MONTREAL, Que. - Just when it seemed that the latest push to build the desperately-needed Autoroute 30 ring road around Montreal had finally built up enough steam that it surely could not be derailed,...
MONTREAL, Que. – Just when it seemed that the latest push to build the desperately-needed Autoroute 30 ring road around Montreal had finally built up enough steam that it surely could not be derailed, the hammer came down this April in the form of an (alleged) Quebec government leak about an Indian land claims issue right where the eastern portion of the A30 is under construction.
“The Quebec government leaked this to the press. We didn’t want to create a media firestorm. We wanted to do it properly. In this instance we were trying so hard to play by the rules,” says Gilles Delaronde, director of communications for the Mohawk Band Council.
The firestorm reference, for visitors from other planets, is that the Mohawks do not suffer lightly attempts to steamroll them; ie., in 1990 they blocked the Mercier Bridge in solidarity with their sister community Kahnasetake when developers placed their “right” to build a golf course in Oka ahead of the right for to Mohawks to have sacred ancestral land left undisturbed.
This time around, the disputed territory is a roughly 24,000-acre swath of land extending east from the current Kahnawake territory to beyond the north-south stretch of the A15 running through Saint-Catherine, Candiac and Delson.
Lest anyone think this is something the Mohawks sprung only recently, this story, incredibly, predates the interminable A30 saga itself: In 1680 France’s King Louis XIV granted two concessions of land – about 45,000 acres – called the Seigneury of Sault St. Louis “for the exclusive use and occupation of the Iroquios of the Sault.” Despite these conditions all but 13,000 acres, the current land base of the Kahnawake, was soon conceded by the Jesuites to settlers or otherwise lost to the Iroquois, according to a document obtained from the Kahnawake.
In 2003 the Supreme Court established that, in the words of an anonymous paraphraser, “Whenever a government has a reason to think that an Indian community could have some rights that might be affected, that government has an obligation to consult with that Indian community.”
Mike Delisle, the Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake says, “It has been recognized as part of traditional territory for 300 years and in 2003 we got the letter from the federal government that there are breaches of lawful obligation and that (they) are prepared to negotiate.” Yet, he says, “The Quebec government doesn’t recognize that 24,000-acre land grievance. This is the biggest territority within an urban setting in Canada.”
The Mohawk Council has two concerns: The first is about sections of an existing, 13-kilometre stretch of the A30 built in the early 1990s, parts of which come to within meters of the eastern border of the Kahnawake territory. “The majority (of the problem) has to do with drainage. Transports Quebec didn’t do it properly. The A30 cut off some wetlands and created others … there are serious watershed problems,” says Grand Chief Delisle.
The second concern has more the feel of two nitro-laden B-trains on a collision course. “We view this section of the A30 (between the 15 and 30) as an unnecessary piece. The government was told more than once that we were not proponents of the route,” says Delisle.
The Mohawk Council had suggested turning the 132 into an urban boulevard. Transports Quebec once seriously considered building the A30 on this eyesore, but instead, it was shifted a few kilometres to the south. The good news is that the 35-kilometre western portion of the A30, from Vaudreuil-Dorion to Chateauguay, is not affected by the land grievance, according to Bureau de l’A-30 director Paul-Andre Fournier. The scary news is that the Quebec government has obviously cast the southerly route in stone: witness the completed overpass that already spans the A15 and the intensive work underway on the A30/A15 intersection, not to mention other let contracts. “We told Transports Quebec a long time ago that we would never agree not only to the highway, but to the intersection,” says Delisle. Asked what the likelihood is of this being settled anytime soon, he said, “Very slim.”