Monday, April 28, 2008

Colonial Reporting

First, read the article. Here is the text of a story from CBC reporting that indigenous activists from Six Nations have put up a roadblock at the site of land to which they have been asserting their rights in Caledonia, in solidarity against police attacks on activists at the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory:

Renewed Six Nations blockade pushing residents to the brink: Caledonia mayor

A renewed Six Nations blockade of a southern Ontario highway is pushing residents to the brink and is paving the way for a repeat of violent clashes between protesters and town residents, the mayor of the beleaguered town said Monday.

As the Opposition calls for the Ontario government to immediately break off all talks with Six Nations until the roadblock comes down, Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer said some Caledonia, Ont., residents have already talked about taking the law into their own hands.

The frustration comes after Six Nations protesters closed the town's highway bypass to show support for fellow aboriginals in eastern Ontario.

After more than two years of living with the Six Nations occupation of a former housing development in the town, Trainer said people have had enough.

"This shouldn't be allowed," Trainer said in an interview. "Enough is enough. Something has to happen. This nonsense can't continue."

In eastern Ontario, provincial police removed a roadblock Monday set up by aboriginal protesters on a rural road near the town of Deseronto.

The protest west of Kingston escalated on the weekend when police arrested Mohawk leader Shawn Brant at a traffic stop. Two officers were injured and a cruiser window was smashed after Brant's supporters rushed to the scene and clashed with police.

On Monday, the Highway 6 bypass around Caledonia remained blocked by Six Nations protesters in a show of solidarity and said they won't remove the blockade until police back down around Deseronto.

In 2006, the bypass, the town's main road, and the rail line were all blockaded after police raided the occupation site. The weeks that followed saw a number of clashes, some violent, between Six Nations protesters and Caledonia residents.

The renewed blockade is forcing motorists to go through Caledonia, straining a heritage bridge which is up for repairs in a few weeks, Trainer said.

It's putting even more strain on residents, some of whom have gathered near the occupation site to discuss taking action on their own, she said. The blockade was enforced by more than 100 people, along with fires on either side of the road, Trainer added.

"I don't know what to do," she said. "I'd have a sit-in in front of the prime minister's office or the premier's office if it would help. I don't know what to do anymore."

Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said the Liberal government has allowed the situation to escalate by tolerating law-breakers in Caledonia. The province should suspend talks with Six Nations and send a message through the courts that blockades aren't tolerated, he said.

"The government can send every signal that it possibly can — we're not going to put up with lawless behaviour and we're not going to sit at negotiating tables with people who break the law," Tory said. "They have encouraged this sort of thing to spread."

Six Nation protesters have been occupying the former housing development site in Caledonia for more than two years, saying the land was wrongfully taken from them by the Crown two centuries ago.

The province, federal government and Six Nations are trying to negotiate an end to the occupation and resolve the land claim. Six Nations recently rejected a $26-million federal offer to settle the flooding of aboriginal land along the Grand River 179 years ago during the building of the Welland Canal.

This reporting is colonial because:

  • Settlers -- that is, those of us who benefit from colonization in material ways -- are permitted humanizing emotional rationales. Settlers in Caledonia have been "pushed to the brink" by the land reclamation, and are experiencing "frustration." Nowhere is any attempt made to portray humanizing emotional rationales for the indigenous people involved...nowhere does the article explore in a sympathetic way how they might feel after several centuries of cultural genocide, everyday racism, violation of treaties by settlers, and unremitting land theft.

  • Only settlers are directly quoted in the article. No indigenous people are quoted.

  • The events in Tyendinaga, to which Six Nations people are responding with the renewed blockade, are described completely inadequately. The viciousness of the police treatment of indigenous people there is left out. As well, the underlying colonial injustice to which activists in Tyendinaga have been responding is also not mentioned.

  • It portrays the settler population as monolithic in its opposition to struggles by indigenous peoples, which is nonsense. I know that there is a group in Caledonia that has been organizing in support of Six Nations -- don't know much about what they've been doing lately, but I know they exist and they have a track record. Not all settlers have as little concern for justice as those quoted in the article.

  • John Tory's points about "lawless behaviour" are what has become standard right-wing talking points in response to indigenous struggle. There is also a standard response to it, which points to the long history and current reality of settlers and the institutions which supposedly represent us breaking treaties, stealing land, stealing children, policing indigenous communities in racist ways, destroying cultures, legislating apartheid, and lots of other things, and those same institutions refusing to stop those oppressive behaviours which continue in the present and refusing to undue the damage to indigenous peoples caused by criminal settler behaviours which happened in the past. Just finding someone to make this point would only have created the sort of superficial balance that you often find in the media, rather than the deeper sort of responsibility to facts that is theoretically possible, but even superficial balance was apparently beyond this reporter.

  • The final paragraph includes the line about the Six Nations refusal of money offered in a settlement with little context. Not sure if this is the case in the situation they describe or not, but if it was cash offered for extinguishment of title then it is hardly surprising that it was turned down no matter how large it was. Turning down the cash isn't about greediness, it is about a particular relationship to the land and about a vision for long-term survival of nations which is seen to depend upon that relationship to the land. Mentioning it the way this story is likely to activate racist stereotypes about native peoples in the settler imagination -- things like "lazy" and "greedy" and "never satisfied."


g said...

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Scott said...

Thanks g!