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Ottawa says meetings to take place Friday over disputed land deal in Oka

Mohawk flags are placed at the border of the Kanasatake Mohawk territory and the town of Oka on July 19, in Oka, Que.The federal government says meetings are planned Friday with officials in Oka, Que., and the neighbouring Mohawk community of Kanesatake in a dispute over a proposed land deal that has caused tensions in the area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

FREDERICTON — The federal government says meetings are planned Friday with officials in Oka, Que., and the neighbouring Mohawk community of Kanesatake in a dispute over a proposed land deal that has caused tensions in the area.

Marc Miller, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, said Tuesday the plan is to meet with both sides and let them spell out their expectations.

The tone has mounted since news broke of local developer Gregoire Gollin’s intention to donate the 60 hectares known as The Pines to the Kanesatake Mohawk Council.

Gollin has said he acted in the spirit of reconciliation when he signed the agreement. He also said he is prepared to discuss the sale to the federal government of an additional 150 hectares for transfer to the Mohawk community — nearly half of which he said is adjacent to land owned by Kanesatake.

Oka mayor Pascal Quevillon has raised concerns about becoming encircled by Kanesatake, saying property values would decline and he fears illegal dumping and an expansion of cannabis and cigarette merchants.

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon has demanded an apology, saying the mayor has used social ills facing his community for political purposes.

“In the last week it’s been a difficult road because there has been a lot of words that have been exchanged, some very heated, some that are irresponsible,” Miller told reporters at the Assembly of First Nations conference in Fredericton.

“Both sides are feeling the effects of that, but the most important thing we’ve been trying to say — and the Quebec government has echoed that — these discussions need to be had, even if they are difficult, in the utmost respect.”

Miller said what has been lost in the rhetoric is that the two communities about 90 kilometres northwest of Montreal have lived in peace for the majority of their existence. He warned against the Oka mayor’s “careless comments” about the Mohawk community.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett also warned against misinformation. “Everyone is concerned. Everyone wants us to find a peaceful resolution to this,” she said.

The Canadian Press