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Kahnawake will not appeal after ‘marry out, get out’ provisions ruled unconstitutional

The policy was ruled unconstitutional in May. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Graham Hughes

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake said it will not appeal after contentious provisions of the membership law by the community on Montreal’s South Shore were ruled unconstitutional in Quebec Superior Court last month.

“It is clearly in our best interests to move forward as a community and put this unpleasant episode behind us, as a community,” said Grand Chief Joe Norton in a statement released Wednesday.

READ MORE: Mohawk community’s ‘marry out, get out’ law ruled unconstitutional

While Kahnawake authorities have long argued that those provisions are designed to preserve Mohawk culture, a group of 16 plaintiffs challenged the membership policy they called discriminatory.

The case was heard in court last year over the policy commonly referred to as “marry out, get out,” which declares anyone who marries a non-Indigenous person can no longer live on the reserve just south of Montreal.

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In May, Quebec Superior Court Justice Thomas Davis ruled the sections are discriminatory and violate the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

READ MORE: ‘Marry out, move out’ Kahnawake rule challenged in Longueuil courthouse

As long as it respects the charter, the Mohawk council was also given the opportunity to find another way to protect lands, language and culture.

While he acknowledged that actions by the federal government led to land expropriation and discouraged members of the community from embracing their culture, Davis said the chiefs who testified failed to show how mixed marriages have an impact on land use or culture.

After the ruling, the Mohawk council said its legal team was studying judgment.

Decision to pay plaintiffs a source of contention

The Mohawk council said the decision to forego the appeal was unanimous.

“It was unanimously agreed that appealing this to another outside court would not serve our purposes,” said Norton.

READ MORE: Mohawk filmmaker Tracey Deer fears eviction from Kahnawake, Que.

The decision to pay the plaintiffs did not pass as easily after three chiefs voted against the motion during a council meeting on May 28.

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“The majority of council agreed to pay the plaintiffs, though it was made clear that it is being done to avoid complicating matters,” said Norton.

The council will pay a total of $35,000 in moral damages to seven of the plaintiffs as ordered in the judgment.

“If there’s a saving grace, it was that the amount could have been far worse,” Norton said.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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