August 8, 2010
A standoff in Quebec between members of the Kanesatake Mohawk community and a real-estate developer has ended — at least for the time being — with police escorting the developer from the disputed land.
About 100 Mohawks had gathered at the site known as The Pines, where the Oka crisis took place 20 years ago, to stop Normand Ducharme, head of Norfolk Financial, from even surveying the land with a forestry engineer, with a view to preparing it for development.
Ducharme has said he wants to build luxury homes on land the Mohawks claim they own.
While most Kanestake residents were dressed in regular clothing, a few wore masks and camouflage, and were heard threatening Ducharme if he didn’t leave immediately.
Kanesatake Grand Chief Sohenrise Paul Nicholas accused the developer of orchestrating a publicity stunt, and opening old wounds. He also said the Mohawk council is considering pressing charges against Ducharme.
“I’m disappointed with Norfolk for coming in and provoking what I would consider almost a riot today. This is a situation that pushes people’s buttons emotionally. We’re 20 years after the crisis and people still have issues with policing and land in the area. Them coming in is just a tactic to increase the value of their land. It was just a big publicity stunt.”
He was also optimistic that the long-simmering land dispute over the property would soon be resolved, once and for all.
“Norfolk lands will be expropriated and returned to the Mohawks of Kanesatake. What they’re trying to do is add more money to the pot at our expense.”
Pressed to explain how the land would be returned, Nicholas said “expropriate” might be too strong a word.
“There’s a plan right now to revert the land back to the Mohawks. It involves the Mohawk council, the municipality and the provincial government. There is a freeze on that property but we’ll be getting our land back soon enough.”
The short but intense standoff lasted about 45 minutes, forcing the closure of a stretch of highway. As Ducharme left the premises, Kanesatake residents hugged each other and many left on foot or on three-wheel vehicles through the forest.
Sonya Gagnier, a Kanesatake band council member, said she also thought Ducharme should be charged by police.
“Our community has been through so much,” Gagnier said. “If it was any one of us going out there on other land and doing what he did you can bet there would be charges. Thank God cooler heads prevailed.”
Asked why so many Mohawks had turned up at the site, from seven-year-olds to elders, starting around 6 a.m. Friday, she said: “From the moment you’re born when you take your first breath, you are taught that you must fight as a Mohawk and you will fight until your last breath. Fighting for your rights, keeping hold of who you are for your inherited right as a Mohawk.”