An oil site construction project in the Odanak Native Reserve in Center-du-Québec divides the Abenaki community. While some see it as an opportunity to create jobs and wealth, others want to bar the project from environmental convictions.
The project was started by Mohawk Original Traders Energy, based near Hamilton, Ontario. This is a station intended to mix chemicals with gasoline before redistributing them to indigenous communities in Quebec.
But it is far from unanimous. According to Jack Watsu, the only member of the band’s council opposing the construction, tens of millions of liters could pass through the futuristic site located near Route 132.
“We have been going green for 15 years. We are the defenders of traditional values of the earth, animals, plants and Ebenaki. This is not a viable project for me, my daughter and the Odanak children in the long term,” Mr. Watsuo said.
Furthermore, the proposed site is adjacent to Kiona College, a university institution intended for citizens. One opponent of the project who met on Wednesday insists that “it makes no sense to build this next to a school that represents the future”. The future is youth, not gas.”
Jacques Watsu also received the support of the Quebec Hydrocarbon Vigilance Society. Its national coordinator, Philippe Duhamel, was on site on Wednesday to denounce “an idea that would have been excellent 50 years ago”.
Moreover, Chancellor Watsuo wants to send a strong message this Saturday by organizing a rally for citizens in the territory. He wants to kill two birds with one stone by sending a political message, because it will be Election Day in Odanak. “We have to push and show that the environment is the priority.”
Abenaki leader Rick Obomsween supports the construction. Original Traders Energy attracts royalties of $750,000 annually to the community and creates twenty jobs. But the project is still in the process of maturation, he said.
“It is a very early process. We have sent out a flyer to community members to inform them, but also to know their concerns and open up about the project. Respect for the environment and the rules is our number one priority and it always comes up in our discussions with the company.”
Before moving forward, the promoters will have to interview Odanak residents to have their many questions answered. If there is a lot of opposition, a referendum can be held according to the leader.
“Yes, there are people who are against, but there are also people who are in favor. Our job on the board is to ensure the welfare of the community and that comes with job creation,” said Mr. O’bomsawin.
Asked what kind of message this project could send to young people, he added that Canada will need oil for a long time to come.
And there is the issue of government delegation. Although Aboriginal lands are not subject to provincial rules, the Odanak “Environment and Lands” department, which aims to advise elected officials, would recommend that the gang council enforce them anyway. In particular, community acceptance.
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