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Developer offers Mohawk land back to Kanesatake

Activist Ellen Gabriel (pictured here in 2017 protests) is not comfortable with the agreement between Oka landowner Gregoire Gollin and the Mohawk Council, as details of the exchange have not been revealed. (file photo)

Two years after a confrontation on land in the Pines, developer Gregoire Gollin said he’s giving the federal government and Kanesatake a way the community can add to its land base and resolve some tension with the neighbouring Oka municipality.

“I committed myself to make available to the crown all my land in order that Kanesatake, the crown and any other government (for example Quebec or the municipality of Oka), sit down, and discuss what can be done with all this land, which is clearly available on a willing basis,” said Gollin. “It is a new element, something which is outside of the historical box.”

Gollin said he has been in talks with Mohawk Council of Kanesatake grand chief Serge Otsi Simon over the past two years, and the two signed a yet-to-be-released agreement outlining conditions for the land return.

“We’re still discussing and once we get a firm commitment, we’re going to be bringing it up in a public meeting and informing the community as a whole,” said Simon.

Kanesatake activist Ellen Gabriel was central in the 2017 protests on the disputed land, and developed a relationship with Gollin over the past two years, helping him better understand her community and its history.

“He said he’s in reconciliation mode and wanted to give the land back, which is the other part of the Pines, which the government in 1990 failed to return to us, which was part of the dispute, which the late John Ciaccia had told the government to give back to us,” Gabriel told The Eastern Door.

She was concerned when she heard Gollin had a signed agreement with the MCK and that there may be strings attached to any land return.

“His condition was that if he gave it to the community that he would continue to sell land and build homes, so I said no,” said Gabriel, who was informed after the fact that council had met and signed an agreement.

Gollin said his hope is that by offering part of the 200 hectares of land he owns, two governments can sit down and find a way to add land to Kanesatake’s existing territory.

“I had no obligation, but it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “When you look at what happened, the causes of the situation, what happened to the people of Kanesatake, specifically to anybody like me who bought land in good faith, we are all victims of the same culpable actions of the Sulpicians and the crown at that time.”

Gabriel is keen to see the agreement, and is keeping a steady eye on other areas in the Oka Park area that seem ready for development. She and the longhouse in Kanesatake are upset that council moved ahead without consultation.

“I think it’s quite a mess,” said Gabriel. “We’re being pushed aside. He’s (Gollin) crediting the Mohawk Council for bringing this to his attention when they didn’t support us.”

Gabriel said the land dispute is far from over, and would like details of the agreement made available.

“What’s disturbing is we don’t really know in the community what is going on,” she said. 

Gollin said his goal was to provide more land to Kanesatake for its future development.

“You have a First Nation wanting to have more land and we, landowners, have land, but it’s for development, and year-after-year, your opportunity for development or a dynamic community is decreasing,” he said.

“My values told me that the right thing to do is that, and, if I don’t propose the agreement to Kanesatake, they cannot negotiate on a different basis because land is very important for them.”

Gollin hopes offering his land, will give the crown a new avenue outside of the specific claims/comprehensive claims framework the federal government operates in. He added that if the federal government is serious about reconciliation, it will need to start to look for compromises it hasn’t in the past.

“If you don’t have the tools, if you don’t have the ingredients to arrive at a compromise, it’s impossible to reconcile because reconciliation and compromise are twins,” said Gollin. 

“If you don’t have the ingredients to compromise, it’s not reconciliation, it’s domination.”

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