Dusting off the Path
Kanyen’kehá:ka Tsi niyonkwarihotens (customary law and practice) regarding economy and medicine
Recently, many Band Council lawyers have advised that where Band Council bylaws and regulations have not been enacted on reserves according to the Indian Act, Provincial laws of the Canadian government apply – including motor vehicle regulation, public health and safety, tobacco and cannabis regulation, gaming, and child protection services.
In the fall of 2018, numerous Indian Act Band Councils introduced draft “laws” to prohibit, tax, and extensively regulate cannabis production and sale in Kanyen’kehá:ka communities including Kahnawake, Akwesasne, Tyendinaga, and Six Nations.
Some Band Councils have stated they would pass bylaws to ward off the imposition of Provincial law on reserve and to protect the rights of the people. However, these Band Council cannabis laws usurp the people’s jurisdiction and authority, and seek to prohibit, tax, and extensively regulate cannabis production and sale, all while ignoring the existing customs and conventions of the Onkwehon:we.
The regulatory systems they have proposed are fundamentally incompatible with Onkwehon:we customs and conventions. In the Kanyen’kehá:ka world, we do not pay a fee or a tax to a higher authority in order to gain a right to do something. We have responsibilities to take actions, and we have rights that protect our existence, peace, and wellbeing (Sken:nen). Our responsibilities have been passed down to us by our ancestors and are defined through our customs and culture. Our rights are the shelter we enjoy under the branches of the Tsyonneratasekowa – the unique system of political governance that belongs to us.
If we accept a system of tax collection and state-sanctioned regulation or licensing, then we are allowing a foreign power (Canada’s Indian Act Band Council system) to take away our power as free people and corrode our rights, responsibilities, and identity as Kanyen’kehá:ka.
Band Councils operating within the Canadian Indian Act system have been claiming to be the ultimate authority and sovereign power with the rights to make rules and laws governing Kanyen’kehá:ka people and our territory. In doing so, Band Council authorities are acting contrary to United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and breaking Kanyen’kehá:ka laws, customs and traditions.
The purpose of this document is to remove the dust which has apparently settled on Kanyen’kehá:ka customs with respect to our culture, economy and medicine. The intent of this document is to articulate in a written form the customs and laws regulating our economic activities and medicines in our territories that are pre-existing and that cannot be extinguished. The path our ancestors laid down for us is still visible in our culture and customs as Kanyen’kehá:ka people.
In our oral tradition, it is our custom to focus on the words of the speaker rather than the speaker’s appearance or identity. We do this so as not to be prejudiced against the speaker and to be able to consider the words on their own merits. To protect the integrity and merit of the words in this document, no authorship of this document has been claimed.
Use this document if it is helpful in articulating your rights and responsibilities. If there is something missing from this text, pass it through your minds and add what has been missed to your articulation of our ways as a people. This document may be improved upon, modified, and freely reprinted.