This week I visited the Kanehsatà:ke Pines where I met with members of the Long House, activists and land advocates Ellen Gabriel, Al Harrington and Teiawenniserate Tomlinson.
Together we visited a section of their territory known as Pines which is threatened by a private developer who is building houses closer and closer to the forest. While this encroachment on indigenous lands has led to several tensions and demonstrations, there has been very little open dialogue and negotiation. In 1990, the federal government deployed the army in the territory as part of a related land conflict. When the troops withdrew, after months of violence and intimidation against the community, the federal government agreed to settle the land claims once and for all. It is now 30 years later and nothing has ever changed. The people continue to fight for the Pines and their land, while the federal government continues to resist their reasonable and legitimate demands.
During my visit, I had the chance to see the Pines up close. It is a beautiful forest that needs to be protected. I wanted to meet with the members of the Long House to learn more about this land conflict and to support their protests against development on their land. The reality is that the whole country used to belong to indigenous communities. Colonialism has pushed them into small reserves scattered all over Canada. Many indigenous communities are no longer able to practice their traditional activities and even lack space to live.
Reconciliation must be achieved through action, not just words in the air. Reconciliation involves resolving this land dispute once and for all by accepting the demands of the Long House and the people of Kanehsatà:ke. The Indian Act has imposed a top-down decision-making structure on the community. Many Aboriginal people do not recognize this 1876 law and continue to practice traditional governance. Their voices are just as important, if not more important, than those officially recognized by the federal government. Any land claims reconciliation process must include recognition of traditional governance and the Long House.
While the proponent is attempting to negotiate the transfer of land to the people of Kanehsatà:ke, this process has been very non-transparent. It has also dismissed the views of the Long House and has chosen to negotiate with people recognized by the federal government and the Indian Act. Long House members are concerned that the transfer of these lands could be used as a concession to develop other lots near the community. They are asking for a moratorium on the development of their territory.
The solution to this long-standing conflict can only be found through dialogue, recognition of traditional governance, a willingness to decolonize and correct the ongoing and historical injustices against indigenous peoples.
To this end, I call on the federal government, Justin Trudeau, and Ministers Marc Miller and Caroline Bennett to act in good faith in accepting the demands of the Long House and the people of Kanehsatà:ke.
The Liberal government has campaigned on the defence of Aboriginal rights. It is time for them to follow through on their commitments with action, not words.
Leader of the Green Party of Quebec