PBI-Canada observes the 30th anniversary of the Oka Crisis and the ongoing usurpation of Indigenous territories

Published by Brent Patterson on

This July 11th will mark the 30th anniversary of a siege against Indigenous land defenders opposed to the expansion of a golf course and the construction of three luxury homes in The Pines, an area that includes a burial ground on Kanehsatake territory.

Sean Carleton explains: “In 1990, during the Oka conflict, Mohawks at Kanehsatà:ke endured a 78-day siege by La Sûreté du Québec and the Canadian military for opposing the expansion of a nine-hole golf course on unceded Kanien’kéha:ka territory.”

The events of July 11 to September 26, 1990 are told in Alanis Obomsawin’s 2-hour documentary Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance and in the video by Kwakwaka’wakw historian Gord Hill The Oka Crisis in five minutes.

After the siege, Peace Brigades International’s 1991 Annual Report noted that PBI activists were invited by members of the Mohawk communities of Kahnawake and Kanesatake to provide training in non-violence.

Toronto-based author-activist Len Desroches has written: “The summer after the ‘Oka crisis,’ some members of Peace Brigades International and myself spent an intense week in Kanesatake and Kahnawake [and] explored the possibilities of active nonviolence with members of the Mohawk community.”

The PBI Annual Report further explains: “Part of the training was held in The Pines, site of the armed confrontation between the Sûreté du Québec and Mohawk Warriors a year before. PBI’s internationalism was especially valued, above all because one of the trainers was himself an Indigenous person from Central America.”

The year after that, the Peace Brigades International-North America Project (PBI-NAP) was established with a focus on Indigenous rights.

Its work began with a training that took place in March-April 1992 on Stó:lō territory in British Columbia. The training was informed by Elizabeth Little Elk, a member of the Lakota Sioux Nation and a member of the PBI-USA national coordinating committee.

Alaine Hawkins of PBI-NAP wrote: “The training was organized to prepare people in Western Canada to do PBI-type observing within the North American context, particularly applied to Native peoples’ struggle for justice.”

From 1992 to 1999, PBI-NAP visited various frontline struggles including Nitassinan, Ipperwash, Barriere Lake and Esgenoopetitj (Burnt Church).

Steve Molnar of PBI-NAP noted: “There were a lot of things that we did in Guatemala that were quite applicable and then some things that were just totally new. In Guatemala, we might see massacres or open violence. [In North America, we witnessed] a type of genocide, a cultural genocide. A lot of our work was spent recording that.”

While that project closed in December 1999, PBI-Canada has continued to report on Indigenous land defence struggles relating to mega-projects on Wet’suwet’en, Miꞌkmaꞌki, Treaty 1 and Secwepemc territory, and Treaty 5 territory.

Last year, Ellen Gabriel commented: “We want to have the ability, like everybody else, to be able to live in a safe and secure environment, and we cannot do that when the Government of Canada continues to control our lives and our lands. If [Canadians] really care about peace in this country, then they need to learn their own colonial history.”

PBI-Canada commits to that and keeps in mind PBI-NAP’s ‘principles and mandate’ statement that highlighted: “We recognize that the problems faced by many Indigenous communities are outcomes of structures that do not represent their culture or tradition, and whose imposition is experienced as violence – an ongoing experience of conquest.”

To read more about PBI’s accompaniment of Indigenous struggles in Latin America, please see Defenders of land rights, culture and natural resources.

“First the colonial invasion, then the multinationals. In Guatemala the usurpation of territories against indigenous peoples does not stop.”

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