The Oka crisis was sparked off by the decision taken by the Municipality of Oka and Le Club de golf d’Oka Inc. to extend a nine hole golf course originally built in 1959 on land that the Mohawks claim is, and has always been, theirs. The 39 hectares of land in question include a Native cemetery and parts of a pine forest known as the Pines.
The Mohawks had failure to secure a favourable resolution through the official land claims process during the 1970s and 1980s and the planned golf development on their sacred forest led them, on March 10, 1990, to occupy parts of the wooded area to protect their burial ground and trees. The pines had been planted by the Mohawks and Algonquins in the nineteenth century, under the guidance of the Sulpician fathers.
On July 11, 1990, the Quebec police arrived at the Pines and demanded that the Mohawk Indian natives remove their barricades and leave immediately. After hours of verbal confrontation, the Sûreté du Québec lobbed canisters of tear gas and concussion grenades into the Pines and moved in. The Mohawks resisted. In the ensuing exchange of gunfire thirty-one-year-old Quebec policeman Corporal Marcel Lemay got shot (it remains disputed whether it was a stray bullet from the police, or from the Mohawk warriors or whether he misfired). The conflict escalated into an eleven-week standoff between Mohawk Warriors (armed with small weapons and some AK-47s), the Quebec provincial police and the armed forces (who moved in a few days after the stand-off), and drew unprecedented political and media attention. The armed stand-off at Oka sparked Native blockades on railways, highways and bridges across the country in solidarity, including several key access points on and off the island of Montreal, such as by the community of Kahnawakhe on the Mercier bridge, causing significant traffic disruptions over months. The crisis ended after 78 days, on Sept. 26, 1990, when a truce was negotiated between the army and the warriors. The golf course expansion which had originally triggered the crisis was cancelled by the mayor of Oka yet many of the land claims were never properly addressed. On the 23rd anniversary of the crisis this year, the community protested at Oka Park to raise awareness of plans to ship crude oil from Alberta through Quebec via traditional Kanesatake territory. This case is significant because it is considered the first violent confrontation in recent times over indigenous territorial land claims in Canada.