Quebec politician John Ciaccia, who was seen as one of the few people the Mohawks of Kanesatake and Kahnawà:ke could trust during a violent stand-off with Quebec provincial police and the Canadian Army in 1990, died Tuesday.
He was 85.
Ciaccia was Quebec’s minister of Native Affairs during the Oka Crisis which started in July of 1990 and lasted until that September.
“John Ciaccia was one of the most honorable men I have ever dealt with,” said Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton in a statement. “During those dark days, he kept pushing his own government to find common ground, stating that he believed that our issues were legitimate and should be addressed.”
Tokwiro Norton was also grand chief during the crisis.
The crisis was sparked when the mayor of the nearby community of Oka granted permission for a developer to expand a golf course and build condominiums that infringed on Mohawk territory, specifically a burial ground.
Mohawks barricaded the road that runs downhill from the community and into Oka.
Sûreté du Québec Cpl. Marcel Lemay was killed in an exchange of gunfire.
In mid-August, the RCMP, along with the Canadian Army was brought in.
At the same time, the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawà:ke blocked the Mercier bridge that connects the southern shore with downtown Montreal.
Army regiments encircled the community.
Tokwiro Norton said Ciaccia was there to help.
“Significantly, Kahnawa’kehró:non were able to use the dock located on his private property in Dorval to pick up groceries when there was no other way other than crossing the river,” he added. “For that alone he’ll always be held in the highest esteem by our people.
“He was really an incredible individual who had the respect of Native and non-Native alike. A few years ago we presented him with the name Aweriasowaneh, meaning Generous Heart. May his family take comfort in the fact that he was both respected and loved.”
Early in his career, Ciaccia helped negotiate the James Bay agreement between the province of Quebec, the Cree, and Inuit.