Gatineau mayor says Kitigan Zibi chief backs plan to end archeological site occupation

The Mayor of Gatineau says he has the support of an Algonquin chief for a plan aimed at ending an over month-long occupation of a construction site where archeologists found artifacts dating back thousands of years.

(Roger Fleury, who says he’s chief for off-reserve Fort Coulonge Algonquins, remains defiant as injunction looms. Jason Leroux/APTN)

By Jorge Barrera and Annette Francis
APTN National News
GATINEAU, Que.–The mayor of Gatineau says he has the support of an Algonquin chief for a plan aimed at ending an over month-long occupation of a construction site where archeologists found artifacts dating back thousands of years.

Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin said he met personally with Kitigan Zibi Chief Gilbert Whiteduck whose community claims the area as their traditional territory. Pedneaud-Jobin said Whiteduck is supportive of the city’s plan to expand the archeological dig and create a park highlighting the Indigenous historical presence in the area, which is by the banks of the Gatineau River near where it flows into the Ottawa River.

“His council officially agrees with the plan since September 5. I talked to him yesterday, they are still satisfied with the plan,” said Pedneaud-Jobin, in an interview with APTN National News.

The protestors have set up two teepees on the work site which is surrounded by pieces of large concrete storm sewer pipes. Archeologist found arrowheads and axes dated at about 3,500 years old. One fire pit was dated by archeologist to be about 6,000 years old, Gatineau officials said. The area is believed to have been used as a seasonal gathering place.

Gowlings, the law firm retained by Gatineau, delivered a letter to the protestors Tuesday giving those 24 hours to vacate the area or face an injunction. The 3 p.m. Wednesday deadline passed and the city did not obtain an injunction.

Pedneaud-Jobin said the city wants to find a peaceful solution to the issue before resorting to more “radical” options, like an injunction which would put the matter into the hands of Gatineau police.

“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.”

The mood at the site, however, was defiant.

Roger Fleury, who says he’s chief for off-reserve Fort Coulonge Algonquins, said he’s insulted the mayor allowed the city to issue its letter threatening an injunction. Fleury said he just wanted to sit around the fire with and discuss the city’s plan, but he’s been rebuffed.

“We’re not gonna move out, we can’t move out, this is a sacred site and we realize the mayor had no intentions of ever negotiating,” said Fleury.

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.

About a dozen supporters visited the site Wednesday which also attracted several curious onlookers. The red Warrior flag and the purple Haudenosaunee flag have been planted at the site which also features a staff painted like a cobra snake and a sacred fire.

Everett Taypaywaykejick, originally from Grassy Narrows, said he’d been at the site for two weeks and planned to stay until the end. Taypaywaykejick said he was raised in foster care and the protest had given him an education in his culture.

“I learned so much about my culture being here with the sacred fire,” he said.

Taypaywaykejick said he wasn’t afraid of an eventual police raid.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

Aggu Peter, originally from Iqaluit, said he also planned to stay for as long as it took.

“I got no warrants, nothing,” he said. “We are sitting on artifacts right now. That’s why we’re here.”

Audrey Redman, who is a residential school survivor from Standing Buffalo in Saskatchewan, said the protestors want the city to expand the archeological dig far beyond the site already examined. Redman, who attended residential schools for seven years, said she plans to hold her ground if Gatineau police move in to enforce the expected injunction.

“They are calling us occupiers, they are calling us squatters, but this is unceded land, so who are the real squatters,” said Redman.

Pedneaud-Jobin said he’s at a loss on how to satisfy the protestors who have been camped at the site since Aug. 7.

“We had many, many meetings and the issues keep changing,” he said. “And the protesters are still not satisfied and I’m at a loss, I don’t know what more we can do. We don’t see other options than to ask them to leave.”

The city plans to expand the archeological dig by an additional 40 square meters and to hand over all discovered artifacts to the Quebec government for preservation. The city also plans to incorporate the existence of the Indigenous presence in the area into a planned park.

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.

Fleury says he plans issue the NCC an ultimatum letter to leave the site alone. He delivered a similar letter to Gatineau on Wednesday.

“Don’t play with our sacred ground, don’t play with our sacred objects,” he said.

Fleury dismissed Whiteduck’s support of Gatineau’s proposal. He said “brothers” in Kitigan Zibi are supporting the occupation camp.

Gatineau officials have discussed the issue with Quebec officials and Aboriginal Affairs regional office in Quebec City. They have been advised not to negotiate directly with Fleury’s group because they are not officially recognized.

Whiteduck did not return repeated requests for comment.

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