Citizen@175: The 'Oka crisis' marks the start of an era of Indigenous protest

To mark our 175th anniversary year, we feature a different front page each week from past editions of the Ottawa Citizen. Today: July 11, 1990.

A dispute over a golf course and plans to enlarge it escalated into violence when, on July 11, 1990, a Quebec police officer, 31-year-old Cpl. Marcel Lemay, was killed in a shootout between police and members of the Kahnesatake Mohawk community at Oka, Que.

The dispute between the Mohawk community and Oka, a town of about 3,000 people just west of Montreal, centred on a private golf course. The course owners wanted to raze an adjacent white pine forest to expand the facility to 18 holes and build 60 condominiums. The land the course was on had been in the hands of the town since 1947, the Citizen reported, but the Mohawk community had never recognized the town’s ownership.

Meanwhile, Mohawks from Kahnawake, south of Montreal, blocked two highways and the Honoré Mercier Bridge leading into the city in a show of support, indicating traffic wouldn’t move until police left Oka.

Over the ensuing days, the Mohawk blockade at Oka swelled from about 30 residents to close to 600 people. The Mercier Bridge blockade went on until late August.

The crisis continued until Sept. 26, and included the Sûreté du Québec, Canadian Forces and RCMP. Eventually, plans to expand the golf course were scuttled, and the federal government purchased the land in question. The months-long incident helped bring such issues as Indigenous self-government and social justice to the forefront of public debate in Canada.

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