With cabin applications last year more than five times higher than average, a community survey from the Tioweró:ton Committee has revealed disagreement about how best to manage the territory’s development.
The main point of contention is to what extent the territory, which Kahnawake and Kanesatake share, should be dotted with more cabins and recreational activities.
“We’re trying to find a happy medium or a balance between the two, and, of course, you can never make everyone happy,” said Tara McComber, Tioweró:ton manager at the Mohawk Council of Kahn- awake (MCK) Lands Unit.
Of about 250 respondents, around half believe new areas should be opened up for cabin development to accommodate demand. A similar proportion feel the number of new cabins each year should be capped.
There are currently more than 325 cabins in Tioweró:ton, and building more will soon necessitate opening up another area, according to MCK chief Cody Diabo, who sits on the Tioweró:ton Committee.
“That conversation does have to happen, and I think what we decide to do in the next few years is really going to determine what’s going to happen in the long-term,” Diabo said.
“Historically, Tioweró:ton was our hunting grounds. People would go up there to hunt, to fish, to practice traditional medicine picking and things like that,” he said. “As things evolved, it was more of a leisure place, so people maybe just went up there to relax and escape.”
Hiking and swimming are popular activities in Tioweró:ton, and McComber said she hears about community interest in amenities such as playground equipment, gazebos and barbecue pits, and places to skate and slide in the winter.
However, the survey gives no definitive guidance on whether such ideas should ultimately be incorporated.
“Because the responses were so broad, there’s no clear direction,” said McComber. “We’ll need to do some more consultations for sure.”
“They’re not making a resort out of it. That’s not what that place is for,” said community member Melissa Montour-Lazare, who has access to cabins through her father and husband.
While she feels a profound connection to the territory, she declined to respond to the survey.
“Half the people who answered that survey don’t even go there,” she said. “The people who are there all the time are the people we should be talking to. I pretty much grew up there.... When the band council started to get involved, that’s when everything started going south.”
Most of the survey’s respondents own a cabin or plan to build one in the future. Just 15 percent do not own one and do not plan to build one.
According to McComber, an analysis showed those without cabins expressed similar views to those who do have them.
One exception, of course, was on the question of whether respondents would be willing to rent a communal cabin. A plurality of people answered yes to this question.
Such an endeavour could be considered a commercial venture, however, something expressly forbidden on the territory.
“People always borrowed cabins from each other,” said Montour-Lazare. “What is all this talk about ‘rent’?”
She believes the lack of space for cabins should be resolved in the short-term by tearing down those that are rotten and hazardous to make room for new ones.
“It’s obvious there will be a lack of space soon enough, so the pressure is on for the people to seek more lands elsewhere,” she said.
While there are differences of opinion on how Tioweró:ton should be used, people generally agreed with the need to preserve the territory.
“It’s good to note the respondents placed high importance on hunting and protecting wetlands and sensitive areas, and our medicines and traditional activities were also of great significance,” said McComber.
There were 59 applications to build cabins in 2021, up from 24 in 2020 and an annual average of 11.
McComber suspects the increase is linked to pandemic restrictions limiting travel and activities, but she said it is too early to know if this hunch will be borne out.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door