The main road in Tioweró:ton has been reduced to one lane as a result of snow accumulation, raising concerns about access to emergency vehicles that have so far gone unheeded at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK).
“With the amount of snow we’ve had this year just in January alone, the road has been very narrow, very, very narrow,” said Kevin Deer, who spends more time at his cabin in Tioweró:ton than at home in Kahnawake.
Deer is among a handful of community members who have taken it upon themselves to keep the main road open to cars by plowing it, but with copious amounts of snow falling this year, the snow pushed to the edges of the road has become a safety hazard, he believes.
“I just came from pulling another tractor out that is trying to open the road wide too. He got stuck. He came knocking on my door. He said ‘I’m stuck, can you help pull me out?’ That’s how much snow we have here,” he said.
“If it’s a single lane, and an emergency vehicle has to come in, and you’ve got somebody else blocking that, what do you do?”
Deer believes a solution is frustratingly obvious. He emphasized that he and the others who have taken responsibility for clearing the main road don’t mind doing so, but that a grader from neighbouring Ste. Lucie could push enough snow away that the road, which Deer estimates is over two KM long, could be two lanes wide.
The MCK has an agreement with Ste. Lucie for the grader to service the main road three times a year during the summer months, plus once more in an emergency, according to Veronica LeBorgne, interim director of the Lands Unit.
A grader is a piece of heavy machinery used to flatten – or grade – roads. However, the vehicles are also effective at snow removal.
“That’s all we were asking for was a little bit of help to help maintain the road, to keep it wide, so we can do our jobs, so we can go and do our jobs,” Deer said. “If we get one big, heavy snowstorm, everybody here is pretty much screwed.”
He said an operator of the machine has told him that the service is only a request away.
When Deer and his niece, Gina Deer, brought this idea to the MCK, they were told it would not be granted. LeBorgne, who answered the request, also mentioned that an uncleared road is more suitable for those operating snowmobiles.
“Having it open, I think, should be more of a priority because it’s a question of safety,” said Gina.
Kevin also objects to the idea that the main road should be reserved for snowmobiles, proposing that such paths should instead be built through the bush.
Both were also upset that a decision was seemingly made without the involvement of the Tioweró:ton committee.
“For me, it’s just a surprise that it wasn’t the committee and it was a unilateral decision, from what I read in the email,” Gina said.
LeBorgne declined to respond to an email from THE EASTERN DOOR requesting clarity on why the decision was apparently made by staff. However, the interim director did seem to confirm it would be brought to the committee.
“When and if the main road gets graded in the winter in the future will be the decision of the Tiowero:ton Committee,” LeBorgne said.
The situation reflects a changing landscape in Tioweró:ton as more Kahnawa’kehró:non and Kanehsata’kehró:non spend time in the territory, reserved for hunting and other traditional activities. An influx of visitors means a greater need for services and could increase demand for recreational activities.
“With more people going up there, a change in mentality might happen,” said MCK chief Cody Diabo, who heads up the lands and territories portfolio. He is not the representative on the Tioweró:ton file, but he will continue to sit on the Tioweró:ton Committee, which has not met in some time.
Diabo indicated that it was important to be attentive to different views on how best to manage the rustic character of the territory, something that can be done through community consultation. However, he highlighted the difficulty in striking that balance, pointing out that on the one hand some people may want all roads to be plowed, while on the other many people don’t want MCK to be involved at all.
He did not rule out that a grader could be brought in for future years, however. To his knowledge, this is the first time the suggestion was proposed.
“I don’t think it was necessarily that staff was saying, ‘no, this isn’t going to be done.’ I think it’s essentially, given the time we’re at right now, it’s better off that we make a plan for next year.”
While Kevin believes it is critical that the main road be accessible to emergency vehicles, he values the natural charm of the territory on which he has had a cabin for over 35 years.
“I’d rather be here than Kahnawake,” he said. “I know things are much easier in town. It’s simple. But this is just who I am.”
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.