On July 11, 1990, a long-simmering dispute over a stand of pine trees escalated into a major stand-off between Indigenous land defenders and local and provincial police just outside of Oka, Quebec. Eventually, the Canadian army would be called in by a nervous provincial and federal government.
Throughout the 78-day standoff, the people of Kanesatake, who were trying to protect their land (including a burial ground) from being turned into a golf course, were vilified, slandered, attacked physically, dismissed, demonized, and denied the basics of life:
Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon remembers seeing the SQ [Sûreté du Québec] tactical squad moving in the morning of July 11.
“I thought, ‘They’re going to kill everybody up there,’” he said.
When he heard a police officer had died, he had one thought: “We’re going to pay for this one. This is not going to go under-answered.”
What happened next, Simon said, left his community traumatized.
“It was incredible. The SQ would not allow any food to come in to our territory. Our people were systematically searched illegally,” he said.
Ultimately, the mayor of Oka called off the proposed golf course and the dispute was seemingly resolved. The usual blue-ribbon government panel made recommendations which were ignored, and the media’s attention moved on.
Today, the typical “On this day in ___” stories recap the basic narrative as it was established at the time – a narrative which is resolutely ahistorical. The issue of the golf course and the pines is presented without context.
What goes unmentioned is that this indigenous burial ground was located where it was because for generations, white people in Oka wouldn’t allow indigenous bodies to be buried in their graveyard.
What goes unmentioned is that land which had been guaranteed to them by the French crown in the 1700s was covertly signed over to the government without their knowledge in the early 1800s, and never returned.
What goes unmentioned is hundreds of years of aggression both macro- and micro-, of the daily violence of settler colonialism, of the slow-motion genocide which has been perpetrated against Indigenous people.
What goes unmentioned is that Oka was just the latest – and most eye-catching – in a long tradition of Indigenous land defence. Continue Reading