The Grass Cage

  • By Spanner McNeil, David Wiper, and Peaches
  • With thanks to The Montreal Mirror & Lyle Stewart
  • Photographs by Normand Blouin of Agen&ccedile Stock Photo.

The Introduction

I’m not writing the story that I wanted to write.

I thought that this was going to be about a Mohawk community banding
together to cultivate cannabis and plowshare the rewards into cohesive,
proud, and strengthening institutions. With initial reports of one million
plants, I also thought the readership would be interested in the
techniques, breed, and procedures involved in cultivating a billion dollar
crop. Finally, people guarding fields of pot with rifles is a real
revolutionary act.

The story, however, is an old one. Pot prohibition is an embarrassment to
all concerned.

April - May 1995

In April-May 1995 a CBC radio reporter named Alain Picard was approached by
members of the Mohawk community to investigate cannabis growing on a
reserve about sixty miles from Montreal.

A woman who complained about the plants to outside media in July had her
vehicle window destroyed and has since received several death
threats. Picard has been beaten up twice so far, by “unknown assailants”.

July 23, Sunday

The story broke when some community traditionalists called in the media and
walked with them into the cannabis fields. The camcorders whirring in
fields of green came as a complete surprise to all those guarding and
taking care of the cannabis. Thirteen of these young guards may face

July 25, Tuesday

On July 25 the story was broken to the general public and area reporters
were invited to tour pot fields in and around Kanesatake.

The Montreal Gazette headline read “GROUP IS RAISING 1,000,000 PLANTS”. I
could do the math. If reports were right, this crop would have been worth
about a billion dollars, give or take a few hundred million.

Potential income:

One million plants would yield approximately half a million pounds. At
$2000 a pound, this works out to $1,000,000,000 (one billion dollars).

The Players

  • Grand Chief Jerry Peltier.
  • Band Council.
  • Robert Gabriel.
  • Outside Technical Support.
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
  • S&ucircret&eacute de Qu&eacutebec (SQ).
  • Premier Parizeau.
  • Mayor of Oka.
  • Public Security Minister Serge M&eacutenard.
  • The Big Media
  • and anyone with access to a chopper that cared to look down.

The Admissions

At first there were public admissions of four fields, then seven fields,
then eight. In another five days it would be an official fourteen
fields. By August 8th I would be convinced of the existence of at least
forty different fields of cannabis.

July 26, Wednesday

We had been told by three different sources that if we went down Centre
Road we would receive an “unholy beating”. It therefore seemed like the
right direction to find the pot fields.

In debate: (l to r) David Cliché (Québec's Minister of Native
Affairs), Robert Gabriel ("The Mohawk Minister of Justice"), Serge
Ménard (Québec's Minister of Public Security) and two SQ

We encountered five men on the road who were “media hunting”, including
Robert Gabriel. Robert Gabriel is Grand Chief Jerry Peltier’s close aide,
the Mohawk equivalent of “Minister of Justice and Security”. He invited us
to a 7AM press conference the next day.

It Looked Good

The Peacekeeper guarding the road agreed with the others there that
cannabis should be legal and commercialized to compete with cotton, to make
shoes, and to make paper.

It looked good. This group appeared to have a sound scientific background
when it came to the potential of cannabis for medicine and other positive

By this time reports and helicopter aerial footage made it appear that some
of these fields were five to fifteen acres. At twenty million dollars an
acre for quality pot, this was big. Under close scrutiny of the negatives
these photos were mainly of apple orchards and tomato plants. But there
were big cannabis fields as well. I am certain that at least one field was
four acres solid.

July 27, Thursday

We showed up Thursday morning for our scoop. Fifty people were assembled,
Peacekeepers, Community Watch Team, Billy Two Rivers, Grand Chief Jerry
Peltier of Kanesatake, Grand Chief Joe Norton from Kahnawake, and Russell
Roundpoint of Akwesasne. They were meeting to take care of all the fields
by cutting them down and burning them.

The Peacekeepers are a sort of police force who are looking for official
police status. Part of the tension on this and other reserves is due to
white cops enforcing the law among natives. Kanesatake is currently
involved in talks which they will hope will lead to the Mohawk Peacekeepers
receiving official police status.

The Watch Team is a broadly based group within the community which acts to
stop trouble before it reaches the ears and arms of federal authority. They
will try and sit someone down and take an interest in their problems before
they receive outside attention.

Curiously, no women were present at the 7AM pot burning roundup.

We got out of the car in front of the Band Council office to interview and
photograph. End of story. We were told to leave and go away.

Robert Gabriel said the chiefs met the night before and “didn’t want it to
appear as if they were pro-pot… they just wanted to get rid of
it. Cannabis Canada and High Times can’t be here. You can’t come with us.”

At this now exclusive conference for CTV, Qu&eacutebec’s Minister of
Justice – Serge M&eacutenard – was applauded for his efforts by Grand Chief
Jerry Peltier.

The Factory

The pot fields were referred to as “gardens”, and cloning was done in at
least one quarter acre greenhouse called the “factory” owned by Robert
Gabriel’s father.

Sources say that individuals could buy clones from one of the factories,
but after that they were on their own. Each man was considered responsible
for his own field.

The Money

It’s hard to believe that this could start out on such a scale without
significant practical experience and prior field studies. Yet if this was
successfully pulled off last year, where did the money go? Could it be that
trickle down economics doesn’t work any better on a reserve than it does in
our cities?

One noteworthy young man in his mid 20’s built a $250,000 house. The whole
community takes on a risk, yet only a few took the profit, so creating a
dynasty for generations to come.

The money trail would answer many questions about individual behaviour. We
leave it to Revenue Canada and the I.R.S. to pursue those questions.

The conclusion is not that cannabis is bad, but rather it that the
illegality of cannabis, coupled with potentially huge profits, can greatly
influence legitimate authority.

The Past

Meanwhile, negotiations between Mohawk leaders and Qu&eacutebec social
control agents remained constant and open, even if they were occasionally
lying to one another.

This was a vast improvement over 1990, when a road leading from Oka into
Kanesatake was blockaded by members of the Mohawk community. The issue
under dispute was the desire of the municipality of Oka to expand its golf
course over Mohawk territory and cut down an old pine forest originally
planted by ancestors of the people living there.

On July 11th, the blockade was attacked by the S&ucircret&eacute de
Qu&eacutebec, leading to the death of one SQ officer. The raid led to a 78
day standoff which involved 2,500 troops from the Canadian Army, tanks,
tear gas, thousands of rounds of machine gun fire, a United Nations
Observation team, the public stoning of Mohawk men and children by whites,
effigy burnings, and continuous demonstrations in the streets of Montreal
in support of the Mohawks.

SQ officers carrying cannabis off to the garbage truck for removal.

Although the disputed land was ultimately purchased by the federal
government, the land has never been granted to the Mohawks, nor has their
territory received official reserve status, even though they have lived
there continuously since the 1960’s.

While S.Q. and native leaders were figuring out how to handle the raids to
come, the Qu&eacutebec coroner, Guy Gilbert, was about to present his
findings on the 1990 S.Q. raid. His August 14th release would say, “There
was no urgent need for the S.Q. to move in on the morning of July 11, 1990,
and that raid was unjustified…”

The Fields

The cannabis fields are deep inside and around Mohawk land. The band
council had to be aware of pot growth. There were media reports of fields
growing in that area as early as March 1994.

The S&ucircret&eacute de Qu&eacutebec, Canadian military, and big media
have long been making helicopter reconnaissance flights over Oka and
Kanesatake. How could the fields have been missed all these years? These
fields are so huge that they are easily visible by air. Helicopters were
even shot at there last fall.

If a hundred warriors could hold off the Canadian army for 78 days in 1990,
could one shot at a helicopter last fall scare off Southam, Thompson,
Conrad Black, and the entire Provincial Police Force?

Why are these men smiling? They're desperate to look like they can govern.
(l to r) Serge Ménard (Québec's Minister of Public Security),
David Cliché (Québec's Minister of Native Affairs)

The Politics

Gerald Alfred, a Kahnawake and Political Science professor at Concordia
University had this to say:

“You don’t see the S&ucircret&eacute de Qu&eacutebec making such a big deal
about pot farms elsewhere. It’s more of a political manoeuvre than a
policing issue. It’s all related to the referendum. Everything they do is
related to winning the referendum. They’re desperate to look like they can
govern, and the Mohawks are a natural target for the government.”

Mr. Alfred’s thoughts are later confirmed by a series of nearby raids
elsewhere which received no media attention at all.

On July 16 the S.Q. seized 453 plants in the Parish of Oka. The RCMP also
took 500 plants in Shawinigan on July 26th and an additional 1,700 in
Abitibi on July 27th.

Provincial seizures of cannabis, according to the S.Q., were 37,000 plants
in 1992, 75,000 in 1993, 122,000 in 1994, and about 90,000 as of July this

SQ officer carrying bundled plants. Note the cylindrical shape of the
packed earth surrounding the roots. This could indicate that the plants
were grown indoors and transferred to the outdoor fields.


“As far as most are concerned it’s not a problem to grow for personal use,”
said one elderly man. “So much media, turning people into stars who maybe
don’t reflect everyone’s view.

“Do you know what it is like to know someone all your life and tell them to
burn their crops? Do you know?” We could smell the cannabis fields burning
while we spoke.

The Unemployed

The population of Kanesatake is between 1,100 and 1,300. The unemployment
rate is officially 80%. It’s important to keep this in mind. Much of the
growing activity comes from trying to generate income in the face of
poverty and depression.

There are one million unemployed people in Qu&eacutebec. It may be that the
slash and burn cost saving measures of government are creating an army
waiting for a war.

A Healing

The land which was under dispute and directly led to the Oka crises of 1990
has still not been handed over to the Mohawks, even though the Feds
purchased the land and set it aside some years ago. Ever since then the
Warrior and Traditionalist communities have been going through a “healing”

One woman explained it to me as follows:

“It is not so simple as a split between Warriors and Traditionalists. There
are 15 different factions on the reserve, just like your community. Are you
all in agreement with the Mayor? Do your city councillors live better than

July 27th, Thursday evening.

Twelve military choppers land at Dorval airport. The huge volume of
cannabis, the fields, the busts without charges, the threats and
sabre-rattling,all were reaching a high.

A newspaper editorial politely referred to the situation as “a void in law

July 28th Fri Aft.
Press Conference.

Billy Two Rivers says police still want to check for remaining plants, but
the natives say no. The Mayor of Oka expresses surprise and outrage at
there being pot fields. He demands that law and order prevail

In addition he is upset that the Mohawks have continued to bury their dead
at the Pines grave site. The Mohawks say they can’t pile more than three
coffins on top of one another and need more land.

The Situation

There is a consensus in the community that cannabis cultivation has
increased significantly over the past three years. Up until 1991, most grow
operations remained small scale, with the occasional garage or personal

The increase has been an open secret for a long time. Last year more than
one house yielded a hundred thousand loonies from its hydroponic crop.

It’s true that over the past five years fear, violence, and censorship have
been an occasional part of the deal. Would there have been less tension if
the money had been used to build better public institutions and small
venture capitalism?

There is strong feeling among traditionalists however, that pursuit of
expensive cars and houses is not the route to take.

July 29th, saturday

Garbage trucks take away more plants grown alongside tomatoes in a raid
with fifty officers, David Clich&eacute, P.Q. Minister of Native Affairs,
and Serge M&eacutenard, P.Q. Minister of Public Security.

At a news conference later that afternoon Minister M&eacutenard says,
“Sometimes I have the impression that the federal government has left seeds
of trouble in Kanesatake on purpose.” He was referring to federal delays in
handing land over and the absence of federal officials like Solicitor
General Herb Grey and Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin.

A Possibility

Maybe no-one was on the take. This whole show could be the result of a
political card game among the police, Feds, and the province of
Qu&eacutebec. The game was thrown by the unseen hand of Picard and upset

July 30th, sunday

We return. More trails, more reserve exploration. Much better housing than
most reserves. There was an opportunity to sit and listen to local voices:

“… I’m not gonna let those fucks back … tearing up my land. I’m tired
of this Hawaii Five O shit… he’s crying, I’m not, I lost everything
too… except for what is buried under slabs and big boulders.”

Lots of white guys on Harleys with Qu&eacutebec plates. Lots of ATV

We explored hours of trail. We found a promising one further down a steep
path near some parked ATV’s. We proceeded. There was a gun shot. We

The deep woods were busy with traffic and hurried, worried men. Cannabis
journalists might be expendable, who knew?

July 31st, monday

It is advertised that 20 people will be arrested. Lots of warning and lead
time before the warrant.

An eye witness who spent a night in the cannabis fields described “Sitting
in a field all night, heavily armed, in the dark, listening to the chatter
on scanners. Surrounded by five foot high plants about to flower.”

A tractor sits idly at the end of a busy day spent clearing out cannabis
plants in Kanesatake.

The Plants

Many of the plants pulled for the media were three to four feet high with
one inch stems. The plants and rows looked about two feet apart. A 200 by
400 foot field would yield 20,000 plants.

If fields like these were around last year on a similar scale of this year
at least a hundred million dollars could have been involved at wholesale
prices. Too much money and way too visible to believe that “the
authorities” didn’t know. Who got a piece of the action?

August 1st, tuesday

Chief Peltier says there are no more plants.

William Johnson, provocateur typist for the Montreal Gazette, tries to spin
the idea of the Warrior Society as “essentially fascist brotherhoods,” and
generally promotes this story, as many do, to demonize the Mohawk culture.

Marcel Adam of La Presse refers to them as “confreries fascistes”. But in
my opinion fascism is an S.Q. squad car firing bullets over the top of a
woman’s head as she pushes a baby carriage on the shoulder of the highway,
or the S.Q. throwing a woman out through the plate glass window of her own
home, or the Montreal Urban Community Police shooting the back of a
shoplifter’s head off after he was handcuffed and disabled, or any number
of other atrocities that have taken place here in the nineties.

August 2nd, wednesday

A Clanmother meeting denounces Grand Chief Jerry Peltier. Peltier is a 47
year old Ojibway who was at one time an administrator at Indian Affairs. He
was elected to the post of Chief after a five-way vote split. He took 13%
of the vote and won by about seven ballots.

The Mohawk Clanmothers come from three clans: Turtle, Wolf, and Bear. These
are three of the dozen recognized by the Iroquois Confederacy. One of their
duties is to elect or dismiss a chief to head the community. This
traditional matriarchal system operates on the basis of consensus. They
don’t believe that freedom, liberty and the pleasure of the Great Creator
will come with democracy and materialism.

Max Weber, pre-eminent sociologist, would say that the tension between the
Clanmothers and Band Council is one of irrational, traditional magic versus
rational economic modernity. Over the past few years it has become clear
that both the Clanmothers and the Warriors have considerable charismatic

The Band Council is an institution imposed on reserves by the indian
Affairs Act of 1866-67. This is the body to which the Canadian government
gives the most credibility. The Band Council receives its money from
Canadian government bodies, and its Grand Chief is elected to office
through a one person, one ballot system of voting, open to the status
native members of the community.

Many Traditionalists consider Band Council as part of the same junk as
Indian Affairs. The last election was boycotted by about 30%.

Peltier’s denial of additional fields in face of seizures that came
directly after his announcements showed his willingness to go to the wall
to defend the existence of the fields.

The Bureau

If it is difficult to understand why the Bureau of Indian Affairs and their
agents are seen as antagonistic by many, let me put it another way. What
would your reaction be to a Bureau of Negro Affairs, or Bureau of Jewish
Affairs, or Bureau of Catholic Affairs? What if we then relegated all of
these groups into their own separate camps, and didn’t give them the vote
until 1966?

August 3rd, thursday

Another Clan Mother meeting, and some Peltier supporters are excluded for
reportedly intimidating people coming to the meeting.

Police seize another 3,500 plants in another seven fields. It turns out
that six of the fields are currently owned by Public Works Canada.

The Bloq Qu&eacutebecois announce a plan to bill the Feds $250,000 to burn
and trash the plants. By this point there has still been no federal
intervention, even though federal land, natives, and a federal crime are

This is now being spun by the players into a plot by the feds to drop a
lobster into the summer separatiste pot. Meanwhile the First Nations remain
under attack from coast to coast.

Five Points.

  1. This situation will affect Native Self Rule.
  2. This was not sponsored by the Mohawk Nation.
  3. The Government and Big Media demand a state of perfection, grace, and
    enlightenment from the natives that exists nowhere else.

  4. Last year’s income was no less than $5,000,000.
  5. Cannabis prohibition leads to national embarrassment and influences

The Blame

Robert Gabriel says, “No one got killed.” Robert is right. I don’t know who
to credit for this affair not escalating to immense and threatening

Robert is right, the worst didn’t happen and perhaps all can share equal
credit and blame. With seven hospitals closing in Montreal it’s a good
thing this hasn’t gotten out of hand.

The End?

Cannabis plants found again in the Parish of Oka. Mayor has no comment. No
arrests yet. Official plant count on the reserve is about 30,000.

Read a Mohawk's look behind the scenes at Oka.