Montreal

Oka standoff: Mohawk barricades went up 25 years ago

What began as a dispute between Kanesatake Mohawks and the neighbouring town of Oka over a proposed golf-course expansion turned into a costly 78-day standoff with police and the Canadian army.

Botched police raid on July 11, 1990 sparked biggest episode of civil unrest in Canada since Riel Rebellion

An armed warrior towers over a overturned police vehicle blocking Highway 344 through the Mohawk community of Kanesatake near Oka, Que. on July 11, 1990 after a police assault to remove Mohawk barriers failed. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

What began as a dispute between Kanesatake Mohawks and the neighbouring town of Oka, Que. over a proposed golf-course expansion turned into a costly 78-day standoff with police and the Canadian army.

On July 11, 1990, Quebec provincial police raided a protest camp in a pine forest next to the golf course, where Mohawk activists had blocked a dirt road.  

When the women at the front of the barricade refused to move, the police tactical response team moved in, lobbing tear gas and concussion grenades.

There was an exchange of gunfire with Mohawk warriors, and Sûreté du Québec Cpl. Marcel Lemay was killed.

The police retreated on foot, leaving behind their cruisers and a front-end loader.

Warriors used the loader to smash the cruisers and erect a new barricade – this time across Highway 344, the main road connecting the Mohawk community of Kanesatake to the town of Oka below.

Mercier Bridge blocked

Mohawk sympathizers on the Kahnawake territory on Montreal's south shore blocked access to highways and rail lines that run through their reserve, including the Mercier Bridge – a major link to the island of Montreal.

It was the start of a long, hot summer of anger, accusations and counter-accusations and sometimes seething hatred, with politicians and Mohawk warriors burned in effigy by frustrated commuters who couldn't use the bridge.

On CBC Montreal's Daybreak, veteran reporter Loreen Pindera looked back on that summer and the repercussions still being felt today.

25 years ago this week was the start of the Oka Crisis. Daybreak spoke to CBC's Loreen Pindera, who covered the standoff and later wrote a book about it. 12:53

About the Author

Loreen Pindera

Journalist

Loreen Pindera is a journalist with 35 years' experience in CBC newsrooms in Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Iqaluit and Montreal. Her book People of the Pines: The Warriors and the Legacy of Oka, co-authored with Geoffrey York, is a primer on the 1990 Mohawk land dispute.