A loud and local protest over residential development on Mohawk territory was the latest development in a battle between the Indigenous community of Kanehsatake and residential developers looking to build on territory the community says belongs to them.
“All we are asking for is peace and our land back,” said Ellen Gabriel, who speaks for the People of the Longhouse in Kanehsatake.
The demonstration, made up of cars, trucks and other slow-moving traffic snarled traffic in Oka and made its way to a residential housing development on Champlain Ave. in Oka.
The developer of the neighbourhood, Gregoire Gollin, bought 220 hectares of land in 2004 – and Kanehsatake community members don’t want any more of it developed.
“We want peace, but we can’t have peace when all this is going on all the time,” Gabriel, gesturing to the housing development, said. “That’s a conflict. This is a conflict zone.”
The rolling demonstration was merely the latest salvo in a battle over land that dates back to the so-called Oka Crisis of 1990 and throughout history.
Oka mayor Pascal Quevillion said that Gollin has threatened to develop over a million square feet of The Pines, which sits on Kanehsatake territory.
So, he said, the town took steps to protect the forest and its land.
“To ease tensions, we took the decision to change the zoning of that forest, to make it an environmental conservation and heritage zone to protect it from all development,” Quevillion said.
That’s not quite enough for Kanehsatake community members, though.
“We call upon Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau to declare a moratorium upon all development,” Gabriel said.
Talks with the government have apparently stalled and she said federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller no longer responds to her text messages.
“We call upon the public to write their members of parliament and the national assembly,” Gabriel said. She also called for a boycott of Oka National Park until talks resumed.
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase