First as Tragedy, Then as Farce: Oka and the Continuing Struggle Over the Pines

Marx once argued that history repeats itself “occuring first as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Building on this Frankfurt School theorist Herbert Marcuse notes that on the second time around the farce can be far more terrifying than the original tragedy.

This is certainly true in the ongoing struggle for sacred land by the Mohawk people of Kanehsatake. Less than a month ago we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the defense of sacred land by the Mohawk people of Kanehsatake, Kahnawake and Akwesasne against the development of an 18-hole golf course and luxury condos. However, despite promises made by the Federal and provincial governments to eventually return the land in question in exchange for the Mohawk warriors disarming and taking down their barricades, the land is still in limbo, and is one again under threat.

20 years ago the enemy was the municipal government of the town of Oka. Today it is Montreal-based developers Normand Ducharme and Luc Cote. The threat, however, remains the same. Ducharme and Cote have plans reminiscent of Oka’s 20 years ago – the construction of luxury homes on the sacred land of the Mohawk people. As the governments fail to live up to their promises the Mohawk people will marshal themselves in defense of the land, setting the stage for another potential conflict between themselves and the colonial state. Only time will tell how this plays out.

In the meantime however I am posting this article by Clifton Arihwakehte Nicholas of Kahnawake News.

On Friday, August 6, Quebec developers, Normand Ducharme and Luc Cote, along with three other unknown men attempted to enter Kanehsatake land in the Pines. The stated intentions of Ducharme and his men was to mark and cut trees in the there. However, I believe the true purpose of their arrival was to instigate a confrontation between Kanehsata’kehró:non and themselves. Prior to his arrival in Kanehsatake, Ducharme made a point of informing as much news media as he could contact. Of course the media arrived en masse. It was clear that Ducharme was using using Kanehsatake’s sprit of resistance as a ploy to turn a profit.

The land in the Pines that Ducharme and his company supposedly want to develop is located directly beside the Onen’tó:kon Substance Abuse Treatment Center; which became famous as the place where our men and women defending the Pines held out against the Canadian military in 1990. The land on that lot has never been developed and it contains some very large pine tress and is beautifully located atop high ground overlooking the Lake of Two Mountains.

Twenty years ago, people from Kanehsatake, Kahnawake and Akwesasne stood together to defend and preserve the land in Kanehsatake. The focal point of the struggle was the Pines and includes this land in question. In 1990, developers wanted to expand a golf course into the Pines and in the process exhume our dead for additional parking for the golf club. The 1990 plans included the construction of a luxury home subdivision in the remainder of the Pines. Now Ducharme’s company plans to construct luxury homes on land in this area. Homes that for the most part would never be accessible to the people of Kanehsatake. Furthermore, given the outcome of the 1990 Crisis and the location of these proposed houses and Kanehsatake’s vocal opposition to them who does Ducharme think will buy these homes and how would he construct them?

Ducharme stated to the press that he will ask the Surete du Quebec (SQ) for protection so that he can exercise his rights to exploit his so-called property. I wonder if the SQ would also permanently post a sentry on his property to ensure its construction because Kanehsata’kehró:non will not allow it to go forward guaranteeing a clash with the police.

For the first time in Kanehsatake history the Municipality of Oka seems to be on the side of Kanehsatake and is in opposition to Ducharme’s plans. Prior to August 6, the Oka Municipal Council resolved to freeze development on this property in an attempt to avert a possibly violent confrontation similar to the events of 1990. The new mayor, unlike the previous and past mayors, seems to have sense that such haphazard decisions can and have had serious consequences. Ducharme, in his quest to profit wants $400,000 for a property he initially paid $70,000 for. There is no doubt that Kanehsatake or Oka cannot afford to pay this extortive amount of money, nor should they.

On Monday the August 9, the Mayor of Oka and Normand Ducharme met in Oka to discuss purchasing the land in question. This meeting took place without a single representative of Kanehsatake. Kanehsata’kehró:non are very apprehensive with this negotiation process because we are not included. The great danger is that this land will be kept under the control of Oka and will be another piece of land that will be lost to us because Oka answers only to their constituents and Kanehsata’kehró:non are not them.

Although two representatives of the Mohawk Council of Kanehsatake (MCK), Paul Nicholas and Sonya Gagnier, were involved in preventing Ducharme and his men from developing the land in the Pines, they were blocked from meeting with Oka and Norfolk. Since 1990, land negotiation between MCK and the government have been seriously flawed. I believe that land negotiations have to include the Traditional Government because they are the true title holders to the land, but Canada is steadfast in their opposition to this idea. The reality of Kanehsatake is that the Traditional people are divided and for the most part our Traditional Government is dysfunctional. Kanehsata’kehró:non must build up our Traditional Government and provide Kanehsatake with an alternative to MCK and provide legitimacy to land negotiations.

The history of Kanehsatake and the sad saga of land dispossession clearly shows that the majority of land in the Oka area was outright stolen from under our feet by the Sulpician Order of the Catholic Church and various municipal governments afterwards. When someone buys stolen goods they are not compensated but rather they loose both their money and what ever they bought regardless of whether or not the knew it was stolen or not. Such is the case with this land. It’s clearly known that it is part of the many lands that were stolen in the 1950’s around the same time as the construction and development of the infamous Oka Golf Course.

Kanehsatake lands are Kanien’kehá:ka lands and they are not for sale nor will Kanehsa’takehró:non stand by idly and allow further theft or development by non-Kanien’kehá:ka interests. It is clear that Ducharme is manipulating our resolve in order to make a large profit. Others feel that this is a distraction from other threats to our land, namely the ongoing effort by NIOCAN to open a destructive niobium mine in Kanehsatake territory. In the end it is Kanehsatake that pays the ultimate price in defending our land, be it jail or worse. It is the hope of all that this situation be resolved without violence or confrontation. The great danger is that people and companies like Ducharme’s will in the future again attempt to manipulate our resistance in the name of profit. The saga continues….

— Iorì:wase

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Posted on August 15, 2010, in Imperialism & Colonialism, Indigenous Struggles and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on First as Tragedy, Then as Farce: Oka and the Continuing Struggle Over the Pines.

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