Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafreniere backed off his statements about the Montreal Canadiens’ ‘mistaken’ acknowledgement that they are playing games on unceded Mohawk territory early this week when reached by Iorì:wase.
Last week, Lafreniere ruffled feathers by saying the Habs’ land acknowledgement which they plan on making before all their home games way a mistake.
“It’s the Canadiens’ decision,” Lafrèniere told reporters at the National Assembly last week. “It’s important to recognize that the First Nations were here before us and that we live together, but now we’re getting into a debate of historians who don’t agree, so maybe it was a mistake.”
The comment made waves across the province, with Lafreniere fielding questions in the National Assembly about the comments.
On Tuesday, his office issued a statement to Iorì:wase. In it, Lafreniere saluted the Canadiens’ decision, saying “we must salute the decision of private groups and enterprises to make a step towards reconciliation,” and adding how positive it is “that Indigenous realities and issues have never been as discussed as they are at the moment.”
He declined to take position in the historical debate and wouldn’t legitimize the Kanien’keha:ka’s claim to the territory.
“We must leave it up to First Nations and historians. First Nations and Inuit have occupied the territory long before us, and we now share that same territory. We must work on a nation-to-nation basis,” Lafreniere added.
Last week, the Montreal Canadiens decided to make a public-address announcement before every home game stating the team wishes “to acknowledge the Kanien’keha:ka, also known as the Mohawk Nation, for their hospitality on this traditional and unceded territory where we are gathered today.”
The next day, Lafreniere waded into the historical debate.
Particularly in Montreal, he said, there’s no agreement about which Indigenous People was there first, “and that’s where it gets complicated.”
Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer said she was a little taken aback by Lafreniere’s comments.
“I reached out after he made those comments, and I asked him ‘what were you thinking? Here we are trying to build a relationship and you go and say that?’ We thought the Canadiens were making a great gesture doing this. Like other teams in Canada, they’re making that acknowledgement and we were very honoured and proud,” Sky-Deer said.
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase