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Two thousand twenty will always be known as the year of COVID-19, when the world was ravaged by a global pandemic and plunged it into uncertainty and fear.
But the world did not come to an end, people kept living their lives, and as such, the news cycle continued. Here is a look back at the biggest stories of 2020.
In February, as the number of COVID-19 cases increased around the world, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) monitored the situation closely. By mid-March, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic, the MCK announced that they had an emergency plan and began rolling out security measures to protect patients and health care workers at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC).
Within days, schools and daycares were closed, and the shut down had begun. Organized sports in the community were cancelled. Hearings at the Court of Kahnawake were postponed. Bars and restaurants were shut down except for takeout. And at the Turtle Bay Elders’ Lodge and Independent Living Center (ILC), visitations were restricted to essential staff only.
On March 18, the newly-formed Kahnawake COVID-19 Task Force announced the first positive case in the community. The Task Force quickly implemented more restrictive measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, including the shutdown of all non-essential businesses in Kahnawake.
To help struggling business owners and workers, the MCK launched the $9 million Economic Relief Measures Fund.
KMHC got its very own mobile testing site after Public Health confirmed community transmission in Kahnawake.
By early April, all Kahnawake businesses were closed to non-locals, who were subject to fines as part of the Emergency Preparedness Law (EPL) On April 24, the MCK officially declared a state of emergency as the final step in the process of implementing the EPL.
In mid-May, unlike the rest of the schools in the province, the Task Force decided to keep all local schools closed for the remainder of the school year.
On June 1, as the summer rolled in, most Kahnawake businesses reopened with the exception of gaming establishments, bars, restaurants and gyms, among a few businesses considered high risk.
In mid-June, after weeks of anticipation, the Kahnawake Education Center (KEC) gave the green light for graduation ceremonies to take place in town. It was a graduation experience like no other, with ceremonies taking place outside and at a distance.
Throughout the summer of 2020, the second phase of businesses reopened. Groups of people had also been gathering for a few weeks as a sense of normalcy began to permeate in the community.
With the fall came back to school. KEC gave parents the option for their child to learn remotely or with on-site learning, as well as a mix of both.
Moreover, after six months of being shut down, the gaming industry in Kahnawake reopened on September 4.
But as things started looking up, cases quickly surged in the province, signalling the beginning of the dreaded and anticipated second wave of the pandemic.
By early October, Kahnawake had entered the second wave, and with it came renewed restrictions not seen since the beginning of the pandemic. During a COVID-19 Task Force daily briefing, Task Force lieutenant commander and the commissioner of Public Safety Lloyd Phillips said that Quebec had lost control of the containment of the virus, and Kahnawake was elevated to the red zone.
The Task Force curtailed private gatherings and public gatherings were prohibited. Residents were yet again asked to limit unnecessary travel and visitors were no longer allowed to at KMHC, the Elders’ Lodge and the ILC.
A partial lockdown had started. The gaming industry was ordered to close, as well as bars and restaurant dining rooms.
In late October, while a ban on private gatherings was still in effect, two MCK chiefs, Harry Rice and Kahsennenhawe SkyDeer, issued a public apology after attending a gathering at a public residence. Rice, who was a member of the Task Force, stepped down from his role and also from the community protection portfolio.
By mid-November, the Task Force decided to allow a maximum of two households to gather because of serious concerns over the mental health struggles among community members.
On December 4, Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) announced that there was a COVID-19 outbreak at ILC after two employees tested positive. The Task Force, along with KMHC and local Public Health, quickly stepped in to mitigate the spread. Fortunately, none of the 12 residents tested positive for COVID-19.
Although the pandemic upended everyone’s lives, it also demonstrated the generosity, kindness, love and perseverance that exist in Kahnawake. Community members came together and held each other up through unprecedented times.
With COVID-19 vaccines being administered last week, 2021 cannot come soon enough.
In May, after the 30-day review period, the draft regulations of the Kahnawake Residency Law (KRL) moved to phase three of the enactment process.
After the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) government passed Bill 61, a provincial law that would restart the provincial economy, but infringed on Mohawk rights and violated environmental standards, the MCK vehemently denounced the bill.
The MCK spent months working on a strategy to fight components of the bill and later made their case in front of the National Assembly in October. Bill 66 (previously Bill 61) was passed on December 10, but the Mercier Bridge project, a point of contention for the MCK, was removed from the legislation.
The asbestos remediation project continues in the community – each removal costing the MCK thousands of dollars. In October, asbestos was found on Tekakwitha Island by construction workers and was quickly removed to continue the massive Recreation Bay Restoration Project.
The year started with land defenders from Kahnawake joining the national rail blockades erected all over the country in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.
Tensions kept rising as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested land defenders in Tyendinaga. The Kahnawake blockade came down in early March after the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, and the federal government, came to a tentative agreement.
In June, Kahnawake joined anti-racism protests as they erupt ed all over the United States in response to the heinous murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers.
Kahnawa’kehró:non held a rolling blockade in October to show support and solidarity for Mi’kmaq fishermen, as the crisis over Indigenous fishing treaty rights escalated in southwestern Nova Scotia in September.
Crime and punishment
The year started with the arrests of resident Shawn Deer and two non-local men, Joseph Evrad and Ernest Clarke, for multiple firearm-related offences. The men were formally charged in a Longueuil courtroom.
In January, Derek White and Hunter Montour were back in court to begin their constitutional challenge on federal charges related to the excise tax on tobacco. However, prior to the hearing, a lawyer representing the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs sent a letter to the judge asking the court not to consider arguments related to Mohawk and Haudenosaunee Confederacy rights.
In September, the presiding Superior Court judge declared the crown’s expert witness report inadmissible, delivering the defence a small win.
The Isaac Delaronde case was postponed in February at the request of his attorney. At the time, the defence and the crown were having confidential discussions about the case. Delaronde was arrested and charged with drug trafficking. His next court appearance is scheduled for January 11, 2021.
Timmy Deer Jr. turned himself in after the Kahnawake Peacekeepers obtained a warrant for his arrest. He was charged with assault causing bodily harm, breaking and entering and forcible confinement, among other charges, on February 26.
After a series of vehicle break-ins, three local males, two of which were minors, were arrested and charged with theft, mischief, and theft of credit cards in July.
James “JR” Richard Curotte died in the hospital on August 22 after being fatally shot. Justin Moore, a resident of Chateauguay, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Moore pleaded not guilty and will be back in court in February 2021.
In October, Liam Delisle-Birchenough and Tamara McComber were arrested and charged with drug trafficking. Andrew Delisle Jr. was also arrested and later released on a promise to appear in court and faces charges of possession of a controlled substance and trafficking. Leslie Norton and Lyle Sanipass were arrested and charged with trafficking.
Norton was also charged with obstruction. The arrests came after the Peacekeepers executed a search warrant.
Sexual Assault Allegations
In late July, a Twitter account called Ktown’s Finest (@ finestinktown) was created for Kahnawa’kehró:non to anonymously share their stories related to sexual violence and trauma where community members were named and accused.
The allegations were met with shock and horror. Many people were triggered by the experience, and many more stories were shared. A march for survivors of sexual assault followed – the first in the community. The situation prompted the MCK to start a sexual assault working group in August to provide support and resources for victims, survivors, family and friends, and perpetrators.
Kahnawake lost many beloved members in 2020. One of which was the shocking and unexpected passing of the late grand chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton in August, which devastated the community. Norton was one of the most influential leaders in the world. Hundreds of people from all over the world arrived in Kahnawake for the grand chief’s funeral to mourn a great leader and say goodbye. He was 70.
In March, the community lost another fluent Kanien’kéha speaker, elder Paul Sakaronhió:- ta’ne Deer, at age 86. He was known as a man of conviction who never gave up on loving and fighting for his community.
In late June, the community said goodbye to former MCK chief Stuart Phillips at the age of 85. Phillips, who was a veteran of the Korean War era, was instrumental in what would later be known as the Seigneury of Sault St. Louis land claim. He was buried with full military honours.
NASCAR driver Brandon White, 45, passed away in August after a lengthy battle with colorectal cancer. A special tribute included motorbikes and ATVs riding slowly in the streets.