The Oka Crisis

The Oka Crisis began on July 11, 1990 in Oka, Quebec and was a land dispute between the Mohawk nation and the non-aboriginal residents of the town and lasted until September 26, 1990. This dispute had resulted in the death of a police officer, and was widely publicized throughout Canada and United States. The conflict specifically was  between the town of Oka and the Mohawk community of Kanesatake. The Mohawk nation had been pursuing a land claim that included a burial ground and a sacred grove of pine trees near Kanesatake and was being claimed as long-held ancestral land by the Mohawks (Brown 2003).

However the mayor of Oka, Jean Ouellette, announced in 1989 that the remainder of the pines would be cleared to develop plans to expand a golf course onto the land as well as condominiums and none of these plans consulted with the Mohawks. (Brown, 2003) The court allowed for the golf course construction and thus members of the Mohawk community barricaded the area. On July 11 the mayor asked the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) (Thompson, 2010), Quebec’s provincial police force, to intervene with the Mohawk protest, claiming that criminal activity had been practiced around the barricade because the Mohawk has weapons. However the women of the Mohawk Nation decided that the weapons should only be used if the SQ fired on the barricade and were only used for protection, but many Canadians believed this was not right to resort to weapons  (Morris 1995).

On July 11,a police emergency response team attacked the barricade with tear gas canisters and flash bang grenades in an attempt to create confusion in the Mohawk ranks (Thompson 2010). The police fell back during the fight; however 31-year-old Quebec policeman Corporal Marcel Lemay was shot and died. Eventually the Mohawks were joined by natives from across Canada and the United States in their protest. The natives refused to dismantle their barricade and the Sûreté du Québec established their own blockades to restrict access to Oka and Kanesatake, thus main roads and highways were blocked off (Morris 1995).

Even though the federal government agreed to spend $5.3 million to purchase the section of the pines where the expansion was to take place, to prevent any further development, the situation had not been addressed and the ownership of the land had simply moved to a federal level. According to the Sûreté du Québec the situation became out of control the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were brought in, however they also failed at controlling the situation (The Canadian Press 2010).

Both groups, the Mohawks and the police, had put up blockades at the Mercer Bridge to stop any travel in and out of the disputed area. Since neither group was willing to dismantle their barricades Quebec Premier, Robert Bourassa, called in the Canadian Armed Forces on August 8. About 2,500 regular and reserve troops from the 34 and 35 Canadian Brigade Groups and 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group were put on notice. On August 20 the armed forced took three barricades and arrived at the final blockade leading to the disputed area, however, there were no shots. (Brown, 2010)

On August 29, the Mohawks negotiated an end to their protest with Lieutenant Colonel Robin Gagnon. Although negotiations were slow, and it took several weeks before the Mercier Bridge and highways 132, 138 and 207 were able to reopen to regular traffic, this resulted in the resolution of the blockade on the Kahnawake reserve. The Canadian Press (2010) claimed the Mohawks at Oka felt betrayed when they lost in the negotiations and the Quebec government had rejected all further negotiations. By September 26, the Mohawks surrendered by dismantled their guns and throwing them into a fire, ceremonially burned tobacco and then walked out of the pines and back to the reserve (CBC News 2010).

In summary the Oka Crisis lasted seventy-eight days and the originating issue of the golf-course expansion was cancelled. The Oka Crisis eventually led to the development of Canada’s First Nations Policing Policy. Jean Ouellette said of the crisis that his responsibilities as mayor required him to act as he did and he stands behind his decision, even though many would have disagreed (CBC News 2010).


Brown, Jennifer. 2003. “Doing Aboriginal History, a View from Winnipeg.” The Canadian Historical Review 84, 613-635. Retrieved October 13, 2012.

Morris, Martin J. 1995. “Overcoming the Barricades: The crisis at Oka as a case study in political communication. Journal of Canadian Studies, 74-90. Retrieved October 17, 2012.

The Canadian Press. 2010. “Oka Crisis: legacy questioned,”CBC News. Retrieved October 17, 2012.

Thompson, Chad D. 2010. “Post-Colonialism Post Socialism, and Multiple References.” Socialist Studies: the Journal of the Society for Socialist Studies. 1:10.



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