The Complexity of "Indigenous Cannabis" Illustrated by Two Neighbouring Mohawk Communities

Tuesday, December 18th 2018
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The Mohawk territories of Kahnawake and Kanehsatake are both located outside Montreal, but despite sharing a culture and language, the two territories and their governments take different approaches to cannabis.

  • At present, Kahnawake has no dispensaries. It recently passed its own territorial law allowing purchase and use of cannabis only at age 21, and setting up a Cannabis Control Board that will issue permits and collect taxes to be paid back into the community. (No taxes will be paid to provincial or federal governments.) Kahnawake also has a police force, called Peacekeepers, composed of Mohawk locals. The Peacekeepers enable Kahnawake’s Chief and Council to shut down any resident who attempts to open a dispensary without a permit.
    CBC Indigenous, Montreal Gazette
  • The site of major civil unrest between Mohawk residents and the Surété du Québec (SQ--Quebec's provincial police) and the Canadian Armed forces in 1990, Kanehsatake has not had its own police force since the mid 2000s. Instead, they have been policed by the same SQ against whom the community waged armed warfare for 78 days during the 1990 Oka Crisis. CBC Archives, CBC Indigenous
  • So far, Kanehsatake has not put the issue of cannabis to a vote among its residents as its government has indicated it wishes to do. The Grand Chief would rather Kanehsatake had no dispensaries until the community has decided its plans for legal REC. Kanehsatake can only call the provincial police if it wishes to shut down dispensaries, and no one wants to be seen calling the widely detested SQ. CBC Montreal
  • Of Kahnawake’s Peacekeepers policing that reserve’s cannabis economy, Kanehsatake Grand Chief Serge Simon said, “Good for them. They have the luxury of doing that because they have a police force.” Global News
  • The lack of community police in Kanehsatake means the community has five or six dispensaries, and expects more will come.
  • Because my background is Indigenous community reporting, I’m often asked to explain “how Indigenous communities are dealing with legalization.” While I’ve written about that both in broad terms (for Leafly), and in more specific terms (for the Cree Nation magazine, specifically about how Quebec’s powerful and prosperous Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee was approaching legalization), the real answer is the only thing Indigenous communities have in common on the subject of cannabis is the desire to legalize on their own terms and keep the federal or provincial governments from interfering in their affairs.

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