Kahnawake residents, divers join to clean trash around Tekakwitha Island

Kahnawake residents, divers join to clean trash around Tekakwitha Island

A children’s bicycle, small propeller, boat anchor, as well as a sewer cap, scraps of wood and metal were just some of the finds made in the depths of the bay formed by the seaway of the St. Lawrence River.

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Bucket and pliers in hand, Kahnawake residents gathered Saturday morning to pick up trash littering the ground on Tekakwitha Island, but for the first time they were able to rely on a team of divers to clean the waters.

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A children’s bicycle, small propeller, boat anchor, as well as a sewer cap, scraps of wood and metal were just some of the finds made in the depths of the bay formed by the St. Lawrence Seaway.

“It’s a public space for our community and everyone comes here,” said Kahnawake Environment Protection Office CEO Onawa Jacobs. “We still see a lot of trash and the water here has never been cleaned. There are a lot of local activities, so we knew we’d find things.”

Every spring, members of the Mohawk community participate in a clean-up effort. This time, they were accompanied by seven divers from Urban Water Odyssey, headed by filmmaker and explorer Nathalie Lasselin, to conduct river research.

The water quality of Tekakwitha Island, which is between the village and the seaway on the western side, appears to be quite good. In recent years, the area has been the subject of a restoration project to improve water flow and reduce sediment.

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“All the divers tell me there are a lot of fish and the visibility is relatively good,” Lasselin said. “It’s a very large park, so we won’t have a high concentration of objects.”

Mary McComber of Kahnawake makes her way up from the shoreline on Tekakwitha Island in Kahnawake on Saturday, July 17, 2021.
Mary McComber of Kahnawake makes her way up from the shoreline on Tekakwitha Island in Kahnawake on Saturday, July 17, 2021. Photo by John Kenney /Montreal Gazette

Urban Water Odyssey was carrying out its 20th cleaning operation on Saturday since its launch in 2018. Divers are used to collecting fishing rods, Hindu statuettes, bicycles, chairs and metal bars during each cleaning, Lasselin said.

This “360-degree cleaning operation” was carried out in collaboration with Mission 1000 tonnes and the Groupe de recommandations et d’actions pour un meilleur environnement (GRAME), whose volunteers were active on the banks with community members.

They mainly collected cans, bottles, plastic and coffee cups, “but overall the place is still very clean,” said Karine Cloutier, an ambassador with Mission 1000 tonnes. “It warms my heart to see that the space and the environment are cleaner than other places where the mission has been.”

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About 40 participants removed 627 kilograms from the river and the banks. The operation, thus, exceeded its objective of 10 tonnes set a few years ago.

Present with their children, Will White and Lynn Jacobs collected nails with a magnet in an area where people often have campfires. They regularly take part in spring cleaning efforts, and sometimes take the initiative themselves to pick up litter.

“In a group, it’s easier,” White said. “It makes a big difference. We have to be careful with everything we have as a community. Just leaving garbage lying around is not a good thing.”

Beyond removing waste, the cleaning effort also represents an opportunity to educate the population and encourage others to do their part.

“Every time you go to a park with divers, it attracts people and those who are curious,” said GRAME general manager Catherine Houbart. “They are always amazed to see that there is so much garbage and so much variety under the surface.”

Other major clean-up operations will take place during the summer and fall in Greater Montreal.

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