By: Johnny Hawk
“Chief Yellowhead rose up and made a speech and exhibited the great Wampum belt of the Six Nations, and explained the talk contained in it. Yellowhead stated that this Belt was given by the Nahdooways to the Ojibways many years ago about the time the French first came to this country.” – Documented Proceedings of an Anishinabe and Haudenosaunee Council to renew Alliance, January 21, 1840 recorded by Peter Jones
As 2015 marks the 25 years since the so called Oka Crisis along with the 400 years since French Colonist Samuel De Champlain instigated a devastating inter-tribal war to access lands of the Wendat, Haudenasaunee and Anishinabek; what ties these commemorative dates together is a historical alliance that often goes unrecognized. It is through the voices of those that also go unrecognized who uphold these alliances in contemporary battles that can share lessons to help our ongoing resurgence as Nations in the spirit of the One Dish with One Spoon Wampum.
Many Indigenous communities and individuals gave support in many ways to the Kanienkehaka during the summer of 1990 through solidarity blockades and the many caravans that delivered donations. As countless people wanted to stand with the People of the Pines, the police and army prevented any attempts for supporters to join them however two Anishinabek who were part of a handful of Warriors from other Indigenous Nations unmask their experience.
Ken an Anishinabe from Chippewa of the Thames who wants to be identified only by his first name tells his story as an armed 19 year old helping the Kanienkehaka protect their ancestral graves.
“One of the Mohawk guys was so hard on us Chippewa and saying things like the Chippewa aren’t even showing support but he didn’t know about the help on the outside because it was like being in a cocoon with no information coming in. I had to keep telling him, I’m Chippewa. He didn’t believe me because I was with the Oneida Warrior Society that came and he would tease me saying, you don’t sound like a Chippewa. ” explains Ken as he chuckles about not speaking soft and slow with what he calls the stereotypical broken english Chippewa accent.
For many the use of being armed for self defense is a controversial issue when invading colonial forces attempt to settle disputes with Indigenous Communities who have valid historical grievances. The Mohawk Warrior Society helped demonstrate the assertion of the Kaneienkehaka as a Nation and the need for trained organized protection for its people just as any Nation would employ when under attack.
“We had red alerts and a buddy system. We would do recon, the women would take care of the men and we had spiritual people where everyone had a role to play. Some of the guys had military training and there was also survival and training camps in the Mohawk communities in the years before that centered on what it meant to be a warrior and all that helped out but I remember a fighter jet that flew by and they could’ve dropped a bomb and just ended it right there and there would’ve not been anything we could’ve done.” Explains Ken
Ken’s community Chippewa of the Thames neighbors Oneida of the Thames where he was just in his teens when he started seeking out his culture where he joined the Oneida Longhouse for spirituality and eventually the Oneida Warriors Society in the late 80’s.
“When the Crisis was over we were like rock stars and there was so much bravado and ego going on. The Grandmothers noticed how we were behaving. I remember a Clan Mother coming to see me and banned me from the Warrior Society and told me I’d have to make amends for my behavior in the Longhouse. She started opening up my eyes to what a warrior really is.” explains Ken.
“Is there a need today for militancy? I don’t know. I still have friends though who were involved that are still very active and militant. For me I think we need to pick up our pipes, go into our lodges and get back to our clan system and become who we really are as Anishinabek. It took me a real long time to get where I’m at today. If that happened again today, would I pick up my AK and march off? No I wouldn’t but if somebody else did, there is always a positive that comes out of anything.” explains Ken who is now a Grandfather and spends his time passing on teachings to his Grandchildren and being involved in and following the Longhouse ways.
Ken along with another warrior from his community were not the only Anishinabe on the frontlines, one of the well known photo’s of the Crisis was of a Warrior known as “Freddy Kruegar” facing off with a Canadian Soldier was a University of Saskatchewan Student named Brad Larocque an Ojibway from Regina.
An Algonquin Anishinabek from Temiskaming First Nation in Quebec, Kevin Stanger was 20 years old when he participated. Stanger can be seen on the documentary Acts of Defiance at a community celebration in Kanawake for those who made this stand and were released from custody a week after the Crisis was over. Kevin shares some of his experiences from the summer of 1990 and how it shaped him.
“I wasn’t raised with my culture and found spirituality, teachings on nationhood and everything I was looking for behind the barricades. It gave me pride and responsibility in trying to rebuild my own Nation. It also helped launch me being active where I participated in standoffs in the States and Canada where I also became involved with the American Indian Movement and also stopped the Adams Mine in my territory that would have contaminated our water.” explains Stanger.
A major effect that assimilation has on Indigenous people is producing a passive and submissive ideology when it comes to resistance of colonialism and defending territory and rights explains Stanger.
“After the crisis my community would make fun and ridicule me and call me “Mohawk” and “Oka Boy” because of what I represented when I went there. I was someone willing to stand up and a lot of my people are assimilated. I am like a mirror when they look at me, they see what they are not and see someone who is doing something and then they look at themselves as not doing anything and so they want to break the mirror. Our people have been stereotyped, that they’re peaceful and not like the Mohawks. That’s just an excuse to do nothing.” explains Stanger.
When identifying if there is a need today for Warrior Societies and the need to be armed Stanger says this.
“The way the world is going with the depletion and destruction of natural resources, the droughts, famine, natural disasters and economy falling apart we will see people from the cities coming for our resources, the street gangs and organized crime will still be a reality and we will need to be prepared because of the danger that is coming. People who think we shouldn’t be armed and organized are living in a fantasy world. When our people go and do these one day blockades they need to know the seriousness of what they are doing and that it’s not a game where people can get hurt and we need to strategize and have a plan and be organized, we need our Warrior Societies as Anishinabek.” explains Stanger.
For Kevin being a Warrior is not only about militancy but begins with knowing who you are.
“A lot of people think a Warrior or Warrior Society is about picking up a gun. It’s about knowing who you are, where you come from, your history and ceremonies and being there for the people, listening to your aunties and uncles. It’s about taking care of your family. I go to the Three Fires Midewewiin Lodge of our Anishinabek People and I addressed the lodge that we needed to bring back our Warrior Society and the ceremony after that Eddie Benton brought back the Ogitchida Society.” explains Stanger.
Kevin is also an educator where he published his own grassroots newspaper and delivered it door to door within his community where he wanted to educate is own people on their rights and history but found resistance at times by the Band Council.
“I’ve been asked by the non-native people in my area to come and share my experiences and give talks in the schools and even in the churches but my own people try to do everything to stop me from talking in our own community where they don’t want me to have a voice. I could have a lot to share where we need to be as a Nation but they don’t allow me to.” says Stanger.
“This experience has helped me to become who I am today. The people behind the barricades are like family and the Mohawks treated me good I tip my hat to them” says Stanger.
The Anishinabek who participated on the frontlines during 1990 may not have known they were upholding a historic alliance but nevertheless their support showed the strong unity that exists among Indigenous Communities where Haudenasaunee peoples have supported many Anishinabek communities as well in their stands of resistance throughout the years.
Anishinabek and Haudenasaunee developed this Alliance after the Beaver Wars in the late 1600’s exemplified in Four Wampum belts, known as the One Dish with One Spoon, The Ojibway Friendship Belt and two others. This alliance serves also as a resource management agreement where each Nation would respect each other’s territory and war no more and if one requires assistance in defense of their lands they would help each other.
Another story that is not often told with the so called Oka Crisis is this. In 1991, a year after the 1990 Mohawk Oka Crisis, a reporter from the Montreal Mirror met with some Rotiskenrakete at the Mohawk Nation Office in Kahnawake. He had information about the death of Surete du Quebec Corporal Marcel Lemay during the para-military attack at Kanehsatake on July 11, 1990. Lemay was in charge of the internal investigation of police corruption and was about to report his findings which could’ve brought down some high officials in the force and government in regards to the Mohawk “Civil War” in Akwesasne. Corporal Lemay worked behind the desk investigating police misconduct. On July 11, 1990 he was ordered to suit up with a bullet-proof vest, helmet and M-16 to take part in a military style attack on Mohawk men, women and children, minutes after the attack, Lemay lay dead. Immediately following the attack SQ Internal Affairs descended on Lemay’s home and seized all his documents. Mrs. Lemay told the media, “I don’t hold the Mohawks responsible for the death of my husband”
During the Ipperwash Inquiry of events leading to the death of Dudley George at the hands of the OPP, three Ontario Provincial Police died. Two were killed in automotive accidents before their scheduled testimony in the inquiry. The incident commander the night Dudley was killed, Insp. Dale Linton, died in a vehicle accident as well as Sgt. Deane the one who shot Dudley was also killed in a vehicle accident as well as another officer who died in a separate incident before they were to testify in a judicial probe. The George family has always sought to seek information on who gave the orders to go in that night.
When our People take a stand and are seen as expendable by the State their own officers it seems also can be. Remember that if you are the State and reading this.
Our People have our historical Alliances and Council Fires we need to keep strong.