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A decade later, the 82-year-old woman hasn't forgotten the clamour of a hot, angry summer afternoon.

It sounded like a big thunder roll, she remembered, the sound of rocks striking the cars in a convoy of Mohawk elders, children and women trying to leave the nastiest crisis between natives and whites in modern Canada.

"I can hear it still," the woman said. "Sometimes, when I'm laying down and I can't sleep, I think about it."

Sitting in her kitchen in the Mohawk reserve of Kahnawake, just outside Montreal, Mary D'Ailleboust recalled the day she and her daughter Mona, 47, granddaughter Monica, 23 -- who was seven months pregnant -- and Monica's three children, aged 7, 5 and 2, packed themselves into their Chevy.

It was during the 1990 Oka crisis and a convoy of children, elderly and weak residents were leaving Kahnawake. They didn't know a mob of whites outside the reserve would bombard their cars with rocks, a hideous low moment in the country's relations with its aboriginal people.

"People should not forget what happened," Mrs. D'Ailleboust defiantly said. "They're more savage than we are. Remember that we are a people. We owned this land."

It was 10 years ago today that the most acute aboriginal crisis in modern times in Canada began.

The 78-day Oka crisis left lingering bitterness and mistrust between Mohawks and their neighbours. But at the same time, Oka would become a turning point, hauling into a broader consciousness native grievances that had long simmered away from public attention.

"I look at Oka as a victory, a victory for native rights," said Kenneth Deer, editor of the Mohawk newspaper The Eastern Door. "In the end, the governments had to listen to us."

He mentioned recent native gains such as the unprecedented powers provided in the Nisga'a treaty or the creation of the northern territory of Nunavut. "Look at Nunavut, there wouldn't be a Nunavut without Oka. We had to suffer for other people's gains."

Oka inspired aboriginal people all over Canada.

"It made me feel better to be native. I felt stronger," said Barney McLeod, an Ojibwa sculptor living in Vancouver, who quit his construction job in Toronto during the crisis and drove all night to deliver canned food to Kahnawake. "A lot of people felt sorry for themselves for being native. But after Oka, native people became prouder and stronger."

The crisis began in the scenic town of Oka, 60 kilometres west of Montreal, in a dispute over a planned condominium expansion to a golf complex. The housing was to be built on land claimed by the neighbouring Mohawk community of Kanesatake and would have encircled the native cemetery.

Mohawk protesters set up barricades in the pine forest at the heart of the dispute. At 5:30 a.m. on July 11, a Sûreté du Québec (provincial police) tactical squad arrived in Oka and officers positioned themselves around the pines.

Within an hour of the SQ's arrival, in support of their fellow natives in Oka, hard-line Mohawks at Kahnawake, south of Montreal, blocked the Mercier bridge, a major thoroughfare used daily by 70,000 suburban commuters.

Caught between two hot spots, the provincial police rushed the Oka barricades at 8:45 a.m. A gunfight erupted, killing police officer Corporal Marcel Lemay.

A surreal, angry summer had begun. For 78 days, armed natives would be in a standoff against thousands of police officers and soldiers.

It was a summer of anger because non-Mohawk residents in Châteauguay, the bedroom suburb that was cut off by the bridge blockade, became incensed that natives defying their police were blocking their commute to work.

During those torrid nights in the summer of 1990, mobs of enraged vigilantes roamed the outskirts of the reserve, waving baseball bats. They roughed up anyone who looked native, they roughed up white people who tried to drive through their road blocks, they roughed up reporters. And then they turned their ire on the police, who tear-gassed them during several nights of wild rioting.

It could have been avoided, and not just because, as coroner Guy Gilbert's inquest later established, the federal government failed to quickly settle the Oka land dispute or because the SQ launched its assault so hastily.

In the months before the conflict, Mohawk communities had been in turmoil, torn between supporters of the elected band councils, non-violent traditionalists, and so-called Warriors, armed, militant hard-liners.

The emergence of the contraband tobacco trade and gambling halls was pitting Mohawks against Mohawks, degenerating sometimes into furious gun battles. Kahnawake radio host Joe Delaronde, an outspoken critic of the Warriors, recalled getting death threats and finding a skinned cat on his lawn. So when the tactical squad arrived in Oka, it faced a volatile environment, full of short-fused, bellicose gunmen. "We were ready for them, but people in the pines were not fighting over casinos or cigarettes," Mr. Deer said.

That's because the stakes in the conflict were also numbingly familiar to all native communities, pitting aboriginal territorial claims against the business concerns of their non-native neighbours.

Their land hemmed in, with little industrial or agricultural base, the Mohawks had for generations struggled economically. Generations of Mohawk men expatriated themselves to become ironworkers on the construction sites of the northeastern United States. More recently, they tried to cash in on their tax-exemption status by selling tax-free goods or opening gambling halls.

"In hindsight, you can see how all that fuelled the social crisis among the Mohawks," Montreal anthropologist Pierre Trudel said.

A month before the July 11 gunfight, Mr. Trudel had visited Kanesatake just after a police raid against the local Mohawk bingo.

The Mohawks that Mr. Trudel interviewed noted bitterly that the SQ no longer dared enter their sister community of Kahnawake because of the emergence of the Warrior Society there. The lesson was clear to Mohawks: Having guns was the best deterrent to what they saw as police meddling on their land.

Peaceful channels failed that summer and so "the machos won the day and got to shoot each other," Mr. Trudel said.

After the barricades came down, anarchy reigned in Kanesatake for years. The new elected chief was weak, and lawlessness descended on the community. It is only recently that progress has been made in policing the area. The golf course was never expanded but land talks with Ottawa are still ongoing and the Mohawk community remains deeply divided.

For months, Mohawks in Kahnawake did not want to go to Châteauguay. "Our economy was in shambles and Châteauguay also suffered because we stopped buying there," Mr. Deer said. "You wondered if the person serving you was someone who had rioted or burnt us in effigy."

Today, a decade later, the two communities are slowly emerging from the shadows of the crisis. Little-league baseball and pee-wee hockey teams from Châteauguay have even come back to play against Mohawk teams.

In Kahnawake, the Mohawks have more autonomy. Mohawk Peacekeepers are the sole patrollers on the reserve, after an agreement with Quebec. The province also held back from cracking down on past contentious areas such as gambling, extreme-fighting tournaments or liquor licensing, leaving them to Mohawk-run institutions.

It falls short of self-determination but, for now, "we'll assert what we can get," Mr. Deer said.

"There's certainly some deep wounds," Mr. Delaronde said. "But we have to realize that it's not the entire non-native population that was against us.

"Nineteen ninety was going to happen somewhere. It just happened here."


The photograph that became the enduring symbol of the 1990 crisis was snapped Sept. 1, when the army entered the Oka perimeter and several soldiers didn't flinch in nose-to-nose staring matches with masked, armed natives.

Patrick Cloutier,the private immortalized in the photo, became an overnight celebrity and was promoted to master corporal. He was demoted in 1993 after admitting to cocaine use and was discharged from the Canadian Forces the next year after being found guilty of impaired driving. He appeared in 1995 in a pornographic movie entitled Quebec Sexy Girls II, spoofing his famous confrontation. He is now believed to be out of the country. Ronaldo Casalpro, alias Ronald Cross,alias Lasagna,the most famous of the armed Mohawks, is often wrongly believed to be the masked man in the famous picture, but it was in fact Brad Larocque, an Ojibwa university student who later moved back to Saskatchewan.

Mr. Cross died in November of a heart attack after he finished a six-year sentence for assault and weapons charges arising from the crisis. Three Sûreté du Québec officers were suspended without pay for beating him after his arrest, but the case had dragged on for so long that they were no longer with the force. Coincidentally, it was SQ officers who first tried to revive Mr. Cross when his heart failed. Shaney Komulainen,the Canadian Press photographer who took the picture, was involved in a near-fatal traffic accident while returning from an assignment in Oka and is longer able to work as a news photographer. After studying journalism and social work, she is now returning to photography.

SOME OF THE OTHERS: Joe Norton has been Kahnawake's elected Grand Chief since 1980. When the crisis began on July 11, militant Warriors had, on their own, decided to block the Mercier bridge, and Mr. Norton, by his later admission, wasn't in control of the community. However, his tireless work during the standoff rebuilt his leadership. "Whenever there was trouble, he was there to deal with it. He went physically to the front line. You have to admire that," one former Mohawk critic said. Mr. Norton last week won his 11th consecutive mandate.

General Armand Roy,the base commander at Valcartier, Que., was responsible for the troops that were sent to help the police at Kanesatake and Kahnawake. He became the military negotiator during the last stages of the crisis and received good reviews for his performance. He later became deputy chief of defence staff, in charge of all domestic and overseas operations, the military's third-highest officer. However, in 1996, the Canadian Forces summarily dismissed Gen. Roy for what it cited as inappropriate conduct involving up to $80,000 in expense accounts he had filed for meals, lodging and house-hunting expenses.

Waneek Horn-Miller,who was 14 at the time, was among the last Mohawks holding out in September in the Oka detox centre, with her mother, Mohawk activist and former model Kahn-Tineta Horn. She is now the captain the Canadian women's water polo team.