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Kanehsata’kehró:non angered by paddlers

A photograph of Peter Stockdale (right) who is with the Pinesi Paddlers, a group that recently caused controversy in Kanesatake. Courtesy John Savage

Back in May, members of Kanesatake’s Longhouse listened as Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) grand chief Victor Bonspille and MCK chief Valerie Bonspille shared with them information about a group of paddlers that had scheduled a six-day trip, including a stop in Kanesatake.

At the time, Longhouse members had said they were uncomfortable with the visit – the group, who called themselves the Pinesi Paddlers, wanted to put down a plaque for the late Pikwakanagan grand chief Pierre-Louis Constant Pinesi in the graveyard in Kanesatake, and they kept referring to Kanesatake as “Oka.” 

The people in attendance felt that the paddling group had simply shared their schedule with MCK, rather than asked for permission from the Longhouse. 

Karihohetstha Eliza Cupples, a Kanehsata’kehró:non involved in the Longhouse who was there that day, explained that the group sent a letter back to Peter Stockdale – the person who had been sending correspondence on behalf of the group, which is part of Kichi Sibi Trails, an organization that claims to “revitalize the traditional Indigenous trails” connecting lands and waterways around Kichi Sibi (the Ottawa River). 

“It wasn’t that we were telling them you have to cancel your whole thing, but if you want this to happen, you’d have to come discuss with us, come to our Longhouse and discuss with the people, not just take it up with the band office,” Cupples said. “So we did draft up a response, and we sent a final letter stating that the answer is pretty much no.”

Victor Bonspille said that he had told the paddlers that the Longhouse had the final say.

“I told these people, I’m going to stand with whatever the traditional body decides. And so far, they’ve decided that they’re against having anybody come to our territory and making any monuments or declarations of their chiefs being in Kanesatake,” said Bonspille.

He said that after the Longhouse sent their letter back, he received a response from Kichi Sibi Trails, that he had shared with the Longhouse. Another member of the Longhouse confirmed they had seen the letter, which was signed by Stockdale, which said they would change the wording on the plaques to “appeal to Mohawk leadership” and would “postpone any ceremonies at Oka until a resolution is reached.” 

Members of the Longhouse thought the group would be in discussions with them before their trip and didn’t expect to hear that the group had set off from Oka Park on June 25.

Cupples was upset to learn that the trip was taking place – particularly with the involvement of Stockdale, who is non-Indigenous.

Though Stockdale declined to comment for this article, he did share with The Eastern Door a list of Kichi Sibi Trails’ board members, where he is listed as secretary, and former Pikwakanagan First Nation chief Wendy Jocko is listed as president. 

She was also on the 154-KM trip to Ottawa and told The Eastern Door that the trail group intends to bring together non-Indigenous and Indigenous members in the spirit of reconciliation; the paddling trip and related “Chief Pinesi Days” standing as a testament to that.

Though Jocko is now president of Kichi Sibi Trails, the early days of the group were more intimate, starting out with Stockdale and John Savage, who is Metis. 

Savage spent his life paddling and knew a great deal about the area and the culture. During the pandemic, he and Stockdale began to spend more time together and came up with the idea of forming a project – Kichi Sibi Trails – engaging all communities in working out a collaborative mapping project of different significant trails. 

Savage said that he told Stockdale to properly consult communities and emphasized from the start that band councils don’t represent an entire community’s opinion. The situation in Kanesatake, Savage said, proves he didn’t listen. 

“I warned him, when you approach Indigenous communities, you can’t railroad through your ideas,” he said. “But because he is the person who he is, he’s open to thieving other peoples’ ideas.”

The two worked together at first as the group grew, but they fell out after a disagreement about orchestrating funding requests.

“All I got from him through Facebook were messages that I had betrayed him, I didn’t care about his ideas, that I was taking this over; it was like I was dealing with a child,” Savage said. 

“Through text, he basically said ‘you’re not going to be involved with this anymore, I’m not going to work with you.’”

Savage also pointed to a community petition circulated in 2022 in Pikwakanagan First Nation, which was addressed to Jocko, at the time a sitting Council chief, and her fellow chief Dylan Whiteduck. 

The petition asked Jocko and Whiteduck to remove Peter Stockdale from events related to “Chief Pinesi Day” and has 86 public signatures. Jocko did not comment on the petition when asked by The Eastern Door– though she did mention that Kichi Sibi Trails is separate and distinct from the Pikwakanagan First Nation Council. 

That petition stated that Stockdale had, for several years, “inappropriately placed himself in the center of Algonquin culture and politics,” and gave examples of his behaviour including photographing Algonquin youth in regalia during ceremonial events without their or their parents’ consent. 

“We do not want Peter Stockdale in our events, and we do not need him to pretend he is an ally,” the letter concludes. 

One of those signatories is Veldon Coburn, a Pikwakanagan First Nation member and current associate professor at McGill University. Coburn said he’s had negative experiences with Stockdale, who he first interacted with in 2019 when he was working as a professor at the University of Ottawa.

Stockdale wanted Coburn to write and submit a grant on his behalf. Coburn said he refused, and ended up blocking Stockdale on Facebook after his interactions became “badgering.”

“He’s everywhere, and he’s rude, and he’s extractive. It’s like he fetishizes us,” Coburn said. “He’s created this whole mythology around chief Pinesi, which I don’t know how much is true, and he’s tried to elevate this guy into this huge Algonquin hero from days past.”

Jocko has publicly stated that she is a descendant of Pinesi – but Coburn said that Pinesi isn’t the public figure that the group has made him out to be. 

“Chief Pinesi really didn’t have that huge of a prominence. He was our last grand chief, sure, back in the early 19th century, but we’ve had more towering figures,” Coburn said. 

“He’s led a few Algonquins to believe that it’s okay without getting the proper approvals. It’s just part of the pattern of his disrespect and his belligerent approach to Indigenous people.”

Savage said that it’s particularly painful to see Stockdale continue with the trail group he once helped nurture. 

“He’s trying to portray that he has knowledge about our cultures, and he’s taking advantage of a culture in which a lot of us had lost these stories, so we’re eager to get them back, even if it is coming from non-Indigenous sources,” he said. 

“It makes us vulnerable as an Indigenous community, because we want to be reconnected with our history. But unfortunately, we have to rely on people like Peter Stockdale, who is a parasite.” 

As for those in Kanesatake, an apology is in order, said Cupples.

“I’d like an apology from this group – not necessarily the paddlers, because they might have no idea the people are upset about this, but the organizers should definitely come out and apologize to us,” she said.

evedcable@gmail.com

This article was originally published in print on July 5 in issue 33.27 of The Eastern Door.

Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.