AKWESASNE, Que. - On the Mohawk reserve of Akwesasne, land — at first glance — seems plenty.About 23,000 people live on roughly 10,000 hectares of lush green fields flanked by islands and rivers that make up the territory about 150 kilometres west of Montreal.But ask around and it becomes immediately clear that while much of the land looks empty — save for the snapping turtles lazing on the roads — almost every inch on the reserve is spoken for.Some younger members of the community are forced to buy houses and rent apartments outside the territory because they can't build a home in Akwesasne, which straddles three jurisdictions: Quebec, Ontario and New York State.That's why Ottawa's recent offer, which gives the Mohawks an opportunity to buy sparsely populated farmland that would almost double the size of the reserve, is so tempting. But in order for that purchase to proceed, the Mohawks must renounce their claim to a separate 8,000-hectare parcel of land in the most westerly portion of Quebec, known in the province as Dundee but recognized by natives as Tsikaristisere.Ottawa has given the Mohawks 240 million reasons to accept its offer.Opinions on the reserve are mixed."I would vote yes — I think everyone should get a cheque," said Kim Johnson, 45, who works part-time at the T-N-T Deli on the Quebec side of the Akwesasne territory.Loran Lazore, 42, who does odd construction-related jobs on the reserve, said he doesn't want to give up claim over the land."I favour the land over the money," he said. "Even if they put another zero (in the offer)."Many details of the government's offer have not been made public, but the general plan is to give $240 million to the council in exchange for the Mohawks giving up all claim to the 8,000 hectares that are adjacent to the east side of the reserve.The band, however, could buy back about 7,000 of those hectares — if the current owners are willing to sell — and annex the territory into Akwesasne, almost doubling its size.District Chief Larry King, who was involved in the negotiations, said "Canada has made it clear that this is a final offer."He added that the fact citizens can only purchase land in Quebec if current owners are willing to sell is "a bitter pill to swallow for our community."Ottawa's offer applies to the Mohawks on the Canadian side, however, and only people who live on land in Ontario and Quebec will vote in an eventual referendum on the offer.The date of the referendum has not been set, although Mohawks on the Canadian side of the border are scheduled to vote in band elections this coming Saturday.Marjorie Skidders, co-editor of the Akwesasne newspaper Indian Time, said she is not sure the $240-million offer will be an election issue for most people because it was made so recently that residents haven't had time to fully digest the news.Moreover, information sessions have yet to be organized and any referendum could be six months to more than a year away.The offer will most likely be accepted, though, she said."I'm not hearing people being upset and any rumblings," added Skidders, 58."There is no amount of money that will make us say: 'Yes, this is restitution for what has happened or what has been done in the past,'" she said. "But it's 2015 and we're moving ahead."King also said he doesn't think the offer will be an issue in the elections."I have not heard or seen if candidates are referring to the Dundee Settlement Offer in their campaign or platform." he said.The Mohawk council says Tsikaristisere was never surrendered.While a document was reportedly signed, the Mohawks maintain they intended to gradually reclaim the land rather than permanently hand it over to the federal government.Judie Cole, 76, said she fears by the time the money is transferred to the band council, she won't be around to enjoy it."We're in dire need of senior housing," she said, sitting with friends after an afternoon bingo game on the reserve. "When there is a grant, the government always gives homes to single people with children."I'm 76, by the time things get settled I'll probably be dead."Cole's friend, Phyllis Point, said, "Us seniors want a piece of the pie. We never get anything."One possible source of tension may arise from people having to come to terms with the fact a monetary value has to be put on the Dundee land, even though many people don't see their territory in that way.Skidders said a non-native remarked recently how valuable her St. Lawrence riverfront property would be."I just don't think any of our family ever sees it that way," she said. "I was thinking about her comment all night after she told me that. We just don't think of it like that."
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