Kanesatake traditional government lists its demands for Ottawa to resolve land dispute

The traditional governing body in Kanesatake, Que., has a long list of demands for the federal government to resolve the Mohawk community’s 301-year-old land dispute.

301-year-old dispute includes over 689 square kilometres of land northwest of Montreal

Ellen Gabriel, centre, holds a replica of the Two Row wampum belt, a treaty signifying the Haudenosaunee Confederacy's relationship to European colonizers and their descendants. It emphasizes a mutual engagement to coexist in peace without interference in the affairs of the other. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

The traditional governing body in Kanesatake, Que., has a long list of demands for the federal government to resolve the Mohawk community's 301-year-old land dispute, including a moratorium on development.

Ellen Gabriel, on behalf of the People of the Longhouse in Kanesatake, wants the federal government to stop development and sales of land on over 600 square kilometres of the ancestral territory northwest of Montreal. 

"We caution anyone who decides to purchase land in Kanesatake, Kanien'kehá:ka homelands, or Oka and its surrounding municipalities of buyer beware, as this whole area remains contested land," said Gabriel at a news conference Wednesday.

She said the federal government has long neglected her community's land grievance, which has resulted in the 1990 Oka Crisis, as well as more recent issues with their neighbours in Oka. 

"The prime minister is allowing land fraud to continue," said Gabriel.

"Reconciliation means a genuine commitment to change, to honestly engage and re-conceptualize relationships to create a future of peace, justice and renewed hope."

Call for nation-to-nation relationship with traditional government

A part of Kanesatake's claim to the land is being negotiated between the federal government and the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, under Canada's Specific Claims Policy. The policy deals with past wrongs against First Nations, often regarding the administration of land, but it's been criticized by many and formally only includes the band council in the negotiation process.

The Mohawk Nation is a member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy or People of the Longhouse, along with the Onondaga, Oneida, Tuscarora, Seneca and Cayuga nations. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is a constitutional democracy that existed before Canada's elected band council systems.

"It's not up to Canada to decide whether we are legitimate or not. It's not up to Canada to decide what our rights are to our homelands," said Gabriel.

"But it's their people who are causing us harm, it's their people who are fraudulently selling land and developing on our homelands because they allowed it."

She said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to think outside of the policy's "colonial framework," adhere to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and live up to his election promises of a nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations.

When it comes to finding solutions to Kanesatake's land dispute, Gabriel said a nation-to-nation relationship means meeting with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

Joe Deom is a sub-chief of the Bear clan at the longhouse in Kahnawake, Que. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Joe Deom, a representative of the Mohawk Nation's branch in Kahnawake, said women hold the title of the land under their constitution — the Kaianere'kó:wa or Great Law of Peace — which precedes European arrival to North America.

"All of this land that surrounds us here really comes under the jurisdiction of the women of the longhouse and not the band councils, not the federal government and not the province," he said.

Government given 10 days to respond

Gabriel said the longhouse is giving the prime minister 10 days to respond before they begin peaceful pressure tactics. 

The office of the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said they acknowledge the demands outlined in a letter addressed to the prime minister and copied to CIRNAC.

"Canada recognizes the challenges faced by communities reconciling the structures under the Indian Act with the longstanding decision-making processes under the Kaianere'kó:wa," a statement to CBC News read. 

"We look forward to meeting at a mutually convenient date as requested in order to discuss solutions to the issues raised in the letter."

Oka land dispute: a timeline


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.