Day 6

As Wet'suwet'en rail blockades continue, journalist sees echoes of the 1990 Oka Crisis

The calls for police to remove Indigenous protesters from rail blockades across the country bear some similarities to the Oka Crisis in 1990, according to CBC reporter Loreen Pindera.

Loreen Pindera draws 'a direct line' from Oka to increased awareness about Indigenous issues today

Sept 1, 1990: Canadian soldier Patrick Cloutier and Saskatchewan Ojibwa Brad Laroque alias "Freddy Kruger" come face to face in a tense standoff in Kanesatake which began as a land dispute with the municipality of Oka, Que. (Shaney Komulainen/Canadian Press)
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The calls for police to remove Indigenous protesters from rail blockades across the country bear some similarities to the Oka Crisis in 1990, according to CBC reporter Loreen Pindera.

"I find myself these last weeks being thrown right back to 1990, because so much of the same language is used," Pindera, who covered the crisis and co-wrote People of the Pines: The Warriors and the Legacy of Oka, told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

Blockades that have paralyzed Canada's rail networks for more than two weeks are led by protesters voicing their opposition to the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project through Wet'suwet'en territory in northern B.C.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that while Canadians have been patient with the protests, the situation is "unacceptable and untenable" and the barricades must come down.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused Trudeau of displaying "phony resolve" to end the blockades, which he attributed to "radical activists ... misappropriating the reconciliation agenda."

Both have expressed the importance of upholding the "rule of law," as the protests continue to snarl the railways.

Pindera says that leaders similarly invoked the rule of law in 1990, when a planned golf course expansion sparked a standoff between the Mohawks of Kanesatake and local officials in Oka, Que.

An injunction was ordered to clear away protesters whose blockades ground transportation to a halt. Police moved in to enforce it on July 11, and one police officer was killed in the ensuing violence. 

Eventually the Canadian military was called in. It took 78 days to bring an end to the armed standoff.

Supporters of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs perform a round dance at a blockade at a CN Rail line just west of Edmonton on Feb. 19, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Despite some simliarities, Pindera says the national conversation about reconciliation has advanced significantly since — and in many ways because of — the Oka Crisis.

"I sort of draw a direct line from the awareness that came out of the Oka Crisis in 1990 — the awareness that Indigenous people did have rights, that there are inherent rights that were never extinguished. And that language is now familiar to people in a way that it wasn't," she said.

Pindera says the aftermath of the crisis planted the seeds for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

However, she noted that many of the tensions that underpinned the Oka Crisis remain at the heart of the current blockades.

"I think after 30 years people understand the meaning of the word reconciliation," she said.

"Canadians, in general, all agree we've got to get there. It's just still going to take a lot of work."


Written by Jonathan Ore. Segment produced by Rachel Levy-McLaughlin.

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