Oka Crisis
Overview
 
The Oka Crisis was a land dispute
Land rights
Land law is the form of law that deals with the rights to use, alienate, or exclude others from land. In many jurisdictions, these species of property are referred to as real estate or real property, as distinct from personal property. Land use agreements, including renting, are an important...

 between a group of Mohawk people and the town of Oka
Oka, Quebec
-References:...

, Quebec, Canada which began on July 11, 1990 and lasted until September 26, 1990. At least one person died as a result. The dispute was the first well-publicized violent conflict between First Nations
First Nations
First Nations is a term that collectively refers to various Aboriginal peoples in Canada who are neither Inuit nor Métis. There are currently over 630 recognised First Nations governments or bands spread across Canada, roughly half of which are in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. The...

 and the Canadian government in the late 20th century.

The crisis developed from a local dispute between the town of Oka
Oka, Quebec
-References:...

 and the Mohawk community of Kanesatake
Kanesatake, Quebec
Kanehsatake is a Mohawk settlement on the shore of the Lake of Two Mountains at the Ottawa River in southwestern Quebec, Canada, near Montreal. The Doncaster 17 Indian Reserve also belongs to the Mohawk of Kanesatake. The population of the community is 1700.The community was formally founded...

.
Encyclopedia
The Oka Crisis was a land dispute
Land rights
Land law is the form of law that deals with the rights to use, alienate, or exclude others from land. In many jurisdictions, these species of property are referred to as real estate or real property, as distinct from personal property. Land use agreements, including renting, are an important...

 between a group of Mohawk people and the town of Oka
Oka, Quebec
-References:...

, Quebec, Canada which began on July 11, 1990 and lasted until September 26, 1990. At least one person died as a result. The dispute was the first well-publicized violent conflict between First Nations
First Nations
First Nations is a term that collectively refers to various Aboriginal peoples in Canada who are neither Inuit nor Métis. There are currently over 630 recognised First Nations governments or bands spread across Canada, roughly half of which are in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. The...

 and the Canadian government in the late 20th century.

The crisis developed from a local dispute between the town of Oka
Oka, Quebec
-References:...

 and the Mohawk community of Kanesatake
Kanesatake, Quebec
Kanehsatake is a Mohawk settlement on the shore of the Lake of Two Mountains at the Ottawa River in southwestern Quebec, Canada, near Montreal. The Doncaster 17 Indian Reserve also belongs to the Mohawk of Kanesatake. The population of the community is 1700.The community was formally founded...

. The town of Oka was developing plans to expand a golf course
Golf course
A golf course comprises a series of holes, each consisting of a teeing ground, fairway, rough and other hazards, and a green with a flagstick and cup, all designed for the game of golf. A standard round of golf consists of playing 18 holes, thus most golf courses have this number of holes...

 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.

Historical background

In 1717, the governor of New France
New France
New France was the area colonized by France in North America during a period beginning with the exploration of the Saint Lawrence River by Jacques Cartier in 1534 and ending with the cession of New France to Spain and Great Britain in 1763...

 granted the lands encompassing the cemetery and the pines to the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice or Sulpician Fathers Seminary
Seminary
A seminary, theological college, or divinity school is an institution of secondary or post-secondary education for educating students in theology, generally to prepare them for ordination as clergy or for other ministry...

, 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
Canadian Confederation
Canadian Confederation was the process by which the federal Dominion of Canada was formed on July 1, 1867. On that day, three British colonies were formed into four Canadian provinces...

, the chief of the Oka Mohawk people, Joseph Onasakenrat
Joseph Onasakenrat
Joseph Onasakenrat, also known as Sosé Onasakenrat was a Mohawk chief of Kanesatake.Onasakenrat was born near Oka, Quebec. In 1860, he entered the Petit Séminaire de Montréal where he studied for the priesthood for about four years...

, 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
Band society
A band society is the simplest form of human society. A band generally consists of a small kin group, no larger than an extended family or clan; it has been defined as consisting of no more than 30 to 50 individuals.Bands have a loose organization...

 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.

Immediate causes

The tensions between native and non-native people in Canada have been high around communities bordering reserves, mainly over competing uses of land. Such tensions contributed to the Oka Crisis. The immediate cause of the crisis was the 1989 announcement by the mayor of Oka, Jean Ouellette, that the remainder of the pines would be cleared to expand the private, members-only golf club course to eighteen holes. In addition, he had approved development of sixty luxury condominiums in a section of the pines. As the Office of Native Claims had rejected the Mohawk claim on the land three years earlier, his office did not consult the Mohawk on the plans. No environmental or historic preservation review was undertaken. Not all the people in Oka approved of the plans, but opponents found the mayor's office unwilling to discuss them.

As a protest against a court decision to allow the golf course construction to proceed, some members of the Mohawk community erected a barricade blocking access to the area. Mayor Ouellette demanded compliance with the court order, but the protesters refused. Quebec's Minister for Native Affairs John Ciaccia wrote a letter of support for the natives, stating that "these people have seen their lands disappear without having been consulted or compensated, and that, in my opinion, is unfair and unjust, especially over a golf course."

Crisis

On July 11, the mayor asked the Sûreté du Québec
Sûreté du Québec
Sûreté du Québec or SQ is the provincial police force for the Canadian province of 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.

A police emergency response team swiftly attacked the barricade by deploying tear gas canisters and flash bang grenades in an attempt to create confusion in the Mohawk ranks. It is unclear whether the police or Mohawks opened fire with gunshots first, but after a 15-minute gun battle, the police fell back, abandoning six cruisers and a bulldozer. The police's tear gas blew back at them. Although an initial account reported that 31-year-old SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay had been shot in the face during the firefight
Firefight
Firefight may refer to:* firefight, a large exchange of bullets between two sides * Firefighting, process of extinguishing destructive flames* A game mode in Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach video games...

, a later inquest determined that the bullet which struck and eventually killed him, impacted on his "left side below the armpit, an area not covered by [his] bullet-proof vest".

The situation escalated as the local Mohawks were joined by natives from across Canada and the United States, together refusing to dismantle their barricade. The Sûreté du Québec established their own blockades on a nearby highway to restrict access to Oka and Kanesatake. Another group of Mohawks at the nearby location of Kahnawake, in solidarity with Kanesatake, blockaded the Mercier Bridge at the point where it passed through their territory, thereby sealing off a major access point between the Island of Montreal
Island of Montreal
The Island of Montreal , in extreme southwestern Quebec, Canada, is located at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers. It is separated from Île Jésus by the Rivière des Prairies....

 and Montreal's heavily populated South Shore suburbs.

At the peak of the crisis, the Mercier Bridge and Routes 132
Quebec route 132
Route 132 is the longest highway in Quebec. It follows the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River from the border with the state of New York in the hamlet of Dundee , west of Montreal to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and circles the Gaspé Peninsula...

, 138
Quebec route 138
Route 138 is a major highway in the Canadian province of Quebec, following the entire north shore of the Saint Lawrence River past Montreal to the eastern terminus in Natashquan on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The western terminus is in Elgin, at the border with New York State south-west of Montreal...

 and 207
Quebec Route 207
Route 207 is a provincial highway located in the Montérégie region of Quebec. The highway starts at the junction of Route 205 in Saint-Urbain-Premier and ends northeast at the junctions of Route 132 and Route 138 just south of the Mercier Bridge at the Kahnawake Mohawk Reserve, southwest of the...

 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-lane highway around the Kahnawake reserve. After the crisis, the Quebec government finished the highway, and it is now part of Quebec Autoroute 30
Quebec Autoroute 30
Autoroute 30 is a superhighway in Quebec, Canada.There are three segments currently open for travel:...

.

The federal government
Government of Canada
The Government of Canada, formally Her Majesty's Government, is the system whereby the federation of Canada is administered by a common authority; in Canadian English, the term can mean either the collective set of institutions or specifically the Queen-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. Ownership of the land had simply moved from one level of government to another, and not to the Mohawk.

Frustration at traffic due to the bridge and road blockades was occasionally expressed as racial hatred
Racism
Racism is the belief that inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination. In the modern English language, the term "racism" is used predominantly as a pejorative epithet. It is applied especially to the practice or advocacy of racial discrimination of a pernicious nature...

. Residents of Châteauguay burned an effigy of a Mohawk warrior while chanting "sauvages" (savages). Radio host Gilles Proulx
Gilles Proulx
Gilles Proulx is a historian, radio and television host in the province of Quebec, Canada. His radio career began in 1962, and he would retire as talk radio host on CHMP-FM forty-six years later on August 7, 2008...

 raised tensions with comments such as, the Mohawks "couldn't even speak French
Quebec French
Quebec French , or Québécois French, is the predominant variety of the French language in Canada, in its formal and informal registers. Quebec French is used in everyday communication, as well as in education, the media, and government....

." These remarks enflamed tempers that had been running especially high from comments preceding this crisis, including those by Federal Member of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 for Chateauguay, Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo López (politician)
Ricardo López was a member of the Canadian House of Commons. He was a businessman by career.He represented the Quebec riding of Châteauguay where he was first elected in the 1984 federal election and re-elected in 1988, therefore becoming a member in the 33rd and 34th Canadian Parliaments. He was...

.

When it became apparent that the Sûreté du Québec had not contained this escalating situation, the government brought in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police , literally ‘Royal Gendarmerie of Canada’; colloquially known as The Mounties, and internally as ‘The Force’) is the national police force of Canada, and one of the most recognized of its kind in the world. It is unique in the world as a national, federal,...

 (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
Robert Bourassa
Jean-Robert Bourassa, was a politician in Quebec, Canada. He served as the 22nd Premier of Quebec in two different mandates, first from May 12, 1970, to November 25, 1976, and then from December 12, 1985, to January 11, 1994, serving a total of just under 15 years as Provincial Premier.-Early...

 had announced at a press conference that he had invoked Section 275 of the National Defence Act
National Defence Act
The National Defence Act is the primary enabling legislation for organizing and funding Canada's military....

 to requisition military support in "aid of the civil power", a right available to provincial governments. Prime Minister
Prime Minister of Canada
The Prime Minister of Canada is the primary minister of the Crown, chairman of the Cabinet, and thus head of government for Canada, charged with advising the Canadian monarch or viceroy on the exercise of the executive powers vested in them by the constitution...

 Brian Mulroney
Brian Mulroney
Martin Brian Mulroney, was the 18th Prime Minister of Canada from September 17, 1984, to June 25, 1993 and was leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada from 1983 to 1993. His tenure as Prime Minister was marked by the introduction of major economic reforms, such as the Canada-U.S...

 was reluctant to have the federal government and, in particular, the army, so involved. Under the act however, the solicitor general of the province, under direction from Premier Bourassa, had the right to requisition the armed forces to maintain law and order
Law and order (politics)
In politics, law and order refers to demands for a strict criminal justice system, especially in relation to violent and property crime, through harsher criminal penalties...

 as a provincial responsibility; this move had precedent in Canada, including two decades earlier during the October Crisis
October Crisis
The October Crisis was a series of events triggered by two kidnappings of government officials by members of the Front de libération du Québec during October 1970 in the province of Quebec, mainly in the Montreal metropolitan area.The circumstances ultimately culminated in the only peacetime use...

.

The Chief of the Defence Staff
Chief of the Defence Staff (Canada)
The Chief of the Defence Staff is the second most senior member of the Canadian Forces, and heads the Armed Forces Council, having primary responsibility for command, control, and administration of the forces, as well as military strategy, plans, and requirements...

, General John de Chastelain
John de Chastelain
Alfred John Gardyne Drummond de Chastelain is a retired Canadian soldier and diplomat.De Chastelain was born in Romania and educated in England and in Scotland before his family immigrated to Canada in 1954...

 placed Federal, Quebec-based troops in support of the provincial authorities. Some 2,500 regular and reserve troops from the 34 and 35 Canadian Brigade Groups and 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group
5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group
5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group is a Canadian Forces brigade group that is part of Land Forces Quebec Area of the Canadian army. It is based at CFB Valcartier, near Quebec City in Quebec, Canada...

 were put on notice. On August 20, a company of the Quebec-based Royal 22e Régiment
Royal 22e Régiment
The Royal 22nd Regiment is an infantry regiment and the most famous francophone organization of the Canadian Forces. The regiment comprises three Regular Force battalions, two Primary Reserve battalions, and a band, making it the largest regiment in the Canadian Army...

, (known as the "Van Doos," an Anglicized pronunciation of the French "Vingt-deux," or number 22) led by Major Alain Tremblay, took over three barricades and arrived at the final blockade leading to the disputed area, and reduced the size, from 1.5 kilometers to 5 meters, of a no man's land
No man's land
No man's land is a term for land that is unoccupied or is under dispute between parties that leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty. The term was originally used to define a contested territory or a dumping ground for refuse between fiefdoms...

 originally implemented by the Sûreté du Québec to the barricade at the Pines. Additional troops and mechanized equipment mobilized at staging areas around Montreal, while reconnaissance aircraft staged air photo missions over Mohawk territory to gather intelligence. Despite high tensions between military and native forces, no shots were exchanged.

Resolution

On August 29, at the Mercier Bridge blockade, the Mohawks negotiated an end to their protest with Lieutenant-Colonel Robin Gagnon, the 'Van Doo'
Royal 22e Régiment
The Royal 22nd Regiment is an infantry regiment and the most famous francophone organization of the Canadian Forces. The regiment comprises three Regular Force battalions, two Primary Reserve battalions, and a band, making it the largest regiment in the Canadian Army...

 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
Tobacco
Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as a pesticide and, in the form of nicotine tartrate, used in some medicines...

 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.

In 1991, Ouellette was re-elected mayor of Oka by acclamation
Acclamation
An acclamation, in its most common sense, is a form of election that does not use a ballot. "Acclamation" or "acclamatio" can also signify a kind of ritual greeting and expression of approval in certain social contexts in ancient Rome.-Voting:...

. He said of the crisis that his responsibilities as mayor required him to act as he did.

Documentaries, books, and other references

The Oka Crisis was extensively documented and inspired numerous books and films. Canadian filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin
Alanis Obomsawin
Alanis Obomsawin, OC is a Canadian filmmaker of Abenaki descent. Born in New Hampshire, and raised primarily in Quebec, she has produced and directed many National Film Board of Canada documentaries on First Nations culture and history...

 has made documentaries about the Oka Crisis, including Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance
Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance
Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance is a 1993 feature-length film documentary film by Alanis Obomsawin, chronicling the 1990 Oka Crisis.Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, the film won 18 Canadian and international awards, including the Distinguished Documentary Achievement Award from...

(1993) and Rocks at Whiskey Trench (2000). These and two additional documentaries on the crisis were all produced by the National Film Board of Canada
National Film Board of Canada
The National Film Board of Canada is Canada's twelve-time Academy Award-winning public film producer and distributor. An agency of the Government of Canada, the NFB produces and distributes documentary, animation, alternative drama and digital media productions...

: Christine Welsh directed Keepers of the Fire (1994), which documented the role of Mohawk women during the crisis, and Alec MacLeod created Acts of Defiance (1993).

Montreal Gazette journalist
Journalist
A journalist collects and distributes news and other information. A journalist's work is referred to as journalism.A reporter is a type of journalist who researchs, writes, and reports on information to be presented in mass media, including print media , electronic media , and digital media A...

 Albert Nerenberg
Albert Nerenberg
Albert Nerenberg is a Canadian independent filmmaker, actor, journalist, and laughologist. His films include Stupidity , Escape to Canada , Let's All Hate Toronto , and Laughology...

 switched careers after smuggling a video camera behind the barricades and making his first documentary, called Okanada.

Micheal Baxendale and Craig MacLaine wrote This Land Is Our Land: The Mohawk Revolt at Oka. Geoffrey York and Loreen Pindera's People of the Pines: The People and the Legacy of Oka (1991) is considered the definitive text on the subject.

Gerald R. Alfred, a Kahnawake Mohawk who was part of the band council during the crisis, and who later became a professor of political science
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

, wrote Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors: Kahnawake Mohawk Politics and the Rise of Native Nationalism (1995). This was based on his PhD dissertation, which examined the issues.

John Ciaccia, the Minister of Native Affairs for Quebec at the time, wrote a book about the events related to the Oka Crisis. His book, entitled The Oka Crisis, A Mirror of the Soul, was published in 2000.

Robin Philpot
Robin Philpot
Robin Philpot is a Quebec journalist and electoral candidate for the Parti Québécois.- Background :Originally from Thunder Bay, Ontario, where his father Roderick Philpot was an alderman of the city of Fort William, Philpot is a graduate of Fort William Collegiate Institute and earned degrees in...

 wrote a book about English Canada
English Canada
English Canada is a term used to describe one of the following:# English-speaking Canadians, as opposed to French-speaking Canadians. It is employed when comparing English- and French-language literature, media, or art...

's use of the crisis as a political tool following the failed Meech Lake Accord
Meech Lake Accord
The Meech Lake Accord was a package of proposed amendments to the Constitution of Canada negotiated in 1987 by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and ten provincial premiers. It was intended to persuade the government of the Province of Quebec to endorse the 1982 Canadian Constitution and increase...

: Oka: dernier alibi du Canada anglais (1991).

Joseph Tehwehron David, a Mohawk artist who became known for his role as a warrior during the Oka Crisis in 1990, developed a body of artistic work that was deeply influenced by his experience "behind the wire" in 1990.

The Canadian punkrock band Propagandhi
Propagandhi
Propagandhi is a Canadian punk band formed in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba in 1986 by Chris Hannah and Jord Samolesky. The band is currently located in Winnipeg, Manitoba....

 wrote a song titled "Oka Everywhere", which was released in 1995 on a 10-inch split album with I Spy (band)
I Spy
I Spy is an American television secret-agent adventure series. It ran for three seasons on NBC from 1965 to 1968 and teamed Robert Culp as international tennis player Kelly Robinson with Bill Cosby as his trainer, Alexander Scott...

. It was later rereleased on their 1998 compilation album Where Quantity Is Job Number 1
Where Quantity Is Job Number 1
Where Quantity Is Job #1 is an album by the punk rock band Propagandhi, released on November 15, 1998. It is a compilation of rare, out-of-print, live, and demo recordings, as well as Propagandhi's half of I'd Rather Be Flag-Burning, a 10" split with I Spy.-Track listing:# "Mutual Friend" – 0:45#...

.

See also

  • Timeline of Quebec history
    Timeline of Quebec history
    This article presents a detailed timeline of Quebec history. Events taking place outside Quebec, for example in English Canada, the United States, Britain or France, may be included when they are considered to have had a significant impact on Quebec's history....

  • First Nations
    First Nations
    First Nations is a term that collectively refers to various Aboriginal peoples in Canada who are neither Inuit nor Métis. There are currently over 630 recognised First Nations governments or bands spread across Canada, roughly half of which are in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. The...

  • Gustafsen Lake Standoff
    Gustafsen Lake Standoff
    The Gustafsen Lake Standoff was an indigenous land dispute involving members of the Secwepemc nation and members of other indigenous groups in British Columbia, Canada which began on June 15, 1995, and lasted until September 17, 1995.-The Standoff begins:...

  • Ipperwash Crisis
    Ipperwash Crisis
    The Ipperwash Crisis was an Indigenous land dispute that took place in Ipperwash Provincial Park, Ontario in 1995. Several members of the Stoney Point Ojibway band occupied the park in order to assert their claim to nearby land which had been expropriated from them during World War II...

  • Grand River land dispute
  • Seton Portage incident
  • Burnt Church Crisis
    Burnt Church Crisis
    The Burnt Church Crisis was a conflict in Canada between the Mi'kmaq people of the Burnt Church First Nation and non-Aboriginal New Brunswick fisheries, from 1999 to 2001. Natives and non-Natives of the area prior to this crisis had a long history of living peacefully together and helping each other...


External links

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