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Aug. 2, 2023
Kanien’kéha:ka community says environmental racism ruined this island. Now, the community is taking it back.
When Cody Diabo recently learned that the bay restoration project on Kateri Tekakwitha Island was near complete, he took his family for a walk there to see its transformation from a dry, rocky shore into a marsh teeming with life.
The island off of Kahnawà:ke, a Kanien’kéha community south of Montreal, was once a small archipelago of lush, natural islands — but it became a single piece of land after sludge from the river was dumped onto the archipelago by construction crews building the St. Lawrence Seaway about 70 years ago.
“For the first time coming to the island since I was a little child, I saw corn growing,” Diabo, council chief responsible for the environment portfolio at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke, said at a news conference Wednesday announcing the completion of the nearly decade-long project to restore water flow in the bay and naturalize its surroundings.
“To be able to see a substance that’s dear to Onkwehonwe people and Kanien’kéha people — corn — growing here, where it was essentially barren for a while … that was just a sign that we were doing something really good.”