Mohawks March To Mark 25th Anniversary Of 78-Day Oka Crisis Standoff

Mohawks from Kanesatake, Que., march to mark the 25th anniversary of the Oka Crisis, in Oka, Que., on Saturday, July 11, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Mohawks from Kanesatake, Que., march to mark the 25th anniversary of the Oka Crisis, in Oka, Que., on Saturday, July 11, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The Canadian Press

Festivities took place Saturday to mark the 25th anniversary of the Oka Crisis, the tense 78-day standoff over disputed woods between Oka and Kanesatake.

Mohawks took a symbolic march through the pines near the controversial golf course at the root of the standoff.

Various native and non-native leaders spoke Saturday, as activities took place including a feast, a lacrosse game and a tug-of-war.

They also chanted and danced in town.

Mohawks form a circle and chant in town #OkaCrisis25years

A post shared by Kevin Gallagher (@kgallagherctv) on

Marcel Lemay was shot on July 11, 1990, as police clashed with Mohawk Warriors in Kanesatake, just west of Montreal.

Lemay said it took time, but she has moved on and let go of the past, saying the priority now is to build trust between those on and off the reserve.

“My mandate is to destroy walls of ignorance or prejudice,” she said.

When shots rang out on that day in 1990, it forever changed those involved said Victor Bonspille, the Chief on Council of Kanesatake.

“I think it changes our community in a way where we’re all more united in terms of protecting our lands and our culture and our identity,” said Bonspille.

The Mohawks were upset the town of Oka had approved a golf course expansion onto territory they had never surrendered to the government.

The Canadian Forces were eventually called in and it was only in late September that the crisis ended.

Many now say both communities must move past their differences.

“I haven’t been here in the pines really much, maybe four or five times since the Oka Crisis, because I felt like I lost my sense of belonging here, and I used to be in the pines all the time. So I think it gave me some closure,” said Kanestake Grand Chief Serge Simon.

The pines are still under dispute, but Simon and Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon are working closely together to protect it from future development.

“We’re going to hash out the details like what consists of the pines and how are we going to protect it. We’ve already had some discussion and I see there’s going to be some differences at that table which might require a mediator,” said Simon, with Quevillon adding that they plan to open a dialogue on how to protect the pines.

A quarter century later there are still many wounds left to heal. Tensions remain between the communities of Oka and Kanesetake, but many believe that positive steps have been taken towards reconciliation.

“Let’s be realistic. We’re not going anywhere, they’re not going anywhere, are we going to live in animosity and distrust forever? No, we can’t,” said Simon.

The province said it has plans to help add stability to the reserve.

“We’re working on a daycare centre. We’re working on improving educational opportunities, we’re working on better protection for elders, we’re working on economic development,” said Quebec Native Affairs Minister Geoffrey Kelley.

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