By: Kenneth Deer, Special to The Eastern Door
When asked to write about the beginnings of The Eastern Door, it was harder to write than I realized when I accepted.
Twenty-five years ago is like another life. So much has happened since January 31, 1992, that it was difficult to remember all the details. I was wrestling in my mind how to approach the subject and to do it justice.
So I went down to the Cultural Centre and looked at the very first issue of The Eastern Door. In large type across the front page was the headline FIRST EDITION.
A simple headline and a redundant one at that, of course it was the first edition. What else could it be? What was I thinking?
Then I started to read the main story under the headline. The third paragraph reads: “This issue marks the beginning of an effort to bring a comprehensive newspaper to Kahnawà:ke.”
Another paragraph read, “The Eastern Door is a community based newspaper serving the Mohawks of Kahnawake regardless of their birth, sex, age, language, politics or religion…a common medium of information for everyone to contribute to…as long as they are informative and constructive, and not slanderous or libelous.”
Now the past flooded back to me and the reasons for the creation of the paper became clear again.
In the aftermath of the Oka Crisis, the community was in disarray. Our economy was in a shambles, there were deep divisions in the community, some resented the crisis, some found strength in it.
The mainstream media was biased and misinformed about us, gossip and rumour were rampant. The people did not always know what to believe.
Kahnawà:ke needed a platform of information that the community could depend on. And that is the principle reason for the creation of The Eastern Door.
One of the banes of Kahnawake in past years was the unsigned letters in our mailboxes that attacked and libeled others.
Many times they were vicious character assignations of community leaders or people they didn’t like. And because they were not signed, no one knew who was making these slanderous letters.
The Post Office, at that time, did not have rules to limit these kinds of propaganda. It was unfair and damaging to our community.
The Eastern Door was created to eliminate these kinds of trash letters. We imposed a simple rule that all articles, editorials, commentaries, and letters to the editor had to be signed. No more hiding behind anonymous flyers. After a while, these kinds of flyers disappeared.
At first, some people were skeptical of The Eastern Door. Because of the heated politics of the time, everyone had some kind of baggage. Would the paper be Kenneth Deer’s political rag?
But by sticking to our mission statement, and being honest, factual and objective, the newspaper became widely accepted as a true newspaper.
By Christmas of 1992, we were selling over a thousand copies of the paper in a community of about 1,500 homes at that time. That told us we were on the right track and had broad acceptance.
But it wasn’t easy.
Once I made my decision to start a newspaper, I gathered a group of friends and acquaintances at Johnny Beauvais’ restaurant, called the Silver Ball, and made my pitch to them. But I said I had no money. We had to start from scratch.
So they agreed to support my newspaper and offered different kinds of help. Some agreed to write stories, one offered computer software, another person an Apple II computer, and so on. I remember it was November 30, 1991.
I knew nothing of running a newspaper but I thought that all it takes is common sense and objective writing and it should work.
I spoke with the editor of The People’s Voice in Akwesasne, the late Cindy Terrance, and she gave me the lowdown on printing, advertising and other details.
The first thing I did was sell enough advertising for five issues of the newspaper. Businesses like the Caisse Populaire, Village Variety, Frosty’s, the Mohawk Nation Bookstore and community organizations like the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, the Education Center and others.
Then I took a three-day course in Montreal on a computer program with which I could do the layout of the newspaper. After the three-day course, the teachers were not confident that I was ready to layout my own newspaper and they were right.
They were very supportive and offered to do the layout of the paper for a minimal fee.
So I wrote editorials and articles and gathered stories from writers, material for ads and had Conway Jocks design the masthead, or flag, of The Eastern Door.
With all this in my arms, I went to the computer school and plopped it on their desks. It took at least three days to design the paper from scratch, and fill in the ads, stories and photos.
I brought the layout to the printer on the evening of January 30, then went home and had a fitful sleep wondering what the paper would look like.
The next morning at 6 a.m. I was back at the printer. And there it was. The Eastern Door masthead in blue with the loud headline of FIRST EDITION in bold black.
I delivered the paper to stores who were willing to take a chance on an unknown paper. Almost all no longer exist: Beverly’s Convenience, Bin’s Corner Store, The Blockade Store, Caughnawaga Market, Chilly Willy’s, Country Convenience, Evelyn’s Convenience, Mohawk Nation Bookstore, Pauline’s Mini Mart, Rabaska, Ray’s Pizza and Village Variety. Only the Village still survives today.
Getting stores to sell the paper outside Kahnawake was a lot tougher. Some in Chateauguay refused to carry the paper because of bitterness from 1990. And the same for a magazine store in LaSalle.
And some businesses outside Kahnawà:ke also refused to buy advertising in the paper. There was some outright racism that we had to battle.
But the paper survived. Outside businesses realized that if they want Kahnawà:ke customers, The Eastern Door was a good place to advertise.
The paper itself developed over the years. Our writers became more experienced; we had great political cartoons, (a little racist at times like portraying premier Bourassa as a frog), news, sports, births, anniversaries, weddings and obituaries, classified ads, editorials, commentaries and letters to the editor.
It was a well-rounded newspaper with a diverse readership not only in Kahnawà:ke but on the outside as well.
I remember on one of my trips to Geneva, Switzerland, at the UN, a Canadian government representative commented on one of my editorials.
The government had a subscription and when there were interesting stories or editorials of great interest to them, the articles were inserted into the press summaries sent to relevant government agencies.
Over time, The Eastern Door won many newspaper awards in its early years and that still continues today.
There are too many people to thank by name for helping to start The Eastern Door so there is a list added to this article. And many more that came on board later. I thank them all.
Finally, I want to mention the importance of good journalism. The Eastern Door strived for a high standard of reporting and we have done a good job over the years.
Good, objective reporting is necessary to inform and educate the community. An informed community is a strong community.
And independent media is necessary for people to make the right decisions on issues that affect them.
That is why, today, social media can be a threat to good, objective stories. The rise of fake news, which has been in the media lately, is a serious threat to our society.
Fake news will lead to people making bad decisions. Society needs professional reporters with high standards and accountability.
The Eastern Door, Ior:íwase, K103 and other news outlets should be our first source of information.
And the mainstream media has to retain reporters and researchers with equal high standards so society can trust them and push back against the fake news outlets and rumours which are undermining our confidence in real news, poison our minds and turn people against people.
The roots of The Eastern Door were to bring a platform of information to Kahnawake that people can trust. And that kind of platform is needed as much today as it was back on January 31, 1992, when the paper was first printed.
Niá:wen for reading my words.
Here is a list of people who helped the first issue of The Eastern Door:
Charleen Schurman, A. Brian Deer, Wendell Beauvais, Peter Blue Cloud Williams, Anna Mae Rice, Lynne Kane, Johnny Beauvais, Harley Delaronde, Christine Deom, Joe Deom, Martha Montour, Kenneth Natalie Williams, Phillip Deering, Conway Jocks and Peter Montour.