Gatineau: Indigenous People Defend Their Heritage

Repairs to the Jacques-Cartier Street in Pointe-Gatineau caused unexpected resistance from indigenous people from various communities. Following the discovery of millenary artifacts on the site located at the confluence of the Ottawa River and the Gatineau River, the City of Gatineau has not seen fit to inform the indigenous representatives from the area, nor the population at large. However, the information was leaked and led to public protests, forcing the city to allow archaeological excavations on a site of 40 square feet. Conducted over a period of only five days, they uncovered more than 20,000 items from 3,000 to 6,000 years old.

These discoveries shed a new light on the history of the peoples who have lived or passed through the Outaouais region—a traditional crossroads for various indigenous peoples. For the City of Gatineau, however, they appeared only as an obstacle to their project of “revitalizing” the shore of Pointe-Gatineau, behind which lurks the interest of local developers who have long coveted this neighborhood for building luxury condos.

After having promptly buried the site, despite ongoing excavation, the City has refused to allow an extension of the research projects. In mid-August, a group consisting of Algonquin from Fort-Coulonge, Indigenous and Métis activists from elsewhere as well as local residents, set up a camp with tipis and sacred fire to demand that the municipal administration change their mind. The group argued that this potentially highly important archaeological site needed to be saved and put forward several demands for further research and for developing the site’s historical heritage.

During the 40 days the occupation lasted, the City refused any official contact with the activists, instead favoring the Chief of the Kitigan Zibi Band Council—the same old “divide and rule” tactic the colonial state always uses to deceive Indigenous people. To obtain an eviction order, the mayor went so far as to lie by claiming that an agreement had been made with the Band Chief. Forty police officers were deployed on September 18 to conduct the eviction, resulting in six arrests.

This occupied territory has never been surrendered by the Indigenous people who have lived there for thousands of years. The site, which contains objects from their ancestors, doesn’t belong to the City of Gatineau, nor to the Québec government or the British Crown. There is no surprise, however, in the fact that these colonial institutions seek by all means to trample the First Nations’ history, to confine them to reserves and to keep for themselves the right to decide who is Indigenous or Métis. But, sooner or later, such hypocrisy comes to light.

Resisters of the Jacques-Cartier Street were right to challenge the Indian Act, which subjects them to the state, and to claim their right on ancestral lands. This fight is similar to that of the Atikamekw and Indigenous peoples from the West Coast who declared their sovereignty; it is part of their rightful struggle for self-determination. It must be supported until its logical conclusion—the dismantling of the Canadian colonial state.

Down with the colonial state!

Yes to self-determination of indigenous peoples!