15 October 2006

Caledonia, Ontario: Beware the Big Bad Indian

Several months ago I watched a CBC News television report of a protest by non-Native residents of Caledonia, Ontario, where Six Nations protesters have reclaimed land that they insist, and eagerly demonstrate, was illegally usurped. In that report, a young blonde woman, veins bulging on her throat, rose over the other non-Native protesters to scream that the Natives were "terrorists" and that her children were afraid whenever they drove past the Natives.

The immediate question that came to mind was: "Lady, what kind of racist rubbish are you teaching your children?" Why are three Mohawks carrying placards the new definition of terrorism now? Is it the old prejudice that when Natives gather "trouble's a brewin' "?

Such gratuitous prejudice did not end with one speaker, of course, after all this is "Canada" and fools roam in herds over our vast open spaces. Once again, the CBC reports the following in its
latest article from the scene: "VanSickle, who said her elementary-school children are afraid to be home alone, also took aim at Prime Minister Stephen Harper for engaging in negotiations with the Six Nations while Caledonia is 'held hostage.' " Afraid to be home alone? As a parent, what has she done to assuage what hopefully is only the irrational fear of a child...or has this irrational fear been taught to the children by the mother? Held "hostage"? Why are such images, accusations and bogey men dredged up in Canada whenever protesters lack the deathly pallor that has been associated with "civilization"? I suppose that I have just answered my own question.

The question that does remain for me is this: how can one live as a "Canadian" citizen without feeling a deep sense of shame and anger over the obvious failure of our school system to raise our compatriots from the gutters of nineteenth-century European racism? One possible answer, for some anyway, has been to pretend that Canadians are a fundamentally just and even handed people, "unlike Americans." This has been a useful lie some of us have told ourselves for some years now, using George Bush as a convenient foil. That lie had to wear off, as soon as we woke up to realize that we too have secret detentions, that Muslims are targeted for surveillance and abuse in the streets, that our newspapers have frontpage stories linking immigration with terror plots, and that our troops are fighting a pointless dirty war in Afghanistan.

I admit that I have been much more polemical in my writings than in the past on this blog. What has not changed is my belief that the way "Canada" acts toward indigenous peoples is symptomatic of a much larger web of domestic and international social relations and cultural politics that remain fundamentally colonial in nature.

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