APTN National News
KANESATAKE— The grand chief of Kanesatake is claiming victory following a referendum he says has given him a mandate to call an election within months.
Grand Chief Serge Simon says the results of Saturday’s referendum effectively neutralized his political opposition within the band council.
The referendum asked voters whether they had confidence in each of Kanesatake’s band politicians, who go by the title of chief in the community.
“Their dictatorship is over,” said Simon. “The power is going back into the hands of the people.”
Kanesatake, a Mohawk community, sits just west of Montreal and was the epicentre of the Oka crisis in 1990.
Simon said a group of four band councillors, known as chiefs in Kanesatake, had effectively launched a coup against him and seized control of the community’s administration.
Simon received 209 “yes” votes and “22” no votes and his two supporters on the band council also garnered similar results. Chief John Canatonquin received 189 votes in his favour and 37 votes against, while Chief Clarence Simon ended with 190 votes in his favour and 37 against.
His four opponents on the band council, known derisively as “the quorum,” found themselves on the losing end of the vote tallies.
Chief Sheila Bonspiel received eight “yes” votes and 212 “no” votes, Chief Sonya Gagnier had 12 votes in support and 210 against, while Chief Kathy Daye ended up with 12 votes backing her and 207 votes expressing non-confidence and Shannon Nicholas received 19 votes in support and 203 votes against.
An internal power struggle between Simon and the quorum engulfed the community’s health centre and threatened its operations. Simon said he was trying to depoliticize the health centre’s board after removing Bonspiel and Gagnier from the file. Gagnier and Bonspiel accused Simon of acting illegally and used band funds to hire lawyers to sue the health centre’s board.
The ensuing legal battles led to the health centre board’s insurer removing its coverage and Health Canada contemplating intervention by a third-party manager.
Simon, who paid for the referendum’s security and independent observers from the non-governmental organization CESO, said the referendum’s results should calm the situation around the health centre.
He also said the band’s administration had been advised to no longer deal with the band chiefs who lost the confidence vote.
Letters will also be drafted and sent to sister Mohawk communities, Ottawa and Quebec informing them of the results, said Simon.
“These are no longer chiefs,” said Simon. “(Band administration) was told that they are not to accept any directives from them any longer.”
APTN National News could not reach the four losing chiefs for comment.
In a previous interview, however, Bonspiel and Gagnier said they would not accept the outcome of the referendum.
Simon said a new election would likely take place within the next 90 days. He said the chiefs elected for the next council would also no longer collect a salary from the band.
“I am looking for chiefs who have jobs,” said Simon, who has refused to collect a salary as grand chief.