OKA, QUEBEC, JULY 12 -- Hundreds of Quebec police officers poured into this Montreal suburb today and took up positions around an encampment of defiant, heavily armed Mohawk Indians intent on stopping expansion of a golf course onto their ancestral land.
But there was no attempt to launch a second direct assault on the entrenched Mohawks, who forced police to retreat Wednesday after a fierce gun battle that left one officer dead. About 100 policemen had stormed the camp to remove roadblocks the Indians had erected to bar access to the disputed land. The town of Oka has had legal title to the land since 1947, but the Mohawks still claim it.
As many as 200 Indians were guarding the tract, which town authorities have leased to operators of an adjoining nine-hole golf course who plan to clear the pine forest on the site and expand the course to 18 holes.
Late this evening, Quebec Indian Affairs Minister John Ciaccia arrived at the site for brief talks with the Mohawks but would say nothing afterward to reporters. Indian leaders said, however, that they would keep their barricades up and not agree to negotiate a withdrawal until they are assured of immunity from prosecution and police are pulled from the area.
"Ciaccia said he came here because he has a sense of responsibility to help us. Frankly we don't trust the provincial government very much, but we have to have faith in Ciaccia for the moment," said Mohawk spokeswoman Ellen Gabriel.
Police spokesman Richard Bourdon would not say how many officers are now stationed at Oka, but reports put the figure at between 1,000 and 2,000. Cars full of police from all over Quebec rolled into town before dawn, and officers quickly sealed off roads into the area, allowing only local residents to pass.
Meanwhile, Quebec government officials struggled to prevent other disaffected Indians from taking violent action in support of the Oka Mohawks.
Armed Mohawks from another reservation in southern Quebec have blocked the Mercier Bridge spanning the St. Lawrence River at Montreal and have threatened to blow it up in a show of solidarity with their fellow tribesmen. Elsewhere, a spokesman for the Mohawks on the Akwesasne reserve along the U.S. border, where an intra-tribal fight over the presence of gambling casinos erupted in May, said they were sending men and provisions to the Mohawks at Oka.
"There was a time when whites thought they could fire a rifle in the air and scare Indians back into the forest," said a 51-year-old Oka Mohawk. "Those days are over."