by Kate Shingler
Native activist Ellen Gabriel feels that little has changed since the
Oka Crisis of 1990. Most people dont really understand what
happened, she said. We were standing in the way of a multi-million
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 dont 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.