MONTREAL -- The Mohawk community of Kanesatake has negotiated an agreement with provincial authorities over the reopening of Oka provincial park, with Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon calling it a “bilateral show of good faith.”

Kanesatake had blocked entrace to the park last Wednesday over concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

The community had wanted a more gradual park reopening, carried out with certain precautions to try to prevent visitors from bringing the virus to the Mohawk territory. 

Simon thanked the province in a statement on Tuesday, after nearly a week of talks, for “making the accommodations through understanding and compassion.”

In the talks over the last week, Kanesatake stressed to the province that they are not on the same page when it comes to the current public health situation.

Regardless of the current optimism that the first wave is over, Kanesatake’s not ready to let its guard down, Simon wrote.

“The Quebec government, and their health authorities, believe that while the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic may be over,” but the Kanesatake emergency response unit “believes that the second wave is forthcoming,” and that reopening tourism will fuel it, Simon wrote.

In the negotiatons, Kanesatake’s emergency response unit—called the ERU—“stressed that, other than a concentrated, orchestrated effort, they believe that good luck played a huge part in Kanesatake avoiding the first wave,” Simon added. 

“While the ERU would hope that the good luck continues, they are not willing to put their faith in only that.”

Simon has said that Kanesatake is home to many people at high risk for serious health complications if they catch the virus, including the elderly and people with underlying conditions like diabetes.

Last week, after the dispute arose, Premier François Legault said in a press conference that the community’s health worries were “legitimate.” In the end, Quebec agreed to Kanesatake’s ideas for how to reopen the park more safely, Simon wrote.

The ideas had first been proposed on May 18, two days before traffic was blocked, but Kanesatake took action because the main gate of the park was “wide open,” Simon wrote, before discussions had happened.

The new rules include allowing the park to reopen to only 50 per cent of capacity at first, meaning 4,000 visitors at a time.

An entrance near the village of Oka will be closed—one that is closer to Kanesatake—and the “preferred access” will be the entrance off Route 640. Simon said this would help “keep possibly infected individuals…farther away from the community of Kanesatake and our elders.”

They also asked that only visitors from “local areas” around the lower Laurentians be allowed in, that bike paths between the park and the town of Oka be blocked, and that all visitors to the park be told they must stay within the park during their visit.

Last week, Simon had said one concern was the idea that visitors would stop for snacks or in local grocery stores, which are also used by residents of Kanesatake.

The public bathrooms in the park will also be “rigorously cleaned and disinfected after each use,” said the release.

Simon said that in a bigger sense, the talks were “laying the foundations for respectful dialogue.”