In the shadow of the 30th anniversary of July 11 tomorrow (Saturday), land issues continue to be the hot topic.
“This is our home and this is what we stand for,” said Dennis Nicholas. “Not just today, but in the words that we use in some of the ceremonies that we have, for the faces that are coming. We have to leave them something. That’s what our responsibility is.”
Although the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) has been subject to intense questions on key issues lately, the principal focus remains the same for the community; protecting the land.
“The lands that were in dispute are still in the hand of third parties and we still haven’t put our house in order here,” said MCK grand chief Serge Otsi Simon.
More recently, there is another land threat. The municipality of Oka is planning to replace the old recreational centre, but archaeological digs are mandatory before the construction begins, and Kanesatake community members demand a say in it.
On July 4, the MCK created an online survey to get the community’s pulse on the controversial matter. The survey was shared on Facebook, only a few days after Simon granted consent to the municipality of Oka to go ahead with the dig.
Public consultations are trickier in this pandemic, but while Simon points out that the community needs to “avoid large gatherings” due to COVID-19, other members don’t see the online survey as a proper form of consultation.
“Put a halt on all development because Facebook is not a legal platform to do a survey,” said Longhouse spokesperson Ellen Gabriel, who’s been one of the predominant voices on the archaeological digs issue. “That’s not how you consult the community. There is a legal way, workshops, information sessions, free and prior consent, is what constitutes the consultation standard.”
The survey also comes as a response to the petition going around by the Rotinonhseshá:ka of Kanehsatà:ke objecting to the proposed dig. It mainly rejects the minister of Culture and Communication’s decision to grant permission to break ground and ask that any further land dispossession caused by development be stopped. As of yesterday, Thursday, July 9, more than 1,000 signatures had already been collected.
“The issue of land theft and endangering the cultural heritage of the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kanehsatà:ke is not a provincial matter as federal representatives have stated,” reads the online petition. “Nor do the federal or provincial governments have authority and jurisdiction over our Homelands. The theft and fraudulent sales of the lands of the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kanehsatà:ke remains an urgent matter.”
Community request for answers
The debated online survey comes at a time when the council’s transparency is being strongly questioned by members of the community.
Last week, a group of seven people including Teiawenniserahte Tomlinson, Tracy Cross and Wanda Gabriel, signed a letter demanding that MCK provide information on different matters.
“We are curious,” said Barry Bonspille, one of the group members. “That demand letter just asks to show some transparency.”
According to him, the biggest issue is the environment. “There is a large recycling site that is out of sight, but that is not out of smell.”
The letter demands the MCK gives access to Quebec government reports on the G&R recycling site, which has been talked about for the past five years, along with their plans to deal with it.
It also asks for documents and updates on the land claims negotiations, the Emergency Response Unit’s budget and the council’s financial audit that has yet to be produced for this year.
“(To produce the audits) they need access to the documentation down here and since there’s still the threat of COVID, it’s proven to be very difficult,” said the grand chief.
When asked for comments on the requests, Simon said he doesn’t plan to meet up with the group but will “answer as best as he can” while respecting the confidentiality he says to be bound to.
“They are demanding salary of these positions,” said Simon. “But for those positions, there’s only one person or two, so if we release the information, it will be easy to understand how much that one is making. Well, I just violated worker’s rights. They try to disguise their demands as legitimate and being in the best interest of the community, but I don’t see that.”
The council has now until Tuesday to answer the demands, risking a non-confidence vote if the requests aren’t met, the group said.
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