Mohawk journalist Steve Bonspiel has been covering Kahnawake community meetings for six years for his publication based on the reserve, the Eastern Door, as well as for Kahnawake radio station K103.
However, he told CBC Daybreak host Mike Finnerty he was thrown out of Tuesday night’s meeting after band members voted 75-55 to have him removed.
“All of a sudden I’m Public Enemy No. 1, and I have to leave. For what? I was just going to sit there quietly and cover the meeting,” Bonspiel said.
Marry out, stay out rule
The “marry out, stay out” policy has been in place since 1981, but it has not been widely enforced.
The rule means Mohawks who marry non-natives have to leave the community of about 8.000 residents. Over the years, some have left by their own accord, but others have chosen to stay despite Kahnawake’s membership law.
The controversy over membership erupted once again over the summer, when a Mohawk woman and her non-native husband broke ground on a new home in the centre of Kahnawake.
Since then, Mohawks married to or living common-law with a non-native have been targeted by supporters of the eviction policy.
Kahnawake chief responds
Journalist Bonspiel said he was told prior to the meeting that it would be a heated discussion.
Mohawk Council Grand Chief Mike Delisle told Daybreak on Wednesday morning that the community decided to limit the meeting to people on the Kahnawake registry — Mohawks who live on the territory.
Even though he covers Kahnawake extensively as a journalist, Bonspiel is from the Mohawk community of Kanesatake, northwest of Montreal.
Delisle said Bonspiel’s ousting from the meeting was purely about the registry, and not because he is a journalist. Another journalist for the Eastern Door did end up making it into the meeting, he pointed out.
When asked whether barring certain members of the media from covering a community meeting was democratic, Delisle said the vote to oust Bonspiel was the ultimate show of democracy.
Delisle said another member of Kahnawake who married out was also kicked out of the meeting.
He said their removal was to make sure other community members were as comfortable as possible in speaking about the issue.
Bonspiel said some in attendance launched insults and cat-calls at him and others in the room.
Delisle said the current membership law is suspended, and the council and community are working on a new draft to be presented at the end of the month.