When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve in Kahnawake, the sound of fireworks is muddled with the noise of gunshots, as groups shoot firearms in the air to celebrate.
The Kahnawake Peacekeepers prepare for a spike in calls about damage done from falling bullets. This year, a bullet landed in the bedroom of a Kahnawa’kehró:non, causing damage to the ceiling. Luckily, there were no injuries.
“We try as hard as we can to have as many officers as possible on during New Year’s Eve,” said Peacekeeper spokesperson Kyle Zachary. “But we can’t be everywhere all at once. The problem that we have is that so many people celebrate New Year’s with firearms.
“It happens all over the territory. There are just so many instances of it that it’s impossible to know where and who it comes from.”
Zachary explained that the Peacekeepers received a call just after midnight on January 1, reporting that a projectile had come through the ceiling of a local residence.
Though the bullet is being kept in evidence, Peacekeepers remain unable to identify specifics about what or who may have caused the damage.
“It’s from a firearm, but we can’t tell what firearm,” explained Zachary. “I don’t even know what kind of calibre weapon it was. We’re just left with questions at this point.”
Though many community members are upset that firearms have posed a risk to their families, nobody is surprised that some individuals have continued the tradition.
Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chief Lindsay LeBorgne feels that the tradition has spiralled out of control – and said that even if people have participated in the tradition in the past, it’s not too late to stop.
“It comes down to personal safety,” he said. “I don’t like it myself. I don’t do it. I’d be a liar if I said I never did it – but I was young and I didn’t really realize. But I learnt about the seriousness, as I’m getting older I realize how dangerous it is. And I wish people would refrain from doing it.”
The custom has left Lynn Beauvais with a New Year’s tradition of her own: worrying about the safety of her family and community. When her grandchildren visited one year to celebrate, she made sure to shepherd them into the basement for safety before midnight struck.
“We sat, and when it was all over, we went upstairs. That’s not a way to spend New Year’s Eve,” she said.
Of particular concern to Beauvais is the wellbeing of Elders and children, who she said have been left afraid of the risks of this tradition.
“I know so many people are frightened, and yet this continues every year,” she explained. “When did we stop caring about each other and the feelings of our elders? When did we start this, where we don’t care about how our elders feel? You’re scaring them.”
But deciding what to do to solve the issue isn’t so simple – as Peacekeeper Zachary explained, the number of people shooting at midnight makes it difficult to identify any single culprit. Others believe that there still may be ways to continue the tradition safely.
“The best solution will be using blanks or a secluded or safe area to fire the weapon. There’s always the option of not shooting guns, too,” said community member Adam Jacco, who has seen the tradition develop throughout the years. “I believe shooting in the air is not the best solution anymore because some people are careless or don’t know how to use a firearm, or shoot in the wrong direction.”
As for Beauvais, she believes the community – including Peacekeepers – should do more to protect one another.
“We’re not doing enough, our people, our community leaders, our Peacekeepers aren’t doing enough. Nobody’s doing enough,” she said. “I think people should get together – everyone has an obligation. If somebody gets hurt, everybody’s going to feel guilty.”
Peacekeepers should work on the implementation of a bylaw to ban the annual practice, said Beauvais.
“They can do something, they’re just afraid,” she said. “They could do a bylaw and strictly enforce it.”
Community member Katsitsiiostha Mccomber wants people to reconsider partaking in the dangerous celebration before it’s too late.
“People don’t think about anyone but themselves – people could die, and that’s someone’s loved one,” she said. “They may be a stranger to you, but that’s someone’s family you’ll break apart over a stupid act with a pathetic excuse of a tradition.”
It’s unlikely that the culprit behind this year’s near-miss will be identified, and community members are still shaken by the incident.
“Why should I be afraid of going to sleep in my own bed, in my own room, in my own house, in my own community?” said Beauvais. “People are scared, yet nobody cares.”
Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door, and was previously an Editor at the McGill Daily. She has also reported on harm reduction and Indigenous issues for the Montreal Gazette, the Hoser, the Rover, and more.