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Native Speaker: The Kahnawà:ke way of governing


By Kean Spivey

Approximately 30 people were in attendance for the second speaker of UNC Pembroke’s Native American Speaker Series on March 19 in the Native American Resource Center.
Dr. Kehente Horn-Miller is an expert is tribal government, which she says is drawn from her tribe’s distant past. She recounted the history of her people – the Kahnawà:ke - and the development their system of law making.

The Kahnawà:ke people draw from creation stories, such as the “Skywoman” and “Peacemakers Journey,” as well as tribal proverbs to create their government.

“All these things we draw on come together,” Dr. Horn-Miller said. “We’ve looked back in our past to our ancestors and brought forward the best of it.”

Dr. Horn-Miller explained how the tribe conducts itself when dealing with community issues and what must be done to address them.

According to Dr. Horn-Miller, the meetings are a form of participatory democracy where everything is recorded and put online for members who cannot attend. The goals is to every community member is informed.

Everyone can participate, she said, and must be respectful, and everyone has a voice. The community acts with one mind, the tribal way.

An answer of “no” is not acceptable, Dr. Horn-Miller continued. Members will seek alternative solutions because the meetings are solutions-oriented, and they must moving move forward.

“The most important aspect is that the power to govern flows from the people,” Dr. Horn-Miller said. “The beauty of it is there is room to change and develop by asking the community.” 

The laws are broken into two categories: 1) laws that affect everyone, and 2) laws that affect only a part of the community, are regulatory, financial or administrative.

Dr. Horn-Miller has a Ph.D. in the humanities from Concordia University and is currently the coordinator for the Kahnawà:ke Legislative Coordinating Commission, which oversees the community decision making process.

She concluded her presentation by noting some of the challenges for the tribal government, which include conflicts with Canadian law, respect for individual rights, community participation, trust and monetary and human resources.

The event was sponsored by UNCP’s Department of American Indian Studies, Native American Resource Center, Office of Academic Affairs, Department of History and the Teaching and Learning Center.