Legault calls Kanesatake's COVID-19 worries 'legitimate,' politicians urge negotiation

The political world is walking on eggshells after the decision by the Mohawk community of Kanesatake to block access to Oka National Park just outside Montreal.

Both Ottawa and the province are relying on an ongoing dialogue between the Grand Chief of Kanesatake, Serge Otsi Simon, and the provincial minister of Aboriginal affairs, Sylvie D'Amours.

Kanesatake blocked access to the park on Wednesday, when it was about to be reopened to the public for certain outdoor activities. The band council is calling for a postponement of the opening, saying Kanesatake residents fear that visitors from Montreal and Laval, where COVID-19 has wreaked havoc, would bring infections with them.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that “we all want the same thing; we want to protect our citizens from COVID-19 [and] ensure health and safety, especially for our vulnerable populations.”

Trudeau said that “different levels of government, including Aboriginal governments, must work together to ensure that appropriate decisions are made to protect citizens. (...) I think that the leadership of the different communities should be able to agree on the best path to follow.”

In Montreal, Premier François Legault made a similar speech: “I understand that some nations, some representatives of First Nations, are worried about the possibility of being infected by people who come from outside into Oka’s park. It is legitimate,” he said.

“We are trying to talk with them to settle this out of court.”

This report was first published by The Canadian Press on May 21, 2020.

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