Aquaponics still has an advocate in Kahnawake

·3 min read

An ambitious proposal for an aquaponics farm in Kahnawake may be lost in the wilderness, but it’s not dead in the water.

Over the past couple years, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) did considerable groundwork for a potential aquaponics project, currently envisioned as a $7-million food sovereignty operation in the community.

However, the project stalled when its viability as a revenue generator was put into question, leaving it without an appropriate Council portfolio.

“When we did the surveys back in 2020, there were almost 300 respondents, and over 80 percent of them wanted to see a project like this,” said MCK chief Cody Diabo, a leading proponent of the project.

“To say the community wants a project, but it doesn’t fit within the structure of the MCK, to me doesn’t really make sense,” he said.

He is hopeful the project may be reconsidered by Council when a portfolio review is done in September, even suggesting a new portfolio could be created to accommodate it.

“I do know there are a lot of pros and cons to aquaponics,” said Allison Deer, a community member who filled out the initial survey.

“It’s a big investment. You’re talking big money and big time, and a lot can go wrong,” she said.

“Until it’s able to provide the type of solid investment that we’d be looking for, it’s difficult for us to support it financially at this point,” said MCK chief Mike Delisle, lead portfolio chief for economic development.

“It is possible depending on the size of the operation and what it’s able to do and expansion and so on, but initially, I don’t think it’s an economic development project nor a revenue generator.”

To date, community surveys, a market study, and a feasibility study have been done on a potential aquaponic facility, which would combine fish farming with agriculture. Early last year, Council committed $60,000 to move forward with planning, to be partially reimbursed by the Aboriginal Initiatives Fund, but it ultimately stalled.

“I think the ($7-million) price tag scared a lot of people,” said Diabo, especially given uncertainty about its potential as an investment vehicle.

“My vision was not necessarily to have it a revenue generator, even though the feasibility studies showed it would be generating some revenue,” he said.

The scope of the project expanded, said Diabo, as interest in an aquaponics operation inside and outside the community was gauged, contributing to the cost.

“We met with food nutritionists from the hospital, we met with the food basket, we met with Tewatohnhi’saktha, we met with the schools, we met with some youth. So we did a lot of work to try to get an idea for people what they would like to have seen,” he said.

According to Diabo, an IGA in St. Constant was interested in a kiosk, and it was taken into account that there could be interest in other municipalities, including Montreal. Diabo even envisions trading with other Indigenous communities, boosting food security for Indigenous Peoples more broadly.

His biggest argument for the project is still rooted in the needs of Kahnawa’kehró:non, however.

“The community’s in a large push for food security and food sovereignty projects,” he said.

He believes the return on investment could be very positive, whether economically or in the form of better health and increased autonomy.

“There still is interest, speaking with my colleagues. It’s just, again, where does it go?” he said.

“I always have hope, you know, and I don’t like to give up very easily. No matter how many times I bang my head against the bureaucratic wall, I keep trying and keep pushing.”

gmbankuti@gmail.com

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door

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