The Mercier Bridge should be reconstructed and work can and should begin as soon as possible but Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennensawe Sky-Deer says any delays are coming from the province’s end and that a number of conditions need to be satisfied before Kahnawake signs off any new Mercier project – and Sky-Deer suggested there be an Indigenous flavour to any new span.
The new Grand Chief – who came into the job in July and is still getting up to speed on many files – said Quebec’s Transport Ministry is in the process of replacing a project manager who would look after the Mercier refurbishment , and that, even when one is appointed, several conditions must be met for Kahnawake to sign off on the project.
“We have to have something to present to the community,” Sky-Deer said. “In order to consult the population, we have to have something to consult with them on and see how our people feel about the project. At one point, the plan was to have one span, and now, the plan is to have two spans, I think, so, we’re playing a waiting game.”
Last week, Quebec Minister of Indigenous Affairs Ian Lafreniere suggested the bridge was near the top of his priority list and said he hoped to reach an agreement with Kahnawake sooner, rather than later, on getting the bridge – which sees 70,000 motorists go over it every day yet which requires regular closure for badly-needed maintenance – refurbished.
Lafreniere noted the bridge had been removed from a list of provincial infrastructure projects targeted by Bill 66 as a sign of good faith by the provincial government.
Sky-Deer said Kahnawake would also negotiate in good faith, but insisted there were two deal-breakers for the community, including the expropriation of any more land for the bridge.
“No more land can be taken from our people,” Sky-Deer said. “Taking any more land is a no go. We have given enough land for this bridge, and of course our people need to work,” on the project. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Quebec and Kahnawake outlines that relationship, which says Kahnawake ironworkers must do the work on the bridge.
Sky-Deer also suggested a name change for the bridge is in order – something that might close the cultural and understanding gap between the community and the surrounding area – and a name change for the bridge might be a good step in that direction.
“Giving the bridge an Indigenous name, or even using an Indigenous word for its name, would be a real step in the right direction that we would like to see,” she said.
The new Grand Chief said as important as the Mercier is, the main priority for her at present is establishing a framework for nation-to-nation discussions with the Quebec government.
“Obviously, the development of the relationship framework is our main priority right now,” she said, adding that once that is in place, any negotiations would be easier to manage.
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase