The Minister for Indian Affairs and the Oka Crisis

This letter was sent to the Minister for Indian Affairs at the time of the Oka Crisis in 1990. The letter was copied to the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, the Honourable Jean Chrétien, and the Honourable Audrey McLaughlin. I did not receive replies from any of them. This text has not previously been published.


Eden Mills, Ontario N0B 1P0
July 24, 1990.

The Hon. Thomas Siddon, 
Minister for Indian Affairs, 
House of Commons, Ottawa.


Dear Mr. Siddon,

The recent treatment of the Mohawk nation and of other native groups in this country by your department and by the government of which you are part has been tyrannical and duplicitous. Your own behaviour has been shameful.

1. To speak first of another native group, I am not aware that you or the Department of Indian Affairs have done anything to mitigate or bring to an end the suffering to which the Innu people of Labrador have been exposed by low-level NATO training flights. The terrifying nature and destructive effects of these flights have been well documented: your inaction over this matter thus cannot be ascribed to ignorance.

2. You and your department have steadfastly refused to implement the major recommendations with respect to land claims negotiations which were made by the Task Force commissioned by a previous minister under the present government and chaired by Murray Coolican. The implementation of these recommendations would have greatly accelerated the negotiation process and improved the prospect of an equitable resolution of land claims disputes. Canada's First Nations have quite correctly interpreted the burying of the Coolican Report as evidence of bad faith on the part both of your department and of the Mulroney government.

3. Your refusal to involve yourself in the crisis situations at the Kanesatake and Kahnawake communities has amounted to an abdication of your ministerial responsibilities. (a) The initial situation at Oka—the Mohawk occupation of disputed land to prevent its misappropriation by the town council—could have been defused months ago by prompt action on your part. (b) The police assault upon the Mohawk positions, which was arguably illegal as well as being incontrovertibly stupid, has been followed by police actions which have violated the civil and human rights of an entire community. What have you done to protest or bring to an end the police blockade of Oka? Why did you not immediately step in to ensure that violent confrontation gave way to peaceful negotiations?

4. The press briefing given on July 23 by your deputy minister Mr. Swain—of whose intentions you were surely not ignorant—is further evidence of duplicity. Mr. Swain wished to discredit the Mohawk barricades at Oka as an “armed insurrection” by a “criminal organization”—but at the same time to circulate allegations of this nature in the Canadian press under a veil of anonymity. Your own contradiction of these allegations is hardly very convincing. If the press had been willing to accept Mr. Swain's remarks as unattributed background, would you have troubled to contradict them? Is this your notion of how to negotiate in good faith?

I have two suggestions to make. The first is that you immediately demand Mr. Swain's resignation. If he is circulating “rumours” to which you yourself “don't subscribe” (I am quoting your words as reported by The Globe and Mail, July 24), then he is behaving in a manner that would be unacceptable in an office-boy, let alone a deputy minister.

My second suggestion is that you yourself then offer your own resignation. Your mishandling of the Department of Indian Affairs has done irreparable damage to racial harmony in this country, and has besmirched Canada's international reputation as a place where human rights are respected.

Yours sincerely,

Michael H. Keefer