Home Editorial What an emergency taught us 

What an emergency taught us 

Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte The Eastern Door

The fuel spill bordering Chateauguay and Kahnawake acted as a metaphor for the issues we face overall in Kahnawake. Allow us to clearly illustrate the how and the why of it. 

First, spills like this are embarrassing and scary – and no one really wants to get into how it happened, especially if it wasn’t their fault. 

That’s where the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) comes in, and the company that allegedly spilled the fuel. The MCK slowly rolled things out and information trickled, but oftentimes the Council doesn’t know whether to release as much info as possible (very, very rare), or to hold onto whatever they can to try to control the situation – a usual occurrence with so many issues. 

So, they kind of release what they can, as they go along, and see how people react. Remember the rumour press release that came out to clarify exactly nothing? That was prompted by the community talking on social media, and if you yell loud enough, Council listens – for better or for worse. 

Well, people were yelling loudly on this environmental catastrophe, so things came out publicly as more pressure was applied. 

We get it, Kahnawake and Chateauguay have egg on their faces because they’re on the hook to clean up a mess they didn’t make, but we must find a way to react quicker and fight harder for answers that can go publicly, quickly, to quell the fear, and to show something is being done, and fast! 

The 207 Longhouse organized a march to the mayor’s office in Chateauguay in response, demanding answers, and help, and that’s a move we welcome. The MCK, and surrounding municipalities, need to be reminded that Kahnawake has a system much older than theirs, based on the rights of the collective, and not the privileged. 

We don’t see enough of that type of action by the traditional people, and we support it when it does happen. 

Mayor Eric Allard has also been put on notice that living next to Kahnawake doesn’t mean a buddy-buddy relationship with someone you once played hockey with. It means making hard decisions, listening to the Indigenous Peoples of the land you currently live on, and ensuring things like the spill are mitigated and the people are responded to respectfully. 

With all the media attention – that’s where our role plays the biggest part, getting the word out there en masse – Francois Legault had no choice but to step up and commit to paying the bill. Let’s hope the premier’s cheque doesn’t bounce. 

For a CAQ government that has put forth big bills targeting our overall Indigenous rights, and the rights of anyone who doesn’t speak French, this is the least they could do.  

He doesn’t get kudos for changing a smelly diaper. It’s expected of him and his government, but with a recent meeting face-to-face with the MCK, we’re hoping his Kanien’kéha comprehension is good enough to know that what he’s doing is wrong; his government has gone too far in “protecting” French at the expense of the original language of this land.  

And that must change. 

That leaves La Petroliere N & R Sol Inc. – the company believed to be responsible for the spill – on the hook for whatever you can get out of an inactive entity that will fight as much as it can not to pay. 

Fighting a ghost yields predictable results. 

The Kahnawake Environment Protection Office should be lauded, as KEPO reacted quickly and mitigated the damages to the waterways despite the high cost, both financially and with all the people power it was able to muster. 

Let’s see if old Frankie keeps his word and pays the tab on this one, and in an election year for the Council, we will see if any chief leverages this issue to get re-elected.

This editorial was originally published in print on March 15 in issue 33.11 of The Eastern Door.

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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.

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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.