Land rights and the 1990 Oka Crisis form the subject matter of two books on the short list for Canada’s prestigious Donner Prize.
In Oka: A Political Crisis and Its Legacy (Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto 2010), former deputy minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Harry Swain examines the Canadian government’s conduct and what can be learned from this land dispute between Mohawk people in the community of Kanesatake in Quebec, and the nearby town of Oka. The Mohawks, whose land claim had been rejected by the Canadian government in 1986, fought the town’s attempts to build a golf course and residential development on the sacred land, which consisted of pine woods and a burial ground complete with tombstones.
In a conflict lasting from July 11, 1990, through September 26, 1990, the Mohawks set up barricades, the RCMP was brought in, tear gas was thrown and shots were fired. One person died. It became a standoff, one of many violent incidents that would follow over the next several years between First Nations and the Canadian government over land use.
The other work on the five-book short list is Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights by Tom Flanagan of Calgary, in which Christopher Alcantara of Waterloo, Ont., and André Le Dressay of Vancouver look at property rights created by the Indian Act of 1876 and suggest reforms.
“While land claims made by Canada’s aboriginal peoples continue to attract attention and controversy, there has been almost no discussion of the ways in which First Nations lands are managed and the property rights that have been in place since the Indian Act of 1876,” says the publisher on its website. “Challenging current laws and management, this illuminating work proposes the creation of a new system that would allow First Nations to choose to have full ownership of property, both individually and collectively.”
Eligible books are those related to Canadian policy and authored by one or more Canadian citizens. Top prize is $35,000 and the final winners will be announced in May.