A soldier’s helmet, a gas mask and a knife feature prominently on a shelf.
There are stacks of gun magazines and books for everything a soldier might need in the field, including a survival manual and a U.S. Army Special Forces medical handbook.
This isn’t some military barracks, but Chris Big Eagle’s home on the Ocean Man First Nation, located almost 20 kilometres north of Stoughton in the province’s southeast.
Sunlight from outside pours in with a red tint, filtered through a flag that hangs in a window. It’s the flag of the Mohawk Warrior Society, depicting the head of an Indigenous man at the centre of a golden sun on a blood red backdrop.
On a wall decorated with newspaper clippings and pictures, one photo shows an Indigenous man clad in camouflage, sunglasses and a mask. He stands face-to-face with a Canadian soldier.
It’s an iconic image captured during the Oka crisis in 1990. Opposed to expansion of a golf course and condos on land claimed by the people of the Kanesatake reserve in southern Quebec, the Mohawk Warrior Society faced off against the Canadian Army.
Contemporary warrior societies began emerging in the 1960s as a way for Indigenous people to protect their culture and land. The movement gained momentum and exposure at the height of the Oka crisis. Chris Big Eagle, a member of the Cree Warriors Society, stands in his room in his home on the Ocean Man First Nation. Men like Big Eagle, who grew up in the Internet age, have now taken the movement online. They share images of members attending community events or protests while wearing the signature camouflage fatigues and waving the Mohawk Warrior Society flag. Big Eagle is active on Twitter and Facebook, frequently speaking about issues facing Indigenous people and sharing stories about the history of warrior societies.
Big Eagle’s social media profiles depict him wearing camouflage face masks. The selfies are clearly influenced by the iconic imagery from Oka, and Big Eagle proudly points out that the Indigenous man in that famous photo is Brad Larocque, a resident of Saskatchewan.
For Big Eagle, becoming a member of a warrior society is his way of doing something about the injustices his people face. Part of his role includes providing other warriors with survival supplies and training materials. Big Eagle won’t say if he’s physically travelled to hot spots such as the Standing Rock pipeline protests, but says he takes the role seriously.
“You have to be willing to sacrifice yourself to be an Indigenous warrior,” says Big Eagle.
Academic research on warrior societies is rare. One of the few academics who has written on the subject is Taiaiake Alfred. The University of Victoria professor has studied Indigenous movements, such as warrior societies, for the past 27 years.
In an article he co-authored with Lana Lowe on the development of warrior societies in Indigenous communities, the movement is described as a way for Indigenous people to rebel against colonization and a history of oppression. It’s also a way of “expressing an authentic Indigenous identity.” Items in the room of Chris Big Eagle, a member of the Cree Warriors Society, in his room in his home on the Ocean Man First Nation. Some Indigenous warriors are willing to go to extreme lengths to honour those duties.
In 2014, a document called Defend the Territory was published by a website called Warrior Publications. The document contains instructions for tactics and strategies Indigenous communities can use to repel incursions by Canadian police or military. Some of the methods include ditches that can immobilize armoured vehicles, or ways to flush the eyes after exposure to tear gas.
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