Ottawa threatening to shut down land claim negotiations, says grand chief from Mohawk community at heart of Oka Crisis

The grand chief for the Mohawk community at the heart of the Oka crisis says Ottawa’s lead negotiator threatened to shut down land claim negotiations over plans to dissolve Kanesatake’s band council.

(APTN file photo)

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The grand chief for the Mohawk community at the heart of the Oka Crisis says Ottawa’s lead negotiator threatened to shut down land claim negotiations over plans to dissolve Kanesatake’s band council.

In a letter to the community obtained by APTN National News, Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon says that Fred Caron, the lead negotiator for the federal government on the land claim file, threatened to end negotiations and table a final offer if talks stalled for “any reason.”

The move was interpreted as an attempt by Caron to control the internal politics of Kanesatake, which sits about 60 km west of Montreal and was at the centre of the Oka Crisis in 1990 that was triggered by the town of Oka’s plans to bulldoze the community’s burial grounds to expand a golf course.

Kanesatake is negotiating the Seigneury of Lake of Two Mountains’ specific claim with Ottawa.

“I called the negotiator back up and asked if I could get this in writing and he said, ‘Well Grand Chief, if I put that in writing people might see it as a threat,'” wrote Simon, in his April 25 letter to the community. “Well, that’s how most of us would see it.”

Simon discussed the issue in a recent meeting with NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair. The party’s deputy critic for Aboriginal affairs Jonathan Genest-Jourdain sent a letter on April 29 to Caron requesting a meeting to discuss the land claim.

NDP MP Mylene Freeman, whose riding includes Kanesatake, said she’s also watching the file.

“It is crucial that the government be mindful of the community as an equal partner and that they work to resolve Kanesatake’s claim in a just manner,” said Freeman.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt’s office, in an emailed statement, said “these allegations are false.” The statement said that negotiations were “going well” and discussions were planned for later this month.

“Negotiations are to take place in confidence and we will continue to respect that agreement,” said the statement.

Internal tensions within Kanesatake’s band council boiled over during a March 25 public meeting where residents in attendance called for a vote of non-confidence against their elected representatives. Simon supported the call and planned to dissolve the band council, but Caron’s interpreted threat changed those plans, according to the letter.

“Not long ago I informed the federal negotiator for our land claims about this potential vote against council and what we could expect to happen while we attempt to fix this problem through a formal vote,” wrote Simon. “He said that if the land claims stall for any reason, the federal government would make a final offer for a financial settlement on the entire 260 square miles and shut down negotiation.”

Simon said he is now considering calling an early election, “this way all chiefs would remain in office for 90 days until an election is done, leaving some political stability until then.”

Kanesatake residents have long claimed the federal government has continuously meddled in their internal affairs since the crisis.

Three of the federal negotiators appointed to handle talks with Kanesatake have had strong political ties to the governments of the day. Bernard Roy, a close friend of Brian Mulroney and sponsorship inquiry’s lead council, handled the file before he was replaced by Liberal insider Eric Maldoff who was appointed by Jean Chretien’s government. Guy Dufort, a failed Conservative candidate in the 2006 federal election, was also appointed to handle the file by the Harper government. Caron was appointed in 2010 and spent more than 30 years in the public service and was also a member of the Canadian Forces.

Community residents have also long called for an inquiry to uncover whether there were Chretien cabinet links to the events leading up to Jan. 12, 2004, when 65 police and auxiliary officers from outside communities descended on Kanesatake armed with shotguns, a sniper rifle, three submachine guns and automatic assault weapons along with thousands of rounds of ammunition.

The operation turned into a disaster and Peacekeepers from Kahnawake, a sister Mohawk community also near Montreal, were called to rescue the hired officers.

Once in office, the Harper government launched a forensic audit into police funding for Kanesatake, targeting money that flowed to the community between April 1, 2003 and March 31, 2005.

The audit, concluded in 2008 by Navigant Consulting, found that “cabinet confidences…restrict our ability to review and comment on some of the decision-making process related to the administration of the contribution agreements with the (Mohawk Council of Kanesatake).”

No additional probes have been launched.

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