The Oka Crisis

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  • Topic: Kahnawake, Mohawk nation, Oka Crisis
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The Oka CrisisNovember 20, 2012ANS.1000- Introduction to Aboriginal Studies 1| |
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The "Oka Crisis" often brings to mind the often published, somewhat famous image of the Mohawk warrior whose face is covered with a bandana, dressed head to toe in camouflage equipped with a large gun on his back, nose to nose with a military soldier. It is an image that is used to symbolize the sense of tension that existed far preceding the 78 day standoff. Not only was there tension between the Mohawk people and the federal government but it had a strong theme of racial tension that thread itself through the dispute. Misrepresentation on behalf of a large proportion of media coverage and the actions of the federal governments would act to perpetually vilify the Mohawk people. So how did this come to such a dramatic and violent point? I hope to highlight the events that happened with the Oka Crisis just a few decades ago that sparked a controversy that has been going on over land disputes since the arrival of Europeans many years ago.

It all begins with a Mohawk reserve near the Town of Oka called Kanehsatake and the town of Oka itself. Tension arouse after plans of a “luxury housing expansion that included the expansion of a preexisting private golf course from 9 holes to 18, into the Pines in 1961” (Obomsawin, 1993), these commons were claimed as long-held ancestral land by the Mohawks and would ignite protest in the Mohawk people. In anger and frustration they promised if plans proceeded there would be resistance. This was the tip of the ice burg for “land disputes and frustration that had been going on for over 300 years.” (Swan , 2010) The history of this land claim dates back to the 1717 when “the governor of New France granted the priests of St.Sulpice the seigneury on the Lake of Two Mountains as a Catholic mission for the Indians.”(York & Pindera, 1991) “After the Great Peace of Montreal, the Iroquois Mohawk would move their people near Montreal claiming the French governor gave them a grant for nearly nine square miles of this land at the Lake of Two Mountains.” (CBC Digital Archives) The Sulpicians would not honor this though and granted the lands to their selves. There would be repeated requests by the Mohawks for recognition of land rights between “1781 and 1961” that were continuously ignored or evaded by the government, and a decision by the “highest court in the British Empire in 1911” also failed to provide vindication for the Mohawk (York & Pindera, 1991). In 1936 the Catholic Church began selling off the property for agricultural use and the Mohawk objected strongly to the land being put up for sale. “When some of the land was purchased by the federal government and administered as a reserve, it was never granted official reserve status despite the residents submitting several official requests in opposition.” (Swan, 2010) You get a great sense of this feeling of land ownership in Alanis Obomsawin's movie that covers the Oka Crisis standoff, titled "270 Years of Resistance" which opens up with the a wooden sign that reads “This Land was never surrendered" (Obomsawin, 1993). The Mohawks had filed a land claim before the final approval of the golf course expansion took place arguing that these plans would be taking their rightful land which included an important ancestral burial ground and sacred grove. It would also be adversely affecting important rights such as hunting and fishing. That claim would be rejected though in 1977 due to what the government claimed was a “lack of evidence for specific legal requirements.” (Swan , 2010) In 1989 the mayor of Oka Jean Oullete made the final approval which would seal the plans for development on sacred Mohawk grounds. The town people of Oka...
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