From the Oka Crisis to the Atlanta Forest

Submitted Anonymously to the Atlanta Community Press Collective

On the 16th of October, during a “Weekend of Action” to defend the Atlanta forest, we screened Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance at a local community space. Around 50 people attended the event, the last formal event in a series of actions, cultural events, and presentations about the forest. A short introduction was given before the film and some secondary literature was out to accompany it. Afterwards people shared dinner in the space and exchanged reflections, ideas about the movement, and had general small talk.  The film is roughly two hours long, edited down from 250 hours of footage of the “Oka Crisis”. It was shot in 1990 on 16mm film. This beautifully constructed film by Alanis Obomsawin shows an intimate portrait and faithful narrative of the 77 days of social contestation by primarily Mohawk partisans against the encroaching development of a golf course and the Canadian state on their lands.

Despite the obvious differences between the Oka Crisis and the current movement to defend the South River Forest we find inspiration in at least 3 respects;

I.

The Mohawk partisans held the initiative of their struggle. They constructed barricades, avoided overwhelming confrontations with tactical retreats, and approached their goals with a strategic flexibility. Starting in 1959 when the Club de golf d’Oka development was approved, resistance took a legalistic approach. After 30 years these efforts failed to materialize any meaningful obstacle to the development. Opponents of the golf course did not give up or wait for some external actor to intervene on their behalf. They blockaded the entry point to construction, making it physically impossible for the expansion of the golf course to occur. After a brief firefight that forced police to flee, partisans comandered an abandonded bulldozer to fortify the barricades with police cars left behind. In Atlanta, a tow truck and trailer in the forest have become a monument to the movement, abandonded after Forest Defenders repelled police and a construction crew. Towards the end of the Oka Crisis, when the Mercier Bridge was cleared — after it had also been blocked — and the pressure was mounting around the barricades in Kanehsatake, Mohawk warriors and others in The Pines fled in the middle of the night with no announcement or negotiation. If you have to choose between losing a specific battle or else lose your total capacity to fight, it’s better to lose the battle and preserve your ability to confront the enemy on another front in the future.

II.

The Oka Crisis and the spontaneous insight of the partisans to block logistical points across Canada offers another point of inspiration for our struggle. The truth obscured by contemporary politics was immediately revealed through the police response to infrastructural blockades all over the country – power flows through the streets, the ports, the bridges, and not in city halls or on social media. The Defend the Atlanta Forest movement has benefited from targeting the actual actors in the developments it struggles against and the real machines and supply chains that these developments rely on. Moving forward we should free ourselves from abstractions as much as possible in the struggle for life and freedom. We should attach ourselves to the connections that grant us power and attack the infrastructure that restricts it.

III.

Lastly, we are inspired that the struggle initiated by the Mohawk actually won its demand. The expansion proposed by the Club de golf d’Oka was canceled and the land in question was bought by the federal government. Often, the struggles that inspire contemporary movements have little to claim in way of concrete victories. “What did we actually do?” The Oka Crisis provides a counter example to this. That withstanding, there is land contestation in Oka and Kanehsatake to this day. The Mohawks have not resolved land disputes at the center of conflict for hundreds of years and the Canadian state continues to contest with the indigenous peoples of the territory. Another crisis awaits, perhaps with a different name, but whose actions will resonate the same, this time we hope with a more ambitious victory.

At the time of writing this Forest Defenders have been engaged in a struggle against the Atlanta Police Foundation, Ryan Millsap, and their hired contractors Brasfield & Gorie for a year and a half. As the FBI, APD, GBI, and Ryan Millsap’s friends contrive plans to stop the movement, the eggplants along the creek ripen, the tree-houses and friendships there proliferate – people of all backgrounds come to the woods, for Shabbat, to party, to meditate. With each passing day that the forest remains new ideas come to fruition, more time is spent in self-discovery and exploration, and less time is spent in fear. Amidst battles we plan the expansion of our territory. Cop City will never be built.

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