The occupation of the construction site on the Rue Jacques-Cartier by First Nations protesters lasted forty three days. Now, the teepees have disappeared, the fire is extinguished, and the protesters have been ousted.
On September 4, 2014, the City of Gatineau did not skimp on the means for putting an end to this saga: the expanded police intervention ended in the arrest of six people, among them the Chief of the off-reservation Algonquins from Fort-Coulonge, Roger Fleury, who still promises to continue his fight.
"It's a sacred archeological site older than 6,000 years! We must keep going, we will return tomorrow," he said in front of dozens of journalists and curious citizens, a few seconds before he got on a SPVG (Gatineau police service) van. Handcuffed with plastic cuffs, he was searched and did not resist arrest.
Three other men and two women, First Nations people originating from Saskatchewan, and a resident of Ottawa, Audrey Redmon, were apprehended in the calm between 7:20 and 8:05 pm. At least four other protesters chose to leave the site without being implicated after discussions with the police.
Not having complied by leaving the site following an injunction from a judge at the City's request, at the end of the afternoon, the six protesters were accused of illegally occupying the property. They were transported to the police station, then interrogated, before being freed upon promising to appear before a judge at a later date.
At 4:45 pm, a bailiff arrived to explain to the protesters the injunction ordinance of the Supreme Court. Angry, they responded by burning the documents. From that moment, the protesters had only two hours to leave the site, at which point they would be expelled. They did not complain.
The suspense lasted all the way to the end, with some even believing that the First Nations people would have the right to another reprieve or that the police would not intervene during the night.
Finally, a little before 7 pm, dozens of car patrols and around forty policemen appeared in just a few minutes along the Rue Saint-Antoine, encircling the site and blocking the adjacent intersections to any circulation. With a loudspeaker, the authorities ordered the people to leave the area in the next ten minutes. The demand was received coldly by the protesters, who simply began to chant rallying cries in response.
In the Calm
"This was done in a peaceful way, everything went well. There was no confrontation with the police. We did not want to resort to force," said the SPVG spokesperson, Pierre Lanthier.
At the end of the evening, blue-collared men proceeded with the installation of metallic blockades around the site, as well as dismantling the encampment of the protesters.
We need to remember that the City of Gatineau had given a 24-hour ultimatum to the First Nations people so that they - they who had been paralyzing the revitalization work on the arterial since Aug. 7 - would leave 823 Rue Jacques-Cartier.
Satisfied, mid-evening, Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin stated that the police intervention took place without a hitch.
"We held long talks with the site's occupants; it was time to act. The judge has endorsed all of the city's claims. This ruling confirms that from the beginning, we have acted with rigor and respect ... The City took on its responsibilities, and from the beginning, this happened by preserving all the artifacts found to this day. The City has also enlarged the excavation zone in order to ensure that 100 percent of the potential of the site will be preserved," he indicated in a press release recalling that a development project for the First Nations presence will be included in the revitalization of the Rue Jacques-Cartier.
He said he was confident that the work on the site would recommence shortly.
Background: Published as a separate article under the title "Gatineau and the Occupation of the Jacques-Cartier Site"
Members of the off-reservation Algonquin community from Fort-Coulonge are occupying the site of the Rue Jacques-Cartier in order to protect the site and its archeological digs. Despite meetings that have been called "cordial," the case is progressing slowly. The City of Gatineau is trying to quickly put an end to the digs and take over the site again, while the First Nations people are trying to make them last longer in order to ensure that there are no other artifacts.
In addition, at the heart of this conflict is the question of whom these artifacts belong to. The First Nations people demand that they are returned to them, while for the moment, the City maintains that they are returned to it. However, this is a position that is in contrast to Article 31 of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the United Nations, which Canada has signed.
Several factors can explain this conflict, but two should be brought forth: the legitimacy of the interlocutors and the failure of the city's heritage policy, which do not allow for a direction for making clear decisions on the subject of indigenous heritage.
Jurisprudence and public policy recognize the rights of First Nations people as far as their culture and heritage are concerned. But the Law on Indians and the policies of the federal government limit the right to negotiate these rights to tribal chiefs or the representatives of their organizations. This has the effect of excluding communities that are outside of reservations and their representatives as legitimate actors who can lay claim to indigenous rights.
In the case of the Rue Jacques-Cartier, this presents a major problem for Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, since the Fort-Coulonge community and its representative, Roger Fleury, do not have the political and legal legitimacy to negotiate.
The City's heritage policy recognizes the importance of indigenous culture and identity. In its definition of heritage, it also includes "the languages, ways of life, knowledge and indigenous traditions," as immaterial heritage, and "several prehistoric sites covering more than 4,000 years of indigenous history in the Lac-Leamy Park," as archeological patrimony.
But this policy poses three precise problems. None of the objectives of municipal policy target the protection of patrimony. They are based on its promotion, appropriation and profitability. None of these objectives is bad on its own. To the contrary, they allow for bringing heritage to life and using it to construct a Gatineau identity anchored in its history and culture.
Thus, the inexactitude of the axes of intervention makes it so that politics does not offer any concrete action in order to make things clear for elected officials on the topic of First Nations heritage and culture. Finally, the implementation of policy does not make any mention of First Nations heritage. It does propose putting into place "a regulatory tool for protecting zones of archeological potential...," but the City has yet to adopt it.
More than a simple conflict between a First Nations community and the City of Gatineau, the occupation of the site of the Rue Jacques-Cartier constitutes the expression of the need for the latter to avail itself of decision-making tools that are more efficient in regards to the protection of heritage, particularly, in regards to the protection of First Nations heritage.
Who would be best equipped to protect this heritage in your opinion and represent it well? Are there any First Nation conflicts where you live and how have policies resolved them? Share your city's stories in the comment below.
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