vote against us and still claim a nation-to-nation relationship? You are dreaming. Welcome to Quebec politics. You are now one of millions of voters. I thank you for your participation in our elections.
MV: “Umm, you’re welcome, I think.”
Kenneth Deer, Mohawk, is a freelance journalist, the former publisher and editor of The Eastern Door newspaper, 2010 National Aboriginal Achievement Award Winner for Media, member of the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations, and Chief Administrative Officer of Indigenous World Association, an NGO with UN consultative status.