Indigenous leaders invite the public to gather around a towering white pine in downtown London, Ontario. park on Sunday to reflect on why it was planted three decades ago.
The little-known tree, called the Tree of Peace, was planted in Ivey Park following the Oka crisis in Quebec which saw Mohawk protesters clash with police for more than two months.
Elders of the Oneida Nation of the Thames, and others who traveled to Quebec during the stalemate to act as negotiators in the summer and fall of 1990, want young people to understand the conflict.
“We planted it because it was a symbol of the great law of peace and how we are peaceful people still living by the precepts of peace, power and righteousness,” said Dan Smoke, who, along with his wife Mary Lou, will assist by leading a prayer circle and a sacred fire.
The smoke was there, alongside hundreds of others in the London area, when the tree was planted on July 11, 1991. Although the conflict took place hundreds of miles away, it had an impact on the world. time and still today.
Also known as the Kanesatake Resistance, the armed standoff was sparked by the proposed golf course and townhouse expansion at a sacred Mohawk burial site known as the Pines. The land was not officially Kanesatake territory under the Indian Act, but it was considered sacred.
“The reason they stood up to protect the earth was because their ancestors were buried there,” Smoke said. “So there they were, protecting their ancestors.”
On July 11, the police and army were dispatched to dismantle the barricades with tear gas, resulting in gunfire from both sides and the death of an officer.
Smoke said that following the shooting, the Oneida Nation sent their own skilled negotiators to advise the Mohawk people to work towards a peaceful disengagement.
“In our belief system as an indigenous people, the evil of one is the evil of all of us,” he said. “So if one of us is hurt and hurt, then we are all hurt and we are all hurt. So we have to stand up to protect him. It is our responsibility.”
For 78 days, the Mohawk people resisted law enforcement with encampments and blockades under Canadian watch. Before social media, the Oka Crisis shed light on the rights of Indigenous peoples.
“It was at this point that we and all kinds of people in Canada became much more aware of Aboriginal issues,” said John Turner.
Turner and his wife, Anita, were present when the white pine was planted in Ivey Park. “I firmly believe that if different cultures understand each other, it’s just a positive thing.”
On the day the crisis ended, a soldier stabbed Waneek Horn-Miller, 14, in the chest with a bayonet as she and other protesters left the barriers, nearly killing her.
Smoke said the Tree of Peace was planted as a healing gesture after the Oka Crisis. Some of those who were at the plantation 30 years ago will return on Sunday to speak and honor the tree. There will also be veterans who were present in Kanesatake.
But Smoke said he was also eager to see new generations come to discover its history and meaning.
“I think it is time for us to pass on this knowledge and this wisdom to our young people so that they can benefit from it in a good way, so that they do not have to go through what we have experienced and what my ancestors lived, “he said.
The Tree of Peace is located beside the Fork of the Thames, off York Street, to the west of the London Labor Council sculpture, “The Praying Hands”. The ceremony begins Sunday at 6 p.m.