06/14/2011 12:27 EDT | Updated 08/14/2011 05:12 EDT

Kanesatake Raid: Mohawk Community Focus Of Massive Anti-Drug Operation


UPDATED: THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OKA, Que. Fed up with the scourge of drugs within its borders, a tiny Mohawk community once at the centre of a historic standoff against police welcomed the Mounties on Tuesday, helping them carry out a massive crackdown on organized-crime.

Around 500 officers from the RCMP, provincial police and native peacekeeping forces conducted a number of searches and arrested dozens of suspects as a major anti-drug offensive swept into Mohawk communities around Montreal on Tuesday.

The police work that led to drug seizures and around 40 arrests started with tips from the people of Kanesatake, a community bedevilled in the past by violent responses to outside law-enforcement forces operating within its borders.

But the people of Kanesatake helped turn in some of their own because of drug activities that locals say continued to get worse.

The decision wasn't taken lightly by some in the community of 1,200.

"I find it sad being so small a community and having people, our neighbours, family members, doing this," said Michelle Lamouche, a chief of the Kanesatake council.

"But other people say that it was about time that it was done."

Kanesatake, which no longer has its own peacekeeping force and relies on provincial police patrols, hasn't been known to open the door to intensive law-enforcement help from the outside.

In 2004, protesters in Kanesatake burned their grand chief's home to the ground and held 50 aboriginal police officers hostage after their leader tried to crush local organized crime. He was forced to flee the community for his own safety.

Kanesatake was also the site of the 1990 Oka Crisis, the historic, 78-day standoff between Mohawk protesters, police and the Canadian army.

But this time was different for many residents, Grand Chief Paul Nicholas insisted Tuesday.

"The community's fed up with the drug use," Nicholas said in front of the band council office, after police scoured several sites in Kanesatake.

"So if this raid translates down to less drugs being available, a lot of people will be satisfied with what happened."

The police blitz also descended on sites in Akwesasne, Oka and Montreal in an operation that targeted 50 locations overall — but officers couldn't immediately provide specifics on the quantity of drugs seized.

Police said the seizures primarily involved marijuana, but cocaine and designer drugs were also swept up in raids that rounded up about 40 of the 55 people targeted in the busts. Officers also found guns as well as outdoor and hydroponic marijuana grow operations.

Police credited the busts for dismantling a major organized-crime ring that had been operating inside the native communities and they thanked Kanesatake residents for the operation's success.

"The residents of Kanesatake delivered a clear message," Insp. Michel Arcand of the RCMP told reporters Tuesday in Oka, just outside the Mohawk community in a rural area west of Montreal.

"Organized crime does not belong in this community — violence and intimidation will no longer be tolerated."

When asked how he thought some people in his community might react to the busts, Nicholas was guardedly optimistic there would be no backlash against those who spoke out.

"I hope that doesn't happen, I can't really guess at this point," he said.

"It's going to take some time to digest, I'm hoping the community will get past it and calm will remain in the community."

There were reports of at least one minor scuffle involving a reporter Tuesday but, otherwise, there was no immediate word of any major incident.

"Minor confrontations I can understand — I think a lot of tension boils at these events," Nicholas said.

Cpl. Luc Thibault said RCMP and provincial police worked with native police forces to help ensure they could handle the delicate operations on First Nations territories.

"It's always delicate, but we have good co-operation with the (aboriginal) police force and the people working there," Thibault said. "We have to be careful, everywhere we go security is first for everybody, including the public."

He said the native communities welcomed the outside police help.

"We have a very good collaboration with aboriginal territories because naturally these people don't want drugs and don't want to see organized crime on their territory," Thibault said.

Nicholas predicted locals will be surprised when they hear some of the names of those arrested, particularly in a community where just about everyone knows everyone else.

Lamouche, meanwhile, said Kanesatake needs help from Ottawa and the province to improve its social support network, especially to help neighbours who might be convicted with crimes following Tuesday's raids.

"We need to also get help for those people because they are part of the community and one day or the other, they'll be back," she said.