The Summer of 1990: The Legitimate Rebellion of the Mohawk Nation

This cartoon was published in September 1990 in Socialisme Maintenant! newspaper. The then national leader of the Parti Québécois, Jacques Parizeau was the first political figure to demand the interventon of the Canadian Army to crush the Mohawks.

On July 11, 1990, the SQ troops stormed the pine forest next to the Mohawk traditional cemetery in Kanehsatake, near Montréal, to dislodge the Mohawk people who had been opposing, for months, a project of expansion of a golf club run by a shady entrepreneur with the support of the mayor of the neighbouring city of Oka. The assault of the provincial police ended with the death of a SQ officer—neither the police nor external investigators succeeded in identifying the murder weapon. This was the beginning of a colonial siege which lasted two and half months.

The then Liberal government in Québec City invoked the War Measures Act and called on the Canadian Army to kettle the resisters who bravely defended their territory. After being evicted on September 26, some 50 Mohawks were arrested and continued the fight on the judicial front—from which most emerged victorious. As for the expansion of the golf course project, its developers eventually abandoned it…

That summer of resistance by the Mohawk Nation has durably marked the relationships between Indigenous nations and the Canadian colonial state. Overall, the “Oka Crisis” (as the bourgeois media calls it) has introduced a new period in the history of capitalist development in Canada, marked by the sharpening of the contradictions between the bourgeoisie and its state—whose power is based on grabbing Indigenous territories—and Indigenous nations that aspire to their liberation.

For the small nucleus of revolutionaries then associated with the “Groupe Action Socialiste,” the summer of 1990 marked a period of intensive solidarity with the Mohawk resistance that would greatly contribute to defining the actual line of the PCR-RCP on the national question and the path of revolution in Canada.

Since The Red Flag will regularly provide old articles and documents from movement history, so as to allow today’s activists to dive back into the history of the Canadian and International Communist Movement, we felt it appropriate that, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Kanehsatake uprising, to present excerpts from the articles published in September and October 1990 editions of the now-defunct Socialisme Maintenant! newspaper. The position taken by the following document was ahead of its time: while it may be more common amongst the left, these days, to recognize the settler-colonial nature of the Canadian state and the ways in which Québec is also part of this colonial project, during the “Oka Crisis” this was not a common sentiment amongst the left, particularly in Québec. Hence, to discover a radical Québecois organization supporting the unqualified right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination, and the germ of an analysis that connected contemporary Québec Nationalism with settler-colonial racism, is very significant.

The editors

Armoured vehicles are advancing; 2,000 soldiers have taken position: the history of oppression of Canada’s Indigenous nations continues.

The Canadian bourgeoisie doesn’t recognize the existence of the Mohawk Nation. It considers Indigenous people as nothing more than “ordinary” Canadian citizens. The bourgeois press, far from recognizing Indigenous nations, shows them as “profiteers” who live at the expense of white-settler society, without ever doing anything.

Yet—and the bourgeois media doesn’t speak of this—Indigenous nations have lived on the continent without the “help” of white settlers for several thousands of years. For generations they have lived here and developed tools and techniques for hunting and farming, while developing remarkable political and social institutions.

A Long History of Oppression

The history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, since both French and English colonization, has been a bloody sequence of robbery, fraud and oppression. The colonizers took the best land, forcing the colonizers to relocate. The capitalists have invaded the forests, grazing thousands of square kilometres. Be it for hydroelectric dams, for oil wells or for mining, they drove away tens of thousands of women and men from their territories.

From the very beginning of white settlement, the treaties signed with Indigenous peoples were only trickery. Today, Indigenous people find themselves on less fertile land, pushed ever further as natural resources are exploited.

Mohawks are part of the Six Nations Confederacy along with the Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga and Tuscarora. Contrary to what happened in Kahnawake, where the Jesuits’ seigneury was transformed into a reserve, the Sulpicians’ seigneury (Kanehsatake) was, from early on, the scene of a myriad of attacks against the Mohawks. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Mohawks tried to convince the Sulpicians to let them use the natural resources of the seigneury, but the former categorically refused.

At the end of the 19th century, the Sulpicians, who had systematically opposed any claim of the Mohawks, engaged in a massive sale of land to Catholic and white settlers and attacked the Indigenous institutions. Those who opposed these projects were imprisoned. Others were forced into exile and deported elsewhere.

From the mid-nineteenth century, the Mohawks undertook a protracted battle for their rights. Until the eve of the First World War, they multiplied initiatives (petitions, litigation, etc.) to achieve this objective. Even still, the doors were closed with a bang the moment they attempted to promote their basic rights.

When the first nine holes of the Oka Golf Course were built in 1959, the Mohawks expressed their opposition. Several actions were undertaken, all in vain. Governments and media rejected the demands of the Mohawks, ridiculing and disparaging them. According to the white-settler state, a miserable golf club was more important than the aboriginal rights of a First Nation.

Now, during all these weeks of “crisis,” the government and the bourgeois media have never ceased to repeat that the Mohawks “didn’t want to negotiate,” that they were not acting in good faith! Yet several times in the past the Mohawks attempted to negotiate agreements and, each time, have been mocked for their efforts.

The Mohawks are fighting to survive. They reclaim their territory and access to the resources it contains. They want their national rights to be recognized. But because these claims are in contradiction with the free development of capitalist exploitation—that requires access to all natural resources—governments are ignoring them and are using their entire arsenal to maintain the oppression of Indigenous people.

Now, after centuries of oppression, while the Mohawks have recourse to arms, government and the bourgeois media are whining about “violence” they impute to the “bad guys”—the Warriors. What hypocrisy!

The Ugly Face of Québec Nationalism

One of the most interesting consequences of the so-called “Oka Crisis” was that it demonstrated that the national question in Canada is not limited—far from it—to the “domination” of the Québec nation by English Canada, but that Québec is itself a dominant nation within the imperialist fortress of Canada.

Right at the beginning of the siege, the leader of the Parti Québécois in the riding of Châteauguay denounced, in an open letter published in the daily newspapers, the “armed and fanatical terrorists” who, according to him, had made the people of the south shore of Montréal “hostage.”

A few days later, it was the turn of the PQ national leader himself [Jacques Parizeau] to denounce the Mohawks and the so-called “softness” of the Bourassa government, who “dared” to accept negotiation with the Mohawk representatives. Parizeau was eventually the first political figure to demand the intervention of the Canadian Army to crush the Mohawks. He also supported the racist demonstrations in Châteauguay.

The reactionary pronouncements from Parizeau and the main representatives of Québec nationalism—including Lucien Bouchard—who supported him, added to the silent complicity of most of those (artists, trade unionists, “left” politicians like Gilles Duceppe) who had joined him in the weeks preceding the siege at the big hysterical demos for Québec Day. All of this has helped provide the green light for small fascist organizations, like “SOS Genocide” and even the Ku Klux Klan, which then played a central role in the various attacks unleashed against the Mohawks.

The fact that much of these racist demonstrations have been held under the same slogans and the same flag as the Québec Day parade (“Québec for Quebecers!”, “For a strong Québec state,” etc.) obviously led several progressive activists to reconsider their positive assessment of Québec nationalism. The events of recent weeks were not isolated; they revealed more clearly than ever that Québec nationalism is not a factor of social progress—far from it.

“The Barricades of Our Solidarity Will Never Fall!”

Despite the fact there was a real but vague sympathy among many segments of the population for the Mohawk struggle (a survey conducted on behalf of La Presse newspaper the day after the failed intervention of the Sûreté du Québec in Kanehsatake revealed that 57% of Montrealers approved of the Mohawks, while only 18% supported the police), popular mobilization in support of the Mohawks has remained very low.

The almost complete absence of the official labor movement from the solidarity network that was established sharply contrasted with the enormous energies these organizations invested a few weeks before the “Oka crisis” when they massively mobilized workers under the flag of the Québec bourgeoisie after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. While the majority of trade unions and also popular and democratic organizations remained silent or were hiding, the right and the extreme right occupied the field and monopolized all forums.

With the arrest on the evening of September 26 of the Mohawk resistants still entrenched at the Oka rehab centre, and the start of legal procedures against them, the protracted and courageous struggle of the Mohawk people has ended. Without a doubt, this fight will continue and develop until Indigenous peoples achieve justice and national liberation.

The struggle of the Mohawks in recent months has stimulated the building of an important solidarity movement in Québec, but a movement that had to struggle in order to clear the thick jungle of prejudice, racism and intolerance against Indigenous people—sentiments that were far too present throughout the summer, including in many progressive circles.

The next phase that we are already entering raises new challenges. Everywhere—on the radio (AM stations are in the hands of fascists), in newspapers and in bourgeois parties—the reactionaries will continue to deny the legitimacy of the demands of the Mohawks, by claiming they are “a people coming from outside Québec” (!) who have no right to “our national territory.” The bourgeoisie will continue to spew their nonsense and to smear the Warriors, while criminalizing the Mohawk political prisoners.

Our solidarity should bar the way to all those who want to go back to the time when Indigenous people were only worthy of subjugation. We need to clear the misunderstandings so as to win everyone to the legitimacy of Indigenous demands. The solidarity movement should also be a movement of education to get rid of racist and nationalistic lies among the people. Above all, we need to strongly support the Mohawk political prisoners and demand their immediate freedom.

“Action Socialiste” calls for continuing and extending the fight in solidarity with the Mohawks in all sectors and by all means until truth and justice will be heard. Long live the struggle of the Mohawk people! Freedom for all their political prisoners!