Kanehsatake: Fighting colonialism at 'home'

By George 'Mick' Sweetman,
Punching Out (NEFAC Toronto)

Kanehsatake - In the past couple of months there has once again been serious repression and resistance in the small reservation of Kanehsatake, 50km from Montreal and the site of the famous 1990 police / military siege and armed defense by the community known as the "Oka crisis".

At the heart of the conflict is an attempted takeover of policing on the reserve out of the hands of the established, professionally trained, and local Kanehsatake peacekeepers. The opponents have been described as a political militia consisting of people from outside the community, that are loyal to the band-council Grand Chief James Gabriel, who as far back as 2001, was defeated in a community vote of no-confidence.

"People really consider him a court-ordered chief," Kanesatake resident Chrystal Nicholas told CBC Newsworld on May 6th "We don't consider him a duly-elected chief…James Gabriel has no influence in this community."

On January 12, 2004, Gabriel, fresh from being 're-instated' by colonial (Canadian) courts, unilaterally replaced local Police Chief Terry Cross. In addition to being the brother of Ronald Cross (AKA "Lasagna" of the 1990 defense) he has 8 years of experience as a formally trained peacekeeper, is ex-military including two overseas tours, and is an ordained minister of the church. In short, he is hardly the type of man easily portrayed as a dirty cop with ties to "organized crime."

Cross' replacement was a man named David Ed Thompson. Thompson immediately tried to take control of Kanehsatake in what some residents called an 'outside invasion' of 60 armed men hand-picked by Gabriel. It was the equivalent of a neo-colonial Coup d'état. Claiming that he was cracking down on "organized crime" the best Gabriel could come up with was that native-produced cigarettes were being sold for $25 a carton at various shops in Kanehsatake who refused to charge Canadian taxes on them.

Clearly this was a pre-text, widely promoted in the Canadian media, for his paramilitary coup. It could be argued that Gabriel and the Canadian state were still enforcing the colonial 1876 Indian Act that made it illegal for an 'Indian' to sell or produce goods without permission.

This militia includes criminals such as Richard Walsh who was found to have 16 convictions in the last twelve years ranging from fraud to impersonating a police officer, to possession of a prohibited weapon. Walsh was also at the centre of the 2001 no-confidence vote where it was revealed that he was paid over $100,000 from community funds as a Mohawk language teacher, a scuba consultant, and a janitor, according to John Harding, one of the chiefs of the Mohawk council of Kanehsatake.

Other notable militia members include Larry Ross and Robert Bonspiel, who were involved in the shooting of Joe David in 1999. Joe David was a Mohawk Warrior known as Stonecarver during the Oka Crisis who was shot in the back after a long standoff with the police. Though paralyzed Joe David survived until mid-May 2004 when the same officers were preparing to use force against Kanehsatake once again as part of establishing a 'joint patrol' with the provincial Sûreté du Québec (SQ) and the federal RCMP.

Yet another, Mike Stalk, was himself recently fired from the Kahnawake Peacekeepers and is currently facing charges for allegedly assaulting his former colleagues.

However, the community of Kanehsatake resisted the coup barricading the highway that passed through the reserve and forcing Gabriel's militia, who earlier in the day had tear-gassed demonstrators, to cower inside the local police station for 24 hours. While the unarmed protesters refused to allow armed militia members to patrol the community, they agreed to allow the dozen local Kanehsatake peacekeepers to resume their duties under Terry Cross should the armed militia leave the reserve. Later that night Gabriel's house was torched by persons unknown, as Gabriel and his militia fled the community (taking firearms from the police station as they left).

For the next couple of months Kanehsatake was patrolled by legitimate peacekeepers from the Mohawk community of Kahnawake who, according to Kanehsatake Chief John Harding, "Found little if any criminal activity during that time and absolutely no evidence of the existence of organized crime, grow operations, or a burgeoning drug trade. Their observations, like Tracy Cross' before them, were that the allegations made by James Gabriel had no merit whatsoever. Quebec Public Security Minister Jacques Chagnon himself personally stated that he observed no law and order problems during his recent unannounced visit to the community".

No doubt feeling that he had bided his time long enough Gabriel's militia once again threatened to invade in mid-May backed up by armed SQ and RCMP officers.

Fortunately, a confrontation between community members and Gabriel's militia on Monday May 5th ended without bloodshed. However, the situation quickly escalated, as shortly afterwards Quebec Public Security Minister Jacques Chagnon announced that he would help Gabriel mount a joint SQ, RCMP and 'Peacekeeper' operation aimed at "restoring order".

As this unfolded, Kahnawake Grand Chief Joe Tokwiro Norton responded to a written plea signed by 28 Kanehsatake women calling on him for assistance. In a strongly worded statement, Norton called upon Chagnon to demand that Gabriel agree to mediation in resolving the disputes in the community.

"The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake is extremely concerned about the volatile and dangerous situation in Kanehsatake. We are especially concerned that the actions being contemplated (sending in a combined force of SQ, RCMP and Kanehsatake police into Kanehsatake) could potentially lead to bloodshed…Mr. Chagnon needs to send the strongest message possible to Mr. Gabriel: accept mediation or be prepared to accept full responsibility for whatever happens," Norton said.

The Quebec state backed down, at least for now, not only canceling the joint patrols but also refusing a request from Gabriel for an additional $1.5 million in funding (in addition to the $900,000 he had already recently received).

However, in a provocative move, 24 members of the community have been charged with "participating in a riot" and "forcible confinement of police officers." These charges stem from the individuals' presence at the demonstration outside of the Kanehsatake Mohawk Police station on January 12th and 13th.

Kanehsatake remains a tense community calling for Mohawk to Mohawk mediation to end the dangerous situation posed by Gabriel's militia, the SQ, and the RCMP.

Numerous anarchists and activists from Toronto and Montreal have already traveled to Kanehsatake to help with checkpoint duty and other chores, as well as to help get the word out about what's really happening there.

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has played a modest role in organizing non-native support for Kanehsatake organizing a couple of caravans to the community in recent tense weeks as well as by publicizing news from our allies Kanehsatake.

This support has grown out of the years of solidarity that working class Mohawk activists have shown OCAP. We have marched, fought,and have been arrested together in various demonstrations.

The time is now for working class internationalists (Mohawk Territory is NOT part of Canada) to to extend our solidarity to the community of Kanehsatake in this time of turmoil making concrete our support against the establishment of a criminal, unaccountable, paramilitary, neo-colonial Coup. If we are to build real solidarity between the overwhelmingly poor and working class 1st nations people and the 'Canadian' working class we simply cannot stand aside as 'our' government tries and prop up a neo-colonial paramilitary occupation in Kanehsatake.

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