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Kanesatake legal action prompts reaction

OkaThrough an official attorney’s letter, five Kanehsata’kehró:non have requested the delay of the judicial review in the legal actions against a recent municipality of Oka bylaw, pending a full community consultation process.

The request came on March 9, after many concerns were raised by elders Harvey Satewas Gabriel and Jessie Nelson, regarding the lack of transparency from the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) grand chief, Serge Otsi Simon, and the potential repercussions the lawsuit’s outcome could have on Kanesatake.

“The grand chief doesn’t have respect for the community. He decides everything on his own, without consulting the community members,” said elder Gabriel. “Like taking actions against Oka, he should have brought it to a community meeting and asked the people what they thought of it.”

The MCK announced in a press release on January 10 that they filed for legal actions against the municipality of Oka, demanding to “quash and declare null Oka’s bylaw.”

On December 1, 2020, the Oka council moved in favour of adopting a bylaw that declared the Pines as a heritage site. The forest, which borders Kanesatake and Oka, was the very stage of the historical 1990 so-called Oka Crisis between the two communities, 30 years ago, as Oka tried to expand its golf course onto sacred, unceded grounds.

The most controversial aspect of the new bylaw granted powers to the municipality of Oka to overlook developments in the Pines.

The announcement of a lawsuit against Oka was a surprise to most Kanehsata’kehró:non, as the MCK’s decision was made without consulting community members. According to the legal representatives of the MCK, the band council had 30 days for judicial review to contest Oka’s action – forcing the Council to go ahead, without consulting the community.

“For me and the council, sitting on our hands waiting for something to happen is not an option,” said Simon. “There was no time for whatever consultation these members were asking.”

But for some community members, that reasoning was received as a disrespectful act toward Kanien’kehá:ka traditions – even if they strongly objected to Oka’s heritage bylaw.

As a result, community members Walter David, John Harding, Gabrielle Lamouche, Jeremy Teiawenniserate Tomlinson and Tracy Cross came forward demanding a delay in the legal review.

Tomlinson explained that by doing that, the group wanted to get the more than overdue process of community dialogue started, one he believes was blocked by the current administration of the MCK.

“It is not for me, nor the small group of us who put our names on the request to decide for everyone, just like it wasn’t Serge Simon or any other elected member of council to decide for everyone,” said Tomlinson.

Gabriel was also concerned about the way he witnessed Kanesatake losing trust in his grand chief. The 81-year-old man remembers a time where former grand chiefs would bring issues to the community before taking any action – but that time is now long gone, Gabriel believes.

“The community put him in the grand chief position, so he should respect his people,” said Gabriel.

The group received the information that while the lawsuit is currently stalled by procedural necessities, if they had anything “constructive” to add to the submission, they could present it to the MCK for amendments. Although members of the group agreed that the answer didn’t constitute an open dialogue.

“You go ahead with legal action on behalf of the community without consent, and then you put out that action asking for input? Is that consultation? No, it’s never been our ways,” said Cross. “We come together as people and we discuss matters.”

In addition to the lack of consultation also comes the anxiety of the potential lawsuit’s outcome, which the group believes should have been discussed with the community before moving forward with it.

“If we lose, so we accept it? Does our participation show that we accept the jurisdiction of the court system over our affairs? If so, does it mean that we accept our subjugation to the colonial constructs?” questioned Tomlinson.

“It’s their system, not ours,” added Cross.

The Mohawk Council grand chief said he’s highly confident about the case, and rather sees this kind of apprehensive conversations and mentality as the reason why the community has struggled for so long with land claims.

“Unless you stand up and fight, you are not going to change a damn thing, and that’s what I am going to do,” said Simon.

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