Photo by Reina Ephrahim
At the forefront of the Playground Poker Club and The Rail stands a grey rectangular building, once addressed to Steelhawk Homes.
Last Tuesday however – and to the knowledge of just a few – groundbreaking steps to further Kahnawake’s social welfare were being taken in a small gathering on its second floor.
Playground co-licensee Mackenzie Kirby invited local press and stakeholders in the capital campaign to announce the club’s $1 million donation towards the development of the Kahnawake Cultural Arts Center, a multi-purpose building that’s been in the works for nearly a decade.
“This project hits home for so many different reasons and it really aligns with what we’re trying to do in terms of helping the local community – our community,” said Kirby. “So when we caught wind of this project way back when, it was something that we kept very close tabs on because we knew we were gonna be involved in some way, shape, or form.”
The cultural arts centre, which is on track to begin operations in two years, will also house the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KORLCC), Turtle Island Theatre, and the Kahnawake Tourism office.
These three organizations, among others, are some of the stakeholders in the aforementioned capital campaign, which includes local pillars like Playground.
“What (these organizations) put out to this community with so little resources in terms of what they return and give back is really remarkable,” Kirby said in his opening statement at the meeting that afternoon.
“When the request came in to help out and get this project another step closer to completion, we were very happy to jump on board to be part of it.”
In March, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) announced that the budget for this project would be an estimated $32 million, half of which was funded by the federal government through the Cultural Spaces in Indigenous Communities program that month.
An MCK memo from March 28 stated that, “the remainder will be raised through a Capital Campaign currently underway by the partners of the project and PlanIt Consulting.”
In more recent news, construction began in order to map out the site of the building.
Just this past weekend, with the help of A.D. Tree Service, select trees have started to be removed. The week before, all other kinds of greenery were removed in order for architects and crew members to eventually begin laying out the building’s floor plan and measurements.
These first steps are crucial and are expected to last at least a couple more weeks. “Fast forward to today, and being able to present this investment… It’s extremely important for us, and I speak on behalf of the entire organization, that we’re just very happy to help,” Kirby added.
“Representation – it’s not just one person or one group that got the project to this point. It involves so many different people from so many different organizations within the community, and I think that at the end of the day we put our minds together with a common goal.”
Among those present at the presentation of Playground’s donation were Mohawk Council grand chief Kahsennenhawe SkyDeer and chief Jessica Lazare, KOR executive director Kawennanóron Lisa Phillips, Turtle Island Theatre board member Jessica Hernandez, Kahnawake Tourism’s development manager Kimberly Cross, and many others.
“There’s definitely some choking up and sentimental feelings as well because I’ve been part of the project for many years in terms of the brainstorming and what it would look like,” said Sky-Deer.
“So to know that we’re getting this much closer and that the capital campaign is moving along, and that we’re seeing donations trickling in from not only just community, but external (organizations) too – I’m feeling proud and inspired by the collaboration and work all these ladies have been doing together.”
Sky-Deer believes in the cultural arts centre’s ability to bring people together and be immersed in the Mohawk language, culture, and identity, and sees its potential to educate those outside of the community about who Kahnawa’kehró:non are.
“I think it’s a testament to our ancestors or the people who came before us that were fighting for and working towards this, and now we’re gonna fulfill that dream and aspiration,” she added. Other stakeholders shared their reactions to Playground’s charitable donation.
Cross, for instance, looks forward to the day her kids can take advantage of the new educational facility.
“I can’t wait to see my children using the facility to its maximum, doing the theatre program, walking through the museum,” she said. She looks forward to the day that the arts centre will be known as a place that holds and preserves at least some parts of Kahnawake history.
“I’m feeling like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Hernandez. “With Playground giving this donation, it’s showing how much this community and organizations around us are supporting us, and I think that’s really important when trying to build something that’s going to mean so much to everyone.”
Historically speaking, KOR has always been located in old and dilapidated buildings, which is why they are temporarily settled at the Kahnawake office complex.
“This’ll be the first time any of us are going to have our own space,” Philips said. “We’re waiting for the announcement of the architectural firm, so I’m excited for that to happen and actually sit down with the architects to begin that work.”