Things took an emotional turn on Tuesday (August 13) at Kahnawake’s summer community meeting, as people gathered to discuss various concerns for their safety and well being.
Tables were filled up at the Golden Age Club and the meeting was held at 7 p.m. sharp to discuss various items listed on the agenda, among them updates on the discovery of asbestos fragments and its removal, and concerns about the Mercier Bridge, followed up by open discussion.
While the subject of land allotments was settled quickly, with a little clarification on the matter of the applicant’s familial background, the matter of the asbestos removal occupied much of the discussion.
Various community members came forth to discuss their frustration with the discovery of asbestos fragments that had been discovered in Lot 106, which is the most recent addition to the New Development area near the train tracks.
Although the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake’s fact sheets circulated at the meeting claimed that the asbestos represents a very low health risk to residents in the area, many community members disagreed with that statement.
Resident Rusty Jacobs, who is living with his partner and their young daughter, expressed his frustration. Jacobs said, “All day long I was doing landscaping in my yard while my daughter was playing. I had no idea we’re both at risk and I’m upset that nobody told me.”
Jacobs also asked the MCK why they took as long as they did to inform the public after they had uncovered the fragments in May, releasing the information a few weeks after the discovery on June 25.
While the MCK cited difficulties relating to the circulation of information among council members and their employees, Jacobs and his partner Katsi Little-Bear remain concerned for their daughter’s safety.
In an emotional moment, her mother said, “She can’t even play in her own yard, how do I explain that to her?”
The family were a few among several community members who claimed that contrary to what was indicated by the MCK, the asbestos fragments and particles were easily accessible and had been a concern for some time, especially in light of four wheelers and other drivers circulating, throwing up dust in the area.
One community member also claimed to be suffering from health problems as a result of her involvement in the matter. When asked, some claimed that the fragments could easily be discovered by small children.
On the matter of its removal, the MCK claimed that RCI Environnement was overseeing the removal of the fragments, and was reportedly doing two loads per day of the 46 that had to be transported. The materials have been removed for the moment, to a space behind Magic Palace that is closed off to the public due to the accompanying safety concerns.
Although community questions as to the disposal remained somewhat inconclusive, MCK’s Frankie McComber estimated that the process for removing the material should be done by Christmas.
Other matters brought up at the meeting in relation to the current work on the Mercier Bridge, was the recurring concern of breakins, robberies, and strange cars being spotted within the community.
Several community members said they felt opened up to the heightened possibility of break-in robberies, as the community is centered on several highways that present much opportunity for quick escape routes, and therefore are more susceptible for those types of crimes to occur.
Other community members reported being disturbed after hearing that a non-local vehicle was spotted driving alongside a young girl. It was later circulated that the girl was threatened with a pellet gun to get into the car, but was fortunately able to escape to situation.
These concerns raised the question of several methods for counteracting potential abductions or assaults, with some questioning the viability of shutting down the community so that all vehicles going in and out of the community could be detained in the case of an Amber Alert being called, among others.
MCK chief Rhonda Kirby, whose portfolio is infrastructure, transport and operations, said on the matter of the bridge and the safety issues raised, “I think that there are pros and cons to the project itself, we’re currently looking at a five-year maintenance project that will go on.”
Otherwise, she claimed that the project’s construction should begin in 2022. She added, “we’re definitely looking at the concerns that were raised by community members and how we can find a resolution that’s good for both community members and bridge users. So, it’s an ongoing quest of what will be the best solution.”
The meeting ended with an open discussion, where several community members brought up the matter of the recent housing scandal, citing frustration that there have been no criminal charges made despite extensive losses and letters issued to various Kahnawa’kehró:non claiming that they owed tens of thousands of dollars.
One of those affected addressed to the Council, “You really need to understand what it does to people when they see those numbers.”
MCK chiefs could only reply that, like fellow community members, they await the results of the investigation.