Montreal

Potential development prompts worries of another Oka Crisis

Mohawks in Kanesatake are concerned the prospect of development on disputed land in Oka could stir up another conflict like the one that shook the province 26 years ago.

'We need the government to intervene and stop the craziness of the municipality,' activist Ellen Gabriel says

There are no concrete plans to develop the land just yet but some Mohawks want the federal government to intervene in anticipation of it. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC )

Some Mohawks in Kanesatake are concerned that the prospect of development on disputed land in Oka could stir up another conflict like the one that shook the province 26 years ago. 

A municipal bylaw in the town 60 kilometres west of Montreal allows for the development of 400 homes between Oka provincial park and the town itself, south of Highway 344.

The issue resurfaced at a municipal meeting Thursday to update the bylaw, which has been in place for two decades.

While there are no concrete plans to develop the land just yet, some Mohawks want the federal government to intervene before that happens.

'International laws apply'

"We need time and we need the government to intervene and stop the craziness of the municipality of Oka, which is the same situation as that of land development and dispossession from 1990," said Ellen Gabriel, a Kanesatake Mohawk activist, referring to the 78-day standoff in that year

Gabriel said the land in question belongs to the Mohawks and urged the mayor to stop any future development.

 I think we're jumping the gun right now...- Serge Simon, Grand Chief of Kanesatake

She hopes the federal government can use a new tool — the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada signed last week — to make that happen.

"International laws apply to the municipality of Oka. I think people are fed up with the theft of the land," she said.

Gabriel said her community doesn't want another Oka crisis, and they want to work together to find a solution to longstanding land-claims issues.

Two communities agree to consult

The Grand Chief of Kanesatake, Serge Simon, said he and Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon have agreed to consult each other on future land developments on their respected territories.

Ellen Gabriel is a longtime Mohawk activist and artist from Kanesatake. (Laurene Jardin/CBC)

"The mayor assured me he has no plans of development in the near future," Simon said. 

"They just had to update their municipal regulations. I think we're jumping the gun right now in bringing this thing to the forefront prematurely." 

For his part, Quevillon said he has no plans to develop the land without consulting the Mohawk band council first.

Quevillon said Ottawa can forbid Oka from developing the land, but he says it would have to compensate the town for lost tax revenue.

Quevillon says Oka has aging municipal buildings and other infrastructure, and it needs a bigger tax base to pay for repairs.

Oka resident Suzanne Slight said the new housing is needed.

"We need place to live.. there's not enough," she said. 

Other residents, like Mohawk Jean-Francois Binette, hope the town will keep its promise to consult his community.

"They should ask us first before they build any new houses."