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Membership, taxation lead community meeting

Mohawk Council of Kahnawake grand chief Joe Norton announced a proposal between gas retailers and council as a solution for the gas tax issue. (Jessica Deer, The Eastern Door)

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake has put forth a proposal to deal with the controversial tax assessments that gas retailers receive from Revenue Quebec that many refuse to pay.

“We have to be able to talk politically at the political level, while at the same time pursue and prevent Revenue Quebec going after all those people that are involved in this particular situation,” said grand chief Joe Norton.

The draft proposal was announced at Tuesday’s winter community meeting. He said the proposal is to have one source for fuel to be brought into the community that would re-distribute to all the gas stations, sans taxes.

The proposal would mean community members would be able gas up without having to pay tax at the pump, while taxes will be collected from non-Native customers. However, rather than having the taxes remitted to Quebec, they’d be remitted to Kahnawake.

“Mind you, this is all in the formative stages, but so far, we’ve got the interest, we’ve got the table set, and we’re going to begin to start moving into that direction,” said Norton.

“We also signed a joint declaration between the MCK and if not all gas station owners, most of them. We’ve also asked for a signature on the process we’re developing. Not everybody agrees with that.

“So, there’s still debate that has to take place on that, but we have to move in a very quick fashion in the next little while.”

The tax assessments were the centre of a court case between 11 gas retailers in the community that brought Revenue Quebec and Canada to court for unfair tax regulations.

On December 26, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied an appeal to hear the case following the April unanimous ruling from the Quebec Court of Appeal against the retailers, stating they must continue to pay assessments issued by Revenue Quebec for non-Native clientele who fuel up on reserve.

“Now we have to pick up the pieces so to speak and we have to take a bold step in terms of working with people in the community on this matter, and going to the political table with Quebec,” said Norton.

Norton said council has a meeting scheduled later this month with Quebec’s finance minister Carlos Leitao.

“We have been pursuing and we have been pushing to get a meeting going, and in the meantime trying to offset what Revenue Quebec has been demanding,” he said.

“We want to continue to dialogue in hope to come to an agreement, which then in turn will benefit the community.

“People in the industry will still make money, community members will not have to pay their tax at the pump, and that’s one of the main objectives because it’s a collective right that we’re talking about.”

Not everyone at Tuesday’s meeting was happy about the announcement.

“The trade off is you have to collect tax – something you swore you’d never do,” said Brian Delormier to Norton.

“I’m worried about the process being brought into the community. That’s the main thing I’m worried about, is bringing the tax collection process into Kahnawake because once you bring it in, you don’t get to pick and choose.”

Another community member brought up an issue of mistrust toward council collecting the taxes.

“If people are concerned the MCK is taking all the money, you can easily set up a treasury. I’ve always been supportive of non-Natives contributing to Kahnawake,” said Jeremiah Johnson.

“How many of these people come to town every day? They use our roads, they come here to do business. I always thought they should pay a contribution to Kahnawake, a tax. But never our own people.”

The nearly four-hour meeting took place at the Golden Age Club, and kicked off with an update from membership portfolio chief Kahsennenhawe  Sky-Deer and what she called “a serious threat to Kahnawake.”

She was referring to Bill S-3, an act to amend the Indian Act, which is a response to the 2015 Superior Court of Quebec decision in Descheneaux v. Canada. The law received royal assent and will soon become law, expanding registration and band membership as an attempt to correct previous sex-based inequities under the Indian Act.

“Every single person in here has a band card that will say 070, and I have to make the distinction because there are people who are on the federal band list who are not on our Kahnawake Kanien’kehá:ka Registry (KKR),” said Sky-Deer.

Kahnawake’s membership criteria is lineage-based, requiring four out of eight great-grandparents be Kanien’kehá:ka.

“Canada’s criteria… that door is widening and widening,” said Sky-Deer.

“In 2011, when bill C-3 (came out), which is the McIvor decision, again the amendments opened up in the Indian Act for registration. Since then our membership roll is at about 6,600. The federal list is about 11,000, so there’s a discrepancy population of about 4,500.”

Sky-Deer said with the amendments in light of S-3, the new number of registrants will increase significantly. Estimates have stated the amendments will allow 1.2 million new registrants across Canada, including about 330,000 in Quebec.

“We could be looking at anywhere from 17,000 to 30,000 new registered Indians tied to this territory alone. These are people who may have never lived in this community, may have had one great, great, great-grandparent from Kahnawake but they will be equal to the same rights, benefits and entitlements of you and I sitting in here,” said Sky-Deer.

Sky-Deer said council is proposing the Membership Department make their own cards for the KKR, as well as residency cards that expire to reflect the proposed residency law that is currently going through the Community Decision-Making Process.

“It would be for more internal recognition,” said Sky-Deer.

“Through our KCR (Kahnawake-Canada) process, we’ve been trying to explore how to do stop gap measure for them to not add anymore status Indians without meeting some kind of criteria that we put fourth. They shouldn’t be in this business of still expanding on the criteria that goes way beyond our criteria.”

The update sparked a two-and-a-half hour discussion on membership and residency, including Norton discussing December’s membership lawsuit and its impending decision from justice Thomas R. Davis.

“It matters, in one way, but it doesn’t really matter because we know what the bottom line is. If this community says that’s the way it be, that’s the way it’s going to be, regardless of what the government says and regardless of what the court says. That’s simply the way it’s going to be,” said Norton.
Jessica Deer
Jessica Deer is the deep-thinking, quick-witted (and perhaps heavily caffeinated) columnist. She began her career at The Eastern Door back in 2008 as a summer student. In addition to writing about youth leadership, ranting about Indigenous politics, as well as raising awareness of cultural appropriation issues in The Caffeinated Potadoe, Jessica has been a staff reporter since 2015 and does on-call layout and graphic design. She also updates the website, so if something is broken... it is probably her fault.