Home News Hospital marks 40 years since historic agreement 

Hospital marks 40 years since historic agreement 

Mohawk Council of Kahnawake chief Cody Diabo and MCK grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, left, alongside 1984 negotiators Donald Horne, centre right, and Franklin Williams.  Miriam Lafontaine The Eastern Door

There was celebration at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC) this Wednesday as negotiators were praised for their role in establishing Kahnawake’s monumental hospital agreement with Quebec, a historic agreement that turned 40 this week. 

The hospital that opened in 1986 would not exist today were it not for the agreement signed on April 24, 1984 between MCK council chiefs and negotiators Franklin Williams, Donald Horne, and the late Myrtle Bush and Parti Québécois premier René Lévesque. The original Kateri hospital from 1905 had been dilapidated since the 1960s and as time went on was at serious risk of being forced to shutter.  

“It’s so important for us to commemorate moments like this,” said MCK grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer. “We take for granted that we have something like this in our backyard.” 

“I think it was the envy of many First Nations in its time,” she added. “The government of that day, to be able to come to this agreement in 1984, was historic.”  

What made the agreement unique was that it recognized Kahnawake and other First Nations in the province as distinct nations entitled to seeing their culture, language, and traditional customs respected, and their right to determine the development of their own identity. As such, it reinforced these nations’ right to jurisdiction over their own institutions, to ensure they can meet their needs in matters of culture, education, language, health and social services and economic development.  

“By talking to one another we got to understand our perspectives and to understand our distinct aspirations,” said Williams, one the negotiators at the talks back then. “Premier René Lévesque believed in these peoples’ right to self-development, as this was his goal for Quebec, and he had respect for Mohawk self-reliance and development. He understood as Mohawks we’re not going to fade into distant history.”  

The late MCK grand chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton, Council chiefs Billy Two Rivers, Eugene Montour, Ida Goodleaf, Richard White and Kenneth Kane, and Camille Laurin, and Quebec’s minister of social affairs, were also signatories to the 1984 agreement. It promised the construction of a new 43-bed hospital in Kahnawake with an out-patient and long-term care department, ER, and various community health services. 

Williams, Horne, and Bush, the negotiators for the talks, had all come from the hospital board of directors, and ran for Council so they could exert more pressure on the province to get the hospital built.  

“In spite of the obstacles that were put in place we persevered,” Horne said. “It served as a role model of how things can be accomplished.” 

Chris Bush, daughter of the late Myrtle Bush, was so touched she had tears in her eyes as she spoke to the crowd gathered there Wednesday night. 

“My mother was a strong Mohawk woman. She cared deeply about this community, the same way all of you do. She was an advocate for asserting our rights and jurisdiction,” she said. “Anyone that knew my mother knew that when she had her mind set on something she’d go after it.”  

The hospital agreement was a long time coming after the late June Kaherine Delisle, the hospital’s executive director, first began pressuring government officials to take action in 1971. 

“I remember June making numerous calls and writing many letters,” said Susan Horne, who served as her assistant in the 1980s, and later went on to become executive director herself. “She also organized visits so government officials could see the condition of our hospital firsthand.” 

“It was an exciting time, but it was also a really difficult time for us. We were delivering services in a very dilapidated facility.”  

It’s also thanks to Delisle’s hard work and dedication that Kahnawake became the first First Nation in the country to gain control of its own healthcare services in 1970, which was previously under federal jurisdiction back then. 

“Before then the federal government hired and controlled all the doctors, dentists and community nurses that they sent to reserves – and some weren’t the best,” said Ann C. Macaulay, a doctor at the hospital in the 1970s.  

The late premier’s son, Claude Levesque, said his father made a genuine effort to establish a better relationship with Kahnawake and other First Nations, something his predecessors hadn’t done. 

“There was a certain distrust, on both sides, but it quickly became very fruitful,” he told THE EASTERN DOOR. “It was the first time that the Quebec government funded a hospital on an Indigenous reserve.” 

Ian Lafrenière, Quebec’s Indigenous affairs minister, also attended the celebration on Wednesday. The hospital agreement laid the groundwork for many other agreements between Kahnawake and the Quebec government to come in the decades since then, he said, mentioning the agreement signed just last week with Hydro Quebec establishing shared ownership of a hydroelectric energy transmission line into New York.  

“There’s still a lot more work to do,” the minister said, saying Quebec can still do more to support the hospital. “There’s a need to update the hospital agreement. I got that message loud and clear.” 

miriam@easterndoor.com 

This article was originally published in print on April 26 in issue 33.17 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.