Kanesatake hit by rising waters: ‘We’re working like crazy here’
by Tom Fennario, APTN National News, May 9, 2017
KANESATAKE MOHAWK TERRITORY – Drive past Torrey Daoust’s house from the back, and it could be mistaken it for an island. Brown water from the Ottawa River laps at his green lawn about a metre away from a row of sandbags.
“I’ve slept three hours in the last twe days because I’m just worried about the water going up. I have to worry about my house and my mother’s house it’s very stressful,” said Daoust while driving through almost a metre of water in his pick up.
Unlike some of his neighbours, Daoust hasn’t had to leave his home yet. But the 51 year old Mohawk man says that his house is precariously close to being flooded.
“They told us today it’s going to come up another 18 inches [almost half a metre], as you can see it’s going to be right up against the sand bags here,” he said.
Kanesatake Mohawk Territory is confronting what dozens of other municipalities in Quebec have faced in the last week, mass flooding that hasn’t been seen in generations. So far eight homes have been evacuated, and at least 20 more are in danger.
“We’re fighting the clock right now,” said Grand Chief Serge Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake. “We’re working like crazy here.”
Simon said that close to 300 tons of sand has been bagged by community members like 26 year old Anthony Fournier-Phillips.
Fournier-Phillips has been throwing 20-35 kilogram bags of sand on to pallets for two days, and he says he’s starting to feel it in his lower back. Still, he intends to keep at it. He and a few dozen others have formed an assembly line making thousands of sandbags to transport for Kanesatake Mohawks in need.
“Everybody is just trying to help out, get everything out as fast as possible for the guys who are laying out the bags,” Fournier-Phillips said.
The armed forces have been called in to help the neighbouring municipality of Oka, but Grand Chief Simon says they’ve declined any help from the army even though volunteers are getting tired and that resources such as bags and twist ties are running thin.
“We’re not ready to have the army back here, after what happened 26 years ago,” said Simon referring to the 1990 invasion of Kanesatake by armed forces, known as the “Oka crisis”. “We’re doing pretty good, I think we’re doing as good as the army could. I’m really proud of my community.”
While Torrey Daoust is grateful for all the community support, at this point all he can do is hope that it’s enough. There’s no real Plan B if the sandbags fail to withstand rising floodwaters.
“I have insurance for my belongings, but not the property itself, it’s a federal house. They won’t insure it, I have no deed for it,” Daoust explained.
It’s a common problem in many First Nations. Here in Kanesatake, it’s one they’ll have to tackle in the days ahead when the waters finally recede.
Army’s offer to help with Kanesatake flooding revives memories of Oka Crisis
Grand Chief Serge Simon says offer was ‘graciously declined,’ mainly because situation was under control
By Stephen Smith, CBC News, May 09, 2017
As the flood waters rose around the Mohawk community of Kanesatake west of Montreal last weekend, Grand Chief Serge Simon and the band council had to decide whether to accept an old foe’s offer to help.
Despite the passage of 27 years, Simon said feelings are still raw in the community over the 1990 standoff with Quebec provincial police and, later, the Canadian military that became known as the Oka Crisis.
That was partly why he “graciously declined” the army’s offer to help Kanesatake shore up its flood defences, he said.
“The Oka Crisis is still very vivid in a lot of peoples’ minds,” Simon told CBC on Tuesday. “[They were] surrounded by tanks and helicopters for a period of time there back in 1990, so reopening that wound was not an option.”
Army’s help not necessary, chief says
Not wanting to aggravate that old wound, however, was secondary to the fact the community just didn’t need the military assistance, Simon said.
With the possibility of flooding on the horizon, the band council declared a pre-emptive state of emergency three weeks ago and began preparations. By Tuesday, they had already used 300 tonnes of sand for sandbags.
“I think we did as good a job as the army would have,” Simon said.
Flood waters still managed to reach 30 homes in Kanesatake, and eight had to be evacuated. But worse damage was prevented by an all-out community effort, Simon said.
“We did a good job to help them, managed to get sandbag walls up around the houses. We scrambled like crazy the last couple of days,” he said.
Simon said efforts to protect homes began in earnest Saturday and continued almost non-stop until Monday afternoon.
Mohawks from Kahnawake and Akwesasne also offered their assistance, and some drove to Kanesatake to help out.
Oka Crisis no reason to refuse help, community member says
Yet not every Kanesatake Mohawk agrees with the decision to refuse the military’s offer to help.
While acknowledging the community did a “stand-up job” to fight the flooding, Walter David said the band council should have consulted the community before declining the army’s offer.
“Using the excuse of 1990 — come on, that was 27 years ago, that’s kind of ridiculous to use that,” said David, who was part of the Mohawk resistance during the Oka Crisis.
“I was here in 1990, and I never had army shoot at me — I had [Sûreté du Québec] shoot at me, and the SQ is still throughout here all the time, year in and year out.”
He said the band council should have called a meeting to explain the military intervention and let the community decide.
Walter acknowledged that resentment and even animosity towards the Canadian military remains in Kanesatake, and many didn’t want the army’s help, but he said it was risky to refuse.
“We were scrambling,” he said. “Everybody was tired, shovelling and loading trucks, positioning sandbags around people’s homes — they’d been going since Friday, and they’re burned out and it would have been nice to have some fresh bodies coming in.”
Walter didn’t see it as a missed opportunity to reconcile with Canada’s military. Rather, it was a chance to let people have a say in a decision with potentially serious consequences for the community.
“Do we need them, or do we not need them? At least give the people a chance to make a decision.”