Tag Archives: Mohawk Warriors

Kahnawake Warriors To Blockade In Protest Of Planned Dumping Into St. Lawrence River

Montreal mayor Denis Coderre holds up an email from Environment Canada at a press conference in Montreal Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 after Environment Canada gave their ruling on the city of Montreal’s plan to dump sewage into the St. Lawrence river. JOHN KENNEY / MONTREAL GAZETTE

Montreal mayor Denis Coderre holds up an email from Environment Canada at a press conference in Montreal Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 after Environment Canada gave their ruling on the city of Montreal’s plan to dump sewage into the St. Lawrence river. JOHN KENNEY / MONTREAL GAZETTE

Montreal Gazette, Oct 14, 2015

Mohawk Warriors plan to blockade a busy train line running through Kahnawake reserve.

Montreal will “follow the law” and respect a federal order to suspend the planned dumping of 8 billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River to allow for crucial infrastructure repairs, Mayor Denis Coderre said Wednesday.

However, Coderre warned that the city will reach the “point of no return” as of Oct. 23 — five days after the scheduled dumping was to begin — when there might be breaks in the sewage system that could lead to significantly worse, long-term contamination of the river.

“I think it’s totally irresponsible for the Conservative government of Canada to take the decision the way they have,” Coderre told reporters, alluding to federal Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel’s announcement earlier in the day to suspend the repairs pending a study by an independent expert.

The mayor denounced the timing of Lebel’s announcement — made five days before Monday’s federal election — as “a political decision that was made on the backs of Montrealers.

Warrior Flag

Warrior Flag

Meanwhile, a group of Mohawk Warriors plans to light a bonfire and blockade a busy train line running through the Kahnawake reserve Thursday morning at 9 a.m. to protest against the city. The blockade will continue despite Lebel’s announcement, said Akohserake Deer, a spokesperson for the group, which includes members of the paramilitary Warrior Society.

“In our law, we’re supposed to protect the Earth, and we’re carrying out our responsibilities,” Deer said. “Whether the project is on or off doesn’t matter, it’s just another stalling tactic by the (federal) government.”

The protest, which was not authorized by the Mohawk band council, will take place at Adirondack Junction on a train line run by CP. Deer couldn’t say for how long the line will be blockaded but noted that both passenger and freight trains use it. The Agence métropolitaine de transport’s Candiac train line runs through Kahnawake.

Montreal confirmed late last month its plans to release sewage water over the space of a week starting Oct. 18, to permit repairs to a large collector pipe. The mayor hoped to complete the work by Nov. 15, before any major snowfalls.

At his news conference, Lebel said he was invoking Article 37 of the Fisheries Act — which serves to protect aquatic life — to suspend the sewage discharge.

Source: Montreal Gazette

See More at: http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/federal-government-to-respond-to-montreal-sewage-dump-wednesday

A Warrior, A Soldier And A Photographer — Remembering The Oka Crisis

Pte. Patrick Cloutier of the Royal 22e Régiment faces Ojibwa warrior Brad Larocque in this now famous photo taken during the Oka Crisis on Sept. 1, 1990. Shaney Komulainen, on assignment for The Canadian Press, recalls she was the only photographer who shot the scene without a flash. "That's what made the picture," she says.

Pte. Patrick Cloutier of the Royal 22e Régiment faces Ojibwa warrior Brad Larocque in this now famous photo taken during the Oka Crisis on Sept. 1, 1990. Shaney Komulainen, on assignment for The Canadian Press, recalls she was the only photographer who shot the scene without a flash. “That’s what made the picture,” she says.

“Are you nervous perhaps? Do you think? Are you nervous? You should be.”

The words are uttered sotto voce. They crawl across the skin, like menacing earwigs, issued threats of bullet hitting bone.

The face of the Ojibwa warrior moves in close — sunglasses, bandana, anonymity. The youthful private — field helmet, bare face — shifts. Looks over the shoulder of the warrior, to the left, to the right. Then locks: nose to nose; toe to toe. A straight-ahead, dead-eye stare.

The shutter clicks. An inextinguishable instant.

Twenty-five years ago Shaney Komulainen was working freelance for The Canadian Press, covering the Oka Crisis. Young, eager, a little bit goofy, the 27-year-old photojournalist can be seen fleetingly in video clips as the army advanced on the Kanesatake barricades toward the ancestral Mohawk lands targeted for golf course expansion.

On Sept. 1, 1990, Komulainen wasn’t supposed to be in the area known as the Pines. She had been assigned to the South Shore where the Mohawks had blockaded access to the Mercier Bridge. It was day 52 of a long, hot summer siege when she heard the news on the radio that the army was on the move and her first thought was “Oh, s—. Here I am (away from the action), and something’s finally happening at Oka.”

So she called up Bill Grimshaw, her boss at CP. Or she thinks she did. She believes Grimshaw said, “Get up there. Go.”

Maybe he did. Memory does what it does.

“The thing with Oka is, it had been percolating a long time,” says Grimshaw, now retired from CP. “Every once in a while you’d get a flare-up. But the South Shore — there was a lot of stuff going on. It was psycho every night.”

Grimshaw’s “best guy” was Tom Hanson. It was Hanson who took the renowned shot of Richard Livingston Nicholas, the masked, rifle-wielding warrior standing astride an upturned Sûreté du Québec van on the first day of the crisis. Six weeks later, Grimshaw was thinking any front-page photo was likely going to come from the South Shore.

Richard Nicholas raises rifle from atop an overturned police cruiser at Oka roadblock in Quebec on July 1990. Photo by Tom Hanson / The Canadian Press.

Komulainen doesn’t recall how long it took her to drive to Oka. She does remember walking between houses, through backyards and past barking dogs. “I guess they thought I was a resident,” she says of the police patrols that paid her no mind. She had her camera gear stuffed under her jacket, film in a waist pouch. “I got in there when the army was coming up the road and they were just talking to the Mohawks and everything was calm. Tense but calm … I was exhilarated to be up there.”

Perhaps she couldn’t appreciate the heavy anxiety that infused the scene prior to her arrival. “I knew the guns were loaded and s— like that. I just kept telling myself, this can’t happen. This isn’t going to happen in Canada.”

Komulainen was still learning. She had previously been challenged by Grimshaw, who had a reputation for being gruff and exacting, to shoot in natural light. “I hate flash,” Grimshaw says today. “It’s overused. It wipes out the ambience. It wipes out everything.”

The sun was getting low. Komulainen was not shooting with a flash. It sounds as though, as much as she was trying to please her boss, she was taking a risk. It was risky — but she didn’t have a choice. She had left her flash in the car, a situation, she says now, that “would have been the death of me when it got dark.”

She estimates there were as many as two dozen members of the media in the vicinity milling about, hoping to pull off that singular image.

There were a number of face-to-face confrontations between soldiers and masked Mohawk warriors — one was captured by Star photographer Peter Power and ran on the front page of this paper. But it was one private in particular who caught Komulainen’s eye. “It just struck me that his face was so young. He was military, but he was so young.”

His name was Patrick Cloutier, a private with the Royal 22e Régiment. He was 19 years of age.

Piecing together video clips, it’s clear that at least three warriors approached Cloutier in face-to-face confrontations. In one of these, the voice of a warrior initially misidentified in print as “Lasagna” — Ronald Cross, who had gained a high profile in the dispute — can barely be discerned. “Are you nervous?” “Not scared, though, are you?” The word “bullet” stands out in one clip, choppily followed by “crawls up your leg bone.”

Cloutier is stoic. Komulainen wondered if the French-speaking Van Doo fully understood what was being said to him. She remembers the warrior explaining to the private what it feels like when a bullet enters a man’s body, how it moves around.

The warrior was not Lasagna. “I knew it was Freddy Krueger,” she says of the Ojibwa who had been given the slasher movie nickname. His real name was Brad Larocque, a college student from Saskatchewan who had been drawn to the cause earlier that summer. “We knew him as a soft-spoken warrior,” Komulainen says.

She thinks she shot at least 20 frames of the pair, perhaps 25. She had four or five rolls of film, which she passed off to someone headed down the hill. Ian Barrett was there for Reuters, as he had been throughout the dispute. He remembers speeding back to Montreal with Reuters film at the same time that Bill Grimshaw was speeding back to CP with Komulainen’s film, and Tom Hanson’s too. “There were no traffic cops on the highways around Montreal that summer,” Barrett remembers. “You could speed with impunity. So we had this hot film of the army moving in the days when you’d have to process the film and select a couple of pictures and transmit those.”

“We did a lot of fast runs to Oka,” says Grimshaw. On Sept. 1, “I knew it was going to be in demand whatever I had.”

Grimshaw processed Komulainen’s film. Developed, dried, edited, printed, captioned, transmitted — choosing a single print which in the rush to deadline he determined was the superior shot. It takes a great editor, Ian Barrett says, to make a great call.

Why does the picture still resonate today? “Some people look at that photo and say the good guy is the soldier,” says Komulainen. “Some people look at the photo and say the good guy is the warrior. I showed the picture to a bunch of friends and they said nobody’s the good guy.”

This one point is not disputed: “I was the only one who shot it without a flash. That’s what made the picture.”

Rob Galbraith, who spent the summer at Oka shooting a lot for Reuters, places the picture in the top five Canadian photos taken. Ever. “It’s the symbolism of it,” he says. “This is the difference between a newswire photographer and a newspaper photographer. A news wire photographer tries to photograph an image that captivates and you don’t have to write a word for it, whereas a newspaper photographer will normally take photos that need a caption.”

Is that it? Bill Grimshaw presents a different view via email: “Shaney’s was a great photo for the day — but it really was theatre and says nothing about anything.”

There are some unhappy endings in the tale. Tom Hanson and the Mohawk warrior he famously captured in July 1990 died on the same day in 2009 — Hanson after playing a hockey game, Nicholas in a car crash.

A Mohawk warrior sits in a golf cart watching army tanks approach on Sept. 1. Photo by Tom Hanson / The Canadian Press.

Pte. Cloutier was promoted to master corporal, then demoted in 1992, serving a jail term in Edmonton for cocaine use. He served in Bosnia, but was later discharged from the Canadian Forces after leaving the scene of an accident and causing bodily harm while under the influence of alcohol. He later appeared in a porn film, telling Maclean’s magazine he found it “an interesting personal experience.”

Cloutier now works for the Canadian Coast Guard. After initially agreeing to speak with the Star, he chose not to respond.

Shaney Komulainen was in a devastating, career-ending car crash, on assignment for Saturday Night. She shoots little these days. She was also charged with threatening and possession of a weapon — wielding a machete at Oka. CP paid her legal fees; otherwise, she says, she would have been sunk. She was cleared of all charges.

Twenty-five years ago, she says Bill Grimshaw gave her the biggest compliment she ever received from him: “Nice picture, Shaney. Not perfect. Nice.”

Toronto Star, Published on Aug 22 2015


Kahnesatake: 270 Years of Resistance (VIDEO)

WATCH: Kahnesatake 270 Years of Resistance

On July 11, 1990, a confrontation between SQ police and Mohawk warriors propelled Native issues in Kanehsatake and the village of Oka, Quebec, into the international spotlight.

This Canadian documentary portrays the showdown between the Mohawk Nation and the predominantly white Quebec town of Oka, which is intent on developing land deemed sacred by the native people.

When members of the Mohawk tribe protest plans to expand a golf course into their territory, they form a barricade, leading to an armed standoff with provincial police that becomes increasingly tense, with the possibility of violence looming over the heads of everyone involved.

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 Indigenous struggle. The result is a portrait of the people behind the barricades.

Still Warriors: Kahnawake Mohawks Are Ready To Take Up Arms To Defend Their Beliefs.. (And Those Gambling Operations)

Christinne Muschi for National Post: Kenneth Deer, poses with a flag outside a longhouse in Kahnawake, Quebec, June 2, 2015.

Christinne Muschi for National Post: Kenneth Deer, poses with a flag outside a longhouse in Kahnawake, Quebec, June 2, 2015.

National Post‎, Published, July 9, 2015

Still Warriors: Kahnawake Mohawks Are Ready To Take Up Arms To Defend Their Beliefs.. (And Those Gambling Operations)

KAHNAWAKE, QUE. —  Early on July 11, 1990, when Bryan Deer’s radio crackled with news the Sûreté du Québec was moving in on Kanesatake with tear gas and concussion grenades, he and his fellow Mohawk Warriors in Kahnawake knew what had to be done.

Within an hour, they had seized the Mercier Bridge, preventing rush-hour traffic from crossing the vital link between their reserve on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River and Montreal.

It was a show of support for their brethren in Oka, a community 45 minutes away that shares close ties with Kahnawake. The Mohawks there had set up a blockade to protest the expansion of a golf course into a pine forest they considered sacred. Many Kahnawake Warriors had already joined the fight at Oka, but taking the bridge shifted attention from a remote road to the doorstep of Quebec’s biggest metropolis and signalled to the province it should back off.

“We knew the outside was going to be upset, but that’s what we wanted,” says Deer, now 51.

It took a long, tense summer for that defiance to pay off. The two sides dug in: the Canadian Armed Forces eventually replaced the Sûreté du Québec and the bridge became Deer’s night-time home for the next seven weeks.

The blockade was lifted in late August after negotiations in Oka. Since then, though, the spirit of independence that gave rise to the clash has not only endured, it has hardened.

Today, Kahnawake in many ways operates as an autonomous jurisdiction. The band council discourages members from voting in provincial or federal elections. Its economy is driven by cigarette and alcohol sales, and gambling operations outside governments deem illegal but have been powerless to stop. Its membership law forces residents to leave the reserve if they marry non-natives — the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms be damned. The community runs its own schools, court and police force. Traditionalists travel the world on passports issued by the Iroquois Confederacy.

Asked whether the Warriors would once again take up arms to defend themselves against an outside intervention, Deer says simply, “We’re prepared for any incursion.’

On a recent weekday morning, five kilometres from the foot of Mercier Bridge, players sat around tables at Playground Poker with chips stacked high in front of them, eyeing their cards in a scene that would fit in Las Vegas.

Under Canadian law, such gambling is legal only in provincially sanctioned casinos, but Playground Poker does not have a lot of time for Canadian law. Run by a Kahnawake Mohawk and operated on Mohawk land, it and a few other poker rooms on the reserve are the most recent examples of Kahnawake flexing its jurisdictional muscle.

Eating breakfast in a restaurant next to the poker room, Kenneth Deer, Bryan’s father, points to the establishment as an example of Kahnawake asserting itself.

Oka Crisis graphic

“We have this growing sense of entrepreneurship, how we can use this community to do things that maybe other people can’t do, to assert our kind of sovereignty and develop an economy that can employ people and contribute to the community,” he says.

Kenneth Deer is secretary of the Mohawk Nation Office in Kahnawake, which represents those who follow the traditions of the centuries-old longhouse. During the 1990 crisis, he was dispatched to Europe as an ambassador for Kahnawake, pleading the Mohawk case before the United Nations in Geneva.

“You have to believe you’re sovereign, and if you believe you’re sovereign you act like you’re sovereign,” he says. “That’s how Kahnawake really survives, because it pushes the envelope in that way. This is who we are. This is our territory, and we’re going to do what we think is important to us here.”

If Quebec and Ottawa have been reluctant to crack down on gambling and contraband, Kenneth Deer says, it is because they know whom they are up against. They don’t want another 1990.

You have to believe you’re sovereign, and if you believe you’re sovereign you act like you’re sovereign

“We don’t back down. We don’t shiver and shake because somebody says something,” he says.

That sort of resistance stretches back centuries among the Mohawks, says Gerald Reid, a professor of anthropology and sociology at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut and the author of Kahnawake: Factions, Tradition, and Nationalism in a Mohawk Community.

It includes activism during the colonial period, resistance to the Indian Act system in the mid-19th century and a defiant strain of nationalism that emerged in the 1970s, focusing, among other things, on learning the indigenous language, which had been suppressed but not extinguished in residential schools and Roman Catholic day schools on the reserve, and a new emphasis on bloodlines that resulted in a violent clash in the 1970s when the Warrior Society moved to evict non-natives.

The fatal 1979 shooting of David Cross, a Mohawk who had been chased onto the reserve by an SQ officer, convinced Kahnawake it had to put policing in the hands of its native Peacekeepers. When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police came in to raid smoke shops in 1988, Warriors blocked the Mercier Bridge for a day in what proved to be a trial run for 1990.

Since 1990, the elected council has moved closer to the traditionalists’ vision of self-rule, called the Two-Row Wampum. Based on a 17th-century treaty between the Iroquois and European settlers, it puts the two peoples on separate, but parallel, paths.

As the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake declared in 1993, “The concept of mutual respect embodied in the Two-Row Wampum, in which Natives and Non-natives will not interfere in each other’s affairs, must now be brought to life. Our ‘row’ must be made strong enough to withstand any and all attempts by foreign powers to control it.”

Christinne Muschi for National Post

Christinne Muschi for National Post: Joseph Norton, former Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake during the Oka crisis, poses outside his offices in Kahnawake, Quebec, June 2, 2015.

Gerald Taiaiake Alfred, a Mohawk from Kahnawake and professor of political science at the University of Victoria, says a disregard for outside governments’ wishes was deeply ingrained when he worked for the band council in the 1990s.

The approach was, “We’ll do it, based on our values and our principles, and the imperatives of our nations, and then we’ll defend it,” he says. “There was little attention paid to the need to have other communities and other governments validate what people in Kahnawake were doing.”

Joe Norton was grand chief during the Oka crisis and held the post until he retired from politics in 2004. He then entered the online gambling business that was sprouting up on the reserve. But two poker sites he owned, Absolute Poker and UltimateBet, were rocked by a cheating scandal and he sold them in 2010. Last month, he staged a return to politics, winning election as grand chief.

In an interview with Norton before the election, it is clear suspicions created by 1990 have not disappeared. He says outside authorities send spies into Kahnawake to target activities they consider illegal.

“It’s all part of the intelligence program,” he says. “That’s why we should have checked you first that you’re not here on a mission. I’m not dramatizing here.”

The issue is assimilation. We’re going to resist assimilation

Despite his own troubles in the business, Norton supports the growth of the gambling industry on the reserve. It and the move by Kahnawake entrepreneurs into cigarette manufacturing are examples of how Mohawks “walk our talk” when it comes to economic development.

Tobacco is historically a product of First Nations, he says, but “there is such a tremendous amount of work to become legal in that industry that it just prompts us to say, ‘The hell with it.’ We don’t need that. We’ll create our own industry, create our own regime and we’ll go. Because trying to do it the white man’s way isn’t working.”

Looking toward future economic activities for the reserve, Norton raises the possibility of research and development of stem-cell therapies. People desperate for a cure travel to China and Mexico for treatments that are not approved in North America. Why couldn’t Kahnawake be a destination?

“We feel we’re under no such restrictions,” Norton says. “Backed by the right people, with the right kind of financing, that can happen here.” He says discussions are “at a preliminary stage” and does not identify potential outside partners, but he insists the idea is “not far-fetched.”

The Mohawks’ indifference to outside opinion is also on display in the debate over membership. Under Kahnawake law, anyone who marries a non-native is expected to leave the reserve.

Some Mohawks married to non-natives, including Olympic athlete Waneek Horn-Miller, are challenging the residency rules as a violation of the Canadian Charter. Federal Indian Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt has called the rules racist and the Department of Indian Affairs maintains it has final say over who is a member of the community.

Christinne Muschi for National Post

Christinne Muschi for National Post: A Poker club in Kahnawake, Quebec, June 2, 2015.

But Kenneth Deer says race is not the issue. With a resident population of just under 8,000 on the outskirts of Canada’s second-largest city, preserving the indigenous culture is a challenge. “The issue is assimilation. We’re going to resist assimilation,” Deer says. “It’s the government’s goal for us to assimilate, and inter-marriage accelerates that process.”

Although Grand Chief Norton has condemned the “mob rule” that led to the vandalism of one mixed couple’s home in May and signs declaring “Marry Out, Get Out!”, he says  if a court ruled against Kahnawake’s membership law, he would defy the ruling.

Geoffrey Kelley, Quebec’s minister of native affairs, describes himself as the government’s “eternal dove” — a crucial role, considering the mess the hawks stirred up in 1990. But even he says there is always a delicate balancing act whenever Kahnawake is involved. “The Mohawks, if I can say this respectfully, always try to push the envelope,” he says.

Sometimes there is room for it to be pushed, and he says he sees “a lot of progress” in relations since the Oka crisis. One example that hasn’t made headlines is legislation adopted in December allowing Kahnawake to create its own workplace health and safety regime, which cleared the way for Mohawks to work on major construction projects on the reserve. There is also discussion of expanding the reach of Kahnawake’s court, which now handles summary-conviction and traffic offences.

But Kelley says he is unbending in his opposition to the sale of tax-exempt tobacco to non-natives. He hopes to persuade the Kahnawake leadership the easy-money tobacco economy provides a shaky foundation for the future.

“You’re 19 and you can get $30-an-hour to sit in one of those trailers, why go to CEGEP? Why go to university?” he says. “Sooner or later, I don’t think there’s a great future for the tobacco industry in Canada in general.”

His view is echoed by Kyle Delisle, director of Kahnawake’s Economic Development Commission. Nicknamed Dr. Doom, he warnsthe tobacco trade, now in decline, has removed the incentive for education — creating a troubling 25 per cent youth unemployment rate, nearly double the national average.

And while leaders hail the 1990 Oka crisis and the blockade of the Mercier Bridge for solidifying Mohawk nationalism, Delisle says it also reinforced Kahnawake’s isolation. For much of the past century, Kahnawake men made good money as ironworkers commuting to New York to build skyscrapers. But an ailing U.S. economy and the lure of work close to home in the tobacco trade dealt a blow to the tradition. Today, people are reluctant to seek work in Montreal, let alone New York,

“I think 1990 had that impact, where it became very insular and didn’t want to deal with the outside,” says Delisle.

Residents have also become less inclined to learn French, meaning their employment opportunities off reserve are limited. Even Kahnawake’s own businesses — golf clubs, poker houses, cigarette stores and gas stations — have to go off reserve to find anyone who can serve French-speaking customers, Delisle says.

He is also concerned the wealth generated by the tobacco and gambling industries on the reserve is concentrated in too few hands. A community survey found the richest six per cent of the population made as much money as the bottom 50 per cent. And because taxation is a dirty word among First Nations, there is no mechanism to redistribute the wealth to ensure the entire community benefits.

“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” Delisle says.

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer

Compared with Canada’s many impoverished aboriginal communities, Kahnawake seems prosperous, he adds. But appearances are deceiving: “To people who come here, it looks like we’re doing well. There are a lot of brand-new cars. On the outside it looks good. But there are some deeper issues that need to be addressed if we are going to continue to have economic growth.”

For all that, since 1990 the Warrior flag has become a regular feature at native roadblocks, whether Mohawks are involved or not.

Alfred says the stand taken in 1990 showed “a willingness to sacrifice — to sacrifice politically, economically and physically —  in order to defend our principles and our border, and actually act on the idea of indigenous nationhood in a real way.” And that act continues to hold weight with the government as well as First Nations people.

But it would be a stretch to call Kahnawake a model, he says. “Time has proven that no other First Nation is willing to do what we did in terms of confrontation.”

In Kahnawake, confrontation is a way of life. Bryan Deer says that if necessary, he would be on the front lines again “in a heartbeat.” And his 22-year-old son would be there faster.


Activists Say Oka Crisis Sparked Important First Nations Movements

A Mohawk Warrior sits in golf cart and uses binoculars to view approaching Canadian army armoured vehiches on Highway 344 on the Kanesatake Reserve at Oka, Que., September 1, 1990. (Tom Hanson / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

A Mohawk Warrior sits in golf cart and uses binoculars to view approaching Canadian army armoured vehiches on Highway 344 on the Kanesatake Reserve at Oka, Que., September 1, 1990. (Tom Hanson / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

OKA, Que. — It was a crisis that grabbed international headlines, with armed Mohawks and Canadian soldiers involved in a lengthy standoff that often appeared on the verge of exploding into full-blown combat.

Twenty-five years on, the legacy of the Oka Crisis for many of those who experienced the tension west of Montreal is a greater awareness of native issues.

Native activists, artists and professors say while it’s difficult to draw direct links, the Oka uprising in 1990 inspired First Nations movements across the country such as the Idle No More protests in 2012 and the ever-increasing calls for a federal inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

University of Ottawa professor Marcelo Saavedra-Vargas, who specializes in the studies of indigenous peoples, called the Oka Crisis “an awakening” heard around the world.

“I can tell you — from my own experience — that the indigenous social movements in Bolivia, which ended up bringing an indigenous person to the presidency, were also inspired by the Oka events,” he said in an interview.

Saavedra-Vargas added that at powwows and other celebrations around the continent, “you can always meet Mohawk Warriors talking about how they are proud of what happened. They keep the memory alive.”

When the town of Oka decided in 1990 it was going to allow the expansion of a golf course on disputed territory — including on a Mohawk burial ground — people living in the neighbouring Mohawk community of Kanesatake rose up in defiance.

In response to the council’s decision, Mohawks barricaded a dirt road leading to the golf course.

After they refused to obey a court injunction to stand down, a shootout ensued with provincial police officers and resulted in the death of Cpl. Marcel Lemay on July 11.

Where the bullet came from remains a mystery.

The Quebec government called in the Canadian Forces and roughly 800 members of the Royal 22e Regiment encircled the Mohawks in the pines with barbed wire.

“(Premier Robert Bourassa) called us into his office the day after (the shooting) and told us — he made it clear, he didn’t want any more death,” Sam Elkas, who was Quebec public security minister at the time, said in an interview.

Mohawk Warrior known as Noreiga clutches a Mohawk woman as he is taken into costody Sept. 26, 1990 by Canadian soldiers during the surrender at the Kanasehtake Reserve at Oka. (Bill Grimshaw / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Mohawk Warrior known as Noreiga clutches a Mohawk woman as he is taken into costody Sept. 26, 1990 by Canadian soldiers during the surrender at the Kanasehtake Reserve at Oka. (Bill Grimshaw / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

After 78 days of negotiations, both sides struck a deal: the barricades made of dirt and mangled police vehicles were to come down in return for the cancellation of the golf course expansion.

The disputed territory remains an unsettled issue, however, and was never officially ceded by the Mohawks or handed over to the native community by federal or provincial governments.

“You reach a point after a while where you have to make a stand,” Kanesatake resident Linda Simon, who experienced the violence, said in an interview.

“The common lands had slowly been given away and sold and there came a point where people weren’t going to take it anymore.”

The 1990 events led to the Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples, which helped usher in new agreements between natives and non-natives such as the resource-sharing deal in 2002 called the Paix des Braves (Peace of the Braves) between the Quebec government and the Grand Council of the Crees.

Alanis Obomsawin, an award-winning filmmaker who made a much-praised documentary about the conflict called “Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance,” said the events of 1990 inspired native people across the country and raised awareness among Canadians regarding land claims.

“When I go out West, (indigenous) people tell me, ‘Alanis, we could never thank the Mohawks enough for what they did.”‘

Back home, Quebec Aboriginal Affairs Minister Geoffrey Kelley said provincial and federal governments have appreciated since Oka that First Nations groups need to be consulted when development projects affect their territory.

“Back then I think we would have acted more unilaterally,” he said.

Kelley mentioned provincial funding for the Kateri Memorial hospital on the Kahnawake reserve south of Montreal — which he said required several bureaucratic hurdles to overcome such as modifications to labour laws — as an example of a change in government attitude toward native people.

“It’s a small example but a good one to show how we are adapting our institutions with native realities and I think they will bring great benefits in the future,” he said.

But while native people have received more respect from non-native governments since Oka, there are many outstanding land claims across the country, and some Canadians still harbour prejudices against Aboriginal Peoples, Kelley said.

Tom Siddon, federal minister of Indian affairs and northern development at the time under Brian Mulroney, said he believes Oka played a key role in improving the thorny issue of land claims.

“I think we were able to make some major progress and I do believe that Oka was an important turning point in our natural history,” he said in an interview.

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon stands in the Pines Thursday, June 18, 2015 in Kanesatake, Que., (Ryan Remiorz / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The current grand chief in Kanesatake says that while the Mohawk Warriors might have inspired people around the world, the aftermath of the crisis led to the “social disintegration of the community.”

Serge Simon said it has taken a generation for people to overcome the trauma of the crisis and band council politics have only recently started to calm down after years of tension and sometimes violence between community members.

Simon said the 25th anniversary of the crisis has forced difficult memories to the surface including what he called human-rights abuses he alleges his people suffered at the hands of the provincial police.

“(The provincial police) took my cousin Angus Jacob and brought him to the back of a barn and handcuffed him to a metal chair,” he said in an interview.

“They pulled his pants down and they started electrocuting his testicles to get him to talk.”

He said events like Oka can happen again in Canada but it’s critical that natives and non-natives continue to talk to one another.

“Oka is what happens when dialogue stops,” he said.

By Giuseppe Valiante and Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Press