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The Oka Crisis

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Jenna Philbrick

on 1 June 2013

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Transcript of The Oka Crisis

The Oka Crisis In the Summer of 1990 the town of Oka, Quebec developed a plan to expand a golf course and residential development. The land they planned to use was traditionally believed to belong to the Kanehsatake Mohawk community. On the Mohawk land that would be destroyed there was dense forests and a burial ground that had marked the final resting places of the Mohawk's ancestors for generations. Mohawk burial ground in the Mohawk village of Kanehsatake In 1986 the Mohawks had filed for a land claim, but it had been rejected by the town of Oka. Unfortunately, even though this land was traditionally theirs, the town of Oka refused to acknowledge that and assumed it was theirs for the taking. In 1989 the mayor of Oka, Jean Ouellette, made an announcement that the remainder of the pines would be cleared to expand the golf course. This announcement was the immediate cause of the Oka Crisis. So What Happened? In protest of this, the Kanehsatake community constructed a barricade, blocking access to the area. On July 11th 1990, the mayor of Oka asked Quebec's police force to disrupt the peaceful protest because he claimed there was criminal activity at the barricade. The Mohawk people decided that weapons would only be used if the Quebec police force fired on the barricade. A Police emergency response team then attacked them by throwing tear gas canisters and flash bang grenades in hopes of confusing the Mohawk people. Ellen Gabriel, a Mohawk, said "I can remember looking at the faces of the SWAT team, and they were all scared. They were like young babies who had never met something so strong, never met a spirit, because we were fighting something without a spirit." It is unclear who shot first, however, after a fifteen minute gun battle, the police fell back. There was one casualty, 31 year old Corporal Macel Lemay of the Quebec police force. When the police fled, they left behind 6 police cruisers and a bull dowser. The Kanehsatake community used the forgotten vehicles to erect several new barricades on the main highway, highway 344. The Mohawks of Kanehsatake are soon joined by other members of Mohawk communities from throughout Canada and the USA. Another group of Mohawks, located in Kahnawake, near Kanehsatake, build barricades blocking the reserve. Soon they build a barricade on the Mercier Bridge, closing it to traffic. This bridge is a major access point between the Island of Montreal and the highly populated South Shore Suburbs, it handles 65,000 vehicles per day. So as you can imagine, the residents of the surrounding areas were very displeased and they blamed the Mohawks. Mr. John Ciaccia was the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs for the Quebec government at the time. Throughout this incident he had been trying to communicate with the Mohawk people, and trying to negotiate a deal. Prior to the Oka Crisis, he wrote a letter to the Mayor of Oka saying how he thought taking away the Mohawk's land for a golf course was unfair and unjust. He suggested, to the mayor, to postpone the golf course permanently. The Mayor ignored his suggestion. People from across the country either rallied in support of, or against, the Mohawks in Kanehsatake. Finally on August 12th, 1990 Judge Alan Gold succeeds in bringing everyone together, in hopes of coming to an agreement. No fighting breaks out at the gathering, but nothing was resolved either and everyone waited to see what will happen in the near future. Soon, the Canadian Army was brought in to replace the Oka Police Force. The Mohawks are given an ultimatum, either open the Mercier Bridge in 3 days or less, or the army moves in. They refused to do this, so the army made good on their threat and advance. No violence occurs, however there is a very tense atmosphere. On August 29th an agreement is finally reached between the army and the Mohawk warriors blocking the Mercier Bridge and other highways. The barricades were dismantled, this meant the Canadian Army could now go directly up to the border of Kanehsatake, and on September 1st, they did. The Army camped out on one side of the barricade and the Mohawks camped out on the other side. They were constantly yelling and confronting each other.Finally, on September 26th, after a 78 day standoff, the Mohawks had had enough and simply laid down their arms. After doing this the army had no reason to stay, so they left. Marie David ,a Mohawk, said "They [The Mohawks] were prepared for anything, the people from Kanehsatake came out, they weren't surrendering, they didn't have their hands held above their heads. They were going home." The golf course expansion, which had originally triggered the crisis, was then cancelled by the Mayor of Oka. This event is significant to Canada's development as a nation because throughout history Native People have been treated like lesser human beings. Aboriginal peoples were the first ones on this land, and the English and French drove them out of their homes and communities. Some people think that just because they are different, and have unique, peaceful and spiritual ways that they can just walk all over the Aboriginals. This has been happening for centuries, and finally the Native Canadians had enough. So, metaphorically, this event was the straw that broke the camel's back. This was the event that prompted the Aboriginals to stand up for their rights as Canadians and as human beings. This is a defining moment because it was one of the first Native Canadian issues that received international media attention and after all that trouble, the Aboriginals won the struggle peacefully, and they won their land. They proved to the people that they can stand up for what they believe in and they have a united, strong, fighting spirit. The Oka Crisis was a tragedy in many ways.Yet, in other ways, it can be seen as a stepping stone in the pathway to Aboriginal people being treated with equality, fairness and respect in Canada. The Mohawk Flag
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