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An archeological dig without consent

A view from Kanehsatá:ke Kana:tákon, otherwise known as the village of Oka. (Courtesy Teiawenniserate Tomlinson)

Editor’s Note- This article was published last week, since then the dig has been postponed. 

The Municipality of Oka announced that there would be archeological inventory work from next Tuesday, June 30 to Thursday, July 2 in the village of Oka and in Kanehsatake Mohawk territory.

According to the Municipalité D’Oka, this work is necessary and conditional on obtaining financial assistance for the construction of the multifunctional community hall that Oka aims to build.

This financial assistance could potentially cover up to 65 percent of the eligible costs of the project. According to the mayor of Oka Pascal Quevillon, no permit is necessary for this archeological work since the government required it.

“We are requesting an infrastructure grant. There is no conspiracy here. It is the government that demands (this archeological inventory),” said Quevillon. “All cities must do this and you don’t need a license to do this. If ever we find something throughout this archeological inventory, we will let the Mohawk and Indigenous community know about it,” he said.

But it was met with resistance from Kanehsatake community members, as no one was consulted on it and no consent was given.

“There has been no approval nor consultation with the Kanien’keháka of Kanehsatake, which is a legal obligation as part of their obligation to uphold the honour of the Crown,” wrote Ellen Gabriel in a Facebook post.

Gabriel is a human rights and environmental activist for the past 30 years, dating back to 1990, and also the cultural consultant at the Tsi Ronterihwanónhnha ne Kanien’kéha Language and Cultural Center.

“The mayor takes a lot of liberties on undisputed land. I think there is a sense in certain people in the community that this is another land grab, he is trying to provoke a conflict, especially since we are a few days away from the 30th anniversary of the Oka Crisis,” said Gabriel.

The municipality said that a representative from Kanehsatake could be present during the archeological inventory to watch as they dig, in case of any archeological findings. However, this is not what the community wants.

“We could have all the representatives there and watch it but we don’t want the archeological dig. And before any dig, what is the purpose of it, what is the intent?” said Gabriel. “If something is found, it’s not just a matter of someone standing there and watching the dig, the findings don’t belong to the municipality, they belong to us. For them to take these sites and cause destruction has been the status quo for years – and for years our human rights have been violated.”

Teiawenniserate Tomlinson of Kanehsatake was concerned when he first saw the message from the municipality’s Facebook page concerning the upcoming archeological digs.

“First, (the announcement) didn’t mention if our community was involved in this dig. Second, we had not heard from our own community officials concerning this matter,” said Tomlinson. “(Our community officials) should be keeping their ear to the ground concerning such issues.

“We are in the midst of a deep reflection period nationally on matters of systemic racism. A lot of Canadians seem baffled by this revelation and it is exposing the divide. In the case of the village of Oka, they aren’t digging for dinosaur bones, they are digging for historical remains of the early inhabitants of this land,” he said.

“These remains are those of our ancestors. Those that we are still connected to, those whose language and traditions we still carry on today. It is unacceptable that currently we are still not involved, that we are not making these decisions relating to these matters. We talk about examples of systemic racism, well, I believe that we have a pretty evident one right here,” said Tomlinson.

Mohawk Council of Kanesatake grand chief Serge Otsi Simon understands that there is a lack of consultation from the mayor of Oka. “He should have let us know that he was planning this expansion,” said Simon. “It’s a matter of being careful. Our people were here for the last 2,000 years,” he said.

According to Simon, there should be a representative from Kanehsatake during the archeological inventory in case they find any bones or artifacts.

“This whole mess has always had a rare talent of instigating our community, and this is just another example. I wish that community members would stop taking the bait so quickly and start asking questions at the proper levels because Quevillon doesn’t have the authority over us,” said Simon. “I even said to Quevillon recently that had the Crown respected the treaties that were signed with us, Oka should have never existed.”

Simon is not so concerned with the new community hall that Oka is trying to build, he is more concerned about the expansion of campsites in Oka park.

“I was there recently and there were many bulldozers and dump trucks coming out of there. Long ago, there were longhouses around there,” said Simon. “If they are going to expand like that, any place in Oka Park could be an archeological site.”

In response to this, Simon said he has taken proactive steps in contacting the government in order to protect any artifacts which belong to their community.

“The reality is, (the people of Oka) are there today and we have to try to work within that context, but we can’t keep our eye off against any violations within our treaty promised lands,” said Simon.

“It’s always a matter of recognizing that the Indigenous are here and Aboriginal title should not be something they should fear, it should be something they should respect. Respecting that fact is going to make a much better relationship than simply co-existence with our neighbours.”

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