Minister talks gun bill with Mohawk Council of Kahnawake

Canada’s minister of public safety, Marco Mendicino, sat down with Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chiefs on Wednesday to hash out concerns about the government’s proposed gun control legislation, which has faced turbulence in recent weeks.

The proposed reform, Bill C-21, has been pitched as a way to curb gun violence at a time when it is on the rise. Data from Statistics Canada in 2019 shows an 81 percent increase in violent crimes involving firearms over a 10-year period countrywide. Visible minorities and people in northern and remote communities are cited by the federal government as being disproportionately impacted by these crimes.

However, in recent weeks, a perception that a lengthy list of targeted firearms included guns that are used for hunting tanked the relevant amendment, putting the future of the bill in question.

Indigenous groups such as the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), concerned that the bill could undermine hunting rights, were among those who had called for the amendment to be scrapped.

“Ensuring that we’re asserting our ability to exercise our rights and not wanting legislation federally or provincially having impacts without our say, our input, it is very important,” said MCK grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer.

She is hopeful that the removal of the controversial amendment and the visit from the minister signal a genuine point of reflection by the government.

“I definitely think he was here to listen, first and foremost,” Sky-Deer said. “We did highlight the fact that a lot of times we’re an afterthought. There should be consultation at the forefront, a lot of times, of impending legislation that will have impacts on First Nations people.”

The meeting also saw discussion on other priorities relating to public safety, such as a perceived need to increase the number of Kahnawake Peacekeepers. Even gaming was discussed, with chiefs expressing concerns that Mendicino vowed to bring back to the attorney general.

Sky-Deer, who has previously spoken with Mendicino on border-crossing rights, expressed a desire to continue to build dialogue with the minister. For his part, the minister pledged to take consultations seriously.

“Our primary objective is to reduce gun violence but also to be respectful of Indigenous traditions and rights, and so we will continue to do that work together in good faith,” said Mendicino following the meeting.

“I have repeatedly reassured Canadians that our goal is not to target guns that are commonly or reasonably used for hunting but rather to go after guns which were designed for a battlefield,” he said.

“I think there’s a common goal of wanting to reduce gun violence.”

Yet at least some local hunters are not convinced. Kahnawa’kehró:non hunter Bobby Patton believes semi-automatic firearms, many of which were included in the ban list that has been pulled, are a necessity for Indigenous hunters facing a modern reality.

“It’s not like hunting back in the olden days where (animals) were plentiful, easy to get to,” Patton said. He noted that hunting grounds have shrunk as development has intensified and populations have grown, increasing the need for efficiency in hunting.

“If you want to go out and you want to kill one goose, one shot, one kill, perfect,” he said, invoking those who are hunting for sport. However, he insists that goose hunters targeting the animals for sustenance depend on more aggressive weapons to yield enough meat.

“They all depend on their semi-automatic weapons. One shot, you’re not going to get much from,” he said.

“It’s going to limit the amount of harvest it’s going to bring back to the community, to the people. It’s going to lead to a lot of people probably starving,” said Patton.

He does not believe any new gun ban should be implemented.

“It does impact First Nations a lot with the restrictions on firearms,” he said.

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door