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Land fight heats up in Kanesatake

Kanesatake protesters let their drums be heard this week as tensions escalate in the area over a proposed land transfer from an Oka developer. (Marisela Amador, The Eastern Door)

Tensions flared this week in Kanesatake and the municipality of Oka, where meetings were called by Mohawk Council of Kanesatake grand chief Serge Otsi Simon and the mayor of Oka Pascal Quevillon, to discuss the possible land transfer developer Gregoire Gollin is offering the people of Kanesatake.

“Mr. Gollin, I think, has done more to reconcile with us than anyone has done in recent memory,” said Simon ahead of Tuesday night’s community meeting at Ratihente High School in Kanesatake.

During the meeting, the grand chief explained to the community what exactly an “ecological gift” was and its potential implications for Kanesatake and the current land claims. Copies of the declaration of mutual understanding and agreement that was signed last June between the MCK and Gollin were also handed out.

“He wants to give this gift back to us, and of course he gets something in return,” said Simon. “He gets a tax break from the government. The goal for this community has always been to protect the Pines. Well, this is one mechanism that we can use to cut through all the red tape and make sure we don’t have to go through a lengthy process with the government.” 

The Pines is the piece of land at the heart of the 1990 Oka Crisis that escalated when the Surete du Quebec tried to shut down a peaceful demonstration protesting the town of Oka’s golf course expansion plan. A July 11, 1990 shootout ensued, killing corporal Marcel Lemay, sparking a 78-day standoff.    

In 2017, local activist Ellen Gabriel led the charge in protest against Gollin’s development project, Domaine des Collines.

A community divided 

During the meeting, many people voiced their concerns and disapproval of the possible land transfer, citing a lack of information and transparency by the council, the question of taxes, and who would be part of the decision-making process and have the final say. 

“Nothing in this mutual agreement herein prevents the Mohawks of Kanesatake from concluding agreements with the Crown or any other government, in accordance with their governing authority.”   

The biggest issue raised by a number of Kanehsata’kehró:non is by accepting this proposal, they are simultaneously acknowledging that the land legally belongs to Gollin, which they strongly refute. They also questioned Gollin’s true intentions regarding this ecological gift.

Gabriel strongly opposes the deal, but said that if the community wants to move ahead, it should be under their terms.

“We have put up with this for over 300 years,” said Gabriel. “Mr Gollin’s ploy is to sell more land. He wants to develop the beach up to the park because he claims that he owns that land. It is the federal government who is the enemy. We have to wake up and get together on this. So we have one common enemy. This ecological gift is just a Trojan horse.” 

As per the official Memorandum of Understanding, “Gregoire Gollin agrees to enter the process of transferring to the Mohawks of Kanesatake the area of the Pines adjacent to Domain des Collines (+/- 60 hectares)…

The agreement also says that Gollin “commits to making all his other vacant lands located in and around the community of Oka (+/- 150 hectares) available to Mohawks of Kanesatake, through the Crown’s assistance and facilitation.”

The Eastern Door contacted Gollin for comment this week, but he is currently outside the country. He previously said he was committed to making all of his land available to the federal government in order to transfer it to Kanesatake, calling it “the right thing to do.”

Sub-section seven of the accord says “for greater certainty, this mutual agreement is in no way a denial of the Mohawks of Kanesatake’s underlying Aboriginal rights, titles and interests in the unneeded Mohawk lands currently occupied by Mr. Gollin in the community of Oka, including Pointe-aux-Anglais (Tiotoniate’ko:wa).”

Oka meeting

Wednesday, Simon called a press conference at the United Church in Oka, and invited residents to come out and have an open dialogue an hour before a planned information session organized by mayor Quevillon.

During the press conference, the grand chief criticized the mayor’s rhetoric, calling it “hate-filled” and “racist” and fearing that it might incite violence against the people of Kanesatake. 

During the info session, Quevillon discussed the possible repercussions this ecological gift and land transfer might have on the municipality of Oka. 

“I want to specify that the goal of this meeting is to send a clear message to the federal government because they need to take into account the protection of rights of the citizens of Oka,” said the mayor. 

“That is why we are asking the federal government to consult with the municipality of Oka to consider the rights of Oka residents because this is also our home just as much as it is First Nations and we want to live in peace and harmony.”

The mayor specified that he does not want a second Oka Crisis but that if it were to come to that, it would be Oka standing up to the Mohawks of Kanesatake to protect their rights. 

Three Oka councillors walked offstage to show their disapproval of the mayor’s handling of the situation and called his rhetoric “racist “and “inciting violence.”

He said that the sad reality was that cannabis shops (around 16 on the highway), cigarette shacks, and contaminated water plagued Kanesatake. 

“We don’t want that in Oka,” he said.

Kanesatake residents sang and drummed in protest outside of the Oka Church while the meeting was going on. 

“We want to be included in the negotiations. We want peace, but we also want to be respected. We want them to stop calling us thieves when we try and build on land that legally belongs to Oka residents,” said mayor Quevillon.

Drums were loud outside the meeting called by Oka mayor Pascal Quevillon last week, as tensions in the area have risen once again. (Marisela Amador, The Eastern Door)

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