Quebec, federal government try to diffuse tension in Oka and Kanesatake
The Canadian and Quebec governments are getting involved in trying to diffuse a tense situation between Oka and Kanesatake as the debate continues over a possible land transfer.
Both levels of government are working at brokering a meeting involving the two ministries, the village and the territory possibly for next week.
“In the hope of maintaining the public peace and safety for all, for months now, the minister D’Amours has maintained contact with the federal government, Oka’s mayor and the Grand Chief of Kanesatake,” said Nadine Gros-Louis, a spokesperson for Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Sylvie D’Amours.
“It is imperative that these exchanges be open and positive. We intend to collaborate to the utmost of our abilities so that the involved parties arrive at a mutual understanding.”
The move comes as tensions runs high between the two communities. Last week, Quebec land developer Grégoire Gollin announced that he signed an agreement with the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake to give back a parcel of pine forest that was at the heart of Oka Crisis 29 years ago.
Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon claims he wasn’t consulted about the potential land transfer.
The news of a potential meeting comes as a relief to Quevillon. He said he’s been trying for months, even years, to sit down with the federal government to discuss the future development of Oka and lands surrounding his town.
Quevillon also stands by his remarks that he is worried that cannabis stores will crop up in the area if the land is returned to Kanesatake. His comments were condemned by both Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“If he doesn’t see that, then that is extremely worrying,” Quevillon said. “We don’t want that to happen here.”
For his part, Simon says someone from his territory will likely attend, although it might not be him.
“We are right on the edge of the cliff and we have to take a step back and take a deep breath,” Simon said.
“We have to talk about peace and reconciliation.”
In a statement on Friday, Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett said the federal government believes “that the best way to resolve historical grievances is through dialogue and negotiation and we are working in partnership with the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake to find shared and balanced solutions to resolve their claim.”
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However, Simon says non-natives discussing the future of Mohawk land won’t go far, especially with the Oka mayor.
“He will not be part of my land claims. He does not have the same rights I do and he has to get used to that reality,” he said.
Simon says issues with Oka are the least of his problems right now.
He admits illegal garbage dumping, dangerous nightly street racing and a rapid rise of cannabis outlets are a much bigger worry. He wants an Indigenous peacekeeping force in Kanesatake, not seen since 2004.
“Elders are afraid to step out. I get calls — they are asking me to call the SQ to come in and stop the races, so there are problems,” Simon said. “We have no means of enforcing this, The SQ will not enforce Mohawk law.”
If the meeting does happen, it will only be the start of what will likely be difficult discussions between Oka and Kanesatake. Both sides agree that avoiding a serious confrontation is of the utmost importance.
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