Back in September, Falcon Structures Inc. presented the community with an opportunity: well-paid trades jobs at a warehouse no more than 15 minutes away from Kahnawake making modular housing for remote Indigenous communities up north. If everything went well, the company said they would move the facility to the territory, and the community would own a 51 percent stake.
However, the picture has not been so rosy since.
“It was weird. The first day I got there, I was like ‘what do I do?’” said Brice Stacey, who started working at Falcon in mid-September last year. “By the next week, I was still saying ‘I don’t know.’”
Stacey had believed in the vision that Falcon put forward. And so did other Kahnawa’kehró:non – including the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK), which released a promotional video touring the facility.
Stacey worked at Falcon for around two and a half months. He was let go on December 5. Two weeks earlier, Stacey said management held a meeting assuring employees their jobs were safe.
“We had two or three meetings where the manager said that no one has to worry, all your jobs are secure,” Stacey explained. “Nobody’s going anywhere. There’s money coming in, don’t worry, it’s okay. And then two weeks later, right before everybody’s probationary period ends, they were like ‘We’ve got no money. You guys gotta leave.’”
Though reassurance from management had left Stacey optimistic that his job really was safe, other employees had been ringing alarm bells for some time. Stacey recalls a coworker speaking about instability in the operations.
“I remember he said, ‘Man, you’ve got to look at the writing on the wall. Look at this place. We got no tools. We got no equipment,’” he said. “We were constantly running out of screws, or out of things we needed. We were constantly just out of stuff and wouldn’t be able to work.”
Steven Steinwold, former CEO of Falcon, first connected with Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer through an acquaintance. No official or financial partnership was ever made between the MCK and Falcon, according to Sky-Deer, but Council promoted the opportunity to Kahnawa’kehró:non.
Steinwold led Falcon with Kevin Below. According to Steinwold, health issues relating to his cancer diagnosis meant that he temporarily handed over full ownership of the company to Below, with an agreement that he could take back 75 percent ownership of the company and give Below 25 percent of the shares as a “gift.” Steinwold alleges that when the time came to return ownership, Below refused to give back the company. After that, he was fired. Steinwold no longer holds a position at Falcon.
Below’s story paints a different picture. According to him, Steinwold never owned any shares of the company. Below alleges that the company was set up in 2019 by a former business partner of himself and Steinwold – The Eastern Door was unable to reach this partner in time for publication.
“There was an understanding that (the partner) was just Steven’s prête-nom,” said Below. “But in reality, Steven controlled (the partner).”
When the partner “wanted out,” Below said that he was asked to buy the company. Below claims that an agreement was made between himself and Steinwold to share the company’s potential profits, but that there was no discussion of Falcon shares changing hands. As owner of the company, Below said that he had full control to dismiss Steinwold from his role as CEO at any time – which he did.
Matt Millette worked at the company at the same time as Stacey. Though he’s not from the community, he grew up close by, and so joined many of his close friends in Kahnawake seeking employment at Falcon.
“It was all indoor work. The pay was really good, and within two weeks they gave me a promotion,” Millette said. “Within the first week, I pointed out so many errors.”
Millette said he had concerns about safety in the construction of the homes. He believes his concerns were taken seriously by Steinwold, who he said subsequently promoted him to a role where he could use his experience to rectify mistakes and help show other workers how to do the job properly. Millette was satisfied with the situation and said he felt the appropriate improvements would be made – and then he lost his job too. He was summoned to the office of a project manager who is no longer at Falcon.
“He tore me apart over it. The day before they laid everyone off, he brought me into his office and fired me.” Millette alleges that this manager had consistently asked him to cut corners in his work.
Millette said that everything changed for the worse when Steinwold left the company.
“The minute Steven was kicked out of the company, I was relieved of my position and put back to regular work,” Millette said. “When I got fired, I walked downstairs and I walked right onto the floor and I told everyone, ‘Guys, get ready to pack your stuff and go home, I guarantee you within 24 hours the company’s gonna close,’” The following morning, all staff were let go from the facility.
Millette claimed that he and other employees were terminated around two weeks before they would have been entitled to severance. Around 40 workers worked at the company before termination, and according to Below around 10 workers are currently working on the homes.
For Sky-Deer, the disarray in the company has been disappointing. She had hoped that the project would provide job opportunities for community members and that future operations might lead to more housing in the territory.
“I guess there started to be relationship issues with the partnership, and unfortunately I heard that community members were laid off before the holidays, which is the worst time ever. But then I heard that it was just a temporary thing and they were going to recommence operations early in the new year,” Sky-Deer explained. “So I was kind of hopeful. I thought, great, all these men will be called back.”
She noted that MCK’s involvement in the project was solely the promotional video made for KTV.
“I met Steven through a mutual friend, and he said, ‘Look, I have a company, this is what we’re doing, we’re building for First Nations communities. I need labourers. Do you think there’s anyone in your community who would want work,” Sky-Deer said. “So I said, sure, maybe what we could do is a promotional video. So that was basically the extent, we put out that media notice.”
Though Below told The Eastern Door that he intends to re-recruit in Kahnawake, former Falcon employees have been left in difficult situations as a result of the fallout at Falcon.
“When they called us into the office, I was trying to be optimistic, like he was giving us a bonus, you know?” said Stacey. “I’ve applied for about half a dozen jobs, I’ve had a handful of interviews, but this happened right before Christmas. I still haven’t found another job.”