POLITICS

Quotes from various Oka-related players

07/07/2015 04:00 EDT | Updated 07/06/2016 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - Here are some quotes from various people who were involved in the Oka Crisis, which erupted on July 11, 1990:

Sam Elkas, then-Quebec public security minister:

"It was difficult negotiating because there were two camps that we were negotiating with. I'm not suggesting we should have been negotiating with (Mohawk) Warriors but that's what happened.

"We were negotiating with the (band) council and then the Warriors took over. We had to take as long as we could to avoid any further loss of life. We lost a corporal...Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa called us into his office the day after (the crisis) started and he told us, he made it very, very clear, that he didn't want any more death. And he asked us to make sure there wasn't."

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Linda Simon, Kanesatake resident who lived through the crisis:

"There were some good cops and bad cops at that time and the same with the army. I remember seeing a soldier get his stripes ripped off his arm right in front of me because he was too helpful with the food.

"His superior officer took his stripes and ripped them off his sleeve because he allowed us to put little things in the (food) boxes that shouldn't have been there. People would try and slip messages in the food boxes (for the Warriors behind the barricades)."

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John Parisella, chief of staff to then-Quebec premier Robert Bourassa:

"From the outset it was decided that we wouldn't use force. It could have created a precedent either for poisoning generations between natives communities and Quebec. Not to mention Canada and Quebec's international reputations were on the line.

"And we didn't want to create what could become eventually a resistance movement or a terrorist movement. We wanted to negotiate and have a peaceful resolution and the minute you decide that, you know you're in a long standoff. We knew this wasn't going to end in a week."

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Serge Simon, current Grand Chief of Kanesatake:

"The Oka Crisis didn't stop in September 1990 — far from it. What it led to was the social disintegration of my community. I think the Oka Crisis for us lasted 20 years — at least 20 years.

"And now we're starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. We have a unified (band) council for the first time in recent memory and it's really incredible to see because everyone has the same mind. They want to see their home get better. They want it to heal. They want opportunities for the youth that weren't here before."

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Alex Paterson, Quebec government negotiator during talks with the Kanesatake community:

"We had people who were watching — international observers — and they had been all over the world and witnessed horrible disputes of all kinds.

"Negotiating with (international observers) there gives you the impression that you're in something that could explode at any point. The feeling that we have to have observers meant everyone was conscious of the fact we were on the precipice for violence to break out again."

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Geoffrey Kelley, Quebec's current aboriginal affairs minister:

"I think (since Oka) there has been an evolution all across Canada. There are (still) many unresolved issues, land claims, jurisdictional disputes. (But) there is a greater appreciation that these are important questions and issues.

"And when it comes to the development of natural resources, I think everyone understands that we are going to develop natural resources with the First Nations. And back then I think we would have acted more unilaterally."

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Yvan Patry, parish mayor during the crisis:

"There is still no agreement over the land. The only thing that has changed since Oka is that the day-to-day (routine) has returned. Our municipality isn't that big.

"After the crisis it was really hard. People on both sides weren't talking to each other. No one was looking at each other. Lots of divisions within families because there are many inter-marriages between natives and non-natives. It lasted several years. I think the two sides suffered. There was a lot of work to get out of the crisis. Today, things are back to normal.

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Alanis Obomsawin, award-winning director of "Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance."

"A police officer took all the keys to the (police vehicles) and locked the doors to make sure no one could get in. When the shootout occurred (between provincial police and Mohawk Warriors) all the officers wanted to get into their cars but they were locked out.

"The panic was tremendous. The police officers with their guns ran down the hill and there were newspeople taking photographs of them. The police were so angry at the photographers they followed them and confiscated those images. A lot of it was destroyed."

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Shani Komulainen, Canadian Press photographer who took the iconic image of a Mohawk Warrior and a soldier staring each other down:

"When the army started to move in...it was a waiting game. I was constantly wondering what would unfold, what would resolve it, what would end it. You just didn't know which way it would turn.

"There were some (Mohawks) who had AK-47s, other young men with shotguns and hunting rifles. It opened my eyes to many things: this is Canada? And I thought everything was cool here, I thought everyone was kind of happy together. There's stuff behind the scenes that we don't know about."

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Tom Siddon, then-federal minister of Indian affairs and northern development:

"All of the problems of the history, the decades of injustice towards First Nations, all welled up around this episode.

"In retrospect, I think we managed to solve it without further bloodshed. I don't think anybody can take personal credit for having been the magic bullet, but I do believe it led to our ability as a government to make a huge amount of progress on land claims."