For the past 27 years, Bryan Deer has gathered with other Mohawks at the foot of the Mercier bridge to commemorate what he calls the long hot summer of 1990 – the year the Oka crisis began.
“Twenty nine years ago, I was on top of the Mercier bridge,” said Deer, who was part of the Mohawk warrior society who barricaded the bridge in support of nearby Kanesatake.
The community just had a violent confrontation with provincial police.
Fast forward to today, it seems things haven’t changed that much.
“Almost 30 years after it happened, they want to push through development again in the same location.”
(“It seems the government only listens when people start standing up,” says Bryan Deer. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN)
That development is 60 kilometres northwest of his community – in Kanesatake Mohawk territory.
They also mark July 11 with a march that starts in the pines where the Oka crisis began.
“This today, is 29 years we’ve been marching, 29 years, and we’re still where we were. It hasn’t changed,” said Mohawk elder John Cree.
Walking at the front of the march next to Deer is his son, Jacob Kanawaienton Cree.
This year they’re making a point walking down the very road that was blocked – and into the neighbouring community of Oka.
“Little has changed,” said Jacob Cree, “you have another mayor in the village of Oka who wants to put Oka before what our rights are.”
Recently, tensions between the municipality of Oka and Kanesatake have risen.
Oka, which falls on Kanesatake’s traditional territory, has been building homes.
While Kanesatake’s land claim negotiations with Canada have been crawling along.
Mohawk Council of Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon says in his eight years in office, he has yet to receive the an offer from Canada he can bring back to community.
“When we do have an offer, an offer that we feel the community can live with, that they would accept, but it’s not always about money.”
(The march in Kanesatake takes place every July 11 to remember the start of the Oka crisis in 1990. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN)
Cree and other Kanesatake Mohawks are critical of council, saying the negotiations with Canada lack transparency.
However Simon says a non-disclosure agreement with Canada prevents him from revealing the details of negotiations…even with community members.
But in a social media post on July 5, Pascal Quevillion, the mayor of Oka, wrote that Kanesatake has received a $128 million offer to settle the land claim.
“The number that the mayor of Oka put out there is not accurate at all,” said Simon. ”You know what, no one is trying to take anything away from the families that are there [in Oka], there’s going to be room for everyone to live in peace.”
There is some positive news for the Mohawks of Kanesatake.
Simon says council has a moratorium of understanding with a land holder in Oka who has offered to use a provision called “an ecological gift” to give back 60 hectares of land to Kanesatake.
Essentially the land holder receives a tax break while Kanesatake gets a portion of its territory back.
“It’s a nice gesture,” said Cree“but it needs to just be reminded that it’s not theirs to give, it’s ours…got to start somewhere right?”
As for Bryan Deer, he plans to keep marking the occasion every July 11.
And not just for the sake of nostalgia.
“We’re just here to remind the outside that, you know, we’re still here,” said Deer.
“It seems the government only listens when people start standing up.”