In year of unemployment, Kanesatake faces new dispute at The Pines: clear-cutting from within

The Pines at Oka, the stand of forest at the heart of the 1990 standoff, are now the site of another growing dispute—but between people from within Kanesatake.

And it's been made worse by a year of high unemployment. The area, which is owned by the whole community, has seen individuals clear-cutting to make room for more smoke shops.

On Wednesday morning, a group of Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) people from Kanesatake arrived at The Pines to confront a neighbour who’s been chopping the trees down.

"What they’re doing by cutting and clearcutting is disrespectful,” said Ellen Gabriel of Kanesatake, who served as spokesperson for the community in 1990.

“It dishonours the efforts and all the people that stood for the land in 1990,” she said. “So it's very, very frustrating for us.”

For families that survive on the businesses that have been established in the area, though, it’s not so simple. They say that during a tough time, the land creates jobs and wealth that would otherwise be out of reach.

“What else is the options for anybody nowadays?” said the owner of Big Chief Variety Shop, who didn’t want his name published.

“A lot of people are out of work, so a lot more shops are opening now because they’re like 'What else can I do?’” he said.

“It’s desperation, which this is. It becomes desperation, which turns into a business. Entrepreneurship, growth.”

Band Council Chief Serge Simon says he had tried to reason with the tree-cutters, while the council has filed legal action against them.

But the council has said it doesn’t have clear power to stop them.

“If the government had upheld its fiduciary duty, we could have had our own policing service,” said Chief Simon.

“Not to oppress, but to ensure that things are done fairly so [that] community laws are upheld.”

As for the economic debate, Simon said he wants members of the community to thrive—but he said many locals are concerned that if this land keeps being paved for individual gain, it will take away from the collective good.

“Enough is enough. We can't take it anymore,” said Gabriel.

She said that at this rate, there won’t be much natural land left to leave for future generations.


Stay up-to-date and in-the-know by subscribing to one of our newsletters