A total of 42 Kanehsata’kehró:non were present at last week’s community meeting when a vote was held asking whether the law firm that provides services to the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) should be terminated.
The May 15 motion, sought by MCK grand chief Victor Bonspille, won with 21 votes, with five against and 16 abstentions. The signed and stamped motion instructs that the grand chief is given the authority to carry out the termination.
However, according to MCK chief Brant Etienne, the motion is not binding.
“It would have to be brought forward at a duly-convened meeting and then voted on,” said Etienne. “I can tell you right here, it’s not going to pass. It’s going to fail 5-2.”
According to an internal MCK email posted online by a community member who claims it was given to him by a chief, MCK chief Amy Beauvais noted that abstentions were not counted, although they appear on the “people’s resolution” that was produced. The authenticity of the email has not been independently verified, however this version of events was supported by MCK chief Serge Otsi Simon, who walked out in protest.
The MCK’s lawyer, Nicholas Dodd of Dionne Schulze, declined to speak to The Eastern Door about the motion.
“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the matter, and I invite you to contact the Council directly to discuss it,” he said.
Bonspille refused to speak with The Eastern Door when approached for comment.
“It’s a personal grudge,” said Etienne. “Essentially Victor’s mad that after he postponed the election, the rest of us were like ‘what does this mean, we need clarification on this,’ so we went to them, to the law firm, to give us an opinion on this.”
According to Etienne, Bonspille took issue with the lawyer’s legal opinion on the matter, which justified the authority of a quorum of Council chiefs to proceed with the by-election. It was eventually won by Simon on January 21 after being cancelled on September 17 ahead of a September 24 vote.
That saga continues, as Simon was only recently reinstated as an MCK chief pending judicial review of the appeal board’s decision to nullify the election results.
“Now he and his group are putting together a resolution that Council is just going to put off to the side because it’s illegal,” said Simon of the resolution to terminate Dionne Schulze.
“This type of thing shouldn’t even go to a public meeting,” added Simon, who believes it is Council’s prerogative to determine its own legal representation.
According to Simon, Dionne Schulze has considerable institutional knowledge, having been MCK’s legal representative for many years.
“Dionne Schulze has helped us through some very tough legal battles, at least in my 10 years I’ve seen them in action,” said Simon.
“That’s no reason to fire Dionne Schulze because you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot, in the stomach, and in the head.”
Simon suggested surveys would be a better mechanism to determine public opinion on issues like this one. He even broached the possibility of a general election to overcome paralysis at Council.
“If we’re going to be at an impasse for the next two years, there’s no point,” he said.
Simon’s legal battle against the appeal board after the results of the by-election he won was thrown out was also on the agenda, which was settled prior to news that Simon would be reinstated pending judicial review of the appeal board’s decision.
Simon said his case was misrepresented at the public meeting.
“The public meeting, forgive the wording, but this is what people are saying: it was a shit show.”
The latter two items, illegal Council meetings and the signing of an erroneous declaration of ownership by the grand chief, were not reached, according to Simon and Etienne, particularly due to the length of the portion dealing with Simon’s legal battle.
Prior to the meeting, Etienne posted a poll on the widely-used Kanesatake discussion group of Facebook to gauge support for putting community meetings on Zoom to ensure a higher rate of participation.
While the meeting was not broadcast online – except for Dodd of Dionne Schulze – support for Zoom participation is high: at writing, 98 percent of 70 people who voted were in favour of the idea.
“I thought there were going to be more people against it or that were more concerned with the security aspect, but it didn’t show up,” said Etienne. “I was very, very surprised.”
Etienne said he personally favours the idea, feeling that the increased participation far outweighs the security risks.
While some in the comments qualified their support with caveats that it must be moderated to ensure only band members are watching, Etienne acknowledged this would be hard to enforce.
“Say you’re at home and you’re watching on Zoom, there’s nothing to stop you from taking out your phone and putting it on Facebook concurrently that it’s on Zoom,” he said.
However, he doesn’t believe this should be an essential consideration, noting that truly sensitive issues may not be ready for public discourse in the first place and that the important thing is that those who are not band members are not able to weigh in on community issues.
“It’s our business,” he said. “They don’t have a say in it. If they see what we’re talking about, it shouldn’t matter.”
None of the issues discussed on May 15 were discussed in a Council meeting this week; the Tuesday meeting was cancelled by Bonspille, according to Etienne and Simon.
By Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on May 19, 2023 at 14:04