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Ellen Gabriel on the 30th anniversary of the 1990 ‘Oka Crisis’

Today marks three decades since the occupation of Kanehsatà:ke

Indigenous Politics

Kanien’kehá:ka human rights and environmental rights activist Ellen Gabriel during the police and military siege of Kanehsatake, commonly know as the “Oka Crisis”, summer 1990.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the 1990 Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawake Siege where the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation were denied their fundamental human rights without any just recourse. 30 years later, the Rotinonhseshá:ka are still fighting the same issues, while Canada, Québec and Oka collude to continue their land fraud under the auspices of development based on institutionalized racism.

The Rotinonhseshá:ka have stated adamantly that they oppose any archeological digs conducted by Archéo-Québec on behalf of the Municipalité d’Oka. This is morally reprehensible and perpetuates the racism and gender discrimination that Onkwehón:we Women have endured since contact with Europeans.

On July 11, 1990 at 5:15 am, it was 13 Women who faced off against the paramilitary SWAT team of the SQ (Sûreté du Québec), the Montreal urban police and the Canadian Armed Forces. We honour those Women today and all those who fought on the front lines of the Battle for the Pines.

Long after the media cameras leave today, our struggle in the defense of our Kanien’kehá:ka Homelands will continue.

We face racism, and the persistent stereotypes that villainize the Kanien’kehá:ka peoples. We are not even allowed to fly our flags without a person from Oka calling police to take them down or forbid us from flying them, for a claim that they fear their lives are being threatened.

Canada’s Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, has repeatedly refused to meet with the Rotinonhseshá:ka of Kanehsatà:ke under Kaianera’kó:wa (followers of the Great Law of Peace and citizens of the Haudenosaunee – Iroquois Confederacy). Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office has also persistently denied our requests for a meeting to begin the foundations of discussions on our Homelands, and has told us to go to the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake.

Band Council is a creation of the Canadian imperialist government. It has no authority to speak on issues affecting the Homelands of the Iroquois Confederacy. It is a system that was imposed to usurp the authority of Kononkwe—the Women of the Great Law of Peace, and our family structures under our Clan system that decides how the land is to be used.

Illustration by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Gord Hill

Canada does not have any papers of surrender from the Haudenosaunee; and we do not accept its assumed sovereignty over all our approximately 363,000,00 square miles of Homelands which stretch from the mouth of the St. Lawrence river to the Great Lakes. We do not accept the imposition of hierarchical, colonial structures which ignore the authority of the Women of the Great Law of Peace; this system must do the bidding of the colonial and imperialist government of Canada, its provinces and territories.

Consequently, for the past 30 years, in spite of a promise by the late Bernard Roy—federal representative negotiator during the summer of 1990—to meet with the Longhouse people of Kanehsatà:ke, no meetings have been allowed. In fact, the then Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Tom Sidden, told spiritual leader John Cree in September 1990 after the Canadian military occupied the community completely, that Canada would never recognize nor meet with the Longhouse peoples.

Subsequent Indian and Northern Affairs ministers, in particular Carolyn Bennett, have kept their promise not to meet with the Longhouse peoples from Kanehsatà:ke. Instead, as all previous governments, the Trudeau Liberals have blocked and attempted to silence the voices of Rotinonhseshá:ka in Kanehsatà:ke. They have used coercion to discredit those who speak the truth, aided of course by mainstream media outlets.

We have been forbidden to have a voice on lands that inherently belong to the Rotinonhseshá:ka Nation. Institutionalized racism founded on legal fallacies like the Doctrine of Discovery remain the basis of Canada’s relationship with Onwehón:we (Indigenous) peoples. This remains the justification for land dispossession and land fraud which is condoned by all levels of government in Canada, Québec and the Muncipalité d’Oka.

We do not accept this racist, depraved, and unbalanced relationship. We should not have to be constantly fighting Canada’s third party band of corporations that steal our lands and trample our human rights.

Ellen Gabriel (Katsi’tsakwas) is a Kanien’kehá:ka Mohawk activist and artist from Kanehsatà:ke - Turtle Clan, known for her involvement as the official spokesperson, chosen by the People of the Longhouse and the community of Kanehsatà:ke, during the 1990 “Oka Crisis.” She is the recipient of the Golden Eagle Award from the Native Women’s Association of Canada (2005) and the Jigonsaseh Women of Peace Award (2008).

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