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Feedback sought on community meetings

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The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) has released a new conduct policy that will be implemented at community meetings moving forward. It comes following complaints from Council chiefs who say they’ve been victim to personal insults and intimidating behaviour from some who attend the meetings. 

MCK grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer denounced the behaviour at the meetings in a recent video address shared on Facebook last month. It came in response to name-calling she witnessed directed at MCK chief Jessica Lazare at the last community meeting on December 12 in particular, Sky-Deer said at the time.

The MCK’s public relations team met with several community members this Tuesday and Wednesday to hear their thoughts on the new policy, said Winona Polson-Lahache, chief political advisor to the MCK. A table was set up at the Kahnawake Services Complex for anyone who wanted to talk to them, she said.

“One of the messages that we heard yesterday was that it’s okay to have a diversity of opinions, as long as the place remains constructive and people remain open to hearing each other’s perspectives,” Polson-Lahache said on Wednesday. 

The draft version of the conduct guidelines asks that community members “maintain a respectful tone” without voices being raised and that they refrain from interrupting or “using foul or discriminatory language.” It also asks that people keep their phones on silent, and that they refrain from recording audio at the meeting. Those that refuse to abide by the rules could be asked to leave. 

Polson-Lahache said their team wanted to be the one to collect the feedback in the hope community members would feel more comfortable sharing their ideas.  

“We didn’t want people to feel that their feedback was going to be filtered in any way,” Polson-Lahache said. “We didn’t want it to seem politically motivated or anything.”

Timmy Norton was part of the MCK’s public relations team in the early 2000s. At the time he said they strongly recommended Council put an end to the community meetings – a stance he still holds to this day. 

“All it was was people having a place to yell and call down the Council chiefs,” said Norton, brother of the late grand chief Joe Norton. “It can get very nasty and ugly, and I’ve seen it.”

He used to attend nearly every meeting from 1999 to 2006, but hasn’t attended in several years because of how hostile it has become. He said meet the chiefs events and information kiosks provide a more productive outlet for people to raise their concerns to Council. He also believes a referendum should be held on whether to continue community meetings. 

Polson-Lahache said abolishing them isn’t the right approach, saying they create an environment where chiefs are called upon to be more transparent and accountable to those who put them in power.

“It’s an opportunity for the leadership to be able to dialogue with the community as well, and hear their perspective regarding the work that they’re doing. It’s a tremendously important venue,” she said.

Blue Sky is a longstanding regular at the quarterly meetings. She said if people tend to get frustrated at the meetings, it’s often because chiefs there refuse to be transparent.

“We have heard little to nothing of politics during this term and the people have become upset, not only with that, but with the headlines that have plagued this term of office,” she said. “With that, people are demanding answers and they are getting poor responses or no real response at all.” 

While she agreed people should remain respectful at meetings, she disagreed with the approach of the new policy, saying what’s really needed is stronger leadership. 

“Not that long ago at Golden Age, a community member rushed to get to the late grand chief Joseph Norton. He didn’t step down nor did he call for new policy, he dealt with it,” Sky said. 

The next community meeting has been set for February 28 at 7 p.m., with its location expected to be announced soon. Community members can also share their thoughts on the conduct guideline up until February 15 by emailing feedback@mck.ca. 

miriam@easterndoor.com

This article was originally published in print on February 9 in issue 33.06 of The Eastern Door.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.