Several Cree police officers found themselves in the middle of a national crisis last week after Mohawk protestors held them and police from other Native communities hostage in the Kanesatake police compound.
Mohawk protestors surrounded the Kanesatake police station on January 12 amid rumours that out-of-town police were coming in to raid cigarette stores, and later burned the house of Kanesatake Grand Chief James Gabriel to the ground.
The protestors claimed that the demotions of Kanesatake Police Chief Tracy Cross and officers Mike Dupont and Mark Delisle, as well as the re-instatement of Larry Ross and former Police Chief Terry Isaac, wasn’t done through proper channels.
Trapped in the police station along with the Kanesatake police force were about 40 other Native police officers from 18 different communities. Included in that group were seven members of Cree police forces: From
Whapmagoostui were Roger Sandy and Robert Auclair; Carl Simard and Peter Bosum from Ouje-Bougoumou; and from Chisasibi, Lyle Cox, Robert Shem and David Thompson (who is, ironically, a Mohawk himself).
The protestors said that Mohawk Grand Chief James Gabriel made the moves without the knowledge or the consent of the Mohawk people or the Kanesatake police commission. Some residents went as far as to call the non-Mohawk Native police officers invaders of Mohawk territory.
Gabriel fled the community after a tip that his and his family’s lives were in danger. His house and one of his vehicles would be torched four hours after the stand-off started, a move that many community members say went too far. People in the Mohawk reserve are tightlipped, however, on exactly who started the fires.
Gabriel said Jan. 13 he called in the outside force because Kanesatake police were turning a blind eye to a rampant drug trade run by organized crime gangs.
Though none of the police officers would comment on their presence, Bill Namagoose, the Executive Director of the Cree Grand Council, said worries that the Crees were coming to invade the Mohawk territory are unfounded.
“The Chiefs and Councilors of the three communities didn’t even know their police had been taken away,” he said. “The Cree police were told to come and participate in a drug raid.”
What Namagoose finds strange is that the Native police officers were invited to come in during a change in police administration.
“The Cree police didn’t know they were walking into a political situation,” he explained. “Crees see it as a breach of protocol. The Mohawk leadership should have contacted the Cree leadership through proper channels. Some of our leadership is upset that Mohawks seemed to be controlling Cree police and we want a protocol in place so this doesn’t happen again.”
Namagoose added he was on the phone all day Jan. 13 trying to defuse the situation for the Cree police officers. “It was exhausting. Police usually do the rescuing, not the Grand Council,” he said.
Namagoose added that the presence of Cree police in Kanesatake does not mean the Grand Council supports Gabriel or any other faction in the community. “It is an internal problem that has to be dealt with by the Mohawks and we have no wish or right to get involved in this issue beyond insuring the safety of the Cree police caught up in the events that happened,” he said.
The Native police were released by the community at around 9 pm Jan. 13 after a deal brokered by Quebec Public Security Minister Jacques Chagnon. The Native police from other First Nations were allowed to leave with their weapons but local officers had to leave their badges and guns behind. Mohawk police from Kahnawake and Akwesasne then replaced them. Critics of the Chagnon deal say he made a deal with terrorists and lost.