Visiting Oka and learning from the very people that were affected by the dispute was an eye-opening experience. I had never heard of the conflict between first nations peoples and the SQ (the local police force) before, so it was quite a shock. It is hard to imagine someone coming to your home to say “hey, we are going to expand and build a golf course on your land” and to be completely devalued as human beings. The stories that Steve shared with us however, really allowed me to imagine the distraught and horror they felt, in 1990.
Basically, the Mayor of Oka wanted to destroy the Mohawk people’s land, including a sacred burial ground, to expand the golf course nearby. This demand was completely unfair, so the Mohawk fought back. For 78 days, (July 11-September 26 of 1990) the first nations people built barricades and protested. They desperately wanted to keep their land, as any sane and rational human being would. It was a time of high tensions that even caused the women and children to need to be evacuated from the area, and moved to hotels where they could be safe. In the end, the Mohawk people successfully blocked the SQ and the Canadian government agreed to buy the land that was rightfully the Mohawks. They gave the land back to the first nations people, and cancelled the expansion of the golf course.
One of the most surprising things Steve told us however, was that during the crisis, a lot of the Mohawk people were the ones who were fighting against other Mohawk. I got the impression that since there was suddenly this huge dispute over land, they took advantage of the instability of the area, and turned to breaking into peoples homes and stealing. The reason this surprised me was because it seems that the conflict could have been shorter and they could have put up a more united front, had all of the Mohawks been peaceful and worked together more efficiently, to stop the proposed expansion of the golf course. The good news is, that even so, the plan was cancelled.
Overall, I am pleased with the first-hand information I received about the Oka Crisis. Arming yourself and your community with information is one of the best ways to prevent similar conflicts and disputes in the future. Now, I feel especially inclined to learn even more about our own Native Americans, and their struggle to hold onto their land, over the years.