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Blended Kahnawake Family Defying Reserve’s Controversial ‘Marry Out, Get Out’ Eviction Notice

A blended family's fight to stay on a Quebec reserve is bringing up questions of First Nations sovereignty.

by Kalina Laframboise
May 5 2015, 2:36pm

Photos by Justin Canning

Terri McComber silently stared into the faces of her neighbours and fellow community members who gathered outside of her family's home calling for her expulsion from the native reserve of Kahnawake.

The McCombers are a blended family and technically disobey Kahnawake's controversial residency legislation that prohibits non-natives from living on the territory.

Residents donning placards with "marry out, get out" rallied in favour of Kahnawake Membership Law last weekend. McComber's house was vandalized in the middle of the night.

"My kids are a mistake. They are not wanted," said McComber. "They are second-class citizens because they are half-breeds."

The graffiti on the home said "frog," a derogatory name for people of Quebecois descent, although Terri McComber is American.

McComber has lived with her Mohawk husband Marvin McComber in Kahnawake, a small indigenous territory of about 6,000 people on the South Shore outside of Montreal, for 26 years.

In the fall, the family received an eviction letter from a group of community members asking them to vacate the territory by May. Since 1981, Mohawks who have chosen to marry outside of the town have had to leave.

The mixed McComber family has chosen to stay although they contravene longstanding legislation that has sweeping support. The residency law serves to fight assimilation while protecting the native community's culture, language and traditions.

It is a question of isolation for McComber. Her children, who are 24,18, and eight, do not fit in within the community simply because they are half Mohawk.

"It is hard for people, for community members to like me because it makes them look like they are taking sides," said McComber. "I don't want anyone to take sides—I don't and I don't want to take anything, and I don't want to feel like doing something so horrible. All I want to do is live like everyone else."

The mobilization on Saturday included several chiefs from the band council who are vocal supporters of the membership law.

The McCombers, Olympian Waneek-Horn Miller, and several other blended families are suing the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake in Quebec Superior Court for infringement upon their rights.

Joe Delaronde, a spokesperson for the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, said that many residents are frustrated with individuals who continue to break the law.

"They are not being kicked out of Kahnawake, but they are just being asked not to live in Kahnawake," said Delaronde.

Graffiti defacing the McCombers' home reads "Frog," a derogatory term for Francophone Quebecois people.

Delaronde says the law protects a declining Mohawk identity. Everybody is welcome in the community but only indigenous members reserve the right to live there.

He also noted that families did not voice their concerns during two years of drafting amendments to the law, which was open to all residents.

"It is those who are in contravention that people are upset with," said Delaronde. "It's not the people who are with somebody else because you can't legislate love. You fall in love with who you fall in love with that's all there is to it."

The seldom-enforced membership law has followed her since before the birth of her first son after she moved to Kahnawake because her husband missed his home. McComber keeps to herself because she doesn't know what else to do.

"It is what they want you to feel, it is what they want you to live. They don't have to say anything," said McComber. "I want nothing. They've never given and I've never taken anything from this reserve. I took a man that loves me and that was it. And why can't he have that right? Why can't they respect Marvin and embrace my children?"

Jeremiah Johnson, a Mohawk of Kahnawake who firmly defends the membership law, was present for the march on Saturday. Johnson once represented the group of residents in favour of evictions and is involved in drafting amendments to the membership law.

For Johnson, the law ensures his community's sovereignty and the lawsuit threatens any authority that Kahnawake has over its membership.

"When we were growing up we were taught that if you marry a non-native that you cannot bring that non-native here to live," said Johnson. "If we choose that path with them then we have to walk that path in their world."

His hope is that families start to comply with the membership law and the will of the community.

"We have so very little left," said Johnson. "We have a small piece of land left where our language can prosper and our culture can prosper and where we can live amongst our own."

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