Voices from Oka


- reprinted from Oh-Toh-Kin, Vol. 1 No. 1, Winter/Spring 1992

Transcripts from speeches delivered at a Defense benefit held in Vancouver, BC, December 10th, 1991.


Paul "Sugar Bear" Smith

I was reminded that when we come together as a people back home, the first thing we do is thank the people. I thank you for coming here tonight, for taking this time to listen to us, because it's a hard story that we have to tell, a hard story that we have to share. It's sometimes a hard life that we have to live.

Along those same lines we have to be thankful for that power and that energy that made this all possible, that we could be here tonight.

And in our opening address, when we give our great thanksgiving to all living things -- whether it's the birds, or the flowers, plant life, the winds, all different elements in the universe -- we have to acknowledge all these things every time.

And while I was sitting out there I noticed this flag that I haven't seen in quite some time. In 1990, I was in my home territory (...) in southwestern Ontario. The Mohawks brought some wampum to our nation fire, which is following procedure and protocol, is correct. They asked us to come to their territory because there was a great crisis.

I accompanied nine chiefs, one clan mother, and a secretary of our nation up into the Mohawk territory. After a few days of meeting our leadership had to return home to prepare some of our people to go back up into Mohawk territory and help our older brother -- because in our way, in our Confederacy, the Mohawk people are the older brothers of the Oneidas. Our language and our ceremonies are basically the same. And we've lived as allies for hundreds of years, even before the Europeans came. And we have many commonalities.

I remained in Kahnawake as a liaison to my community and assisted in the Nation Office, and eventually went up to Kanesatake, Oka, to assist the people over there.

The men that were there, I'd like to speak about the men a little bit. They were very responsible men. The men that you see here tonight, whether it be Don Hemlock from Kahnawake, Lorne Oaks, or myself, or Joe Deom, we all have children. I have five children: 11, 10, 9, 8, and a newborn. And at that time it was a hard decision to make, because when I was asked to go up to Kanesatake, it was made very clear to me that the Canadian government would not and could not negotiate. Especially when it was dealing with sovereignty, and especially when it was dealing with jurisdiction. If they did that it would open up a can of worms, right across the country in all aboriginal territories. And I was told at that time that the solution would be a military solution, and that our chances of ever coming out of Kanesatake were quite slim. So it was a very hard choice to make, and I know it was hard for these other men -- to leave our women, our children, and babies behind.

Going back to the flag -- I want to talk about the flag a little bit because a lot of people see it, and even to myself, it was never explained what it represented.

I remember one of the first times I had seen it was in the middle 1970s; we were marching in Washington, DC. It was during the Bicentennial for the United States in 1976. I saw it again in 1978 when they had the Longest Walk across the United States because they were going to abrogate Native treaties. It never crossed my mind what it represented.

Up in Kanesatake, when I saw our flag flying, it was so simple. I guess I never questioned it. Because in our way, we have names for all the elements that are here that are related to us. We call the earth our Mother, we call the moon our Grandmother; there's reasons why we have these names. We call the sun, as we greet it each morning as it rises in the east, to give that great thanksgiving. Because what it does for us is it warms the earth, it gives us light. It makes things regenerate and grow. And the sun has many, many messages. When we burn our tobacco, the sun carries that message to Creation for us. So we call the sun our eldest brother, the Greatest Warrior, because of his responsibilities. We call ourselves Rotiskenrahkenteh, which means that we carry the burden of peace. I know it's misconstrued, and they'd like to call us "warriors". We are not a warring people. However, it's human nature, it's animal nature, to defend, to fight for survival (...).

When the men were up in Kanesatake, we prepared to die. It is not so difficult to die. The difficult part, is life here.

We continued to retreat very uncomfortably. It was very hard -- they continued to press, time and time again, for incidents to occur. We were holding out for a political solution. But ultimately, I think, many of us knew that there would only be a military solution, as I said before.

When we finally dug in at the Treatment Centre overlooking the Ottawa River, we were holding out for our leadership to try to put together some kind of negotiated settlement, as to how we could lay down our arms in a safe way -- if we were going to lay them down. There was great debate over that. Finally they decided that we'd go internationally to the United Nations.

And we held on for a few more days. Because we knew the Canadian Parliament was going to convene, and we wanted to see what the Canadian government had to say. During all this, we have to keep in mind that we were facing countdowns too. Just like Desert Storm.

When I watched Desert Storm last year, I hurt. Because I seen them developing the same propaganda and using the same tactics that they used on us. They built us up to be the mightiest force -- the "strongest terrorist threat" Canada has ever seen. They said we had explosives, anti-aircraft guns, we had everything...grenades, landmines. They brought in thousands of troops, and there was only 26 of us that were armed up there in that Treatment Centre.

They dropped helicopter gunships down on us every night, every day; 24 hours. They ran recon patrols into our boundaries, you seen what happened to one of our men. It was a propaganda ploy. They called us "international terrorists".

When Desert Storm happened, I could see the machinery working the same way.

What I want to say, is that when the Canadian Parliament reconvened in September, Prime Minister Mulroney talked about the land being purchased -- there was no need for further confrontation. Prime Minister Mulroney said that there would be no further discussion around the jurisdiction or sovereignty until our weapons were layed down.

We got the message from our leadership -- our job had been completed, we were to return home. And it was very hard to disengage after we, for so long, geared up psychologically, emotionally, for the outcome.

The land that was purchased was not the land we were initially fighting for...and there has been no discussion with our peoples about jurisdiction since the crisis ended.

There seems to be a great cover-up, and they continue to want to move it into the criminal arena. When I went home to my community I was greeted and cleansed, and they impressed upon me that what we did was spiritually and politically correct by our own law. That no matter what happens to us, that we were very responsible.... That when we go to prison, they are going to recognize us as Native political prisoners of Canada.

We talked about the many ways that we could fight the Canadian court system with their laws, it's possible to beat them in many ways using technicalities. But, again back in my territory what they told me was that even for me to walk into that court willingly, I'm directly or indirectly recognizing the jurisdiction of their criminal court, of Quebec, or Canada, and that I should keep in mind: I am not a criminal, and that no matter what action I take, my nation, my council, the chiefs, my clan mothers, my faith keepers, and the people of the Oneida Nation will back me.

For that I am grateful. I think we're all very thankful that we're here tonight, and in closing, again, I want to acknowledge the people and their power to make this all possible (...).


Joe "Stonecarver" David

I feel funny every time I speak. It's really hard. It's a huge complex issue, what they call the "Oka Crisis". There's really no way to put it into context. I think that for Native people, they understand. They understand the continual encroachment on our territories. This is something our community has dealt with for a long time. I think if anything positive came out of the Oka Crisis, it's the fact that we exposed a lot of what's taken place in our community. How my community has been under attack for literally centuries. How it's a very subtle attack, how they creep up, they use their papers, their words -- which is not our way of fighting. And there's no way we can come back, it's on paper; they win. In the courts, with the police, everywhere we turn the entire deck is stacked against us.

For me, the best thing that came out of the whole thing...we've had some predictions about our fate because of our stand. Some say we won't go to jail, some say we will...and to me that's not really important. The fact that the history of my community is exposed...and I think that's something that every Native community in this country will try to do, is to expose the injustices that each community is subjected to. The fact that we have been fighting for a long time, that we haven't just been sitting there, accepting it.

There's a component in each community that fights, that strives for justice. Just as there is a component that will sell out. The best lesson that came out from last year is that we're trying, we're fighting. It's immensely hard, against a very powerful enemy.

(...) What I'd like to ask is that you start teaching your future generations to examine your enemy. You think the government is your "protector"? Your "provider"? You're sadly wrong. Teach your children to fight, to stand up, to continue to fight no matter what the cost. Because nothing else matters. If you accept the dictates of the government then we're living under a dictatorship.

And I'm really sick to death with a lot of very spineless people looking to the Warriors as the example, when each and every one of you in this room has everything it takes to go out there and fight. It doesn't have to be the land; it could be education, your rights, in whatever capacity. I see a lot of people too willing to just sit and take it. And I don't mean to bring everyone down (laughter).

It can be a very positive thing. A hell of a lot of ups and downs, but that's what life's about.

If you fight, you're bound to get slapped down now and again. And the people that take it up -- some take it up for the cause, some take it up for the real reason, like justice. And they're not asking for anything, they're not asking to have their name in the paper, their organization promoted over and above everything else. They're asking only to have their cause recognized, the fight recognized. Just keep on fighting, that's all.


Kevin "Little Bear" Stanger

(...) You'll have to bear with me, sometimes I might not be able to talk loud enough, the damp and west coast weather has got me sick (laughter). I'm used to the cold and snow of Northern Quebec.

You know all about what happened...we've been across the country speaking at various places with various people. At first it was pretty hard to talk about what happened -- and it's kind of hard right now too. `Cause I myself personally, I'm fed up with talking. I have to speak from my heart, and speak of what I know, of what I've been feeling and what I've seen happening for 500 years. Maybe I haven't seen personally what happened in the past, but what happened in 1990 at Kanesatake was what was happening in the past. It happened to the Lakota Nation in South Dakota -- it happened to a lot of Indian nations in this country and we've been going around talking to our elders and people have been speaking, trying to educate people and trying to make them aware about what's been happening to our people and trying to make them aware that what we're struggling for ain't just for ourselves; it's for everybody else.

We've been talking, always talking about peace and to resolve things. Well, our people have been talking peace for 500 years. And what I see from that is that we really haven't gotten any better. Life hasn't changed. Our people still suffer like our ancestors suffered in the past. And we're still suffering, the only difference is the government makes it legal to kill people. Genocide. The Indian Act. Apartheid -- that comes from Canada. What they're doing in South Africa, they're doing here, and they're doing in South America. And we've always been trying to negotiate -- or to force them into negotiations. And every time -- what I've seen -- our people have been signing treaties -- hundreds of years ago. And they've all been broken, in the name of money. These people are thinking about money -- we're thinking about their children, the next generation. They're thinking about themselves.

I myself, I'm tired. I might make a lot of people angry with the things I'm going to say. But I have to speak from my heart, the way that we should, and not speak with our wallets. That's what a lot of politicians do, and they have people tell them what to say.

I'd just like to tell you something that happened to me before I went to Kanesatake. I was pretty much at the end of my rope. I was living on the streets in April, 1990. I had to struggle just to keep myself sane and try to deal with this messed up world. I grew up looking at this world -- there's something drastically wrong.

I never knew my way. My community's life and culture has been gone for 160 years. My people are just like everyone else. And I was struggling -- having drinking problems. And I still do. I tried to pitch myself in front of a train -- `cause I was just in so much pain. Lucky for me the train missed.

I moved to Toronto, got a job, tried to start over again. And then I seen what was happening on TV. And learning about the past, what I had been taught in school, gave me a brief or rough guide as to what it's been like for Native people. And I heard about Wounded Knee; the American Indian Movement. Hearing about the past, our people have offered the land, said we'd share it. We helped the Europeans who came over -- they were all dying. We kept them alive, we shared but they wanted to take everything. We signed treaties -- they've all been broken. We tried to take it back, force the people to stand up and fight back. Then they'd kill our people and force us to negotiate again, make another "agreement". It's been continuing since those first boats came. And it's still going on today.

For me personally, I can't speak on behalf of the group -- we all have our personal opinions -- I'm tired of talking. I'm for action; I don't want war, I don't want anybody getting hurt...but our people are hurting and we've been hurting for 500 years. And I hurt.

I wanted it to stop, and that's why I went to Kanesatake. All the pain I was going through -- seeing how rich the white people were, and our people out on the streets, how our people are sick; family violence, sexual abuse, women beaten...none of this should be going on.

My people, the Algonqian Nation -- when I got out after the crisis, I was no longer Algonqian. They still don't think of me as Algonqian. They call me "Mohawk", "Oka Boy". Because of what I represented when I went there. I was someone willing to stand up, and my people, a lot of them are sick and a lot of them just plain don't care. So they discredit me because I exposed them. They look at me and see someone who is doing something. And then they look at themselves -- they're not doing anything. So it brought out guilt, and they're not ready to deal with their guilt.

Our people have been forced into courts for I don't know how long. Leonard Peltier has been spending 16 years in prison now for standing up for what he believes in: Freedom, being able to decide our own future. Not being pushed around.

We don't want war -- all we want is to be left alone. They want our land, they want us dead.

And it's plain and simple. This is 1991 going on 1992 and nothing has really changed. They're still out to kill us. Kill us! Plain and simple, except they hide a lot of it. They use our people, we have a lot of divisions in this country. A lot of people want to negotiate. To me, it's baloney. We've been negotiating for how long? Signed how many treaties? How many agreements? And how many times have they been broken? How many times?

Now we're going ahead, negotiating in land claims and having "self-government" entrenched in the Canadian Constitution. That's not sovereignty. It's not sovereignty. And that's what we are: we're sovereign nations. We shouldn't be going into courts -- that's my personal opinion and feeling.

To me, and it might be dangerous if I say this -- I'm a fighter, and I want to fight. Not to kill, or to hurt other people -- but to stop these people who are hurting our people. That's all. Self-defense. Plain and simple. I'm tired of getting pushed around. My people; the government walks all over them. The Mohawk people, the government sends in the army because they know the Mohawk nation is strong. And I wish my nation was as strong as the Mohawk nation. My people have been taught that they were "peaceful people". So, they say "okay"; that's an excuse to do nothing. So they do nothing. We got logging going on right in our territory, and they do nothing. The Mohawk nation, they got pride, they stand up. My people have been stereotyped, that they're peaceful and not like the Mohawks. That's just an excuse to do nothing.

To me, the only way that our people can be free -- I'm sure I'm gonna make a lot of people mad, a lot of people might not want to hear this -- to me, we should be willing to risk our lives every day. Every day. If we say we love our land so much, how we say we're a sovereign people, well sovereign people don't go into other people's courts. They don't go and deal with land claims: they stand up and fight. The government, well they have their tactics: divide and conquer. Turn Indian people against one another. There's a lot of division in Mohawk territory. They divide our people up. They say that negotiations and going to court is the only way -- that's bull. That's one way. And how many times, just look at the past...how many times has the government broken our agreements. How many times. And I'm tired of seeing these agreements broken. All we're doing is wasting time.

To me, if every Native community across the country, tomorrow morning, put up checkpoints, secured their territories, and said "No -- this is sovereign land, you're not coming in if we don't want you in"; if every Native community did that, if we took up arms, put up barricades; the government wouldn't be able to do anything. We're lucky that other Native people across this country supported us. They knew what we were fighting for. All the solidarity blockades that went up across the country. When the government saw that, they knew that Native people meant business, they slacked off. They didn't want war -- and that's what they would've got. They saw how strong our people were across the country. And it sounds like it means war -- well, it is war! But it's not a war that we started, and we don't want to kill anybody. We just want to protect our people and stop what the government is doing.

There's absolutely no reason in this world for war, or poverty. The rich never have enough money, the poor, they never have enough. The rich always want more, more than they can handle.

A lot of people won't do anything until it affects them personally. Well it's time for a lot of people to stop waiting until it happens to them and get out there and do something.

The people who are supposed to have the power, well, where is this power? We gotta start speaking out and standing up. Mulroney and Bush, they're shoving everything down people's throats. Why? Because we're letting it happen.

If everybody in this world stood up and said "no more poverty; no more alcoholism; no more people living in the street; no more abuse", there wouldn't be any, if everybody stood up and did something about it. It's time to start doing something!


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