Mohawk Council of Kahnawake grand chief Joe Norton left Tuesday’s community meeting after an hour-and-a-half to catch a flight, but assured those in attendance that council will continue to put pressure on non-Natives residing in town. (Jessica Deer, The Eastern Door)
The agenda may have been short, as the discussion at the most recent Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) community meeting dove into two lengthy topics: membership and drugs.
Just over a dozen people were in attendance, as well as only eight council chiefs, for the Tuesday evening meeting at the Golden Age Club.
Membership portfolio chief Arlene Jacobs kicked off the discussion with a summary of a special community meeting on membership and residency that took place at the Legion Branch 219 last month, as well as the Kahnawake Membership Law’s current status through the Community Decision-Making Process (CDMP).
“Now, the next steps for the law is going to be re-drafting to include the input from the 18 previous meetings – input from the community members,” said Jacobs.
She said fellow council chief Rhonda Kirby submitted a request for a residency law to the Kahnawake Legislative Coordinating Commission (KLCC) on behalf of council. The request marks the third for a separate residency law.
“Now it’s with the legal department and they will determine if it will be a Type I or a Type II law,” said Jacobs.
“When the mandate from the community is given out, it will be at a meeting – they will have to ask the community if they want to support their recommendations for a residency law, or the one from council. So, we’re waiting a decision on that.”
Kirby said she would be conducting a survey, possibly before the start of the holidays, on the subject of residency.
“There’s a series of questions that will ask/give different scenarios of who you think should live here,” said Kirby.
“When we have that information, we’ll draft something that will be presented at the first hearing.”
Dates have yet to be announced for the survey or any CDMP hearings on membership as of presstime.
One community member in attendance on Tuesday asked what council’s plan of action will be regarding non-Natives residing in the territory in contravention to the Membership Law.
“At the Legion, it was all information given, but you’re still not giving us what a resolution is going to be,” they said.
Two options discussed at a prior meeting including shutting off access to water and publishing names as pressure tactics aimed at getting the individuals to leave the territory.
However, Jacobs announced last month that the MCK’s legal department recommended against both suggestions.
“It’s not feasible to do that,” said Jacobs. “It could incite violence and we’d be liable for that. So, are we willing to take that chance?
“We haven’t discussed it as council. We have a lot of issues to deal with, there’s not only membership. I know it is important, but there’s not only membership that we have to deal with on a daily basis.”
The answer was less than satisfactory for others in the room.
“I thought membership was supposed to be priority,” expressed a community member. “Membership should be priority. We’ve been fighting this for how long? We’re going to hit the next election and it’s still not going to get settled because we didn’t vote legal in, we voted you in.
“But every time we bring you suggestions, you’ve got to go to your legal department that says ‘no, we can’t do it.’”
Jeremiah Johnson, who sits on the law’s drafting team as a community representative, expressed his support for having names published.
“I don’t think it would be a problem or come to violence because we know most of the people anyway,” he said.
“Nobody has ever had any run-ins or physical altercations with anybody. I see a lot of them in the store, bank – we turn our heads the other way, but it would certainly add to the pressure if their names were publicized.”
Prior to leaving the meeting early, grand chief Joe Norton addressed the subject.
“We have community members who are demanding that we take action, then we have to take action regardless of what the legal department says,” he said.
“The question is, do you want us to then be in trouble? Do you want us to maybe be in contempt of court – those are the things we have to consider. You can demand all you want, we have to consider those things.
“It’s easy to sit there and say you gotta do this. Alright, but, if my ass is in jail, or if half of this council is in jail, what do we do then?”
Norton said council would continue to put pressure on the community to address the issue.
“We’re not going to stop. The next round will be another set of letters that will go out. I’m really getting sick and tired of signing letters that people may ignore, however, there’s always somebody that complies,” said Norton.
Council chief Carl Horn announced that a special community meeting on Kanawaki will take place on Thursday evening at the Golden Age Club.
“We’re hoping as many community members show up because if people are not aware, there’s approximately 225 acres at Kanawaki – 10 of those acres are common land, so that means everybody in the community has a say, as well as the individual landowners,” said Horn.
Concerns over drug abuse in the community dominated open discussion.
“I know what addiction and alcohol can do to you. It almost took my life two years ago. Since that time, I straightened myself out,” said a community member in attendance.
“It’s an insane disease, addiction. Once you’re on it, that’s all you think about. There are many, many cocaine users in this town and it has to be dealt with quick because the rate of addiction that is happening now, it’s very hard for a person to get off drugs.”
Kirby said there have been two overdoses of fentanyl in Kahnawake recently.
“We’ve talked about it at the council table and I also attended a meeting at Onkwata’karitáhtshera (Kahnawake’s health and social services agency),” she said.
“I do know that the two pharmacists have been talking together because there are people who are abusing their prescriptions and whether they’re getting their prescriptions and selling them; but they’re going to be keeping closer watch on what types of medications are going out.”
Council chief Gina Deer, a former Peacekeeper, weighed in on the issue.
“One of the problems I had when I was a Peacekeeper is that a lot of people want to tell you who is selling drugs, but they won’t sign a declaration. Without a declaration signed, you cannot get warrants to get searches and investigations,” she said.
“The community does have a responsibility, like membership, if you see it going on – make those reports.”
Another community meeting expressed dismay with the Peacekeepers and media regarding a police operation that took place at her residence on September 9, which resulted in the arrest of two local males.
“These kids I took had nobody,” they said. “These kids need help and you say throw them out – as a leader. It’s your responsibility.
“We cannot throw them out because it’s a disease. You think membership is our problem? That’s not our problem, drugs are.”