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Kanesatake grand chief refuses call to step down

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Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) grand chief Victor Bonspille will not resign following a demand from a majority of MCK chiefs that he step down or face a referendum and non-confidence vote.

“It’s a ridiculous request and it’s not going to happen,” said Bonspille.

He declined to comment on the specific complaints in the week-old communique outlining the request for his resignation, which was signed by five of seven sitting MCK chiefs – Amy Beauvais, John Canatonquin, Denise David, Brant Etienne, and Serge Otsi Simon.

Bonspille said he will address the specifics of the letter at a community meeting he is calling for October 24. “I don’t want to air my dirty laundry like those chiefs and break confidentiality,” he said.

The communique included six allegations, in addition to its headline grievance: a request sent to Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) by the grand chief, unbeknownst to Council, asking that Kanesatake be put into third-party management, which would have seen the community lose autonomy over its finances. This request was denied by ISC.

Bonspille said it is the five chiefs positioned against him who are the problem. “I’m asking for a vote of non-confidence in those chiefs because they have nothing to show for their two years in office,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere, and I’ll take the direction from my community, not from those chiefs.”

However, his opposition on Council is undeterred by his refusal, according to Simon.

“No matter what he tries to do at this point, I think the chiefs are pretty determined to see this thing to its conclusion. This can’t go on anymore,” said Simon. “All the other shenanigans that Victor’s done or tried to do, and now with third-party management, that’s the last straw.”

Simon suggested that despite perceptions of a fractured Council, the majority of chiefs have worked together despite coming from different backgrounds. He listed protecting the daycare and other programs, including economic development and housing grants, as achievements this term.

A referendum will be launched imminently, according to Simon, opening the question of Bonspille’s leadership to the entire membership of Kanesatake about halfway through the term.

“There’s still another two years. It can’t go on like this for two years, no way. It’s going to divide the community even further and who knows what damages we’re going to see,” said Simon.

He believes detractors on social media are a minority and that the wider membership is hungry for a change in leadership at the MCK. 

For at least some Kanehsata’kehró:non, however, the extraordinary development is just a sign of continued turmoil at Council.

“I think they all have to step down. I think they’ve all done nothing to advance anything in this community,” said community member Clifton Ariwakehte Nicholas.

His consternation extends to Bonspille. “He’s gotten too muddled with anger with his fighting with everybody else to be able to do things clearly,” said Nicholas. But he is not willing to single out the grand chief.

Nicholas is frustrated by a lack of progress on the cannabis file, community security, land allotments, and above all the G&R Recycling site that is still languishing.

“It’s a toxic catastrophe on the border of the community that threatens everybody’s water, including the Lake of Two Mountains. What are they doing about it?” he said. “I don’t care about their personal agendas. I don’t care about their political bullshit. I care about what they’re doing with that f*cking dump.”

The remediation of the G&R Recycling site is currently at an impasse. In spring, Bonspille unilaterally arranged a transfer of the land from the site’s owners, Robert and Gary Gabriel, to the community, arguing that it is a precondition of ISC’s involvement in the cleanup.

However, the transfer was blocked by a majority of chiefs, who argued that the government must first provide ironclad assurances that Kanesatake will not be held liable. They have also expressed concerns the transfer could shield the Gabriel brothers from responsibility. 

The situation is among the complaints named in the communique issued late last week.

This article was originally published in print on Friday, October 13, in issue 32.41 of The Eastern Door.

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

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Marcus is an award-winning journalist and 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.

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Marcus is an award-winning journalist and 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.