A lot of Canadians right now are looking at Ferguson and saying “thank God that doesn’t happen here”. Stop saying that right now. Because, in this country, we’ve got a history that may not involve African Canadians, but there is another group which does have a history of such conflicts. And it dates back to before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.
In more recent history, First Nations people in Canada have had clashes with the police as they protest to demand the same rights that every other Canadian has.
The Oka Crisis
Beginning July 11, 1990, a 78 day armed standoff took place near the town of Oka, Quebec. Between Mohawk residents of Kanesatake, the Quebec provincial police, and the Canadian Armed Forces, Mohawk leaders demanded that developers stop a planned expansion of a golf course on land that had been disputed for over 300 years. Deemed a sacred burial ground, Mohawk people began with peaceful barricades which were met with armed police and soldiers.
The Innu occupation and blockade of the Canadian Air Force/NATO base at Goose Bay, Labrador
Largely started by Innu women to challenge the further dispossession of their territories and the destruction of their land-based way of life by the military industrial complex’s encroachment onto the Innu peoples’ homeland of Nitassinan.
The Lubicon Cree struggle against oil and gas development on their traditional territories in present day Alberta
The Lubicon Cree have been struggling to protect a way of life threatened by intensified capitalist development on their homelands since at least 1939. Over the years, the community has engaged in a number of very public protests to get their message across, including a well-publicized boycott of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics and the associated Glenbow Museum exhibit, The Spirit Sings.
First Nations blockades in British Columbia
Throughout the 1980s, First Nations in B.C. grew extremely frustrated with the painfully slow pace of the federal government’s comprehensive land claims process and the province’s racist refusal to recognize Aboriginal title within its its borders. The result was a decade’s worth of very disruptive blockades, which at its height in 1990 were such a common occurrence that Vancouver newspapers felt the need to publish traffic advisories identifying delays caused by First Nation roadblocks in the province’s interior. Many of the blockades were able to halt resource extraction on Native land for protracted periods of time.
The Algonquins of Barriere Lake
By 1989, the Algonquins of Barrier Lake were embroiled in a struggle to stop clear-cut logging within their traditional territories in present day Quebec because these practices threatened their land and way of life. Under the leadership of customary chief, Jean-Maurice Matchewan, the community used blockades to successfully impede clear-cutting activities affecting their community.
The Temagami First Nation blockades of 1988 and 1989 in present-day Ontario.
The Temagami blockades were set up to protect their nation’s homeland from further encroachment by non-Native development. The blockades of 1988-89 were the most recent assertions of Temagami sovereignty in over a century-long struggle to protect the community’s right to land and freedom from colonial settlement and development.
To the more recent activities of the Idle No More protests, First Nations people in Canada have been met by armed police and military walls. Go back further to 1885 when Louis Riel organized First Nation and Metis people against the federal government when land settled and farmed by Metis settlers was being taken away for the more European settlers the federal government was trying to get in the territory which would eventually become the Province of Saskatchewan. Or years earlier, when Riel began his organized protests that helped usher in the Province of Manitoba.
We live in a country where Aboriginal women don’t grow up with the fear of if they are ever raped but when they are. Aboriginal women suffer and massively disproportionate amount of violence, with the largest perpetrator of that violence being white men. Called a silent genocide, Aboriginal women suffer the most of any violence that is inflicted against First Nation people.
Don’t get me wrong, we have a problem with an anti-black attitude in Canada as well. Alberta has a high number of organized KKK. In 1991, Leo Lachance was shot and killed by Carly Nerland outside a pawn shop in Prince Albert. Nerland, a member of the KKK and lead of the Saskatchewan branch of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian Aryan Nation. There have been white supremest groups in Canada identified with names like Heritage Front and Final Solution.
Almost one hundred years ago, in 1919 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, The Halifax Race Riots began as a group of drunk men with nothing better to do, and ended up with a two day charge of destruction. The targets were mostly Chinese, Jewish, and black owned businesses. Decades later in 1991, a similar event would happen as young black men believed they were targeted by a white bouncer who would not allow them to enter a night club in Halifax.
So we have this problem in Canada. The main difference being it doesn’t happen as often. But it does happen. It may not be as extensive as what is going on in Ferguson right now, but it does happen. We’re on the cusp of something like Ferguson happening in this country with First Nation people. They have been frustrated ever since the Meeche Lake Accords excluded Aboriginal people. They have been frustrated with the lack of protection and the lack of interest in solving the disappearances and murders of Aboriginal women. There is also the racially charged attacks against those people who are identified as being of Middle Eastern ancestry. Ever since 911, these attacks, whether considered verbal or physical, have happened in this country.
So do not look at Ferguson and say “thank God that doesn’t happen here”, because we’re not without blame for our own misgivings.