Tensions have risen in Kanesatake because of the Oka mayor’s comments on a potential land transfer from local developer to the Mohawk people.
Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette
The Mohawks of Kanesatake have no intention whatsoever of living another Oka Crisis. We are not for war. We strive for peace and harmonious cohabitation. I find it necessary to publicly make such a statement in the light of the recent media coverage, which tends to depict the current situation as being an early sign of a new conflict such as the one we lived in 1990. I want to be clear: as far as I am concerned, there is no ”Oka Crisis 2.0” coming our way. I know that matters regarding Indigenous territorial rights are complex. I also know that it is hard to understand for some that governments need to fix the mistakes of the past and make agreements to correct the long history of Canadian colonialism and healing the wounds it caused. The lack of knowledge and ignorance, however, do not justify inaction and racist comments. Since 1990, may things have changed. There was Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The federal government also officially recognized having failed its fiduciary obligation, and there was a table of negotiation established. Therefore, we shouldn’t be talking about a new crisis, almost 30 years later. But there is definitely a problem.The current problem is on two levels. The first can be summarized as government neglect, especially that of the federal government. Many have said over the past few days that the issue regarding the status of the territories of Kanesatake should have been resolved a long time ago. I agree with them. On a second level there is the general lack of knowledge and misconceptions about our reality, our history and our rights. This lack of knowledge is particularly obvious in the remarks by the mayor of Oka, who uses colonial language to oppose the necessary retrocession of our lands. In the defence of our rights and territories, my people has shown a lot of courage. They have also endured prejudice. The events of 1990 were particularly traumatizing and have left deep wounds. Rather than opening up those wounds, the mayor should turn to the future and understand that the interest of his community is in social peace, not confrontation. In my language, Kanesatake means ”place where there is sand.” In the beginning of our relationship, when the wind would blow, the territory and the bottom of the hill now known as the municipality of Oka, would endure sandstorms. Around 1870, the French settlers and the Mohawks united to plant white pine trees at the bottom of the hill, a tree capable of retaining the sand during strong wind events. These are the trees of peace. Whether it be 1870 or 1990, history is constantly teaching us lessons. I hope everyone is able to learn from it, so we can get our rights recognized, while choosing the path of peace and harmonious cohabitation.Serge Otsi Simon is grand chief of Kanesatake. Related