Indigenous

Planned excavation work in Oka, Que., digs up concern from Mohawk longhouse

The traditional governing body in Kanesatake, Que. is opposing a proposed archeological dig in the municipality of Oka.

Kanesatake longhouse says it wasn't consulted, petition launched

Signs like this were placed along the highway through Kanesatake and Oka, Que., last summer. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

The traditional governing body in Kanesatake, Que., is opposing a proposed archeological dig in the municipality of Oka.

Excavation work is scheduled to be carried out later this month and according to the municipality, is a necessary step for obtaining financial assistance in the construction of a new multifunctional community hall and redevelopment of two parking lots.

But representatives of the Mohawk community's longhouse said they were never consulted.

"Consultation as well as the free, prior and informed consent is required for any projects that have serious and long-term effects upon the human rights of Indigenous Peoples," reads a June 29 letter, signed by Ellen Gabriel on behalf of the longhouse.

Ellen Gabriel, a spokesperson on behalf of the People of the Longhouse in Kanesatake, says the excavation requires the free, prior and informed consent of the community. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

It was addressed to Indigenous Services Canada Minister Marc Miller and Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Sylvie D'Amours, requesting that both governments halt all development and archeological digs in neighbouring municipalities.

A petition was also launched this week. 

"We shouldn't be living with this thing tugging at our heart, constantly on guard of construction, constantly having to defend ourselves," said Wenhni'tiio Will Gareau, a member of the longhouse, prior to the reading of the letter in a Facebook live to the community.

"It's something that's forced upon every generation of Kanehsata'kehró:non [people of Kanesatake] and has been for more than 300 years. It's time for Kanehsata'kehró:non to be respected; no means no and enough is enough."

Longstanding historical issues related to the disposition of land have been felt in Kanesatake for over 300 years. It's what was at the heart of the issue of the 1990 Oka Crisis, as well as more recent issues with their neighbours in Oka.

On Monday, D'Amours met with members of the federal government, municipality of Oka, Mohawk Council of Kanesatake and representatives of the longhouse. 

"Discussions began in a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect, and they were concluded with a common agreement between Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon and Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon, regarding the realization of this project," said a statement from D'Amours's office.

"We recognize the internal issues that divide Kanesatake and we trust they will be resolved within the community."

Serge Simon, Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, has agreed to the excavation. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Simon said the archeological dig will have Kanesatake involved every step of the way, and that he felt the longhouse is "shortsighted on the issue."

"That doesn't help us," he said.

"We might find more pottery, arrowheads, maybe even bones. If we do, is that the proper place for our ancestors to be buried, where people are walking all over them? To keep it in the ground is to keep the truth buried."

Gabriel said Simon has agreed to the archeological dig without the free, prior and informed consent of the rest of the community. The longhouse has stated the council does not have the authority over traditional homelands, and that responsibility falls under the longhouse and its oral constitution, Kaianera'kó:wa (the Great Law of Peace.)

"Our traditional government existed pre-European arrival and has survived colonization," Gabriel's letter stated.

"We are obliged under Kaianera'kó:wa to uphold our laws and customs in protecting our homelands."

About the Author

Jessica Deer

Journalist

Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. She works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at jessica.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.

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