The Mohawk Nation Standoff
It was during the Oka Crisis, a land dispute between the Mohawk nation and the town of Oka, Quebec from July to September 1990. It was the first of a number of well-publicized violent conflicts between First Nations (aborigines people) and the Canadian government in the late 20th century. The Mohawk nation had been pursuing a land claim that brought them into conflict with Oka’s golf course expansions.
During this tense standoff with police in Quebec, Canadian Press photographer Tom Hanson snapped a masked Mohawk warrior – arm raised, rifle in hand – standing atop an overturned Sûreté du Québec police van. This photo of land rights campaigner Richard Nicholas, taken on July 11 (just after a police assault to remove Mohawk barriers failed) became the symbol of the land rights movement.
In March 2009, both Hanson and Nicholas died on the same day – and both at the young age of 41. Hanson collapsed playing hockey and Nicholas (whom he never actually met) was killed in a car crash. “To think that the very man who took that picture died on the same day at the same age — how miraculous is it that something like that would happen?” said Nicholas’ cousin and a Kanesatake band chief Sonya Gagnier. “At that pinnacle moment in 1990 they crossed paths, and then they crossed paths again. It’s another pinnacle point–they crossed paths in death.” For Hanson, it was a fitting end to a stellar career launched by the images he captured during the aboriginal standoff.