The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) has announced that a team of architecture firms has been chosen for Kahnawake’s new multi-purpose cultural building.
Montreal-based firm Provencher Roy and Toronto-based firm Brooke McIlroy will collaborate in designing and building the new facility, which will be home to Turtle Island Theatre, the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KOR), and Kahnawake Tourism.
“They just kind of knocked it out of the park with their optimization, their experience with Indigenous communities, and their energy,” said MCK chief Jessica Lazare, who leads the heritage portfolio.
Brooke McIlroy has its own Indigenous design studio, with a portfolio that includes projects like the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, the Algonquin College Library Renewal and Institute for Indigenous Entrepreneurship, and the Hoop Dance Indigenous Gathering Place at Mohawk College. The firms were chosen by an ad hoc committee comprised of representatives from Turtle Island Theatre, KOR, MCK, and Kahnawake Tourism.
The MCK also announced last week that Louie John Diabo of Diabo Consulting will serve as project manager.
“I saw some of the conceptual drawings. I saw the spirit of what was going on with everybody wanting to work together and do what’s right for our language, our culture, the art sector – which has been under-serviced for many years – and I just knew I had to be part of it,” said Diabo.
In the fall, Diabo began working on the project in a part-time consulting role, but as the project moves into this next phase, it’ll be his full-time priority.
MCK and its partners have been working on the project since 2017, with project technician Trina C. Diabo at the helm tirelessly seeking funding.
“She has been a part of it since the beginning, and she has worked so hard to get us where we are today,” Lazare said of Trina. “She has worked diligently day and night – even on the days that she’s not even supposed to be working on her vacation days – she’s here for this project.”
When the public tender for the project was initially posted, it was quoted at $25 million. But with pandemic-driven inflation, construction prices have increased greatly. The budget has not yet been finalized, but MCK’s capital campaign aims to raise $16 million, and combined with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC)’s $16-million investment, they hope to have $32 million to draw from.
According to Lazare, the capital campaign is about halfway to its goal, with funds raised amounting to approximately $8 million thanks to considerable investments from Playground Poker, Magic Palace and Mohawk Online.
The site is already being prepared for construction, and if all goes to plan, they hope to break ground in the fall, said Diabo.
“We have all kinds of sports outlets, we have the fields everywhere all over the place for all of our kids to practice and participate in athletics, but right now there’s no home for the arts,” said Lazare.
“The language and culture is part of who we are, as Onkwehón:we, as Kanien’kehá:ka,” she said. As a graduate of KOR’s Kanien’kéha Ratiwennahní:rats program, Lazare has witnessed firsthand the infrastructural challenges that KOR staff have had to overcome to do their work.
For organizations like KOR and Turtle Island Theatre, who have long-operated without adequate space, the new building reflects the value of Kanien’kehá:ka language, culture, and art.
“It’s not just a dream anymore,” said KOR executive director Kawennanóron Lisa Phillips. “Every day it’s becoming more and more of a reality. We know that this is going to happen, so, of course, I’m very excited,” said Phillips.
KOR’s current space has been condemned and is slated for demolition. Meanwhile, Turtle Island Theatre has been temporarily operating out of the Kahnawake Youth Center (KYC).
“Performance space for our community, for our kids, for our teens, for our adults is what we’ve been striving for many years,” said Kevin Saylor, artistic director for Turtle Island Theatre.
“Turtle Island does not have a home. We’ve been in existence for 30 years now. We had a long hiatus, partly because we have no building to work out of, so we’re excited about this new project,” said Saylor.
There will be rehearsal space, an outdoor amphitheatre, a cafe, a place for local artisans to sell their work, and a gift shop attached to the museum. The group sees the building as a central meeting place for the community, where elders and youth alike can gather, tell stories, and learn from one another.
The cultural organizations are excited about the future building’s proximity to Kahnawake Survival School (KSS) and the prospects for partnerships that will provide youth with creative and educational opportunities.
“It’s community-based. It’s not just one thing or another. It’s not just for one group. It’s not just for one kind of person. It’s for everybody,” said Lazare.