Though it’s been more than three weeks since Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) grand chief Victor Bonspille took a show of hands that favoured an early general election call, there is little sign so far that one is being advanced.
The MCK Facebook page, which Bonspille controls, never posted an update after the November 22 meeting, where several votes were taken. A motion for an early general election, otherwise set for 2025, carried 38-3.
Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), likewise, has still received no official information about the votes taken that day, according to a spokesperson in response to an inquiry from The Eastern Door.
The majority of MCK chiefs say the vote, which was taken at a community meeting attended by fewer than 50 people, is not legitimate, arguing that it was unrepresentative and that the Custom Electoral Code that governs elections does not outline such a process.
However, the grand chief insists the vote accords with custom and that he has not dropped the issue.
“Currently, I’m working on it. I have to do what the people asked to do and voted on, so that’s my objective right now,” said Bonspille.
A number of other votes were taken by Bonspille at the meeting.
For a second consecutive community meeting, a vote of non-confidence against five of seven Council chiefs – Amy Beauvais, John Canatonquin, Denise David, Brant Etienne, and Serge Otsi Simon – carried. This time, it was preceded by a vote that purported to ratify the process.
Those chiefs say they do not acknowledge the process as valid, and they continue to work, just as they did following the first vote.
“As we said in our letter that went out the same day, we don’t consider Victor’s meetings to be binding or legal in any sense,” said Etienne. “They don’t follow anything in the electoral code, and essentially he’s trying to let a minority of 30-something people overturn the will of the rest of Kanesatake that participate in the legal, duly-convened elections.”
The electoral code does not outline a process of non-confidence votes, but it does say the mechanism will be developed by Council and subsequently approved by the membership.
“Myself, it was 299 people who voted me in in 2021,” said Canatonquin. “So it’s not 40 who are going to vote me out, and by the way, those 40 didn’t vote for me in 2021.”
Bonspille also took a vote asking those assembled at the meeting for a mandate for himself and MCK chief Valerie Bonspille to finish the term with a hired administrator, without any new elections, but this motion lost 16-10.
The previous non-confidence vote against the five chiefs on October 24 had led to the band office being chained up in the presence of the grand chief by angry community members the next morning, but no such thing happened this time around. Etienne speculated the November 22 meeting, which has not resulted in any action to date, was called for the same rabble-rousing purpose.
“I don’t think he got the traction he wanted,” said Etienne.
“I think the rug’s been pulled out from under him. He doesn’t have near the support he thought he had. There’s no public will for what he’s selling.”
The meeting left Kanesatake Youth Collective member Kailey Karahkwinéhtha Nicholas feeling disenchanted with local politics.
“Those types of meetings, I realize, are not meant for information. They don’t explain anything. It’s just, ‘We’re voting guys, put your hand up, yes or no.’ It’s like, ‘What’s going on? What does this even mean? What are the implications of each one?’” said Nicholas.
“It’s like, this feels wrong. It was bizarre.”
According to Etienne, the five chiefs targeted by the non-confidence votes are focused on regular business, including work on portfolios and weekly Council meetings every Tuesday passing band council resolutions (BCR), such as one this week to buy a new truck for the snow-removal program for elders.
Bonspille has previously argued only the grand chief can call community meetings.
According to Etienne, Bonspille has listed himself as working from home and scarcely appears at the office these days.
“We don’t see any work. We don’t see anything being done,” he said.
Asked how things are going at Council, Bonspille said, “The same,” adding he was heading into a meeting and could not speak further.
ISC spokesperson Randy Legault-Rankin said the department has no authority when it comes to the selection of MCK chiefs.
“In the event of a conflict over leadership, it is up to the community to find a way to resolve that dispute and work toward a lasting solution or go to court to have the matter determined,” said Legault-Rankin.
He reiterated ISC’s offer of mediation and noted the department’s area of concern is instead whether services are being provided.
“The Department’s role is to ensure that essential programs and services are delivered to the people of Kanesatake, which remains the case today,” he said.
A major factor in the Council fracture, which is longstanding but has recently intensified, was the discovery by the majority of MCK chiefs that Bonspille had asked ISC to put the community into third-party management, which would have yielded control over the community’s finances to a government appointee.
This request was rejected by ISC.
This article was originally published in print on Friday, December 15, in issue 32.50 of The Eastern Door.
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.