People spoke about the Kanehsatake Siege in 1990, systemic racism and the lack of concrete government actions. Pascal Quevillon, right, addressed the land defenders.
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Yesterday, on International Human Rights Day, Kanehsatake land defenders were joined by protesters from outside the community to denounce the persistent violations of Onkwehón:we people’s rights to self-determination all across Canada.
More than 20 people met early Thursday morning, December 10, at the Oka Golf Club, where the so-called Oka Crisis took place.
Back then, Kanehsata’kehró:non fiercely stood up against the municipality of Oka’s intention to expand the golf course over Kanehsatake’s land. Thirty years later, the same land claims are still unresolved.
“This year has brought much conflict and strife upon the issues the people in Kanehsata:ke have faced for over 300 years: the persistent land theft and disrespect by settler governments, founded on racist doctrines,” said activist Ellen Gabriel as she read a statement issued by the land defenders.
The protest was last-minute as the land defenders called for it the previous night over social media, and succeeded in gathering people quickly from all over the region.
Originally from Tootinaowaziibeeng First Nation in Manitoba, Don Eagle has been living in Ottawa for the past 35 years. He spoke of the time in 1990 with his father, as he would cross the lines to bring in food and diapers for community members.
“We thought we would have some issues resolved back then, but we haven’t,” said Eagle at the protest, his voice shaking with emotions.
“Our people are shamed, they are not getting the proper attention, they are just pushed away. When will it end?”
The rally came at the end of a long week of fighting for Kanehsata’kehró:non voices to be heard. Last weekend, when news broke that the municipality of Oka moved forward with the decision to name the Pines a heritage site, community members organized a bonfire and set up women’s Warrior and Two Row Wampum flags near the baseball field.
The municipality’s decision was made after receiving a lot of criticism from all sides and generations: citizens, land defenders, the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) and political leaders. The discourse in disagreement with the new bylaw was the same. The land belongs to the Kanien’kehá:ka.
“We are witnessing systemic racism and it’s really sickening that nothing has been done,” said Katsi’tsaronhkwas Stacy Pepin.
Pepin explained that she wasn’t born in 1990 during the Crisis, but now, she has a fire burning in her heart.
“It’s the youth’s turn to step for the ones who were there in the ’90s,” said the 26-year-old Kanehsata’kehró:non.
Pepin had been guarding the fire over the baseball field throughout the week and she has seen the police car driving by along with the Oka mayor. In fact, tensions rose as the municipality repeatedly took down the flags while rumours that the Golf Club had been sold gained traction.
Yet that claim was quickly clarified by the mayor of Oka, Pascal Quevillon, along with Kanesatake grand chief Serge Otsi Simon.
“It was fake news,” said Simon. “We have contacts in the real estate industry and they said no sales, no condos.”
Right before the protest left to walk toward the Oka village, Quevillon made a stop to denounce the false information being perpetuated. After a verbal confrontation with land defenders demanding answers, Quevillon swore to never touch nor sell the Golf Club.
However, by the look on people’s faces, they didn’t believe him.
One of the politicians present on Thursday, Quebec Green Party leader Alex Tyrrell, said he wished more parties would be outspoken in favour of Onkwehón:we issues.
“It was important for me to show support towards the protest and to the community in their struggle to have their rights recognized,” said Tyrrell, “to be able to live next to the community of Oka without being subject to racist comments.”
Tyrrell showed up responded to one of the land defenders’ demands, to show good faith and good will in all levels of government.