As the Quebec government and its newly-appointed negotiator Paul Girard were preparing to open discussions between Kanesastake and the municipality of Oka, the meeting was delayed due to recent deaths in the community.
Mohawk Council of Kanesatake grand chief Serge Otsi Simon explained that out of respect for the families, he told Girard, who is the former deputy minister of public security, that the scheduled meeting set on Monday had to be postponed.
“It’s on pause and we’ll get back at it after the holidays, but meeting with the negotiator is not a high priority for me,” said Simon.
The grand chief has been clear on its position since Girard was appointed as a negotiator on December 10 by the minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs, Ian Lafrenière. Girard’s mandate will be to discuss and find compromises regarding ongoing issues affecting the two communities, but Simon said Kanesatake has nothing to negotiate with Oka.
“This guy might be a negotiator for Quebec, but for me, it’s just a mediator,” said Simon. “Our heritage and titles are not up for negotiation with municipalities.”
Simon remains open to discussion, but said first and foremost, his priority goes to drafting a lawsuit against the Oka municipality and the federal government to assert Kanesatake’s ancestral rights to lands.
The government’s decision to appoint a negotiator was the result of recent tensions surrounding the Pines, which minister Lafrenière said he was preoccupied with. On December 1, the Oka council moved in favour of adopting a controversial resolution which declared the Pines a heritage site. While the land was the centre of conflict 30 years ago during the Siege of Kanehsatake, or so-called Oka Crisis, the community is still in the process of officially reclaiming it as part of its traditional territory. The municipality’s decision was strongly met with disapproval from Kanehsata’kehró:non who mobilized throughout the week to protest, aggravating tensions with the municipality.
Oka mayor Pascal Quevillon believes the two communities are privileged to have someone appointed specifically to help them resolve everything that’s been going on.
“People need to understand that the situation won’t get better if they continue to push for a division,” said the mayor.
Quevillon met with the negotiator on Monday to discuss not only the Pines, but also what he believes to be the core of the issues: the lack of policing in Kanesatake. The mayor repeatedly argued that it was one of the reasons behind the municipality’s desire to protect the Pines. Over the past years, the forest had fallen under the hands of entrepreneurs who disregarded the 2010 moratorium that was put in place by the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) to protect the Pines.
“We are all well aware of the problem,” said Quevillon, “even the grand chief said he doesn’t control his territory.”
According to Simon, the very nature of the municipality’s resolution is based on racism, as the community did its best to get out of poverty imposed by years of colonialism, but he also acknowledged that the lack of enforcement capabilities urgently needs to be addressed.
“All we need right now is security, environmental officers and to establish our own system,” said Simon.
Following tensions between the two communities, land defenders Ellen Gabriel and Al Harrington received formal notices on December 14 from the municipality of Oka. The warning documents asked both activists to retract false information that was published over social media.
Quevillon believes “fake news” regarding the alleged sale of the Oka Golf Club for real estate purposes, along with the alleged tagging of trees in the Pines, only deepens the tensions.
“We asked for the (online) posts to be removed but nothing has been done yet,” said the Oka mayor. “If by the end of the holidays it’s still there, we will have to take further actions.”
Harrington and Gabriel abstain from commenting at this time.
Virginie Ann, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door