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The Municipality of Oka has access to a financial aid program from the provincial government for the construction of a new recreational centre, but it requires doing archeological digs before anything else.
Archeological digs resumed two weeks after land defenders halted the first excavation in the Oka village once again, without prior notice to the people of Kanesatake.
An excavator was seen Tuesday morning, September 22, in the parking lot facing the old recreational centre, on St. Jean Baptiste, scooping pavement. On Wednesday, the municipality of Oka moved the dig to the recreational centre.
“Somebody posted about it on Facebook,” said activist and representative of the People of the Longhouse, Ellen Gabriel. “I told them it was an illegal dig and that the community wasn’t consulted. They were taking photos and measurements, but I was completely ignored.”
The initial digs were stopped by community members who stood in front of the construction crew on September 8. Out of the five digs that were planned for that day, only one was conducted.
This week, the Surete du Quebec (SQ) was called to make sure no protesters would be allowed on-site. Two cars were parked in front of the excavation, while two private security guards were patrolling around the digging site.
“It was a simple police presence in the area,” said Oka SQ spokesperson Marc Tessier. “There hasn’t been any complaints, arrests or incidents.”
While a first meeting took place on June 29, representatives of the Longhouse reiterated their position in another meeting on September 14, as the digs were temporarily halted. They met with representatives of the Quebec government, the municipality of Oka, three elected councillors, Victor Bonspille, Bruce Montour and Valerie Bonspille, and continued to oppose any further development.
Gabriel, who was present during the meeting, said Oka and the government haven’t been receptive to their position.
“They are just ignoring our rights to this land and they are being disrespectful,” she said. “They don’t want to do anything about it.”
On their side, Oka restated the agreement made with the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK).
MCK gave consent to the digs after conducting an online survey and obtaining the support of 35 voters.
The agreement between MCK and Oka included the supervision of band members overlooking the digs, yet the band council said they hadn’t been informed of any official dates.
“The mayor never advised us and nobody told us the date, they just came up with the equipment and they started,” said Mohawk Council of Kanesatake grand chief Serge Otsi Simon. “We had people we were looking into to supervise, not archeologists, but just to oversee what the team was doing and finding, in case they would find anything. Then we would go in and stop everything. They never gave us the chance.”
The archeological digs were a mandatory request from the Quebec government as the municipality of Oka accessed funding, covering up to 65 percent of the cost, to build a new recreational centre. It hasn’t been confirmed yet whether any remains and artifacts such as pottery or arrowheads have been found.
The Eastern Door tried contacting the Municipality of Oka for comments but received no answer.