Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) has denied Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) grand chief Victor Bonspille’s request for the Canadian government to put Kanesatake’s funding agreement under the management of a third-party administrator.

While the extraordinary request was made on July 5, the majority of chiefs were not aware of it until they were copied in the government’s official response, dated September 1.

“It’s shameful,” said MCK chief Serge Otsi Simon. “I think the community’s going to realize this is the last straw. And they’re going to want us to do something about it. There’s only one thing standing between total chaos and having some form of stability – five chiefs sitting at one table.”

According to multiple MCK chiefs, a majority of Council – Amy Beauvais, John Canatonquin, Denise David, Brant Etienne, and Serge Otsi Simon – is united in preparing an imminent response to this development and other discord they contend is sown by Bonspille.

“Just put it this way, all legal options are being looked at,” said Simon. “Nothing is left off the table. The community’s benefits have to be protected.”

Political options are also being considered, clarified Etienne. Bonspille did not reply to multiple requests for comment for this article.

In ISC’s rejection of Bonspille’s request, the regional director general of the Quebec region, Caroline Garon, cited the Interim Directive on Default Prevention and Management Policy, which outlines when a third-party administrator can be appointed to oversee the funding agreement with the department, which makes up the vast majority of the MCK’s annual budget.

According to the MCK’s 2021-2022 financial statements, the most recent available, ISC contributed $17.4 million to Kanesatake out of $18.2 million in revenue for that fiscal year.

According to Garon’s response on behalf of ISC, only a limited set of circumstances can trigger third-party management. These include an inability to reach quorum to administer the funding agreement, an unacceptable service disruption and failure to collaborate, and the First Nation being unable to sign the agreement because of resignations, death, or governance disputes are the only situations that warrant third-party management; Garon said none of these apply according to the information in the government’s possession.

Etienne characterized this as vindication for the efficacy of Council despite well-known turmoil between the two factions.

“Agreements are signed. Department work is worked on. Plans are made on how to do organized things, what has to be done on the day-to-day,” said Etienne.

Kanesatake was previously placed under third-party finan- cial management from 2003- 2006, when PricewaterhouseCoopers was appointed third-party administrator by the federal government.

“It’s a pseudo-Indian agent situation. It’s insane,” said Etienne of third-party financial management.

“Essentially, it would double the time, minimum, it takes to get any procedural matters accomplished,” he said.

“It would increase a duplication of tasks, a duplication of costs. Already, we have matters that are time-sensitive that are difficult to achieve in our situation. Doubling that would put so many issues either at risk or make it infeasible to accomplish in a timely manner.”

“We also surrender a large part of our self-governance responsibilities,” added Simon.

He suggested those who are supportive of bringing third-party management back to Kanesatake have a political agenda.

“Third-party management suits certain political elements in our community because when they’re not in power, they really want to have something that will make life a little harder for their opposition who may well be in power,” Simon said.

While the chiefs who spoke to The Eastern Door declined to reveal what they may announce, saying they want Kanesatake to learn about it from Council directly, Simon signalled the action may relate to the Custom Electoral Code’s rules around attendance. According to the electoral code, any grand chief or chief who misses three Council or public meetings without a valid reason is deemed to have vacated their position.

While Bonspille has insisted that only Council meetings he calls himself are valid, the group of five chiefs have continued to convene over the summer, arguing they have the right to do so under the Indian Band Council Procedure Regulations, which define a quorum as a majority of Council. Bonspille has characterized these meetings as illegitimate, however.

On Thursday, Bonspille declared a public meeting for September 12, with an agenda rooted in what he characterized as a refusal of a majority of chiefs to “recognize and honour the community members’ mandate” on a number of issues, primarily relating to a contentious, ostensibly non-binding termination of the MCK’s legal representation by a ‘people’s resolution,’” as well as a review of the Custom Electoral Code.

ISC did not return a request for comment by deadline.

By Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 08, 2023 at 10:03

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