After more than a week chained up following a raucous community meeting, the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) building will be reopened by order of an interlocutory injunction granted Thursday morning, The Eastern Door has confirmed.
The application was filed on behalf of the MCK by its law firm, Dionne Schulze, against Council’s own grand chief, Victor Bonspille, and MCK chief Valerie Bonspille. “John Doe, Jane Doe, and persons unknown” are also listed as defendants.
“Why don’t they put it out to the community that they’re coming after the community members, and they don’t even have the courage or the balls to name any community members they’ve seen at the meeting or at the Council office when the community chained the doors,” said MCK grand chief Victor Bonspille.
Bonspille has argued Dionne Schulze was terminated by a people’s resolution voted on at another community meeting earlier this year. The other chiefs insist only Council can terminate its legal representation, and no band council resolution (BCR) has done so.
The Council building has been shuttered since the morning of October 25, when a handful of community members locked it up after the idea was proposed the previous evening. At that meeting, Bonspille held a vote – tallying 42-0 with no abstentions – declaring non-confidence in five of seven MCK chiefs.
Bonspille has since insisted that the five chiefs – Amy Beauvais, John Canatonquin, Denise David, Brant Etienne, and Serge Otsi Simon – have been officially removed.
“What they did was illegitimate,” said Beauvais. “That’s why the rest of us are continuing on with our work.”
The five have been united in pursuing a referendum on Bonspille’s leadership in response to his request that the federal government put the community in third-party management. This announcement came prior to Bonspille’s push to have them removed instead.
About 10 minutes before the vote at the October 24 meeting, Bonspille suggested to the boisterous crowd, which reportedly included people who own or are affiliated with local cannabis stores, that his opposition on Council sought intervention in Kanesatake from the Mohawk Councils of Kahnawake and Akwesasne.
In a recording of the meeting, Bonspille can be heard claiming he learned this at a meeting attended by the entire Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, himself, chief Valerie, and a portion of his opposition, saying the Kanesatake chiefs opposed to him had requested such an action.
“They went and asked their Councils, and they went and asked their police chiefs to do this, to come and ask our sister communities to form a force to come in and take care of whatever issues they think we have here. Ask the sister communities to come in and take care of us, more or less. And I don’t know what that means. Maybe come in and break in and do raids on us?” he can be heard saying.
Yet Mohawk Council of Kahnawake chief Ryan Montour, who leads the public safety portfolio in Kahnawake, said not only that this is not true, but that everyone knows it.
“Nobody asked us for intervention,” said Montour. “And I’ve told both sides this – both sides of the Kanesatake table, both sides, if you want to call them factions or fighting or whatever, I told them both at the same time that nobody has requested – not a municipal government, not a Council chief, not a provincial government – nobody has requested formal help to the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.”
Asked whether any such request has been made this year to the Kahnawake Peacekeepers, spokesperson Kyle Zachary confirmed there has not been.
“I’m not going to talk about a meeting that I had with Kahnawake Council and my Council where only two, three Council chiefs decided to show up at that requested meeting by Kahnawake,” said Bonspille when told Kahnawake chiefs had suggested there had been no such request for intervention. “It was very disrespectful on the part where the rest of my Council did not show up without any excuse, so I’m not even going to comment on that.”
After the vote, as reported last week by The Eastern Door, a community member can be heard proposing they physically prevent the five chiefs at the centre of the non-confidence vote from returning to work. This was met with applause.
Bonspille replied that it’s a community building and it’s out of his hands. “I’m not going to tell you what you can and can’t do,” he said.
The next morning, Bonspille ordered staff home and community members chained up the building.
Bonspille suggested to The Eastern Door in an interview last Thursday that he was keeping the building closed until another community meeting can be held.
“Right now, the office is closed,” he said. “I closed the office until, I’m going to call for an emergency meeting.”
However, this week he said it is community members keeping the building shuttered until a meeting. “I’m not keeping it closed myself,” he said. “I closed it for that day and that’s it, that was all I did.”
Bonspille acknowledged he facilitated the doors being unlocked briefly this week.
“I was asked to open it because there was some business that needed to be done that was for the community, for the good of the community. I don’t know who locked it or put chains on the door. It was community members. So I just called a random member to see if they knew who could unlock it for this to happen. And that’s what happened, so it’s out of my control with who has the keys to this chain and lock. It’s not my doing. That’s the community,” he said.
MCK chief Amy Beauvais said she asked to enter the building at that time to get candy from her office to distribute for Halloween at the Trunk or Treat in the parking lot but was denied. She said the doors were opened to ensure finance could do necessary work.
Despite earlier fears, social assistance cheques went out on time, according to MCK chief John Canatonquin, who heads up the finance portfolio.
Community meeting called
Another community meeting originally called for November 7 and rescheduled for November 9 seeks guidance on whether to call a general election, a by-election for the five seats Bonspille says are vacant, or to continue with only two chiefs and an interim band administrator.
However, the new version of the agenda also asks for a ratification of the vote of non-confidence process and another vote of non-confidence of the same chiefs.
Bonspille said decisions such as a call for a general election and votes of non-confidence are binding at community meetings, despite Council chiefs’ protests that this is not a legitimate process.
“They’ve been removed by our community by due process and they need to accept that. I’m a custom grand chief, not an Indian Act chief like they are,” said Bonspille.
“The people that show up, that’s the majority vote,” he said. “People have the opportunity to come, in droves if they want, or they show up in lower numbers. But that’s how we work, that’s our custom.”
However, last week Bonspille conceded there is room for clarity. “I think it’s important to have it, to be more defined, that the majority of members at any called meeting where a vote is concerned, those votes are to be recognized and have it binding. I think something like that needs to be made more clear,” he said.
The Custom Electoral Code that governs Kanesatake’s political process does not outline a process for non-confidence votes, which was deferred and has not been established.
Bonspille did not return a request for comment on the new agenda and why another non-confidence vote would be necessary.
“He’s talking about custom – what about him? He picks and chooses,” said Canatonquin.
Canatonquin said he does not plan to attend the meeting on November 9. “It’s another freak show. I won’t waste my time to go there anymore,” he said.
He said any early general election call would have to go through Council.
Multiple MCK chiefs have argued that binding votes at community meetings would undermine the right of band members who live off territory to participate in Kanesatake’s decision-making process.
“The fact is he did not allow or he is still not allowing outside members to have a say in how the community is managed, how the lands are used. If these people – we have family members, I have some out there – if they want to come back, they should have a say on what kind of community they come back to,” said Simon.
Bonspille insists it is the others who are not listening to members. “Ask them why is it so important to them, why they want to stay on as chiefs?” he said. “What is their agenda other than spending community money, thousands of dollars on interlocutory injunctions, paying a legal counsel that has been terminated by our community by going against community mandate?”
However, the Council chiefs he is targeting say they are only trying to ensure community business gets done.
“I’m relieved that the employees and chiefs can get back into the offices,” said Etienne. “I hope the judge’s order will be respected, but at least there will be consequences if someone tries to obstruct community functioning again.”
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.