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Contaminated waste site is a battle for Kanesatake’s soul

BY Sakib Hossain Jun 16, 2023

Kanesatake residents are increasingly unnerved by an environmental crisis in the Mohawk community west of Montreal. During a May 25 demonstration in front of Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller’s Montreal office, they called for an independent inquiry into an illegal toxic waste dump that continues to operate despite losing its license two years ago.

A mock game of table tennis at the protest echoed the ceaseless back-and-forth between the federal government and the province, a ping-pong game that has held Kanesatake hostage. The symbolism is an assertion that the lives of Kanesatake’s inhabitants are tossed about.

NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice demanded a parliamentary commission to probe the toxic discharges. Wielding a jar of grey, opaque water from the site, Boulerice was resolute. 

“No one should endure the torment of an environment poisoned by an illegal dump,” said the MP for Rosemont–La Petite Patrie. “Kanesatake’s inhabitants have been denied the basic right to breathe untainted air.”

The protesters’ spokesperson, known only as “Blue” and masked for fear of retribution in Kanesatake, questioned the government’s sincerity in addressing the longstanding woes of Kanesatake. Some in the community allege that the owners of the G&R Recycling site engage in intimidating tactics against those with environmental concerns.

Blue said that the Kanesatake Band Council is impotent in the face of alleged threats. “The regulations meant to safeguard the community have become whispers in the wind, rendered powerless by the fear of retribution,” said Blue. “Kanesatake stands vulnerable in the face of a crisis that haunts their waking moments.”

For residents, the G&R Recycling site, stripped of its operating license in 2021, stands as a monument to negligence and indifference. La Presse recently described the contaminated water leaking from the site as a toxic river, leaving a lasting impact on the community.

The masked protesters, armed with cardboard cutout guns, created a cacophony of simulated gunfire to symbolize a culture of lawlessness in Kanesatake. The echoes of gunshots serve as a painful reminder of the deep-rooted tensions that have plagued Kanesatake since the 1990 Oka Crisis.

Now, in the face of environmental contamination, the battle for Kanesatake’s soul has taken on a new dimension, intertwining the fight for land and sovereignty with the struggle for clean air and water.

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