The right to protest the Doctrine of Discovery: its Signs, Slurs, and influences
The right to protest is a defining characteristic amongst genuine democratic societies and in recent times was further strengthened by a resolution at the UN General Assembly in 1998 through their Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. However, the right to protest as attempts for redress or protecting un-ceded lands, comes at a cost to those who uphold this right; that is in Indigenous communities as those with legitimate grievances are villainized, criminalized and labeled as radicals, unreasonable and if you’re a Mohawk, you must be violent.
Canada, Quebec, the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (sic) (MCK), the Mayor of Oka would have you believe that our recent protests in Kanehsatà:ke are really about divisions and not about a 300 year old land dispute. Deceitful and negligent public statements by the Mayor of Oka and the leader of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake tangled in with the silence of Canada and Quebec on this dispute have threatened the safety and well-being of the Kanien’kehá:ka land defenders in Kanehsatà:ke.
Addressing the long standing historical land dispute for the people of Kanehsatà:ke has always been mired by the interference of Church through the Seminary of St. Sulpice and state with the goal of domination over “Indian lands”.
The history of Kanehsatà:ke is rife with colonial violence and the conspiracy of Church and state to defraud Kanien’kehá:ka of their rightful lands for 300 years. It is a history very different from other Indigenous communities as Kanehsatà:ke was occupied in 1721 by the aristocratic Seminary of St. Sulpice, blue bloods from France who were business men more than Christian missionaries. These Sulpician priests were able to hire their own security, or bullies as people of the time called them, to coerce, harass and kill the Onkwehón:we living in Kanehsatà:ke. However, history is long and difficult to convey in this article but it is important to mention who the culprits are in the complicated story of the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kanehsatà:ke.
Canadian laws were created to justify the violent land theft committed by the state against Indigenous peoples. Laws enacted professed protection and the promotion of Indigenous peoples were actually for the sake of the colonizers’ prosperity and empire building. These laws criminalized the sovereignty and identity of Indigenous peoples; traditional customs and ceremonies such asthe potlatch ceremonies; Indigenous languages (education policies in IRS) and delegitimizing traditional governments of Indigenous peoples like the Rotinonhseshá:ka – the people of the Longhouse of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
But Canada has never relented on their colonial agenda of land theft and has handily used the age old adage of ‘divide and conquer’ to continue its land dispossession. In 1920, the Department of Indian Affairs “amended the Indian Act to allow for compulsory enfranchisement and the removal (without consent) of an individual’s Indian status”. They imposed a colonial “governing” structure, the band council system upon all communities of the Iroquois Confederacy, thus criminalizing the Rotinonhseshá:ka – the people of the Longhouse.
This is the Honor of the Crown?
INAC Minister Bennett professed to me several times over the span of a year and half, that she does not know what to do to help our situation in Kanehsatà:ke. But as one of her senior bureaucrats stated in a teleconference call last August 2016, there is too much risk of litigation against Canada if they implement a moratorium on development. And so continues their complicity with the Sulpicians, as does Oka and the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake in their collusion to defraud the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kanehsatà:ke of the thefts of our lands – Confederacy lands which are entrusted to the peoples, under the authority and jurisdiction of the women .
Criminalizing Onkwehón:we peoples who defend their lands and rights to self-determination is part of the colonial formula. The fact that our protests have been peaceful, that there are no weapons, only words and the use of social media to have our voices heard contradicts these colonial actors fraudulent cries of another “Oka Crisis”. The Onkwehón:we land defenders they are criminalizing include elders, youth, students, children and people from the community – families concerned with protecting our lands for future generations.
We are incessantly told by malevolent bureaucrats and politicians from Indian Affairs (Indigenous and Northern Affairs – INAC), that they will only address our land dispute through the band council and when we the people of Kanehsatà:ke speak with one voice; when we work out our differences! Yet it is the norm of Canada to allow land dispossession to continue concurrently while ‘negotiations’ occur leaving us with less land once the ‘negotiations’ finish.
Canada does not care about the loss of Indigenous peoples’ land to development; it does not care that we will have less opportunities to teach the youth about the medicines which grow on those lands; limiting our rights to practice our culture and customs on these rich lands; denying Indigenous peoples their rights to self-determination. So waiting for Canada to do the right thing is not an option for the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kanehsatà:ke, nor is it for the majority of Indigenous peoples in Canada fighting for their rights to self-determination.
But Canada too is divided; we need only look at its relationship with Quebec, or the number political parties elected to Parliament; left vs the right; racists vs moral good. The difference is that for Indigenous peoples, our divisions were created by something more insidious than political ideology; they were created by archaic and genocidal Church Dogma implemented by their loyal servants in the government for the empire, for the colonizers’ economic growth; with the racist superior attitude that Indigenous peoples are expendable as we were considered lesser than human.
Like most countries of the UN, Canada runs like a corporation, and while it appears to be a champion of human rights for everyone, at home it criminalizes Indigenous human rights and land defenders. Criminalization and “bad jacketing” by the colonizers and their turncoats, are the rules of this game. In order to succeed they must deepen divisions in Indigenous communities; finding their own puppets to oppose their own people to push forward their economic agenda thus destroying any chance of present and future generations from having a quality of life or peace.
Another “Oka” Crisis?!
One of the most annoying things I have heard in the past 27 years is the question: “Do you think there will be another Oka Crisis?” It is the first thing we are asked by the media when there is a land protest and is further exploited by those who have never been on the front lines but who pound their chests as defenders of ‘justice’ and whose public statements like “picking up a gun shouldn’t be the first things we do to defend our lands”, threatens the safety of the Indigenous peoples land defenders who are asserting their sovereignty. These kinds of inflammatory statements are made to de-legitimize Land Defenders and disguise the provocateur’s own guilt and betrayal.
The stereotype of the violent gun totting “warrior” image was created 27 years ago, and is alive and well today. There are hhose amongst us who exploit the hardship endured by all Onkwehón:we those 27 years ago, internalize colonialism’s definition of who we are and try to demonstrate that they are the reasonable ones; the ‘moderates’. These inflammatory statements are usually uttered by government collaborators who have never stepped foot on the front lines and who know nothing about the strength and resiliency of our Nations. Internalizing the colonizers definition of who we are as Indigenous peoples does cause our people to be uncomfortable in standing up against the insidious colonial institutions. But that is understandable since history has shown that it is always the state who initiates the violence against Indigenous peoples.
Signs and symptoms
Recently on September 11th, the Municipality of Oka held a public meeting whereby, one person in the development mentioned the mere presence of the symbol of the Iroquois Confederacy flag – the Hiiawatha Belt, was intimidation. Coupled with the “warrior” stereotype created over the last 27 years infers our mere presence at protests is an act of violence or has a potential to be so. If we fly a ‘Warrior flag’ or wear “warrior logo T-shirts” then it is assumed there will be trouble. So for the record here’s what actually happens and it is so formulaic that it is frightening.
As legitimate Indigenous institutions pre-dating European arrival, traditional governments like the Haudenosaunee Confederacy continue to be silence, ignored, criminalized and its citizens forced into conflictual situations that Canada created through its institutionalized racism. Traditional governments are not recognized by Canada and are excluded from any land negotiations and labeled “radicals”, unreasonable, living in the past. Yet it has always been the traditional peoples who have been on the front lines of the movement for protecting our un-ceded lands.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 21, regarding the core obligations of states in the protection of our cultural heritage and resources: …applicable with immediate effect …:
“(e) To allow and encourage the participation of persons belonging to minority groups, indigenous peoples or to other communities in the design and implementation of laws and policies that affect them. In particular, States parties should obtain their free and informed prior consent when the preservation of their cultural resources, especially those associated with their way of life and cultural expression, are at risk.”
Canada continues to insist that the people of Kanehsatà:ke do not have rights to lands, and continues their assumption of authority over our traditional lands. But Canada cannot continue to ignore the realities of the day as their sovereignty is based upon racist doctrines and beliefs. Canada’s silence on resolving this issue and refusing to meet with the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kanehsatà:ke under Kaianera’kó:wa, seems to indicate that they – Canada, are waiting for violence to happen. This way they can state with confidence that they were right all along, that our grievances were illegitimate all along! This is negligent in all aspects of the rule of law and Canada’s international human rights obligations. But rogue states have the money and influence to change history to their advantage.
Canada continues its punitive measures against the people of Kanehsatà:ke for shaming and putting a blemish on their international reputation for being defenders of human rights, during the 1990 Kanehsatà:ke “Oka” Crisis.
But the land dispossession of Indigenous peoples of the Americas has been historical fictions and lies told by the Seminary of Saint Sulpice; condoned by Canadian government propaganda as told to the public. Using archeologists and anthropologist to spin fictional yarns that Kanehsatà:ke was occupied by the disappeared “St. Lawrence Iroquois”. These lies based upon racist ideology and dogma remains the greatest obstacle of why we in Kanehsatà:ke are being silenced and marginalized by Canada who pick and choose who is ‘legitimate’ in their colonial blood stained eyes.
As time progresses without any movement by Canada to place a moratorium on all development on traditional un-ceded Kanien’kehá:ka lands, the unease grows.
Colonialism in Canada can be characterized as just a magic sleight of hand designed to once again, a distraction while their other plans continue. Canada continues to make make assimilation more appealing. Canada, Quebec and other provinces continue their violent assertion of sovereignty over Indigenous peoples’ lands and resources based upon racist Doctrines of Superiority . Reconciliation within governmental efforts is weak at best, as it remains upon the shoulders of the ordinary citizen who must become educated on their peoples’ history of colonization.
Stating that Canada offered money for reconciliation activities does not mean that genuine reconciliation is taking place. Just ask child rights advocates like Cindy Blackstock, or an elder or youth in our communities, or community member in Kanehsatà:ke or any Indigenous communities; do you feel welcome on your traditional territory. Do you still feel discriminated against by Canadian and Quebec society and their laws? If they answer ‘yes’ then we still have lots of work to do and it will be the people who will be the change makers.
Meanwhile, Kanehsatà:ke Land Defenders as will other Haudenosaunee peoples stand to protect our lands, our resources, and our right to self-determination.