OKA, QUEBEC — JUST down the hill, soldiers crouch behind sandbags. Behind them sits an armored personnel carrier. Every so often, a helicopter hovers above, without its lights. It is August in Oka, Quebec, midway through the Mohawk standoff that gripped Canada for 78 days. The mood is relaxed behind the Indian barricades. The mounded earth, the tree trunk, and the overturned police truck have faded in the darkness.
``It's only got 3,000 kilometers on it,'' says a young Mohawk Warrior, code-named Hunter, indicating the truck.
The Mohawk Warriors are a small native-rights movement whose militant ways have captured headlines but make other native leaders uneasy. All the Warriors have code names. Some come from Canada, others from the United States. They wear camouflage suits and kerchiefs around their head and face to protect their identities. Some carry rifles. Hunter is carrying a radio.
This fall he was supposed to start business and management courses at the State University of New York at Albany. ``Obviously,'' he says, ``this is a little more important than school right now.''
The Mohawk Warriors are linked to radical native leaders who, in the 1970s, forced some 1,200 nonnative residents to leave nearby Kahnawake reserve. In 1974, some of these same radicals took over an abandoned girls' school in upstate New York and occupied it until 1977. This May, a violent confrontation between antigambling Indians and the pro-gambling Mohawk Warriors left two men dead at Akwesasne reserve on the Canadian-US border.
Critics, including several native leaders, charge that the Warriors are funded by the proceeds of casino operations on the US side of Akwesasne and from smuggling cigarettes to Canada, where they can be sold at much higher prices.
The Warriors describe themselves as reviving Mohawk traditions.
``They are billing us as criminals, [but] we are following our law,'' says Small Boy, who carries a rifle and a full load of ammunition and wears a plastic nose-and-glasses mask further to conceal his face.
Other Indian leaders scoff at these claims.
``Does a traditional Mohawk ever carry a weapon, ever have casinos?'' asks Jacob Thomas, a traditional Cayuga chief in southern Ontario. Instead of sharing their revenue, which is the Indian way, the Warriors hold onto it for themselves, he asserts.
Here in Oka, the armed standoff ended peacefully Sept. 26. The Mohawks suddenly laid down their arms and started walking toward journalists on the other side of the Army line. Surprised soldiers pushed them back, herded them into a bus, and arrested them after a tense scuffle in which men and women were thrown to the ground.
One fatality occurred during the conflict: A Quebec provincial police officer was killed during an unsuccessful police raid on the barricades on July 11.
In the wake of the standoff, native leaders worry that other Indians might take up arms in future disputes.