Face to Face the Oka Crisis
After the Mohawk First Nations had fought off the local Quebec police force (which created another iconic image) the Oka Crisis developed into a stand off. The Canadian government sent in the Royal 22e Régiment or Van Doos to create a barb wire perimeter around the Mohawks in order to contain the situation. Entrances at this blockade were often tense as shown when a young Shaney Komulainen captured this iconic moment between baby faced Van Doo member Patrick Cloutier face to face with Brad “Freddy Krueger” Larocque.
Over three hundred years ago the New France government granted land to the Catholic Sulpician seminary in 1717. Part of the land, a Mohawk burial ground was reserved for the local Mohawk First Nation. The seminary held the land in trust for the Mohawks but would over the years take full ownership. A military confrontation in 1869 between Mohawks and missionaries over the land had to be put down by local militia. The land remained in dispute even when it was sold by the seminary to private concerns. In 1961, the city had obtained ownership of the land and built a private nine-hole golf course, the Club de golf d’Oka, on a portion of the land. When they wanted to expand the golf course the Mohawks erected barricades to stop construction. A court order ruled on the side of the city and ordered the blockade to be removed. The Mohawk’s refused and on July 11, 1990 a police fast action response team tried to drive off Mohawk activists using tear gas canisters and flash bang grenades. In the confusion someone opened fire and a 15-minute bullet exchange ensued forcing the police to fall back, abandoning six police cruisers and a bulldozer. During the firefight, 31-year-old SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay was shot in the face and died a short while later.
Taking the picture
Shaney Komulainen didn’t get into the Mohawk enclosure before it was closed off by the military. Arriving late she had to sneak into the encampment through military lines:
I snuck through backyards and past police cars with my camera tucked under my jacket, looking like one of the locals. [Her eyes were drawn to the baby face of private Cloutier ] He just looked so young under that strong helmet and gear, … In the end, it summed up the whole crisis, because there was still this tense standoff, even ‘till the end.
The siege ended on September 26 and as the people in the Mohawk enclosure left their camp Komulainen was arrested, handcuffed, strip-searched and held by the Quebec police for five hours. The next January Komulainen was involved in a near fatal car crash that left her with a broken arm and two broken legs. While she was recovering in hospital she learned that the police were laying charges against her including, “possession of a weapon or an imitation of a weapon, threatening and interfering with the work of a peace agent, and participating in a riot,” latter in the year she was found “Not Guilty”. To make matters worse her car accident prevented her from working and she returned to school studying journalism and social work. Years later she had recovered enough to return to photography.
After the image was taken private Patrick Cloutier became famous across Canada and around the world. He rose through the ranks to become Master Corporal but in 1993 was demoted after admitting to cocaine use. After a drinking and driving incident he was kicked out of the military and as a civilian seeking to cash in on his fame he started in the 1995 pornographic, Oka spoof, Quebec Sexy Girls. For a while he lived in Florida before moving back to Quebec and lives in the village of Saint-Maxime-du-Mont-Louis.
The masked man is often confronting Cloutier is often misquoted as being legendary and camera friendly Mohawk warrior Ronald Cross aka Lasagna but was in fact Brad “Freddy Krueger” Larocque a student of Economics at the University of Saskatchewan. From the Ojibway First Nation he had joined the Mohawks in solidarity. After the siege ended he moved back to Saskatchewan.