Kanesatake, surrounding municipalities join forces to create permanent liaison committee

Six months after tempers flared over a proposed bequest of land on disputed territory, the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake and mayors of surrounding municipalities have agreed to create a permanent committee where elected officials can hear each others' perspectives on a wide range of issues.

A date for a first meeting between the council and members of the Deux-Montagnes regional county municipality (MRC) has not yet been set, however Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon said he'd like to have a meeting as soon as possible, "before something else happens and derails everything."

The MRC is made up of seven municipalities on the north shore of the Lake of Two Mountains, including the town of Oka, whose land base overlaps that of the Kanesatake Mohawks.

Last July, Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon said he was concerned his town risked becoming "surrounded" by Mohawk territory if a proposal from a local developer to donate 60 hectares of land to Kanesatake Mohawks and sell them another 150 hectares through a federal program were to come to fruition.

Quevillon characterized the Mohawk territory as plagued by illegal dumps, cannabis and cigarette merchants and contaminated water, prompting the Kanesatake grand chief to demand an apology.

After digging his heels in for months, Quevillon did make that apology in late August, leading to a meeting between the MRC mayors and Kanesatake's band council in September.

"We didn't know each other. We had never met formally," said the prefect of the MRC, Denis Martin, who took that initiative.

Finding common ground

Martin and Simon have since agreed to create a permanent liason committee. The goal of the committee, which will also include economic decision-makers, is to work on what the Mohawks and citizens of neighbouring cities have in common. 

For Simon, it presents an opportunity to promote reconciliation and to raise awareness of the Mohawks' outstanding land claims. 

The committee will "help us to learn about the issues the municipalities are facing, so we can better understand. At the same time, we want to explain to them that they are on unceded Mohawk territory," Simon said. 

"They need to understand why Mohawks get so frustrated and angry, and why they've become so militant," he told CBC News. "I think maybe once they have that understanding, we could better form economic partnerships in the future — where the Mohawks will no longer be just brushed aside but included in the economy of the region."

Simon said the Kanesatake Mohawk Council has appointed a former council chief and community elder, Gordie Oke, to act as a political adviser, "to get the ball rolling."

For his part, Quevillon says he's relieved to hear about the committee.

"The fact that the Deux-Montagnes MRC is getting involved in the matter is very reassuring for me, and it takes a lot of weight off the municipality," Quevillon said. 

He said it was essential the MRC be on board, since the Mohawks' land claims extend far beyond the limits of the town of Oka. 

"It is the entire [historical] Seigneury of Lake of Two Mountains that is claimed here, and that includes several municipalities that are part of the MRC."