Indigenous leaders in Kahnawake and beyond are calling Quebec Premier Francois Legault’s comment about demonstrators at a railway barricade being armed with AK-47’s “irresponsible,” “reckless,” and “worrisome.”
For two weeks, demonstrators have held vigil at a camp running parallel to a CP rail freight line just south of Montreal, shovelling snow onto the tracks, erecting signs and flags, and tending a fire while maintaining they are unarmed and peaceful.
However, those holding place at the protest site were subjected to increased media attention after the Ontario police intervention outside the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, especially after the Kahnawake barricade was reinforced with gravel and concrete medians ahead of a possible confrontation with police.
Legault’s comments are only compounding that fear, council chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer said during an emergency press conference held Wednesday night.
“When you make statements like that, they can’t be taken back,” she said, addressing both community members and media.
Earlier that day, Legault told a group of reporters gathered at the National Assembly that the provincial government had safety concerns for the officers tasked with dismantling the barricade, as a “good source” had informed him of the presence of heavy artillery on the territory.
“The police, they have to dismantle the barricades – but they have to be careful,” Legault said. “Because we have some information about the fact that there are some offensive guns that are on the reserve.”
Legault’s office did not respond to a request for comment before deadline, however, both demonstrators and authorities say Legault is inciting fear in order to force an intervention by provincial police.
But it’s the Kahnawake Peacekeepers that have jurisdiction on the territory and who are tasked with enforcing the injunction granted to CP Rail – one that the Mohawk Council says it will challenge.
“People have this persona of us standing there with guns and arms, then the pressure is going to be, well, just do what you did in Tyendinaga on Monday,” Sky-Deer added. “And that’s not what we want to see.”
Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec and Labrador, said in a statement that the Premier is “throwing oil on the fire,” while explaining that Legault “continues to favour a confrontational and oppressive approach” as well as an “obvious belief that white people’s law is superior to First Nations.”
Legault isn’t the first Quebecois figure that Picard has chastised for making inflammatory comments as the blockades persist.
Last week he spoke out when Montreal- based radio analyst Luc Lavoie suggested firefight to lift the blockades.
In French, he told colleague Bernard Drainville that a “.45 shot between the eyes will wake [them] up, or put [them] to sleep for a long time.”
First Nations leaders believe Lavoie’s remark constitutes hate speech, and publicly called for his resignation.
Despite a lukewarm apology by Lavoie, leaders say his words, like Legault’s, reek of fear-mongering.
Kahnawake Mohawks are adamant that violence and political ill-will could escalate tensions before land defenders do.
“I have a hard time imagining the Peacekeepers doing anything that would provoke confrontation,” said Kenneth Deer, Secretary for the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake.
“They’re wiser than some other police forces,” Deer added.