CTR HomePublic Relations HomeAbout CTRPublication ScheduleCTR Archives


September 28, 2000 Ellen Gabriel marks anniversary of Oka Crisis with sadness





by Kate Shingler

Native activist Ellen Gabriel feels that little has changed since the Oka Crisis of 1990. “Most people don’t really understand what happened,” she said. “We were standing in the way of a multi-million dollar project.”

About 100 people braved the rain to hear her speak on September 13 in the D.B. Clarke Theatre. Gabriel was a spokesperson during the Oka Crisis, which started with a protest by the Mohawk people of Kahnasatake over the expansion of a golf course, and became a tense, violent stand-off lasting several weeks. Gabriel had completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Concordia only a few months earlier.

She introduced her lecture in Mohawk and asked the audience to listen with an open heart. “We are not Canadian citizens,” she said. The Iroquois Confederacy, which included the Mohawks, was outlawed in 1924. “Now we must use a visa, as if we don’t have a nationality.”

She showed photographs, slides of native artefacts and two of her own works. Art is cathartic, she explained. “Since I was a little kid, art has always been a way of getting out some of my frustrations.”

Gabriel spoke of her desire to return to a more peaceful way of living. “Violence is not the answer. Education is. To be hateful against somebody just poisons you inside.

“Not once, in the 10 years since, have I heard an apology for what they did to us,“ she said, with tears rolling down her cheeks, pausing for a full minute to compose herself. “Oka made us an angry community, and that anger turned inwards.”

“Whenever you have a chance to talk to an aboriginal person, to hear an aboriginal person speak, please take it,” she said. “As long as my nation is not at peace, neither will yours be.”








Copyright 2000, Concordia University