In interviews with The Eastern Door, Kanesatake’s former certified lands, estates, and membership manager has framed her resignation from her post last month as a response to dysfunction and an unsupportive work culture at the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK).

“I have been unhappy in my positions for a long time. Not because of the work, workload, level of complexity, or the people, but with the lack of leadership who instead of adding positive support, offered unnecessary interruption in an otherwise well-oiled machine,” said Amanda Simon, who worked at the MCK for 15 years until resigning on May 15, 2024.

She occupied four distinct roles at the MCK, assisting community members as certified lands manager, Indian registration administrator, comprehensive community planner, and estates liaison officer.

As a consequence of resigning, she also had to leave her leadership roles with the National Aboriginal Lands Managers Association (NALMA).

While she largely cited issues during this term of Council, she said a disrespectful work environment goes back much longer. When she first began at the MCK in 2009 and was pursuing her certifications, she said, she went nine months without a paycheque before finally receiving pay retroactively. Compensation problems persisted, she said, with her often having to advocate for herself.

“When I began working with my assistant Paige O’Brien four-and-a-half years ago, I was making a little over minimum wage,” said Simon. “This plight forced me to write proposals and agree to take on more tasks for top-offs Human Resources and leadership dictated.” 

Project money was also used to help fund the position held by O’Brien, who left the MCK before Simon did and who was not replaced.

Numbers provided by Simon show her rate was $33.32 in 2019 but $23.32 the year before. From 2020 onward, she received additional compensation for membership and comprehensive community planning (CCP) funds.

Simon’s successful proposals, partially based on her credentials, saw hundreds of thousands of dollars flow to the MCK’s coffers for programs such as CCP. An estates management proposal, for instance, brought in $189,000, $56,000 of which was dedicated to salary, according to internal email exchanges.

There were many additional tasks she took on that she was not compensated for, however, she said.

Simon’s outstanding projects, which come with deliverables that are required and which depend on her expertise, may now falter.

“I leave a lot files open and a lot of funding on the table,” said Simon. “For this, I apologize to those who will be affected, however it is no secret to the membership of Kanesatake that my positions were not easy.”

It was a trip to the emergency room in mid-April and a subsequent demand for a “non-negotiable” meeting that provoked her decision to resign, she said.

“What people don’t know out there is this really affected my health, and I wound up in an emergency room with 225 blood pressure,” she said.

“Nurses and doctors were encouraging me to put myself first,” said Simon. “I think everything sort of made me really re-evaluate everything that I needed to do.”

She said she felt unsupported by the MCK’s HR department during her health issues.

“I never even had any kind of question to find out if I was okay, did I need any help? For crying out loud, I’m totally on my own now with four positions I had to handle all by myself,” she said.

Then a mandatory meeting pushed her over the edge.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was when (MCK chief) Brant (Etienne) said to me that our meeting discussing my contractual agreements under estates was non-negotiable,” said Simon.

“I ultimately realized that there was no way the leadership currently and/or any future leadership will ever bring the necessary capacity to the positions that they’re ultimately going to be voted into. Then my fight would continue,” she said.

She said the realization that the stress of her position was unlikely to let up and could continue to affect her health led her to resign.

Etienne acknowledged to The Eastern Door that he sent a non-negotiable meeting request, but he believes it was justified. He said the first request for a meeting with Council chiefs and HR had been declined by Simon and that there were issues that needed to be discussed.

“I think it has to be understood sometimes that if the employer requires a meeting with an employee, it’s not at the employee’s discretion. Essentially that’s maybe where the issue is,” he said.

He said that to his knowledge Simon’s compensation was at scale and that she was fairly paid. He also disagreed with Simon’s characterization of the work environment at the MCK as toxic.

“There haven’t been any interpersonal problems, whether amongst chiefs or staff or anyone like that, for quite a while now. It’s been peaceful,” he said.

Following Simon’s departure, she received a letter on MCK letterhead signed by Etienne and copying some other chiefs and the HR manager, Caroline Dussault, that characterized Simon’s concerns as unfounded and saying she would have faced disciplinary action had she not resigned.

It also said an estates liaison officer consultant contract outlined tasks already part of her job description, not understood by the chiefs at the time, and that with current information no such contract would have been signed.

Simon said she interprets this as an admission of a breach of contract. 

Etienne countered that this would have instead applied to future contracts. He said the May 22 letter was sent for HR reasons.

Regardless of the tone of the departure, Etienne acknowledged Simon’s exit is a loss for the MCK.

“Regardless of any interpersonal or any other issues or anything like that, she knew her job,” he said.

“I was amazed that sometimes she would come up with innovative avenues to solve an issue. She had been there long enough, she had the contacts, she knew the system. She was an asset and we are poorer for it.

“But like I said, that doesn’t mean when an issue arrives, that we have to overlook it.”

Besides the complaints she describes, Simon found herself thrust in the middle of multiple high-profile controversies at Council this term.

It was Simon who discovered an erroneous land declaration signed by MCK grand chief Victor Bonspille that falsely ascribed land already belonging to one member to somebody else. 

“In doing what he did, he just rid my office of any integrity that it possessed in terms of what my office actually does,” she said.

It was also Simon who intercepted a transfer of the G&R Recycling land to the MCK, which Bonspille attempted to process without the involvement of other MCK chiefs. The majority of chiefs have continued to block the transfer, citing liability concerns.

Simon said she was not aware at the time that the other chiefs had been in the dark about the transfer.

marcus@easterndoor.com

By Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 20, 2024 at 17:51

This item reprinted with permission from   The Eastern Door   Kahnawake, Quebec
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