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Feds change tune on G&R resolutions

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Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) has lifted a condition that all Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) chiefs must agree on a plan to hire W8banaki to coordinate preliminary work for the cleanup of the toxic G&R Recycling site, according to two MCK chiefs. 

“There’s hope,” said MCK chief Serge Otsi Simon, casting the concession as a recognition of the authority of the majority of MCK chiefs, with or without the cooperation of MCK grand chief Victor Bonspille. 

“The minister has recognized that the quorum is the legal governing body, a majority. It’s the basic rules of democracy, what we’ve always observed, and this false custom that Victor keeps on promoting, we never did that,” said Simon. 

ISC did not return requests for confirmation or comment by deadline, while Bonspille did not return an interview request from The Eastern Door this week. 

The department has repeatedly refused to weigh in on internal disagreements at the MCK about the legitimacy of sitting chiefs following Bonspille’s efforts to remove five of his colleagues on Council with successful votes at community meetings. Bonspille was subsequently suspended indefinitely by the majority, who cited his poor attendance record at Council sessions in contravention of the Custom Electoral Code. 

In December, a lawyer representing Bonspille wrote to ISC to argue that two Band Council Resolutions (BCRs) relating to preliminary work at the toxic G&R Recycling site and signed by a majority of Council chiefs were invalid because the chiefs had been removed from office. 

In January, Indigenous Services minister Patty Hajdu wrote to all seven Council chiefs promising financial support for a plan outlined in the two Band Council Resolutions (BCRs) received in November on the condition that the whole Council support the effort.  

The BCRs had selected W8banaki to coordinate a characterization study necessary to proceed with a cleanup. 

ISC’s commitment to funding the preliminary work in January did not require the MCK to take possession of the contaminated G&R Recycling land from owners Robert and Gary Gabriel, which has been a major point of contention on Council, with Bonspille insisting the refusal of the quorum to accept the land transfer has been the primary obstacle to government assistance on the file. 

Now, Simon and MCK chief Brant Etienne say they have received confirmation from ISC that the department will not require the support of the grand chief for the plan to hire W8banaki to coordinate the preliminary work. 

“We finally got past the hurdle that Victor put up about the G&R situation,” said MCK chief Brant Etienne. “We finally got confirmation that ISC will release funds to start the characterization process at G&R regardless of his protests and his assertion that the quorum has no validity in doing any of that work.” 

However, Council will still be required to obtain assurances that the Gabriels will not attempt to interfere with the work, according to the two MCK chiefs. 

The Gabriels previously refused to sign a non-interference letter, with Robert telling The Eastern Door he did not want to get in the middle of Council infighting. 

A full remediation of the contaminated site is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars, if not more. 

marcus@easterndoor.com 

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

This article was originally published in print on May 24 in issue 33.21 of The Eastern Door.

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Marcus is an award-winning 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 an award-winning 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.