Oka calls for moratorium on land transfer and seeks RCMP presence in Kanesatake

MONTREAL — The Quebec town of Oka wants the federal government to impose a moratorium on the proposed transfer of privately owned lands to the neighbouring Mohawk community of Kanesatake.

In a series of motions passed Tuesday at the first public council meeting since tensions began to rise, the town also sought an outside police force for Kanesatake, with Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon floating the idea of an RCMP detachment.

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The town also passed a motion calling on the Mohawk council to sit down with councillors to come up with solutions. The resolutions were directed to the federal and provincial governments as well as Kanesatake Mohawk council.

But with communications cut in recent weeks during an escalating war of words, it's unlikely Kanesatake leadership is ready to talk.

"I could pass a resolution demanding that it snow in July and it doesn't mean it's going to happen," Grand Chief Serge Simon said Wednesday. "It's the same thing with the mayor's resolution demanding my council sit at the table with them and his other motion demanding the federal government include them in the land claims — that's not going to happen.

"He's got a lot of wishful thinking going there, but that's about all it is."

The recent conflict began when news broke of local developer Gregoire Gollin's intention to donate the 60 hectares known as The Pines to the Kanesatake Mohawk Council through the federal government's Ecological Gifts Program.

That would ensure the forest is protected in perpetuity from development. If the donation is approved by the federal government, Gollin would receive a tax credit.

Gollin has said he is also prepared to discuss the sale of an additional 150 hectares he owns in Oka, about 50 kilometres west of Montreal, to the federal government to be transferred to Kanesatake.

Quevillon, whose community borders the First Nations territory, angered many when he raised concerns that the land donation would lead to his community being encircled by Kanesatake. The mayor voiced fears of illegal dumping, lowered property values and an expansion of cannabis and cigarette merchants.

On Tuesday, Oka's mayor repeatedly said his town wants to live in harmony with its Mohawk neighbours, saying strong ties between the two have developed over 300 years of history.

But Oka wants Ottawa to hold consultations that would take into account the concerns of its residents over the proposed transfer of land. The negotiations between the federal government and Kanesatake over land claims are private and Oka does not have a seat at the table.

It also isn't party to the deal between Gollin and the Mohawk council — which was negotiated privately.

On the policing front, Simon said the RCMP would only inflame the situation.

"The answer here is the federal government must take its fiduciary duty to Kanesatake and submit the resources necessary so we can establish a policing service independent from the Mohawk council," Simon said.

Simon and Quevillon met separately with Quebec and federal officials in late July in an attempt to resolve the tensions. But Simon refused to sit at the table with Quevillon without an apology. Quevillon expressed regret for how he'd worded some of his comments but maintained that what he'd said was the truth.

Simon thinks there should still be an apology forthcoming.

"There's no apology for calling us all criminals, all his racist comments," Simon said. "It's highly irresponsible of him, I don't care what his reasoning is, he needs to apologize to the whole region."

The office of Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett issued a statement on Wednesday, recalling the meetings held in late July looking for a path forward.

"We are working collaboratively with the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, and the municipality of Oka and look forward to continuing these discussions to ensure that there is a positive and respectful relationship between the communities," the statement read.

The work includes a commitment to the settlement of the historical land claim of Kanesatake Mohawks and resolving past wrongs, the statement said.

- with files from Ugo Giguere

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