Monday, July 23, 2007
Reclaiming Indian Rights
Enfranchised, A Daughter's Journey is the topic for a documentary about my mother and me for which I am currently seeking funding.
In 1970 my mom, Patricia Moore, aged 37, sold our family’s Indian Rights to the Six Nations of the Grand River Reservation in Brantford, Ontario. Her intent was to settle once and for all the question of her identity.
Patricia’s father was Mohawk and grew up on Six Nations Reservation in Brantford, Ontario. Her mother was white, a former indentured maid from Rochester, NY who married to escape a life of servitude. She, sadly, later referred to her husband’s relatives as “the dirty Indians”
Throughout Patricia’s life, she was forbidden by her mother from telling others about her native background. This secret came to define her. People asked her why she had dark skin and a prominent nose. Was she Italian? Jewish? The questions were troubling and persistent. And her anticipation of them was torture. Her mother’s racism instilled in Patricia a deep and abiding shame about who she was and what other people thought of her.
This shame led my mother to a legal loophole in how to deal with her abhorrent identity. Patricia Moore found she could sell her rights to claim herself as an Indian back to her Mohawk tribe under a Canadian law that had been in effect for more than 100 years. Canada’s Indian Act intended to mainstream Indians into white society and promoted a process where Indians became full citizens by relinquishing ties to their community including language, dances, traditions and rights to land. Until 1960 an Indian could vote in a federal election only by renouncing his or her Indian status. The United Nations ruled in 1981 that the Indian Act was a human rights violation and by 1985 Canadian Indians were no longer able to sell their rights.
But on June 22nd, 1970, in Brantford, Ontario my mother saw the provisions of the Indian Act as an opportunity to in one small way be free of a lifetime of scrutiny. When the transaction was finished, Patricia received $36 and was deemed by Canadian law “a person”. The registrar crossed out my mother’s name on the tribal books and next to it wrote the word that the Canadian Government gave to those who forfeited their Indian identity; “Enfranchised”.
The hour-long documentary titled Enfranchised, A Daughter’s Journey tells the intimate story of my mother and me; two strong-willed women wrangling with our identity and our legacy. This show documents our physical, spiritual and legal quest to regain the Mohawk rights we lost on June 22nd, 1970 and to reclaim a missing part of our family’s history.
Watch 3 minutes now on YouTube - I contact Six Nations Reservation in Brantford, Ontario to attempt to begin the process of reclaiming these rights.