July 11 marks the 26th anniversary of what the monopoly media calls the “Oka crisis.” It recalls the time in 1990 when the Canadian state mercilessly assaulted the Mohawk of Kanehsatà:ke, a member of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, for defending their hereditary and treaty right to exercise sovereignty and self-determination over their traditional territory in an area known as The Pines, in the region now called Oka. The area, where a sacred burial ground is located, was slated for development by a local golf club, which planned to extend nine holes onto land the Mohawk have been fighting to have recognized as theirs for almost 300 years. To defend their sacred cause, the Mohawk erected a barricade on a back road leading to The Pines.
On June 30, 1990, a Quebec court granted the municipality of Oka an injunction to dismantle the peaceful barricade. Faced with the refusal of the Mohawk to give in to this pressure, the Sûreté du Québec launched a Gestapo-style assault on the Pines on July 11. The Sûreté arrived in full battle formation, armed with flash bang grenades, tear gas and assault rifles.
When the Mohawk warriors armed themselves as best they could to defend their traditional territory they were acting in accordance with the Great Law of Peace which is considered the oldest living constitution in the world. The Great Law of Peace predates the British North America Act, 1867 by a few centuries. It is the legal framework governing relations between the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy — the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. “Warriors” as defined by the Great Law of Peace have the responsibility to “carry the burden of peace” which is the opposite of how the monopoly media presented the Mohawk Warriors during the “Oka crisis.” In order to criminalize them and their cause and split the political unity of the Mohawk and Canadian and Quebec peoples and justify brutal state violence against the protesters, the Mohawk Warriors were presented as terrorists and bandits.
A month later, after allowing the situation to degenerate, the Mulroney Conservative government perfidiously mobilized some 4,000 armed soldiers supported by armoured vehicles and helicopters to terrorize Kanehsatà:ke and the nearby Mohawk community of Kahnawà:ke day and night in order to force them to surrender. During the government siege of Oka, an elder, Joe Armstrong (71 years old), was hit in the chest with a large boulder in a confrontation with a mob incited to racist attacks. He died one week later of a heart attack. In all, more than 100 Mohawk and their allies were arrested over the course of the events, many of whom alleged mistreatment at the hands of the police. Many Mohawk were wounded including small children.
The Mohawk, with the support of other First Nations and the Canadian and Quebec people held out through 78 days of negotiations in the face of the superior numbers and firepower of the Canadian state, and a vicious media disinformation campaign aimed at presenting their just struggle as a “law and order” issue. They defended themselves and their nation with honour and dignity and emerged victorious in as much as the Oka municipal authorities were not able to pursue their planned commercial development of The Pines. Despite this, the criminalization proceeded apace.
The “Oka Crisis” once again brought to the fore the issue of the just demands of the First Nations for control of their traditional territories, and the need for Canada to engage with First Nations on a modern nation-to-nation basis.
In taking their stand, the Mohawk of Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawà:ke also inspired other First Nations in Canada and Indigenous peoples internationally to step up the fight for their rights. Their resistance forced the Mulroney Conservative government to set up the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1991. Its voluminous report was tabled in 1996 and made over 400 recommendations for improved Canada-First Nations relations. Almost all of these recommendations have been ignored by Canada, which continues to trample hereditary, treaty and constitutional rights with impunity.
At the heart of this conflict are the old archaic constitutional arrangements of 1867. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms adopted in 1982 confirms that the rights it enunciates are in reality privileges, as they can only be exercised within “reasonable” limits which means that someone else has the power to decide what those reasonable limits are. Thus, the response of the Canadian colonial state in the face of the political actions of First Nations for their rights is to criminalize their just struggles and suppress them with massive force as was done during the “Oka crisis.”
These arrangements are no longer suitable. They represent a political and economic system that is outdated, in constant crisis and cannot solve the problems facing the Indigenous peoples, the Canadian people or the people of Quebec. In the face of this reality, First Nations and the Canadian and Quebec people have a duty to renew the political and constitutional arrangements in Canada so that the rights of all can be guaranteed in a new and modern constitution which facilitates nation-to-nation relations between Indigenous peoples, Canada and Quebec.
(Excerpts from article by Fernand Deschamps on the 25th anniversary of assault on 25th Anniversary of Assault on Kahnesata’ke, TML Weekly, July 18, 2015)