In the early morning of 21st April, officers from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) attacked a housing development that had been taken over by Mohawk protestors, arresting at least 16. This is just the latest in a long series of attacks by the Canadian state against Native peoples who are tired of nearly five centuries of brutal oppression.
The raid occurred at the Douglas Creek Estates, a new suburban development in the town of Caledonia, located about 100 kilometres southwest of Toronto. The land on which the housing development is being built is some of the most fertile and productive land in North America and has provided the livelihood for the Six Nations for centuries. As has happened across North America, this valuable land is being paved over and destroyed to build more massive homes and big box stores that are typical of the irrational development of suburbia.
The roots of the current dispute centre on a treaty that was signed by British imperialists in the 18th century to thank the Six Nations for their aid in the US Revolutionary War. The British handed over a 20 kilometre-wide strip of land along the Grand River in southern Ontario to the Six Nations. Less than 60 years later, the colonial government was trying to take away that land arguing that the earlier treaty was simply a “licence to occupy the lands” but that legal ownership of the land remained with the Crown (Toronto Star, 21 Apr. 2006).
The modern-day developer, as well as both the federal and provincial governments, claim that the Six Nations’ leaders agreed to give away all title to the land in 1841 and therefore have no claim on the Douglas Creek Estates today. The Six Nations, on the other hand, state that the land was illegally stolen from them by the Crown and that the Crown squandered away any benefits that the Six Nations should have received from the land. The Six Nations launched a land claim in the 1980s and in 1995, proceeded to sue the federal and Ontario governments.
Unfortunately, the experience of the Six Nations is not unique. Ever since the Europeans first arrived in North America, Native peoples have had their land stolen, their way of life destroyed, and have been treated worse than animals. Several international organizations including the United Nations and Amnesty International have condemned the Canadian government for its treatment of indigenous people, going as far as listing Canada as a human rights offender. Many Native people are forced to live on small reserves (usually located on very poor land) which often lack basic sewage or running water. An even greater number now live in the cities where they are persecuted and denied jobs, and far too many are left to die on the streets in the cold Canadian winter.
Throughout the centuries, various levels of government have worked to swindle the First Nations from what was theirs. Almost every single treaty ever signed between Natives and the Crown has been either broken or manipulated over the years. In some provinces like British Columbia and northern Québec, the Crown didn’t even bother with going through the motions of negotiating a treaty and simply moved indigenous people off their land. In the past 40 years, the Canadian state has now had to face dozens of land claims and occupations from Natives who are fighting back against 400 years of manipulation and oppression.
These land claims pose a serious threat to capitalist profits from land development. In British Columbia, for example, various land claims (often overlapping) total to over 100% of the land area in the province. This also includes valuable real estate in the heart of downtown Vancouver. More often, land claims are seen as blocking development, as is the case with the Douglas Creek Estates.
There are several ways in which the capitalists have dealt with these Native “challenges”. In 1924 the Canadian State moved to break up the old matrilineal Native governments and imposed “elected” band councils. These band councils frequently became arbiters between the State and Native people rather than true representatives of the people. Council members often gained an elevated position off the administration of Federal funds and in this way the Canadian State created a class division within Native communities However, many working-class Natives do not feel that these councils represent their interests. As the Toronto Star states, “To many supporters of the hereditary chiefs, the elected councillors are sellouts and usurpers – puppets of the federal government that created them.” (Toronto Star, 22 Apr. 2006) It is important to note that it has been the hereditary chiefs and their supporters that decided to put a halt to further development on their land and not the “elected” council of the Six Nations.
A second way in which capitalists have dealt with First Nations land claims is through brutal state repression. The most infamous example was in 1991 when the Canadian government sent in the army to destroy a Mohawk occupation of a golf course in Oka, QC, an act that was condemned around the world. Particularly notorious in Ontario was Tory Premier Mike Harris’ order to the OPP to “get the fucking Indians” out of Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995. (CBC News, 27 Feb 2006, www.cbc.ca/news) An OPP sniper killed Dudley George, an unarmed Native protestor during that raid. Various media have reported that on 21st April, the OPP assaulted and tasered a number of the Native protesters in Caledonia before throwing them on the ground and violently arresting them.
At the time of writing this article, the standoff in Caledonia has become even tenser. On 24th April, a reactionary gang of non-Natives converged on the protesting members of the Six Nations, shouting racist slogans and demanding that the police or even the military break up the occupation. According to the media, many were incited by comments made by the mayor of Caledonia that the protest was hurting the local economy and that unlike Natives, “Caledonia residents don't automatically have money coming in every month” (CTV News, 25 Apr 2006, www.ctv.ca). Local businesses and the development company have also tried to turn the dispute into one between Natives and non-Natives in Ontario.
The confrontation in Caledonia is over much more than simply the Douglas Creek Estates. It is about the centuries of oppression that Native peoples have faced and the continued marginalization of Native people by capitalists and the Canadian State. Almost immediately following the initial OPP raid, both Natives and non-Natives alike expressed their solidarity with their comrades in Caledonia. Some members of the Six Nations in Québec hung a flag and blocked traffic on a key bridge in Montréal while others set up a barricade along Canada’s busiest rail corridor, disrupting traffic between Toronto and Montréal.
Marxists support the fight of all oppressed peoples to improve their rights and living standards. However, the fight for Native rights cannot be accomplished along racial lines. The First Nations, the Métis, and the Innu only make up about 3% of the population in Canada – a sizeable minority, but not enough to change things alone. As well, Natives are not one homogenous group. As shown by the “elected” council of the Six Nations (and repeated hundreds of times across different indigenous nations in Canada), there is a small minority of Natives that have done very well under the current system. Many of these Native bosses are happy to work with and be co-opted by the Canadian government and the capitalists. For instance, after the OPP raid, Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse and Six Nations Chief David General urged other Native people to stay home and not to travel to Caledonia to support the Six Nations protestors there. (Toronto Star, 21 Apr. 2006)
What is needed now is real solidarity between working-class Natives and non-Natives. Working-class Natives have more in common with working class non-Natives than they do with anybody else. Both groups fight to keep their heads above water financially, both groups face a common enemy of big business that wants to steal Native land or, in nearby Hamilton, steal steelworkers pensions, both groups face a capitalist State that attacks occupations and picket lines alike. The labour movement must initiate a campaign against anti-Native racism, and Natives must reach out and support broad working class demands to undercut the racists that seek to set worker against worker.
It is interesting that the old forms of Six Nations democracy from the period Marxists would describe as “primitive communism” have returned and have been given a class content by working class Natives. The system by which the women elect the chief and consult with the wider community is far more democratic and closer to the people than current bourgeois democracy. Some have described the Six Nations as the “oldest living participatory democracy in the world”. Indeed, the treatment of women by the Six Nations is more just than even in the advanced capitalist countries of the world today. By creating a class division on the reserves the Bourgeois State has created their own gravediggers.
The enemy of the Six Nations and other indigenous people is not the white man but capitalism and the State. As seen in Caledonia, the housing development company is pushing the federal and provincial governments to crush the Six Nations. Failing that, along with other business interests, it is promoting hatred along racial lines. Marxists and working people must unite to fight the bosses and make sure that that the police and armed forces do not attempt to destroy the Six Nations occupation.
No more Okas or Ipperwashes! No more Dudley Georges!
For the unity of Native and non-Native workers!