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Strong response to racist backlash against Six Nations in Ontario offers important lessons for Albertans

Issues: Learning from the present
Strong response to racist backlash against Six Nations in Ontario offers important lessons for Albertans

Macdonald Stainsby / oilsandstruth.org
Vue Weekly, Week of June 25, 2009

In the past week there have been two significant events that offer important lessons about the ongoing struggles of First Nations peoples in Canada. Sunday, June 21 was National Aboriginal Day, an ostensibly apolitical day set aside for the celebration of proud nations and history. Just two days later an explicitly political development took place in Cayuga, Ontario, where a racist militia with the espoused aim to "take back private property rights" held their first public meeting—and were met by protesters from numerous regions around the ongoing reclamation of the Haldimand Tract and the so-called Douglas Creek Estates housing development. That land belongs to the Six Nations of the Grand River, sovereign Mohawk Territory near the city of Hamilton, Ontario.

National Aboriginal Day events—often co-sponsored by various level of government, from federal on down—are held to establish pride, share culture and history. As a point of departure, the theme this year was "sharing our stories." On that note, a day to celebrate aboriginal history and culture is also a day for understanding, and understanding the racism that often greets struggles for self-determination when First Nations, Métis or Inuit stand up for their national rights is perhaps the most important lesson for non-native populations to learn. Nowhere is that lesson currently more apparent than in sovereign Mohawk Territory, where a racist backlash against the community of Six Nations is taking a much darker turn.

Since the beginning of the Six Nations struggle to reclaim their territory in February of 2006, the not-so-thinly-veiled racism of the population that lives within Caledonia (the closest non-First Nations community) has often come to the surface. A man named Gary McHale has incited people to hold anti-Mohawk rallies on more than one occasion, has run for parliamentary office in the province, garnering not-insignificant support, and has simultaneously wooed both "respected officials" and been endorsed by the most dangerous of white supremacist organizations.

Under the rallying cry of "equality," McHale and his supporters have urged the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police to take violent measures to seize back territory and property reclaimed by Six Nations—territory that was long ago determined by the Canadian government to be now and forevermore Mohawk Territory. The same OPP forces have made well over 100 arrests since the start of the reclamation and continue to be provocative in case after case in their dealings with the community.

Having failed at convincing the authorities to attack Six Nations, Gary McHale's associate Doug Fleming issued a call in mid-June for the formation of what he calls the Caledonia Militia to "ensure that the criminal code is upheld" and promising to use "reasonable force to remove illegal trespassers."

Quoting from the emergency response call issued by activists in solidarity with Six Nations: "Doug Fleming (an associate of anti-native sovereignty activist Gary McHale) whose brother Randy was recently arrested for attempting to instigate a conflict with people at Six Nations by running onto the former Douglas Creek Estates waving a Canadian flag, has announced that he is now forming a 'militia' to directly confront 'native lawlessness' in Caledonia. According to Fleming, the militia would patrol areas in Caledonia by car and by foot wearing uniforms and communicating with radio equipment. If alerted to an instance of 'native lawlessness' the militia would then use 'reasonable force' to effect a citizen's arrest and would hold the native person until such time as the OPP arrived to take the 'prisoner' to jail."

It was only a few short months ago that the Aryan Guard, an Alberta-based white supremacist group, attempted to hold their second annual march in Calgary. Their "white pride" march came on the heels of an incident in which the nearby Siksika Reserve was invaded, with the offenders smashing windows and hurling (drunken) racist epithets at members of the First Nation. Both these incidents occurred in a province which continues to deny the proper rights of the sovereign Cree nation of the Lubicon—with which the Alberta government refuses to negotiate despite the community still living on unceded territory, having no running water in their homes and watching as over $13 billion in oil and gas revenues are taken from their traditional territory.

In the Cree, Métis and Dene community of Fort Chipewyan, the problem isn't the lack of running water, but rather whether or not the water is safe. The community has seen a statistically impossible increase in cancer rates over approximately the same time frame as the rapid escalation of the tar sands mining industry upstream from their fly-in-only home and have long demanded a baseline health study to determine whether or not the mining operations north of Fort McMurray are responsible for these deaths and diseases.

On a day like the recent National Aboriginal Day it is certainly positive that pride, history and culture be shared beyond the communities still so misunderstood by the majority of those who see themselves as Canadians. However, time might be better spent learning about the current state and struggles of First Nations peoples, especially when one considers that people like Doug Fleming can openly call public meetings to set up what amounts to a vigilante group in Ontario. For such people, it isn't the culture or history of the Mohawk that so incenses them, it is the willingness of First Nations peoples today to stand up for their rights, take back the land that continues to belong to them and to honour their history by standing in the present, not separated from the past.

We in Alberta can learn much from these realities, by opposing not only the racist militias, gangs and marches that happen here in our own province—as solidarity activists have done in Southern Ontario—but also by opposing the policies of our government, policies that deliberately create such racial divisions, and make the lives of First Nations simply another "cost of doing business." V

Macdonald Stainsby is a social justice activist, writer and coordinator of the website oilsandstruth.org.


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