Stephen Harper’s Conservative government missed a chance to right a wrong in the Mirabel Airport fiasco when it announced that the land will be sold back to the Mirabel farmers who were paid for it in the 1969 federal expropriation. That land belongs to the Mohawks.
As the massive Mirabel Airport was being built in the 1970s in time for the Olympic Games, the federal government under Pierre Trudeau expropriated large tracts of farm land for the use of what was thought of as the “airport of the future.”
It was hailed as a modern marvel and Montreal was expected to increase air traffic to over 50 million people, or more than 500 per cent over the years. It never happened.
Like the Olympic Stadium, which was only paid off in December, Mirabel Airport is a white elephant.
Prime Minister Harper is trying to look good to non-native Quebecers by giving back land that the big bad Trudeau Liberals had taken away nearly 40 years ago. But once again, he is missing the bigger story.
As when the Tories chiseled the $5.1 billion Kelowna Agreement down to almost nothing shortly after they were elected to a minority government, they have once again laughed in the face of the First Peoples of Canada; specifically the Kanesatake Mohawks.
In 1969, 97,000 acres were expropriated for the facility, of which only 5,200 were inside the airport perimeter. In 1985, 80,000 acres were sold, leaving almost 12,000 acres that Harper now says he’d like to sell back to the farmers.
That land is part of a larger land claim of 260 square miles by the Mohawks. It is land that was usurped by Sulpician order in a grant by France’s King Louis XV in 1718. The Kanesatake Mohawks have never given up their claim to that land.
“It’s easy for Harper to say he’ll give the land back, but it doesn’t mean he can actually do it,” Kanesatake Grand Chief Steven Bonspille stated.
Bonspille cited the Haida and Taku River case in BC, where the Supreme Court affirmed that all levels of government must consult and negotiate with First Nations bands when dealing with land under a land claim.
Harper is clearly acting in the knowledge that his minority government is losing support in Quebec. One wrong move and he will take his place as official opposition in the House of Commons in the very near future.
It’s common knowledge in the Native world that Harper’s Conservatives aren’t doing much to endear themselves to Indians, gays or other minorities, so why should we be surprised by their latest move?
The point of the matter is that it’s Mohawk land. Why do non-native farmers so quickly get their land back a mere 30 years after it was taken, while the Mohawk land claim has dragged on for over 240 years?
“I wasn’t shocked, I knew it was coming,” Bonspille said about Harper’s announcement in mid-December. “But at the same time it’s disgusting. It shows to me there are two classes of people in this country, Native and non-native.”
The Sulpicians’ grant should be declared null and void and the land returned to the Mohawk people, who, like other Aboriginals, desperately need more land during the current population explosion that is vastly outpacing the rest of the country.
“The only time the Sulpicians could claim they owned the land is if the Mohawks abandoned the seigneury. And we never abandoned it,” Bonspille said.
Do what’s right, Canada. Give us back our land so we can prosper. So our children can have a future in their own community. So we can develop our communities while not being confined to an-ever shrinking land base.
But most importantly, return this land to its rightful owners.