By Annette Francis and Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
GATINEAU, QUE.–Gatineau, Que., police swept in and arrested five people Thursday evening and cleared out an occupation camp set up on a construction site where ancient artifacts were discovered by archeologists earlier this summer.
A swarm of police moved in on the camp a little over three hours after a Quebec judge handed down an interim injunction against the occupation at the request of the city of Gatineau. Police said on Twitter five people were arrested during the raid.
One of the protest leaders, Roger Fleury, who says he is chief of the off-reserve Fort Coulonge Algonquins, was among those arrested. As police moved in to clear out the camp, Fleury shouted, “What’s wrong with these white guys, destroying everything sacred.”
Audrey Redman, a residential school survivor from Saskatchewan, was also arrested.
Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin said he was “satisfied” with the outcome of the police operation.
“We interacted extensively with the occupants of the site, it was time to act,” he said in a statement issued late Thursday evening.
Earlier in the day, lawyers for the city of Gatineau asked a Quebec provincial judge to urgently grant the city an interim injunction against protesters.
The judge granted the injunction, partly on the grounds that the city was already consulting and accommodating the official Algonquin First Nation which claims the land, Kitigan Zibi.
Kitigan Zibi Chief Gilbert Whiteduck told APTN National News Thursday morning his community had no formal agreement with the city of Gatineau over what happens to the artifacts discovered on a construction site.
“We do not have any formal agreement at this point as this would require further discussions and … council approval,” said Whiteduck in the statement.
Pedneaud-Jobin told APTN National News Wednesday that Kitigan Zibi band council “officially agrees” with his city’s plan to hand over artifacts dated thousands of years-old to the Quebec government, expand the archeological dig and build a park in the area with an Indigenous theme. Pedneaud-Jobin said the band council passed a resolution stating their support on Sept. 5.
Kitigan Zibi, an Algonquin community in Quebec, sits about 134 kilometres north of Ottawa claims the contested area as part of its traditional territory.
Protestors set up two teepees on the work site which sits near the place where the Gatineau River flows into the Ottawa River. The area is surrounded by pieces of large concrete storm sewer pipes.
Archeologist found arrowheads and other artifacts dated at about 3,500 years-old on the site which also included a fire pit dated to be about 6,000 years. The area is believed to have been used as a seasonal gathering place. Protestors set up camp there on Aug. 7.
Gowlings, the law firm retained by Gatineau, delivered a letter to protestors Tuesday giving them 24 hours to vacate of face an injunction.
Pedneaud-Jobin told APTN National News he feared the situation would end badly.
“Unfortunately it seems this story is going to end up in a way that is not very satisfying for everybody,” he said. “We are still trying not to reach a conclusion that nobody wants. We have different legal options in front of us. If they stay there, we will have to. Winter is coming. The archeological digging has to be done before winter and if we want to protect the site, we have to act.”
Fleury claims the arrowheads discovered at the site were used during sacred ceremonies which makes the site sacred. It’s unclear how Fleury came to this determination since it is difficult to pinpoint exactly who the people were who frequented the area as a seasonal gathering spot.
The city is trying to reroute a nearby street and install a new storm sewer. City officials said the existing pipes have eroded and the street is in danger of caving in. The city is in the midst of a $43 million waterfront redevelopment project in the area. The National Capital Commission (NCC) is also contributing $10 million toward the redevelopment and transferring $6 million worth of lands to the city.