Oka Crisis plays integral role in Kahnawake school's history class, but not in Quebec curriculum
MONTREAL -- At 17 years old, Kaycee Diabo grew up hearing stories of the Oka Crisis.
"My grandfather had bought a boat and he had been going across the water to go get groceries," she said. "It hits harder when you hear it from your family, and people who experienced it firsthand."
She’s one of about 50 students who graduated from the Kahnawake Survival School (KSS) this spring. The school was built in 1978 as a response to Bill 101 and is one of the only schools in the province where the community decides on the curriculum.
"For my generation, everyone finds it inspiring because we stood up for what we wanted," she said.
The Oka Crisis plays an integral role in history, social studies and learning how Indigenous people and government interact.
On top of that, one day each year is completely devoted to the Crisis. Speakers from Kahnawake and Kanesatake speak to the students about their experience with different aspects of the Crisis.
"When we first started talking about it, we approached it from all different angles," said KSS graduate Jennifer Kanerahtoronkwas Paul. "We approached it politically to see how the Mohawk Council was dealing with it. We looked at it traditionally to see how the longhouses were dealing with it. We looked at the economics of it, the voice of the people," she added.
TEACHERS WHO WERE THERE
At the tip of Tekakwitha Island, Louis Delisle can point out where the Canadian Armed Forces landed in a failed raid of Kahnawake.
He pointed out some of the landmarks along the St-Lawrence Seaway, and at the bridge where community members faced off against the soldiers.
"They had a huge warship come up here (through the seaway),"he said. "I really don’t know what they were trying to prove."
Delisle is one of the teachers at KSS. He said the staff is uniquely qualified to teach about the events of 1990.
"I feel at KSS we can give a true account of what happened because we lived it," he said.
IDENTITY AND EDUCATION
Delisle tries to impart on his students that learning about the Crisis is a way to strengthen their Kanien'kehà:ka identity.
"People have been robbed of their culture, robbed of their language. Eventually enough is enough. Fortunately in Kahnawake, we're fighting back with our schools," said Delisle. "Through education, keeping a strong identity, regaining our language is a way not to let ourselves be steamrolled by the juggernaut of the government."
"It bonded our community," added Paul. "We came out stronger."
QUEBEC EDUCATION CURRICULUM
At Westmount High School, history teacher Robert Green makes a point of discussing the Oka Crisis with his students.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended there be education curriculum covering Indigenous Peoples. It is still not a requirement in Quebec.
The provincial textbook devotes two paragraphs and a few photos to the Oka Crisis and according to Green, students have no questions on it in the ministry exam.
He points out even the language of the textbook puts the onus of the Crisis on the Mohawks. "It says the Crisis began when the people of Kanesatake built a barricade, not with the proposed expansion of the golf course," he said.
Former KSS students say their non-Indigenous friends get a totally different version of events.
"Our non-Native friends said the education system only taught them the biased, white version of it," said Kale Rahkerenhá:wi Phillips.
"Over here it's our history,"added Diabo. "For them it's just a chapter in a history book, for us it's a whole book."