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Kanesatake checkpoints shift gears

(Steve Bonspiel The Eastern Door)

Kanesatake has redirected the access control location points to new locations in the community, hoping to serve a new role.

The original five checkpoints were put in place by the Kanesatake Emergency Response Unit (ERU) to help prevent a potential spread of the COVID-19 virus in the community.

They were located at: zone one Route 344E Oka Village, zone two l’Annonciation/Ahsennénhson, zone three Bastien’s, zone four Ste. Germaine/Akweks and zone five was located at Route 344 W/Rang St. Jean.

Now, there are four access control location points: l’Annociation/ Ahsennénhson, Ste. Germaine/Akweks, Lacrosse box road and Ahsennénhson and Route 344.

“They might have moved a bit but the goal is the same,” Robert Bonspiel, spokesperson for the ERU said. “The goal, the reason for the checkpoints being there, is to keep people from coming into the residential area.”

The access control locations were moved on Monday, the same day the economy opened in Kanesatake, both of which were based on two factors: Kahnawake choosing to reopen their economy and Francois Legault’s government wanting to reopen businesses as well.

“The ERU was always prepared for a number of different possibilities,” Bonspiel said. “This is one of them that we had to contend with.”

Bonspiel, who believes it was too early to reopen, said they are still trying to make the best of the situation.

“We’re hesitant but we will adapt as we go,” he added.

Kahnawake opens, Kanesatake follows

According to both the ERU and Mohawk Council of Kanesatake grand chief Serge Otsi Simon, it was agreed that when Kahnawake reopened their economy, Kanesatake would do the same.

The reason for this, according to Bonspiel, is so that neither community is in a position to be flooded with more traffic if one community opens before the other.

“We would’ve liked to have a little bit more time, but at the same time we didn’t want to leave Kahnawake in an unfair situation,” Bonspiel said. “We didn’t want the clients that weren’t going to be served here to go there. It could have been harmful to their community.”

Simon said that the community was given a survey about whether Kanesatake should follow Kahnawake when they choose to reopen, and the majority said they wanted to follow suit with Kahnawake.

However, Simon also feels that Kahnawake reopened too early.

“We had to scramble to get ready to reopen,” Simon said. “We had no choice. We wanted to wait till June 15 but we didn’t really get any cooperation.”

“The tobacco stores here depend on the factories in Kahnawake,” Simon said, “We always said that we would follow Kahnawake’s lead.”

Simon wishes there would have been a discussion with Mohawk Council of Kahnawake grand chief Joe Norton before the reopening.

According to Simon, he spoke with Norton a few weeks ago about wanting a meeting on strategically planning the reopening of the communities. However, there was no meeting agreed on.

Kahnawake puts faith in Task Force

According to Norton the Kahnawake COVID-19 Pandemic Task Force recommended the community reopen on June 1 after their analysis of the situation.

However, Norton agreed that he was concerned about reopening too soon as well.

“I’m not really that happy with the way things have evolved but I have a lot of faith in our Task Force,” he said. “This was their recommendation.

“We made comments to the Task Force, it’s not like we were opposed, but now that we’ve seen some of the chaotic situations on the first day of reopening, some of the concerns we were anticipating have come true.”

Norton said, specifically, he hasn’t been too happy with the hours of businesses, open from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Norton also said he’s not content that people are coming into the community and driving vehicles on bicycle paths and are urinating in community members’ driveways and yards.

“It’s people that come here and don’t care,” Norton said. “They live in the city, they have no idea what it’s like in Kahnawake.

“I hope things calm down but in the meantime there will be concerns,” he said.

Norton confirmed there have been requests from Kanesatake to discuss a reopening together, but he’s “not in a position to consult with any other Indigenous community on these matters.”

However, Norton is looking ahead and trying to make the best of the situation they are currently in.

“Some of us aren’t too happy but on the other hand the Task Force have been doing the work, they have been diligent and they have been doing all their analysis and rationale,” Norton said.

“The faith hasn’t diminished, it’s just now we are dealing with the after-effects,” Norton said. “Now some adjustments just have to be made.”

Checkpoints are new reality

Despite the early reopening for Kanesatake, both Simon and the ERU hope the checkpoints serve a new purpose.

“We had to come up with a compromise,” Bonspiel said. “So we modified the checkpoints so people will not be coming into Kanesatake’s heartland: into the community.”

Bonspiel said the checkpoints are “adaptations to the new reality” and serve to keep people from going into the residential area.

Bonspiel adds that while the businesses have reopened, it does not mean customers can stay in the territory after they’ve purchased what they needed.

“People are welcome to come to our stores, but they are not welcome to come into our community,” Bonspiel said. “So get your product and go home.”

Bonspiel also notes that relocating the checkpoints has been a “happy medium” for the current situation they are in now.

“The checkpoints really protect the residential areas now,” Bonspiel said. “We want to make sure people get whatever they need and leave and do not come into the community.”

Simon, who said the store driveways were packed on the day of reopening, is not happy with moving the checkpoints.

“We were disappointed about the checkpoints,” Simon said. “A lot of people wanted them to stay where they were, but we explained we had no choice.”

With the relocation of the checkpoints, both the ERU and Simon have confirmed that the ERU also worked in collaboration with stores to ensure that businesses were safe and adhering to public safety and social distancing before the reopening.

Simon confirms that the first round of testing has been done in the community with the mobile testing clinic that arrived that same weekend, plexiglass has been installed in stores and an isolation plan is prepared in the event a community member contracts the virus.

“We take our direction from the community, we take direction from our elders, we’re keeping an eye out on the virus,” Simon said. “Where we go next all depends on the evolution of the situation.”

“Get your stuff and get out”

Similar to the ERU, Simon also said people are welcome to come to their stores but they must leave after.

“You’re not going to stop at our shorelines, you’re not going to stop at our parks, you’re not going to the pines,” Simon said. “Get your stuff and get out.”

Bonspiel adds that since the reopening, they have been confronted with incidents of people not listening.

The access control team that work the checkpoints have also been given a new mandate to patrol the territory to ensure that people who are coming into the territory are leaving after they bought what they needed.

“They will be vigilant and make sure clients are not staying in our community after they’ve purchased,” said Bonspiel.

Moving forward

While the checkpoints are here to stay for now, Simon said that if they begin to see a community spread, they will shut down the roads again and put the access control locations back where they were.

“I don’t know how much good the checkpoints are going to do because the main threat is when people leave Kanesatake and go into the village of Oka,” Simon said.

“We were preventing these people from coming in from highly infected areas,” Simon said. “Now that the checkpoints have been redirected, people are coming in and they are free to roam where they want in Oka, which is where our members go.”

But despite having to relocate the checkpoints, Simon is content with all the work the ERU has accomplished and the access control team members who work at the checkpoints.

“They went through a lot: bad weather, bad attitude, threats, insults and they even had the mayor threaten with arrests,” Simon said. “But what I told them is it’s okay, because when the mayor decided to show us his worst, we showed him our best.”

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