Every year at this time we are reminded of the events of 1990. The news articles in local and national newspapers, the stories on the television news and the Spiritual Gathering in Kanehsatake all keep the memories of that year alive. In Kahnawake, our own Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow-Wow was started to commemorate the summer of ’90.
While some view the Crisis as a fight for power, cigarettes and casinos, they are wrong. It was a fight over land. I can remember my first night in The Pines. I was sent there on July 11 as a negotiator. I met men in fatigues who were still masked or wore camouflage paint on their faces. I could not recognize them all but most of them knew who I was.
They greeted me in passing and some stopped to say a few words. As I listened to the voices, I recognized some of them. These were young men, younger than I was in any case, who I thought did not have a political bone in their body. These were not casino supporters or cigarette runners but men who, through circumstances and necessity, came to The Pines to defend the land.
Some were past residents of the Alcohol and Drug Treatment Centre known as the TC. They had a close affinity to The Pines since the centre is situated there. I knew some of these men when they were just high school students just a few years earlier.
Talking with them that night and the following days, they told me why they were there. It was still a very tense time. There was always the threat that the SQ would try to come back into The Pines again. The men and women were under the threat of attack at any time. Because of this threat, they were very open to discuss why they were willing to face arrest, prosecution or even death. They were adamant about their cause. They were there to protect the land. There was no doubt about that. I came away convinced that the people inside the barricades were sincere and clear on the objectives.
Those five days behind the barricades at Kanehsatake still remain with me. The issue was the land, and no one can change my mind that it was anything else. True, there are some who tried to make the point that other agendas and personalities were behind the events of 1990, but people were not going to risk their lives for those. It was the land there was worth fighting for.
Today we are still seeing the results of the conflict. The Royal Commission, the rush to settle land claims and the recent creation of Nunavut in the far north are a direct result of the Crisis. Canada had to prove to the world that it can make major land settlements after the embarrassment of 1990. In the aftermath, the government began negotiating in earnest with the Inuit.
Without the Crisis of 1990, there would not be a Nunavut today.