Home News Ousters major theme of Kanesatake community meeting

Ousters major theme of Kanesatake community meeting

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Sidelined at the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK), grand chief Victor Bonspille used a community meeting Tuesday to outline his grievances and reiterate his call for a general election.

He was prevented from using community funds for mailouts for the meeting, he said, and is currently using his personal email address to communicate with outside governments and associations after being locked out of his account.

“Right now, the Council made the decision to suspend him pending a public meeting,” said MCK chief Serge Otsi Simon, citing complaints such as Bonspille’s attempt to put the community into third-party management and his involvement in the shuttering of the band office last autumn.

Another chief, Brant Etienne, said Bonspille has abdicated his position by refusing to attend regular Council meetings.

“If you’ve left your job, do you get to use the resources of the organization?” said Etienne.

The Kanesatake Custom Electoral Code indicates that any chief who misses three Council or community meetings without valid reason has vacated their position.

“They said I haven’t showed up in like 50 (Council) meetings. Which is BS,” said Bonspille at the public meeting. “Yeah, I didn’t show up, but who wants to go when it’s toxic anyways? We end up fighting and I end up adjourning the meetings.”

He said that the five Council chiefs who form the majority against him and chief Valerie Bonspille were removed at community meetings in the fall, making their Council sessions illegitimate. The opposition chiefs have argued due process was not followed and that the votes do not seem to accord with the Custom Electoral Code.

“I wish everybody would be at the band office and say ‘Get the hell out, we raised our voices. Listen to us.’ But they don’t,” said Bonspille, who said attending Council meetings would be a violation of custom, a reference to his interpretation of the Custom Electoral Code.

However, Bonspille has missed the vast majority of Council meetings since the beginning of 2023, taking the position that only he can call the sessions.

Meanwhile, none of the five opposition chiefs – Amy Beauvais, John Canatonquin, Denise David, Etienne, and Simon – attended Tuesday’s community meeting, which they consider unsanctioned.

“He’s abandoned his duty. He has no right to call public meetings,” said Simon.

Salaries were also discussed at the community meeting, with Bonspille saying he and Valerie were cut off from their pay and only recently succeeded in having it restored. He also took issue with Simon receiving retroactive pay for time he was sidelined by an appeal board ruling annulling the election despite a judge not resolving the matter.

The agenda for the community meeting on Tuesday, which was attended by around 20 people, included some familiar topics, with top billing going to an update on the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) fraud investigation. Bonspille said he had obtained a communication from January 2020 regarding an emergency preparedness plan that inflated the number of people living on territory and registered band members and said he gave this to the ERU fraud investigators.

He acknowledged he did not know whether this document had been submitted to the government and that his knowledge of the investigation is limited, although he claimed that he requested the first police raid of the band office, citing the need for a visual for the community.

“In my heart, I think and I know that people did wrong,” he said, adding that he hopes charges will come out of the investigation.

In response to a community member asking why the SQ did not come and present their findings so far, Bonspille replied “They’ll tell you the same thing they tell me. It’s ongoing. It’s progressing. And it’s a sealed envelope.”

The SQ confirmed to The Eastern Door that the investigation is still underway.

“He uses it as a boogeyman,” said Etienne of the recurring theme of the ERU investigation on community meeting agendas despite the police providing no new information.

Simon said it’s no surprise the inquiry has taken a long time and continues to defend ERU members, whom he said have been defamed. “It’s frustrating like hell,” he said of the length of the investigation.

Security was another main agenda item, with Bonspille proposing inviting the SQ into the community, saying relations with the police have improved under his leadership.

“I wanted to ask the community if they wanted to mandate me to mandate the SQ to patrol our territory,” he said, but he suggested the turnout was not sizable enough to make the request. He blamed Simon for the SQ’s absence despite problems with crime in the community.

“Their excuse is the person who was in charge the last 10 years before me told them there’s no jurisdiction here,” he said.

Simon, the previous grand chief, acknowledged that he told the SQ to avoid the territory at that time. “When you’re asking for that, that’s a double-edged sword. Better be careful how you swing it,” he said, adding that he believes the solution is a new First Nations police force on the territory.

Bonspille updated the community on various files he said he is working on despite the issues he is having with Council, saying some outside bodies have sided with him.

He said he is supporting the use of $15,000 of community education funds to help the First Nations Education Council fight against the new French language laws, on the condition that the money will be repaid.

He also gave updates relating to the Iroquois Caucus, including negotiations relating to hunting and harvesting, and the Jay Treaty Alliance, which advocates for Onkwehón:we border crossing rights.

Bonspille closed the meeting with a hand count to mandate him to pursue a new general election, whether with government or community funds.

The government has said it needs all chiefs on board for an election, he said. But opposition chiefs are not in favour of the measure.

“There’s a lot of good work going on. If you get a flat tire, you don’t throw out your car. You fix the tire,” said Etienne.

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) has repeatedly said it will not make decisions relating to who is and who is not a chief. The government has signalled it will treat all MCK chiefs as currently in office unless there is clear consensus or it is settled in federal court.

marcus@easterndoor.com

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

This article was originally published in print on March 22 in issue 33.12 of The Eastern Door.

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Marcus is a journalist and 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.

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Marcus is a journalist and 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.