Throughout history, the Native people of North America and the Europeans have continually had arguments and disputes over land - Oka crisis introduction. To this day there are still issues trying to be resolved. Twenty years ago, the beginning of one of the most violent and intense land disputes in present day Canada occurred. This event is now referred to as the Oka Crisis, named after the town Oka in Quebec. This crisis caused a confrontation involving the Quebec provincial police, the Canadian armed forces and the Mohawk people.
1 The stand that the Mohawk people took in the town of Oka became a major revelation for the aboriginal people spreading awareness of aboriginal rights across Canada. This paper is divided into four sections. First, I will introduce the group who fought for what was believed to be their land and why it was of such importance. The history of the land will also be included in the first section. What led up to the crisis will be portrayed next, along with great emphasis on how the idea of expanding the golf course impacted the Mohawk people and what it escalated into. Next, I will outline a sequence of events that occurred during the Oka Crisis.
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From beginning to end, I will discuss the significance of the major events that arose. Last but not least, the fourth section to be conversed will be the outcomes of the tragic event and how the Oka Crisis has shaped Canada today. The Mohawk Indians are also known as the Kaniengehaga, meaning people of the place of the flint. They are the most easterly tribe of the Iroquois confederation.
2 The Mohawk have three clans: the Bear, the Wolf, and the Turtle.
3 Nine chiefs, three from each clan, represent the Mohawk tribe.
4 Historically, the Mohawk were feared by early Europeans because of their fierce reputation. In fact the name “Mohawk” which means “man-eater,” was a name given to them by their Algonquian enemies.
5 The Mohawk have a history of having to fight for land. In the 16th century, the Mohawk used this land as a hunting ground. Current Mohawk Indians are tired of having to fight for land which originally belonged to them. Kanesatake is a Mohawk settlement located along a scenic point where the Ottawa River meets the St. Lawrence River. In the 16th century, the Mohawk used this land primarily as a hunting ground. By the early 1700’s, the Mohawk were encouraged by the local French colonial government to relocate to land that was approximately nine square miles in size. They believed they were granted this land. This could be the source of the problem that later became evident in 1990. The first occurrence of the government taking over what the Mohawks believed was their land began in 1961.
6Plans called for the development of a 9-hole golf course to be built on a portion of the land, along a burial ground and pine grove.
7 However, not everyone in the town of Oka was on board, especially the Mohawk Indians. The resentment towards the plans influenced their decision to file a law suit. By the time the case was heard, most of the land had already been cleared.
8 This then led to the land claim by the First Nation people in 1961 about the land used for the golf course, but this claim was rejected in 1986.9 This land was something that the First Nations people cherished because of their numerous historical experiences and the meaning of the peaceful burial ground where their ancestors are.
10 The Mohawks developed great resentment towards non-native people in Canada, mainly over competing uses of land. Such resentment also contributed to the Oka Crisis. The event known as the Oka crisis started in the community of Kanesatake, a lower populated municipality, located next to the town of Oka. The crisis began in early 1990 and lasted until September 26, 1990.
11 The crisis ignited when the idea of the mayor of Oka, Jean Ouellette, concerning a plan to expand the golf course to eighteen holes was mentioned and approved.
12 This led to the most publicized dispute between the first nations and the Canadian government. Since the land claim by the Mohawks had been rejected a few years prior, there was no government objection to the development.
13 In March of 1990, members of the Mohawk society set up a protest in Oka with great anger over the expansion of the golf course.
14 The Mohawk were especially upset that the expansion would occur on top of an ancestral burial ground. In addition, it would occur on land they thought they had been granted in the 1700’s. Furthermore, this is the land that was disputed in the 1961 law suit. Some members of the Mohawk community built a barricade as a form of protest, preventing construction crews from entering what they believed was their land. The barricades were also set up along major highways as well as the Mercier Bridge.
15 Tension was increased on July 11. The Quebec provincial government refused to negotiate with the Mohawks. The police were called in and it escalated into an armed conflict. Bullet exchanges were made and as a result, a Quebec officer was shot and later died.
16 After hours of confrontation, canisters of tear gas were set off by the Quebec police.
17 As word of the altercation got out, Aboriginal
people from across North America rallied to support the Mohawk. Later, the RCMP were called in but were still unable to contain the chaos. This led to the Canadian army being called in. During the crisis, three routes were blocked off in Oka throughout the seventy eight days of the crisis.
18 This caused a lot of havoc and anger from everyone living in the town. The barricades made it very difficult to get in and out of Oka, Quebec. Police stops and road blocks were set up, which greatly increased travel time. To add insult to injury, if you were a Mohawk it took even longer. Each First Nation person had to be searched in order to get through. It was easier for non-native people driving past because they weren’t seen as big of a threat as the Mohawks did. Bringing in food and supplies to the Mohawk people was a constant struggle. Donations were made by people from Montreal.
19 However, there was still insufficient food to feed everyone during the few months.
20 Additionally, there was very little clothing for very many people. Most Mohawk people had worn the same clothing since the beginning of the crisis.
21 It was very hard for them to get supplies because the police would only let in a few items.
22 Delivery of food was restricted because of the road blocks. Every box had to be checked, and it was usually sent back the other way or stored at a farm in a nearby community.
23 The Oka crisis meant something more and different to the Mohawk people than what the media displayed. “My memories of that summer at Kanesatake are so different from the stories told by the media. Their attention was focused on the barricades. To most of them, this was just a cop story; the police and soldiers were there to “restore law and order,” to put things back the way they were. But most of the people behind the barricades were my family, friends, & relatives,” were direct words from one of the Mohawk Indians who experienced the crisis themselves.
24 All through the summer of 1990, Oka was the top story in Canadian TV and print media. The Oka crisis affected many people, not just the ones in the town of Oka. People world-wide knew about the crisis that was occurring and many people came to show their support and join the escalated situation.
25 The fight for land and equal rights is a sensitive subject when it comes to First Nations people. It is a serious topic that has created several altercations. This historical event led to fanatical behaviour and violent outbursts. Mohawks wanted to show that something could be done and things could finally be resolved. The Mohawks even got support from Quebec’s Minister for Native Affairs, John Ciaccia, who wrote a letter saying, “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.”
26 Eventually, the Canadian government agreed to buy the land being fought over, in order to prevent construction.
27 However, this didn’t satisfy the Mohawk as they felt the main issues were not being addressed. The Mohawk claims were no longer strictly about land, but rather a demand for recognition of Native independence. Mohawk’s were fighting for their land, where the Canadian government was fighting to maintain peace.
28 Once it became apparent that the police had lost control, the RCMP was sent in by the mayor of Oka.
29 The Mohawks as well as the mobs became overwhelming to the RCMP, thus resulting in the army being brought in.
30 At the end of seventy eight days, the Mohawks dismantled their blockade and left the area. On August 29th, 1990, the Mohawks negotiated a settlement deal with the Quebec government.
31 The ending of this major dispute, September 26, was a memorable day. Many Mohawk people were arrested as a result to the Oka crisis, and the announcement was made that the golf course construction was cancelled.
32 The Oka crisis was a major low point in the history of Canada as well as having a negative impact for the people of Kanesatake. Much did not change. The relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians was seen as negative. It also divided the community and created problems within the council.
33 Racism was a major issue throughout the Oka community during the time of the crisis. However, non-natives became supportive of the Mohawks during the crisis because they saw the occurrence as wrong.
34 No true positive experience came out of the dispute for either side, other than the fact that the golf-course wasn’t built and they still have their land. Since the crisis, progress has been made. New treaties have been negotiated throughout several provinces. The crisis helped to create a series of protests by Native people for more land and rights. The fight for land and equal rights in 1990 shaped Canadian views regarding aboriginal people. The Oka crisis effected many people throughout North America. Although the Mohawk had to go to extreme lengths in order to be recognised, they did so in hopes of greater goals. Since the Oka crisis, there have been many settlements on land and treaty entitlement claims between provincial and federal governments and the aboriginal peoples. The Mohawk have become well known from their attempts to protect their land. Although there are still disputes over land ownership, respect for aboriginals has improved greatly. The Oka crisis underscored the lengths to which both sides would go, and as a result has changed the way they approach negotiations and resulting settlements.
Cardinal, Gil. “Indian Summer: The Oka Crisis.” 2006. DVD
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