Response 'deplorable': native leaders Kanesatake settlement tells dissidents might means right, regional chief says
Â ALLISON HANES and LYNN MOORE The Gazette
Friday, January 16, 2004
First Nations leaders expressed worry yesterday that Quebec's handling of the tense standoff in Kanesatake set a dangerous precedent that could lead to similar uprisings in other aboriginal communities.
The government has essentially sent out the message to minority dissident groups that all it takes to overthrow a legitimately elected leader is the threat of violence, said Ghislain Picard, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador. "They certainly cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of the leadership - not only in this community but in other communities as well," he said.
"What's going to stop any group in any community now from seizing control?"
Speaking on behalf of about 20 other chiefs from across the province who met in Quebec City yesterday to discuss the crisis in Kanesatake, Picard called the response "deplorable" and a setback for relations between Quebec and aboriginal leaders.
The 36-hour standoff in Kanesatake, 50 kilometres west of Montreal Island, ended peacefully late Tuesday after Public Security Minister Jacques Chagnon negotiated the release of 67 First Nations police officers who had been held prisoner for more than a day by an angry mob.
To protest against Grand Chief James Gabriel's decision to bring in officers from outside to crack down on lawlessness and organized crime, dissidents barricaded roads, laid siege to the police station and burned the chief's house to the ground.
Gabriel - who has been thrice elected to the top post in Kanesatake - had to flee with his family.
In working to defuse the situation - which he said had the hallmarks of another Oka conflict - Chagnon struck a deal with the Kanesatake police commission to send in Mohawk peacekeepers from nearby Akwesasne and South Shore Kahnawake.
Gabriel's authority must quickly be re-established in Kanesatake, Picard said. A delegation of chiefs from the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador was to meet with Gabriel last night to offer support and show solidarity.
Quebec Native Affairs Minister BenoÃ®t Pelletier publicly reaffirmed his government's support for Gabriel last night as the only legitimate leader of Kanesatake.
Kahnawake Grand Chief Joe Norton has his own take on how the crisis was handled.
Norton said yesterday that as he was helping to craft the deal that ended the siege, former Kanesatake police chief Terry Isaac - then trapped with the others in the surrounded police station - sent a fax seeking an intervention by the SÃ»retÃ© du QuÃ©bec's riot squad.
If the riot squad had been deployed, it would have been "like pouring gas on a fire," Norton said yesterday.
Kanesatake's police commission wants to hold the federal Solicitor-General's directorate for aboriginal policing to account for its role in the affair.
Commission chairperson Mavis Etienne said Gabriel and the three band councillors who support him "asked for emergency funding to bring the (67 First Nations) police force here ... and our police commission was not made aware of it."
The directorate provided $900,000, to be used between November 2003 and June 2004, for "this emergency intervention," Etienne said, adding it has been difficult for the reserve to pay regular police operating costs.
BRENDA BRANSWELL of The Gazette contributed to this report
Â©Â Copyright 2004Â Montreal Gazette
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