Both band council and traditional leadership on Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory near Montreal say they support the occupants of a protest camp erected on land being eyed for residential development by a neighbouring municipality.
Members camping out on the parcel of land in Chateauguay, a Montreal suburb, say they’ll stay put “as long as it takes” to stop the city’s proposed 290-unit housing project.
“It’s almost like an act of defiance on their part, to say ‘we don’t matter.’ And yeah – we matter,” explained Turtle Clan mother Kaherihshon Fran Beauvais.
“We matter, and we’re going to stop this,” Beauvais added. “It is our land, these are our children.”
On Thursday afternoon, half a dozen children played around a clearing by a campfire where three tents had been erected beneath flapping warrior flags. Six or seven adult community members sat in lawn chairs, chatting beneath a mesh tent protecting them from drizzle.
Despite the relaxed mood, people at the camp said they were not willing to cede “a single inch” of the territory they claim.
“We felt like July 1 was an appropriate day for us to make an encampment there because of the connection between the residential schools, with them taking our language and culture and land,” Karihwakatste Deer, spokeswoman for the protest camp, said on Thursday.
“These lands are still being taken from us, this is still happening today. It hasn’t changed. We couldn’t wait until something was built there.”
Newly elected Kahnawà:ke Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer said she is offering her full support to the effort, and that numerous letters sent to government officials have so far gone unanswered.
“We’ve been trying to get land back now in this community for years,” Sky-Deer told APTN News.
“It’s like, enough now. Take our concern, our grievance seriously. And if not, this is what happens – people end up taking action, because meetings and letters can only take you so far.”
Chateauguay city council adopted a zoning change in the area on March 15, clearing the way for the construction of 290 homes on the land.
Mohawk council Chief Mike Delisle said the land is known as “Parcel E,’” part of a land-transfer agreement with the Quebec government following the 2007 expansion of a major highway just south of Kahnawà:ke.
According to council officials, Quebec still owes Kahnawà:ke 211 acres of land for the Highway 30 expansion.
The 211 acres are on the Seigneury of Sault St. Louis, which is part of a historical land claim.
“We are looking for more than consultation, we need retribution for the past,” Delisle said. “It’s not a Chateauguay issue, it’s more of a federal and provincial one.”
The numbers of people at the camp vary between two and thirty, with community members dropping in and out to tell stories or drop off supplies.
While the main camp near the road is not on the disputed portion of the land, Longhouse representatives at the camp said other community members have pitched tents near the proposed building site.
“People on the outside need to realize that we don’t want to fight. We don’t always want to make these stands, because it gets tiresome,” Beauvais added. “There’s a lot to this: We have jobs, we have lives too. But we choose to make these stands because we need to make that presence known.”
“That is who we are, and these are our lands, and we aren’t going anywhere.”
Sky-Deer feels the federal and provincial governments should take this occasion to negotiate with her community and transfer control of the land to Kahnawà:ke.
“This is for us the perfect chance to get our land back because it hasn’t been developed yet,” Sky-Deer said.
In a press release issued Thursday night, the city of Chateauguay acknowledged Kahnawà:ke’s position, while stating “the Mohawk Nation’s objections are part of a context that goes far beyond the development of this particular lot.”
“In such circumstances, it is only natural that impatience has increased,” Chateauguay Mayor Pierre-Paul Routhier said via written statement.
“We will be writing to the federal government in the next few days, with a copy to the provincial government and the Kahnawake Band Council so that they can respond quickly to the demands of our neighbours.”
Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafreniere said in a statement Thursday he encourages the municipality of Chateauguay to continue conversations with the Mohawk council regarding the housing project.
“The community wishes for that land to be acquired by the federal (government) in regard to land claims, so a solution has to be found rapidly,” Lafreniere said, adding that he is in contact with Kahnawà:ke’s grand chief.
—With files from The Canadian Press