With an influential open letter and a trove of documents, an anonymous group of Kanehsata’kehró:non has brought countrywide attention to grave issues of land, safety, and the environment in the community.
However, while politicians at all levels of government have been confronted with uncomfortable questions, particularly in relation to G&R Recycling, in recent weeks, an independent investigation has still not been undertaken.
The following is an interview with “Pink,” a member of the group.
Group aims to keep pressing
Where do you hope to go next with this initiative?
It’s not an initiative. It’s an effort to get the truth exposed, to show to people that these people who are creating all the trouble in the community have been supported by the band council. In fact, the band council has been in collusion with these people who are creating trouble, along with the federal and provincial government and the Surete du Quebec (SQ).
The level of corruption is really high, and we want the truth to come out. That’s why we’ve asked for this independent investigation into the corruption of what’s going on in Kanesatake.
Hopefully we will get the support and attention of the international community on what’s been going on because, right now, the guilty parties are the ones who have met or are going to meet. And they’re going to decide what’s going to happen about it when they are responsible for creating this situation. We’re just going to keep continuing to put the pressure on. There are a lot of issues in the community. There are just layers and layers of dysfunction and corruption that will take a while to untangle.
We’re still going. We’re still trying to correct the injustices that have happened to people here in Kanesatake.
How do you intend to keep the pressure on? What are the challenges of keeping this momentum?
The challenges are corruption in government, at all levels of government, whether it’s Mohawk Council, (minister of Canada-Indigenous Relations) Marc Miller and the Canadian government, or Ian Lafrenière with the Quebec government and the SQ.
Kanesatake has been abandoned by all levels of government. There are no human rights that are applied here. It’s a very discriminatory way of dealing with Kanesatake as far as the federal and provincial governments are concerned because this would not happen in any other community; there are communities, although, I am discovering, with similar problems.
But those are the challenges and those have been the challenges for many years, many generations. We just have to look at the Seminary of St. Sulpice fraudulently selling land in collusion with Canada, and then developers here, there’s so much development going on. And then the impacts of colonization so that people are so assimilated, they don’t even understand that we have traditional laws that would forbid them from creating such a destruction of the environment. So those are our challenges, and the challenge, too, is safety.
We have no safety in the community if you speak out. If you do, you are going to be threatened or your family is threatened, and those are the challenges of getting out the truth. We do not live in a democracy, we live in what you could call a banana republic, if that’s even an appropriate word for it.
All of this under the Indian Act is the root problem of this whole mess. Corruption is nurtured by the Department of Indian Affairs. And, you know, this has been going on for far too long.
How do you feel things have gone over the past month?
I think there’s a lot of damage control by all levels of government – the person that got their hand caught in the cookie jar kind of stuff. They’re trying to deflect. All of the guilty parties are trying to deflect, and the government is saying, “Oh, it’s up to the Mohawk community.” And there are people in the community that are like, “We don’t feel safe. We can’t even get any help from anybody.
Miller categorically said “Can’t help you. I can’t do anything for you. We can’t tell Quebec what to do. Can’t tell Oka what to do. Can’t tell the Mohawk Council what to do,” which is a lie.
The land grabs, you know – the federal government could care less what happens in Kanesatake. They’re gonna leave it up to us, and what are we supposed to do? What are we supposed to do up against organized crime?
There has to be the distinction that there are people in the community that disagree with this and that we want safety to come back, which is the whole point of our letter.
Do you believe specifically addressing organized crime is something that the existing parties, that governments, are capable of improving upon?
They are organized crime. It’s like going to the abuser and asking them to stop. They’re not going to. They’ve all benefited economically from this. There’s a lot of money involved. How do you address that? How do you deal with people who all that’s in their eyes is dollar signs, that greed has taken over their minds and become a daily part of their life? And that includes government.
This is the status quo of all governments: we’re going to negotiate with you, but we’re going to let development continue and we’re going to compensate you for the use of your land. It’s just so dysfunctional. It’s a huge mess.
I think that the band council should be disbanded. I think that people who have taken land should be kicked off their land, or the occupied lands. There should be a hold on all development.
All these youth that come in from outside the community who are racing up and down our roads, harassing our people who have lived here for ages, scaring the elders, they should not be allowed to enter the community. Put things on hold. All these people are millionaires in the Pines that have cut. They can stand to lose at least a month’s wages.
I don’t think they deserve any more time. They need to apologize to the community. And we need to come up with a better plan on how we use the land because right now, that’s not happening.
It’s not going to take a letter to do that. It’s not going to take a community meeting to do that. It’s got to start with discussions but for long-term, not just a meeting and we resolved everything. We shouldn’t be going on the timeline of government.
People have talked about how the government doesn’t want another Oka Crisis. This has nothing to do with the issue that came out in 1990 about the land. Yes, the land is involved. But now it’s our own people that are destroying the land. Our own people who think they can do whatever they like just like the white people.
When you talk about these interventions that are necessary, such as taking those people off of that land, how can that be effected? What steps would need to be taken for that to happen?
I don’t think I have an answer for that because the answer I’m thinking of is too scary. I think these people will not let go easily. They have high-priced lawyers to help them as well. It’s a corrupt system that is not made for justice. So I don’t believe anything that currently exists will help resolve it other than talking to these people, which is what our ancestors did a long time ago.
But it wasn’t like there were millions of dollars involved. Now there is. You have millions of dollars, people who have benefitted from the chaos and destruction of the environment here. How do you resolve that? How can you do that? Pay them off? Does the government have big enough purse strings to pay them off?
And then we can shut down all those marijuana shacks in the Pines? I don’t know. But I do know that something has to be done. What that solution is, I kind of hesitate to say.
Do you see an independent investigation as a first step in anything like you’re describing?
Yeah, I think international inquiry, an independent one from any level of government, is a step in the right direction, because it means that someone is looking at this with new eyes, somebody’s looking at this objectively using all those legal obligations that Canada is bound to uphold.
An inquiry could look into the situation of “federal land” or “crown land” that’s for the benefit and use of the community and then just take a look at the lack of leadership, the lack of good governance in this community, and how much the federal and provincial governments have contributed to that, so that it nurtures a dysfunctional band council.
They go in and they think that they’re kings and it’s their empire, and that nobody else has a say. And for me, that’s not good governance. That’s not even a democracy. But people need to educate themselves. You can have an opinion, but if you do not have the complete story, then you’re not making an informed decision. And that’s what people need to do. These are the facts. And now you can make a decision.
Right now, people are emotional. They’re not looking at things objectively, and they’re looking at how much money they’ve made. They’re exploiting what happened here in 1990. Because they know the government doesn’t want another crisis here. They’re exploiting that.
And so there’s a gap in safety. How do you get that back without any violence?
That, I think, is really the difficult situation we find ourselves in. How do we do that without any violence? If we were to do anything today, I’m not sure what would happen.
There was a meeting with neighbouring municipalities about the dump. I’m sure they’re not happy with what’s going on on the 344 either.
We’re not happy either.
Systemic racism nurtured ‘big monster’
Are there any people involved in any of these systems that you described as corrupt, whether the government or the band council, whom you view as potential allies in this situation?
I think you answered your question. They’re corrupt. This is a system that’s controlled by invisible hands – people we don’t know, people we don’t see, and there are people who are puppets who speak on their behalf. I don’t think there are any allies in any of those systems. I think the only thing to do is shame the government and shame them internationally as well. Shame them nationally. I think sometimes that’s the only thing that works. Whether that’s going to produce a long-term sense of safety and justice, I don’t know. I wish I knew.
It sounds like there is a tension between an ideal resolution arising from the community and what you perceive as a need to involve external actors. How do you reconcile that?
It’s always difficult when you think about how perhaps 50 percent of the community is involved in this. It’s not going to be easy. We may never find a solution. We may never get back to safety. But I think people who will come from the outside need to educate themselves first on what’s been happening in the last 300 years, what’s happened during 1990 and afterwards.
It’s been a violent history that we’ve had since 1990. There are people who remain traumatized by that, and they’re re-traumatized by what’s going on here. We have people who just continue to be jerks on the road, firing their guns off.
We’re supposed to be safe in our homes, right? We’re supposed to be a collective and work together. But we have not been a collective and worked together in decades. We never have.
There are always backdoor meetings, which people get fed up and angry over. We have corruption everywhere we look. So it just feels like we do not matter. We are dispensable people, and those Mohawks who are working with government are the ones who benefit the most.
I don’t know what the solution is. I think the media has played an important role in exposing some of the corruption, but it needs to continue. This is not a story that blows in one day and goes out the other. This is a long-term situation that we’ve been dealing with. And I think that it’s not just the Liberals but the Parti Quebecois, the CAQ, the Conservatives.
All those things that Indigenous people are dealing with in general, it gets magnified in a small community like Kanesatake because we have been abandoned. It’s really unfortunate such a beautiful community with such a history of resistance is now turning the violence inwards.
It’s always been like that, but it just seems like it has accelerated since the pandemic.
Is it difficult trying to pursue this while being anonymous?
Being anonymous seems to be very sensational, especially for the media. Usually everybody’s ready and willing to put each other down publicly with the media, and the fact that we have decided to go anonymous is because we want to protect our families. We want to protect our homes.
I think by being anonymous it caught people’s attention. I find it a really sad reflection on society that they would only pay attention if someone is anonymous. Because they know it’s a dangerous situation, they see we are more free to talk when we’re anonymous. And hopefully that will help. But it wasn’t our first choice.
You estimated offhand – I don’t know if it was a hyperbole or not – that perhaps 50 percent of people are involved in the issues you’re talking about. In what sense?
They’re working, they’re being paid, they’ve benefitted. They’re from that side that doesn’t see anything wrong with what’s going on in the community. There are a lot of people who have marijuana shops, I think, that are not associated with organized crime – there’s a handful of them. There are individuals, but I would say there are a lot of non-Indigenous people who are employed as well, and nobody sees a problem with that.
The youth see that the norm that gets rewarded is working in a marijuana shop, riding around on four-wheelers, getting paid to be whatever for these people who are backed by organized crime – that’s the role modelling that goes on here.
I think if they want to criticize anything they’re free to do so, but they should also hold a mirror up and say, well, what makes you Mohawk then? What is it that you feel you’re supporting as part of your identity? Because destruction of the Earth, destruction of the land that denies future generations from enjoying that land?
That’s not being Onkwehón:we. That’s not Mohawk.
G&R has been the headline issue, but concerns like security and land grabbing are also a significant part of your letter. Is there a risk in your mind of certain issues being conflated?
I think there are different issues at play. There are so many. It’s been going on for so long. Like an octopus, it’s just sort of branched out.
I think that the G&R issue, a concern is that the Gabriel brothers do not benefit economically again, that their land should be seized and taken away from them, and they should not be paid off for that, that the federal and provincial government do clean it up. My question is where it’s going to go.
But also all those construction companies that brought raw sewage, brought carcinogens into this community should have to pay as well. They should be exposed for contributing to this problem.
The focus, I think, really, is systemic racism that has allowed, encouraged, and nurtured this kind of corruption to grow into what it’s become today, which is a big monster that nobody knows how to deal with right now.
It would be nice if they saw the whole issue as being one because it’s really the same players involved in a lot of stuff.
Do you believe the government has the tools required to put an end to land grabbing?
Having the tools and having the will to do so are two different things. There has to be a will. There has to be good faith. I think there are other people who have complained about the land grabbing and the government’s kind of like, well, it’s your problem.
I don’t think they have the will. They might possess the tools, whatever those might be. They do have human rights obligations that they have not upheld here.
So the tools, again, come from an international, independent inquiry, because the government itself cannot investigate itself. That’s a conflict of interest.
It’s a conflict of interest for the band council. It’s a conflict of interest for the Gabriel brothers to be involved in any solutions. They’ve lost that right.
Have you determined the next step in terms of keeping the momentum toward the goal of an independent investigation?
Just keep the campaign pressure up. Hopefully there will be journalists who will continue to expose the truth and what’s happening. I just hope it doesn’t go sideways and they decide all Mohawks are criminals, and all Mohawks are responsible for this, and Mohawks don’t deserve to control their land.
I hope that doesn’t come out because we have been public enemy number one since 1990. And we’ve all been painted with the same brush. That’s not right.
Whatever the next steps are, in regards to the campaign, it’s just to keep putting pressure on the government, even during the summer. Because we are living within a lawless community. And there’s no one to help us. So we need to keep the pressure up. We want more peace and we want security.
Do you feel the campaign has had any influence on the way Kanehsata’kehró:non are thinking about these things?
I think a lot of people are being very emotional about stuff. It’s like, well, he has land, he took land, so I should be allowed to take land. And so that attitude is still there; it’s still very strong. And I don’t know that’s ever going to change because there’s no leadership in the band council. They’re defending these kinds of people. In fact they’re supporting these kinds of people.
We’re a nation that has been in survival mode for so long that this next generation coming up doesn’t understand why things are the way they are, and so you have many different kinds of people within the community who don’t see that outside help is warranted or necessary.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The first part of this interview was originally published in print on Friday, June 16, in issue 32.24 of The Eastern Door and the second part on Friday, June 23, in issue 32.25.
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.