Indigenous

Kahnawake, Kanesatake businesses remain closed despite Quebec reopening

While retailers reopened in the greater Montreal area this week, two Mohawk communities will remain closed for at least another week.

Kahnawake tentatively sets June 1 as date for reopening businesses

Kanesatake has had checkpoints around its territory, including Oka Park, to limit the spread of COVID-19 among its population. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

While some retailers were allowed to reopen across the greater Montreal area starting Monday, two Mohawk communities in the region are not easing restrictions just yet.

Businesses in Kanesatake, northwest of the city, will remain closed and checkpoints will keep restricting non-local access to the area for the foreseeable future.

"We'll be keeping ourselves closed and safe until we deem it necessary," said Clifton Nicholas, owner of the Green Devil cannabis dispensary. 

While Nicholas said he's eager to reopen his business, he said it's not at the risk of his or his community's health.

"I worked hard at building this business. There's a lot of pride and money on the line and to just watch it stagnate there...." he said.

"There's an eagerness to open but I do not want to be the one who brings this disease into this community. I don't want that responsibility on my shoulders to have harmed anyone in this community."

Kanesatake has had checkpoints around its territory since mid-April. Robert Bonspiel, spokesperson for Kanesatake's Emergency Response Unit, said all will remain except for two at entrances of Oka Park as the region reopens.

"We're not trying to anger anyone," said Bonspiel.

"We're not trying to make a political statement. We're not trying to do anything other than protect our elders and vulnerable population."

Bonspiel said they're also closely watching what Kahnawake, south of Montreal, plans on doing.

Access to Kahnawake, south of Montreal, is currently limited to residents and essential service workers only. (Submitted by Mohawk Council of Kahnawake)

"We align ourselves more with our sister community than any other community," he said.

"The Kanesatake approach has more to do with community, elders, and vulnerable peoples than I believe the Quebec plan has. I'm not saying their plan is wrong, but ours is different and our perspective is different."

'We know what's best for our community'

Kahnawake remains closed to non-residents and those found on the territory will continue to face $1,500 fines. To date, 305 tickets have been issued by the Kahnawake Mohawk Peacekeepers.

The community's COVID-19 task force tentatively set June 1 as a date to lift the restriction and reopen businesses that can allow physical distancing. 

Kahnawake's Public Safety Commissioner Lloyd Phillips said some community members have expressed concern with the date being too soon.

"We know what's best for our community. What makes us vulnerable also makes us strong," said Phillips.

Lloyd Phillips, the commissioner of public safety at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Every business in Kahnawake will be inspected by the task force prior to being given the green light to open.

"We hope that alleviates some of the concerns from community members," said Phillips.

"We understand there's a concern from some people in terms of opening too soon, having a lot of outsiders come into the community and the possibility of spread, but we always said from Day 1 that science will lead the way."

Jessica Hernandez is preparing her shop Nicia's Accessories, a bead and craft supply store, to reopen for June 1 and it will be inspected by the task force.

"It's in the best interest of the community," she said about Kahnawake's specific COVID-19 requirements.

"It's important for Indigenous communities to have their own rules and way about how they're going to open or not open their community."

Jessica Hernandez is preparing her shop Nicia's Accessories when Kahnawake businesses are allowed to reopen. (Submitted by Jessica Hernandez )

Hernandez said one of the reasons she wants to reopen is because she's worried about people's mental health coping with the pandemic, and beadwork can offer help with that.

"If they want people to stay home, people need things to do — not just for not being bored but for mental health," she said.

"Beading is a medicine, so with all of the social distancing and isolation, it's important that people have things that are going to help them get through it."

About the Author

Jessica Deer

Journalist

Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. She works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at jessica.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.

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