“The Real Oka” and Other Conspiracy Theories

Masked men

I read Doug George’s anti-warrior diatribe in Tuesday’s Montreal Gazette (“As I Saw It: The Real Oka Story,” July 13, 2010) with a mixture of shock, horror, and sadness — roughly in that order. It’s clear (to me, anyway) that he doesn’t know the real story at all.

In fact, the only sentence I could trust in the entire piece was the first one because it applied perfectly to himself and his own writing:

To understand the Oka crisis of 1990, we need to see beyond the hype, distortions and lies that have become the great Oka myth.

First, Doug assumes to speak for the Mohawks at Kanehsatake. Then — although he likely hasn’t spoken to anyone who was there on July 11 for his piece, and has never been to Kanehsatake — he implies that people there didn’t have the presence of mind to act, make decisions, or stand up for themselves. That’s not the Kanehsatake I know.

Doug can neither get his facts right, nor spell Kanehsatake (“Kanehastake,” “Kahnesatake“). Most of all, his piece about myth-busting begins and ends with one of his own: “To understand what happened at Oka-Kanehastake [sic] and Kahnawake, it is essential to know what took place at Akwesasne since the key players and the weapons, including the one that killed [Sûreté du Québec] officer Marcel Lemay, came from my home community.”

A few lines down, Doug adds: “Without the approval of any Mohawk, [sic] council the warriors arrived in Oka…”

Doug George seems to write that he knows who shot and killed Corporal Lemay on July 11, 1990. Certainly, he implies that he knows where the weapon that fired the fatal shot might have come if not the owner. If so, there’s a coroner and some Crown Attorneys who might like to see some proof. If Doug can’t produce it, then there a good chance he’s stretching things a bit if not distorting things to incredulity. Regardless, the Gazette had a duty to demand proof before passing such an inflammatory statement to print.

Doug must know that Kanehsatake sent a runner to other Six Nations Longhouse Councils to plead for their help in trying to avert the violence they feared from the police. Months before the July 11 raid, David Gabriel, a sachem with the Mohawk/Six Nations Council, carried wampum signifying official Council status to Longhouses on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border. Both warriors and non-warriors were at those meetings. Not a single Longhouse council responded officially either before or after the July 11 raid.

Instead, a lot of individuals headed for Kanehsatake. Some were “warriors”; others were not. Most came from Mohawk Territories, but not only Akwesasne as Doug implies. Some came from as far away as Nova Scotia and Manitoba. They began to arrive in greater numbers in late June when it appeared a massive police raid was inevitable.

As for gun-runners… There’s a picture taken months before the raid, long before the arrival of the Akwesasne warriors, of a Kanehsatake gun-runner showing off his collection of weapons for sale.

If Doug George can prove that all of the individuals above were acting on direct instructions from some warrior central command at Akwesasne, he should do so. Otherwise, it’s just another one of those conspiracy theories, a curious mix of fact and fable.

Now consider this sentence: “The Sûreté elected to strike at Oka because it did not want a repeat of what had happened at Akwesasneake [sic]. The warriors needed publicity and the Sûreté gave it to them. Lemay was shot in the face.”

Ignore the inflammatory words. Doug’s timeline is wrong. He doesn’t mention that the Sûreté du Québec had launched a series of raids of increasing size, frequency and violence at Kanehsatake during the winter and spring leading up to July 11. This was certainly cause for concern and genuine fear at Kanehsatake. Yet, he ignores these raids that began before his bloody civil war at Akwesasne.

Doug then promotes his favourite myth that “Oka” was merely an extension of his civil war at Akwesasne. He does so by deliberately omitting some well-documented and much publicized facts — facts repeatedly published by reputable news organizations around the world and even (wait for it) the Montreal Gazette.

Here are those inconvenient facts that Doug George would like you to forget. People at Kanehsatake occupied the Pines to:

  • stop the Mayor of Oka’s plans to bulldoze their cemetery;
  • chop down those pine trees; and
  • expand a whites-only golf course from 9 to 18 holes on land the Mohawk call their “Common lands.”

Got it? Kanehsatake was about the land — not casinos, tobacco, or the mob in Jersey or Vegas. Of course, Doug deems all of the above irrelevant because it doesn’t fit his bizarre theory that “Oka” was really all about Akwesasne.

Still not convinced? Here’s the difference:

  • Oka was a confrontation between Mohawks and Canadian government authorities.
  • Akwesasne was a civil war with Mohawks fighting and killing other Mohawks.

What’s indisputable is the fact that events at Akwesasne poisoned understanding about and overshadowed events at Kanehsatake 20 years ago. Thanks to people like Doug George and the Montreal Gazette, they still do.

Now for the sad part.

I first met Doug when we were both covering stories about border-crossing issues in Mohawk territories, the cross-border smuggling of brand-name cigarettes instigated and funded by the very brand-name tobacco companies that complained to government, and the emergence of the Mohawk Warrior Society. He was editor of Eastern Time Indian Time, a small Akwesasne weekly. I was native affairs broadcaster for national CBC Radio.

I thought him opinionated and arrogant. Still, he was half-right some of the time. But I don’t recognize the person who wrote this piece, so filled with hate that it twists reality.

Doug likes to promote a myth about himself. In it, he’s the crusading editor and journalist fighting against a powerful evil. At one time, I might have ignored it as meaningless self-hype. No more.

Doug stopped being a journalist and became a vigilante the moment he slipped on the camouflage uniform of an armed anti-warrior-warrior, and traded words and ideas for a loaded rifle. When he did that, he became the reflected image of the very evil he campaigned against in his writings before that summer.

Doug forgot or chose willful blindness to some fundamental rules of journalism:

  • journalists don’t pick sides
  • journalists don’t put on uniforms
  • journalists don’t pick up weapons
  • journalists never try to kill people

8 thoughts on ““The Real Oka” and Other Conspiracy Theories

  1. According to your rules of journalism I don’t think a person can be a journalist and a native/indigenous person. (not to mention a human being.) I’ll always take the side of today’s children and future generations. Nations like Canada and the US don’t. If you stand on the sidelines while someone destroys their future what are you then? Can you stop being a journalist and become one again at a later time?

    And besides…
    Obviously by writing a letter to the editor he is not being considered as a journalist. Otherwise it would have been a story in the paper. So he doesn’t have to be considered as one. Just the facts are what should be considered. Is this person right or wrong? Partly right or partly wrong.

  2. They aren’t my rules. They’re called canons of journalism, are taught in journalism schools, and are usually in style guides use by most news organizations around the world. See here <http://www.superiorclipping.com/canons.html> or here <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalism_ethics_and_standards> or here. I’m providing international or American sites to keep things in line with Doug George’s country of work although they’re similar in most of the countries where I’ve worked or am familiar with.

    There is a certain stream of thought in journalism that journalists should be like doctors, nurses, and international aid workers especially in the middle of armed conflict. They suggest that journalists should act like and be considered neutrals – not taking any side. Perhaps I should have written that journalists should not take sides instead of stating that they must never take sides. But I am concerned with a growing trend which forgives and even rewards some journalists for taking sides on some rather disgusting issues. This isn’t journalism. It’s often racism clothed as fair comment, written as editorial on the Op-Ed pages.

    There is an outdated notion called “objectivity” in international journalism. I prefer “fair” and “accurate” instead, altough I think objectivity is a neat goal to strive for although it will always be out of reach. I think that covers the first of my four points; the others are putting on a uniform, picking up a weapon, and trying to kill another human being. If you’re arguing against of those points, I have nothing to say because it would be useless to try.

    Doug George identifies himself a journalist, in both the past and the present. I suggest you take up your argument with him directly.

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