Just over a week after a report was released (First Nations Under Surveillance) on how the Harper government has been using INAC to “manage potential First Nation unrest” since 2006, a native community named as a “hot spot” for “aboriginal unrest” was raided by no less than 500 members of the “Aboriginal Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (A-CFSEU). The day before the raid, the Mohawks of Kanehsata:ke sent a warning letter to the municipality of Oka over a mining deal signed earlier in the month with Augyva Mining Resources. Coincidence? Not in these times.
In the summer of 1990, similar breaches of the community's sovereignty over its own territory provoked a “crisis” when the town of Oka planned development of a golf course in the Pines, where generations of Mohawk people lay buried. For so many of us, that summer was a turning point in our own journeys of decolonization as Indian people. Much like the American Indian Movement was for the generation before us, the sight of our people rising up and fighting back reminded us not only of our own power, but also reawakened a sense of dignity and resolute pride, as we watched people just like us stare down armed perpetrators of state violence.
Sent on June 13th and printed on the community's letterhead, the letter ends by counselling the residents and mayor of Oka: “We therefore urge you to meet with our representatives as soon as possible to avoid any future conflict and promote a relationship based upon peaceful co-existence.”
A day later, there is a massive police raid resulting in the arrests of 55 people, which means that there had been allotted approximately 9 officers per person, a show of force far stronger than actually required. Such overblown tactics, so neatly covered by mainstream media as a drug bust sanctioned by the chief and band council, make it apparent that the operation was intended to show the people of Kanehsata:ke and Akwesasne (and all of us who were watching) the repression we will face if we step out of line.
That was clearly the message of the June 14th raid on these communities, reinforced by the soundbites of native people who see state violence crackdowns as the solution to drug use and addiction on reserves.
We can all see if we look down the generations, an unbroken line of violence against our people that has been carried out, sometimes justifying their actions by saying “they were selling drugs”, sometimes by saying “they were dancing the Ghost Dance”. Often enough, genocidal policies like residential schools, mass “adoptions” of native kids into white families and forcible sterilization and rape of native women and girls were carried out with no justification at all.
To justify state violence against our own people reinforces the idea that we are powerless to protect and defend ourselves. Have we forgotten our own power so much that we believe that the police are there to help us solve the problems they themselves are helping to create? Do we not have within our own communities the power to confront those who are pushing drugs as a means of making a living? In reality, the police themselves are often the ones in control of these drug rings and profit off them, or use them to control the people. We have seen this to be true in our own lives, sometimes in our own families.
We also know that there is a program of targeted state violence against our communities, and that INAC, just like the Indian Agents of our parents and grandparents' generation, is a tool used by the Canadian government to assimilate us and make us “Canadians” or, we resist—to break us down and exterminate us. We are only desirable in Canada as warriors if we are conquered warriors or “peaceful warriors” who would never dare raise arms against our oppressors, no matter what the cost to our own lives. Meanwhile, if Canadian soldiers said the same thing, they would be discharged immediately.
Why is it that the only acceptable violence is that which is committed by the powerful against the powerless? Why should it acceptable to us that the RCMP, SQ and goon squads like the Kanehsatake Police be allowed to use violence to protect us against our own people, in a community which has been identified by the RCMP and CSIS as a “hot spot” for native unrest, at the very site of the “Oka crisis”? Were some of those police officers who stormed the reserve on June 14th the same ones who had been there in 1990? How many of them bragged to each other about their success in “taming” a community whose resistance galvanized an era of native uprising?
A spokesperson for the police raid stated the intention of the raid clearly, and it had nothing to do with stopping drug use in our communities: "We have disrupted (Kanesatake and Akwesasne 's) capacity to use aboriginal territories for its activities … we can catch them, no matter where they are." An RCMP also commented, ironically, that the raid showed that Kanesata:ke “residents delivered a clear message (that) violence and intimidation will not be tolerated.”
Can the violence and intimidation of fifty five native people, no matter their alleged crimes, possibly come anywhere close to the violence and intimidation of the police and the military, not just in 1990 but for the last 500 years? Do they just expect us to tolerate their brutal, ongoing intimidation and violence, but leap at every chance to cooperate with them against our own people?
This show of force should not be held up as a trophy for cooperation, when we know that the reason our people are numbing themselves with alcohol and drugs is because of these attacks on our communities: attacks on our spirituality, our language, the desecration of the sacred and our way of life have made us afraid of the very source of our own power, the power that these attacks are intended to destroy.
This is why we must always continue to resist all attacks on us made by the government and corporations, especially those they tell us are for our own good. The same thing has been said for generations to us. It is being said all over right now to every original person unwilling to cooperate in their own and others' desecration.
It was said to the people at Oka in 1990. It was said to the mothers, fathers and grandparents of children who were taken away to residential school. It will likely be said to you the next time you stand in front of a judge, or in a classroom, or in a jail or detention centre. Didn't they tell us then that it was “for our own good”, that things would go easier for us if we just cooperated—their show of force always reinforcing the underlying message that we were no match for them. Better just to fall in line.
But if that is true, then why does the government and corporations who oppress and exploit us “for our own good” tremble every time we threaten to blockade a railway, bridge or highway? As the First Nations Under Surveillance report says:
“One insight emerges strongly here: most threatening of all to security and government forces is coordinated First Nations action. This can be seen clearly from the reports. At one point in the 2007 INAC to RCMP briefing, concern is expressed about a First Nations conference because, “The 2006 Numbered Treaty Conference proposed a ‘national’ movement of independent actions to express discontent.” Also that “a large concern in 2007 was the potential for a broad national coordinated series of local and regional political actions by First Nations.”
“What the INAC and RCMP briefings show is that there needs to be unity on the ground with coordinated political actions between First Nations Peoples in order to protect, defend and advance First Nation pre-existing sovereignty, and First Nation Aboriginal and Treaty rights to lands and resources. Divide and conquer tactics can only be met with new strategies of alliance-building, and by bringing the leadership back down to the land.”
Clearly, they fear what they cannot control. And since neither the land or the people of the land were made to be controlled and cannot be controlled, they will fear the land and they will fear us and will use every means in their power, including using our own people (especially the wounded, lost and sick) to justify taking more control over us using police, proprety and poisons.
Wake up! More police (or more police cooperation) will not stop us from using drugs and alcohol and it won't stop the dealers and pushers either. It won't stop us from joining gangs. It won't stop us from being sexually, physically or emotionally abused, or abusive. More police (or more police cooperation) will not stop suicide. More police will not find missing women or bring peace to the murdered and disappeared. More police will only bring us more police.
We are and have everything we need, we just have to start being it and doing it like we did before there were any police to make us think we need them. We don't need police. We need the land and the water, and each other.
It is not just organizations like Defenders of the Land which are gathering native people together to protect what we all need to survive, as Judy Rebick mistakenly assumed in her recent article, as though we have not been defending the land for half a millenia. No organization could ever encompass 500 civilizations' 500 years of resistance. We are each of us: the born, the unborn and the dead, beads strung across all our homelands, breaking apart colonial borders, speaking through walls: a terrifying sound to those who seek to control and silence us.
“The white man does not understand the Indian for the reason that he does not understand America. He is too far removed from its formative processes. The roots of the tree of his life have not yet grasped the rock and soil. The white man is still troubled with primitive fears; he still has in his consciousness the perils of this frontier continent, some of its fastnesses not yet having yielded to his questing footsteps and inquiring eyes. The man from Europe is still a foreigner and an alien.
But in the Indian the spirit of the land is still vested; it will be until other men are able to divine and meet its rhythms....Only to the white man was nature a 'wilderness' and only to him was the land 'infested' with 'wild' animals and 'savage' people. To us it was beautiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery.” -Chief Luther Standing Bear (Oglala Sioux), 1933.
“Our instincts kicked in and we said the women have to go to the front, because it's our obligation to do that, to protect the land, to protect our Mother. And I can remember looking at the faces of the S.W.A.T. team and they were all scared. They were like young babies who had never met something so strong; who had never met a spirit, because we were fighting something without a spirit. There was no thought to it; they were like robots.” -Katsi'tsákwas (Mohawk Nation), 1990.