Hudson community helps commemorate 25-year anniversary of Oka Crisis

PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO

About two dozen Kanesatake resident make a symbolic march through the Pines and around the Oka Golf Course last Saturday, July 11, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Oka Crisis, part of a weekend of Remembrance Events.

Under a sunny blue sky, a light breeze, and the grace of centuries old pines, a procession of Kanesatake residents set off on a commemorative march at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, July 11, 25 years to the day of the Oka Crisis that saw a simmering land dispute result in a standoff that would grip the community, placing it on the world stage for the next 78 days.

“The Town of Hudson played a significant role during the summer of 1990,” said Chief Lourena Montour to the assembled dignitaries, guests, and media who gathered in Kanesatake for Remembrance Events that spanned the entire weekend. “Kanesatake has had strong economic ties with Hudson. This deep-rooted relationship and history motivated the townspeople of Hudson to take action to support Kanesatake at a time when we needed support.”

Those in attendance stopped short of calling the event a ceremony saying the pain the community endured a quarter century ago when the neighbouring Town of Oka sought to expand a golf course by encroaching onto a native burial ground, and the ensuing standoff , was not something to be celebrated. “All our residents were profoundly affected at that time,” read Hudson Mayor Ed Prévost from a framed letter presented to Kanesatake Chief Serge Simon, “and many risked arrest by transporting food and other necessities as best they could across the pond. We stood by you through those difficult times and we stand with you today.”

Both Mayor Prévost and Chief Simon said they look forward to building on the foundation of their existing good relationship and, as expressed in Simon’s letter to the Town of Hudson, “We thank the Mayor and the Hudson Town Council for their ongoing commitment to maintaining this warm and cordial friendship, separated by history but united by our love of peace and understanding.”

Among the attendees were Hudson residents Michael Legg, John Angus, and John Sauter, all who retained memories of being under siege by police and military presence, on land, water, and in the air. “We were all nervous with the military presence and realize it could’ve gone in a completely different direction,” said Sauter. “By now, some people seem to have learned from (the experience). Maybe not enough but I think it’s a huge step forward. We owe a great deal to the Natives. We, the Europeans, invaded this land and what was done to them was entirely unfair.”

Among the speakers at the day’s events was Francine Lemay, the sister of Sûreté du Québec (SQ) Officer Marcel Lemay who was fatally shot on the first day of the standoff. Francine’s immersion into the Mohawk’s history with territorial disputes resulted in her being an instrumental force behind the translation of the book “At the Woods’ Edge” documenting the turmoil that led to the 1990 crisis. “In 2004, I learned for the first time the history of the Mohawks of Kanesatake,” she said. “The events related in this book shocked me profoundly. This book has led me into a journey I could not have imagined. Despite the resistance of some, many have shown interest in knowing more about First Nations, but much still needs to be done concerning recognition and reparation of wrongs.”

At the July 11 event, Lemay described herself as an, “…artisan of peace, one who looks to build bridges,” and stressed bridges must always be built using the best materials, in this case including love, compassion, and integrity. “I feel privileged to have contributed in my own humble way to the healing process.” Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon announced that, with a dialogue between himself, Chief Simon and the two communities’ respective councils, the Pines will be preserved.

“We are creating conditions for our two communities to flourish.” Quebec Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Geoff rey Kelley acknowledged that while the day evoked painful memories, there was a feeling of reconciliation. “From a distance in Quebec City, I can talk about ‘bon voisinnage’ but it’s up to the locals to make it happen.” Th e second day of the two-day event paid tribute to the survivors of the Indian Residential Schools (IRS) with the unveiling of a monument honouring the living survivors.

To see more photos of Saturday’s events, see our Facebook page.

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