CANADA

An angry deadlock

There is a no-surrender mood at Oka

BARRY CAME September 24 1990
CANADA

An angry deadlock

There is a no-surrender mood at Oka

BARRY CAME September 24 1990

An angry deadlock

CANADA

There is a no-surrender mood at Oka

The message was as blunt as its method of delivery. A group of Mohawk Warriors strode to the rolls of razor-wire blocking the entrance to the drug and alcohol treatment centre at Oka, Que. They tossed a rock wrapped in paper onto the road manned by troops of the Canadian army’s Royal 22nd Regiment. Scrawled on the note was: “No. No. No.” It was signed: “The People of the Pines.”

The incident occurred late Friday morning, Sept. 14, as about two dozen armed Mohawks responded in dramatic fashion to an offer from the Quebec government to end the nine-weekold armed standoff in the Kanesatake Indian community at Oka, 30 km west of Montreal. After the Quebec government rejected two separate—and detailed—peace proposals worked out by negotiators for the Mohawks, Quebec Public Security Minister Sam Elkas offered instead a plan that, according to the natives, would require the Mohawks to give up their arms in the dead of night, away from the media, and to be taken to an army prison.

Elkas’s proposal, which representatives of the Quebec government would neither confirm nor deny, was the latest in a series of offers and counter-offers as the impasse dragged on with no end in sight. During the week, the army tightened its blockade of the surrounded Mohawks, curtailing the delivery of food supplies and severing all but one telephone connection—which the natives later cut off themselves, demanding face-to-face talks. In line with the stepped-up pressure, army spokesmen contacted about a dozen journalists still inside the Mohawk camp, telling them that their presence was “jeopardizing the safety of the soldiers and the Warriors.”

Outside the barricades, the army escorted an injured Warrior to a Quebec provincial court, where a Crown prosecutor charged him with five criminal offences arising from the Oka standoff, ranging from possession of a dangerous weapon to participating in a riot. Randy Hom, 40, code-named Spudwrench, had been in hospital in army custody with head injuries since an altercation with two soldiers on a predawn reconnaissance behind the Mohawk fines on Sept. 8. Both soldiers suffered minor stab wounds.

With both sides dug in among the Oka pines, neither the Quebec authorities nor the Mohawks seemed ready to compromise. Said Bob Antone, an Oneida chief from southern Ontario, who is one of the natives’ key negotiators: “We’re not going anywhere. We’ll just wait it out. Indians are known for their patience.”

BARRY CAME in Montreal