07/11/2015 10:02 EDT | Updated 07/11/2016 05:59 EDT

Oka Crisis: Mohawk claim to pine forest never resolved, chief says

The Mohawks of Kanesatake will mark 25 years since the start of the standoff that became known as the Oka Crisis in the very spot where a botched police raid triggered those events on July 11, 1990.

Cpl. Marcel Lemay of Quebec provincial police was shot and killed in an exchange of gunfire between the Sûreté du Québec tactical intervention squad and Mohawk warriors. The Quebec coroner was never able to determine who killed Lemay.

The dispute began over the town of Oka's plans to expand a nine-hole golf course into a pine forest that both Oka and the Mohawk community of Kanesatake claimed as their own.  

The golf-course expansion never went ahead, however, and the issue of who owns that land has never been settled.

"The federal government after the Oka Crisis did not fix this problem. They should have bought this all out and just given it back to the community," said Kanesatake's current grand chief, Serge Simon.

Simon has invited Oka's current mayor, Pascal Quevillon, to join in this morning's commemoration. Simon said the two leaders are preparing to declare a moratorium on all future development in the Pines.

However, Mohawk environmental activist Walter David, who was one of the first people to set up the protest camp in the Pines in March, 1990, said condominiums encroaching on the pine forest are the least of the Mohawk community's problems these days.

"Energy East. Tar sands. Climate change. Protection of our water rights," said David, pointing out TransCanada's Energy East proposed pipeline would go right through the community, which is a patchwork of land nestled along the north shore of Lake of Two Mountains.

Land negotiations ongoing

The Mohawks claim all of the land originally known as the Seigneury of the Lake of Two Mountains, given to the Sulpician order by the the King of France, Louis XV, for the "use and benefit" of the Mohawks and Algonquins the Catholic priests were determined to christianize. Over the decades that followed, the Sulpicians sold off much of that land to European settlers.

That vast tract of land, which includes the rich agricultural farmlands and Mirabel airport, is all subject to negotiations with the federal government under its specific land-claims process — negotiations which have been on-again and off-again over the years.

Simon said under his leadership, negotiations with the band council are now once again underway, although they are subject to a media blackout.