Tag Archives: Oka Crisis

Mohawks take PM to task over unanswered land claims on 30th anniversary of Oka crisis

Mohawks from Kahnawake on Montreal’s South Shore stage a rolling protest on Route 132 to the Mercier Bridge on Saturday, July 11, 2020, to mark the anniversary of the start of 1990 Oka Crisis. JOHN MAHONEY / Mont

Members of the traditional longhouse organized the convoys to commemorate the historical event — a 78-day standoff between Quebec Mohawks and Canadian soldiers over the proposed expansion of a golf course in Oka.

Mohawks from Kanesatake to Kahnawake took Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to task Saturday for failing to answer their centuries-old land claims on the 30th anniversary of the start of the Oka crisis.

A convoy of about 100 vehicles carrying Kahnawake residents — many of them sporting Mohawk flags — crossed the Mercier Bridge into LaSalle and back Saturday morning as part of a “rolling blockade” to commemorate the event.

Hours later, a second caravan — this time, carrying Kanesatake residents — took over Route 344 northwest of Montreal though a new development in an area used by Mohawk farmers for generations. Many onlookers stood on their front porch and waved.

Members of the traditional longhouse organized the convoys to commemorate the historical event — a 78-day standoff between Quebec Mohawks and Canadian soldiers over the proposed expansion of a golf course in Oka.

Three decades later, the impasse over land rights remains unresolved — despite Trudeau’s numerous pledges to work toward reconciliation and foster a “nation-to-nation” dialogue with Indigenous communities.

“The summer of 1990 serves as a reminder that the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) are willing to defend their land and protect their people, by any means necessary,” Joe Deom, a spokesperson for the Kahnawake longhouse, told a small gathering in the village Saturday. “The same holds true, 30 years later.”

Ellen Gabriel, a member of Kanesatake’s longhouse, later read the same statement in her community.

Organizers chose to hold rolling blockades instead of marches because of the coronavirus pandemic and the contamination risks that would have resulted from demonstrators being in close proximity to each other, Gabriel told reporters.

The demonstrations come as Kanesatake’s Mohawks continue to fight residential developments in nearby Oka they say would encroach on the pine forest they planted nearly 200 years ago.

“Under Canada’s constitution, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could intervene and stop all development that’s taking place here, and he refuses,” Gabriel said. Indigenous relations minister Carolyn Bennett “is part of that problem of refusing and trying to silence the voice” of First Nations peoples, she added.

“We are fighting for our land.”

Gabriel and her fellow citizens were joined in Kanesatake by New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and one of his MPs, Manitoba’s Leah Gazan. Singh said he came to Kanesatake “as an ally” to listen, fight for justice and ensure contested lands are returned to First Nations peoples.

He also took time to reflect on the events of 1990, saying: “What happened on this land was the beginning of a powerful movement. Future movements were all inspired by the strength and resilience of the people here. Thirty years later, the lessons have not been learned. The same problem continues.”

Gazan was more blunt.

“There will never be reconciliation in Canada in the absence of justice,” she said. “The people of Kanesatake have waited for over 300 years for this justice, and their justice continues to be infringed upon. It is time that this longstanding land dispute be resolved, that it gets the attention that it deserves from the current federal government to act now. The people of the longhouse have waited long enough for justice.”

The message — and the anger — was the same in Kahnawake.

Trudeau “has made a lot of promises,” a Kahnawake resident who identified herself as Kaherihshon told the Montreal Gazette in an interview. “He’s talked a really good talk about all the things he was going to do to settle the issues of the First Nations people. What has he done to make anything right? What has he done to settle these land claims? There’s nothing that has been done that has made a difference so far. If he wants real truth and reconciliation, then he has to really sit down with the people and say: ‘What do we have to do to make this better? How are we going to help the people?’ ”

Asked what it would take for reconciliation to begin, Gabriel answered: “Land back. It’s going to be an uncomfortable discussion, but when are we going to have it?”

The Montreal Gazette, July, 11, 2020.


Developer offers to give land back to First Nation where Oka Crisis happened

Canadian soldier Patrick Cloutier and protester Brad Larocque come face-to-face at Kanesatake near Oka, Que., on Sept. 1, 1990. Now, a Quebec developer is offering to give back land that was at the heart of the dispute. (Shaney Komulainen/The Canadian Press)

Land is a part of The Pines, a forested area important to the Mohawks of Kanesatake

A Quebec developer is offering to give back to the Mohawks of Kanesatake part of a forested area of land that was at the heart of the Oka Crisis.

Grégoire Gollin said he’s committed to transferring around 60 hectares of the forest known as The Pines in the spirit of reconciliation, through a federal ecological gifts program.

“As a citizen, I don’t have to wait for the government to do my contribution to reconciliation,” he said.

“My concrete gesture is to initiate giving back to the Kanesatake this piece of forest I own and they value a lot in their heart because it has been planted by their ancestors.”

In 1990, the municipality of Oka, Que., planned to expand a golf course in The Pines, sparking the 78-day standoff known as the Oka Crisis between the people of Kanesatake, the Sû​ré​te du Québec and later the Canadian military. The area is a part of a 300-year-old land dispute over the seigneury of Lake of Two Mountains.

“At the heart of the Oka Crisis, it was not money, it was the land,” said Gollin.

“I have significant pieces of land adjacent to Kanesatake, so I decided to make my contribution.”

The Ecological Gifts Program is a federal program through Environment and Climate Change Canada. (CBC)

How ecological gifts work

Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program offers a tax benefit to landowners who donate land or a partial interest in land to a qualified recipient, via the Income Tax Act of Canada and the Quebec Taxation Act.

Scott Nurse, a policy analyst with the program, said it’s never been used to return land to a First Nation. In order for the gift to be approved, the land has to be certified by the province as ecologically sensitive, the recipient has to be approved and the land has to be appraised for fair market value.

“Recipients of ecological gifts must maintain the ecological gift and conservation status or receive authorization from the Minister of Environment and Climate Change for changing the use of the property or disposing of the property,” said Nurse.

Gollin has owned a section of The Pines for a number of years. In 2017, his housing project Domaine des Collines d’Oka sparked protests by people in Kanesatake for its proximity to The Pines.

Mohawk activist Ellen Gabriel has long wanted a moratorium on all development within the area under dispute until the land claim is resolved. She said more land has been developed in the area in recent years than what they opposed in 1990.

“Let’s settle the land dispute that was promised during the negotiations in 1990, so people can get on with their lives and we don’t have to keep worrying,” said Gabriel.

“It’s the first stage. The ultimate goal is to live in peace.”

Claim nears settlement

Canada accepted the claim in 2008 under the Specific Claims Policy, and negotiations have been ongoing with the Mohawk Council.

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said significant progress has been made since negotiations began, and that it’s currently reviewing a settlement offer. Settlements for specific claims are typically a cash amount and the opportunity to buy land from willing sellers.

In addition to the ecological gift, Gollin is also offering to make around 150 hectares of his vacant land available for purchase by the federal government to transfer to Kanesatake. His commitments to both were signed in a declaration of mutual understanding and agreement with Grand Chief Serge Simon on behalf of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake in June.

Gabriel is skeptical of the agreement, as little information on its contents has been given to the community by the Mohawk Council.

“Nobody has seen it,” she said.

The agreement, obtained by CBC News, was first reported on by the Eastern Door newspaper in May.

While the agreement says it is subject to final approval by the Mohawk people of Kanesatake, consultation has yet to occur.

Mohawk leader Ellen Gabriel, far left, listens to Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon during a protest in 2017 at the site of Gollin’s Collines D’Oka housing development. (Matt D’Amours/CBC)

“Gollin was kind of giving me hope that maybe we could progress, but if it’s such a good thing, why wouldn’t the agreement be made public to the community? And why weren’t we consulted on it?” said Gabriel.

She isn’t the only one questioning the agreement. Caitlyn Richard, 25, participated in the protests against Gollin’s housing development in 2017 and said seeing the clearing of the forested area was “scary, knowing that this is where I live and where I plan on living, and we’re polluting it.”

She says Gollin’s offer “sounds too good to be true.”

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon told CBC News the ecological gift suits the community’s goals with The Pines.

“Our goal has always been to protest the pine forest from any further development that undermines the peace of the region,” he said.

The band council will be seeking direction from the community on whether to accept, reject or seek changes to Gollin’s offer, he said.

Municipality calls meeting

Neither has Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon, who is calling a meeting for July 17 to discuss the agreement with Oka residents.

According to a July 5 Facebook post, the municipality wishes to be consulted by the federal government before any land is transferred.

“This agreement to transfer vacant land and the federalization of municipal lots adjacent to the neighbouring land are more than worrying for the sustainability of our municipality,” wrote Quevillon.

“This is a file that needs to be taken into consideration today, because important consequences could be felt in the years to come…. Our municipal administration is wondering when we are going to be consulted by the federal government.”

Jeremy Teiawenniserate Tomlinson, 38, is hoping people of Kanesatake attend the meeting. He’s concerned about the lack of information given to his community about the agreement, and also wants residents of Oka to understand the root of the issue.

“Kanesatake is one of the oldest Mohawk communities. We’ve been here for so long and our land has been taken from us,” said Tomlinson.

“We’ve been dispossessed of it over the years, and it still continues after every level of government is preaching about reconciliation.”

Tomlinson, who was nine years old during the Oka Crisis, said he can’t help but feel similarities between then and what’s happening now when it comes to the community’s relationship with the nearby municipality.

“The village of Oka going against the community of Kanesatake and openly trying to mobilize efforts against what we are doing with our land — it’s not too far from what was happening in 1990.”

By: Jessica Deer · CBC News · 


Give First Nations Power To Call In Military When Rights Are Threatened, Chief Tells Defence Minister

A Mohawk Warrior in a golf cart watches approaching Canadian army armoured vehicles during the 1990 Oka crisis.

A Mohawk Warrior in a golf cart watches approaching Canadian army armoured vehicles during the 1990 Oka crisis.

By Steve Lambert | The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG — Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is considering a request to give First Nations the power to directly call in the military when their treaty, environmental and other rights are threatened.

Ron Swain, vice-chief with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, told Sajjan during consultations with indigenous groups Wednesday that aboriginal communities deserve the same rights as provincial governments, which have the authority under the National Defence Act to call in the military to fight civil unrest and during other crises.

“We believe, in protecting our sovereign territory and our issues around environmental concerns, we should be able to trigger the same response and have our Armed Forces defending our treaties and our territories,” Swain said during a break in the closed-door meeting in Winnipeg that included about a dozen aboriginal leaders and academics.

Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty ImagesDefence Minister Harjit Sajjan

The meeting, which focused on indigenous issues, was one of several discussions Sajjan is holding around the country as part of a broad review of Canada’s defence policies.

Swain, whose group represents First Nations and Metis who do not live on reserve, pointed to the Oka crisis of 1990, when the Quebec government called in the military to try to restore order after repeated clashes between police and Mohawk protesters.

He said indigenous communities should be able to call in the military to come to their defence in such cases, or in the event that development that could pose a risk to the environment is taking place without First Nations consent. Swain cited the current standoff involving the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota over construction of an oil pipeline.

“Our people and our communities are very concerned about water and this whole issue about pipelines.”

Even municipalities appear to have an easier time getting military intervention, said Swain, who pointed to the 1999 snowstorm in Toronto that had then-mayor Mel Lastman pleading successfully for army aid.

A spokesman for Sajjan was noncommittal on the idea.

“We thank vice-chief Swain … for bringing this idea to our attention; it is certainly something we will consider as we move forward in the policy review process,” Jordan Owens, Sajjan’s press secretary, wrote in an email.

Earlier in the day, Sajjan said the meeting would look at a wide variety of topics — everything from the Canadian Rangers, a largely indigenous group of army reserves that helps patrol the North, to job opportunities for indigenous youth in the military.

“There are countless stories out there within the military that we do need to share, that we can inspire the younger generation to be able to look at, potentially, the military as a career, but also to look at it as an opportunity for learning and apply it to other careers as well,” Sajjan said.

Canada’s revamped defence policy is expected early next year and is expected to address everything from overseas military missions to cyber terrorism.

This article originally appeared in the National Post on September 14, 2016



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


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.

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.