Kahnawake Council chief objects to gun bill in Ottawa

Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chief Jessica Lazare decried a lack of consultation on Bill C-21, a federal gun control bill, in a presentation to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Wednesday.

The rebuke came just two weeks after public safety minister Marco Mendicino visited MCK chiefs to try to find common ground as the government faced blowback on the bill, even revoking a controversial amendment that would have banned a long list of firearms and had been opposed by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).

However, the minister’s visit was too little too late to win over MCK chiefs, as Lazare made clear.

“We can’t be sought after the fact,” said Lazare in an interview with The Eastern Door. “We should be thought of at the forefront because we have our own rights. We have our own jurisdictions. It happens too often that we’re only an afterthought.”

She began her remarks to the committee with an overview on the cultural importance of Onkwehón:we hunting rights and practices, including the importance of hunting to families across generations. She even spoke of her own son and his Longhouse naming ceremony, recalling a promise made to him that his uncles would one day teach him to hunt on the land.

She also noted the cumulative effects of colonization, including the way hunting lands have become more sparse and isolated, making a core cultural practice less accessible, and interfering with animal migration patterns.

“It’s already increasingly more challenging to hunt and harvest,” said Lazare. “The potential that this bill and its amendments will further limit the potential for families to harvest for sustenance, I wanted to touch base on that. When you start to interfere with the success of a hunt, you begin to interfere with food security and the ability for a person to be able to feed their family.”

In addition to concerns about infringements on inherent hunting rights, Lazare told the committee of the potential for new gun laws to increase the likelihood of Kahnawa’kehró:non facing systemic racism in policing when off territory to transport guns to hunting grounds, even if an exemption were offered. She also noted MCK’s concerns about impacts to local policing, something echoed by the Kahnawake Peacekeepers.

“The government would have expected police services to enforce these new rules without consulting with First Nations police services,” said Peacekeepers spokesperson Kyle Zachary. “The bill, had it become law, would have placed additional duties on the Peacekeepers while being under-resourced. This is due to the fact that they do not consider First Nation policing to be an essential service, but a program.”

While Lazare acknowledged the validity of public safety concerns relating to guns, she framed an outright rejection of the bill as a necessity for First Nations given the present context.

“The lack of consultation and the lack of opportunities for consultation did not allow us to find common threads with what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable throughout our nations,” said Lazare, noting how much realities can differ between Indigenous communities depending on their location and other variables.

“Not being given that opportunity, how are we supposed to support this kind of bill?” she asked.

Public Safety Canada did not return a request for comment.


Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door