A community meeting called by the people was held last Thursday night in Kanesatake, in response to the majority of chiefs on Council not attending the previous meeting.
“This meeting was called by you guys, not me and not by Council. This meeting was called because, at last week’s meeting, Council chiefs did not attend. They refused to show to answer questions and to answer to what was on that agenda,” said Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) grand chief Victor Bonspille.
Because the meeting was community-led, Kanehsata’kehró:non got the opportunity to question their elected representatives on ongoing internal issues and recent conduct by the chiefs.
One by one, the chiefs were made to explain why they were no-shows. MCK chief Amy Beauvais was up first and explained that she was not able to attend because of an illness which was corroborated by a doctor’s note according to the grand chief.
Denise David said that she was not able to make it because she was assisting a community member at their home.
Both chiefs John Canatonquin and Brant Etienne said that the meeting which the grand chief called to discuss the portfolio changes he recently made to reprimand both Etienne and Canatonquin for their roles in distributing COVID-19 business relief money, was just too short notice.
“We need more time to get everything ready,” said Etienne.
Although Bonspille acknowledged that it was short notice, he pointed to the fact that about 40 community members had attended.
“That to me is blatant disrespect or just plain stupidity,” said Bonspille.
A few community members agreed with the grand chief and criticized the chiefs for not showing up. The agenda then turned to the alleged breach of confidentiality by chief Etienne for making the Zoom link from the April 12 community meeting public without first asking for the community’s and Council’s consent.
“It is no one’s business but ours what we say in these meetings,” said a community member who demanded an explanation from Etienne.
Bonspille said that he wanted the community to discuss an appropriate reprimand since there is still no formal code of ethics for the chiefs.
“That means that they are running wild. People are doing what they want without consequence,” said the grand chief.
However, not everyone was on board with the grand chief’s stance on the matter, with one community member asking what the purpose was behind Council’s absenteeism discussion.
“Are we seeking to punish? Shame? What do we want from this?”
“Does one chief have the power to make a decision on something even if the other chiefs disagree? According to the way things work, no, quorum rules. Is that right, or not?” chief Etienne asked the community.
Shelley Simon, the meeting’s moderator, then asked community members whether they had any ideas or solutions regarding these two issues on the agenda.
“I am fed up, and I have also asked before it comes to the community that we settle it in-house. But it’s brought to the community because they don’t want to settle in-house,” said chief David.
“The ones who are suffering are the employees that are in the office because they hear it. This code of conduct should be passed by you for us first. I’m trying to get along with everyone, but I have had it.”
David emphasized that if a solution is not found, this Council would eventually be removed from office.
“Start doing your job! We voted you in, and We’ll take you out,” said a community member, giving credence to David’s statement.
Chief Beauvais said that a possible solution that could help resolve some of the internal issues was to have a by-election and fill the seat currently vacant.
“We are going in circles! Decide on something, then you (Council) present it to us, and we will let you know if we agree with it,” responded another community member.
The community continued to plead to their chiefs to come to a consensus and put the community first. They asked for a verbal commitment from Council to work and overcome their issues.
Then someone in the crowd suggested a mediator to help Council overcome their internal problems. Etienne, Bonspille and David said they would have no problem with a mediator.
And although not on the agenda, Bill 96 was also addressed at the request of chief Beauvais.
“We are only six chiefs, and it takes a community to fight a cause. Bill 96 will affect multiple departments and multiple sections of our community and the future of our children. They will be limited in their choices in the future if we don’t do anything about this,” she said.
Beauvais stressed that the bill would not only have major repercussions on education but also on businesses and access to essential services like health care.
“If your French isn’t topnotch, you will have difficulty moving on if this becomes law. I am worried about the safety of my family, specifically the older people in my family,” added chief Etienne.
“If they have to go to St. Eustache, by law, they are going to have to be served in French. All of their medication instructions will be in French. There is going to be no obligation from any of the institutions to serve us in English.”
Beauvais said that the community had to act now.
The grand chief, however, remarked that this was not a Kanesatake-specific issue and should be addressed by all First Nations in Quebec.
“I can say that for Bill 96 – yes, I am very opposed to it. I met in Montreal last week with the AFNQL (Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador), and we discussed Bill 96. And all of us – all nations that are involved with the AFNQL, we did sign an agreement to oppose the bill.
“We are moving forward with that. We are not ignoring it, and neither is Kanesatake, and neither is this Council. But we are doing it as a whole, as all First Nations. Not just the Mohawk Nation. It’s going to be all nations fighting this,” said Bonspille.