Home News Longhouse brings message to mayor of Chateauguay 

Longhouse brings message to mayor of Chateauguay 

Joe Deom and Karihwakatste Deer meet the mayor of Chateauguay, Eric Allard, to deliver a message from the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation at Kahnawake (Longhouse 207) about the recent fuel spill. Marcus Bankuti The Eastern Door

Framing the recent fuel spill as only the latest incursion in a long history of environmental racism against the community, members of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation at Kahnawake (207 Longhouse) travelled to Chateauguay to confront that city’s mayor. 

On March 1, around 40 Kahnawa’kehró:non were met at the foot of City Hall by Chateauguay mayor Éric Allard, who listened as Karihwakatste Deer read out a letter on behalf of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation at Kahnawake. 

The text detailed the Longhouse’s outrage that while Chateauguay emergency services tended on February 1 to a fuel leak thought by many to be the source of the oil, the community was not informed until after the discovery of oil in the Suzanne River in Kahnawake over a week later. 

“We consider this an act of aggression against the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawake,” read Deer to the mayor. The letter suggested that the municipality may have even hidden evidence. 

So far around 2,500 litres of diesel have been recovered from the river, according to the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) Public Safety Unit. The situation has caused at least some residents to evacuate their homes. 

“It is our desire to live as neighbours in peace and friendship, bound to the principles of the Two-Row Wampum, which is based on mutual respect and coexistence. If the municipality of Chateauguay truly values a peaceful relationship with Kahnawake, all parties must come forward and take responsibility,” the letter concludes. 

Despite the confrontational tone of the letter, the meeting was cordial, with the mayor and Longhouse representatives speaking at length about their positions after the letter was read. 

“Honestly, I’m happy that you are here because it’s important that we talk to each other and we tell each other the real things,” said Allard, who had read the February 26 letter in advance. 

However, despite repeatedly expressing his concerns over the spill, Allard suggested doubts that the February 1 incident is the source of the spill. 

“The only thing I can tell you is we are very sorry for what’s happening, and we are collaborating,” he said. 

He said that on February 1, Chateauguay’s fire department found no evidence of a major spill at the industrial site at 2325 Ford Boulevard, near the border of Kahnawake. He said responders believed that the oil found at that time came not from a tanker there, which was empty, but rather a simple mechanical problem related to the tanker’s truck. 

However, the Kahnawake Environment Protection Office (KEPO) said it has strong evidence that the February 1 incident is the source of the oil in the Suzanne River. Environment Quebec confirmed a February 1 spill to The Eastern Door and noted petroleum products were detected in a nearby ditch. The tanker was removed from the site on February 13. 

“It’s worrying for the families, for the people that are living in Kahnawake and Chateauguay, and also for the environment,” said Allard to media following the meeting. “The situation that’s happening is something we don’t want to see anywhere in the country.” 

Longhouse spokesperson Joe Deom said he appreciated the mayor’s willingness to hear them out about the issue but noted that’s only a first step. 

“It’s not a good situation,” said Deom. “The oil is going to be permeating the whole Suzanne River, and it’ll take years to clean this stuff up.” 

He was not deterred by Allard’s doubts about the source of the spill.  

“He has to say that because I’m sure there’s going to be legal ramifications of this in the future, and he can’t admit to anything in public, for sure,” said Deom. He said Kahnawake has evidence to show the spill in Chateauguay on February 1 was bigger than the mayor suggested. 

“I think he’s telling it as he sees it from his perspective,” said Deer following the meeting. “I think for myself, I’ve been following this issue since it happened. I think the timeline shows a little bit different from what he’s saying.” 

Deer was pleased with the turnout, which took the form of a convoy from the 207 Longhouse to City Hall. She accepted when asked to read the letter to the mayor because of her belief in the importance of the gesture, she said. 

“It’s important as Longhouse people that we were here,” she said. “But for all of our people, all of us are caretakers of the land, so we need to all care about it. This is all we’ve got. This small little community, this is all we’ve got.” 

Later that day, two Longhouse observers attended a meeting in Chateauguay between MCK grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, premier François Legault, and other officials, at which several issues were discussed, including the spill. 

marcus@easterndoor.com 

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter 

This article was originally published in print on March 8 in issue 33.10 of The Eastern Door.

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Marcus is a journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.

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Marcus is a journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.