Rotinonhsesh:ka Onkwahón:tsa – Kanehsatà:ke
September 30, 2020
On September 29, 2020 I woke early to catch the Sunrise for I knew it would be the last time I would see the manifestation of our small peaceful encampment at the eastern edge of the Piney-wood forest we fought to protect in 1990. The developer/land speculator, Gregoire Gollin had ordered the Municipality of Oka to remove our Iroquois Confederacy flags and dismantle the encampment.
This is the land of my Kanien’kehá:ka ancestors passed on to this generation to take care of and protect. She is a precious part of our heritage in which I swore and oath to protect in upholding Kaianera’kó:wa/Kaianwera’shera’kó:wa – The Great Shining Peace.
Throughout the 3 years myself and other Longhouse people occupied this site from illegal sales and development, we have sat peacefully, marched through this area peacefully, we always took the time to talk with residents who wanted to know more; we ignored the racist glares and taunts. Kanehsata’kehró:non sang social songs; we occupied the area with Confederacy flags, cedar and ourselves but never staying overnight; we were always respectful and mindful of those who had bought stolen land in good faith.
I thought that this year with a global pandemic that things could be different; that we could relax and land development would be put on hold. However I couldn’t have been more wrong since the town of Oka and land speculator Grégoire Gollin of les Collines d’Oka continued to sell land and issue building permits for lands stolen from us. This in spite of a lawyer’s letter sent to Mr. Gollin in November 2019 saying he should stop selling land of the Rotinonhseshá:ka
Since we began occupying this site, our Iroquois Confederacy and Unity flags were considered as a threat to some residents’ safety; a racist double standard that defies freedom of expression. But it was decided by the people that during our peaceful protests, that our flags were important signifier of our peaceful assertion of our sovereign rights to our land.
Attempts to resolve this conflict peacefully is something which I think government officials of Canada, Quebec and Oka are not interested in. In fact it seemed as if Mayor Quevillon, MCK’s Mayor Simon were trying to instigate a conflict through their disparaging public statements about myself and the Rotinonhseshá:ka protecting the land. The Federal government remained silent, telling us they could not tell Oka, Quebec nor the Band council what to do.
As the mayor of Oka, Pascal Quevillon told me in our July 12, 2017 encounter, “I want to speak to the Minister of Indian Affairs and I want a million dollars for the lost revenue in taxes I will lose…” because of stopping development! It’s always been about the money, not the respect for our human rights.
Our many requests for Minister Bennett to meet with the Rotinonhseshá:ka were persistently met with refusal during the 3 year period of 2017 to 2020. Pleas to Marc Miller who was the only person in government who took our calls, also had disappointing outcomes.
The fight for justice of Kanien’kehá:ka and Rotinonhseshá:ka land in Kanehsatà:ke has been a struggle of over 300 years. Just like our ancestors, our voices have been ignored and silenced by every colonial level of government, including the creation and imposition of the colonial band council system. We have been continually criminalized in our efforts to peacefully protect our lands from theft and fraudulent sales. There is no one to call to stop these illegal acts of fraud and nothing to end the authoritarian manner in which we are treated: there is in fact no interest by any Crown actors to begin a process of decolonization. The status quo of taking, stealing land without consideration of Indigenous peoples’ human rights is too pervasive.
(at the time of writing this post, the Rotinonhseshá:ka had a Zoom meeting on September 22, 2020 we asked the federal government to place a moratorium on development. Minister Bennett and Minister Miller both categorically stated that a moratorium is out of the realm of possibility. This taking place on the heels of a dreadful incident at the illegal development site and given the biased and racist media coverage of the incident by Espace Authochtones and Radio Canada, I am compelled to give our side of the story.)
On the afternoon of September 11th, while I was out of town, I was informed by my compatriot Al Harrington that 3 members of the community, were at the occupation site and that they seemed high and intoxicated. These individuals never supported land protectors’ protest; neither have they ever visited the site until that day. I believe they came to intimidate land protectors more than anything else as it seems suspicious that they came the day after the Ricochet article by Chris Curtis on the G & R Recyclage toxic waste dump. And when we did not appear at the site, they turned their gaze upon the residents of Les Collines. They were never part of the land defenders and do not represent the Rotinonhseshá:ka. Yet the mayor of Oka Pascal Quevillon and some residents including the Serge Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake persistently accuse the land defenders of being responsible for these individuals’ repulsive actions. These three individuals’ actions have destroyed land defenders’ 3 years of peaceful efforts at the illegal development site to highlight the illegal development.
As night fell, some of those individuals remained on location in spite of being told to leave by several people. They were told that what they were doing was not what the people protesting at the development wanted. That what they were doing was ruining peaceful protest for everyone. During the early that morning hours, residents were awoke to 4wheelers spinning their tires around their neighborhood. Some stated that it was the vehicles of these same three individuals who harassed them that preceding afternoon and the poor residents were awaken in the early morning hours only to see in horror that their neighbor’s roof was on fire.
It must be stated that the same evening there were many men working on the roof of this house. But this fact has been lost in this atmosphere of misdirection and greed.
Finger pointing towards the Rotinonhseshá:ka was automatically done – false accusations by both the owner, the municipality of OKA and Mr Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake: malicious cruelty, enacted without the results of the investigation.
As mentioned earlier, it seems a bit coincidental that the appalling acts by these three individuals of harassing residents occurred the day after the Chris Curtis article in Ricochet was released about the toxic waste dump in Kanehsatà:ke. All the actions by those in decision making authority have threatened the safety in the community. Given a 30 year permit by Serge Simon of the MCK, G & R has actively allowed dumping at reduced prices to Montreal construction companies. Questions revolve around this permit, and fear prevents farmers and residents of Kanehsatà:ke from stopping the dumping. Even the revoking of permits does not hinder the continual dumping by Montreal area construction companies culpable in the creation of this dreadful affront to the environment and its people.
Since that fateful day, Kanien’kehá:ka Land Defenders are being treated like criminals, ostracized and a smear campaign is in full force. Personally I have had my reputation smeared by Mr Gollin, Serge Simon, Mayor of Oka Pascal Quevillon and an unknown person who has falsely accused me of setting the fire.
All of this could have been avoided had the Federal Government returned this land to us in 1990, and thereafter. Meetings with Mr Gollin began in 2017 at a bakery in Oka called La Petit Panier d’Alexie, (now closed because of the pandemic) and it’s important to note that I always had someone with me to witness our talks. The initial discussions were arranged by Steve Bonspiel of the Eastern Door whose reasoning was that it wouldn’t hurt to talk. But had Mr. Gollin been forthright, had he been honest and lived up to his promise that he would not do anything without consulting the Longhouse, we may have avoided all this current impasse. Mr. Gollin spoke of how he was in reconciliation mode and wanted to ‘gift’ the Mohawks of Kanehsatà:ke with the forest and told me any discussions had to include me.
Mr. Gollin also said he had to continue to sell land as “he has to eat”!
Previously to that, I first met Mr. Gollin 7 years ago at the Kanehsatà:ke Cultural Center, where he approached us to speak about the land; he informed the director from the Cultural Center and myself that “I have read your history book and I’m here to tell you that I am not here to recognize your rights!”. I responded that we did not need him to recognize our rights, that the land is ours. The proposal for his land “gift” is the one that is now public meaning that he never was open to anything other than his own agenda: to make money off the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kanehsatà:ke. His proposal in the end was if the Rotinonhseshá:ka allowed him to continue selling land, that he would “gift” us with the pine forest and two lots of land. The Rotinonhseshá:ka rejected his proposals as we did not want more land to be sold. It was as if Mr. Gollin was holding our land hostage to promote his agenda. Had it been a genuine gift without any conditions, I am certain that we could have come up with creative ways for the land transfer to be directly for the people of Kanehsatà:ke: not held in trust by Canada.
When Mr. Gollin and I and others had our several meetings at La Petit Panier d’Alexie, his talk was always cordial, reassuring that he was on the level; but he kept asking if I would be open to meeting with Serge Simon of which I said yes that I was always open to it. This meeting never happened however, as Mr. Simon refused.
Mr. Gollin had spoken of how problematic it was to transfer the land to the community and admitted he knew it would be a challenge on which entity to transfer the land to: either the Longhouse people or to have the band council in charge.
Mr. Gollin is a land speculator, a business man with many land holdings in Kanehsatà:ke (OKA) and surrounding municipalities.
On September 29th, he ordered the municipality of Oka to dismantle our small encampment to take down our Confederacy flags etc. I had been asked by SQ liaison officer Guillame Belisle the day before what we were going to do. The SQ has been acting as a mediator between us and Oka – the municipality has asked if they, the SQ thought we would take down our flags. He replied that it was unlikely but asked me anyways. I told him that I would have to check with others, but we decided that we would not want to take down our flags.
That morning of the 29th I went early to witness the dismantling and posted it on Facebook Live. Flags or no Flags, it is still our – Rotinonhseshá:ka Lands, no colonial law will change that.