NFB – “On a July day in 1990, a confrontation propelled Native issues in Kanehsatake and the village of Oka, Quebec, into the international spotlight. Director Alanis Obomsawin spent 78 nerve-wracking days and nights filming the armed stand-off between the Mohawks, the Quebec police and the Canadian army. This powerful documentary takes you right into the action of an age-old Aboriginal struggle. The result is a portrait of the people behind the barricades…”
Wiki- “The Oka Crisis was a land dispute between a group of Mohawk people and the town of Oka, Quebec, Canada which began on July 11, 1990 and lasted until September 26, 1990. One person died as a result. The dispute was the first well-publicized violent conflict between First Nations and the Canadian government in the late 20th century.
The crisis developed from a local dispute between the town of Oka and the Mohawk community of Kanesatake. The town of Oka was developing plans to expand agolf course and residential development onto land which had traditionally been used by the Mohawk. It included pineland and a burial ground, marked by standing tombstones of their ancestors. The Mohawks had filed a land claim for the sacred grove and burial ground near Kanesatake, but their claim had been rejected in 1986.
In 1717, the governor of New France granted the lands encompassing the cemetery and the pines to the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice or Sulpician Fathers Seminary, a Roman Catholic order based in Paris. The Mohawk claimed that the original grant included about nine square miles reserved exclusively for their use. Although the Sulpician Seminary was supposed to hold the land in trust for them, the seminary expanded this agreement to grant itself sole ownership rights.
In 1868, one year after Confederation, the chief of the Oka Mohawk people, Joseph Onasakenrat, wrote a letter to the seminary condemning it for illegally holding the land and demanding its return. The petition produced no results for the Mohawks. In 1869 Onasakenrat attacked the seminary with a small armed force, after giving the missionaries eight days to hand over the land. Local authorities ended this stand-off with force.
In 1936, the seminary sold the remaining territory for development and vacated the area, under protest by the local Mohawk community. At the time they still kept cattle on the common land.
In 1961, the city built a private nine-hole golf course, the Club de golf d’Oka, on a portion of the land. The Mohawk filed suit against its construction but, by the time the case was heard, much of the land had already been cleared. Construction also began on a parking lot and golf greens adjacent to the Mohawk cemetery.
In 1977, the band filed an official land claim with the federal Office of Native Claims regarding the land. The claim was accepted for filing, and funds were provided for additional research of the claim. Nine years later, the claim was rejected, on the grounds of failing to meet key legal criteria.
In March 1989, the Club de golf d’Oka announced plans to expand the golf course by an additional 9 holes. Protests by Mohawks and others, as well as concern from the Quebec Minister of the Environment, led to negotiations and a postponement of the project by the municipality in August.
On July 11, the mayor asked the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), Quebec’s provincial police force, to intervene with the Mohawk protest. He claimed there had been criminal activity at the barricade. The Mohawk people, in accordance with the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy, asked the women, the caretakers of the land and “progenitors of the nation”, whether or not the arsenal which the warriors had amassed should remain. The women of the Mohawk Nation decided that the weapons should only be used if the SQ fired on the barricade and to use them as defensively as possible.
At the peak of the crisis, the Mercier Bridge and Routes 132, 138 and 207 were all blocked, creating substantial disruption to traffic and anger as the crisis dragged on. A group of Châteauguay residents started building an unauthorized, unplanned four-lanehighway around the Kahnawake reserve. After the crisis, the highway was completed and is now part of Quebec Autoroute 30.
The federal Crown-in-Council agreed to spend $5.3 million to purchase the section of the pines where the golf course expansion was to take place, to prevent any further development. This proposal left the Mohawks outraged, as the problems that led to the situation had not been addressed. Stewardship of the land had simply moved from one government to another, and not to the Mohawk.
When it became apparent that the Sûreté du Québec had not contained this escalating situation, the government brought in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), who were also unable to contain the mobs and chaos associated with the blocked traffic; ten RCMP constables were hospitalized on August 14.
On August 8, Quebec premier Robert Bourassa announced at a press conference that he had, as per Section 275 of the National Defence Act, requisited military support in “aid of the civil power”. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was reluctant to have the federal government and, in particular, the Canadian Army, so involved. Under the act, however, the Solicitor General of Quebec, under direction from the Premier of Quebec, had the right to requisition the armed forces to maintain law and order as a provincial responsibility; this move had precedent in Canada, including two decades earlier during the October Crisis.
On August 29, at the Mercier Bridge blockade, the Mohawks negotiated an end to their protest with Lieutenant-Colonel Robin Gagnon, the ’Van Doo’ commander responsible for monitoring the blockades along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River west of Montreal. This action further resulted in the resolution of the original siege on the Kahnawake reserve.
Mohawks at Oka, however, felt betrayed at the loss of their most effective bargaining chip in the Mercier Bridge: once traffic began flowing again, the Quebec government rejected further negotiations pursuant to their original dispute concerning the Oka golf course expansion. September 25 witnessed the final engagement of the crisis: a Mohawk warrior walked around the perimeter of the blockade area with a long stick, setting off flares that had been originally installed by the Canadian Forces to alert them to individuals fleeing the area. The army turned a water hose on this man, but it lacked enough pressure to disperse the crowd surrounding him. This crowd taunted the soldiers and began throwing water balloons at them, but the incident did not escalate further. The following day the Mohawks laid down their arms, dismantled their guns and threw them in a fire, ceremonially burning tobacco and returning to the reserve. Many, however, were detained by the Canadian Forces and arrested by the SQ.
The Oka Crisis lasted 78 days, and gunfire early in the crisis killed SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay. The golf course expansion which had originally triggered the crisis was cancelled by the mayor of Oka. The Oka Crisis galvanized, throughout Canada, a subsequent process of developing an First Nations Policing Policy to try to prevent future such events.” More On Wiki