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One Mohawk’s take on Montreal’s 375th

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If your house was taken over by crooks and you were told to celebrate their birthday in your former living room, would you?

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Whether you believe any of the following inhabited the island of Montreal first: Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawks), Algonquins, Abenakis or whom historians call the St. Lawrence Iroquois, it certainly wasn’t the English or French.

Sure, that may be a no-brainer for readers, but the city’s 375th anniversary of occupation comes with a heavy weight on our shoulders, which includes coming to terms with and accepting, every single day, that this city is on our land.

So excuse us if we’re still bitter about its theft.

It also comes with the burden of educating people and dispelling myths, and never letting them forget what this land, our land, means to our people.

Displacing us and moving our people onto tiny reserves came with a hefty price for our nation, of course, but we are still here thanks to our ancestors’ fight, and that’s something we must honour and uphold for the coming generations. We must live side by side with our neighbours today, but there is still much education, acceptance, and reconciliation that has to be done.

Our recent history is one of cohabitating but it also comes with much darkness and sorrow. There were atrocities we will never forget (residential schools, forced sterilization, genocide in many forms), but also things the average non-Native must learn to fully understand why we fight for what little land and opportunity we have left.

So how do we celebrate a city’s 375 years on our land?

As Mohawks, we don’t.

Sure, some of our politicians will attend official ceremonies and some of our people will benefit financially from all that comes with Montreal 375 and Canada 150, but there will always be things like #resistance150 and the ever-growing Indigenous social media presence that calls out colonial celebrations like this, and we will never fully accept Montreal’s illegal occupation of our land, no matter which nation you ask.

The same goes for Canada.

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Early beginnings: A few months into my career in 2003, I learned a lot from these two joyous Cree folks at Cree culture camp for youth.

Why, though? Why do we “hold on” to the past, and refuse to go along like “good little Indians?” If your house was taken over by crooks and you were told to celebrate their birthday in your former living room, balloons and all, would you?It’s no longer your home, they said, even though it has been for tens of thousands of years.

The mainstream always tells us to remember things like 9/11 and the Holocaust and we agree. We must never forget such epic battles against tyranny and terrorism, so why would we forget over 100 million of our own lying dead in unmarked graves, in the name of “progress?” We should we stop living in the past and forget the biggest genocide ever committed in the history of this world?

Not a chance.

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For years, The Eastern Door has published an all-Kanien’kéha front page in honour of Cultural Awareness Month. The translations are done by Akwiratékha Martin.

Today, I use what used to be anger to help build bridges and educate –but never accepting or forgetting the squalor-like conditions too many Onkwehón:we live in today.

I don’t blame the average non-Native who doesn’t know the history of this land like we do, but I choose to teach them so they become allies instead of just ignorant citizens - or worse, racist and uncaring, continually casting us aside as irrelevant.

For me, the blame lies on the shoulders, first and foremost, of the politicians who continue to allow our people to live like paupers in our own land, to target our economy (our tobacco industry) and to keep us from prospering as nations because they wish to control us; hundreds of years after we welcomed them in with open arms right here on the island.

Sure, Denis Coderre has promised a bigger part to play for Indigenous people in Montreal, but putting our symbols on the flag, appointing someone to communicate with us directly, and inviting us to a black tie affair once in awhile is not going to cut it.

They need to do more than just talk to the problem.

Real solutions come from real, tangible changes, and there are many ways that can happen. It has to start with recognizing and respecting our sovereignty and right to self-determination.

So while we wait patiently for our fair share and true equality, we will never forget who we are. We will never stop fighting for our rights, our land, for our future. And I, for one, will always stand up for myself, and my people, even in the face of enormous odds.

After all, we’re Mohawk.

It’s how we got here today.

Eastern Door Editor/Publisher Steve Bonspiel started his journalism career in January 2003 with The Nation magazine and has won dozens of regional and national awards for his in-depth, impassioned writing. Steve was awarded the Paul Dumont-Frenette Award for journalist of the year with the Quebec Community Newspapers Association in 2015. He has also been QCNA president since 2012, and sits on the board of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE).

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