Blockade

In her 1993 documentary film “Blockade,” Vancouver film maker Nettie Wild chronicles a 15 months period in 1992 when members of the Gitxsan Eagle Clan staged two blockades against clearcut logging operations on their traditional territory in so-called Northern British Columbia. (The full documentary is available on Youtube here 1). Wild provides intriguing insights into the unfolding interpersonal dynamics around the blockades in a small BC town whose primary industry is logging. She documents disputes between two Gitxsan clans – Frog and Eagle – over rights to certain areas. A dispute that is settled as the Gitxsan focus on preventing the local timber company from logging a relatively small tract of land as they push the government of BC to acknowledge their traditional rights on the land. The first blockade stopped the roadway to the logging site, creating tension with local towns folk who rely on the forest industry. There is an altercation when some local non-indigenous youth get drunk and make a half-hearted attempted to burn the blockade. Despite this outburst of aggression, Wild’s interviews also reveal that many settler residents express at least some degree of understanding that what the Gitxsan are doing is related to the very foundation of colonialism and they are right to oppose it. These settlers seemed trapped in a feeling of being helpless to rectify this historic reality, while being economically dependent of an industry and way of life they inherited from their parents. In a few telling interviews resident-loggers describe the destabilizing feeling that comes from having Gitxsan friends whom they hold in very high esteem taking part in the blockade. In Wild’s narrative, it seems that the treacherous emotional landscape finally gives way to a right understanding in which Gitxsan ways of life are recognized. The local logging company capitulates to the Gitxsan demands and puts a halt to their operations, accepting the Eagle clans conditions. There is even a celebration with drumming and celebration as the towns people and the Gitxsan take down the blockade together. And they all lived happily…

The second blockade happens after the local logging company with a heart is bought out by a bigger soulless corporation and logging proceeds. This time, the Gitxsan blockade the CN railway. There are no particularly intimate encounters, the viewer is only shown a frustrated chief on the phone with a deputy minister explaining the situation as the blockade unfolds. Eventually a court injunction is ordered and the RCMP move in and clear the blockade, arresting a number of Gitxsan people. The most compelling emotional interaction caught during this incident, is the somber but respectful exchange between one of the arrested Eagle Clan members and an officer. The men being arrested are not handcuffed and the escorting officer asks the man how long his people have been on this land, “Thirty thousand years” he says. As they walk along the railway track to the awaiting cruisers, the Gitxsan man points out where an ancient burial site is, the office acknowledges the rights of Gitxsan and expresses his hope that things are “moving in the right direction.” As Wild films the men walking down the track, I had an eery sense of where that track was heading, as though each tie was a contingent moment, a necessity pushing into the present.

Watching “Blockade” I was surprised to find myself feeling nostalgic for a time when resistance to obvious wrongs seemed like was still struggle between people who were also human, who could be swayed and could see things differently, who could feel things differently. Twenty three years after the blockades of the logging industry on Gitxsan territory, this tactic is again becoming prominent around the country, only this time the target is not the loggers, but the Petroleum industry driven by the mega extraction projects of the Tar Sands. As production continues to increase, and Harper signs onto long-term free trade agreements in attempt to ensure tar sands exportation for generations to come, Wild’s “Blockade” seems almost quaint. The two Clans resolve their dispute, a logging company voluntarily accept the will of the Gitxsan and stop logging, even the police arresting members of the blockade openly endorse the rights of the Gitxsan to their land. In 2015, the Harper government’s proposed Bill C-51 legislation would qualify many of the actions depicted in Wild’s documentary terrorism 2.

These new times have given rise to new tactics and new strategies. For instance, some important legal gains have been made in regards to recognizing indigenous traditional right to unneeded territory 3. In 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously recognized the Tsilhqot’in peoples traditional right to a 1700 square kilometre area not far from Gitxsan territory. Still, these legal wins are not nearly enough, and so land defenders are again making stands to protect not only indigenous rights to traditional territories, but the survival of vast ecosystems near and far, threatened by fracking, oil spills and ever more cataclysmic climate events caused by global warming.4 For instance, the Unis’ot’en (Frog) clan of the Wet’suwet’en peoples of so-called BC have successfully blockaded lands against the tar sands pipelines by setting up various camps and traditional pit houses on their territories 5. Whereas many of the towns people in Wild’s documentary eventually came around to the reality of the situation, today, millions of Canadians are again finding themselves on the wrong side of history because of the governments actions, and many are beginning to find practical ways to express sustained solidarity with indigenous people in prefiguring a new way of relating both to the land and to one another.

In Wild’s “Blockade” provides examples of how emotional edges can separate people – the different clans, the local loggers. These affective distances can be navigated and common ground can be achieved. It was not until the mega corporations were involved that the force of Canadian sovereignty was deployed through the police, drawing stark legal lines that seemed to leave no room for maneuvering – even though this process was depicted as somewhat genial and non-conflictual (the massive Gustafsen Lake stand-off between the RCMP and Ts’peten land defenders in 1995 reminds us that sovereign violence was never far away) 6. The separation of emotional relatedness and the use of “legitimate” force to securitize corporate agendas is a worrisome progression.

As more new blockades go up and tensions are again mounting, it is clear this isn’t 1992. However, Wild’s depiction of the capacity for people to change their self-interested positions. The capacity of people to change their stance in the face of obvious violations of justice indigenous rights and grotesque violence against the land provides a timely reminder that neither truth nor force are an exclusive property of the corporate-state interests. The guiding and sustaining power of human emotions can help people find new ways of being beyond the dehumanizing rhetoric of fear and the ecocidal greed whose only purpose is to ceaselessly fill the already bloody corporate coffers of colonial capitalism’s cronies.

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0X08WDmnr9o
2.http://www.ipolitics.ca/2015/02/19/everythings-harper-c-51-the-charter-and-the-unmaking-of-canada/
3.http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/supreme-court-s-tsilhqot-in-first-nation-ruling-a-game-changer-for-all-1.2689140
4.http://www.defendersoftheland.org
5.http://unistotencamp.com
6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustafsen_Lake_Standoff

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Obstructing Colonial Capitalism (part 1)

The #Shutdowncanada event took place at significant transportation routes on February 13th 2015. The facebook page called for “communities across Canada to blockade their local railway, port or highway… Don’t buy, don’t fly, no work and keep the kids home from school… The goal is to significantly impact the Canadian economy for a day and demand there be an independent inquiry into the 2000+ cases of missing or murdered indigenous women.” 1 The event was planned in coordination with annual cross-Canada memorial marches for “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” (MMIW) that take place on February 14th. The facebook page dedicated to this event indicated nearly 7000 people were “attending.” Although, by all accounts, the numbers in attendance were much lower.

I won’t wade into the task of picking apart the reasons for the lower turn out, other than to say that the disparity between online support and real-life engagement is an issue activism is constantly grappling with. I think it is important to acknowledge that these events involved the clear naming and symbolic targeting of colonial-capitalism as the primary underlying reality that makes violence against indigenous women acceptable and profitable. That these events have made their way into public discourse, is a powerful indication that this broad antagonism has started to be pinned down, and that people are finding ways of acting against it. Beyond blockading the economic flow that undergirds the colonial-capitalist state, these events also call for greater self-reliance through building community capacity and forming new and healthy alliances. For instance, while calls for a national inquiry have been ignored by the government, families impacted by this violence have started a grass-roots website “It Starts With Us” which includes a community data base that honours women and girls who have been subjected to violence and facilitates community organization.2

This efficacy of grassroots mobilization was clearly on display during the February 14th as memorial marches around Canada which succeeded in bringing attention to the issue of MMIW. Unlike the #Shutdown Canada actions, the memorial marches had broad public support and were in many cases (such as in Winnipeg) facilitated by the local police force.3 As one of the organizers from the Winnipeg event said in her closing address, “this event is not supposed to be a platform” for politics, rather “it is about the families [of MMIW].” This was a powerful reminder that when such events get brought into the mainstream, there is a danger of awkwardly politicizing, and then progressively depoliticizing the lived realities of indigenous people who continue to be directly and violently affected. This was perhaps the significant difference between the #shutdowncanada event and the memorial marches.

By aiming to disrupt the transportation routes needed to support the smooth flow of capitalism, #shutdowncanada events drew attention to the interlinking processes of colonialism and capitalism – an interwoven system of violences that continues evolve and be enacted in new forms. The need to maintain the focus on murdered and missing indigenous women while also confronting the status quo politics of colinal capitalism has generated debated both within indgenous communities and more broadly. For instance, many commentators question whether increased policing or a national inquiry into missing and murdered woman can actually address the actual nature of the ongoing violence. This point was made by Zhaawanongnoodin (Coleen Cardinal) during a recent roundtable of indigenous women leaders published in Rabble.ca,

“The state responding to violence against Indigenous women by ramping up police presence and building more jails perpetuates the cycle of violence. The RCMP already has been identified as being perpetrators of violence towards Indigenous women. Prisons are institutionalizing Indigenous people and have become the new residential school system. The government is going to war on Indigenous people using the police as their enforcers to serve and protect their oil, land, and resource assets. I have only had bad experiences with the police when I need protection. I would hold out on calling the police for help because I feel I am more likely to be subject to racial profiling, assault, or being criminalized or shot by them than being helped.”4

On the other hand, it is because of these persistent grassroots campaigns that MMIW has gradually become an issue that a relatively broad segment of Canada’s population is aware of. This has forced the government to at least acknowledge the issue, although Harper still shrugs it off as something that is not high on his priority list.5 One way in which this issue has forced its way into federal politics is through its influence upon the upcoming roundtable involving the Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt as well the Minister of Labour and the Status of Womenas Kellie Leitch. In the lead up to the February 27th meeting Leitch will have her hands full as she seeks to deal with another social force that is targeting the Canadian economy through stopping the transport of goods. In this case it is the Canadian Pacific Railway Strike. See more on this in the following post.6

1.https://www.facebook.com/events/452509068236441/.
2.http://www.itstartswithus-mmiw.com
3.http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/March-raises-awareness-of-missing-and-murdered-women-291976781.html
4. http://rabble.ca/columnists/2015/02/roundtable-on-gendered-colonial-violence-part-two
5.http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/stephen-harper-s-comments-on-missing-murdered-aboriginal-women-show-lack-of-respect-1.2879154
6.http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/02/15/cp-rail-workers-on-strike-after-talks-fail.html

#SHUTDOWNCANADA – Flows and Interruptions

Next Friday February 13th, a coalition of groups associated with the Idle No More movement is calling for a country-wide action to #ShutdownCanada 1. The online description calls for “communities across Canada to blockade their local railway, port or highway on February 13th. Don’t buy, don’t fly, no work and keep the kids home from school… The goal is to significantly impact the Canadian economy for a day and demand there be an independent inquiry into the 2000+ cases of missing or murdered indigenous women.” At a number of levels #Shutdowncanada is about the importance of, and control over flows in our contemporary society – the flow of capital through infrastructure (roads, pipelines), the flow of information through mainstream and social media and the ability of bodies to flow through different spaces. Since #Shutdown Canada is about disrupting and changing the day-to-day flow of Canadian society, it can also be read in relation to the issues at stake within the Harper government’s proposed anti-terror legislation – Bill C-51. Under this legislation, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) will be given the power to, not only monitor, but also proactively disrupt any “Activity that undermines the security of Canada.” This includes making lists of any persons who may “engage in an act that poses a threat to transportation security” or promotes “interference with critical infrastructure.” (For the full draft legislation see here 2.) Although Harper has relied on a rhetoric that emphasizes the threat of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, many feel that the true targets in this legislation are first nations and environmental groups who present a challenge to the conservatives’ right wing, oil-fueled agenda 3. Here are a few examples of how the #Shutdowncanada and Bill C-51 intersect: 1) Flows of Capital: The #Shutdown Canada action is calling for broad and strategic interruption and blockade of road and rail in order to put economic pressure on the government. A number of key provisions within the anti-terrorism act are aimed at identifying these acts as terroristic and proactively interrupting them and criminalizing those involved through amendments to the Criminal Code (section 83.01 pertaining to terrorism 4.) 2) Flows of Information: There are currently more than seven thousand people who have indicated on Facebook that they will be or may be going to this event. The event has also been publicized in a number of mainstream and alternative new sources. Under the new anti-terrorism act, CSIS would be allowed to proactively seize “propaganda” related to such events, and disrupt any websites or social media platforms which actively promote these types events. This means that organizing platform like Facebook will be monitored and possibly interrupted. It also means that discussions on these forums may be used as evidence of “promoting terrorism” which carries up to a five-year jail sentence under the new legislation 5. 3) Flows of Bodies: The participation of thousands of people in such massive, Canada-wide events is an extremely powerful force that has the capacity to significantly impact the smooth flow of everyday life for millions and force a recognition of demands. Under Bill C-51, individuals will be able to be detained without charges for up to seven days. This capacity to detain particular bodies is also aimed at stopping organizers as well as deterring people from putting their bodies on the line for such issues 6. This is particularly true for immigrants, and under this new legislation provisions have been changed in the “Immigrant and Refugee Safety Act” which further jeopardize their legal status for participating in such events. All of these different type of flows involve highly emotional material – missing and murdered aboriginal women, terrorism, environmental destruction, detention – and these affective flows are of a great deal of importance in determining the success of such events. What narratives these emotions get stuck to is an ongoing struggle over the emotional landscape and legal terrain of the country. 1.https://www.facebook.com/events/452509068236441/ 2.http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/anti-terrorism-powers-what-s-in-the-legislation-1.2937964 3.http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/karl-nerenberg/2015/02/four-reasons-harpers-new-anti-terrorist-legislation-will-alarm 4.http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/page-28.html#docCont 5.http://aptn.ca/news/2015/02/02/first-nation-activists-fear-potential-sting-new-anti-terror-law/ 6.https://www.tworowtimes.com/news/national/will-new-anti-terror-bill-affect-shutdowncanada-first-nations/