In my post the lead up to June 29, I mentioned how in due time we’ll see what this day of action serves… I also talked a bit about the nature of protests, and our need for strategy and to define attainable goals. Following this post up, and latching on to the need to do things differently, here’s an analysis of the AFN’s day of action by Warrior Publications (following some of my own commentary.)
With respect, it seems to me the day of action was for us, fruitless. I mean, what did we accomplish from our work? Some were holding this day pretty high, as if “this’ll be the day of days” but honestly that’s not very reasonable. Not while we’re dealing with over 10 generations of systemic abuse and entrenched, fascistic policies. Days alone are in fact part of our everyday life which has always been struggle, and as such it’s important for us to learn what we can from each day, so then atleast we don’t repeat ourselves…
The media sure got alot out of the day. Thanks to their handy work, Canadians actually lost brain cells! Politicians and Bureaucrats also had a good time justifying their paychecks. Terrance Nelson seems to have cashed out too, and Shawn Brant, recently denied bail after he turned himself in (as promised), now sits in a jail cell anticipating the day he gets out to continue with his work. Finally we have the AFN, who’s now stronger than ever.
As for us? Well we really lost out here — but I don’t say that because we didn’t make any buildings go tumbling down and so on, but rather because so many of us just sorta hopped on the train ride planned and set in motion by the AFN… We all paid our fares, all for our own reasons and intentions (very few actually supported the AFN’s interests) and at the end of the day, the train stopped and we all went our way home.
And now we’re just about to begin forgetting the day even happened (sort of like Aboriginal Day which zipped by largely without notice.)
Of course, it’s convenient for me to say this — but seeing as how in any event this day was little more than a trademark colonial endeavour, the outcome would have remained the same no matter what. And so the question now is, what have learned?
If the answer is nothing, then that would be the lesson — and it is one we should probably look at very carefully, otherwise we will find ourselves continuing on none-the-wiser, repeating ourselves as if the day never happened.
It’s like trying to take down a wall with a toothpick, dear friend — and that is just not gonna do it.
By [Warrior-Publications@hotmail.com], July 2007
“With the exception of several cancelled trains & a few thousand
inconvenienced motorists, Friday’s national day of action by the Assembly of
First Nations was more one of inaction.”
(“Protests interrupt traffic,” Mark Brennae, Vancouver Sun, June 30, 2007)
As predicted, the Assembly of First Nation’s ‘National Day of Action’ (NDOA) on June 29, 2007, was characterized by its spectacular lack of action (see Warrior, No. 3). Despite this, AFN chief Phil Fontaine called it an “overwhelming success and show of support.” Greatly exaggerating how many people it mobilized & the extent of protests, he described it as “a hundred thousand strong… one of the largest rallies in Canadian history based on the sheer number of events…” (AFN Press Release, June 29, 2007). The largest rally of the day was held in Ottawa, with approximately 2,000 people gathering for speeches & musical performances. In Vancouver, Winnipeg, & Toronto, as many as 500 may have participated in each. Smaller protests were held in Victoria, Edmonton, Whitehorse, Regina, Kenora, Guelph, Kingston, Montreal, and along the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border. The AFN claims there were over 100 rallies across the country, although there were far less than 100,000 people participating (perhaps at the most 5,000 people, by no means all Natives).
While such a turnout would be considered a great success by grassroots organizers, the AFN is a multi-million dollar state-funded organization, with a large staff, regional offices, and directly connected to some 630 Indian Act band council chiefs across the country. The AFN’s National DOA also benefited from months of corporate media hype leading up to June 29th. In addition, the train & highway blockades at Tyendinaga reserve in eastern Ontario received most of the media spotlight, despite the fact that the AFN & band council chiefs continually denounced and distanced themselves from any form of direct action proposed by the Tyendinaga Mohawks. An editorial in the Globe & Mail the following day acknowledged that the Tyendinaga Mohawks had, in fact, stolen the show: “The irony is that most of the cross-country protests were peaceful demonstrations… But many Canadians will simply remember that, on the cusp of the Canada Day long weekend, a portion of the nation’s busiest highway was closed for hours & passenger rail service from Toronto to Ottawa & Montreal was suspended.” (“The day of protest & the blockades,” Editorial, Globe & Mail, June 30, 2007)
In April 2007, federal Indian Affairs minister Jim Prentice warned band councils, and the AFN, that any militant actions such as blockades could result in funding cuts. Relations between Canada & the AFN appeared tense as the media hyped up the National DOA as one of potential confrontation. Roseau River band chief Terrance Nelson added fuel to this smoldering fire with threats of blockading trains in southern Manitoba & his calls for ‘economic disruption’ (along with the Tyendinaga Mohawks in eastern Ontario).
In June, however, Prentice and the federal government announced a major overhaul of the Indian Claims Commission (ICC), a government body that oversees Native land claims. Through new legislation to be introduced in the fall, the ICC would be made into a more ‘independent’ body with a panel of 3 judges and the ability to make binding decisions, measures designed to speed up the resolution of nearly 800 land claims across the country.
On June 20, Prentice announced that 75 acres of new reserve land would be added to the Roseau River band, defusing any potential conflict arising from chief Nelson’s threatened blockade. Despite his fiery rhetoric prior to this, Nelson announced there would be no blockades as a result, and that the land would be used to build a gas station, a cigarette shop, and video-lottery terminals. A week and a half prior to this, Nelson had written a letter to the CEO of Canadian National stating that, if both CN & Canadian Pacific Railway helped pressure the government to resolve the claim, “Roseau River will not threaten or engage in any railway blockades for 5 years from July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2012…” (Letter from Terrance Nelson to CN CEO Hunter Harrison, June 11, 2007).
Chief Nelson originally launched the resolution for a National DOA back in December, 2006 (see Warrior, No. 3), citing the lack of progress in land claims as well as a specific claim by the Roseau River band. In 1996, Canada acknowledged the shortage of 5,861 acres of land for the band’s reserve, as stipulated in the 1871 Treaty No. 1. In response to these reforms & concessions, some politicians criticized the government for rewarding those that threatened blockades. Liberal MP Anita Neville said “There are many, many other first nations out there who are not threatening blockades, who are not threatening disobedience, and I hope Mr. Prentice will give them the same attention that he gave Terry Nelson” (“Ottawa gives land to band threatening blockade,” Globe & Mail, June 21, 2007).
As if on cue, Prentice did just that. In BC, where 44% of land claims are based, Prentice announced major settlements of outstanding claims with 4 bands on June 25, worth a total of $7 million. These were the Skeechestn, Oregon Jack Creek, Osoyoos, and Mamalilikulla bands. Prentice made the announcement while speaking to the Business Council of BC, saying the land claims process was “intolerably slow” (“Federal government comes to terms with five native land claims,” Vancouver Sun, June 26, 2007; why is business interested in Native land claims? Because it creates economic certainty for investors).
The government & its partners in crime, the corporations, were clearly pleased with the AFN’s Day of (In)Action. Indian affairs minister Jim Prentice: “I think with the exception of what we experienced with illegal blockades in eastern Ontario, I think it has been a good day… It’s been a good day for democracy…” (“Protests interrupt traffic,” Vancouver Sun, June 30, 2007)
Angus Armstrong, head of security for the Toronto Port Authority, said in regards to the NDOA in that city: “It all went very, very well & I thought it was an extremely good event” (“Traditional songs, protests & pizza,” Globe & Mail, June 30, 2007).
That no actions would be taken was clear to many from the outset, but was reaffirmed on June 27 when Fontaine, flanked by senior officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), and Surete du Quebec (SQ- Quebec provincial police), warned potential ‘trouble-makers’ that they must be prepared to face the consequences for any illegal actions. Referring to threats of blockades & disruption, Fontaine stated these were “isolated comments and do not reflect the position of the AFN, or the many First Nations across the country” (AFN Press Release, June 27, 2007).
For their part, police were more than happy to stand with Fontaine in an effort to bolster their credibility with Natives, which has taken a beating due to ongoing violence & abuse inflicted on Indigenous peoples by police, including Six Nations in 2006, and the recent inquiry into the 1995 Ipperwash OPP shooting of Dudley George. Just prior to the NDOA, OPP commissioner Julian Fantino stated: “We’re certainly in a position where we want to demonstrate goodwill… We certainly don’t want to become the cause of conflict” (The Province, June 29, 2007).
Across the country, police focused on traffic control and public relations work. OPP commissioner Fantino rationalized this approach based on discussions with the AFN: “I am assured by the First Nation’s leadership that the NDOA is a call for peaceful activity… To ensure a safe start to the Canada Day long weekend, we ask people to be patient and respectful of each other” (OPP Press Release, June 27, 2007).
The only potential problem for police (and the AFN) were the proposed blockades by Tyendinaga Mohawks. In response, CN cancelled service on this section of its railways for the day, while the OPP closed down Hwy. 401—a major link between Toronto & Montreal—before the Mohawks had a chance to block it.
So as to not appear as ‘weak’ or vulnerable to threats of economic disruption & confrontation, CN & the OPP issued statements the following day rationalizing and revising their positions. For its part, CN expressed “frustration” with the OPP for not enforcing an injunction against blockades in Tyendinaga, obtained back in April 2007 (even though CN itself cancelled service on that line June 29th).
The OPP, in turn, revealed its strategy for policing the protests: they had consulted psychologists across the country who advised them to play it cool. One of these psychologists, according to media reports, was Mike Webster. An advisor to the RCMP & FBI, Webster was involved in ‘negotiations’ at the Waco massacre in 1993, the Native standoff at Gustafsen Lake in 1995 (where RCMP attempted to kill Native defenders), and the massacre of Tupac Amaru guerrillas in Lima, Peru, in 1997.
Webster, who is a psychological warfare consultant to police & military forces, stated: “This is Canada’s dirty little secret, how aboriginal people have been treated. I’ve told police before, ‘The best thing you can do is cross the line & stand over there with them'” (“How police stared down natives,” Globe & Mail, June 30, 2007; this statement itself is a form of psychological warfare to establish Webster as a sympathizer & ‘friend’ to Natives. His use of the term ‘dirty little secret’ is lifted from an article by Fontaine published in the Globe & Mail). In regards to militancy, the AFN, in part, consciously used the day of protests as a safety valve: “We understand the frustration that exists among too many of our people. Our objective in organizing the National Day of Action is to provide a positive channel for that energy” (June 27 Press Release).
In discussion forums prior to June 29 (see Warrior, No. 3), many Natives expressed support for a ‘day of action’, indicating a high level of support for direct action in general. The AFN’s militant-sounding ‘day of action’ clearly appealed to grassroots Natives. At the same time, many appear to have a poor analysis of what the AFN’s role is as an agent of colonialism and are unable to separate rhetoric from reality.
In order to fulfill its role as a neocolonial administrator, the AFN must portray itself as a defender of Native peoples, at times appearing as if in conflict with the government. The National DOA achieves this goal, while government concessions serve to strengthen the AFN as a credible organization advancing the interests of Indigenous peoples (thereby undermining the real resistance movement).
Well-intentioned but naïve non-Native supporters also jumped on the band council wagon, issuing public statements in support of the National DOA and even organizing solidarity events. The Kingston Mohawk Support Network (KMSN), for example, organized a protest on June 29. Well known media activist Naomi Klein also publicly supported the NDOA (although these examples were largely based on solidarity with the Tyendinaga Mohawks). In Guelph, Ontario, a chapter of the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement (IPSM) organized a rally on June 29 in support of local Algonquin land struggles, stating “We want to make it clear that we do not support the AFN…” Like the Tyendinaga Mohawks and their supporters, the Guelph-IPSM apparently thought that by distancing themselves from the AFN, their activities would not be viewed as coming under the AFN banner. Yet, for many Natives (and non-Natives), any protests occurring on this day can only appear as part of the AFN’s mobilization (which is why Warrior Publications called for a boycott, see Warrior, No. 3).
Some Native community organizers, even though they understand the neocolonial role of the AFN & band councils, supported the AFN’s National DOA based on the principle of unity. While unity is vital to our movement, we must make a clear distinction between grassroots resistance & the Indian Act collaborators. In addition, asking people to support corrupt, unaccountable & dysfunctional leadership only weakens & undermines our cause. Real unity is the result of common interests & goals, which are revealed through struggle and which do not materialize out of thin air or political rhetoric. It is clear that the interests of the AFN & collaborator chiefs lie with government & business, and not with Indigenous peoples, lands or cultures.
The AFN’s National Day of Action was one of symbolic protests and an appeal to the government for reforms & more funding. It was characterized by official sanction & support from both government & business (including police & media). Through reforms & concessions, the government has bolstered the credibility of the AFN as a legitimate representative of Indigenous peoples. At the same time, there is clearly support from many Natives for direct action and, by extension, Indigenous resistance. With stronger organization, communication & solidarity, there is great potential for our resistance movement to expand. A crucial first step is unity within our own ranks on tactics, strategies, and objectives. Although the Tyendinaga Mohawks served as a ‘spoiler’ for the National DOA, in the future we should be able to organize our own national days of resistance & action without having to appear as if supporting the AFN & Indian Act collaborators.
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