You are not connected. Please login or register


#IdleNoMore in Historical Context

Go down  Message [Page 1 of 1]

1#IdleNoMore in Historical Context Empty #IdleNoMore in Historical Context on Sun Dec 30, 2012 3:11 pm


#IdleNoMore in Historical Context

December 24, 2012

tags: #IdleNoMore , Canada , Indigenous sovereignty , Oka , Turtle Island

Much has been said recently in the media about the
relationship between the inspiring expression of Indigenous resurgent
activity at the core of the #IdleNoMore movement and the heightened
decade of Native activism that led Canada to establish the Royal
Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) in 1991. I offer this short
analysis of the historical context that led to RCAP in an effort to get a
better sense of the transformative political possibilities in our
present moment of struggle.

The federal government was forced to launch RCAP in the wake of two
national crises that erupted in the tumultuous “Indian summer” of 1990.
The first involved the legislative stonewalling of the Meech Lake Accord
by Cree Manitoba MLA Elijah Harper. The Meech Lake Accord was a failed
constitutional amendment package negotiated in 1987 by then Prime
Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney, and the ten provincial premiers. The
process was the federal government’s attempt to bring Quebec “back in”
to the constitutional fold in the wake of the province’s refusal to
accept the constitutional repatriation deal of 1981, which formed the
basis of the The Constitution Act, 1982. Indigenous opposition to
Meech Lake was staunch and vocal, in large part due to the fact that
the privileged white men negotiating the agreement once again refused to
recognize the political concerns and aspirations of First Nations. In a
disruptive act of legislative protest, Elijah Harper initiated a
filibuster in the days immediately leading up to the accord’s
ratification deadline, which ultimately prevented the province from
endorsing the package. The agreement subsequently tanked because it
failed to gain the required ratification of all ten provinces within
3-years of reaching a deal.

The second crisis involved a 78-day armed “standoff” beginning on
July 11, 1990 between the Mohawk nation of Kanesatake, the Quebec
provincial police (SQ), and the Canadian armed forces near the town of
Oka, Quebec. On June 30, 1990 the municipality of Oka was granted a
court injunction to dismantle a peaceful barricade erected by the people
of Kanesatake in an effort to defend their sacred lands from further
encroachment by non-Native developers. The territory in question was
slotted for development by a local golf course, which planned on
extending nine holes onto land the Mohawks had been fighting to have
recognized as their own for almost 300 years. Eleven days later, on July
11, one hundred heavily armed members of the SQ stormed the community.
The police invasion culminated in a twenty-four second exchange of
gunfire that killed SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay. In a display of
solidarity, the neighbouring Mohawk nation of Kahnawake set up their own
barricades, including one that blocked the Mercier Bridge leading into
the greater Montreal area. Galvanized by the Mohawk resistance,
Indigenous peoples from across the continent followed suit, engaging in a
diverse array of solidarity actions that ranged from leafleting to the
establishment of peace encampments to the erection of blockades on
several major Canadian transport corridors, both road and rail. Although
polls conducted during the stand-off showed some support by non-Native
Canadians outside of Quebec for the Mohawk cause, most received their
information about the so-called “Oka Crisis” through the corporate
media, which overwhelmingly represented the event as a “law and order”
issue fundamentally undermined by Indigenous peoples’ anger and
resentment-fuelled criminality.

For many Indigenous people and their supporters, however, these two
national crises were seen as the inevitable culmination of a near
decade-long escalation of Native frustration with a colonial state that
steadfastly refused to uphold the rights that had been recently
“recognized and affirmed” in section 35 (1) of the [i]The Constitution Act, 1982.
the late 1980s, this frustration was clearly boiling over, resulting in
a marked rise in First Nations’ militancy and land-based direct action.
The following are some of the more well-documented examples from the
time[ii] :

  1. The Innu occupation and blockade of the Canadian Air Force/NATO base
    at Goose Bay, Labrador. The occupation was led largely by Innu women to
    challenge the further dispossession of their territories and the
    destruction of their land-based way of life by the military industrial
    complex’s encroachment onto the Innu peoples’ homeland of Nitassinan;
  2. The Lubicon Cree struggle against oil and gas development on their
    traditional territories in present day Alberta. The Lubicon Cree have
    been struggling to protect a way of life threatened by intensified
    capitalist development on their homelands since at least 1939. Over the
    years, the community has engaged in a number of very public protests to
    get their message across, including a well-publicized boycott of the
    1988 Calgary Winter Olympics and the associated Glenbow Museum exhibit, The Spirit Sings;
  3. First Nations blockades in British Columbia. Throughout the 1980s,
    First Nations in BC grew extremely frustrated with the painfully slow
    pace of the federal government’s comprehensive land claims process and
    the province’s racist refusal to recognize Aboriginal title within its
    its borders. The result was a decade’s worth of very disruptive
    blockades, which at its height in 1990 were such a common occurrence
    that Vancouver newspapers felt the need to publish traffic advisories
    identifying delays caused by First Nation roadblocks in the province’s
    interior. Many of the blockades were able to halt resource extraction on
    Native land for protracted periods of time;
  4. The Algonquins of Barriere Lake. By 1989, the Algonquins of Barrier
    Lake were embroiled in a struggle to stop clear-cut logging within their
    traditional territories in present day Quebec because these practices
    threatened their land and way of life. Under the leadership of customary
    chief, Jean-Maurice Matchewan, the community used blockades to
    successfully impede clear-cutting activities affecting their community.
  5. The Temagami First Nation blockades of 1988 and 1989 in present-day
    Ontario. The Temagami blockades were set up to protect their nation’s
    homeland from further encroachment by non-Native development. The
    blockades of 1988-89 were the most recent assertions of Temagami
    sovereignty in over a century-long struggle to protect the community’s
    right to land and freedom from colonial settlement and development.

From the vantage point of the colonial state, by the time the 78-day
standoff at Kanesatake had begun things were already out of control in
Indian Country. If settler-state stability and authority are required to
ensure “certainty” over lands and resources to create a climate
friendly for expanded capitalist accumulation, then the barrage of
Indigenous practices of disruptive counter-sovereignty that emerged with
increased frequency in the 1980s was an embarrassing demonstration that
Canada no longer had its shit together with respect to managing the
so-called “Indian Problem.” On top of this, the material form that these
expressions of Indigenous sovereignty took on the ground – the blockade,
explicitly erected to impede constituted flows of racialized capital
and state power from entering Indigenous territories – must have been
particularly troubling to the settler-colonial elite. All of this
activity was an indication that Indigenous people and communities were
no longer willing to wait for Canada (or even their own leaders) to
negotiate a just relationship with them in good faith. There was also
growing concern that Indigenous youth in particular were no longer
willing to play by Canada’s rules – especially regarding the potential
use of political violence – when it came to advancing their communities’
rights and interests. As then National Chief of the Assembly of the
First Nations, Georges Erasmus, warned in 1988: “Canada, if you do not
deal with this generation of leaders, then we cannot promise that you
are going to like the kind of violent political action that we can just
about guarantee the next generation is going to bring to you.” Consider
this “a warning”, Erasmus continued, “We want to let you know that
you’re playing with fire. We may be the last generation of leaders that
are prepared to sit down and peacefully negotiate our concerns with

In the wake of having to engage in one of the largest military
operations since the Korean War, the federal government announced on
August 23, 1991 that a royal commission would be established with a
sprawling 16-point mandate to investigate the abusive relationship that
had clearly developed between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian state.
Published two years behind schedule in November 1996, the 58 million
dollar, five-volume, approximately 4,000 page Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples includes 440 recommendations which call for a renewed relationship based on the core principles of “mutual recognition, mutual respect, sharing and mutual responsibility. ” The
material conditions that informed the decade of Indigenous protest that
led to the resistance as Kanesatake created the political context that
RCAP’s call for recognition and reconciliation was supposed to pacify –
namely, the righteous anger and resentment of the colonized transformed
into an insurgent reclamation of Indigenous difference that threatened
to un-settle settler-colonialism’s sovereign claim over Indigenous people and our lands.

With respect to the emergent #IdleNoMore movement, although many of
the conditions that compelled the state to undertake the most expensive
public inquiry in Canadian history are still in place, a couple of
important ones are not. The first condition that appears to be absent is
the perceived threat of political violence that was present in the
years leading to the resistance at Kanesatake. #IdleNoMore is an
explicitly non-violent movement, which accounts for its relatively wide
spectrum of both Native and non-Native support at the moment. However,
if the life of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence continues to be
recklessly put in jeopardy by a Prime Minister who negligently refuses
to capitulate to her reasonable demands, it is my prediction that the
spectre of political violence will re-emerge in Indigenous peoples’
collective conversations about what to do next. The responsibility for
this rests solely on the state. The second condition that differentiates
#IdleNoMore from the decade of Indigenous activism that lead to RCAP is
the absence (so far) of widespread economic disruption unleashed by
Indigenous direct action. If history has shown us anything, it is this:
if you want those in power to respond swiftly to Indigenous peoples’
political efforts, start by placing Native bodies (with a few logs and
tires thrown in for good measure) between settlers and their money,
which in colonial contexts is generated by the ongoing theft and
exploitation of our land and resource base. If this is true, then the
long term efficacy of the #IdleNoMore movement would appear to hinge on
its protest actions being distributed more evenly between the malls and
front lawns of legislatures on the one hand, and the logging roads,
thoroughfares, and railways that are central to the accumulation of
colonial capital on the other. For better and for worse, it was our
peoples’ challenge to these two pillars of colonial sovereignty that led
to the recommendations of RCAP: the Canadian state’s claim to hold a
legitimate monopoly on use of violence and the conditions required for
the ongoing accumulation of capital. In stating this, however, I don’t
mean to offer an unqualified endorsement of these two challenges, but
rather a diagnosis of our present situation based on an ongoing critical
conversation about how these differences and similarities ought to
inform our current struggle.

On the lasting signifance and impact of the Mohawk resistance at Kanesatake, see Leanne Simpson and Kiera Ladner (Eds.), [i]This is an Honour Song: Twenty Years Since the Blockades (Winnepeg: Arbeiter Ring Press, 2012).

[ii] For a useful discussion of these and other examples of First Nations activism of the time, see Boyce Richardson (Ed.), Drumbeat: Anger and Renewal in Indian Country (Ottawa: Published by Summerhill Press and The Assembly of First Nations, 1989).

[iii] “Act or Face threat of violence, native leader wars Ottawa,” Toronto Star (June 1, 1988), A1.


Glen Coulthard is a member of the
Yellowknives Dene First Nation and an assistant professor in the First
Nations Studies Program and the Department of Political Science at the
University of British Columbia, traditional and unceded territories of
the Musqueam First Nation.

Thanks to: http://decolonization.wordpress.com


Back to top  Message [Page 1 of 1]

Permissions in this forum:
You cannot reply to topics in this forum