Oka: A Political Crisis and Its Legacy Hardcover – Sep 3 2010
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"The book is written in refreshingly lively language, and is peppered with occasionally blunt formulations that make it clear that Swain is anything but a bloodless bureaucrat." (Literary Review of Canada 2011-03-01)
"As an outspoken insider without a political reputation to protect, Swain isn't shy to talk about the oversights, mistakes and miscues that triggered the [Oka] crisis...[He] provides useful insights into Ottawa's version of events and thoughtful analysis of what still needs to be done to right the wrongs of 500 years, at Oka and in scores of other aboriginal communities across the country." (Montreal Gazette 2010-09-25)
"This excellent book should be read by every Canadian." (The Hill Times 2011-04-11)
"Swain's account is honest and forthright and well worth the read for insight into a rarely examined aspect of government...The text should form a foundation for the education and training of federal and provincial officials working in aboriginal affairs. In his sojourn into this important domain, Harry Swain has learned some things from which others in similar circumstances ought to benefit." (David Newhouse, Chair and Associate Professor, Department of Indigenous Studies, Trent Universit Canadian Public Administration 2011-10-20)
About the Author
Harry Swain worked in nine federal departments between 1971 and 1995, serving as deputy minister of Indian and Northern Affairs from 1987 to 1992. Retired and living in Victoria, Swain continues to write on public policy issues and occasionally to advise Indians and governments.
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To his credit, Swain does attempt to paint a complete picture of the historical events and circumstances that led to the Oka Crisis, but falls short when attempting relay the Mohawk/Iroquois background and internal affairs - seemingly relying on other books and news articles on the issue. Geoffrey York and Loreen Pindera's People of the Pines still remains the definitive and most accurate account of the Oka Crisis in respect to Mohawk/Iroquois background and history.
Perhaps most disappointing are Swain's conclusions, which are no doubt subject to the belief of the reader, but are nonetheless lacklustre as they offer no real insight into resolving or improving Canadian/Mohawk relations other than asking the Mohawk to concede to Canadian sovereignty. His failure to offer any tangible or creative solution to improve Canadian/Mohawk relations represents a familiar status quo made famous by politicians of his stature.
In his final chapter "Condolence", Swain seems to be elated and honoured by the Oneida who included him in ceremony of closure. I don't think the Oneidas will be too pleased with his book.
"All for a Bloody Golf Course", the pivotal chapter, recounts how obtuse self-interest, ignorance,and incompetence resulted in inflamed passions, two deaths and an armed insurrection which rocked the entire country. Mohawk demands, backed by armed men in fortified positions, escalated from possession of land planned for a golf course to full international sovereignty. How a well-led disciplined, methodical Canadian Army and steady governments wound down the immediate confrontation is a source of pride in a story where the sources of pride are few.
What did it lead to? Twenty years later Canadians are more aware of the issues, and their governments seem, haltingly, to be preparing to address them, as they must, if future social cataclysms are to be averted.
"Did We Learn Anything?", the final chapter, is the best in the book. The author's powerful mind and expansive spirit focus on the appropriate use of armed force, government crisis management, the importance of history and land, the Mohawk claim to sovereignty, the agenda for change and, above all, the importance of keeping our word.
In a final two page "Condolence" Swain describes, in words made moving by their plain unaffected directness, why he wrote this book.
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