Red Warrior Camp has left the Lands and Waters of Oceti Sakowin.
Grassroots leaders LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard, and Chase Iron Eyes from Standing Rock have also spoken and have made it abundantly clear that they want those equipped for the harsh North Dakota winter to stay and help stop DAPL, due to our current circumstance it is with great regret that we as Red Warrior cannot accept this heartfelt invitation. That is not to say we do not support this effort in fact is quite the opposite, we send our Warrior Salute and War Cry to the universe and the ancestors that their needs are met and they receive the love and support they need in the fight for clean water.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Chairman Dave Archambault has made it abundantly clear that a diversity of tactics in the battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline is not respected nor wanted. We have this to say: without the courage and the actions of those who actually put their minds, bodies, and spirits in harms way the pipeline would be built. Without the Warriors who locked down and took measures to put a stop to the work on DAPL, the black blood would already be flowing under the Missouri river. The encampment itself would not even be here right now. The hard work of the Warriors has cost ETP millions, we have struck the Black Snake a deadly blow.
The peace policing that was led by people who were for the most part self appointed used ceremony and spirituality as a weapon against us, they too have made it abundantly clear by their actions and their constant slinging of arrows that they are not ready to embrace a world view that upholds decolonization and revolution.
After months of active duty as Warriors fighting for Sacred Water and protecting Sacred Ground, and due to the current political climate here at Standing Rock, Red Warrior Camp is evolving. We are taking time to recoup, and expand on who we are as a Society. We have worked very hard here for many months and must be mindful of ourselves and our families and also to self care. We must also be true to who we are and as Indigenous Land Defenders, we are committed fully to our roles as Warriors and have worked too hard to allow any kind of outside threat to compromise our duties and movement.
Red Warrior Society is now dedicating ourselves to building a culture and community of Resistance on every level. We were called here by the People to help fight a battle that is far from our home territories for many of us, we have sacrificed much in the efforts for Mni Wiconi. Facing felony charges, lasting bodily harm and the long lasting effects of battle fatigue we have laid it all on the line for the water. Our time here has come to an end, we have done all we can in this fight and we are honored to have stood beside not only the Tribe but to each and every one of you from all nations all over the planet who came here with the fire of resistance in your bellies and fought hard and long beside us.
We offer up our sincerest thanks to all who have bettered us as a Camp, we are grateful to those who have made our lives here easier and who have sheltered us and fed us. To all those who came forward and offered their help in the form of finances and the sweat from their bodies. We salute you, your help, love, and offerings have given us the heart to be here for so many months, and it has held us up when we were weary from battle and felt discouraged. Without this we would not be in a place to carry on our battle to other frontlines and we would not be as strong as we are. There are no words in this colonized language to express the deep feelings we carry with us, for this movement that has arisen from this historic time, water is life.
One of the lessons we have learned that has inspired us is the very real need for a mobile resistance movement that is ready and willing to dismantle the capitalist regime that is destroying our planet. The mobilization of resistance is key to shattering the oppressive illegal military occupation of the so called ‘Amerikkkas’, for too long we have lived with broken treaties, genocide, racism and colonization. In order to best honor our ancestors and the future generations we are living our principles by forming a Warrior Society rooted in combatting the indoctrination of our minds, bodies, and spirits. We do not need Standing Rock to exist, but we did however require it to put us all in the same place at the same time. We realize now that all we need is each other, our Red Warrior family has undertaken the responsibility and role to uphold not only Mother Earth but Indigenous Rights. It is with this duty in mind we must rise up and move on.
We are unapologetically Indigenous, we embody resistance, everything we do from eating rubber bullets for breakfast to holding our frontline has been done in a manner that is nothing but spiritual. We have great respect and love for prayer and ceremony and understand its place in a time of battle, many of our People are spiritual leaders in their own right and in their own territories. We are the answered prayers of our Ancestors embodied in the flesh, we are given a sacred duty to ensure the continuity of our Peoples way of life on this planet, and to protect the future for those spirits yet to come. This is a call to action to which no man or women can or should deny in these precarious times.
The time has come for us as Red Warrior take a leap of faith in our Ancestors and carve a space for ourselves to exist as free from colonialism as we can. We recognize and acknowledge our role, we have been brought together by the struggle for clean water here at Oceti Sakowin and we are moving on as a group.
Our time together here has been a journey and a teaching experience for us all, it has honed our vision and our mission as a whole and we are looking seven generations forward. Focused on action to defend our Mother we are moving forward to ensure we are where we are needed and can be effective. Our people and our battles are all over Turtle Island, we have worked hard together to create a Warrior Society that is upholding not only Mother Earth but also each other. We are Mother Earths Army.
We cannot stay and fight a battle for land and water that is heavily invested in neo-colonialism. We are so grateful to the grassroots people who have supported us while we have been here. It is not easy to say goodbye, we are deeply tied to this struggle and are not abandoning our post. This fight is not over yet, the pipeline is still being built, Energy Transfer Partners will push this pipe through unless there is a diversity of tactics that include direct action and no court ruling or legal manoeuvring will prevent that from happening alone; and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is heavily engaged in praying away a pipeline without action, this is in direct opposition to who we are as Warriors.
We are in a war to fight the greedy corporate whores who are pimping out our Mother for blood money and we say no more. Enough is enough, for over 500 years we have been brutalized and robbed, we are not victims looking for surcease we are Warriors fighting for our lives and the future. We cannot afford to allow our own corrupt leaders aid and abet this process, too many of our people are working for industry, too many of our people are selling out, we must remember the warrior blood that runs through our veins. We do a great disservice to ourselves and the People when we allow the values of white supremacist society to overshadow the knowledge of what it means to be a true human being.
Mother Earth is hurtin and she’s calling for backup.
Warriors rise up. FIGHT BACK!
From navigating inquiries to defending the land, 5 indigenous lawyers are making a difference
There was a time in Canada when indigenous peoples weren’t allowed to hire lawyers without the permission of government officials, and First Nations people couldn’t enter law school without first renouncing their “Indian status.”
Since then, many indigenous people across the country have followed in Wuttunee’s footsteps, graduating from law school, being called to bar and succeeding in a field that was until recently off-limits to them.
Here’s a look at five indigenous people who are using the legal profession to change Canada.
Cree lawyer Donald Worme is from the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan. (CBC)
A founding member of the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada, Donald Worme is a Cree lawyer based in Saskatoon.
From the Kawacatoose First Nation, Worme first rose to prominence for his work in the Neil Stonechild inquiry in 2003, during which he represented Stonechild’s family.
Worme was also commission counsel between 2004 and 2006 at theIpperwash Inquiry — which was tasked with investigating what led to the shooting death of unarmed Anishinaabe protester Dudley George — was more recently, for the Truth and Reconciliation Commissionof Canada.
A great-grandniece of famous Métis leader Louis Riel, Jean Teillet has emerged as a staunch legal defender of indigenous rights. (University of Toronto)
A great-grandniece of famed Métis leader Louis Riel, Jean Teillet had two-decade career in theatre – dancing, acting, teaching and choreographing – before entering the University of Toronto’s law school at age 38.
When she graduated in 1994, she quickly established herself as a staunch defender of indigenous rights.
In 2003, Teillet won a landmark victory in the Supreme Court of Canada for Métis rights. The case centred on Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., resident Steve Powley who was charged with hunting moose without a licence.
Now a partner with Pape Salter Teillet LLP, Teillet specializes in aboriginal rights law, a field in which she’s won numerous awards, including the 2011 Indigenous Peoples’ Council award by the Indigenous Bar Association and a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.
Outside the courtroom, Teillet helped create the Métis Nation of Ontario and has served as vice president and treasurer of the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada, and founding president of the Métis Nation Lawyers Association.
Christa Big Canoe
In 2014, lawyer Christa Big Canoe testified before a House committee reviewing C-26, the government’s controversial prostitution law. (CBC)
A member of the Georgina Island First Nation, an Anishinaabe community in Ontario, Christa Big Canoe is the legal advocacy director of Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto.
Big Canoe, known as a passionate advocate for First Nation children and women’s rights, has appeared before all levels of court in Canada where she’s provided an aboriginal perspective and representation on issues that most affect aboriginal people in Canadian law.
While at Legal Aid Ontario, she led the province-wide Aboriginal Justice Strategy aimed at removing barriers to accessing justice for First Nation, Métis and Inuit people.
“There needs to be a 360 degree analysis of what happens in Canadian courtrooms, in the Canadian justice system,” lawyer Katherine Hensel told the CBC. (Law Society Gazette )
Katherine Hensel was called to the bar in 2003.
Just a year later, the member of the Secwepemc nation began to serve as assistant commission counsel for the Ipperwash Inquiry.
After working with a prominent litigation firm for several years, Hensel left to establish Hensel Barristers in 2011. She’s since been involved with several cases involving indigenous rights, and served as counsel for the Native Women’s Association of Canada during the British Columbia’s Missing and Murdered Women’s Inquiry.
Canadian soldier Patrick Cloutier and Saskatchewan Native Brad Laroque alias “Freddy Kruger” come face to face in a tense standoff at the Kahnesatake reserve in Oka, Que., Saturday September 1, 1990.
KANESATAKE — Behind the barricade at the entrance to the Pines, Denise David tossed and turned, dreaming of a deadly melée between unknown foes.
Her nightmare was about to come true.
It was the morning of July 11, 1990, a day that would rudely awaken Canadians to the anger simmering in First Nations communities.
All was quiet as darkness shrouded the encampment of about 30 Mohawk protesters — including armed Warriors and unarmed women and children — where David and her 14-year-old daughter slept.
But a long-festering dispute over plans by the town of Oka to expand a golf course into a forest claimed by the Mohawks was about to explode into violence.
At dawn, more than 100 black-clad, helmeted Sûreté du Québec officers, led by the SWAT team, massed outside the Mohawk barricade to launch an ill-fated assault on the Pines.
A dense, choking cloud enveloped the wooded hilltop as police lobbed tear-gas canisters and concussion grenades at the protesters, who had been holding an early-morning tobacco ceremony.
The ferocity of the attack took protesters by surprise, recalled David, then a 36-year-old mother of two and director of a cultural centre in the First Nations community of 800 (now 1,350), 60 kilometres west of Montreal.
“We didn’t expect anything except to be arrested,” said David, who is still haunted by images of children and adults scattering in all directions when a burst of gunfire erupted from both sides shortly after 8:30.
Seconds later, SQ Cpl. Marcel Lemay, a 31-year-old father of one, lay dead and the Oka Crisis — a 78-day standoff that closed the Mercier Bridge, caused the deployment of 3,700 federal troops and drew worldwide attention to Canada’s treatment of indigenous peoples — was on.
July 11, 1990, catapulted native grievances onto the national agenda, dominating TV news with startling footage of masked Warriors and furious mobs stoning unarmed Mohawks.
It unleashed a wave of solidarity among indigenous communities across Canada, triggering sympathetic blockades and ushering in a new era of native activism to which the 2012 Idle No More movement traces its roots.
It reinforced the link between aboriginal rights and the environmental movement, spurring awareness of struggles to save natural habitats, whether in urban areas or remote communities threatened by oilsands or pipelines.
It inspired younger generations of indigenous artists for whom the Oka Crisis continues to provide fodder for artworks, poems, stories and songs.
But in Kanesatake, the painful scars from 1990’s summer of discontent still haven’t healed.
“We’re still living with it,” said Mavis Étienne, 70, a Mohawk negotiator during the standoff and administrator at Kanesatake’s drug treatment centre who hosts a Mohawk gospel show on community radio.
“We didn’t go somewhere and attack people. They came and attacked us,” said Étienne, who has undergone therapy to deal with the traumatic events of 1990.
“But some people have not (had counselling), so it’s like that little wound that hasn’t been taken care of,” she said.
Just as most Americans of a certain age can recall when U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, everyone in Kanesatake remembers where they were when the Sûreté du Québec invaded the Pines.
Memories of the crisis dredge up strong emotions, said Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon.
“I’ll tell you honestly, even when I talk about it, I still get a pain in the pit of my stomach. I still feel very angry,” he said.
Even though he was not involved in the protest, Simon, then a 29-year-old welder and married father of a toddler, said SQ officers repeatedly pulled him over and harassed him during the crisis because of his Mohawk appearance, and that two of his friends were beaten and tortured by provincial police.
“I’m not looking forward to the (25th-anniversary) commemoration. I just want it over and done with,” he said.
“There’s things that I would rather forget.”
The Pines still look much as they did before the events that plastered this normally sleepy backwater on TV screens around the world.
The towering evergreens still reach for the sky, with a fading wooden sign saying “Sovereign Mohawk Lands” hanging from one of them.
Rock music blares from a parked red Chrysler as a few youths play lacrosse in an outdoor rink. The air is fragrant with pine.
But a few things have changed since 1990, like the Hilltop Smoke Shop, with its flashing red “Ouvert” sign — one of about 15 cigarette shacks that have sprung up along Kanesatake’s main road over the last 20 years.
It’s hard to imagine this peaceful glade as a militarized zone overrun by troops, tanks, tear gas, razor wire and low-flying helicopters.
Kanatiio (Allen) Gabriel never imagined things would escalate to that point in 1989, when he helped mobilize opposition to Oka’s plan to expand the golf course and build 50 luxury condos.
“We’d always been using the Pines because it was ours,” said Gabriel, 58, whose family home overlooks the contested woods.
A Mohawk conservation officer before the crisis, he later became director of public relations for the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and worked with residential school survivors in British Columbia.
“I grew up, literally, in the woods here with my cousins. And it was great.
“We had freedom. We were out in the woods all day, every day. One of our parents would call us for supper and we’d come running like little puppies,” he said.
“There’s a pond we used to go to. We used to drag shovels over there and spend a couple hours shovelling off the snow on the pond and we’d make our own rink. You’d have about 20 kids and six dogs playing hockey. It was really idyllic back then.”
For generations, the Mohawks had used the Pines, also known as the Commons, to graze their livestock and cut wood. It was they who had planted the majestic pines and hemlocks in the late 1800s to stabilize the sandy soil, after deforestation caused landslides. It was they who strolled and picnicked in the dappled parkland — just as Montrealers do on Mount Royal. It was their people who were buried in the Pine Hill Cemetery at the eastern edge of the woods.
Despite that, it was the town and a private developer in France that held legal title to the forest, due to the Kanesatake Mohawks’ 270-year history of being squeezed out of the land that Louis XV of France had set aside for them in 1716.
In 1959, over the Mohawks’ strenuous objections, Premier Paul Sauvé, who represented the riding, steamrollered a private member’s bill through the National Assembly, confirming the town’s ownership of the Commons and allowing it to be leased out as a golf course.
The nine-hole golf course was carved out of the Pines in 1961.
After it opened, children from Kanesatake continued to use a shortcut across the green where there had once been a road, Gabriel recalled.
“Golfers would use us as target practice. So that was my first experience with golf when I was about 10,” he said.
In 1989, smouldering grievances over the Pines flamed up when Oka Mayor Jean Ouellette announced the course would be expanded to 18 holes, necessitating the clearing of 22 hectares of forest.
For the Mohawks, it was one land grab too many. Never would they let the trees their ancestors had planted be cut down. Never would they allow construction crews to disturb the eternal rest of their loved ones. Never would they be pushed out of their cherished landscape.
“Our people are willing to lay down in front of the bulldozers and be arrested and re-arrested until this damn thing is settled,” Walter David, Denise David’s brother, told The Gazette in July 1989.
For once, the Mohawks had allies in the battle to save the Pines.
In August 1989, environmental groups concerned over the loss of green space across greater Montreal founded the Green Coalition, an umbrella group fighting to save sites including the Bois Franc forest in Dollard-des-Ormeaux and the Meadowbrook Golf Course, straddling Montreal West, Côte St-Luc and Lachine.
The Kanesatake Mohawk Band was a founding member — and the only nation-member — of the 40-group coalition, co-founder Sylvia Oljemark said.
“At one of the board meetings, a band of Kanesatake Mohawks came,” Oljemark said.
“They were quite complimentary in their thoughts about us and the work we did, but they said, ‘We hear you talk, but would you be willing to die to protect the land that you are defending?’
“I heard a collective gasp. I don’t know how we answered. I think we said that we would go a long way to defend the land and our energies were bound up in what we were doing, but maybe not give up our lives,” she said.
In a letter, the Green Coalition asked Premier Robert Bourassa to step in at Oka, demanding “that the integrity of the environment be preserved, and that the interests of indigenous people be protected,” then-Native Affairs minister John Ciaccia recalled in his memoir of the Oka Crisis.
“This was the first time (in Quebec) that native peoples’ interests were clearly mentioned by an environmental group, and it may have been a mistake,” Ciaccia added, because aboriginal issues did not carry much weight with politicians at the time.
In Oka, environmentalists joined forces with the Mohawks to save the threatened forest. On Aug. 1, 1989, the Regroupement pour la protection de l’environnement d’Oka and Mohawks staged a protest at a planned kickoff for the golf course expansion, causing the golf club to cancel the tree-cutting ceremony.
As the conflict dragged on, Mohawk protesters hauled an old fishing cabin into the Pines in March 1990 and began 24-hour surveillance to prevent construction crews from entering. In April, they erected a barricade on the dirt road into the woods.
Masked Warriors in camouflage gear arrived from Akwesasne, Kahnawake and other native communities, armed with assault weapons, hunting rifles, ammunition, walkie-talkies and other equipment.
Moderates like Gabriel, who opposed tobacco and gambling interests behind the Warrior movement — then engaged in a violent struggle over casinos in Akwesasne — were sidelined.
“At the beginning, when it started, it was agreed no weapons. It was agreed it was ecumenical, so there was no politics, no religion. You’re here because you only care about the Pines. But over time, that changed and we lost that control over our agenda,” Gabriel said.
“There was another agenda at play. It was about cigarettes and casinos for some people,” he added.
As spring arrived, other local residents joined the protest camp. “Slowly I would stop in, cause they would have a fire going, and eventually that was it. I stayed,” David recalled.
“I had to work during the day, but after work I would go down there. I’d buy food for whoever was there all the time and join in, stay all night,” she said.
The Mohawks’ allies in the environmental movement were worried about the threat of police intervention, especially after June 30, when the town obtained an injunction to remove the barricade.
The morning the SQ attacked the Pines, members of the Green Coalition were on their way to Kanesatake.
“It was July 11, the very day that the whole crisis erupted, with the death of Cpl. Marcel Lemay,” recalled Oljemark, who arrived after the fatal gun battle.
“There was a fellow in our gang that had a prototype of a cellphone, and I called Harry, my husband, and told him where we were and he said, ‘You’re where?’ He was so angry with me. He said, ‘What are doing over there?’
It was volatile, the temperament up there. It was just on a hair trigger. You could see the SQ were completely distraught.
“I said, ‘Well, our friends are here and they’re holed up in the forest way up the hill, in the Pines. We’re very fearful for them. And we’ve come to show our support.’
“It was volatile, the temperament up there. It was just on a hair trigger. You could see the SQ were completely distraught,” she said.
Another coalition member used the cellphone to call Quebec Public Security Minister Sam Elkas, whom members of the group knew from his time as head of the Montreal Urban Community’ environment commission.
“He actually got through,” Oljemark recalled. ” ‘Mr. Elkas,’ he said, ‘you must please demand that the SQ stand down because they’re just contributing to a very dangerous situation here today and they should not be here.’ ”
But it was too late. A man lay dead, and the conflict had already escalated beyond the pine forest of Kanesatake.
About 6:15 a.m., the phone rang at the home of Billy Two Rivers in Kahnawake.
“They told me to get to the council office immediately because some occurrence had happened and the Mercier Bridge was blocked,” said Two Rivers, a former professional wrestler who at that time was on the South Shore reserve’s elected band council.
“So I jumped out of bed, took a spit shower and ran over to the council office,” said Two Rivers, now 80.
Half an hour earlier, a dozen Warriors, alerted to the SQ attack by their counterparts in Kanesatake, had blocked the Mercier, a commuter link then used by 67,000 vehicles daily.
Traffic was tied up for hours as drivers followed makeshift cardboard signs rerouting them to other clogged bridges via Highway 132.
Wracked by divisions over casinos and the cigarette trade, Kahnawake’s then 5,600 residents (now 8,000) were split over the bridge closing, said Kenneth Deer, then one of the directors of a high-stakes bingo hall and spokesperson for the Kahnawake longhouse. He would found the Eastern Door newspaper in 1992.
“On July 11, when all of a sudden the bridge gets blocked, some people were saying, ‘Well, yeah, we’ve got to do something,’ and others are saying, ‘Gee, we should have been asked first,’ ” he said.
After three days of community meetings, decision-makers in Kahnawake opted to maintain the blockade in support of Kanesatake, said Deer, who served briefly as a negotiator in the conflict before travelling to Geneva in the middle of July as a Mohawk liaison to the United Nations’ Working Group on Indigenous Populations.
The bridge was the Mohawks’ only major bargaining chip in the dispute, said Two Rivers, who also served as a negotiator during the crisis.
“We were not going to surrender the Pines to anybody,” said Two Rivers, who credited his 24-year wrestling career for the calm leadership he showed during the standoff.
Closing the bridge “was the only major deterrent we had to not have confrontation,” he said.
For residents of Châteauguay and neighbouring suburbs, the summer from hell had just begun. At the height of the crisis, hundreds of Warriors manned 14 barricades and bunkers on highway checkpoints in Kahnawake.
The blockade would stay in place until Aug. 29, stretching daily commutes to the island of Montreal to four hours, with the bridge only reopening to traffic on Sept. 6.
In mid-August, the army announced it was taking over from provincial police at roadblocks in Kahnawake and Kanesatake.
The barricades trapped people inside or outside the besieged communities, with frequent complaints from those inside that troops were withholding food or damaging it by crumbling loaves of bread and stabbing bayonets into jugs of vegetable oil.
On Sept. 1, troops dismantled roadblocks in Kanesatake, tightening the cordon around Mohawk occupiers, who took refuge in a drug-treatment centre, where they made their last stand.
On Sept. 26, 26 men, accompanied by 22 unarmed women and children, ended the standoff by laying down their arms and leaving the centre without a resolution of the original dispute.
The crisis “made a hell of a burden on Kahnawake. There was a lot of anger and hatred from the outside,” Two Rivers said.
In Châteauguay, thousands of angry non-aboriginals rioted, hurling racist epithets and burning Warriors in effigy.
Parents threatened to pull their children out of a school attended by Mohawk children.
On Aug. 28, an angry crowd of more than 250 stoned a convoy of about 100 Mohawks being evacuated from the reserve, shattering dozens of car windows as the SQ stood by without intervening. An elderly Mohawk man died of a heart attack after being hit by a rock.
After the crisis, peewee hockey teams boycotted teams from the Mohawk reserve.
The Mohawks were unjustly blamed for a crisis they had not started, Two Rivers said. “The victims became the criminals.”
“Kahnawake had to suffer for what happened for about five years before relations normalized between Kahnawake and our neighbours,” said Deer, 67.
The barrage of racist hostility and abuses by police united residents of the reserve against a common threat, he said.
“Before 1990, I think the community was divided over issues like cigarettes,” Deer said. “But after 1990, after being surrounded by the SQ, being treated so badly by the SQ, and also surrounded by the Canadian Army, some people said, ‘Gee, why the hell are we fighting (among ourselves)?’
“So I think the community became a little more united after 1990,” he said.
Martin Loft, 55, program supervisor at Kahnawake’s cultural centre, said his memories of living in a community under siege seem surreal.
How disgraceful that these people wanted to expand a golf course onto a Mohawk gravesite. Who would stand for that? I don’t think too many people in this day and age would stand for that.
“I don’t think anybody can be prepared for it and even sometimes I think about it as a dream. You can’t believe that just along the road there were tanks. There were cannons pointed at people (armed) with sticks and rocks,” he said.
A shared sense of injustice brought Kahnawake residents together, Loft said.
“No matter who you were, you said, ‘That’s not right.’
“I think history has proven it to be so. They stood up for what was right.
“How disgraceful that these people wanted to expand a golf course onto a Mohawk gravesite. Who would stand for that? I don’t think too many people in this day and age would stand for that,” he said.
On July 12, Deer travelled to Kanesatake to represent the Kahnawake longhouse in negotiations with Ciaccia.
After dark, Deer, a former guidance counsellor at Howard S. Billings High School in Châteauguay, took a walk around the perimeter established by the Mohawks, who had reinforced their defences by barricading Highway 344 and digging trenches after the SQ attack.
“It was a beautiful night in the Pines. There were tables underneath the pine trees. They had naphtha lights burning and the women were making sandwiches and stuff like that,” recalled Deer, who chatted with the young Warriors in the trenches, their faces covered with bandanas and camouflage paint.
“I started walking around the perimeter and all these guys are in their gear, in the trenches, and I don’t recognize them but they all knew who I was, and some of them, I could recognize their voices.
“And I said, ‘Hey, I know these guys.’ These were my students,” Deer said.
“Some of these guys don’t have a political bone in their body. These are not wild guys fighting for cigarettes or fighting for whatever. These are just ordinary people,” he said.
“There was no ulterior motive for these guys to be in the Pines, and to be protecting the forest.
“I was absolutely convinced, and I’m still convinced to this day.”
Harry Swain was on a two-week vacation in Germany, where the Berlin Wall was being demolished, when he heard the news of the SQ attack in Oka.
“I recall we were having dinner with our ambassador at the time, and we heard over dinner that Cpl. Lemay had been shot and I thought, ‘Oh boy, there goes my holiday,’ ” recalled Swain, who was deputy minister of Indian and Northern Affairs in Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government.
Best remembered for his controversial remark to reporters at an Ottawa press briefing that the leaders behind the barricades in Kanesatake were a “gang of criminals,” Swain later wrote the book Oka: A Political Crisis and Its Legacy, published by Douglas & McIntyre in 2010.
The crisis “grabbed everybody’s attention, riveted the cabinet and got the army a lot of exercise,” Swain said in a telephone interview from Victoria, B.C.
“The idea that our long forgotten neighbours could get so mad that they would take up guns and put on masks was a shocker,” he said.
And it “has changed the national discourse ever since,” he added.
Coming less than three weeks after the failure of the Meech Lake constitutional accord, the crisis put an enormous strain on Mulroney and Bourassa, Swain said.
“The prime minister and Robert Bourassa had just survived the crash of their constitutional dreams. Those two guys had invested huge amounts of their political capital and their personal effort trying to get Meech through. It was an immense personal blow that just demoralized them and made them feel awful,” he said.
Bourassa had recently been diagnosed with melanoma and was scheduled to undergo surgery in Bethesda, Md.
“Then Oka blew up and he decided he had to stay there. He stayed there the rest of the summer and finally had the operation in the fall, but by then it was too late,” said Swain, who regards Bourassa as an unsung casualty of the crisis.
With a “stubborn, obdurate” mayor and the presence of “a fairly radicalized well-armed bunch of guys,” the conflict had all the makings of a deadly showdown, he said.
He credits both the army and Mohawk clan mothers for avoiding further bloodshed.
The troops’ textbook discipline prevented the tense standoff from exploding into violence, Swain said.
“The chief of the defence staff, John de Chastelain, and the head of the army, Kent Foster, said to each other, ‘There is nothing in this bloody golf course that’s worth another life.’
“It could have been worse. It could have been just awful. We could have had dozens or hundreds of people killed,” he said.
In the wake of the crisis, the federal government set up a $50-million, five-year Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which issued a five-volume, 4,000-page report in 1996. Its 440 recommendations included recognition of aboriginal self-government, expansion of First Nations’ land base and initiatives to improve education, health, social services and housing.
But most of the proposals were quietly shelved.
In Kanesatake, the federal government spent $14 million from 1990 to 1995 buying 157 properties to create a contiguous land base for the community, a checkerboard interspersed with properties held by non-natives. In 1997, Ottawa acquired a piece of land next to the golf course so Kanesatake could expand its cemetery.
As long as I am mayor, no development will ever happen in the Pines.
But 25 years later, the town of Oka still owns most of the forest at the heart of the standoff.
Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon said the town has no plans to sell the Pines and intends to keep it as a natural green space.
“As long as I am mayor, no development will ever happen there,” he said.
“Presently, the two communities live in harmony. There is no tension,” Quevillon added.
The contested forest is part of a 673-square-kilometre area claimed by Kanesatake, which is in ongoing land-claim negotiations with the federal government, Grand Chief Simon said.
While the Oka Crisis empowered First Nations people across Canada, it led to bitter divisions and violence in Kanesatake itself, Simon said.
“All of the First Nations all around us, the Algonquin, Ojibwa, even out West, benefitted greatly from what happened at Oka. But we were the ones that suffered the brunt of it. And we continue, I think, till this day,” said Simon, who had a bomb set off in front of his house in the mid-1990s after he criticized the local band council.
In 2004, opponents of then-Grand Chief James Gabriel occupied the local police station and set fire to Gabriel’s home.
Simon, who has been active in opposing the Energy East pipeline, said the community is gradually healing. “It’s coming together slowly.”
Swain noted that since Oka, contraband tobacco and gambling have become a mainstay of Canadian reserves including Kahnawake, as governments have largely disengaged from law-enforcement in native communities.
While poverty and social problems continue to plague First Nations communities, a rising generation of dynamic indigenous leaders, and landmark decisions on treaty rights like last year’s Supreme Court ruling awarding the Tsilhqot’in people ownership of a 1,750-square-kilometre area in central B.C., offer hope, he said.
“We now have constitutionalized law that says that you cannot infringe treaty rights without the strongest possible justification,” Swain said.
“You just can’t say, ‘Sorry guys, step aside, we’re putting that pipeline through.’”
When scenes of the conflict in Kanesatake flashed across the TV the night of the disastrous SQ raid, 12-year-old Clayton Thomas-Müller was transfixed.
“I was watching the news with my mom and some of my aunties when it happened. I remember just being really affected by it,” said Thomas-Müller, an organizer with the Idle No More movement and 350.org environmental organization.
“I think that Oka laid the groundwork for the emergence of powerful social movements like Idle No More,” said Thomas-Müller, 37, a member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation who grew up in Brandon, Man.
Seeing people who looked like members of his own family stand up to heavily armed police and the Canadian Army was a life-changing experience, said Thomas-Müller, who was particularly inspired by the feisty women behind the barricades.
“Before Oka, I, like many young native kids in public school, used to get picked on a lot,” he said.
“I can definitely say after a summer of watching the likes of (Mohawk spokesperson) Ellen Gabriel speak on behalf of the clan mothers on the national news, I never got picked on again. And I think that that’s the story for a lot of young, native people at the time,” he said.
The crisis marked a turning point in public awareness of First Nations, who went from being “vanishing people” to a political force to be reckoned with, said Sarah Henzi, a sessional instructor in First Nations studies at the University of British Columbia.
It was a moment “of resistance, of standing up, of voicing out” that continues to inspire young aboriginal activists, writers and artists today, said Henzi, who is also co-organizer of the Université de Montréal’s International Graduate Summer School on Indigenous Literature and Film.
At 31, Widia Larivière, a co-founder of the Idle No More movement in Quebec, is too young to remember the Oka Crisis, but she said it has left an imprint on young aboriginal activists like herself.
“It revived a sense of identity and pride, especially among young people,” said Larivière, a member of the Anishinabe (Algonquin) Timiskaming First Nation who grew up in Quebec City.
“Women had an important role in the Oka Crisis,” noted Larivière, a coordinator of Quebec Native Women and documentary filmmaker.
“It’s the same thing also for Idle no More. It was started and founded by women and most of the spokespersons and organizers were also women,” she said.
Kiera Ladner was a 19-year-old political science student at the University of Calgary when Oka burst into the news.
“I think the impact was, ‘Wow, we have something to stand up for,’” said Ladner, now Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Politics and Governance at the University of Manitoba.
Oka galvanized aboriginal students like herself, said Ladner, who helped stage campus demonstrations in favour of the Mohawk protesters.
“The tone of aboriginal politics on campus started to shift. The tone of the student body on campus started to shift from being about individuals and students and trying to survive to being one of huge empowerment politically,” she said.
The crisis “was a powerful moment” that made Canadians take notice of unresolved issues like aboriginal land claims and treaty rights, said Ladner, who co-edited a 2010 book with Leanne Simpson on the crisis, This Is an Honour Song: Twenty Years Since the Blockades, published by Arbeiter Ring.
“I think Kanesatake and Kahnawake were game-changers because it put everything on the front page of the newspaper,” she said.
While aboriginal issues “face this country every single day,” it was Oka that put those issues on the national agenda, Ladner said.
While television brought Oka into the homes of the nation, social media have ushered in a new era of indigenous activism that reaches across international borders, she noted.
Grassroots movements like Idle No More, founded in 2012 to promote environmental protection and aboriginal sovereignty, have brought together indigenous and non-indigenous people concerned about such issues as oilsands, fracking and pipelines, Larivière said.
She pointed to a flashmob round dance in Kanesatake in 2013 to oppose the Energy East pipeline.
“There were a lot of non-native people from Montreal who joined the action in support of the Mohawk people. I thought it was really inspiring,” Larivière said.
With almost half of Canada’s 1.4-million aboriginal population under age 24, indigenous youth are at the forefront of movements for social justice and action on climate change, Thomas-Müller noted.
Idle No More is marking the anniversary of the Oka Crisis with a social media campaign from July 11 to Sept. 26, commemorating the dates of the standoff in Kanesatake.
“Indigenous peoples and Canadians alike can share how Oka affected them, either through video, through memes or through written stories,” he said.
Thomas-Müller added that during the upcoming federal election campaign, Idle No More will press for aboriginal demands, including a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls, and the right of indigenous peoples “to say no to harmful development on their land.”
Native warrior societies are defending indigenous territories and they aren’t going away.
“They block roads, stop trains and fight the cops. Men and women dressed in camouflage, boots and bandanas. They come from reserves, wave red flags, set fires, tear up roads and declare sovereignty for their tribes. They are the so-called ‘Warrior Societies’ and they mean business.”
They even award themselves ranks such as general and lieutenant, insisting a military wing is a part of any sovereign nation. Many aboriginal rights activists consider themselves as members of a sovereign people, separate from Canada.
Mohawk protestor Mario Batiste from the Bay of Quinte Mohawks leads the march to confront a vehicle approaching their blockade on Highway 401 after successfully shutting it down as part of their protest near Deseronto Ontario Friday June 29, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson)
Sun Media did a Poll asking Canadians “Do you think militant Natives are becoming a problem in Canada?”
Sims also wrote about the 2013, standoff between members of the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society and RCMP —where six police cruisers were torched in Rexton, N.B., over the rights of indigenous land. Many arrested were members of the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society.
At the time, Susanne Patles (Mi’kmaq warrior) dressed head to toe in combat fatigues, was released on a $400 bond and talked to reporters outside court and explained where their anger was coming from.
“(Warrior societies) are the boots on the ground to emancipate people, to have the people rise up,” Patles said
“We are a nation. We are above Canada. We are above it all, because we are a nation. Canada is a corporation, we are a nation, and when we signed on to our pre-Confederation treaties it was on a nation-to-nation basis, and we signed it with the British nation, not Canada.”
And, while the claims, though rooted in history, might be spurious to many across the country, Canada’s security agency have taken warriors seriously for a long time.
Initially connected to the militant Native movements in the U.S., such as Red Power and the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the 1970s, the Canadian movement really took root in the 1980s.
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.
Most Canadians first saw the red warrior flag during the Oka crisis in Quebec in 1990, when Mohawks — and their warriors — blocked access to a burial ground set to be developed into a golf course.
Many of the people who becameinvolved in the warrior society movements on the east and west coast have cited the 1990 Oka crisis as a turning point in their lives, and the watershed event of this generation’s political life. Indeed, in terms of providing inspiration and motivation for the militant assertion of indigenous nationhood, the Mohawk Warrior Society’s actions in 1990 around Kanesatake, Kahnawake and Akwesasne stand alone in prominence in people’s minds and effect on the later development of movements across the country.
A November 2008 CSIS report warned: “Multi-issue extremists and aboriginal extremists may pursue common causes, and both groups have demonstrated the intent and the capability to carry out attacks against critical infrastructure.”
Douglas Bland, a retired lieutenant-colonel with the Canadian military, offered similar warnings in his 2009 political thriller, Uprising.
Bland says warrior societies are paramilitary organizations with easy access to weapons and explosives and believe they have the moral high ground.
“Whether they are very competent or not doesn’t matter — they are an element and they are something we have to deal with,” Bland said. “What if a small militant group shut down the railways for three months?”
The reality is such a scenario is not out of the question.
“We have the warriors that are standing up now that are willing to go that far. So we’re not here to make requests.”
The Idle No More movement, that shook up the Canadian economy with rolling blockades and other damaging protests in 2012, showed the disruptive power of Native militants.
“The Idle No More movement has the people and the numbers that can bring the Canadian economy to its knees,” Derek Nepinak, the grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, boasted in January 2013. “It can stop Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper’s resource development plan and his billion-dollar plan to develop resources in ancestral territories. We have the warriors that are standing up now that are willing to go that far. So we’re not here to make requests.”
Idle No More Protesters
The truth is warrior societies are needed for survival:
Warrior societies among indigenous peoples in the modern era is one element of a larger struggle of indigenous peoples to survive. Warrior societies are a means by which indigenous peoples take direct action against colonization.
Warrior societies have a sacred and powerful place in Indigenous culture and resistance. While colonial culture has and continues to undermine and deride the role and reality of Indigenous warriors, warrior societies have continued to form and function in order to resist the destructive and dangerous effects of occupation and settler-colonial culture.
Sakej Ward sits down with Radio-BED for a conversation on the contemporary warrior and warrior societies.
The Gustafsen Lake Standoff was a confrontation between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Ts’peten Defenders. The standoff began on August 18, 1995, and ended on September 17, 1995.
Notable defense of indigenous rights and territories by warrior societies:
1995 – Gustafsen Lake, B.C.: Confrontation between the RCMP and the Ts’peten Defenders, who believed that the privately owned ranch land on which they stood was both sacred space and part of a larger tract of unceded Shuswap territory. One of the most costly events, involving 400 police officers and Canadian Military.
1985-1993 – Clayoquot Sound, B.C.
2000 – Sun Peak, B.C.: Protests surrounding the creation of a year-round ski resort to the detriment of native lifestyle.
1992-93 – Chippewas of the Nawash, S. Ont.
1994-95 – Revenue Rez, Toronto
1993 – Ipperwash, Ont.: Members of the Stoney Point Ojibway band occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park in order to assert their claim to nearby land which had been expropriated from them during WWII.
1997 – Constance Lake, Ontario
2001 – Days of Rage Protest, Akwesasne, Ont.
2001-03 – Aroland First Nation blockades, N. Ont.
2002-04 – Red Hill Valley Occupation, Hamilton, Ont.: Protest against the building of the Red Hill Valley highway
2003-present – Grassy Narrows, northern Ont.: Protest against decades of mercury poisoning in their northern Ontario community.
2006 Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, Northern Ont.: Confrontation with the Platinex mining exploration company at Big Trout Lake.
2006 – Caledonia, Ont.: Six Nations of the Grand River took control of a parcel of land being developed for a residential subdivision, claiming that the land belonged. The site is part of a 385,000-hectare plot of land known as the Haldimand Tract, granted to the Six Nations in 1784 for their use as a settlement. One of the longest continuous Aboriginal occupation in Canada.
1990 – Oka Crisis: Land dispute between a group of Mohawk people and the town of Oka, Que.
1991-92 – James Bay Cree, Que.
2013 – Rexton N.B.: Anti-fracking protests by Elsipogtog First Nation members
1999-2000 – Burnt Church N.S.: A conflict between the Mi’kmaq people of the Burnt Church First Nation and non-Aboriginal fisheries in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Mi’kmaq claimed the right to catch and sell lobster out of season, while non-Aboriginals claimed it would deplete the stocks and deprive them of income.
The “warrior flag” was painted by Mohawk artist Louis Hall in the 1970s. Hall was born in Quebec on January 15, 1918. His writings include the Warrior Handbook which calls on all First Nations to band together and assert sovereign rights.
Masked warrior on guard at burning car barricade, Burnt Church, New Brunswick.
Non-Indigenous Canadians have dismissed recent warning signs
Canada is headed toward a confrontation with its First Nations people that could lead to “coherent civil action” that threatens the country’s economic lifeblood, a new book warns. Time Bomb, written by Doug Bland, former chair of Defence Management Studies at Queen’s University, argues the conditions are present for an uprising by First Nations people frustrated by decades of seeing their aspirations ignored by Canadian governments.
He urges people not to minimize the risk this frustration could turn into a rebellion and that Canada’s critical transportation links – railways and roads – are vulnerable to protests that could shut them down and cost the economy millions.
His sober warning comes amid deeply strained relations between Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and some aboriginal leaders.
Next week, hundreds of chiefs from the country’s largest aboriginal group, the Assembly of First Nations, will meet in Winnipeg to elect a new national chief and discuss key issues, from First Nations education, to missing and murdered indigenous women, to treaty rights.
“If Canada’s present policies and the historic indifference of Canadians toward the people of the First Nations and their aspirations continue without amendment, and if First Nations leaders continue to assert their right to unconditional sovereignty in Canada, then a confrontation between our two cultures is unavoidable,” Bland writes.
“The critical questions for both societies in such a circumstance are: What form would such a confrontation take, and how widespread would it become?” Bland cites one academic theory that says if a rebellion is “feasible,” it will occur.
In an interview with Postmedia News, Bland stressed he is “not predicting a revolution or an armed uprising.” But he said he is issuing a warning a “confrontation” could occur unless the government and First Nations leaders find innovative ways to prevent one.
He said part of the problem is many non-indigenous Canadians have dismissed recent warning signs: Grassroots movements such as Idle No More and threats from some aboriginal leaders to mount protests to shut down the economy.
“People just aren’t listening to them,” he said. “And they don’t understand how vulnerable the country is.”
Bland writes there is growing support among aboriginals favouring “a unified First Nations strategy for coherent civil action” and people should not ignore roadblocks and political standoffs.
“There is a pattern in these events, a pattern that is in 2014 heading in one way: Toward more demonstrations and confrontations and a gathering confidence in the First Nations communities that their causes can be advanced through the power of ‘activist politics.'”
Bland notes 48.8 per cent of the First Nations population is under the age of 24 and that some of those young people can be transformed into “warriors.”
“These young people, like most of the First Nations population, are concentrated in areas critically important to Canada’s resource industries and transportation infrastructure.”
Bland writes the railways and roads transporting everything from oil and grain to manufactured goods are “impossible to defend”. A small cohort of minimally trained ‘warriors’ could close these systems in a matter of hours.
“All the danger is sitting out there. And getting it wrong is for the government to try to bully its way through this thing. Or for some of the aggressive chiefs to try to bully their way the other way, pushing each other back and forth. It’s going to end up in a confrontation sometime.”