Governance project pivots to education

Kahnawake’s history has often been written by non-Indigenous anthropologists, historians, and priests, but Gerald Taiaiake Alfred views the Kahnawake Governance Project as a chance for the community to reject seeing itself through someone else’s lens.

“It’s only recently where we’ve had the opportunity to separate our true history and the stories that our people know to be true from the histories that were generated by other people for reasons other than the truth,” said Alfred, who manages the project.

“This project here is really now the opportunity for us to put everything in its proper context.”

Alfred, tasked with the tough job of restoring traditional governance, spent months assessing the community’s existing knowledge leading up to the latest phase.

Work on the project has been underway since 2019 after it had been announced, when it was launched by the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) as a way to reconcile the two systems.

Now, Alfred and community engagement coordinator Linda Karonienhawi Delormier are pivoting to a new phase, holding a slew of events designed to ensure everyone is on the same page before tackling the conversations ahead.

“At this point, it’s important to say, we’re not even asking people to discuss their vision of the future,” said Alfred.

“One of the main reasons there’s so much discord and division and argument amongst ourselves in this community is because we don’t have a shared understanding of our past, that we’re all arguing from different fact bases,” he said.

The project’s needs-assessment survey, conducted over spring and summer, identified the history of government in Kahnawake in general as the standout educational requirement, with 31 of 139 respondents expressing an interest in learning more. However, gaps in knowledge specifically relating to the Longhouse system and traditional teachings were also ranked highly.

“I think it’s very important,” said Alfred of the project transitioning to an educational phase.

Ongoing initiatives include a webinar series, appearances on K103’s Tetewatha:ren radio show, and kitchen table sessions, with “steak and cornbread” sessions. Presentations at the Mohawk Trail Longhouse and Kahnawake Survival School are set to take place in the new year.

“I just encourage people to take part in the activities, to not feel intimidated or to not feel like they need a certain level of expertise or prior knowledge or anything,” said Alfred. “This is a process that’s been set up for the people of Kahnawake, and it’s objective, it’s a safe space, and it’s going to be a positive learning experience for everybody.”

He feels the governance project has generated even more enthusiasm lately, as people have begun to see it as a means to transcend disunity and nurture a shared vision for the future of Kahnawake.

“One of the things holding us back as a community from realizing our full potential and coming back and standing on our own strength and power is this division,” said Alfred.

“It’s a subject where you’re not going to get people jumping up and clapping. It’s governance. It’s politics,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a feel-good project, but I think people recognize it’s a necessary project.”

The governance project will spend an hour on K103.7 at noon on November 7, and the next webinar session, Documenting Kahnawake’s Governance History, will take place on November 10 at 5 p.m.

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door