Anglican Church leader condemns government handling of Mohawk dispute

July 27, 1990 — The Most Rev. Michael Peers, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has accused the federal government of ignoring “its constitutional responsibility to deal directly with the Mohawk Nation” to resolve the aboriginal land rights conflict at Oka, Quebec.

In a first letter to the Prime Minister, dated July 12, Archbishop Peers urged the Federal Government to “become more directly involved with the negotiations until there is a land claims agreement in place which is acceptable to the Mohawk nation.” He also urged that the situation be resolved by nonviolent means; that all armaments be put down; and that the police be withdrawn.

He pointed out that “underlying the conflict are the issues of Land Claims and development of Aboriginal Lands. These issues are a federal responsibility.”

In a follow-up letter, dated July 26, the Primate expressed dismay that the federal government continues to ignore its constitutional responsibility to deal directly with the Mohawk Nation.

“The actions of your government lead me to the conclusion that you reject the Supreme Court of Canada’s position in the recent Sparrow case that ‘the relationship between the Government and aboriginals is trust-like, rather than adversarial…’.”

“I am also disturbed,” he added, “by the continuation of human rights violations by the Surete du Quebec. Yesterday the Quebec Human Rights Commission declared that ‘the massive police operation against Mohawks in Oka is illegal’. The provincial police, through harassment and discrimination, are violating the fundamental rights of people living behind blockades, including the denial of food and medical services. As External Affairs Minister Joe Clark told the House of Commons two years ago, ‘food should not be used as a weapon.’.”

The Anglican Church of Canada has long been an advocate of the justice struggles of Native peoples in Canada. The General Synod in 1989 expressed its support of nonviolent direct action in defence of unsurrendered Aboriginal Ancestral land, stating “That Aboriginal Peoples and Anglicans and others involved in nonviolent direct action in defence of unsurrendered Aboriginal ancestral lands and their environment be supported.”

“It is crucial that the Federal Government make the just settlement of land claims a priority. Such action would do much to create healing between the government and the First Nations of this land” the letter concludes.

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