Home Editorial Holding them to account 

Holding them to account 

Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte The Eastern Door

After two years in the works, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed between the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) and Canada, but it’s not the end of a process – it’s merely the beginning of one. 

In an interview with The Eastern Door, Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Gary Anandasangaree said all the right words, but he was short on specifics. Sure, words are all there are right now, but negotiations often look rosier before it’s time for the nitty gritty, and commitments – measurable and specific – count more than flowery language ever could. 

That said, it’s still early, at least as far as this MOU is concerned – it’s not the first – and the document only seeks to outline the terms of negotiations. 

Yes, even sitting down at the table can be a monumental step. To this end, sectoral tables will be created to hash out some of Council’s most pressing priorities with the federal government on a range of issues, the overarching goal of which is to redefine the relationship between Canada and Kahnawake, something Council has emphasized for a long time. 

Even if an MOU outlines intentions rather than commitments, it is far from too early to demand Canada is held to account, considering the colonial power’s failures go back centuries already.  

The government swears up and down it wants to work with Kahnawake through this agreement to ensure Canada respects the community’s right to self-determination, but what does that look like? 

As it stands, The Eastern Door can’t say for sure, as the MCK and the government both declining to share a copy of the agreement with us, with Council instead offering an interview with a Council staffer who could answer questions about its contents. 

But information is power, and by seeking to disseminate it, to ask questions about it and gain new insights, community media is a conduit for the community and, at its best, a tool for community empowerment. 

Given the government’s legacy, there is division when it comes to the MCK’s steps – not least because band council is an Indian Act creation now ostensibly working to unwind the Indian Act – and transparency is a precious olive branch. 

In the meantime, we’re told community members will be able to view the document at today’s chiefs’ kiosk or by request. But how many community members will get the chance to do so – the chief’s kiosk finishes at 5 p.m., after all, so those who work until then won’t be able to go. And how many of those who read the document will have the chance to get minister Anandasangaree on the phone and demand to know how he will live up to his lofty words? 

The government has a lot to answer for, as hypocrisy still rears its ugly head.  

Why is it that Canada endorses self-determination for Kahnawake with one side of its mouth but with the other insists on its dominion over gaming and cannabis? Why are consultations more often a checkbox than a meaningful acknowledgement of Indigenous rights? Why are the feds complicit in Quebec’s transgressions against Indigenous autonomy, such as Bill 96, which still lingers without exemption for Kahnawa’kehró:non, imposing a second colonial language as they fight to save their own? 

Canada needs to turn the page, and it can’t get away forever with lofty words that can be washed away at the ballot box.  

On that note, the current government is verging on epic levels of unpopularity, so for a government that talks the talk, maybe it’s time for commitments that are hard to walk back. 

The MOU was not the only major agreement the MCK signed last week: the other, a partnership with Hydro Quebec to deliver electricity to power a million New York City homes, was heralded as a form of “economic reconciliation.” 

The partnership is a big deal, no doubt, no matter your views on the MCK’s involvement in business endeavours. Council envisions four decades of new revenues for the community that can be spent on all sorts of local priorities, and few disagree that the agreement is precedent-setting, whatever you think of the precedent. 

Hydro Quebec even coughed up $10 million for the new cultural building to boot. 

Understating the case, there was passing reference at the signing ceremony to an era in which Hydro Quebec was more likely to expropriate Indigenous lands than work with Onkwehón:we. 

For instance, the first phase of one of the biggest electricity projects in memory, Hydro Quebec’s James Bay hydroelectric project, was built over the objections of the Cree to whom the land belongs. The first phase, which resulted in increased river flow on the island of Fort George, resulted in the entire community relocating to the mainland, forced to leave their homes behind. The second phase, threatening the Great Whale River, was only halted after five years of Cree resistance. 

It was only a few years back that several First Nations in Canada and the US united in opposition to a transmission line through the United States, still on track to turn on the lights in Maine. 

So the Hertel line, as far as we know, is a step in the right direction for Hydro Quebec, treating the MCK as a valuable partner and not an obstacle. 

But Hydro Quebec, and all colonial institutions, need to be on notice that it’s time for results, for follow through, and for a transformation that is only just beginning. 

This editorial was originally published in print on April 26 in issue 33.17 of The Eastern Door.

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