AKWESASNE –Cornwall Island (Kawehnoke) may one day have a different political governance structure if one local political activist has her way. Beverly Pyke, a resident of the Nutfield Tract land claim outside of Cornwall, has approached the Canadian government about the possibility.
Pyke has been outspoken on a number of issues within Akwesasne in recent years. She has been involved with the Akwesasne Peoples Fire, during the 2009 International Bridge closure. On the issue concerning Cornwall Island governance, Pyke is determined to point out what was old is new again.
“It always was a separate band,” said Pyke. “It is recognized by the federal government that way.
She went to Ottawa in December 2013 to raise the issue with the office of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Bernard Valcourt. “It’s under Section 17.1b of the Indian Act where persons can attempt, with the Minister’s approval, to move to a new band,” said Pyke. Ellen Maier, a longtime Aboriginal Affairs aide met with Ms. Pyke at that time.
Under the current band council elected leadership with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA), Pyke feels that Cornwall Island always comes up short. She said while there are eight district chiefs representing Quebec portions of the reserve, there are but four from Ontario. “When issues come up, the Quebec chiefs get their way.”
Some may wonder why Pyke feels that she can influence Aboriginal Affairs politics within Canada as an individual. When meeting with Minister Valcourt, she claimed to represent 60 island residents out of a population of 3,000 from the affected area.
Ms. Pyke also is active with the Stormont – Dundas – South Glengarry Federal Liberal Riding Association. She is listed as the Executive from Akwesasne on the 2013-2014 Executive Committee of the Association. It has been noted by some in Akwesasne that Pyke has spoken of representing the Liberal Party of Canada within Akwesasne. She has also been a longtime supporter of Justin Trudeau, the current Liberal leader.
Pyke is involved in a land dispute with the MCA on Cornwall Island, which she claims is just one of hundreds there. She has also filed a lawsuit against the MCA over this issue. Pyke has spoken to Minister Valcourt’s office about the matter and was issued a letter of clarification pertaining to it. The letter says that the land disputes there are the responsibility of the MCA to find resolution for.
The MCA had no comment on the proposed band recognition for the Kawehnoke District, claiming that they had not yet been informed of the matter. Pyke had previously alleged electoral political manipulation by current Akwesasne Grand Chief Michael Kanantakeron Mitchell during the 2009 bridge closure. Her dissident voice appears regularly in submitted comments to the Akwesasne community newspaper, Indian Time.
Pyke admits that the initiative will create duplicate services if the previous band recognition were to be again renewed. This recognition would also remove some of the allocated resources that the MCA currently administers.
Seemingly, it also would address long-standing complaints that have been heard from Cornwall Island residents concerning border-issues and emergency services. Both ambulance and police response times are delayed by those community service providers having to navigate the International Bridge from the eastern Quebec MCA districts, via the southern portion of the international border (45th Parallel). It has been argued that lives could be saved by having a first-response station closer to these homes.
Pyke is no stranger to law enforcement controversy. Her brother Matthew Pyke died in a famous 1990 shooting in one of the Quebec MCA districts, in a case that officially remains unsolved. Since then Pyke has campaigned for law enforcement accountability within Akwesasne.
A retired teacher, Pyke disclaims (via social media) any intention to run for office if the band were to be recognized. She has advocated for non-violent change as the means to government reform.
Some of her critics state that she is the textbook example of an Onkwehon:we violator of the Two Row Wampum (Kaswentha) understanding. Others have said that her politics are marginalized by the lack of Canadian elections participation exhibited by most Akwesasne residents.
Seemingly undaunted by her detractors, Pyke campaigns on with a common sense approach to complex challenges which affect her place of birth. The eldest of a large family of brothers and sisters, she endorses the attainment of higher education and the embrace of the middle class as a modern Native ideal.
Ms. Pyke commented on what the next step will be, believing that a deciding election could be held in a matter of months. “Whether there is approval or not, we are going forward with this,” said Pyke. She says that her soon-to-be-born grandchild will be but one of the beneficiaries of her reform efforts within Akwesasne.