Kanesatake band council chief, residents stopping people from entering Oka provincial park

Mohawk Council of Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon. (File photo, The Canadian Press)
by Andrew Brennan, CTV Montreal

 

MONTREAL -- Residents of a Mohawk territory in Quebec are stopping people from entering a provincial park as COVID-19 health restrictions ease on recreational activities in the province.

Mohawk Council of Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon and Kanesatake residents set up a barrier to Oka provincial park on Wednesday morning.

Quebec began on Wednesday to gradually reopen its network of provincial parks, while limiting the number of visitors to each park and restricting which sections people can visit.

The parks had been closed for several weeks due to public health orders aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.

But Simon said SEPAQ, the agency that operates Quebec's provincial parks, has not properly consulted with Kanesatake about reopening the park in a manner that takes into account the public health of the nearby Mohawk territory. The park is three kilometres from the indigenous territory and visitors do not have to cross it to access the park and its beach.

“We’ve been telling people they can’t come in," Simon told CTV News Wednesday morning. "We can’t allow the park to reopen until we complete our safety protocols.”

Simon said he and the residents are simply telling people at the entrance to the Oka park to turn around, and would not qualify the measure as a blockade in the truest sense.

He said about half of the Kanesatake community has underlying conditions that make them at-risk of COVID and he needs to protect his community.

“I’ve got 300 (Mohawk) people living right in Oka, most of them elderly," Otsi added.

Quebec provincial police are on site, but their work is limited to observation.

Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon said he was informed by the police that they will not intervene since it is a ‘political issue,’ and the mayor is now asking Premier François Legault to tell police to intervene.

Quévillon said he had spoken for 45 minutes with Simon, but left at an impasse.

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