By Adam Sacchetta
The Oka crisis was a 78 day standoff between the Mohawk people, the police and the army. The tension between the three had a strong racial theme that ran itself through the dispute. This crisis became a major insight for aboriginal people spreading awareness of aboriginal rights across Canada. To start off, in 1961, the development of a nine-hole golf course was built. This golf course was built on the land of the Mohawk people. It was in the town of Oka and the nearby reserve called Kanehsatake in which this took place. The Mohawk people claimed this land to be their commons (known as the Pines) that included a burial ground. Not everyone especially the Mohawk people were on board with this development. They filed a lawsuit against the government but were shut down due to lack of evidence for specific legal acquirements. In 1989, tension began as the mayor of Oka proposed the expansion of the golf course expanding it to 18 holes and also imposing the development of luxury condos. This announcement brought anger and frustration to the Mohawk people. They stated that these plans will be taking away their rightful land and they promised if they proceeded with the development then they will take action and protect their land. The mayor ignored the opposition and suggestions the Mohawk people had and the construction was scheduled to begin. In 1990, the Mohawk people took a stand. On the dirt road that led to the golf course they created a road block. They set up barricades and sand bags around their land and placed barbed wire through the trees. Joining this protest were people from Kahnawake and Akwesasne which are two other reserves in the surrounding areas. It was an act of unity to not only protect just the land but to preserve history and the future of the land. The mayor gave the people two demands to move the barricades or else the police would intervene and remove it. But the Mohawk people ignored the two injunctions that were ordered by the mayor. Soon later the Quebec police force had attended the scene. The Mohawk people refused to negotiate with the police and the situation then escalated. The police then attacked the Mohawk people with full force. Tear gas and flash grenades were thrown at the protestors and gunshots were being exchanged. In the mix of the gunshots, Quebec police officer Corporal Marcel Lemay was shot and killed. The Quebec force quickly moved back and retreated. Claims were being made that the police shot the first bullet meanwhile the police say the Mohawk people shot first. No charges were made in this incident because no one knew who fired the shot that killed Corporal Lemay. As a result of the attack a number of Aboriginal supporters joined the protest with the Mohawk at the barricades. They blocked Mercier Bridge which cut off Montreal`s southern suburbs and the Island of Montreal. The police force also created a road block leading to Oka and Kanehsatake. All non-residents and first nations were turned back and people started to get frustrated. The chaos angered local residents and this created relations between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals to worsen. The people who supported the Mohawk felt that the price of what the land meant and what was happening in resistance was not worth the price of a single golf course. Sides were being taken. Either people were with the Mohawk people or against them. Across Canada there were protests being held to support the Mohawk people at Oka and to draw attention to their own causes and this helped many Canadians of non-native descent into their favour. Although many also were against the Mohawk people and they began to express racial slurs and hatred toward them. The Mohawk people experienced shortages of necessities like food and medications because of the road blocks and they were scared to cross the border line because they claimed that they were being harassed and threatened by members of surrounding towns. With the riots and barricades food, clothing, and any necessities were almost impossible to get to the Mohawk people and they began to suffer. The Mohawk claims were no longer strictly about the land but rather a demand for recognition of Native Independence. The RCMP was sent in to help the matter. This put the protestors under heavy pressure. It was overwhelming for the RCMP and so the army was called in for the last chance to resolve the matter. The army initially refrained from crossing the barricade lines and proceeded to negotiate with the Mohawk people first. There were peaceful negotiations that were occurring. This was the beginning of the end. The army proceeded to knocked down three of the barricades and the barricade that was blocking the Mercier Bridge was finally opened up. The standoff was slowing coming to its final end. On the final day the Mohawk people began to dismantle their guns and throw them into a fire. They then ceremonially burned tobacco and walked out of the pines and back to the reservation. Police and the army were their waiting for them as they came out and quickly detained as many as they can.