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An official request for information was served to all elected officials of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) on Tuesday, demanding accountability for spending, a recycling plant, and other issues.
The demand was presented by John Harding and Teiawenniserate Tomlinson, representing a group of unsatisfied community members who signed it.
While this is the first time that the people have proceeded so formally, Tomlinson said he has been asking questions without getting answers, and now sees no other choice than to act upon it.
“The reason we came out right now is because it has been long enough,” Tomlinson told The Eastern Door. “I have been asking these questions and more for over a year and I’ve been reading and reading on various topics such as land claims and other pertinent subjects, informing people when I learn new things. And even with respectfully asking pertinent questions at public meetings and on social media….We get no answers. It was decided to proceed in a straight, formal manner.”
The letter, which was later made available to the public, requests information regarding four major issues affecting the community. It refers to “irregularities” on the G&R recycling site, with health concerns for the community stemming from strong smells that emanate from it, the Emergency Response Unit’s budget, the ongoing land claim negotiations and some incoherency in financial statements disclosed by MCK.
While the request states that none of the information requested disclosure of personal information, or of a confidential nature, Mohawk Council of Kanesatake grand chief Serge Otsi Simon sees it differently.
“They demand that we violate workers’ right to get information on people’s salary and their names,” said Simon. “I can’t do that. They are demanding information on land claims, which again, I’m bound by a confidentiality agreement. Once the land claim is done, then we flood the community with all the information they need, but I’m not going to cave in on one small group of the community. I’m not bending rules for the government either, I’ve never done that. I’m not gonna start. Whatever I’m getting out of this, I’m bringing back to the community.”
According to the documents cited in the letter, Simon received a retro pay amount of $90,900.
When these numbers were brought up on social media last year, one of the answers given to the community was that Simon didn’t take any salary for several years.
But the puzzle doesn’t stop there. Despite the fact that MCK has been involved in ongoing land claim negotiations with the government of Canada for the past nine years, the letter claims that no proper feedback or information regarding the state of the process has been shared with the community.
“I have been asking questions about the land claims process for the last two years and they always avoid or dodge the questions,” said Tomlinson. “Serge Simon claims confidentiality despite the fact the ISC policy on specific claims communications states that the band council is responsible for keeping communication current about the process with their community.”
Additionally, the document shows that the council has undertaken a loan amount of over $1,000,000 in order to continue the process, without disclosing any spending nor repayment plan.
Simon emphasizes that everybody on the territory will be consulted in due time and that it is up to the community to decide, as a whole. “I’m afraid that these small groups just want the information so they can come in and sabotage because they don’t agree.”
As exposed in the letter, the financial confusion spills further into the Emergency Response Unit, created earlier in March as an initiative to counter COVID-19. Since then, issues concerning the budget provided by the Canadian government have been raised within the community.
“It is a cumulative effect that led to questioning the spending,” said Tomlinson. “Experts say that the pandemic will likely have second and maybe more waves. Therefore, it’s important that our spending is not frivolous in the event we need the funds later on. There is at the very least a need for transparency and enhanced reporting to the people. We are the stakeholders and the final authority.”
With the threat of a vote of non-confidence pending over their heads, MCK has 10 business days from June 30 to answer the claims.
“I don’t really care,” said Simon. “I’ll put my record up against any past grand chief and I’m pretty sure people are going to agree, that I’ve worked my damn rear end off. The benefit and the progress are there, you can see it. But some are afraid of change.”
“This system has been keeping our people in a revolving vicious circle preventing us from moving forward,” said Tomlinson. “It’s time for change, not just in the elected administration but an overhaul of how we do things to bring the power to the people and increased engagement and participation.”