Karonhienhawe Nicholas was driving toward the village at the bottom of the hill in Kanesatake on Saturday when she caught sight of a tractor discarding soil next to one of the many cannabis shops residing along Route 344.
“It was the original area where we stopped further destruction of the trees last year in the fall,” said the Kanehsata’kehró:non woman, referring to pines being cut on the communal land. “The shop owner beside that area even said he would watch out and make sure there was no more cutting happening.”
Yet, when she made a swift turn and drove up to the tractor, she realized it was the same shop owner that vowed to safeguard the area who was now responsible for this new destruction.
“I asked him what he was doing and why was he all of a sudden breaking his word,” she recounted.
On the lot next to the area at the heart of Saturday’s incident is AAA Cannabis – a dispensary owned by community member Reuben Nicholas.
“He had previously approached the council with an idea of putting a cigarette shop separate from where his pot shop was,” explained Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) chief, Brant Etienne. “But the community had already made it loud and clear that it didn’t want any more land grabbing.”
While that may be, Reuben told The Eastern Door that the new MCK administration had in fact approved his request to use the area and add an extension to the store he already owns.
“They agreed to give me the space but they came back on their word and said I had no right to do this anymore,” said the 71-year-old.
Etienne expressed that while council approved the addition of an extra trailer, it was established that it could not be placed in the area where further destruction was halted last year.
Another point of contention for the MCK was the matter of the soil being used to fill the holes left from previously removed stumps belonging to pine trees cut down.
“We had samples taken from the earth that was deposited there and those are with the (council) environment department now,” explained Etienne.
For his part, Reuben said he’s not concerned with the soil being contaminated.
In the last few years, the community has witnessed trees repeatedly being sawed down and replaced by smoke shops. Today, there are nearly 20 cannabis and cigarette stores lining the border of the Pines.
However, recent attempts to cut more trees and clear more grounds have been stalled by a group of Kanehsata’kehró:non determined to protect the land.
“I’m talking on behalf of the women who started this movement last year when I say that no one will have special treatment,” said Karonhienhawe. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a family member or not.”
When women intervened to end additional cutting in the area last fall, it was decided that the space would instead serve as a memorial.
“People started planting saplings to replace what was damaged and taken away,” explained Karonhienhawe. “They did it in memory of those who fought for the land in 1990 and throughout time.”
MCK chief Denise David was among one of the first to plant saplings, and she was also there in 1990.
“We always think of someone in our heart when we plant them – we put a memory in them for us to cherish,” said David. “For a lot of us women, it’s a space where if anyone passes, they can go there to plant a tree in memory of someone.”
The majority of the 20 saplings were destroyed as a result of the tractor crushing them. Reuben stated that it wasn’t his intention to crush the young trees planted by community members.
“The tractor went to pull the stump of old trees out and I didn’t know that there were any saplings there,” he explained.
In the meantime, Karonhienhawe remains adamant that no more trees – old or new – should be removed.
“We’re saying there’s no more tree cutting in the Pines, no more clearing and no more shops in the Pines,” she said. “There’s no double standard here: no one is going to do this and this goes for absolutely everybody.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door