(From L-R, Waneek Horn-Miller, Christopher Fragnito and his mother Brenda Dearhouse-Fragnito head to the polls in Kahnawake. But will they be allowed to vote?)
APTN National News
Kahnawake Mohawk Territory — Brenda Dearhouse-Fragnito has been a part of Quebec Native Women Association for over 30 years, she co-founded the Kahnawake Cancer Support Group 24 years ago and according to the federal government, she’s a status Indian, a Mohawk woman of Kahnawake.
But this morning when she showed up to vote in Saturday’s election of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK), she wasn’t allowed to cast a ballot.
“I knew this was going to happen, I knew they weren’t going to let me vote,” said Dearhouse-Fragnito.
She isn’t on the voting registry because of Kahnawake’s controversial membership code, which states that members give up certain rights when they marry a non-Mohawk or Indigenous person.
“I was married in 1968, and in that particular time I found out that I would not be allowed to vote, she said. “That I would not be allowed to be buried in Kahnawake, I would not have any rights.”
Along with a dozen supporters, Deerhouse-Fragnito decided to attempt voting as an act of defiance, knowing full well she wouldn’t be allowed.
She wasn’t the only one turned away.
“I’ve lived in this community (Kahnawake) for the majority of my life,” said Adriano Garisto, 27. “I’m a status Indian, a Mohawk woman, I should be allowed to vote.”
Waneek Horn-Miller had voted in a previous election, but showed up not knowing if she’d be turned away because she lives with a non-Indigenous man who is the father of her children.
“It’s very ambiguous the code, you know if you marry out, get out,” said Horn-Miller. “If you’re even living common law somewhere with somebody you get taken off the band list… like I had no clue, I was totally prepared to walk in there and not be on the band list”
Chief Lloyd Phillips is one of four candidates running for Grand Chief.
He said that the community can’t be influenced by outside influences.
“Really what it comes down to is the thinking that if somebody is with a non-native that they’re influenced by other factors other than being a Mohawk of Kahnawake that could impact upon the way you vote,” Phillips told APTN. “The way you participate in community, so that was the root of the thinking, going back to the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.”
Christopher Fragnito is Brenda’s son. He brought the group of a dozen voters together so that people who were at odds with the membership code would feel safe to at least try to vote…and to make what to him is a very important statement.
“Every status Mohawk of Kahnawake according to Indian Affairs is on a (membership) roll at MCK. And everyone of those people, Kahnawake gets funded for.”
Fragnito and other community members say that federal funding for Kahnawake is based off the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) list, and therefore they should be allowed to vote.
They point to how AANDC lists over 10 thousand Kahnawake Mohawks as members, whereas Kahnawake’s voter registry has 5,254 eligible voters.
The MCK readily admits that there is a discrepancy between the AANDC and Kahnawake registries, but says it’s what the people want.
“Voting issues and electoral law has always been guided by the will of the community, it has nothing to do with funding and/or money” said incumbent Grand Chief Michael Delisle.
Joe Norton is another candidate for Grand Chief, he’s attempting a political comeback after serving as a Grand Chief of Kahnawake from 1980-2004.
He points out that more federal funding isn’t tied to a population count like it used to be.
“There is no longer anymore validity to that. Now it’s just generally across the board whatever (funds) you can negotiate program by program.”
Christopher Fragnito said that by not allowing his mother Brenda to vote, the MCK is violating her human rights, which custom election codes are required to follow by Canadian law.
“This election is illegal,” said Fragnito “All (MCK) elections have been illegal, because we’re not allowed to take part.”
For her part, Brenda Dearhouse-Fragnito said she has been trying to get reinstated on the Kahnawake registry.
“They sent me a letter that said until such time as they reach my file I’m off the list. And it’s been 47 years and they haven’t reached my file yet.”
As the conversation continues, the soft spoken Fragnito-Dearhouse’s eyes narrow, her voice gets a little louder.
“I think that we should have every right, every single right every single one of us who are born Mohawk, it doesn’t matter who you marry or who you live with, we are who we are,” she said, pausing to catch her breath. “I know who I am,” she concludes. “I know who I am”.