The latest chapter in a very long dispute was written northwest of Montreal on Saturday.
A very loud demonstration began in Kanesatake Mohawk territory and ended at a residential real estate development in Oka, where traditional Mohawks called on authorities to force a developer to stop building on land they say belongs to them.
Mohawk activists drove out of a forested area in Kanesatake and began a very slow and loud rolling blockade toward Oka.
“All we are asking for is peace and our land back,” said Ellen Gabriel, who speaks for the People of the Longhouse in Kanesatake, which includes traditional leaders who are not affiliated with the Mohawk Council of the area.
The demonstration brought traffic in Oka to a standstill before arriving at its final destination, a residential development off Champlain Road in Oka.
“We have tried the peaceful methods to bring resolution to our conflict, but our voices incessantly fall on deaf ears,” said Wanda Gabriel, a Mohawk activist. “The economy trumps the inherent human rights of indigenous people.”
The development continues to grow year after year. The Mohawk land defenders said developer Gregoire Gollin, who bought 220 hectares in the area back in 2004, has no right to build on their ancestral lands.
“We want peace, but we can’t have peace when all this is going on all the time,” said Ellen Gabriel, pointing to houses being built in the area. “That’s a conflict. This is a conflict zone.”
According to the Oka mayor, the protest was sparked by a conflict surrounding a forested area that was at the heart of the Oka crisis thirty years ago.
Mayor Pascal Quevillon told Global News that in an interview with a local newspaper, Gollin threatened to develop a million square feet of The Pines.
“To ease tensions, we took the decision to change the zoning of that forest, to make it an environmental conservation and heritage zone to protect it from all development,” Quevillon explained.
He said the developer is threatening legal action against the zoning change. Both the mayor and the demonstrators are calling for federal intervention.
Quevillion called the protest “intimidation,” expressing displeasure that the activists had demonstrated in front of Oka citizens who had legally bought their homes on the land.
Ellen Gabriel said more respect needs to be paid to the traditional Mohawk laws.
A number of unaffiliated groups came to support the Mohawks, including some non-Indigenous Oka residents.
“No matter who the promoter is, if he wants to cut down pines, it does not make any sense,” said 81-year-old Solange Gagnon, who said she has lived in Oka her entire life. She took part in the rolling blockade and stood by the land defenders as they spoke at the real estate development.
The demonstrators are hoping members of the community express support for their cause to elected officials.
“We call upon the public to write their members of parliament and the national assembly,” said Ellen Gabriel. She also called upon people to boycott Oka National Park until the activists were able to initiate talks with authorities.
The provincial and federal indigenous affairs ministers did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.