Oka: The reality of our struggles


The struggle feels like a repeat of 1990, but this time our people have social media...


With the land issue still unresolved in Kanesatake – the area known as the Pines remains under the control of the Village of Oka – we’re all left to wonder what will give, and when. But after activist Ellen Gabriel forced the mayor’s hand a day after the anniversary of the 1990 Oka Crisis, it seems like something could happen sooner rather than later.

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Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon and Ellen Gabriel butted heads over a land dispute in Kanesatake on July 12, 2017. Photo credit: Peter Phillips

Gabriel became famous after the Sûreté du Québec came in shooting at men, women, children and elders on July 11, 1990. She took the reins as spokesperson for the traditional people, after the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake proved inept. The battle then was to stop the expansion of Oka’s public golf course further onto Mohawk land, and to halt the destruction of our cemetery.

I was 14 then, so I witnessed a lot of political sparring on both sides of the barricades. 27 years later, here I was standing with Pascal Quevillon, Oka's mayor. It was clear that he had zero compassion for the 300-year struggle my people, the Kanesatake Mohawks, have had with the crown.

My role as a journalist and publisher is to inform the people, at times to fight for the little guy, and to get the most accurate and complete picture. A picture that reflects all sides so that you, the reader, can make your own informed conclusion. It means talking to people you admire, people you don’t like, and people you’re still not sure of.

So with that in mind, I did a Facebook Live video on July 12, 2017, of Quevillon and Gabriel in a heated argument over another area of the Pines, and the cutting of huge, gorgeous, and so very old pine trees – ones that keep the ground stable in a sandy area, ones that give life and oxygen to Native and non-Native like, and ones that have withstood so many storms and harsh winters. All of this beauty only to be destroyed by greedy developers.
It was almost like I was watching the press conferences in 1990 on TV again; the only difference was the context (our community was under direct attack then, eventually by the Canadian Army) - and the mayor.

Pretty much everything else was the same.

Gabriel was still there, of course, but so are the land and rights issues that won’t just go away. Canada has no intention of giving the Pines back, so what do the people do? The huge difference here is we have social media – not antiquated fax machines, like in 1990 – to help us get the word out.
Our TV and radio stations are much better - and with everyone having cameras and video on their phone, there is much more to consider for bloodthirsty cops and politicians, instead of just going in and shooting with reckless abandon.

So when you can live stream something going on right in front of you and beam it out to so many people (almost 54,000 people watched the Facebook video, at last count, with close to 1,000 shares), it is a tool all journalists and activists need to use more of. If the non-Natives who “acquired” any of our land don’t have proof, tough, it should be given back. Default goes to Indigenous Peoples; forget battling it out in court for far too long over something that is ours.

But how do we, as Native media, push for that?

We continue to cover the issue, write our editorials, and chastise those who think they have more rights here than the original peoples of this land.
Our inherent, ancestral rights have to be respected first and foremost before more condos go up, more environmentally important sites are destroyed, and long before our opportunity for a better future is gone.

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