30 years after the standoff between Mohawks of Kanesatake, provincial police and later the army, Karoniaktajeh Louis Hall’s warrior flag remains a symbol of unity for Indigenous people..

In 2019, several large-scale flags were hung off the Honoré Mercier Bridge in Kahnawake, Que., to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Oka Crisis. (Submitted by Deidre Diome)
Kahente Horn-Miller, an associate professor at Carleton University in Ottawa and the schools assistant vice-president of Indigenous initiatives, said the flag became an active part of Kanienkehá:ka communicating their identity.
What Karoniaktajeh was trying to do is activate that sense of pride in who we are, she said.
In 2010, she published “From Paintings to Power,” an academic article about the flag, in the Journal of the Society for Socialist Studies.
The flag is often misrepresented, she said. Negative connotations were placed on it because of how the Oka Crisis was covered in the media.
In this famous photo, Danny Phillips, a resident of Kahnawake, winds up to punch a soldier during a fight that took place in Kahnawake on Sept.18, 1990. (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)
Karoniaktajeh Louis Hall’s painting based on Tom Hanson’s photo of Danny Phillips. (Submitted by Louise Leclaire)
The way we see it represented, its immediately associated with a violence, the English term ‘warrior,’ which has completely different connotations than what we describe our men and their role as, which is Rotiskenrakéhte, he carries the burden of peace, said Horn-Miller.
The media at the time of the Oka Crisis created an image of the warrior to vilify our people and what we were doing, and that still continues. When we stand up for something, were vilified for it.
Ellen Gabriel, an activist and artist from Kanesatake who is known for her involvement as spokesperson for the longhouse during the crisis, said she had mixed feelings about the flag for similar reasons.
On one hand, I am proud because it is a symbol of the resistance of 1990,” said Gabrie. “But my experience of it first-hand in the community wasnt so pleasant.”
Armed Mohawk Warriors patrol the perimeter of the Kanesatake reserve near Oka, Que., on August 8, 1990, a month into the standoff between Mohawks and police. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)
Mohawk activist Ellen Gabriel prepares to speak to the media in the summer of 1990. She was chosen by the People of the Longhouse and her community of Kanehsatà:ke to be their spokesperson during the crisis. (The Canadian Press)
When the barricades came down, she said, she faced harassment from people bearing the flag. The images that were predominant in the news, she said, created a romanticized image of warriors and the flags association with male machismo and ignored Kanienkehá:ka womens strong leadership role throughout the crisis.
Its sexy — a cute guy wearing a mask … holding an AK-47. It looks so exotic in Canada, right? But when the SWAT team arrived at 5:15 in the morning on July 11, it was the women that went to the front, she said.
There hasnt been an in-depth discussion in our communities about that machismo and how it hurt a lot of us afterwards.