First, the positive: Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer and her partner Tami Jo Rice are proud of who they are as a gay couple in Kahnawake. That really is something to be celebrated, and they both should have already been accepted as such, but we know there are corners of this community – dark ones in everyone’s family – who do not and will never accept differences like that.
We don’t agree with that kind of hate.
But what this editorial will show you is you can both support someone’s sexuality and lifestyle while constructively criticizing certain choices they make.
In early August, both the grand chief and her wife posed for Birks. Yes, that Birks, a diamond company. And here’s where we get the grand chief’s side of “there’s nothing wrong with that”; while many in the community, ourselves included, think a standing grand chief in a Native community should never ally with a company that has facilitated the extraction of diamonds from our Indigenous communities, no matter what the message is and even if it’s LGBTQ+ themed, which, as we said before, we fully support.
Apparently, of the money made Sky Deer’s portion will be donated, but again, that doesn’t matter. If it was $1 or $10 million, or free, it’s still not a good look. Period.
Birks is not a company that cares about our communities, because if they did, they would give a fair share to our brothers and sisters who live on top of these valuable minerals, instead of strong-arming them into agreements (or going along with those types of tactics) that heavily benefit diamond companies and Birks.
And we don’t care if they give Onkwehón:we jobs on their own lands. That’s not a fair shake of the deal no matter how you slice it.
Think about this: why has Birks never given a huge donation to help our many programs out? Language? Culture? Everyday needs?
In short, they don’t care, but we do, and the people of Kahnawake not only have a right to know about this, they have a right to voice their displeasure. (Or agreeance, if they so choose.)
It doesn’t matter if you’re Murray Sinclair or Bozo the Clown, the position of grand chief in Kahnawake, as tainted as it is in the eyes of half the community as Indian Act agents, deserves respect. Why? Because like it or not it represents the whole of Kahnawake, not just those who vote in MCK elections.
So, when Sky-Deer cries foul and starts to turn on our journalist and accuses us of bad reporting, well that’s to be expected if you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar.
There really is nothing else to say except sorry, but her judgment on this should be of concern. How does this look in negotiations with Quebec or Canada? How will other nations look at her, and by extension Kahnawake, especially ones like the Oji-Cree community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (see last week’s story), that have had to fight off mercenaries sent to destroy their land by force and seen their leadership sent to prison for fighting for their Indigenous rights, all in the name of extraction and destruction?
Chalk it up to inexperience or letting her ego get in the way? Nope, not good enough. She was a chief for many years and has been grand chief for long enough to know better.
It should be concerning to the other chiefs as well. Does this mean they can pose for an oil company and not be reprimanded? Should they become the poster child of Hydro Quebec, which has flooded more Cree land and destroyed traplines and wildlife to the point they actually had to move a whole community (Fort George to present-day Chisasibi) to get out of the path of destruction?
Sure, she was elected because she fights for our rights, is a Kanien’kéha speaker and, we believe, has her intentions set on making the community better.
But this was a huge misstep and there are plenty of warnings against this type of thing in the MCK’s own policies (read them online), contrary to some online comments that see no problem with it because it’s “her own personal time.” Would those same people really want a standing chief chumming up to Hydro, Shell, big oil or any other conglomerates that don’t give a damn about Kahnawake one bit?
They’d be the first to complain.
A perk is never worth taking, especially as grand chief, but including all chiefs, at all times.
What will the other chiefs do now about a situation that should be corrected for the future?
Unless, of course, they see nothing wrong with it.
Then that’s another issue altogether.
Eastern Door Editor/Publisher Steve Bonspiel started his journalism career in January 2003 with The Nation magazine, a newspaper serving the Cree of northern Quebec.
Since that time, he has won numerous regional and national awards for his in-depth, impassioned writing on a wide variety of subjects, including investigative pieces, features, editorials, columns, sports, human interest and hard news.
He has freelanced for the Montreal Gazette, Toronto Star, Windspeaker, Nunatsiaq News, Calgary Herald, Native Peoples Magazine, and other publications.
Among Steve's many awards is the Paul Dumont-Frenette Award for journalist of the year with the Quebec Community Newspapers Association in 2015, and a back-to-back win in 2010/11 in the Canadian Association of Journalists' community category - one of which also garnered TED a short-list selection of the prestigious Michener award.
He was also Quebec Community Newspapers Association president from 2012 to 2019, and continues to strive to build bridges between Native and non-Native communities for a better understanding of each other.