Kanesatake Mohawks protest construction on “ancestral land” in Oka

Click to play video 'Frustration mounts over Oka land dispute' Frustration mounts over Oka land dispute
WATCH: Kanesatake Mohawks are rallying to protect a stand of trees known as The Pines. Developers want to build on the site, but residents argue construction there would be illegal. Global’s Phil Carpenter reports – Aug 12, 2017

Kanesatake Mohawk residents and supporters are protesting against what they say is further encroachment on their ancestral land.

One of the locations under dispute is just north of Oka Road near Champlain Street in Oka, not far from an area known as The Pines.

Mohawk activist Ellen Gabriel says that the land, “has been fraudulently sold by Canada, Quebec and to a private developer who has been developing and building luxury homes, homes that our community definitely can’t afford.”

Protesters want an immediate halt to all construction on the site, and to have government representatives meet with residents to discuss the issue.  Those opposed to development say The Pines is just one of several disputed sites, the ownership of which was never resolved after the 1990 crisis.

READ MORE: Kanesatake commemorates 1990 Oka Crisis

Gabriel points out that this is not the first time they have tried to raise the issue and to try to stop development here.

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“We’ve been trying to stop this peacefully, writing letters before.  All these homes you see behind me, we’ve been trying to stop that.” Gabriel said.

“So we’ve decided that the last resort is to occupy it.”

They emphasize this is just the latest in an historical struggle, to be recognized as the legitimate owners of various sites, and that too often, land is taken over for development without their consent or involvement.

READ MORE: Land dispute brewing between Oka and Quebec Mohawk community

Kenneth Deer is a member of the Kahnawake Mohawk Nation, who attended the protest in support.  He calls the construction on the site, another example of institutionalized racism.

“They just want to take, take, take, more of our land,” he said. “If we allow this housing development to continue, it means there is less land for the Mohawks to use, and Canadians don’t seem to care.”

READ MORE: Kanesatake mulls over mining project

Supporters like Read Sherman agree saying, that Canadians should never forget how this country’s indigenous peoples have historically been treated.

“It’s important for us to show up at protests like this, to try and build a new relationship that is more based on justice and equality, rather than one people over another,” he explained.

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He admits that the current situation is difficult to navigate, and that he has empathy for people who have already bought houses slated for construction on the site. But he suggests the disagreement can also be an opportunity to help with reconciliation.

“Oka should be a showcase for how people negotiate, works things out,” Sherman said. “No one wants to live in a community that is divided.”

It isn’t clear what will happen with the houses that have already been built, if the Mohawks succeed in stopping construction.  What they do want, is for the land to be turned over to them, so that they can decide how it should be developed.