The Oka Crisis (Kanesatake), Quebec, 1990

The events that took place throughout the duration of the Oka Crisis serve as a reminder of Canada’s colonial and imperialist history.  Dispossession and exploitation of indigenous peoples and their land is a defining historical feature of the relationship between pre-Canadian colonial administrations and indigenous groups (Gordon 2011: 68).  According to Todd Gordon (2011), indigenous nations are Canada’s very own Third World colonies.  This is evidenced by the fact that First Nations communities have rates of poverty, illness, and suicide several times higher than the rest of Canada, compounded by the fact that they are stripped of any meaningful right to self-determination (p.66).  In the early to min-nineteenth century as the capitalist economy emerged, a systematic strategy of dispossession commenced, in which indigenous rights, land tenure, and culture became targets of the Canadian state (Gordon 2011: 68).  It was the natural wealth of indigenous land that was of value to the Canadian state, for the purpose of capitalist expansion.  These lands and the economic gains to be made from them can be seen by the mines that were developed, the oil discovered, the private farms established to feed the growing urban centres, the railways laid, the roads to transport goods paved, and tourist resorts built (Gordon 2011: 67).  Throughout these strategies of dispossession that proceeded, one of the most common strategies of dispossession was the blatant theft of indigenous land, facilitated by the military power and violence of colonial governments and the Canadian state (Gordon 2011: 69).  There was also the treaty process, which was abused as another strategy for dispossession.  Wherever possible, Canada exploited its military strength, while taking advantage of the economic vulnerabilities of the indigenous groups as much as possible to limit their rights and treaty lands (Gordon 2011: 69).  Therefore, it becomes clear that economic development of indigenous communities is premised on the negation of their self-determination.  These efforts require the exploitation and degradation of natural resources which are essential the survival if indigenous communities, as well as the survival of their social, cultural, and economic sustainability (Gordon 2011:79).  In light of these facts Gordon (2011) suggests that the entire foundation of Canadian capitalism rests upon indigenous land and resources, and that the growth of Canadian capitalism could only be made possible by the imperialist subjugation of indigenous nations and their resources (p.67).

Such tactics, on the part of the Canadian state, employed in order to achieve capitalist gains, still continue today, with the Oka Crisis serving as a contemporary example of the tension still present between the Canadian state and indigenous people.  However, in order to gain public support and maintain legitimacy in the eyes of the public, those opposing the state must be constructed as enemies or threats to the nation.  It is at this point that a distinction is made between the “normal” and the “deviant”.  The norm is in the centre, and is “naturalized”, while the state ensures the marginalization of those whom state agencies and those in power oppose or find threatening to their privileges (Kinsman, Buse, and Steedman 2000: 278).  It is here that notions of “national security” and “subversion” are constructed to protect those in power.  Those defined as national security risks are labeled as “other” or the “enemy within”, and are deemed threats to the nation and  thus coded with danger (Kinsman et al 2000: 279; Kinsman 2010: 149).       The concept of “national security” rests on notions of the interests of the “nation”, which is demarcated by capitalist, racist, patriarchal, and heterosexist relations (Kinsman et al. 2000: 281; Kinsman 2010: 152).    A 1994 Treasury Board report defined “national interest” as concerns relating to “the defense and maintenance of the social, political, and economic stability of Canada” (Kinsman 2010: 152).  Therefore, social, political, and economic stability is seen here as inherently in the national interest, and thus, those who stand in the way of these aims, will be targeted for going against then state.  It is through this construct of national security, that    the undercutting and curtailing of human and civil rights becomes normalized (Kinsman et al. 2000: 283).  Through these notions of national security and Othering indigenous groups are constructed as  unruly “Indians” or outlaws who pose an internal danger to Canadian law and order, even though it is their land and security under threat (Dhamoon and Abu-Laban 2009: 176).  As Dhamoon and Abu-Laban (2009) see it, it is a tactic of the state to convince the Canadian public that it is the oppressed who are the “terrorists” in order to justify the use of violence against them (p.176).


Dhamoon, Rita and Yasmeen Abu-Laban.  2009.  “Dangerous (Internal) Foreigners and Nation-Building:  The Case of Canada.”  International Political Science Review 30(2):163-83.

Kinsman, Gary, Dieter K. Buse and Mercedes Steedman.  2000.  “How the Centre Holds – National Security as an Ideological Practice.”  Pp. 278-286 in Whose National Security? Canadian State Surveillance and the Creation of Enemies, edited by Gary Kinsman, Dieter K. Buse and Mercedes Steedman.  Toronto:  Between the Lines.

Gordon, Todd.  2011.  “Empire at Home.”  Pp. 66-133 in Imperialist Canada.  Winnipeg:  Arbeiter Ring Publishing.

Kinsman, Gary.  2010.  “Against National Security: From the Canadian War on Queers to the ‘War on Terror.’”  Pp. 149-66 in Locating Global Order: American Power and Canadian Security after 9/11, edited by Bruno Charbonneau and Wayne S. Cox.  Vancouver:  UBC Press.


One comment

  1. Hello AFerrone,
    great work on your critical analysis of a very interesting and important topic to explore. The Oka Crisis was a large portion of what we studied in an Introduction to Women’s Studies, where we see the heterosexist and patriarchal agenda of the state being the reason for the violent behaviors towards to Aboriginal women at Oka. I think it would have been great to read more about the treaty process to highlight how the Canadian state had abused its powers to dissent the Aboriginals. I thought that your inclusion of the theory of subversion was efficiently used to demonstrate the lengths the state will go to in order to display its power over those who oppose it. If I could quote from your text, I think that you proved great insight here: by saying that “economic development of indigenous communities is premised on the negation of their self-determination.” I think this is a great summary of the struggles faced by the Aboriginals in the last centuries, in so that the state is placing them at the lower-end of the spectrum. Like you said, they are Canada’s Third World nations, but the state is responsible for placing them there. Very interesting critical summary, and great work!



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