“The meeting was all over the place. There was a lot of commotion. There were a lot of arguments. People talking over each other. It really went back and forth,” said Kanesatake community member Anientha Simon.
Simon is referring to the short-notice community meeting that was announced on Monday and held on Tuesday.
According to Simon, around 45 people showed up. More people could have attended, at least virtually, had the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) transmitted the meeting through Zoom.
Prior to the three-hour meeting that started at 7 p.m., many community members were requesting a Zoom link on the MCK’s Facebook page - until the MCK announced that it would not be providing one.
Over the past two years, providing virtual access to meetings has been common practice because of the health measures that are currently still in place.
People were confused and upset and questioned the reasoning behind the decision on social media.
“Personally, it bothered me because - especially calling a meeting so last minute - I really think that they should have allowed Zoom because there are elders and parents that have kids that go to school the next day and even for people with health issues, whatever the case may be there should be a link,” said Simon.
MCK grand chief Victor Bonspille told The Eastern Door that the reason Council restricted access to the meeting was due to the actions of another chief during the last community meeting.
“Unknowingly, a Council chief went ahead before the meeting started and took the login and security off that link to open it to anybody from the outside, including your newspaper,” said Bonspille.
“This chief breached the trust and breached the vulnerability of our community and its members by making this unilateral decision on his own to do this.”
The grand chief emphasized that community meetings are exclusive to band members. He said that prior to that meeting on April 12, Council had decided that it would follow the same format with security checks to gain access.
“It’s not open to outsiders or outside governments, outside entities and outside people. It’s for our members here. It is private, and this person made it public. He violated the trust. He violated the privacy of our whole community,” said the grand chief.
Bonspille did not disclose the identity of the chief.
According to the grand chief, the reason the meeting was called in the first place was to discuss portfolio changes he recently made as disciplinary action against chiefs Brant Etienne and John Canatonquin regarding the disbursement of COVID-19 business relief funds.
“Certain chiefs on the portfolios that I changed were not in agreement. They are fighting me on it. And they are actually saying that the grand chief has no power here. I disagree. And they also said that I have no power to call a community meeting, which I also disagree with,” he said.
“I told them that if they wanted to say these things about me and other issues, they needed to show up at the meeting that I called. It’s a duly convened community meeting.”
Only the grand chief and his sister, chief Valerie Bonspille, showed up to the meeting. Chief Amy Beauvais is currently on medical leave, so her presence was not expected.
“I was a bit surprised. I thought at least one or two of those chiefs would have the courage to face their community, the people that voted them in,” said Bonspille.
“But one of them, I am not surprised. He blatantly said that he was not coming because I did not have the power to call a community meeting. And that was chief Brant Etienne.”
Chief Etienne did not respond to a request for comment.
“I am willing to work with anybody. I have gone through so much with the past mandates. I am prepared for anything that comes my way. I will not back down. I am here for my community,” said the grand chief.
“I am for transparency and honesty. These other chiefs cannot face that. They have an issue dealing with honesty and transparency and accountability.”
Simon said that other topics discussed during the meeting included the land claim and security concerns regarding the cannabis shops located within the Pines.
“There was also a lot of basically trash-talking the chiefs that did not show up,” she said.
The grand chief declined to comment or provide an update on the by-election or the status of the land claim.
“This (infighting) bothers me very much. It puts a damper on the whole community. Everyone that is involved is being damaged by this,” said Simon.
“They are being immature and juvenile, and they are only thinking about themselves at this point, and they really need to start thinking about the seven generations ahead of us that are being screwed over because of their immaturity.”
She said that she knows other community members agree that the infighting is detrimental to Kanesatake.
“I know that there are quite a few people that are deeply upset by this and even angry. There are some people that still support, but there is also a lot of backtracking on their support,” she explained.
The grand chief said that he was voted in for transparency, honesty and inclusion and that his actions embody and reinforce those values.
“If anybody on Council wants to defy that type of leadership, then they need to come out and tell the community and not hide at home when there is a meeting called,” he said.
Simon, however, said that the discussions that took place on Tuesday night were far from inclusive.
“It sounded like a power trip with the grand chief, and he wants to control the chiefs underneath him. It’s not very much about equality like they have been trying to say,” the community member added.
“I think that they need to sit in front of the community and address all of the lies and whatever is going on behind the scenes and wipe the slate clean, and if they can work together after that, then that’s great. If not, I think we should call a general election right now.”
Marisela Amador, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door