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Indigenous Services to exit Kahnawake 

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The Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) building is moving, The Eastern Door has learned, but the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake has not come up with a plan B publicly yet, or even informed the community of the imminent departure of this vital service to Montreal.

“I think it will make it harder for people, especially our elders, to get services,” said a source close to the situation, who requested anonymity out of fear of professional repercussions.

The source found out about the move this past fall and was devastated.

A meeting from ISC in November with staff glossed over the move from Kahnawake to the Guy Favreau Complex with little information. Such a move would make it difficult for Kahnawa’kehró:non, especially elders and people with mobility issues, to renew status cards or get any kind of direct access to, or services from, Indigenous Affairs.

Along with the move, employees have a mandate to physically work in the new office in the city for two days a week, according to emails, which adds time, stress, and traffic concerns to all local employees.

Further, tax exemption considerations from working off-reserve are worrisome, but according to ISC, as long as the work is mostly done on-reserve (60 percent), Native workers would not have to pay tax on their income.

The date as it stands now is spring of 2025 to completely move from Kahnawake to Montreal.

The services provided at the white building across from the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre have changed in the last few years, with services for estates no longer being offered, which makes dealing with wills, burials, and other issues more time-consuming, and can lead to frustration when dealing with all of those stressful issues by email or phone calls to Quebec City.

But the services lost with the building’s move next year means just getting a band card renewed will be that much harder.

The building itself, owned by the MCK and rented to ISC, is old and in need of repair, with parts of it condemned and completely shut off to workers (including the upstairs portion).

“People won’t want to go to the city, to take public transportation, or deal with the language barrier,” said the source. “I think it will be a big loss for the community and none of the chiefs are fighting for it.”

As for the lack of communication with the public at large, the source was upset with how little information was out there, with just over a year to go.

“People should have a right to know what’s going on,” the source said. “It’s a service a lot of people use and once it’s gone, it’s not coming back.”

When The Eastern Door reached out to ISC in November 2023 for clarification, a clear answer was not provided.

“Indigenous Services Canada’s (ISC) priority is to maintain and improve accessible services for Indigenous communities,” replied Jacinthe Goulet, a spokesperson for ISC and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada.

“ISC is currently in discussions with the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake regarding how services will be delivered in the community. We have no changes to communicate for now.

“Registration and status card services continue to be available in person at ISC regional offices and through Indian Registration Administrators (IRAs). Registration and status card services are also available by mail,” she concluded.

When reached for comment in November on the impending move, MCK chief Harry Rice said: “There’s no comment to be made right now. Stuff is happening, we are working on it and we’re going to be coming up with a sort of solution. So, there is no story to come out right now.”

In a follow-up in December, after TED reached out to employees and confirmed the move, Rice told TED reporter Miriam Lafontaine: “I told you, I gave you the back story. We’re working on stuff. When it comes out, we’ll call you. I can give you the phone to Cody (MCK chief Diabo) right now, he’s going to tell you the same thing.”

Rice is currently on medical leave and refused to comment on the move this week.

Other sources

Another person close to the situation who also has firsthand knowledge of what was going on in the lead-up to the March 2025 move, said they had their suspicions years ago, and they didn’t like where things were going.

The secondary source talked about a lack of support in the old building as it stands today, and the workers “are doing the best that they can with what they have,” including a lack of mentorship and proper onboarding.

When it was finally confirmed that Kahnawake (one of only two First Nations to have an ISC building on their own territory along with Fort William) would no longer have this kind of direct access in a short period of time, the source was shocked and disappointed.

“What a loss for our community,” said the secondary source, “specifically elders and people who don’t have access to a vehicle, people who might need assistance. For example, an elder specifically in the hospital. They need to renew their status card and they can’t get it done. You make accommodations to be able to help them and you get it done, and it works. But that’s not going to happen now.”

Getting assistance on specific documents necessary for things like registering a child will also be gone, in a building that will be too far for locals to easily get to, they said. “People just assume if they are born into Kahnawake they are registered under the band, but that’s not the case.

“They (workers) took on a position to help out the community, but now they’re being forced out of the community,” they said. “Is there no space for them?”

ISC had previously asked employees about alternative buildings in the community that could be more suitable, but nothing was found, according to the secondary source.

Other sources close to the situation said people have rolled their wheelchairs directly to the building for services in the past, and some people have even come from places like Manawan – 270 KM and almost four hours away from Kahnawake – for service.

With no male workers in the building, and after a scary situation of an unwanted visitor, a security guard was stationed full-time in the building in summer of 2023.

It is also very busy. Employees were told by ISC that the white building produces the third most band cards in the country by office, and the fear is if the office moves, services to people who are not on the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawake Registry could be refused, even though there are employees at Council currently who could provide that service, but rely on the ISC building instead to do band cards.

“I was a little bit surprised at the lack of concern, and possibly the lack of community,” the secondary source said about the MCK chiefs’ inaction to this point, in not bringing this issue to warn the community or fight for ISC to stay.

“These are your people and if you’re not caring that they’re going to have struggles to try and reach the new location, why are you in those positions? Isn’t this what you’re here for, to help our community, or to represent us?”

steveb@easterndoor.com

This article was originally published in print on February 16 in issue 33.07 of The Eastern Door.

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.

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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.