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1995

#6 Anarchy at Kanehsatake: Why governments are afraid to stop the violence

While lawlessness and violence pervades the Mohawk First Nations community of Kanehsatake in Quebec, those with the power to stop it continue to turn a blind eye. According to Mohawk author Dan David, jurisdictional disputes between the Quebec and federal governments and threats from the band council of another violent Oka-style clash if outside authorities become involved has left the community in the hands of unaccountable and ineffectual leadership.

In 1990, the army was called in to help end an armed dispute that started over the town of Oka's decision to expand its golf course onto land the Mohawks claimed as their own.

Fearing another violent confrontation, local police are under orders from the Quebec government not to enter the territory without Chief Jerry Peltier's permission, but that leaves the community with no checks or balances on those holding power.

That makes it a prime example of the problems posed by Indian self-government under the old model imposed by the Indian Act, which makes band councils responsible to the federal government and not the community.

Affidavits filed by 15 Kanehsatake women during the summer of 1995 suggest that Peltier, his band council, and Quebec and federal cabinet ministers, consciously allowed violence on the reserve to continue. The women sought Peltier's removal as chief. The women also accuse Peltier and the council of fostering a profitable relationship with drug dealers and thugs known locally as "critters," some of whom are members of the band council and the federally-funded Community Watch Team.

Repeated attempts by the Kanehsatake women to alert authorities to the climate of terror at the reserve have not only been futile but have led to targeted violence and harassment against them and others trying to restore democracy to the community. The "critters" have ransacked homes, shot at people, and threatened the lives of their critics, David claims.

Besides stonewalling mainstream reporters investigating the situation, the Mohawk Council of Kanehsatake launched a defamation lawsuit against Southam Inc. and Montreal Gazette reporter William Marsden in response to articles about Peltier, his associates and the council itself.

While national attention was paid to police raids of the Kanehsatake marijuana fields, little reportage of the incidents and underlying problems at Kanehsatake have surfaced in the national mainstream news media.

The Canadian Press reported on July 25, 1995, that two Kanehsatake men accused a small handful of band council members of being "involved up to their gills" in marijuana cultivation. They added, however, that Peltier was in the dark about it. The women of Kanehsatake have gone to every governmental body available to them. In June of 1994, the problems at Kanehsatake were brought before the Mohawk Round Table, an Ottawa-based forum where the chiefs of all three Mohawk territories Kanehsatake, Kahnawake and Akwesasne sit with federal and provincial officials. Because the Mohawk Chiefs, including Peltier, who sit on the Round Table could not agree on what should be done, nothing has been done.

On August 24, 1995, the Quebec Court rejected the Kanehsatake womens' appeal to have Peltier removed as Chief. The court cited insufficient information to support the complaints.

Sources:
Anarchy at Kanehsatake, This Magazine, December-January 1995-96 (Dan David)
Leadership Accountability Brings People Together, Windspeaker, June 1995 (Ben Whiskeyjack)

PCC Researcher: Angela D. Austman

Summary of Coverage
While the Canadian mainstream national and major regional media did report on activities at Kanehsatake in 1995, they focused on some specific events (such as the burning of marijuana fields, a large-prize bingo event and the re-election of Band Council Chief), but did not report much on the general issues referred to in the nominated story. The Montreal Gazette and The Toronto Star both published profiles of Kanehsatake "5 years after 'Oka.'" Most of the six stories we found that referred explicitly to the situation described in the nominated story were in The Montreal Gazette, although there was one in The Ottawa Citizen. The nominated story was published in This Magazine. CBC-Radio (World at 6) reported on the women of Kanehsatake having told the federal government about the marijuana fields, and the evening 10:00 national news (Radio) reported on the challenge to Peltier's leadership. Locally, CBC-Radio (Ottawa and Toronto) covered the bingo event and the discovery and destruction of the marijuana fields. CBC-TV national coverage was similarly focused on these specific issues.

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