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Kanesatake wants answers after youth centre burns

Community members and leaders in Kanesatake remain eager to get answers and healing after the KYOT building went up in flames halting several valued programs, and eliminating a treasured place for youth to gather. (Courtesy Isabelle Nicholas)

At around 11 p.m. Sunday night, a fire completely destroyed a treasured part of Kanesatake, and left the community with a mix of emotions from sadness to rage.

The Kanesatake Youth of Today (KYOT) building caught fire and burnt late Sunday night, in a suspected act of arson.

“I see KYOT every day, and to get woken up at 10 to 11 p.m., my daughters were just on the back porch on the gazebo, and they see this orange flame coming behind the house, so they went to see,” said Jimmy Nicholas, who lives beside the property.

“They woke me up and I went running outside, and sure enough, the building in the back… The whole porch and the roof was on fire. It was just like someone stabbed you in the heart.”

Mohawk Council of Kanesatake grand chief Serge Otsi Simon was on scene shortly after, taking pictures and video with his phone.

“My wife came to wake me up a little before 11,” said Simon. “KYOT is right across the field from my house. She was out there, she thought she saw a camp fire, she went a little bit closer and noticed it’s the back porch.”

Isabelle Nicholas knew when she arrived that fire fighters could do little to save the building, and could only contain the blaze.

“It went so damn fast,” said Nicholas. “The fire trucks got there pretty fast, but it went so fast. There was no time to save it.”

Simon suspects arson, though it is unclear what or who caused the fire.

Oka Fire fighter Benoit Payeur told The Eastern Door there was no way to say one way or the other how the fire started.

“We didn’t find anything so far because when we arrived on site yesterday night about 11, the full building was completely on fire,” said Payeur. “The cause was very hard to find, and I don’t think we’ll be able to find the actual cause because the building is almost down now,” he said Monday.

The fire reignited Monday morning around 11 a.m., and fire fighters returned to deal with the situation.

The grand chief is convinced the fire was set deliberately, as it is not the first time the building has been targeted.

“This is the second attempt. This time they were successful,” said Simon, who had trouble holding back his anger at anyone who may have done this.

“I was picturing stringing up those responsible, that’s for sure, and maybe a baseball bat would have been involved,” said Simon. “It really presses your buttons like a trigger.”

The (KYOT) building was in constant use throughout the summer. The Health Centre in Kanesatake runs activities in the building, including the Learn and Play program, where Nicholas’ daughter Jadyn Lauder worked full time.

“It’s so sad,” said Jadyn’s mother. “She was so devastated.”

Jimmy Nicholas (Isabelle’s brother) has worked with Kanesatake’s youth since 1994, and worked with council to build the KYOT building in a lot next to his house. They broke ground in 2001 on the building that included a pool table, air hockey, kitchen and couch that youth could use as a drop-in centre.

Adding insult to injury, the building had just undergone around $50,000 worth of renovations and upgrades, according to Jimmy.

“One of them was redoing the back porch because somebody had tried to set it aflame,” he said.

Simon and others have suspicions that someone may have stolen equipment such as the TV and video games from the building, before setting it ablaze, and is keeping alert for signs from those who may have started the fire.

“We’re trying to keep an ear out for chatter because people do a thing like this, they tend to brag about it,” said Simon. “If I have a thousand ears out there, listening, looking at Instagram, looking at Facebook and Twitter to see if there’s any mention of this, we’ll catch them, and they’ll pay.”

The Health Centre and community will now have to wait for insurance to file its report, but those that depended on and valued the building are left to wait and wonder what’s next.

Some items from the basement, including photo albums, were salvaged and not completely destroyed.

If it was arson, those who worked there are left reflecting the voice of one who’s been there since its inception.

“Why would you do this?” said Jimmy. “It’s a youth centre, and the little kids were using it almost on a daily basis.”

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