(COURTESY JULIA KANATHIIOSTHA LAZORE)
The women’s warrior flag was designed in honour of Ieweras Gray, who lost her life to leukemia, and represents strength and unity among Onkwehón:we women
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Last week’s controversial tree cutting in the Pines wasn’t the first unconsented development in the community, but Kanehsata’kehró:non feel it must be the last.
The women of Kanesatake took turns watching over the Pines last weekend as they sat around a fire set up as an emblem of resistance against illegal tree cutting – this time by their own people.
By Sunday evening, November 22, the land defenders, who unified their voices and refer to themselves as The People, decided to let the fire burn out.
Instead, two trees were replanted by an elder and her granddaughter while the group invited the rest of the community to do the same all over the section of the Pines that suffered from over-development.
“That now acts as our new symbol of resistance, change and a new era for Kanesatake,” said one member, echoed by the rest. “As the fire burns out, it stays lit in our hearts.”
The People explained that standing as one was safer than singling-out personal statements.
The fire was in fact not welcomed by everyone. Cars were loudly roaring near the campfire, as drivers yelled insults. But the firekeepers remained still. They said that even though they faced intimidation over the weekend, they found strength in the union of their voices.
The protest’s act was a direct response to the construction of development and tree cutting, which started on Tuesday, November 17.
Todd Simon was reported cutting down trees next to Big Chief’s cannabis store along Route 344 without permission. It disregarded the moratorium that was put in place in 2010 in order to protect the forest.
The Pines has been a place of discord for the past 30 years. Kanehsata’kehró:non stood fiercely against outsiders wanting to expand the Oka Golf Club that resulted in the 1990 Siege of Kanehsatake, but the fight didn’t end there.
Over the past years, more than 20 smoke shops popped up, in the name of economic and personal development.
“When does it stop if everybody does it and blames the other one for it?” questioned Kanesatake grand chief Serge Otsi Simon in a public statement. “They call it entrepreneurship, but not when it’s done on the back of our community like that.”
The grand chief said many times that the community doesn’t have the enforcement capability to enact the moratorium.
The land defenders believe the solution needs to come from within. After a meeting at the Longhouse on Sunday, they are now looking to craft a letter that would unify The People, the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK), and People of the Longhouse. As one unique voice, the letter would demand that all Kanehsata’kehró:non stop cutting trees.
“The underlying message would be unity for Kanesatake to act as one,” stated The People, adding that the agreement would be represented by a wampum belt currently being designed. “It would hold true to who we are and it has a lot more significance than a piece of paper. The wampum belt would remind us who we are.”