Mohawks take PM to task over unanswered land claims on 30th anniversary of Oka crisis

Mohawks from Kahnawake on Montreal’s South Shore stage a rolling protest on Route 132 to the Mercier Bridge on Saturday, July 11, 2020, to mark the anniversary of the start of 1990 Oka Crisis. JOHN MAHONEY / Mont

Mohawks from Kanesatake to Kahnawake took Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to task Saturday for failing to answer their centuries-old land claims on the 30th anniversary of the start of the Oka crisis.

A convoy of about 100 vehicles carrying Kahnawake residents — many of them sporting Mohawk flags — crossed the Mercier Bridge into LaSalle and back Saturday morning as part of a “rolling blockade” to commemorate the event.

Hours later, a second caravan — this time, carrying Kanesatake residents — took over Route 344 northwest of Montreal though a new development in an area used by Mohawk farmers for generations. Many onlookers stood on their front porch and waved.

Members of the traditional longhouse organized the convoys to commemorate the watershed event — a 78-day standoff between Quebec Mohawks and Canadian soldiers over the proposed expansion of a golf course in Oka.

Three decades later, the impasse over land rights remains unresolved — despite Trudeau’s numerous pledges to work toward reconciliation and foster a “nation-to-nation” dialogue with Indigenous communities.

“The summer of 1990 serves as a reminder that the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) are willing to defend their land and protect their people, by any means necessary,” Joe Deom, a spokesperson for the Kahnawake longhouse, told a small gathering in the village Saturday. “The same holds true, 30 years later.”

Ellen Gabriel, a member of Kanesatake’s longhouse, later read the same statement in her community.

Organizers chose to hold rolling blockades instead of marches because of the coronavirus pandemic and the contamination risks that would have resulted from demonstrators being in close proximity to each other, Gabriel told reporters.

The demonstrations come as Kanesatake’s Mohawks continue to fight residential developments in nearby Oka they say would encroach on the pine forest they planted nearly 200 years ago.
“Under Canada’s constitution, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could intervene and stop all development that’s taking place here, and he refuses,” Gabriel said. Indigenous relations minister Carolyn Bennett “is part of that problem of refusing and trying to silence the voice” of First Nations peoples, she added.

“We are fighting for our land.”

Gabriel and her fellow citizens were joined in Kanesatake by New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and one of his MPs, Manitoba’s Leah Gazan. Singh said he came to Kanesatake “as an ally” to listen, fight for justice and ensure contested lands are returned to First Nations peoples.
He also took time to reflect on the events of 1990, saying: “What happened on this land was the beginning of a powerful movement. Future movements were all inspired by the strength and resilience of the people here. Thirty years later, the lessons have not been learned. The same problem continues.”

Gazan was more blunt.

“There will never be reconciliation in Canada in the absence of justice,” she said. “The people of Kanesatake have waited for over 300 years for this justice, and their justice continues to be infringed upon. It is time that this longstanding land dispute be resolved, that it gets the attention that it deserves from the current federal government to act now. The people of the longhouse have waited long enough for justice.”

The message — and the anger — was the same in Kahnawake.
Trudeau “has made a lot of promises,” Kaherihshon, a Kahnawake resident, told the Montreal Gazette. “He’s talked a really good talk about all the things he was going to do to settle the issues of the First Nations people. What has he done to make anything right? What has he done to settle these land claims? There’s nothing that has been done that has made a difference so far. If he wants real truth and reconciliation, then he has to really sit down with the people and say: ‘What do we have to do to make this better? How are we going to help the people?’ ”

Asked what it would take for reconciliation to begin, Gabriel answered: “Land back. It’s going to be an uncomfortable discussion, but when are we going to have it?”

SOURCE

By Frédéric Tomesco Christopher Curtis of the Montreal Gazette contributed to this report  ftomesco@postmedia.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s