Reflections on Oka: The Mohawk Confrontation
by Rudy Friesen
Summary written by: Mariya Yevsyukova, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Reflections on Oka: The Mohawk Confrontation." Conflict Resolution Notes. April 1991. V. 8, No. 4. Pp. 36-38.
Rudy Friesen looks at several reasons why negotiations between the Canadian/Quebec government and the Mohawk tribe were unsuccessful. The conflict arose over the issue of extending "a golf course into land which the Mohawks felt was sacred" (p. 36). In addition, this extension would have violated the 18th century treaties between the tribe and the government.
Three causes for the failure of negotiations can be identified: (1) the imbalance of power between the two parties, and the government's resistance to give more respect to the Mohawk people. While Indians perceive themselves as a separate Nation, Canadian authorities do not recognize them as such, claiming that they are Canadians despite the treaties "signed between Indian nation states and Canadian officials" (p. 36). (2) The parties did not agree on the agenda of negotiations. The Mohawk people had concrete issues that they wanted to discuss, such as sovereignty, land, and preservation of natural resources. The government though did not seem willing to approach the conflict constructively. It perceived "the warriors as criminals" and tried to break them into "good" and "bad" Indians (p. 37). This framing of the conflict did not allow for constructive conflict management since it was based on the view that force was the only way of dealing criminals. (3) The parties could not agree on preconditions to negotiations. Several attempts to start negotiations failed due to the government's unwillingness to consider Indian proposals. John Paul Lederach, who was invited by the Indians to mediate the conflict and helped to draw those proposals, suspected that the government never really wanted to resolve the conflict through negotiations. After rejecting the Mohawk's proposal to remove barricades under the condition of continuing negotiations "without arrests being made" (p. 37), government officials walked out, not even offering any counter suggestion. The order to remove barricades by force followed. As a result of this confrontation, the golf course will not be extended, but the issues dividing two sides have never been addressed. This creates a potential for future conflict.