Marry out, get out! But what about voting in Kahnawake?

(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?)

Tom Fennario
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.

See AANDC list here:

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”.

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@tfennario

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Producer Nouvelles Nationales d'APTN / Montreal

Born and raised in Montreal, Tom cut his teeth working in community television in Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory before joining APTN as a cameraman/editor in 2008. In 2015 he was promoted to Video Journalist. Since 2019 Tom has been a producer for the French weekly newscast Nouvelles Nationales d’APTN.

4 thoughts on “Marry out, get out! But what about voting in Kahnawake?

  1. How ridiculous… ‘Dead legal Fictions’ telling another ‘deal legal fiction’ what they can and can’t do!! Hilarious. …And shows these people have lost their Traditional ways and are following old colonial ideologies and using colonial tactics of governments of men! Rather than Creators teachings of unity. …Shame!

  2. these people should be adults about it and just accept the consequences of their decisions. We didnt make them decide so we shouldn’t have to pay for it. their decision….their consequences.

    Trying to mis-lead people by quoting INAC registry numbers is just nonsense.
    so what if there are 10,000 on INAC registry. they are not all voting age and they are not all on kahnawake list.

    Thats right…Kahnawake has its own list. and its not the same as the INAC list and never will be. Because we know INAC has given status to non-indians for many many years and we won’t accept this.
    But from the kahnawake perspective, maybe inac can give status….but they can’t make mohawks.

    Also perhaps waneek should just state that she has flipflopped on her position. Her mother used to be a strong activist about this very same subject. So much so that she even participated in the eviction of her own sister. And if you do a search, I’m sure you can find information about waneek taking the same position..because she was raised that way.

    And on another note, the Kahnawake law is LEGAL. Because WE say it is. canada and quebec need to recognize this and accept it. in fact they need to just stay out of our business altogether.

    Finally, if waneek and others like her feel canadian law is better than Mohawk law, then perhaps
    they should live with in canadian society ….as canadians. I’m sure
    they can find many laws in canada that they dont like. Don’t
    follow them…..tell canada you dont agree with them…and see what
    happens. I bet they respect canadian law.

    canada has been oppressing our people and trying to assimilate us for hundreds of years. they have not succeeded.

    I doubt if you will be successful either.

    Resistance is not futile.

  3. if she married that long ago where’s her husband in all this, she said 47 years she’s been trying to reinstate. you can’t if your still married to a Non Native, so why attempt to try and vote when you know you can’t. She knew when she married out, too bad can’t cry over spilt milk. And as for her son, if it’s all illegal why did he go vote at all!.

    1. Because they believe they have right and go out of protest…their reason is in the article. Curious though, if natives don’t want White people in the community, if their influence is so severe, why do Natives go to Chateauguay for a highschool education? By these rules shouldn’t all Natives stay in Kahnawake? The bloodline will be pure on Native Land sure, but for how long? The culture will eventually die off completely if the fascist ideals continue because the youth grow up amongst White peers. They will build friendships and some will fall in love. It’s natural. They will not want to choose archaic tradition over freedom to make their own decisions about how they want to live their life. An individual’s own beliefs and ideals are far more powerful than those pushed onto them. By pushing their own people away the community is weaker, fragmented. Just look what happens when they’re faced with the choice…they chose to leave. They chose to live the life they feel is right. They are still Mohawk regardless of the Nazi-like rules. All this is stubborness is doing is proving to them and the rest of the world that the community is weak and that to grow up Mohawk means you don’t have the right to chose your own way in life. I would abandon my culture if it was one that racist and restrictive and was so distant from my own beliefs as an individual.

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