BEHIND THE BARRICADES
Photos and text:
Appropriated cigarette sign at army checkpoint, moments before the teargassing of the bridge (and same week that PUBLIC ENEMY played Montreal.)..
Kahnawake graffiti- The soldier's "thought" reads-"Estea- Don't Kill Me"
A Manitoba Native and Peace camp protester playing Warrior-tourist! A strange circumstance... two Western Canadian Natives from the Oka Peace Camp had suddenly appeared at my door in Montreal, the result of a casual invitation. They decided to visit Kahnawake on this day, to buy souvenir t-shirts and experience a Mohawk community, as they were feeling frustrated at being unable to join the Warriors in Kanehsatake. One of them spotted a shot-up golf course sign and, suddenly pulling a "mask" out of his pocket, asked me to take a photo of him beside it!
We were just leaving the Mohawk side of the checkpoint to return to Montreal, when the guard suddenly received a communique on his walkie-talkie that the Bridge was being teargassed. We immediately turned around and went back in, just in time to receive the second volley of gas! When reporters finally showed up, they were perplexed that I had somehow received the "scoop" in advance! I understandably didn't bother to explain!
Teargassing of the Bridge.
Teargassing of the Bridge.
Teargassing of the Bridge. I had to change film at this point, opening the back, and my subsequent negatives were affected strangely by the chemicals- almost unprintable at the time and now 10 years later, in steady decline. I was one of two non-Natives present on the Bridge, and was at one point surrounded by a group of frantic and angry women, who shouted at me,
"YOU GO BACK TO YOUR PEOPLE AND YOU SHOW THEM, YOU TELL THEM WHAT THEY'RE DOING TO US!!!"
I have rarely felt so acutely "Other"- I must admit,I would not have readily identified many of the people I saw there as being of Native origin, but it was evident to them that I was NOT. I looked across the water on to the Island at what were "MY people"- more, an invading mass of locusts with guns, advancing through a cloud of smoke- (the gas masks made them appear decidedly insect-like), and I shouted back in all sincerity,
"They're NOT MY PEOPLE! MY people wouldn't do something like this!"
I thought, it doesn't matter what you stand for, what you believe in, what you strive towards all of your life. Racism erases all of that and reduces you to the colour of your skin and so you are judged. We all are. I wondered it THEY (the army) thought of me at that moment as one of THEIR people. I suspected not, but as it turned out later, perhaps I was wrong...
Teargassing of the Island- Soldiers gun-butting Mohawks. Upon returning home, I received a call out of the blue - from LIFE magazine- the dream of all photographers! I wondered how they got my number. They asked me if I had any shots of the army guys getting beaten up by the Natives,which had followed the teargassing on the Bridge and the stand-off on the Island.
(This incident had occurred while I was on a borrowed phone, unsuccessfully trying to negotiate a compromise with my son's daycare. I could hear gunshots going off in the distance and people screaming, while on the phone an irate daycare worker was insisting that I immediately return to Montreal and fetch my child.)
But, back to LIFE (on the phone). I regretfully replied, "No. But I DO have exclusive shots of the Canadian Army attacking Mohawks during the teargassing on the Bridge!" "Sorry, we're not interested," came the terse reply. "But don't you even want to see the contacts?", I pleaded. The phone clicked dead. No more LIFE... (or had it been?).
Was this Canada? It looked like a scene from a movie. And these soldiers, fanning out for better firing vantage in the bush, were facing off against a group of people who looked like this...
During the stand-off on the Island, following the teargassing."You can't go into battle with your buttons done up wrong!", she told him, and proceeded to correct it for him! I was often impressed by the Mohawk people's unfailing ability to maintain dignity and humour in the face of adversity.
Shortly after, the journalists were invited to cross the army line and follow a spokesperson to a spot where we would be granted access to the commander. They drew us further and further away from the line of confrontation. Remembering the media's inadvertant role as "buffer zone", another photographer and I suddenly looked at each other, shook our heads, and began to cross back through the ranks of soldiers. One of them spoke to me- "Better keep your head up, Miss.""Why, " "I asked.""You're not planning on shooting anyone, are you?""I hope it doesn't come down to that, Miss," he responded. It sounded to me that he was wanting me to remain visible, in order to avoid shooting a non-Native... I was so worried that bloodshed would occur that I spoke about it anxiously with my houseguests. A Mohawk man looked over at me in surprise and exclaimed,"You sound like one of us!"" So it comes around.
An army helicopter descends in the background, kicking up dust. The raid resulted in the seizure of one hunting gun and a few cases of contraband BEER from the clubhouse- a pretty expensive manoeuvre for... what?
A young army recruit.
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