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The 1990 Lillooet Lake Road Blockade

The 1990 Lillooet Lake Road blockade
A young first nations woman is arrested during the 1990 Lillooet Lake Road Blockade.

In November 1990, the RCMP moved in force to clear a road blockade on the Lillooet Lake Road (It’s now the part of Highway 99 through Mt. Currie) that members of the Mt. Currie Indian band had maintained for the previous four months. There had been a very high profile showdown between Canadian troops and Mohawk Indians during the 1990 Oka Crisis, and that caused long standing local land use issues in Mt. Currie to boil over in the summer of 1990. While the Oka Crisis was highly publicized and eventually settled relatively peacefully, the blockade in Mt. Currie was far from any urban centres and basically ignored by the media. After four months, the province acquired an injunction against the protestors and then an enforcement order, allowing the RCMP to clear the road.

Hundreds of Mt. Currie residents came out to maintain the roadblock, while several buses of RCMP officers arrived. While most of the protestors stood aside, 63 were eventually arrested. It would become Canada’s longest political road blockade.

While today this is kind of a forgotten incident, it really was the beginning of the 1990’s era first nations protests that became know as the war in the woods. I would end up covering much of it myself through the Clayoquot Sound and Gustafsen Lake standoffs.

The 1990 Lillooet Lake Road blockade
Protestors sing the war chant the day before the blockade was dismantled.

The 1990 Lillooet Lake Road blockade
The RCMP arrive on the scene.

The 1990 Lillooet Lake Road blockade
A protestor speaks to the media.

The 1990 Lillooet Lake Road blockade

The 1990 Lillooet Lake Road blockade

The 1990 Lillooet Lake Road blockade

The 1990 Lillooet Lake Road blockade

The 1990 Lillooet Lake Road blockade
The police move in and arrest the protestors.

Background
The 1990 Lillooet Lake Road blockade
Ironically, none of the photos I shot that day were published (they’ve actually never been published), but I ended up in the background of an award winning photo. That’s me in the blue and red jacket, and in the last B&W shot, you can see the photographer on the right taking the photo.

I had just graduated from the WPAP photo college a month before and was home in Whistler while I figured out what I was going to do with myself. When the province got it’s injunction at the same time the protestors were taking a harder line about not giving up the blockade, it became likely that it wasn’t going to come to a peaceful end, the so-far sleepy blockade turned into a major media event. Since it was only a half hour drive from my house, I decided to go cover it. It was the first time I had ever covered any kind of serious mass action, although I would spend the rest of the 90’s covering similar events in Canada and South Africa.

When I shot the photos, I was a lowly and inexperienced freelancer in the middle of a major media event, so all the newspapers were using photos from their own people and found no takers for my photos. They were a major part of my portfolio for years, and got me into the door of several newspapers who ended up working for, so in the end it worked out pretty well for me.

Flashing forward nearly 28 years, I was hunting around through my loft looking for a spare tripod head and came across an old portfolio loaded with 8×10 prints from my days as a photojournalist in the 1990’s. In it was a set of black and white prints from the blockade that I thought were long lost. I was always a bit sad that they had spent their life in a box, so I’m posting them up here on my blog.

Tech Stuff
This was a very low key technical shoot. I used two Nikon FM cameras, one with a 105mm f/2.5, the other with a 60’s era 28mm f/3.5 that used to belong to my mother. I shot about five rolls of Kodak Tri-X film and printed them in the WPAP darkroom. It’s a classic set up, and probably about the same as what a photographer in Vietnam would have carried 20 years before. I was still using pretty much the same equipment right through my career as a newspaper photographer and into my first days as a wedding photographer. I still have both cameras and the 28mm lens, although the 105mm was stolen while I was on a trip to California a couple of years later.