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The Mohawk Defense Of Kanasetake (aka Oka, Quebec, Canada)

From the Lubicon News Station, Edmonton, Alberta Canada (n.d.)
Appended is an editorial from The Edmonton Journal, 6 May 1991


The period between March 11 and September 26, 1990 was marked by the confrontation between Mohawk Indians, the Quebec Provincial Police, and the Canadian Armed Forces near Oka. The first barricades were in place in March, and the last torn down in September, with considerable cost and damage to both sides, in what has generally become referred to as a standoff.

The problem started when the courts allowed a controversial and publically challenged Oka Town Council plan to develop a nine-hole golf course into an eighteen-hole golf course, insensitively located on one of the last small parcels of sacred grounds, including Mohawk a meeting place and a centuries old cemetary.

Despite being outnumbered by the massive fire power of thousands of army troops, the Mohawks emerged triumphant though trodden, and the land was protected. Even the barbaric aftermath of police brutality and sweeping arrests, the fundamental story which continues to cause tremors amongst Canada's military establishment is that a small band of angry natives held off the army.

Gayaneshakgowa And The Wampum Belt Of The Iroquois Confederacy

Another success of the Mohawks was described by Michael Baxendale, author and journalist, who wrote For a better understanding of the Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy of which the Mohawk people are a part we have published the Great Law Of Peace in its entirety, perhaps for the first time in a non-native publication. (1) The Great Law Of Peace is subtitled The Constitution Of The Iroquois Confederacy, and is known in Mohawk as Gayaneshakgowa. It includes several sections primarily regarding the use of Wampum Strings and Belts (Sections 17, 23, 28, 55, 56, and 91), with Section 60 describing in particular detail the Wampum Belt Of The Iroquois Confederacy:

A broad belt of wampum of thirty-eight rows, having a white heart in the center, on either side of which are two white squares all connected with the heart by white rows of beads shall be the emblem of unity of the Five Nations.

The first of the squares on the left represents the Mohawk Nation and its territory, the second square on the left and near the heart represents the Oneida Nation and its territory, and the white heart in the middle represents the Onondaga Nation and its territory. It also means that the heart of the Five Nations is single in its loyalty to the Great Peace, and that the Great Peace is lodged in the heart (meaning with Onondaga League Chiefs) and that the Council fire is to burn there for the Five Nations. Further it means that the authority is given to advance the cause of peace whereby hostile nations out of the League shall cease warfare. The white square to the right of the heart is the Cayuga Nation and its territory and the fourth and last square represents the Seneca Nation and its territory.

White here symbolizes that no evil nor jealous thoughts shall creep into the minds of the chiefs while in the Council under the Great Peace. White, the emblem of peace, love, charity, and equality surrounds and guards the Five Nations.

NOTE: The above Wampum Belt was made by Ayonwatha (Hiawatha to the white man) to commemorate the making of the Great Law. (1)

History shows the Mohawk as an undefeated nation. Although there has never been colonial recognition of the Great Peace or the Wampum Belt Of The Iroquois Confederacy, the most recent attempt to invade Iroquois territory previous to the Oka incidents was by Frontenac in 1697, with the Mohawks emerging as victors following a successful ambush which freed 280 Mohawk prisoners.

The costs have always been high for the colonial suppression of the Iroquois, who killed almost half the population of New France in two months in 1689. A standoff between the French and the Iroquois occurred over the issue of the release of Mohawk slaves (serfs), and ended in 1697 with the soldiers fleeing. No amount of money, religious brainwashing, or torture could defeat the natives. Costs for the Oka incident are also alarming.

The final analysis of the price of the incidents at Oka were tallied by the various governmental forces to exceed $200 million, not including the $50,000 per day still being spent by the Quebec police to patrol around the Kahnawake and Akwesasne reserves. The $200 million-plus costs are basically sub-divided into provincial and federal expenses, with over half borne by the Quebec government. Major expenses were the army and overtime wages for Quebec police, with about 10% ($20 million) going compensation for residents who lives were disrupted.

The land in dispute at Oka was worth only a small fraction of the money spent to squash the revolt of the Mohawk Warriors. It was nearly ten times the amount budgeted annually by the Canadian government for land claims settlements. As Terry Kelly wrote in a 1991 editorial in the Edmonton Journal, It is more than half the $355 million that Prime Minister Mulroney grandly promised recently to spend over five years to speed up the land claims settlements. Clearly the issues behind the Oka incidents were deeper than money or property. Power, authority, and justice were fought for, and the Mohawk victory was and is a victory for all.


1.) Maclaine, Craig and Baxendale, Michael, This Land Is Our Land - The Mohawk Revolt At Oka, Optimum Publishing International Inc., Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1990. (photography by Robert Galbraith)

The high cost of Oka

Editorial from The Edmonton Journal, Monday 6 May 1991

posted by Terri Kelly (terri@oneb.wimsey.bc.ca)

The price-tag for the confrontation last summer at Oka is finally being toted up and it runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars. It should make apparent, on financial as well as human grounds, the failure of policies and attitudes towards natives that are based on neglect and conflict.

Public Security Minister Claude Ryan told the Quebec legislature recently the standoff at Oka between police and Mohawk Indians cost the province's taxpayers more than $112 million. Most of this, about $71 million, was in overtime costs for police who set up round-the-clock surveillance during the 77-day confrontation. About $20 million more was paid in compensation to nearby residents whose lives were disrupted.

These costs are separate from the $83 million spent by the Canadian Armed Forces after Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa requested that the army come in and deal with the blockade by armed Mohawks. The costs also don't include the estimated $50,000 a day the Quebec police say it costs to patrol around the Kahnawake and Akwesasne reserves even now. Far from resolving the crisis, the police and army action merely created a lasting animosity. The police patrols go on.

These figures total more than $200 million and are rising. To put the cost of the crisis in some sort of context, it is about 10 times what the federal government budgets for land claims settlements each year. It is more than half the $355 million that Prime Minister Mulroney grandly promised recently to spend over five years to speed up the land claims settlements. It is, needless to say, far more than the land claimed by the Mohawks (and sought by the town of Oka for a golf course) is worth on the market.

The daily, demoralizing stupidity of the standoff at Oka was apparent from the beginning. It represented, for all the world to see, the failure of political solutions in Canada. It also cost hundreds of millions of dollars, we now learn, which puts a sort of price-tag on that failure.