Do you recall the Oka crisis?

We know a fair amount is know about human memory – what it is, how it works, and how sometimes it fails us.

Among other things as Daniel L. Schacter (2001) notes, memory is subject to blocking, misattribution, bias, persistence, and suggestibility.

Two good sources, among others, about what research has revealed about memory are Memory Fitness: A Guide for Successful Aging (2004) and Memory: A Very Short Introduction (2009).

Memory is also addressed in an April 2, 2014 Globe and Mail article entitled: “Why your teenager is studying the wrong way.”

Remember what you learn

Strategies are available to ensure that we do a great job of remembering the key things that we’re learning.

Such methods – including the SQ3R strategy – are helpful if we seek to perform well in exams or job or media interviews. They are helpful if we seek to make good use of whatever it is that we are learning – from a book or lecture, or from the experiences of everyday life.

SQ3R: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review

Survey – Survey the material first; know the terrain, before you start to read.

Question – Ask yourself questions about what the text will likely deal with.

Read, Recite, Review – Read the material; recite it; review the material to ensure you retain a strong grasp of it.

I first prepare myself for a reading of First Person Plural (2011)

As I’ve noted in a previous post, my interest in the history of Cartierville in Montreal, where I spent my early years, has given rise to an interest in the history of the 1990 Oka crisis. Cartierville  traces its European history to the fortified Sault-au-Récollet settlement, on the north side of Montreal, which was established by the Seminary of St-Sulpice (that is, by the Sulpicians) in 1696.

The Oka crisis, in turn, dates back to a conflict, dating back to the early 1700s, between the First Nations inhabitants of Kanesatake (Oka, at the Lake of Two Mountains) and the religious order of the Seminary of St-Sulpice.

My interest in the Oka crisis has led me, among other things, to a National Film Board documentary directed by Alanis Obomsawin entitled: Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), and to a 2011 study, published by UBC Press, entitled First Person Plural: Aboriginal Storytelling and the Ethics of Collaborative Authorship.

Before starting to read the latter study by Sophie McCall, I first kept in mind the messages that are available from evidence-based overviews of memory research – including Memory: A Very Short Introduction (2009) – regarding how to ensure that you retain in memory the salient points of whatever it is that you are reading.

Here’s a quick summary: My task when reading First Person Plural (2011) – or the short segment that I was going to have time to read – is to encode the information as actively as possible. For example, I can imagine myself questioning the author of the text. I will, as well, seek to relate what is being said to what I already know. I can think about the interrelationships among the concepts, facts, and principles in the field that I am studying.

Questions that arise before I start to read the book

Before I started reading, I made up some questions which can be summarized as follows:

1) To what extent does the text tie in with what I’ve learned about the relation between history and social theory?

2) how does the text tie in with McLuhan’s observation that the future of the book is the blurb?

3) How does the culture of an era affect anthropologists’ narratives about First Nations history?

4) How does the Oka crisis factor into the McCall (2011) study?

5) How does genocide, and the conceptualization of it, fit into the conversation?

6) In what way will film distribution, media relations, and related topics be addressed in First Person Plural?

7) How does the McCall narrative relate to the conceptualization by Sönke Neitzel, a historian, and Harald Welzer, a sociologist and social psychologist, that war is work that soldiers do ?

Quite a few questions came to mind; the ones that I’ve listed provide the general idea.

What I learn when I begin reading

I decided to focus my close reading of the text on Chapter 3 of McCall’s book. The chapter title is: “‘There is a time bomb in Canada’ – The Legacy of the Oka Crisis.”

When I first began to read the chapter, I noted that I’m reading the words of a professor of English, which indeed is the role that Sophie McCall plays. She teaches in the English Department at Simon Fraser University.

But then I read a bit further, on a second encounter with the chapter. At that point, I realized that McCall is dealing with sense making – with how we make sense of things. At that point, I became very engaged with the text.

As I read, the following thought occurred: “You’re not just dealing here with the theory associated with a hierarchy of frames of reference. You’re dealing with some practical applications of such frames.”


The thought also occurred to me, with regard to Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993): “How many people did this NFB documentary reach? To what extent is it ‘another NFB film’?”

Once I continued reading, I found that such questions were beside the point. I was very impressed with McCall’s analysis. She notes, for example (p. 80), that the lack of attention to the historical roots of the conflict at the heart of the Oka crisis meant that it was widely viewed as an aberrant event in Canadian history rather than an event continuous with close to 300 years of conflict between First Nations peoples and the Canadian state.

McCall also refers to the fact that one can speak of the “Oka crisis” as a term that warrants the use of quotation marks.

In McCaul’s analysis (pp. 80-81): “The media, military, and governments worked in tandem to emphasize the aggressive actions of the Mohawk warriors while simultaneously obscuring the governments’ own role in producing the discord.”

Media representations

The rest of the chapter builds upon the above-noted quotation. I look forward to reading the chapter in depth, and obtaining my best possible understanding of the underlying narrative threads of McCall’s overview.

Oka: A Convergence of Cultures and the Canadian Forces (2008), provides another useful overview, based on historical and primary resources, of the causes and events of the Oka crisis. Published by the Canadian Defence Academy Press, the study includes interviews and documents secured through the Access to Information Act.

“The protracted conflict” author Timothy C. Winegard notes (p. iii), “between the Native inhabitants of Kanesatake (‘On the sandy Dunes’) and the religious order of the Seminary of St-Sulpice had been seething for almost 300 years.”

Divergent historical memories

In terms of a wider perspective concerned with memory, we can say, based on memory research, that in order to accurately retain something in your memory, you first must comprehend what it is that you seek to remember.

I would formulate this point by addressing three overall themes:

1) As Alanis Obomsawin underlines, in her entire body of work, an understanding of Canadian history requires an understanding of First Nations history. The evidence to date indicates that such an understanding, on the part of “mainstream” culture, is not easily arrived at.

2) We’re dealing with perception as well as memory. If two peoples perceive two different things, while addressing the same reality, then it follows that the two peoples will have their own respective – and divergent – historical memories.

History of visual art

3) A broader issue that we’re dealing with is media representations of reality. In this context, a history of visual art provides one possible means of understanding the perceptual processes that are at play, with regard to such representations.

I note, in this regard, that much of the history of visual art  – as exemplified by studies such as Art and Illusion (1969) and Beautiful Evidence (2006) – is concerned with:

1) what it is that we see, when we look at things, and

2) what it is that we consequently represent, when we seek to represent what we see.

3) A related topic concerns the role of the curator, art historian, investor, art critic, and cultural consumer in the circulation of memes related to cultural artifacts and productions.

These are the issues we are dealing with – whether we are studying for an exam, analyzing media representations, or seeking to figure out what it is that is lodged in our memories. As well, we are dealing with what occurs when we see things, period, a topic covered in a subsequent post, entitled: Truthiness, stage magic, and fair trade coffee.


A Sept. 29, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Underwater discovery near Haida Gwaii could rewrite human history.”

An Oct. 6, 2014 New York Times article entitled “Better ways to learn” refers to How We Learn: The Surprising Truth about When, Where, and Why It Happens (2014).

Thomas King in The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (2012) shares a First Nations perspective (pp. 233-236) concerning the Oka crisis. I owe thanks to Scott Munro for renewing my interest in the book. I had borrowed it previously, from the Toronto Public Library, and have recently been reading it again.

With regard to the topic of learning, a Jan. 23, 2015 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Rewired: Learning to tame a noisy brain. (Or, how you can use the power of neuroplasticity).”

A Feb. 14, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Alanis Obomsawin passes knowledge to aspiring filmmakers.”

A June 17, 2015 CBC article is entitled: Documentary ‘Trick or Treaty’ aims to tell the true story of Canada’s past.”

A June 18, 2015 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Manitoba formally apologizes for mass adoption of aboriginal children.”

Also of interest: Extremely Violent Societies: Mass Violence in the Twentieth Century (2010).

A July 11, 2015 CBC article is entitled: Oka Crisis: Mohawk claim to pine forest never resolved: Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon vows he and Oka mayor will declare a joint moratorium on future projects.”

Click here to watch The Oka Legacy (Nov. 19, 2015 CBC video) >

A Feb. 2, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “Fighting ‘Erasure'”.

A March 6, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “René Girard’s theories still explain the violence all around us: French-born scholar spent his career trying to understand what what makes violence a chronic problem.”

An April 15, 2016 Globe and Mail article by Bob Rae is entitled: “Attawapiskat is not alone: Suicide crisis is national problem.”

An Aug. 10, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Popular theory on how humans populated North America can’t be right, study shows.”

An Aug. 21, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “‘Trained our entire lives to ignore’: Gord Downie’s call to action for Indigenous in the North: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised because ‘he cares about the people way up north'”.

An Aug. 22, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “Sixties Scoop survivors’ day in court finally arrives Tuesday: Indigenous Canadians taken from their homes and their culture suing Ottawa, decades later, over the federal government’s duty to them.”

A Sept. 27, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Prince William gets lesson in colonialism, cultural genocide at Black Rod ceremony: ‘The current Crown approach of deny and delay cannot continue,’ Grand Chief Ed John tells Prince William.”

A July 11, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “The Oka Crisis was supposed to be a wake-up call. Little has changed in 27 years: The land in dispute? It’s still in the hands of Oka. Mohawk land — illegally taken.”

A July 26, 2017 London School of Economics article is entitled: “Reading List: 8 Books on Indigenous Research Methods recommended by Helen Kara.”


2 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Nov. 19, 2021 CBC article is entitled: “How the legacy of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples lives on, 25 years later: While its recommendations were largely ignored, the sweeping report had profound impact in legal community.”

    An excerpt reads:

    Over four years, the commission travelled to 96 communities and held 178 days of public hearings to produce a comprehensive five-volume report that essentially outlined a 20-year roadmap for bettering the lives of Indigenous people in Canada.

    And the cost of peace — as Chartrand says the government viewed it — was a recommendation for a $30-billion investment in Indigenous communities over a 20-year span.

    The commissioners argued investing this money immediately to eliminate gaps in areas like education, health care, nation-building, justice and child care would actually save the federal government money 20 years down the road.

    In other words, sovereign, healthy communities would cost a whole lot less due to the initial, upfront investment.

    But that $30-billion figure, along with the constitutional changes needed to achieve some of the reforms, led the government to reject the funding’s implementation within an hour of the report being tabled.


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