Sunday, 27 June 2010

Canada's indigenous insurgency emerges at G20 protests

Over the past three days, Canada has hosted the G8 and G20 summits. As is to be expected, the focal point of this event has been the protesters.


The mainstream media were keen to report riots, confrontations, and arrests as demonstrations "turn violent" and police cars are set ablaze. Toronto's media cooperative, meanwhile, were more concerned with the police's illegal searches, the often suprious detention of activists, and the house raids conducted without warrants.
 
RNC '08 reported on repressive border controls against journalists. Obstruction of the press culminated today in the assault and arrest of a Guardian journalist.

The biggest overlooked story in this, however, has been the mobilisation of Canada's indigenous peoples. Toronto Community Mobilisation dedicated Thursday's events to indigenous sovereignty, which drew attention to the government "extinguishing Aboriginal and Treaty rights," and how the Tar Sands was "a violation of Aboriginal and Treaty rights, and the most destructive industrial project on earth."


But most of these issues are not reported or discussed in the mainstream media, except sparingly. In particular, the potential of actions by idigenous people to effect real change lacks incisive attention.

An exception to the rule, Jon Elmer of Al Jazeera offers an in-depth analysis;
But with Canadian soldiers, snipers, commandos and police tactical units representing the sharp end of a security budget that is poised to top $1bn, the most significant threat to business as usual for the summit may turn out to be far-flung rural blockades enacted by Canada's long suffering native communities.

"It's a very dangerous situation," said Douglas Bland, a retired Canadian forces lieutenant-colonel who is now the chair of defence management studies at Queen's University.

In recent years in particular, Canada's indigenous communities have shown the will and potential to grind the country's economic lifelines to a halt through strategically placed blockades on the major highways and rail lines that run through native reserves well outside of Canada's urban landscape.

"The Canadian economy is very vulnerable," said Bland.

"More than 25 per cent of our GDP comes from exports of raw materials, but especially oil, natural gas and electricity to the United States."

"It's undefended and undefendable infrastructure, the pipelines and power lines and so on, and it runs through great spaces of open countryside and they run through aboriginal territories.

"It would take a very small number of people very little time to bring [it] down," said Bland, who is the author of a "barely fictionalised" account of native insurgency in Canada, entitled Uprising.
The G8 and G20 are now over, but the issues facing thigenous do not end with a single summit. They are ongoing.

As I have noted previously, Tar Sands is the most pressing, one of several areas worldwide where companies are "reaping huge profits by ravaging the environment, stealing and destroying the land of indigenous peoples, and even driving up the prices for the working class people who serve as essentially captive markets for their products in the west."

If the aim is to stop it, then militancy must take precendence where reformism inevitably fails. And it seems Canada's "insurgency" know this;
In 2007, the Mohawk community at Tyendinaga, 200 kilometres east of Toronto, blocked the trans-continental rail line and Canada's largest highway in protest at the government's failure to address land rights and basic issues of survival within First Nations - including safe drinking water, which the community lacked.

That episode was a hint of the leverage indigenous peoples in Canada possess, as hundreds of millions of dollars in cargo was stalled by simple barricades placed across a rural stretch of the Canadian National railway's mainline between Toronto and Montreal.

"The message resounded," said Shawn Brant, a high profile Mohawk activist involved in the 2007 blockades.

"We are not going to live in abject poverty, to have our children die, to have our women abducted, raped and murdered without any investigations. We are not going to live with the basic indignities that occur to us daily. We would bring them to an end."

In 2007, Brant characterised the blocking of the 401 highway and CN main rail line as a "good test run".

"We showed that we would meet the severity of what was happening to us with a reaction and a plan, a strategy that would be equally as severe," Brant said.
There has been talk in the Canadian military that experiences fighting the Taliban (!) would be "completely relevant to what might happen here," suggestion that militancy would be met with violent suppression.

Brant doesn't seem concerned at this. He insists that "we've created a unity that they don't have the military or policing capabilities to confront."

Nonetheless, they are comrades in struggle and deserve support and solidarity. As the spectacle of the G8 and G20 disappears, we mustn't let the struggle of Canada's indigenous fade into obscurity.