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Honouring the faces of 1990

(COURTESY GERALD TAIAIAKE ALFRED)

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The rolling blockade to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the so-called Oka Crisis in 1990, saw dozens of cars join the caravan up the Mercier Bridge to show respect and to honour all the brave men and women who took a stand, and fought for their rights and land.

The Crisis would become a watershed event for all Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island after the Surete du Quebec tried to shut down a peaceful demonstration in Kanesatake, protesting the town of Oka’s golf course expansion plan into the Pines, which would have seen a cemetery demolished and condos built.

On July 11, 1990, a shootout ensued, killing corporal Marcel Lemay and sparking a 78-day standoff.

On July 11, Bryan Akwirente Deer, along with his friend Gerald Taiaiake Alfred and about 20 other people, gathered to remember.

“A group of us gets together every July 11 at 6 a.m., and we go to the greenspace just to commemorate what happened for the anniversary,” said Deer. “And to let the outside know that we are still here.”

Around 7:30 a.m., the group got into their vehicles and headed to the old site of the Kahnawake Survival School at the eastern boundary of the territory.

“We came down the 132 up into the Mercier Bridge,” said Deer, who was on the frontlines in the summer of 1990.

“When we got to the top of the span, we stopped. Some of us got out of our cars because that is where we were in 1990. We then got back into our vehicles, drove to the north side of the bridge, and we took the U-turn and came back into the territory.”

Deer said that when the convoy got back to the top of the bridge, they stopped again, but this time for a longer time.

“People were taking pictures and sharing stories. We then continued down on the 138 to the U-turn near the Sports Complex and then back down to the 207 Longhouse,” he said.

The rolling blockade was organized by the 207 Longhouse. The People of the Longhouse in Kanesatake also planned their own rolling blockade Saturday morning on Route 344 (see story on this page).

According to Deer, many non-Indigenous people showed their support on the bridge.

“We were happy and proud because of what we went through in 1990, the good and the bad. The guys were telling stories when we got back on the bridge. We were reminiscing.

“Some guys had their children with them, and they were telling them what happened in ’90. So, they were getting history from people who were actually there,” said Deer.

Gerald Alfred, who was 25 during the crisis and was working for the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, and whose father, Bonnie Alfred, was a frontline Warrior, said it is important for Kahnawa’kehró:non to remember the stand their people took.

“We as a community represent, in a lot of Native People’s minds, the strong position of defending nationhood and how our people are looked up to by a lot of other Indigenous Peoples who are protecting their land and water, and the environment and their rights,” said Alfred.

“We can’t ever take it for granted that those things are safe and we always have to remind our younger generation and everybody else in the country that we are the people that are willing to defend those things and our people’s stand 30 years ago was a watershed event in Canadian history, and it is important to remember that, and we always have to be vigilant and ready to do it again, if necessary,” he said.

The People of the Longhouse also released a statement to mark the 30th anniversary.

“Many of the advances made by Onkwehón:we Peoples throughout Canada can be attributed to the 1990 Crisis, as Canada became desperate to avoid another armed conflict,” it reads.

“In many ways, the situation in both of our communities remains the same. Our ancestral lands still face theft and dispossession: our traditional governments de-legitimatized by colonial created political entities by the Governments of Canada and Quebec,” the release continued.

Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) grand chief Joseph Norton also released a statement to commemorate the crisis and said that racism is still an issue.

“The lack of respect that continues to be shown by governments when dealing with Indigenous people astounds me. People who should know better continue to deny that there is systemic racism against our people,” said Norton.

For Deer, not much has changed in the last 30 years, but the legacy of the Crisis lives on.

“The young ones who stood up (in 1990) have learned that we have to stand up, and we have to fight for our culture, our language, our rights. And now the children and grandchildren are continuing to learn about it and to keep it going. That is what is important to us,” said Deer.

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