The imminent elections in Kanesatake on July 31, sparked a series of debates between Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) candidates.
Innu writer and journalist Michel Jean was the moderator for both the initial grand chief debate on Wednesday, July 14, and the council chief debate held on Thursday, July 15.
After every candidate was introduced on Thursday, Jean explained that the debate would be structured around a series of questions submitted by community members.
Throughout the event broadcasted on the MCK Facebook page, along with community station Reviving Kanehsatà:ke Radio, candidates gave their positions on topics ranging from policing, the local cannabis industry, and public security.
Thursday night began with candidates offering a perspective of what they want to achieve over the course of the four-year term, if elected.
“I will be continuing what I have already been doing in this community, which is try to work with everybody for the betterment of our people, Kanesatake, as well as the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation,” expressed first-time candidate, Jeremy Teiawenniseráhte Tomlinson.
Meanwhile, candidate Amy Beauvais wants the Council to integrate technology in order to achieve a more open dialogue with all members, focusing on pressing topics such as housing.
“I have an idea of creating a virtual platform where people can go to communicate their ideas in a safe environment,” said Beauvais. “I’ve noticed that when it comes to community meetings, there isn’t a large enough attendance to get a good percentage of the community’s voice.”
The subject of security was also brought forth by the moderator.
While Beauvais acknowledged the importance of all members’ safety, she stated the current provincial policing systems already in place are sufficient.
With a career in policing spanning nearly two decades, Tomlinson expressed that his expertise leads him to believe different options should first be explored by the community.
“There are different formats that we could approach,” he pointed out, noting that a system in line with Kanien’kehá:ka traditional values would be ideal. “But those are things that really need to be discussed in-depth because this would never come about in partnerships with the federal or provincial governments.”
Among the many issues current chief and candidate Patricia Tiohserate Meilleur said need to be addressed is the revitalization of the Kanien’kéha language and Kanien’kehá:ka culture.
“One of my ideas is to continue talks with the surrounding RCM (regional county municipality) and the provincial governments to not only implement our language and culture, but also to educate them,” said Meilleur, adding that the realities of Kanehsata’kehró:non must be addressed and adhered to.
While stating that the safety and security of members is paramount, Meilleur emphasized that this topic is intrinsically linked to local economic development, as well as the creation and implementation of regulations on all matters.
“Because as it stands now, our community is in a vacuum of being responded to by the Surete du Quebec (SQ) and in my last seven-years (I saw how) we fall through the cracks,” she said, explaining that the SQ has no mandate to uphold community laws.
When his turn arrived, Brant Etienne highlighted how crucial building community consensus is; something he states is currently lacking.
Land reform, housing and cultural revitalization are three urgent matters the candidate hopes to bring to the forefront if elected.
“Because of the way land has been allocated and bought in the fall of 1990, there are federal lands which haven’t been put as allotments for our people,” explained Etienne.
In agreement with other candidates, Etienne said that “malicious actors” and “people from the outside willing to use force against band members” lead him to believe a localized policing system would ensure the security of members.
Candidate Sheila Bonspiel said her priority would first and foremost be to resolve the outstanding land claims.
“We have lands that’s being squatted and taken over,” said Bonspiel. “We need some mechanism to address these land problems and long-standing land claims.”
Moreover, she explained that alongside land issues, she wants to bring more transparency and accountability to the Council.
“Every single council that has ever come into power within a matter of time, they end up in a conflict,” said Bonspiel, noting that she has witnessed this pattern as a member and as a former chief during two terms.
Regarding policing, the candidate said the question should above all reflect the opinions of Kanehsata’kehró:non.
While she highlighted the recent efforts of the Kanehsatake Cannabis Association members, Bonspiel expressed that the community still wants a say in the industry’s operation.
Running for re-election, chief John Canatonquin said the community needs a system that works to protect the community above all else.
In his opening, the sitting MCK chief expressed his aspiration to continue the work he has undertaken as the lead on portfolios including finance, housing and infrastructure.
Among the projects Canatonquin wants to see through is the multi-complex building that broke ground on May 22, which he was instrumental in launching.
Resolving land issues and bringing clean, drinking water to Kanehsata’kehró:non were also part of the priorities the chief listed.
When prompted about his stance on the cannabis industry, Canatonquin said that Kanesatake should develop its own laws for the industry, seeing as the industry is here to stay.
This opinion was shared by Etienne, who called on greater community input.
The initial grand chief debate that took place on July 14, left incumbent grand chief Serge Otsi Simon to his own devices when his only opponent, Victor Akwirente Bonspille, was a no-show.
Citing Simon’s “lack of transparency” and “fear to face community members,” Bonspille requested that Simon join him and council chief candidates for a face-to-face debate attended by community members on Saturday, July 17.
The two Kanehsata’kehró:non shared their vision for the next four year term with the community.
Anticipation continues to rise as members are more determined than ever to hold the incoming council accountable.
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door