Tensions are high in Oka, Quebec today after the mayor of the small village made controversial comments that some have called racist. Now, some members of the Mohawk Nation have expelled journalists and are assembling near route 344, the road connecting Kanesatake and Oka.
This week, land developers decided to give back the disputed territory that was at the heart of the Oka Crisis in 1990. Some 60 hectares of ancestral land known as "The Pines" is being given back to the Mohawk Nation as part of a reconciliation gift from the federal government.
The Oka Crisis in 1990 was a complex and damaging land dispute over a proposal to build a golf course on Native land. At the height of the tensions, gunfire erupted between Indigenous peoples and SQ officers, killing one police officer. The stand-off lasted 78-days.
Alanis Obomsawin's incredible documentary on the Oka Crisis is a must-watch if you want to know more about this dark time in Quebec's history. Find it here (free to watch).
The Assembly of First Nations in Quebec and Labrador called for calm this afternoon after tensions began to mount between Kanesatake and the mayor of Oka. In an official statement, Chief Ghislain Picard appealed for all parties to have a dialogue before raising the risk of another Oka Crisis.
According to CBC News, Chief of the Mohawk community of Kanesatake has asked the mayor to apologize for his "hate-filled" remarks.
Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon said that his community will be at risk of being "swallowed by Kanesatake", according to Global News.
He further went on to say that no one would want to visit Oka once the Mohawk Nation installs "pot shacks" at the entrance and exit of Oka. Even more, he said that Mohawk land is a "place of cigarette merchants, garbage dumps, and contaminated water," according to La Presse (translation is our own).
According to reports, Quevillion doesn't want another Oka Crisis to happen, but if it does, it will be the residents of Oka rising up against the Mohawk Nation - a claim that citizens of Oka say doesn't match reality.
Though the land developers already agreed to give back the ancestral land to the Kanesatake Nation, the mayor's comments exacerbated generations worth of tension between Mohawks and Quebecers.
According to reports from TVA Nouvelles, members of the Mohawk Nation are setting up along roads and expelled the journalists that were on-site. This could be the beginning of something bigger, but everyone is hoping that things come to a reasonable conclusion.
The Oka Crisis in 1990 successfully stopped the expansion of the golf course, but the land has been disputed ever since. Though not legally binding, the land belongs to the Kanesatake people once again after developers gifted it back to them last week.
This is a complex and on-going situation. It's difficult to comment on the exact details and what will happen moving forward, but we will keep you updated the best we can.
For context, territorial disputes between First Nations and European settlers in Oka have been happening since the 1700s after New France built a seminary without permission.