| 1990 MOHAWK CRISIS ON YouTubeMNN. Apr. 30, 2009. At dawn on July 11, 1990, the SQ [Quebec Provincial Police] opened fire with automatic guns and threw tear gas on Kanion’ke:haka Mohawk men, women and children of Kanehsatake. One policeman was killed by friendly police fire. We had been protesting the nearby town of Oka’s plans to expand a golf course over our burial ground and common ceremonial site called THE PINES. Nearby Mohawks of Kahnawake quickly responded to fellow Mohawks by blocking the Mercier Bridge, which connects the south shore with the island of Montreal over the St. Lawrence River.
The RCMP and then thousands of Canadian Army with heavy armaments were sent in. The world watched in amazement as a small Indigenous nation faced the combined fire power of these three forces for 78 days.
It was a fight for Mohawk identity and territory against the oppressive designs of the colonial occupants of our land. We found ourselves in the middle of a struggle for identity, respect and resistance to oppression by Canada and Quebec.
Fifty-two men, women, children and 10 journalists held out in the Treatment Center that we called Concentration Camp TC. We were surrounded by razor wire manned by heavily armed soldiers, guns and tanks. We were without communication with the outside world, little food was coming in and the weather was getting cold. The army was stepping up its psychological warfare tactics. The colonists wanted to end the Mohawk Crisis that had plagued the summer of 1990. They wanted us to surrender. No way!
On September 26th 1990, the Ahserakowa gave us a coded message in Mohawk over the Kanehsatake Radio Station. He warned us to immediately vacate Concentration Camp TC because “something was coming down that night”.
We broke into clans – bear, wolf and turtle – to make our final plans. Some felt we should stay until Monday when Parliament would start its fall session. The gravest political confrontation in modern Canadian history could then be debated.
At 5:00 pm our clans convened. We had all decided to leave in an hour. As two army helicopters hovered above us, everybody went into a flurry of preparations. Everything was thrown into a huge bonfire. A final purification ritual was performed before the sacred fire that had never stopped burning throughout the crisis. We said our good-byes to each other. We did not know what was going to happen when we would walk head-on into the Army.
Thousands of people and media had rushed to Kanehsatake. The whole finale was being televised live.
We tried to walk out of Concentration Camp TC to freedom. We crossed over the stretchers that had been placed over the razor wire. Immediately soldiers and cops grabbed us and began to kick, punch and beat us with their fists, guns and stabbed one child with a bayonet. In the end we were all captured.
The colonists maintained their false position that the Indigenous defenders were criminals and terrorists who threatened the public security of all. The colonists quickly brought us to trial on criminal charges. We were all acquitted except for Lasagna who was found guilty of breaking into a non-native home in Kanehsatake. We had transcended the colonial boundaries set up by Quebec, Canada and the U.S. under a European nation-state model on our territory.
Next year it will be 20 years since this attack. The 33 minute film – O Kanada: Behind the lines in Oka – is available on YouTube. It was made by Albert Nurenberg, a reporter who sneaked through the army lines with a camcorder and taped the event from inside:
OKANADA: Behind the lines in OKA
For the coming year MNN will publish other stories on this siege leading up to the 20th anniversary.
Kahentinetha MNN Mohawk Nation News www.mohawknationnews.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
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