Mohawks Kick Cops Off Rez
Mohawks Kick Cops Off Rez
Wii’nimkiikaa, Issue One, 2004
On January 12th of 2004, Kanehsata:ke’s Grand Chief James Gabriel incited a confrontation when he brought in 67 police officers from other Native communities to take over the Kanehsata:ke Mohawk Police (KMP) force and “crack down on crime”. Community residents called it an invasion and responded with force.
Earlier in the week, the news had gotten out that Gabriel had secretly signed a policing deal with the Canadian government in November of 2003, and community residents swarmed the Band Council office to reject the deal and the incoming police force. When James Gabriel’s new cops arrived on January 12th, road blockades were immediately set up to prevent nearby Quebec Provincial Police (Surete Quebec – SQ) from also invading.
Community members and masked-up Mohawk Warriors surrounded the Kanehsata:ke Mohawk Police station, using trucks to block the gates of the parking lot. The Mohawk Warrior flag was hung on the fence outside the station and a bonfire was built to keep everybody warm.
“In 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush deployed 113,000 troops to Iraq, population 27 million, to wage war on international terrorism. On Jan. 12, 2004, the Canadian and Quebec government sponsored a raid on Kanesatake, population 1,500, with 67 armed men. Can someone please tell Canadians why a small aboriginal community warrants an assault force that was proportionally 10 times greater than was deemed appropriate to combat Saddam Hussein?”
(Jane Whelen, Montreal Gazette, Tues. May 11, 2004)
About 20 riot cops assembled and fired two volleys of tear-gas canisters over the fence. The Warriors responded by chucking burning logs from the bonfire at the police. Angry community members moved onto the road and then to James Gabriel’s home. The house was set on fire, along with Gabriel’s car. At some point, the Grand Chief had fled the reserve.
Community members then returned to the police station and vowed to confine the police to the building until they agreed to leave Kanehsata:ke entirely. When the cops tried to order pizza, it was quickly intercepted and given out to the community members at the bonfire. Some Warriors said that police of any kind are unnecessary in Kanehsata:ke, since Warrior Societies have always fulfilled the role of protecting the people. By the bonfire, one community member explained:
“People are getting frustrated. They’re sick and tired of Jimmy endangering their lives. People don’t want this SOB back – he’s not coming back. As far as we’re concerned, he’s banished. It’s always these secret deals with him. The feds love him because he’ll sign whatever they put in front of him – but then, what can you expect? That’s Jimmy.”
James Gabriel’s decision to bring back former Kanehsata:ke cops Larry Ross and Terry Issac, further enraged the community. Both had been previously fired from the KMP because of their conduct, and in 1999 both had been involved in the shooting of Kanehsata:ke Warrior Joe David which left him paralyzed. “These guys are deadlier than the outside cops” asserted one person.
The next day, Kanehsata:ke Police commissioners and the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake negotiated a deal to bring in a joint force of Mohawk “peacekeepers” from Kahnawake and Akwesasne to temporarily take over Kanehsata:ke’s police station. James Gabriel’s goon squad left the reserve shortly after midnight.
It was soon revealed that the Canadian government had been ready to fund Gabriel with $900,000 to replace the Kanehsata:ke Mohawk Police and the community-appointed commission that is supposed to control it with a new organization called the “Kanehsata:ke Public Security Commission.” The commission would work in partnership with the SQ and RCMP.
The so-called “Band Council resolution” which Gabriel passed in order to bring back Larry Ross and Terry Issac was signed on January 2nd, 2004, a day when government offices and the Mohawk Council of Kanehsata:ke were closed.
February 8th: 2004, about 200 Mohawks from Kahnawake and Akwesasne took part in a solidarity march in Kanehsata:ke, some carrying signs with written slogans like “Iroquois not Quebecois.”
February 20th: The Mohawks of the Tyendinaga community showed their solidarity by physically preventing James Gabriel from holding a meeting on policing at the local Mohawk Community Centre. They set up a temporary lodge outside the centre and had a bonfire going all night. More people showed up in the morning to oppose Gabriel, but the ousted Grand Chief didn’t show his face.
March 11th: Gabriel signed yet another policing deal with the Quebec and Canadian governments at the Hilton hotel in Laval, behind a wall of riot cops.
March 31st: Schools shut down and Mohawk Warriors gathered outside the Kanehsata:ke Police station as the community prepared for the arrival of Gabriel’s newly appointed police chief Ed Thompson and the possibility of another invasion. The station’s KMP flag was taken down and replaced with a Warrior flag, but the Warriors left the scene before Thompson finally showed up, all by himself. Over the next few days Thompson proved himself to be a puppet of James Gabriel, and he mostly operated from nearby Oka, while Melissa Montour was the only KMP officer actually patrolling the community.
April 9th: About 20 community members gathered on Highway 344 and blocked Thompson and six of his newly appointed police officers from entering the reserve. Another police officer was turned away the following day.
April 12th: Going on the offensive, community members took over and shut down the Kanehsata:ke Police station and said that it would stay closed, at least until Band Council elections in June. Weapons were removed and given to the Kahnewake Mohawk police force. Residents proceeded to patrol the community, watching for attempted police raids.
April 16th: Arrest warrants were issued for 24 people in relation to the January 12th conflict. Deborah Etienne voluntarily turned herself in the next day, only to be forced to sign release conditions that she not communicate with the 23 other community members on the warrant list or return to her home in Kanehsata:ke. Another community member was arrested in Montreal and given the same conditions.
May 3rd: 40-60 of James Gabriel’s cops, decked out in full riot gear, tried to raid Kanehsata:ke. Warriors threw rocks, forcing the police to retreat and abandon a KMP police car. Gabriel and Thompson then called for SQ and RCMP intervention.
Mohawks from nearby communities such as Tyendinaga rushed to Kanehsata:ke to show solidarity and assist in preventing a full-scale siege. At the same time, the community was hit with the news of Joe David’s death.
May 5th: Masked Warriors set up camp on both sides of Highway 344 to prevent a joint intervention by the SQ, RCMP, and Gabriel’s cops. SQ cars are being allowed to drive through the reserve on the highway, as they usually do, but not to patrol or intervene in the community.
May 8th: the 24 Kanehsata:ke Mohawks on the warrants list appeared in court in St. Jerome. James Gabriel was represented by Francois Briere, who was the prosecutor against Ronald “Lasagna” Cross and other Mohawk Warriors after the 1990 Oka Crisis.
The judge ruled that nine of the accused could return home on the condition that they not wear masks, carry weapons or communicate with James Gabriel. Conditions preventing three of the accused from returning to their homes were upheld.
Cutting through the Crap
Throughout the recent conflict, the corporate media played their usual role in trying to cover-up the real reasons behind the struggle, to confuse and divide the people, to portray Warriors as apolitical criminals, and to convince the public that this was merely an internal dispute between Kanehsata:ke community members. The same tactics were used during the Oka Crisis of 1990, as they’d been used for years before then.
Cigarettes and marijuana have always been used as a smokescreen by the corporate media and their masters to divert attention from the legitimate struggle of the Mohawk people for their land and freedom. As some community members have pointed out, the cigarette trade has actually lowered the crime rate in Kanehsata:ke, since people now have a source of income.
For many traditionalists, the cigarette trade is a matter of self-sufficiency and economic survival. Mohawk involvement in the tobacco trade is hundreds of years old. Tobacco is an indigenous product which the European colonizers appropriated. Massive federal and provincial taxes on cigarettes have also contributed to smuggling.
Cigarette “smuggling” through the Akwesasne reserve, which is cut in half by the Canadian-American border, has been used by Canada as an excuse for police raids and harassment. Akwesasne has been ecologically destroyed by aluminium smelters and other industrial developments which have poisoned the land and caused birth defects amongst the people, leaving the cigarette trade as one of the only ways to make a living.
The ongoing conflicts on Mohawk territory, including Kanehsata:ke, are the result of more than 500 years of colonization and resistance. The authorities are trying to hide this fact in order to discourage the kind of radical solidarity that made the 1990 stand-off at Kanehsata:ke a “crisis” for Canada’s ruling elite.
The Mohawk Nation has been a major thorn in the side of the Canadian government, because the armed resistance of the Mohawk people has exposed Canada as a colonial state and has awakened the Warrior spirit in indigenous peoples across the country.
No other Indian nation within Canada has engaged in armed resistance as often as the Mohawks, and no other nation has been able to maintain police “no-go zones” for as long as they have.
The fighting spirit of the Mohawks, and their ability to forcibly retain independent control of their territory is completely unacceptable to the governments of Canada and Quebec.
“Mohawks don’t have leaders. They have spokespersons.”
(Mohawk Nation News, May 8, 2004)
The Sovereign Mohawk Nation
The traditional Mohawks have always maintained their sovereignty; their independence. They rightly view Canada as an occupying state that has oppressed the Mohawk people through hundreds of years of genocide and assimilation. A major part of this process was Canada’s imposition of the Band Council system.
Grand Chiefs, band Councils and police forces are not a part of traditional Mohawk culture, but were created and implemented by Canada as a way to manipulate and control the people.
With this understanding, it is easy to see that “corruption” is, in fact, “business as usual” for Chiefs and Band Councils, since they are funded by the Canadian government to manage Native communities and deter resistance to corporate expansion.
The traditional Mohawk form of community organization is the Longhouse, and it is maintained to this day as an independent forum of the people, and an alternative to participation in the Canadian Band Council system.
Women have been at the forefront of Mohawk struggles for self-determination. Traditional Mohawk culture is matrilineal; meaning that women hold a position of influence and respect within Mohawk society and pass this on to their children. Traditionally, if a Chief ever lost the esteem of their people, clan mothers could remove the offending Chiefs, and this removal was considered a permanent disgrace.
James Gabriel’s Regime and his KMP Militia
James Gabriel had already been ousted from the community once before, in December of 2001, when he was voted out of office. Residents were fed up with Gabriel funnelling money into policing while education and social programs were left out to dry.
In May of 2002, a group of 15 Kanehsata:ke women prevented Gabriel from returning to his position in the Band Council, despite a federal court order to reinstate him. But Gabriel finally slimed his way back in and got back to work making trouble, signing secret deals with his buddies in the governments of Canada and Quebec
Gabriel’s use of the KMP as his personal militia has been a constant source of tension in the community.
On June 5th of 1999, Kanehsata:ke cops Larry Ross and Police Chief Terry Issac, were involved in the shooting of Joe David, a traditionalist and sovereigntist who was among the Mohawk Warriors who defended Kanehsata:ke in 1990. and was one of the last holdouts in the Onentokon Treatment Center.
Joe had told a kid riding a four-wheel vehicle to get off his property, and the kid complained to the police that Joe threatened him. The KMP used this as an excuse to lay siege to Joe’s home.
Joe had always maintained that the establishment of the KMP was in conflict with the traditional Mohawk way of life. He was also considered to be a “squatter” on his own territory by the Band Council and the police, since he had moved into one of the 73 empty houses on the reserve, along with many other Mohawks.
Larry Ross in particular,pushed for an assault on Joe’s home, while the other cops wanted to wait it out and negotiate. Ross was well known for his hostile attitude towards Warrior Societies, which he referred to as “organized crime syndicates”, and he stated that he would “get rid of the Warriors.”
Ross ended up shooting Joe David in the back, paralyzing him.
James Gabriel has also been continuously trying to negotiate away Mohawk sovereignty. On March 27th of 2001, the Canadian government passed Bill S-24, ratifying an “Agreement with Respect to Kanesatake Governance of the Interim Land Base” between the Band Council and the Canadian government, which was negotiated throughout the year 2000. Fewer than half of the 1,000 eligible voters in Kanehsata:ke took part in the ratification vote. The final tally was 239 votes in favour and 237 opposed, with ten spoiled ballots. Despite this, the agreement passed by a “majority”.
Traditional Mohawks let it be known that they would continue to oppose the deal.
In September of 2001, Kanehsata:ke and Mi’kmaq cops, lead by Larry Ross, raided the home of former Chief Robert Gabriel, executing a search warrant for drugs. At the same time, 100 SQ officers and a SWAT team arrested Robert Gabriel in Montreal. No charges were laid against him and no drugs were found in his home. Instead, police removed a safe from Robert’s home which contained documents that he was using in a complaint he had filed against Grand Chief James Gabriel in March of 1999.
In the days after the raid, the vehicle of KMP spokesman Bobby Bonspiel was firebombed, gunshots were fired into the KMP station, forcing all the officers to flee to a nearby SQ station in Oka, and trees and power lines were cut down to blockade roads. Larry Ross was fired from the KMP in a unanimous decision by the Mohawk Council of Kanehsata:ke. Grand Chief James Gabriel defended Ross, but the community warned that there would be a war if he was not removed.
Ross had been previously fired from the Akwesasne police force because he was too “trigger-happy”. Before that he had been “honourably discharged” from the American army after participating in the first American war on Iraq. Ross boasted that he had “engaged the enemy”.
Robert Gabriel’s complaint in March of 1999 related to James Gabriel’s hiring of a known felon, Richard Walsh. allegedly, Walsh was hired to act as an undercover agent, to find anything that could be used to discredit Robert Gabriel, in case he ran against James in the upcoming election. James Gabriel released a communiqué to the community, explaining his side of the story. In it he stated that he hired Walsh for an undercover drug operation and paid him about $74,000 dollars over 14 months.
The policing agreement which created the KMP states that no member of the police force may have a criminal record and no Band Council member may issue directions to the Chief of Police or KMP officers.
Richard Walsh had, in fact, been arrested in Kingston, Ontario, for a “breach of recognizance” issued by the Ontario Provincial Police in Pembroke.
The arresting officers found on Walsh a KMP badge, emergency vehicle headlights, hand-cuffs, a police duty belt with baton and pepper-spray, and a stolen credit card. He was subsequently charged with “impersonating a police officer” in Ontario Provincial Court. Despite all this, an SQ investigation decided not to lay charges against James Gabriel for hiring Walsh.
On March 28th of 2003, Mohawk Warriors began to block one lane of traffic on Highway 344, in anger at a new policing agreement James Gabriel had signed with the Canadian government. The agreement was signed in secret, without the Band Council’s knowledge or involvement, and it authorized Cree and Mi’kmaq police officers to patrol the community.
On March 31st the Warriors expanded the blockade to both lanes of the highway, demanding that all non-Mohawk police officers leave the community. On April 2nd, the Department of Indian Affairs agreed to a meeting on the issue and the blockade came down, but the meeting did not resolve the conflict.
The Chiefs that came before James Gabriel were just as corrupt and despotic.
In 1976, Kanehsata:ke Chief Hughie Nicholas, used a little-known section of the Indian Act to abolish regular elections, public meetings and the posting of the Band membership list. He declared Kanehsata:ke a “custom band” and himself and his council as “hereditary”. He also decided that his position was a lifetime appointment. Traditional people of the Longhouse boycotted the elections, because to vote was to surrender their sovereignty as a nation and to conform to the Indian Act. In 1986, a Kanehsata:ke community group managed to oust Nicholas.
Canada’s ‘First Nations’ Policing Policy
“Indian Police physically enforce the will and laws of the oppressors on their own people with billy clubs, mace and guns. Indian Police are people destroyed as Indians, casualties of the psychological warfare waged on the Indian people. Indian Police are used by dominant society to harass the Indian people, especially those fighting for national and racial survival. Many Indian leaders were murdered by Indian Police, notably Sitting Bull and others.” (Karoniaktajeh ,Louis Hall, The Warriors Hand Book )
In 1991, the Canadian government implemented their “First Nations Policing Policy” in response to the growing indigenous resistance inspired by the Kanehsata:ke defenders during the Oka Crisis. $116 million dollars in federal funding went into the program, which involved tripartite agreements between federal, provincial and Band Council governments. First Nations police forces were established with about 10-15 officers per reserve, on average.
The Canadian government’s intention in developing First Nation police forces was not to give control back to Native communities. On the contrary, it was part of their ongoing attempts to assimilate Native peoples –turning Native reserves into municipalities and strengthening the control of Band Councils over the people living on reserves.
Like Band Council’s, First Nations police forces are not independent, but instead are administered by the provincial and federal governments. First Nations police enforce provincial and federal laws, are trained at provincial police institutes, and work in collaboration with their counterparts in the RCMP and provincial forces.
Through signing tripartite agreements to establish First Nations police forces Band Councils voluntarily place themselves under the jurisdiction of federal and provincial governments and give up the “sovereignty” of the nations they claim to represent. Authority is delegated from the government down to the Band Council’s and then the police.
The struggle for indigenous self-determination naturally leads to conflict with the police and Band Councils, since it undermines police and government control over Native communities, and this is why First Nations police target Warrior Societies and other traditional Mohawks.
Despite the fact that the Kanehsata:ke defenders of 1990 were judged “not guilty” by a Canadian jury, the Canadian government and the RCMP have always considered Warrior Societies “criminal organizations”.
The Creation of the Kanehsata:ke Mohawk Police
Immediately after the Oka Crisis, the federal government gave Jerry Peltier, an Ojibwe consultant for the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA), $250,000 dollars to run in a federally-forced leadership referendum and Band Council election in Kanehsata:ke. Despite massive community opposition and a mass election boycott, Peltier was installed as Grand Chief. In 1992, Peltier set up his own private 20-person enforcement team, known as the “Critters.”
The team went on a rampage, intimidating and threatening the lives of residents who were opposed to a bingo hall, attacking people whose homes they had “laid claim” to, and attempting to silence those who were vocally opposed to marijuana being cultivated in Kanehsata:ke. The SQ turned a blind eye to marijuana cultivation in an agreement with Peltier.
A group of 14 Kanehsata:ke women organized to oppose the violent dictatorship of Peltier, but requests for government assistance and legal appeals went nowhere. In 1995, the Band Council offered them $200,000 to drop their case, but they refused.
At this time a conflict was brewing over 73 homes on the reserve that were purchased by the federal government from non-indigenous owners and were supposed to be handed over to the Band Council. Over the years the negotiations dragged on and many people, decided to just move in to the empty houses without permission. When the Council tried to collect rent, traditional Mohawks refused, since they were living on their own land, and the Band Council is an agency of the Canadian government. For many traditional people, “squatting” the houses became an act of defiance in itself and a reassertion of Mohawk sovereignty.
In 1997, the Kanehsata:ke Mohawk Police were formed after a Chief was granted permission by the Quebec government to operate a casino on the condition that a policing agreement was signed. Eight of the 21 applicants were selected and rushed through a two-and-a-half year training program in six months. The Quebec Native Women’s Association denounced the lack of police training – particularly for the Kanehsata:ke force.
From April 1st of 1999 to March 31st of 2000, $1.3 million dollars were provided to the Kanehsata:ke Band Council to operate the KMP.
The KMP Emergency Response Team (ERT) was formed only a year later, in 1998. This means that most ERT members only had one year of experience as a police officer at the time of the team’s formation. The national average is six years experience.
As the KMP had 13 cops at the time, on a reserve with a population of 1,500, Kanehsata:ke became probably the smallest community in Canada to have an Emergency Response Team.
The Mohawk Warrior Tradition
Unlike some indigenous nations within Canada, the Mohawks were able to maintain their Warrior Societies and traditions. Since the beginning of the colonization of North America, the Mohawks have defeated numerically superior enemy forces through the use of guerrilla warfare tactics.
In 1759, 1,000 Warriors of the Six Nations Confederacy (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora) and 4,000 British soldiers, defeated 9,000 French troops in open battle. During the war of 1812, 600 Mohawks defeated 7,000 American soldiers, defending Kahnawake. Less than half of the soldiers returned to the U.S. alive. In Upper Canada (now Ontario), 1,000 Mohawks and other indigenous warriors defeated 10,000 American troops and drove them back into the U.S.
Warriors Societies began to reform in the early 1970’s, with women playing a prominent part, as they demanded to participate in the traditional War Dance and to carry weapons in armed confrontations.
Louis Hall, whose Mohawk name was Karoniaktajeh, was a major source of inspiration to the resurgent Warrior Societies of the 1970’s. He designed the Mohawk Warrior flag, wrote the Warriors Hand Book, and was involved in the 1974 Moss Lake occupation. As a supporter of traditional armed Mohawk resistance to colonization he rejected the Handsome Lake version of the Great Law of Peace, since Handsome Lake was a Quaker and a pacifist. Hall maintained that the Great Law of Peace only prohibited the use of weapons between the nations of the confederacy, but did not forbid defence against outside enemies such as the governments of Quebec and Canada.
A History of Mohawk Resistance to Invasion
“To fight any kind of war one needs courage, gumption, knowledge of the enemy and strategic planning. The biggest single requirement is fighting spirit. People with fighting spirit shall not become casualties of a psychological warfare.” (Karoniaktajeh ,Louis Hall, The Warriors Hand Book )
In 1968, Mohawks in Akwesasne took over the Seaway International Bridge in a struggle against a government decision to levy customs duties on goods. RCMP and OPP officers stormed the bridge and arrested 48 people. The 1793 Jay Treaty between the U.S. and Britain secured the right of the Mohawks to take goods across the border, but Canada refuses to recognize it.
Stanley and Loon Island were reoccupied in 1970, and in 1973, Kahnawake Warriors deployed weapons for the first time in recent history during a confrontation with the SQ that broke out after White settlers were evicted from houses on the reserve. SQ patrol cars were flipped over, and armed women Warriors took part in the conflict.
In May of 1974, Mohawk men and women occupied an abandoned camp at Moss Lake in New York State. They named it Ganienkeh – The Land of the Flint – the traditional name for the Mohawk homeland (The Mohawks call themselves the Kanienkehaka – People of the Flint). An armed stand-off began, involving hundreds of state police. The stand-off wound down after a few years of negotiations with New York State and the Mohawks exchanged Moss Lake for land near Altona, just south of the Canadian border. Ganienkeh was retained as the name for this land, liberated from the colonizer.
In 1979, Kahnawake Mohawk David Cross was shot and killed in his driveway by an SQ officer. The SQ were subsequently barred from entering Kahnawake, and the reserve essentially became a police “no-go zone.”
This provided a safe haven for Mohawks with arrest warrants. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien commented on the situation in 1994, saying “There will be no refuge for criminals. No-go areas are not acceptable in Canada” (Globe and Mail, Feb. 9/94)
In June of 1988, 200 RCMP officers raided six cigarette stores in Kahnawake, using helicopters, riot squads and semi-automatic weapons to arrest 12 people and seize $450,000 worth in cigarettes. In retaliation, the Kahnawake Warrior Society seized the Mercier Bridge for 29 hours. The blockade was lifted when the provincial & federal governments agreed to negotiations on the cigarette trade.
In early March of 1990, roadblocks and gun battles erupted between factions for and against cigarette smuggling and gambling on the Akwesasne reserve. Those opposed to smuggling and gambling were primarily Christian Mohawks and supporters of the Band Council, and they repeatedly requested police intervention in the matter, but after 33 days they were driven off in a gun fight. On May 1st, two Mohawks were killed in the conflict, including one Mohawk opposed to smuggling and gambling and a Warrior who mostly supported it. Subsequently, 400 Ontario police and RCMP officers, along with Canadian Armed Forces soldiers, New York State Police and U.S. National Guard troops invaded and occupied the reserve.
On March 10th of 1990 the Mohawks of Kanehsata:ke occupied the Pines (traditional lands on which the people’s cemetery is located) to oppose the Municipality of Oka’s plans to expand an adjacent golf course and to build 60 luxury homes around its perimeter.
The golf course was part of Oka’s lucrative tourist industry. For four months the community blockaded a road leading into the Pines, and on July 11th, over 100 members of the Quebec Provincial Police attacked the barricades, opening fire on mostly women and children and firing tear gas and concussion grenades. Members of the Kahnawake and Kanehsata:ke Warrior Societies returned fire. One SQ officer was shot and killed, most likely by “friendly fire.”
The wind blew the tear gas back at the SQ and the officers retreated, leaving several police vehicles behind, which Warriors then used to reinforce the barricades. In solidarity, Warriors in Kahnawake seized and blockaded the Mercier Bridge, a vital route into the city of Montreal, threatening to blow it up if Kanehsata:ke was attacked again.
The stand-off would last 78 days. 1,000 police officers and at least 2,650 Canadian soldiers (possibly as many as 4,000) were deployed, with tanks, Armoured Personnel Carriers and helicopters. It was the largest domestic military operation ever initiated by the Canadian government.
On September 26, the Mohawk defenders decided to move out of the Treatment Centre which the government had confined them to, but not to surrender! The Canadian soldiers were unprepared for this, but attacked and beat-up Warriors, women and children as they struggled to return to their homes. A few defenders actually managed to get past the soldiers, but were then arrested by police. One young Mohawk woman was stabbed with a bayonet by a Canadian soldier.
The Mohawk resistance at Kanehsata:ke sparked solidarity actions across Canada. Road and railway block-ades were set up, Indian Affairs offices were occupied, and sabotage was carried out against railway bridges and electrical power lines.
The potential for even greater and more widespread sabotage helped to effectively limit the government’s ability to militarily crush the Mohawk defenders at Kanehsata:ke. The events of 1990 are referred to as the “Oka Crisis” because Canada was on the verge of an Indian uprising.
On January 8th, 1991, residents of Kahnawake clashed with Quebec riot police and drove them off the reserve.
In February of 1992, Ronald “Lasagna” Cross and Gordon Lazore were found guilty of assault causing bodily harm, aggravated assault, and weapons charges relating to the Kanehsata:ke stand-off in 1990. Cross was sentenced to four years and four months in prison, while Lazore was sentenced to one year and 11 months.
They were found “not guilty” of uttering death threats to Canadian soldiers, and charges of “rioting” and “obstruction” were dropped. A third man, Roger Lazore was acquitted of all charges, as were another 34 of the Kanehsata:ke defenders in a separate trial.
On January 21st, 1994, about 60 rounds were fired at two Canadian military aircraft which flew over Kahnawake. When the aircraft landed in a field their crew was approached by residents who informed them that they had been shot at and would have to leave.
Bloc Quebecois Member of Parliament Claude Bachand was kicked out Kahnawake on February 10th of 1994, after going door-to-door asking residents about their attitudes towards “guns and smuggling”.
In 1999, a journalist with “Le Journal de Montreal” obtained 1,599 pages of documents through the Freedom of Information Act which described plans on the part of the Canadian government to launch massive raids on several Mohawk communities in 1994. Under the pretence of cracking down on cigarette smuggling, the stage was set for an invasion of 1,500 Canadian soldiers, 2,000 RCMP and 2,000 Sureté Quebec officers. The Canadian military’s elite Joint Task Force 2 unit was also to be involved. Training and planning occurred over the course of a year.
The police forces were to lead an offensive strike while the soldiers secured the surrounding areas. Eventually the plan was trashed when CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) warned the government of the massive bloodshed the invasion would cause and the possibility of a nation-wide indigenous uprising.
From May/June 2004
May 28: 4 police cars were set on fire outside the KMP station.
June 9: Joseph Day turned himself into the police after a warrant had been issued for his arrest in connection with the fire that burned James Gabriel’s house in January. Day is charged with ‘intentionally or recklessly causing damage by fire or by explosion.’ He was released from custody and will appear in court in the week of June 14.
June 11, 2004: The KMP station was set on fire, and put out by the fire department within the hour.
James Gabriel released a statement condemning the fire as,
“Another deplorable criminal act which under-lines the necessity to restore law and order quickly in Kanesatake,” And he promised “…to meet in the territory with the Kanesatake Mohawk Council Chiefs to over-come our differences and agree on the fundamental conditions needed to hold an open and fair election. … We must work together to let the people of Kanesatake choose the Grand Chief and Chiefs free of any fears or threats…”
Report from Kanehsatake:
The events in Kanehsatake of the last six months have proven to be very confusing and difficult to explain to those people not living within the territory. This question has been posed to me on numerous occasions. This will be the first time that I provide a written response to it.
Q: “In 1990 there was cross continental support and solidarity for the actions occurring in Kanehsatake, why is there so little support with what is going on currently?”
(Arihwakehte is a Kanehsatake Mohawk. He has been staying at a support camp at Kanehsatake and has been releasing independent media reports about the police conflicts.)
What makes this crisis different –in terms of support and solidarity– is the amount of negative mis-information and smear campaigns on the part of a Canadian government funded public relations firm and that the parties involved are both members of indigenous communities. Needless to say there is a great deal of confusion about the realities of the situation here in Kanehsatake. The public relations (PR) firms would have the public believe that the crisis in Kanehsatake is one of criminals hijacking control of the community from the duly elected leader James Gabriel. Gabriel who is portrayed like a sort of Elliot Ness who is fighting a war on crime and drugs and that this criminal element has ties to organized crime, etc., this however could not be further from the truth.
What makes this crisis so different from 1990 is that the media through highly orchestrated media spin has painted all Kanehsatake residents collectively with the same paintbrush-as criminals. Kanehsatake like any other community has criminal activity-no more no less-the media through Gabriel and Canada’s PR firm have made Kanehsatake out to be Sodom and Gomorrah. The stories that don’t get reported-at least not as often or loudly-is the corruption on the part of James Gabriel or the brutality of his police. In 1990 the lines were clearly drawn, indigenous people fighting colonial governments and defending their lands. In 2004 the struggle is very similar with some noted exceptions, namely the players in the game. In 1990 there were non-indigenous police and military on one side and indigenous warriors on the other.
Now however the images and stories coming out of Kanehsatake are Indigenous “criminals” fighting to defend their criminal interests against Indigenous police and “leadership”. The real fight in Kanehsatake is the defense of the community against brutal policing and band council corruption secret deals that undermine Indigenous rights.
Since the inception of the Kanesatake Mohawk Police (KMP) in 1997 there has been a series of incidents of police brutality and abuse of authority on the part of the KMP under the direction and sanctioning of James Gabriel. In the first two years of the KMP’s existence there was a high level of community acceptance as well as pride in the establishment of this police force. However, this relationship quickly began to fade when certain members of the KMP began to employ heavy handed policing techniques against community members, such as using batons, pepper spray and stun guns instead of dialogue and negotiations.
On July 15th 1999 the KMP’s use of violence came to a head with the shooting and crippling of Joe David. Immediately the shooting of Joe was deemed politically motivated by community members including the family and friends of Joe. Especially emphasized by Larry Ross’ publicly professed hatred for members of the Mohawk Warrior Society.
On numerous occasions the KMP conducted raids on community members homes. In one particular incident the residence of Harvey Nicholas was targeted. The KMP broke down Harvey’s unlocked doors and shot at him while he was still sleeping in his bed unarmed. The raid netted approximately 10 immature marijuana plants, subsequently the case against Harvey was thrown out of court due to the abuse of authority and the excessive use of force by the KMP.
In Jan./04 James Gabriel subverted the authority of the Kanehsatake Mohawk Police Commission (KMPC) by secretly hiring 67 police including Larry Ross and Terry Isaac. The operation was to remove the former chief of police Tracey Cross and to conduct a massive raid on the community to search for marijuana, firearms and to shut down the cigarette stores operating in Kanehsatake.
In reality the operation was to secure James Gabriel’s political power by using these police as a instrument to criminalize his political opponents, Gabriel publicly stated that he wanted to “cut off the head of the opposition”. The operation was funded by the Solicitor General of Canada in cooperation with the RCMP and received $900,000 dollars to buy assault rifles, tear gas, and body bags.
Canada could now have its dirty work done by Indigenous police instead of the RCMP or Quebec’s police force the Surette du Quebec (SQ) By having Indigenous police carry out assaults for them.
The Canadian government is able to play off the crisis as an internal problem and not one of an external police force assaulting an Indigenous community as was the case in 1990 and again in 1995 in Gustafson Lake BC. Right from the beginning of the crisis-unlike the 1990 crisis-the media spin was immediate and what was being said was that a handful of criminals was holding the community hostage. The fact that the real intention of the January 12th operation was to undermine the KMPC and remove Tracey Cross as the KMP chief of police was down played by the media under the guidance of Canada and Gabriel’s PR firm.
Once Gabriel’s house was burnt by a very small group of men who acted on their own, an action that was condemned by the community. All the attention has been focused on this one event and all the other contributing factors have been negated even though they hold importance in understanding the situation in Kanehsatake.
The residents of Kanehsatake fully understand the frustrations felt by those individuals who took their anger out by burning Gabriel’s house.
Kanehsatake community members as well as the KMPC were able to have a peaceful resolution to the crisis of January 12th and 13th by having police from Kanehsatake’s sister community Kahnawake come and assume interim police duties.
On January 2nd-a legal holiday-Gabriel and his supporters on council secretly created a new policing agreement called the Tripartite Policing Agreement (TPA) with Canada and Quebec. The TPA calls for the abolishment of the existing legally recognized and sanctioned Kanehsatake Mohawk Police Commission (KMPC) with the Kanesatake Public Security Commission (KPSC).
What makes the two different is that the KMPC is comprised entirely of community members who put in their applications and are selected by committee. The KPSC on the other hand has Gabriel and the band councilors holding the policing portfolio Clarence Simon, at its head and the three other commissioners are the directors of welfare, health, and education –all Gabriel supporters.
The TPA gives Gabriel total control over policing and this agreement also allows non-Kanehsatake residents to sit on the KPSC, furthermore the TPA allows police to be commissioners on the KPSC. The KMPC is a civilian commission that acts as a buffer and a liaison between the band council and the KMP and the community and the KMP.