A quick interview with Tribal Chief Candidates
Indian Time spoke with candidates for the upcoming Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe Special Election taking place this weekend. The Special Election will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, Ohiarihko:wa | July 31, 2021. Incumbent Eric Thompson and former Tribal Chief Ron Lafrance were asked the same set of questions, both interviews took place over the phone and each candidate was given as much time as needed to answer each question.
The six questions were
1. How will you address unlicensed cannabis vendors?
2. Have you met with the unlicensed vendors?
3. What do you see as the greatest threat to Akwesasne?
4. What is our greatest asset?
5. People walked out a recent Tribal monthly meeting – how would you address that?
6. What is your number one priority once you step into office as Tribal Chief?
Thompson 1. How will you address unlicensed cannabis vendors? The aim of council is to have a peaceful resolution to this. There are many benefits of having a Tribal License to do business. This is a challenge for all of us, as some shops are not licensed at all. We aim to bring them into compliance, and this will reflect ‘safety’ as our number one priority. We have a social responsibility to do this right – a responsibility to our youth and to their health, their safety and to their future. We need to make sure sales are only to adults and the product itself is tested so we have a trail of where the product was cultivated and process, tested and made ready for sale.
Lafrance 1. How will you address unlicensed cannabis vendors? I plan on meeting with everyone – we need to make sure everyone is safe, that every product is tested with a complete analysis. That we have minimum pricing across the board. We must make assure the safety of the product. The first time someone gets sick or dies, this will come on the tribe. There are roughly 30 to 35 licensed dispensaries. We must make it clear now – who are they buying it from? The Tribe waited too long to act on this.
Thompson 2. Have you met with the unlicensed vendors? The only way we can address this is through ‘community dialogue’. We need to address the needs of the community, the buyer, and the vendor.
Lafrance 2. Have you met with the unlicensed vendors? I met with unlicensed vendors before I decided to run for chief. They wanted me to work with them. I didn’t meet with every single vendor.
I do have a group of businesspeople helping me with my election. They are upset with how Council has treated them. They feel unappreciated and this has led to a tarnished relationship between the ACSA and the Tribe. They don’t feel valued and they feel unappreciated. I cannot say if every single member supports me as a candidate for chief, but as a group of business people, they support my campaign.
Thompson 3. What do you see as the greatest threat to Akwesasne? Our greatest threat is long term – our environment. We have been insistent that these toxic sites are cleaned up to our high standards. These sites are the silent killer in Akwesasne and in the surrounding communities. The cancer rates are higher here than in most other areas. It is a grave threat to Akwesasne and a direct threat to our future generations.
We (the Tribe) approached EPA to clean the site completely – to remove them. Instead, the cleanup is being completed to their lower standards. We must remain vigilant on this. I’ll continue to lobby on the federal level about our environment concerns. We are in this for the long haul and will continue to maintain pressure and we will not move from this. These sites must be clean and done to our satisfaction.
Lafrance 3. What do you see as the greatest threat to Akwesasne? Our biggest concern – the lack of viable jobs. The medical marijuana could have had a lasting effect in Akwesasne. But the Tribe didn’t do their homework, and this fell apart. Again, the key is to employ people – teach people a viable skill. We need to develop more than just SRMT program jobs. We need to create a viable business for the tribe.
Things could go wrong – people are prepared to protest. We don’t want it shut down – this would be a major threat to Akwesasne. People need good high paying jobs in Akwesasne.
I worked on a project to exit National Grid - I’d like to work on that again. To bring viable revenue business, tech jobs, viable business ventures. The American Rescue Plan has an infrastructure package – this is where we could create our own energy.
Thompson 4. What is our greatest asset? Our greatest asset is our people. We have unlimited potential with brilliant, highly educated, skilled and motivated individuals within our community. Wherever we go (Mohawks), we make an impact. We need to encourage our youth to stay here or return here to make Akwesasne a better community.
We can do anything we set our minds too. For example, while at USET and NCAI, I often heard other tribes saying ‘we don’t have the money’ - look at the Akwesasne Freedom School and the ‘can do attitude’. I remember the school hosting pie bingos, selling bread, just to support the teachers and the AFS students.
Lafrance 4. What is our greatest asset? Our greatest asset – our people have always been our greatest asset. We need a culture center, to put our energies into our language for Akwesasronon of all ages. And to provide a stipend for adults in Mohawk Language programs. Our language is at a point where there are not a lot of speakers left. And we need a place for our students to thrive. We need to do everything possible to keep our language alive and thriving. We are our greatest asset.
Thompson 5. People walked out a recent Tribal monthly meeting – how would you address that? The SRMT meetings are bound by the Procedures Act. We have a ‘new business’ section and community members have a voice there. They also have a voice by approaching any chief or subchief with a concern. Some view issues for them are not important to everyone and approaching us individually is one way to speak to us and to be heard.
Lafrance 5. People walked out a recent Tribal monthly meeting – how would you address that? I think the problem is people just want to be heard. And Council needs to listen – listen to someone rant and rave. They want a time to vent. We need to let people speak, and we need to listen to what they want someone to hear them. We still have to follow the Procedures Act.
Thompson 6. What is your number one priority once you step into office as Tribal Chief?
Given that it is currently a pressing issue, the highest priority, would be to work through the compliance issue regarding unregulated sales of cannabis. Resolution through dialogue and diplomatic process, in a peaceful and reasonable manner, is the path forward on this issue.
That being said, the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds strategic planning that is a very important issue as well and one that will also immediately be addressed to ensure that the community receives the maximum benefits of the relief act. These are issues that we are facing: nation to nation relationships, justice within our community. Our cultural education, our language, eco diversification – the issues we are facing will never go away – our inherent rights we carry as people.
I see the cannabis issue as a timely issue but not a threat to our community. Our environment is a long-term issue, and we must remain committed to it.
Lafrance 6. What is your number one priority once you step into office as Tribal Chief? I want to finish the work on the public utility project. The community passed a referendum to exit the National Grid system. There was substantial work done and then it stopped. Our community has waited long enough for this to happen. With the Infrastructure Bill coming from the Feds, I believe now is time to pursue this venture.