The Oka Crisis
Learning Objectives and Curriculum Expectations
Historical Thinking Concepts: Cause & Consequence / Historical Perspective.
Ontario Curriculum Expectations: Grade 10 History, Academic/Applied
Strand E: Canada 1982 to the Present
- E2. Communities, Conflict, and Cooperation
Essential Question: What is the significance of the Oka Crisis, and in what ways can it be considered a "turning point" in Canadian history?
Table of Contents
Engage: Take a moment to consider the image (left) and consider the following:
- What do you notice about this image?
- What questions do you have about this image?
Jot down your answers individually, then pair up with a classmate to share your ideas.
Activity: Engaging with Primary Sources Padlet
Click anywhere on the image below to type your thoughts and ideas regarding the iconic imaged above. Your response will appear pending approval.
The Oka Crisis, also known as the Mohawk Resistance, was a 78-day standoff (11 July – 26 September 1990) between Mohawk protestors, the Québec police force, and the Canadian army, in response to the proposed expansion of a golf course and the development of condominiums on disputed land.
In the resources and materials that follow, you'll learn more about the tensions leading up to the event, resulting conflict, and the subsequent outcomes. You'll also consider the enduring legacy of the Mohawk Resistance and the ongoing issues faced by Canada's indigenous populations regarding land rights, sovereignty, and public perception.
The Oka Crisis 101
WATCH: The Oka Crisis 101 is an overview of the events of summer 1990 from the perspective of Mohawk filmmaker Sonia Bonspille Boileau. Later, you will have a chance to watch her full documentary, The Oka Legacy.
After watching, complete the activities below to explore the issue further.
Activity: Exploring the Timeline
Explore the above timeline and considering the questions below.
The Oka Crisis was a 78-day standoff that took place between 11 July–26 September, 1990.
- What does the timeline reveal about the factors leading up to the Oka Crisis?
- How are each of these events related to one another?
Activity: Explaining Cause and Consequence
Explain: In this activity, you will work in small groups to explain the underlying and immediate causes & the immediate and long term consequences of the Oka Crises.
- Read through the timeline with your group.
- On chart paper, create a mind map of what you think are the most significant underlying and immediate causes, and the immediate and long term consequences of the Oka crisis.
The Oka Legacy
WATCH: The Oka Legacy is a CBC POV documentary by Mohawk filmmaker Sonia Bonspille Boileau that explores how the Oka Crisis of 1990 was a transformative moment for Canadian Indigenous identity and marked a turning point in Canadian history.
As you watch, consider the following questions:
- What were the primary views and motivations of each party involved in the land dispute? What ethical dilemma does this dispute raise?
- How did the Mohawk Resistance bring issues of indigenous sovereignty to the national stage and in what ways can it be considered a "turning point" in Canadian history?
- What is the legacy of the Oka Crisis?
Then, complete the activity below to consolidate your learning.
Time: 45 minutes. Subtitles/closed captions available.
Activity: Examining Perspectives
Elaborate: After watching The Oka Legacy, use the following graphic organizer to tell each person's story. What does each story tell you about the Oka crisis? (Historical Perspective)
- On large sheet paper, recreate the pentagon graphic organizer (left). Ensure there is ample room for text.
- Consider and re-tell each of the following people's story:
- Clifton Nicholas’s Story
- Francine Lemay’s Story
- Waneek Horn-Miller’s Story
- Melissa Mollen-Dupuis’s Story
- Johnny Jones’s story
For each, answer the question: what does each story tell us about the Oka Crisis?
The Iconic Image
LISTEN: CBC's Unreserved reflects on the iconic photograph, Standoff, that came to represent the Oka Crisis seige at Kanesatake. Freelance photographer Shaney Komulainen reveals the story behind the image and discusses what it means to consider the "bigger picture".
Click here to listen.
Activity: Evaluating The Bigger Picture
Evaluate: Is the iconic image, Standoff, an accurate representation of the Oka Crisis? Why or why not?
Glossary of Key Terms
The Commons / The Pines - refers to an area of land that the Mohawk of Kanesatake assert is their own and which holds cultural and historical value. The Oka golf course attempted to develop this land to expand its golf course as well as develop condominiums.
Colonization - the action or process of settling among and establishing control and dominance over the indigenous people of an area.
Great Law of Peace / Gayaneshakgowa - the oral constitution of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
Kahnawake - A Mohawk First Nations territory and reserve located directly across from Montreal on the south side of the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada.
Kanesatake - A Mohawk settlement located on the north shore of the Lake of Two Mountains (where the Ottawa and Saint Lawrence rivers meet). The Mohawk of Kanesatake began an occupation of contested land in 1990 which came to be known as the Oka Crisis.
Indigenous Land Claims - Beginning in 1973, the Canadian Government began a process of recognizing land claims by indigenous people. The land claim process is divided into two different types of claims: comprehensive and specific. Comprehensive claims deal with the First Nation, Metis, and Inuit communities that did not sign treaties with the British Crown or the Government of Canada. Whereas, specific claims are filed by First Nations who believe their treaty rights, or other agreements, have been neglected or abused by the the Government of Canada.
Mercier Bridge - A bridge that connects the island of Montreal with the Mohawk territory and reserve of Kahnawake.
Oka - Municipality of Quebec that was the cite of dispute between the Mohawk and the town and its golf course over lands.
Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) - A Canadian Royal Commission established in 1991 following the Oka Crisis. The Commission sought to address issues of Aboriginal status that been raised in events such as the Oka Crisis.
Sovereignty - The authority of a state to govern itself or a self-governing state.
- Photos and Excerpts (below) from MacLaine, Craig, Michael Baxendale and Robert Galbraith. This Land is Our Land: The Mohawk Revolt at Oka (1990).
- Timeline Source
- Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (documentary) by Alanis Obomsawin