Mohawk Grand Chief speaks out against installing Cougar in Sackville’s Memorial Park

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon

The Grand Chief of the Mohawk First Nation at Kanesatake, Quebec is urging the 8th Canadian Hussars to stand by its decision to withdraw the gift of a Cougar armoured personnel carrier for display in Sackville’s Memorial Park.

Chief Serge Simon says the Cougar is not a fitting memorial to Hussars who died in the Second World War because it was never used in that conflict, but was used against his people during a standoff between Mohawks and the Canadian military during the Oka crisis of 1990.

When he was told that a petition is circulating in Sackville urging the Hussars to reconsider the decision to withdraw the Cougar, Simon said there are better choices.

“Why are they so headstrong about using an armoured personnel carrier as a symbol of, I don’t know, Canadian strength?” he asked. “Canadian oppression of First Nations people? What is your point when we have so many other options?”

During a telephone interview on Friday, the chief said he was already aware of the controversy after being alerted to it last month by a Mi’kmaq person. He added that he wrote a letter objecting to the gift on June 28.

Simon forwarded the letter to Warktimes.

“Many of us in Kanesatake still endure the memories of that summer almost 30 years ago and the effects of the human rights abuses our people suffered at the hands of Provincial and federal forces that are still apparent in our lives today,” his letter says.

“When the Canadian armed forces encircled our community with the help of the AVGP Cougar and closed in, it sent shock waves throughout First Nations territories, as the fear of a wider armed conflict could become a reality and throw us all in an uncertain future as a free society, let alone the image of force being used to further suppress the anger and frustration of First Nation people,” the letter adds.

The 78-day Oka crisis began after Mohawks objected to the extension of a golf course near their ancestral burying grounds on land they claim as their own.

Although Simon said the golf course was never built and the burying grounds are safe, the fight isn’t over.

“There’s still developments on our claimed land that are still going through that we’re trying to stop,” he said.

Mohawk war veterans

The Mohawk chief said two of his great uncles fought in the Second World War with one surviving both the Canadian raid on Dieppe and the D-Day invasion of Normandy while the other was “blown to pieces” in the Italian campaign.

“Our people fought in your army, in all the conflicts since the first [European] contact,” he said referring to Mohawk support for the British in their colonial wars against the French.

“If my uncles were still around today, they would probably be pretty ashamed of the Canadian government and military for their part in the Oka crisis,” Simon added.

His letter says a more fitting symbol to honour war veterans could be a sculpture reflecting peace.

“It could be a giant poppy with ‘never again on foreign or domestic soil’ carved in its base, as well as one feather on the helmet or bonnet of one of the sculpted soldiers of the 8th Hussars…I think my great uncles would be proud to stand beside both the symbol and their brother Warriors as well as recognizing it as a good symbol of reconciliation in this country,” the letter says.

Mi’kmaq support?

The Mohawk chief responded to Mi’kmaq peacekeeping veteran Allan Dobson’s presentation Tuesday night at town council during which he said the town should be listening to the Mi’kmaq of the Fort Folly First Nation who support installing a Cougar in Memorial Park.

“The Mi’kmaq down there are the ones who alerted us to this,” Simon said. “Obviously not everybody is in favour,” he added. “If I were to speak to the Mi’kmaq chiefs and let them know how we feel, they would change their position.”

Simon also responded to the argument that the military were using the Cougar at Oka to restore peace.

“The army was used on Canadian soil to suppress the land grievances of a particular First Nation,” he said, adding that the way to restore peace would have been to deal with the centuries-old conflict over land rights instead of calling in the Quebec police (SQ) and the military.

He recalled that many Mohawks were beaten by the SQ both during and after the crisis including his cousin who had an electric prod applied to his genitals.

“I saw Angus maybe a week later and I couldn’t believe how he was walking and I asked him ‘What the heck happened to you?’ He explained it to me and then he showed me,” Simon said. “I didn’t think a man’s scrotum could swell that bad.”

Simon, who was 27 at the time of the Oka crisis, said he was driving his mother home from the hospital when the military detained them for two hours at a check point.

“My mother got fed up,” he said. “She opened the car door and said ‘the hell with this, I’m going home.’ They pointed an M16 at her.”

Better choices

Simon said he sent a copy of his letter to Harjiit Sajjan, the Minister of National Defence.

“I’m hoping that maybe the minister, hopefully before the election, might be able to take it to his cabinet and see if there is any way that we can dedicate some funding for a proper symbol of peace and harmony and reconciliation,” he added.

“I think the citizens around that area, around that town, the Mi’kmaq and the Canadian citizens would be very happy. I think if they worked together, it’s an opportunity where we could get together, really put our minds in there and do something significant,” Simon said.

“I’m not pushing my views on anyone. I’m just saying that I’m a little disappointed and I’m hoping that better minds will prevail.”

To read Grand Chief Serge Simon’s letter, click here.

To see an historic timeline of the Oka crisis posted on the McGill University website, click here.

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9 Responses to Mohawk Grand Chief speaks out against installing Cougar in Sackville’s Memorial Park

  1. Rima Azar says:

    I wonder what our former Minister of Veterans Affairs, Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada & BC AFN Regional Chief the Honourable Jody Willson-Raybould would say about this interview and about all this saga in our small town? I may be wrong but, as a “proud Canadian” (as written on her Twitter description) something tells me she would not be too impressed.

  2. Louis says:

    I suppose that those who think that the Oka Crisis should have been resolved by negotiations with the Mohawks (subsequent to the murder of the SQ cop) also think that Trudeau-the-Father should have negotiated with the FLQ (subsequent to the murder of Pierre Laporte) as a way to resolve that one?

    Comment from Bruce Wark: Over the past week, I have done research on the Oka crisis. The assertion that Cpl. Marcel Lemay was murdered is frequently made, but the courts have never established this. Shots were fired by both police and Mohawks. In their book, “People of the Pines,” Geoffrey York who covered the Oka crisis for the Globe and Mail and Loreen Pindera who covered it for CBC write on pp. 40-41: “At the end of the crisis, Montreal Urban Community police determined that the shots had come from three directions in the Pines: from behind the lacrosse box, from the eastern edge of the Pines, and from the retreating warrior, northwest of the roadblock at Highway 344. Lemay was killed by a steel-tipped “full metal jacket” .233 calibre bullet. While the SQ tactical intervention squad uses .233 calibre bullets, they do not normally use the “full metal jacket” type — a fact that led the Quebec coroner to conclude the shot that killed Lemay could not have come from one of his colleagues. The gun that fired the fatal bullet was never found…Publicly, all the warriors insisted that Lemay’s killer had not been a Mohawk. But no one could prove it — and privately, among a few Mohawks, a nagging doubt persisted. There was that ominous shout — “I think we got one” — that some warrior had yelled out soon after the shooting. In all the hysteria and confusion, it is possible that even the man who killed Lemay does not know he did it.”

    • Rima Azar says:

      Louis, I read your comment. You raise a good point. Food for thought.

      Anyhow, what is a bit comical is that the two persons in town who are from Québec are the ones defending the country’s unity :).

      Personally, I think people are so scared that no one seems to be saying anything, at least on this blog (I am not on social media). Everyone is scared to be perceived as or called “racist”.

      Since I know myself and values well whilst not really caring if you call me whatever you wish, I will raise the following two questions to our town: For me, this saga of the Memorial park sounds like blackmailing since the beginning, and perhaps now more than ever. Is it the case? And if so, why are we allowing it to happen?

      • Roll up the Rima says:

        The idea that Louis and yourself are the only people in town that have any connection with Quebec, or any understanding of the Oka Crisis is extremely patronizing. You should check yourself before you go any further down this path. Your words are either ignorant or racist or both. You would do well to listen to, and understand the experiences of other people rather than dictate your own opinions as truth.


  3. Rima Azar says:

    If I may, I would like to share a BEAUTIFUL picture of forgiveness and reconciliation from 2015 (by La Presse) showing Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon presenting his condolences to Ms. Francine Lemay, the sister of Caporal Lemay who lost his life during the tragic crisis:

    As Chief Otsi said: I cannot even imagine what she must be feeling coming to the place where she lost her brother (my free translation of «Je ne peux même pas imaginer ce qu’elle doit ressentir quand elle revient à l’endroit où elle a perdu son frère” ).

    The warrior who shot him was never identified. Anyhow, Ms. Francine has forgiven, as per this article from 2010 (in French):

    As far as I am concerned, I will echo Ms. Lemay’s words: Thank Goodness the Oka crisis did not turn into a bloodshed. I will add: Bravo for the Government of Québec for asking our army to help. Thanks to our army for ending the crisis.

    May peace, wisdom, and unity always prevail.

    Comment from Bruce Wark: Thanks Rima for your comment and the links. I’ll add one in English in which Francine Lemay condemns the racial prejudices against Mohawks among many Quebeckers:

    Lemay still winces at the racist images of the summer of 1990. She recalls the shouts of “les Sauvages!” and the burning of Mohawk effigies on Montreal’s south shore, where commuters rioted to protest against the sympathy blockades on the Mercier bridge, erected by the Mohawk’s sister community of Kahnawake.

    Sadly, Lemay does not think attitudes among many Quebecers have softened over two decades.

    “When I talk with my friends, they still have these old ideas and prejudices,” she said. “It’s always (illegal) cigarettes, the bingos, the lottery. It seems they do not want to know more.”

  4. Rima Azar says:

    Thank you Bruce for posting my comment, for your reply, and the link. I read it carefully.

    I think this interesting CBC article forgets to mention the context in which “les Sauvages” was shouted in 1990. We are talking about people from the South Shore who have been prevented from entering their homes for 78 days due to the “sympathy” blockade on Mercier Bridge. Believe me, angry people can say this and even worse words, especially when they are frustrated, exhausted, and out of their houses for that long.

    I recall having wondered to myself back then: Is this the Middle East or Montréal? The only thing missing was the burning tires (I guess we are “greener” in Canada :)).

    I believe here is also another MAJOR point: the Mohawks have historically allied themselves with the British against the French. The English folks were the “enemies” of the now-French-Canadians. Let’s not forget this factor that must have a played a role as well as any SADLY remaining stereotypes like those Madame Francine Lemay mentioned.

    I also know from my other life elsewhere that conflicts around the world do not completely end (even when they appear to do so). There remain echoes of frictions that can take generations to truly heal. Thus, it is VERY easy to provoke a strife anytime, especially in a weakened country. We are sadly not immune.

    In Arabic they say, “if a person plays with the fire, the person may burn his/her fingers” (my free translation). I feel like adding: Please do not burn us all along with your fingers. We would like to preserve both our country and collective sanity, especially in times where we seem to be losing our points of references, as a civilization.

    Related to this, I would like to end with my one of my sisters’ words. The other day, she shared a troubling thought: she told me she has always dreamed to see Lebanon becoming like the rest of the world (I think she meant the Western world we look up to in Beirut). She is now sadly observing that the world has become more like Lebanon.

  5. Rima Azar says:

    I do not know if Mr. Wark has received my comment replying to “The Mysterious Wrayton on the Warktimes” (who re-appeared all of a sudden. I was wondering where that Wrayton had been 😊). I am re-sending it, re-wording it slightly:

    Wrayton, you have just proven my point. In our days and time, we use the “racist” card when every other argument fails.

    I invite you to visit “La Belle Province”, including the Oka beach and nearby Kanesatake. First, you will fall in love, just as I did on June 17, 1990 when I immigrated to Québec, Canada. Second, if you talk to people there as I did for at least 10 out of my 15 years there, you will understand that the situation is not as single-sided as you may think.

    • Wrayton says:

      “Playing the Race Card” is a rhetorical device used in an effort to devalue and minimize claims of racism.

  6. Marguerite says:

    What I’d like to know is how a Memorial Park personnel carrier question turned into a full-on “native issue”.

    Now Ms Rima seems accused by Wrayton of being “ignorant or racist or both”. That seems to be the modern version of old classic “trump cards” such as Soviet “speculation”, Thai “lese-majeste” and general accusations of heresy. For one thing, I see no evidence of that. For another, it would be irrelevant to the discussion of whether a personnel carrier belongs in the park.

    Can we just get back to discussing the issue of the Memorial Park, instead of turning this into a story about a personnel carrier that may or may not have been used in Oka, whether a person is ignorant racist, or any of that?

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