Kanesatake vows to rebuild after fire claimed youth centre
Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon is still angry after fire claimed the Kanesatake Youth of Today building.
“Why the hell would anybody do that?” he fumed as he walked through the burnt-out remains of the building. “Such a despicable act.”
The fire happened just over a week ago overnight on July 8. There were no injuries, but the small Mohawk community just west of Montreal is devastated.
“It was like, to see all those years that we put into that,” said Joyce Bonspiel-Nelson, director-general of the local health centre that runs programming at the youth centre.
“All those years that we gave to the kids and it belonged to them, how are the kids gonna feel and another fire in our community — it was really hard to watch. It really was.”
The centre was a source of support and stability for many in the community. Several programs were held there for youth — from toddlers to teens — and for some, it was an alternative to being out on the streets.
It was a safe space. Even new mothers had a place there.
“We promote breastfeeding and we have peer supports,” Bonspiel-Nelson explained. “They have inter-generational gatherings for the moms, the fathers and the grandparents, and how important it is to go back to our roots and do breastfeeding.”
All those programs have stopped — for now.
The community wants to relaunch at least some of them in a building next to the band council office.
“It used to be a storage which was transformed into a beautiful meeting place,” Simon said.
Workers and officials met Wednesday morning to figure out just how to start to get the programs back up and running.
“They’re gonna go out today or tomorrow, they’re gonna go out and shop, and hopefully by Monday next week, the program’s back on,” Bonspiel-Nelson said.
Community leaders still don’t know what caused the fire, but they suspect arson was involved.
“Well, there were two attempts in the past,” Simon told Global News. “Actually, there were still marks on the back porch from where someone started a fire.”
But the grand chief says the Oka fire department (Kanesatake doesn’t have its own fire service) declared it an electrical fire. He still has his doubts and will investigate further. For now, he’s more focused on rebuilding.
“We’re gonna aim for next summer, so we have at least another year of planning.”
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