06/27/2013 05:10 EDT | Updated 08/27/2013 05:12 EDT

4 Quebec towns fight province over land given to Mohawks

About 500 acres of land bordering the new Highway 30 have been taken out of the hands of four nearby municipalities and given to Kahnawake — and the mayors of those municipalities are suing the Quebec government over it.

Mayors Nathalie Simon (Châteauguay), Gilles Yelle (St-Isidore), Gilles Pépin (St-Constant) and Jocelyne Bates (Ste-Catherine) held a news conference earlier Thursday in which they argued the extra land that was set aside for Highway 30 and then not used belongs to their municipalities.

Simon said the mayors asked the government time and time again to be included in all conversations about Highway 30, which cuts through the western and southern portions of the greater Montreal area. It also divides Kahnawake from the four municipalities.

And so they were surprised to find out in May that the land had been turned over to Kahnawake.

Simon said that during the construction phase of the highway, the provincial government spoke of giving money to Kahnawake, not land.

“But during the construction of Highway 30, the Liberal government started negotiating with the Kahnawake band council to give back the part of land on Autoroute 30 and the little piece of land in Châteauguay, and that’s the first time we heard about land exchange,” she said.

Simon said that the affected municipalities and their residents have lost out on money through the land exchange because it was their taxes that paid for infrastructure on the property.

Why the land matters

St-Constant mayor Pépin said that the land given over to the Mohawks used to be zoned as agricultural land before the Highway 30 began.

Now, he said, it’s been rezoned to what he called “white” land, meaning land that can be used for commercial purposes. That makes the 500 acres very valuable.

In Quebec, the province’s commission for the protection of agricultural land has extremely severe restrictions in place to prevent developers from taking over fertile land.

What the mayors are asking the Quebec government for is either financial compensation for the land given to the Mohawks, or for the right to have an equal portion of land on their side of the highway rezoned as “white” land.

“The land should have been sold to the Mohawks at market value,” Pépin said.

Mohawks react

"Location, location, location is what economic development is about. And this is obviously a prime location," said Mike Delisle, the Grand Chief of Kahnawake’s Mohawk Council.

He said the parcel in question is part of the territory that originally belonged to the Mohawk territory, and that they were currently negotiating with the federal government to get back.

He said anyone declaring unfair treatment should reflect on the region’s history.

“Are you really going to talk to Indians about fairness?” he said.

"In terms of unfair advantage, honestly, give us a break. It's been about 300-plus years. It's about time we start getting a fair shake."