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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 01:47 GMT 02:47 UK
Mohawks move to self-government
Scuffle between Mohawk woman and army from 1990
St Lawrence 1990: Mohawk rights put on the agenda
By Mike Fox in Montreal

The Canadian Government and the Mohawk leaders of Kahnawake, near Montreal, have announced agreements on transferring significant powers of self-governance to the Mohawks.

The treaty, which still needs to be ratified by the 7,000 strong Mohawk community and the government, heralds a new relationship between the two sides.

It sets out to treat each as equals in the tradition of the first treaty between the Mohawks and Canada's first European settlers.

If approved, the Mohawks will be able to make their own laws relating to policing, education, the administration of land and who can be a member of the community.

These issues all play a vital role in maintaining the Mohawk identity.

Discredited law

The agreement would replace the existing Indian Act, which is widely discredited among Native Americans.

Last month, the government announced plans to overhaul the Act, but quickly ran into criticism for failing to consult properly.

This agreement with Kahnawake would stand outside any new version of the Act, and is the result of over a decade of negotiations, which started during a period of stormy relations with the government.

In 1988, the police launched raids on the highly profitable trade in smuggled cigarettes.

But the Mohawks disputed the right of the police to enter what they see as their land.

Armed warriors blocked the nearby Mercier Bridge over the Saint Lawrence River for two months in 1990 in solidarity with the Mohawks of Kanesatake, who were fighting against a golf course being extended onto their ancestral land.

Sovereignty dispute

That militant tradition was reflected when the proposals were presented to journalists on Wednesday.

One community elder said they wouldn't accept an agreement which amounted to dictates from a white government.

The Mohawks have always claimed they - and not the Canadian government - have sovereignty over their lands, but the agreement does not touch directly on sovereignty.

One chief said at least this was an effort to make the best laws the Mohawks could.

After considerable consultation, the Mohawks will have to decide whether they agree with him.

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