July 11, 1990: A Mohawk man stands on an overturned police vehicle blocking a highway through Kanesatake.

July 11, 1990: A Mohawk man stands on an overturned police vehicle blocking a highway through Kanesatake.
Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Oka Crisis: brewing up again 27 years later

The crisis began in early 1990 when the small town of Oka Quebec, just off the north east tip of Montreal Island where the Ottawa River empties into the Lake of Two Mountains.

The town wanted to expand a golf course and housing development onto land which had been long claimed by the local Mohawk reserve as theirs.

March 10, 1990: A small group of Mohawks drag a fishing shack into a clearing in the pine forest and vow to stay there, after Oka Mayor Jean Ouellette says he’ll proceed with a golf-course expansion onto the disputed land.
March 10, 1990: A small group of Mohawks drag a fishing shack into a clearing in the pine forest and vow to stay there, after Oka Mayor Jean Ouellette says he’ll proceed with a golf-course expansion onto the disputed pine forest land. © Ellen Gabrie

The two sides dug in and, the situation quickly boiled over into a blockade a standoff, and almost 27 years ago to the day, violence. resulting in a 15-minute gun battle and the death of a police officer with the Quebec provincial police.  The blockade continued and soon after the army was called in. The crisis was only calmed months later in September after intense negotiations which resolved the standoff but did not solve the land issue.

Sept. 18, 1990: Soldiers arrive on Tekakwitha Island in Kahnawake, provoking a burst of violence. Dozens of Mohawks are injured, as are 10 soldiers.
Sept. 18, 1990: Soldiers arrive on Tekakwitha Island in Kahnawake, provoking a burst of violence. Dozens of Mohawks are injured, as are 10 soldiers. © KORLCC

Tensions high

However, the situation was never properly resolved, and now appears set to ignite once more.

A development project has begun on lands still in dispute and the Mohawk of the Kanesatake are furious.

Mohawk leader Ellen Gabriel, far left, listens to Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon during a protest Wednesday at the site of the Collines D’Oka housing developmen
Mohawk leader Ellen Gabriel, far left, listens to Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon during a protest Wednesday at the site of the Collines D’Oka housing developmen © Matt D’Amours/CBC

The planned 400 home development is partially completed on land bordering “the Pines” which was the site of the original dispute. Some of the pine trees have been cut, which the Mohawk say is violating the agreement which calmed the original  crisis.

A group of Mohawk have begun protesting saying they will stop any further building.

A tense exchange occurred on Wednesday between protesters and the town mayor.

The mayor said the developer had an agreement with the band council in 2003, but the protesters say the people of Kanestake were not involved and are not prepared to give up land. The mayor said his hands were tied and stopping the development would open the town to a lawsuit from the developer.

Serge Simon, the grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, worries the situation could escalate if nothing is done to stop the housing development.
Serge Simon, the grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, worries the situation could escalate if nothing is done to stop the housing development. © CBC

Serge Simon, Mohawk chief says there is no such agreement on file, adding it would have been the municipality that would negotiate with them, not a developer.

The Mohawk are calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to intervene. Simon has said he hopes the situation doesn’t escalate and wants a moratorium in place on any further development until the situation is resolved.

Sources-additional information

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