Police Raids of Mohawk Territory

CBC reported today that police are conducting raids of Kanehsatake, Mohawk territory in Quebec.

A major police operation is underway involving 500 police officers in the Mohawk community of Kanesatake, Que., located about 60 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

Both the RCMP and the Sûreté du Québec have officers on the ground Tuesday to execute 13 search warrants on the Mohawk territory. Police said the target is a large drug-trafficking network dealing principally in marijuana.

Raids were also being done in Akwesasne and Oka, the municipality next to Kanesatake, as well as in other towns north of Montreal.

Police said Tuesday they hope to arrest about 50 people.

While the use of major police force against Aboriginal communities should always be a concern, there is a special history in Kanehsatake. In the summer of 1990, a 78 day standoff occurred between the police and the Mohawk of Kanehsatake and Kahnawake over a land dispute. It was called the Oka Crisis.

What triggered the 1990 Oka Crisis? To the great dismay of many, it was the proposed expansion of a golf course & new luxury homes by the Oka Golf Club and town municipality. This proposal was first announced in March, 1989.

Mohawks in Kanehsatake were immediately alarmed. The area designated for ‘development’ contained some of the last remaining forest (the Pines), a community lacrosse field, and a Mohawk graveyard.

Many non-Native residents of Oka were also opposed to the expansion as it was a members-only golf club, as well as for environmental reasons. Cutting down trees leads to soil erosion, a big problem for Oka in the 19th century.

This is one summary of the unfolding events:

The Oka Crisis of 1990 involved the Mohawk territories of Kanehsatake/Oka & Kahnawake, both located near Montreal, Quebec. The standoff began with an armed police assault on a blockade at Kanehsatake on July 11, 1990, which saw one police officer shot dead in a brief exchange of gunfire. Following this, 2,000 police were mobilized, later replaced by 4,500 soldiers with tanks & APC’s, along with naval & air support.

All through the summer of 1990, Oka was the top story in Canadian TV & print media. The armed warriors at both Kanehsatake & Kahnawake inspired widespread support & solidarity from Indigenous people throughout the country. Protests, occupations, blockades, & sabotage actions were carried out, an indication of the great potential for rebellion amongst Indigenous peoples.

This manifestation of unity & solidarity served to limit the use of lethal force by the government in ending the standoff. Overall, Oka had a profound effect on Indigenous peoples and was the single most important factor in re-inspiring our warrior spirit. The 77-day standoff also served as an example of Indigenous sovereignty, and the necessity of armed force to defend territory & people against violent aggression by external forces.

If you would like to learn more about the Oka Crisis I highly recommend the film Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (you can watch the whole film online).

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