A look back to The Oka Crisis, 13 years ago.Part of my Winter Count

December 3rd, 2013, 12pm

The Winter Count was a project that we did in a class about aboriginal history. The Oka Crisis was happened very close to me in 1990, and very close to members of my family. The land dispute was over the expansion of a private golf course and housing development. The land in question was a cemetery and sacred land know as The Pines, the land had been granted to the Mohawk people by the governor of New France in 1717. The land was held in trust by the Seminary, over the last 250 years the Mohawks made attempts to have the land title recognized. The Pines is a sacred place for the Mohawks of Kanesatake and they were going to fight to keep it. They tried in 1869 but were defeated. They set up barricades and sacred fires. The Mayor called in the police and in a gun battle a police officer was killed. This activated the National Defence Act - ‘aid of the civil power’(section 275) and the army arrived. The stand off lasted 78 days, and ended with the Mohawks throwing water balloons. Tobacco was burned and a sacred fire was started, the Mohawks through their guns into it and it was over. There was lots of support across Canada from other First Nations, they also put up blockades and held sacred fires.

I read an article by a journalist who was in Kanesatake, he looked back ten years after the event. And he recalls the tactics of the Army, the relentless sounds and noises that they pumped into the Pines to the sleep deprived Mohawks. He remembers the fighting it was cruel and hand-to-hand combat. He was what the military called ‘rational use of violence’ people were bayoneted and beaten. He also remembers what was going on behind the barricades. He remembers being told of the creator and the Great Law of Peace, Treaties and of the grandmother moon, residential schools, alcohol and the Indian Act. In the final battle there were people seriously hurt, the journalist himself barely escaped without being beaten by the military. Along with the propaganda that was being bombarded onto the Warriors, there were elders who moved along the men encouraging them to remember that they had barricades of peace. At the beginning of the standoff a red flag had been placed in the tallest pine tree to represent their demonstration was peaceful. This was done as part of their cultural upbringing. Those behind the barricades were surprised by the military might and the propaganda that was being reported on the nightly news.

The golf course and housing development never happened but The Pines and cemetery are still not in the hands of the Mohawks, still being under the control of government.

David Wade said thanks.

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Barbara Shaw-Ings

Education Student

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