When the Pine Needles Fall

When the Pine Needles Fall

Indigenous Acts of Resistance

By Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel, with Sean Carleton, Foreword by Pamela Palmater, Afterword by Audra Simpson

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There have been many things written about Canada’s violent siege of Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawà:ke in the summer of 1990, but When the Pine Needles Fall: Indigenous Acts of Resistance is the first book from the perspective of Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel, who was the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) spokesperson during the siege. When the Pine Needles Fall, written in a conversational style by Gabriel with historian Sean Carleton, offers an intimate look at Gabriel’s life leading up to the 1990 siege, her experiences as spokesperson for her community, and her work since then as an Indigenous land defender, human rights activist, and feminist leader.

More than just the memoir of an extraordinary individual, When the Pine Needles Fall offers insight into Indigenous language, history, and philosophy, reflections on our relationship with the land, and calls to action against both colonialism and capitalism as we face the climate crisis. Gabriel’s hopes for a decolonial future make clear why protecting Indigenous homelands is vital not only for the survival of Indigenous peoples, but for all who live on this planet.

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Praise

When the Pine Needles Fall is a profound treatise and manifesto chronicling Haudenosaunee resistance to land theft by one of the most important Land Defenders of our time. Gabriel’s work is the book on Indigenous resistance I’ve been waiting for my whole life. It is a must-read for anyone concerned with the continuation of life on this planet.” 

– Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, co-author of Rehearsals for Living

“Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel’s words in When the Pine Needles Fall are gifts that serve as a beacon of light by igniting our hearts, minds, and spirits. Through her boundless wisdom grounded in healing work as a Land Defender on Turtle Island, she calls for fierce Indigenous resistance and radical global solidarity to put an end to root causes of oppression worldwide: capitalism, patriarchy, and settler colonialism. Gabriel reminds us that a more just, kind, and caring world—where all life is precious—is possible for the next seven generations, but only if we fight for it.”

– Samir Shaheen-Hussain, MD, author of Fighting for A Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada

When the Pine Needles Fall is a remarkable and revelatory account of the 1990 siege of Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawà:ke, when provincial, municipal, and national armed forces targeted these Mohawk communities. It is also one of the best first-hand accounts of Indigenous activism that I have ever read, relayed in moving and extraordinary form. An essential addition to contemporary First Nations history and the growing field of Indigenous Studies.”

– Ned Blackhawk, Western Shoshone, author of The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History

“As a treatise on women and culture-based governance from a remarkable Haudenosaunee leader, When the Pine Needles Fall offers me hope and renewed energy. Through her life work, Ellen Gabriel demonstrates how to persevere, remain optimistic, and continue with creative and activist endeavours. The book effectively situates the ‘crisis’ within its centuries-long context, marking a tipping point for Canada while highlighting ongoing challenges. It also examines how mainstream narratives are constructed around Indigenous struggles, providing a comprehensive profile of Gabriel’s diverse contributions to Indigenous resistance and resurgence.”

– Kim Anderson, author of Life Stages and Native Women: Memory, Teachings, and Story Medicine

“Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel’s personal account of the 1990 siege of Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawà:ke is a crucial contribution to our understanding of these dramatic events and of the political context of the time. Her lifetime dedication to the defence of Indigenous peoples and women’s rights is truly exemplary and constitutes an inspiration for generations to come.”

– Bernard Duhaime, professor, Faculty of Political Science and Law, Université du Québec à Montréal

“In When the Pine Needles Fall, celebrated activist Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel gifts us with an expansive account of the 1990 siege of Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawà:ke. This alone provides a captivating analysis of this seminal moment and its legacy within larger movements for Indigenous sovereignty on Turtle Island. But Gabriel, an artist, also paints the negative space, braiding her relationship to the land, Kanien’kehá:ka teachings, and the language with her tireless work against settler colonialism, extractive capitalism, and patriarchy. This essential book is an inspiring conversation reminding us that decolonization is world-building rooted in an ethics of relationality and care.”

– Nazila Bettache, MD, MPH; assistant professor of medicine, Université de Montréal; social justice organizer and co-editor of Reflections on Illness

“I honour my sister whose words speak the truth. One of the most powerful quotes by Katsi’tsakwas is: ‘I’m a Kanien’kehá:ka woman who cares deeply about our land and I want a better future for the generations to come.’  Everything she speaks about in this book is directly connected to these words.”

– Beverley Jacobs, CM, LLB, LLM, PhD; Kanien’kehá:ka, Bear Clan, Six Nations Grand River Territory; associate professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor

Contents

Foreword by Pamela Palmater
Preface by Sean Carleton
Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen (The Words That Come Before All Else) by Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel
1. The Land Is Our Teacher
2. Protecting The Pines
3. The Siege of Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawà:ke
4. Echoes
5. The Art of Resistance
6. Women’s Rights
7. Indigenous Internationalism
8. Resurgence
9. Living for the Land
Afterword by Audra Simpson
Acknowledgements
Appendices A. Speech to Status of Women Committee, 2013
B. Speech at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, 2009
Glossary
Notes
Illustration Credits
Index