Monday, 5 September 2011

Aboriginal Issues During the "Culpability Era"

The definition for "cultural relativism" is "the principle that an individual human's beliefs and activities should be understood by others in terms of that individual's own culture" (Wikipedia, August 13, 2011).

The "critical race theory" definition for "white privilege" is "a way of conceptualizing racial inequalities that focuses as much on the advantages that white people accrue from society as on the disadvantages that non-white people experience" (Wiktionary, June 17, 2010).

The definition for "culpability" is "the degree of one's blameworthiness in the commission of a crime or offense" (Wiktionary, August 23, 2011).

People often ask me how I got involved with aboriginal issues in the first place. The truth is that aboriginals and their supporters recruited me to work for them. To make a long story short, some of my family's involvement with native issues (dating back to the 1950s) probably made the recruiters think I was a good candidate to help them with their "cause." In fact, a couple of recruiters actually showed up at one of my former places of employment (in a mainstream institution) and urged me to work for them. Bear in mind, though, that this was back in the 1970s, when there were not as many aboriginals with skill sets that the native organizations needed. I also suspect that, in order to get certain funding, the people in charge had to show that they had qualified people to do the work, so my college diploma and related experience fit the bill for that. In addition, the recruiters wanted me to train native people--something I did a lot of when I worked in this area.

However, I am an opinionated individual, and that fact, combined with my white skin, did not always fit in with the collectivist mindset that operated in these places. In retrospect, I should have left at the first sign of trouble, but two major factors kept me involved. The first was that an aboriginal woman very likely contributed to saving my life in the early 1970s. She died in the early 1980s--far too young and under tragic circumstances. Second, a family member who was very much involved with the aboriginal scene passed away when I was working in the organizations. Both these factors made me feel that I had an obligation to support the aboriginal cause, and this obligation propelled me through about 12 years in the organizations. I now realize that I should have got involved because I was truly motivated, not because I felt I had to.

Up until the late 1980s, I assumed that my problems in this area were because I was an opinionated white who just did not "get it." But the extensive reading and reflection I have done since then have made me understand that the explanation is much more complicated than that. I now realize I was involved in what I will refer to as the Cultural Relativism Era. The proponents of the cultural relativist movement I was part of believed that aboriginal woes could be resolved if natives returned to their traditional ways. I see this era as beginning after the release of the Trudeau government's 1969 White Paper and the aboriginal response: the Red Paper. From the 1970s onwards, aboriginal groups repeatedly asked for and often got more government funding.

The main point of establishing the organizations was to help aboriginals gain greater self-determination, e.g., in relation to land rights and governance. And to a certain extent, greater self-determination has been the result. For instance, I am pleased that the training I did with some aboriginals helped them to further their education and work prospects.

But natives had a lot of cards stacked against them before they even got started setting up their agencies in Canada. I believe many of the resultant problems were based on the rocky relationship that had existed between the races for more than 300 years. One prominent example of this is the 1876 Indian Act, which is still in effect today. Until 1985, Status Indian men could marry non-aboriginal women and the women would gain status, but the same did not hold true for Status aboriginal women marrying non-aboriginals or non-Status Indians. I believe this provision has done a lot of damage to relations between the sexes, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal. When I was working in the organizations, I did not fully understand how the Indian Act system worked, but now that I have had a chance to examine it in more depth, I realize it was very detrimental, particularly to aboriginal/non-aboriginal female relations.

I know from working for many years in mainstream institutions that office politics play a role in workplace dynamics. Let's face it: whenever more than two people get together in a work setting, there are bound to be differences from time to time. But I found the possibilities for conflict were greatly intensified with the race card thrown into the mix.

After I stopped working in the organizations in the late 1980s, I planned to return to the mainstream. But just as I was embarking on my new life path, some politicos dragged me back into the aboriginal fray by publicly spreading false accusations about me. As a result, I was viciously harassed and subjected to the devastating effects of bad medicine--I was used as a sacrificial lamb.

When the worst of the harassment was over, I tried to convince myself that the sacrificial lamb period was behind me. I was also hopeful that people sympathetic to my plight would assist me on my road to healing and reconciliation. But I discovered, after many years of trying, that even aboriginals and their supporters who had been closely associated with me for decades only paid lip service to my desire for justice. I concluded that the doctrine of white privilege was often strictly adhered to in aboriginal country. But it was even more upsetting for me to learn that this doctrine was also firmly ensconced in many academic, religious, and political institutions that I had to deal with for one reason or another. Even though it was usually not expressed in such blatant terms, the underlying message I got was "healing is for aboriginals; white people are just supposed to take it."

The Caledonia crisis, which started in February 2006, and which still reverberates to this day, made me realize that white privilege was not only affecting me, but also other non-aboriginals. I have already covered this topic in my "David Peterson and the Caledonia Crisis" post. I am also alarmed by the fact that the Ontario government's Ipperwash Inquiry Report (2007) paid almost no attention to the concerns of the non-native residents, even though some of these residents made presentations to the inquiry. I think taxpayers deserved more bang for their buck than they got with the $27+ million Ipperwash Inquiry.

I believe the Caledonia crisis (and other native occupations and problems, such as contraband tobacco smuggling) made many members of the public recognize that the governments' appeasement strategies were not working very well. And I contend that this growing awareness signaled the dawn of a new era in 2006, which I will call the Culpability Era.

Tsimshian lawyer and entrepreneur, Calvin Helin's, book Dances With Dependency, was also released in 2006; I believe his book substantially contributed to the move into the Culpability Era. Helin argues that aboriginal welfare dependency should be replaced by "self-reliance." He strongly believes in aboriginal cultural preservation, but he asserts that aboriginals should not be dependent on government funding to make this happen; they should develop alternative sources of revenue, e.g., from natural resources.

Helin believes that certain provisions of the Indian Act give far too much power to the chiefs and council. For example, only the chiefs can elect the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) national chief. Although there have been attempts by some aboriginal spokespeople to change the AFN rules so that voting rights are extended from just the chiefs to band members, (in fact, some have lobbied for voting to be extended to urban aboriginals), none of these attempts have been successful. In the last AFN election in July 2009, John Beaucage ran on a universal voting platform and only received 15 per cent of the vote on the first ballot.

Don Sandberg, a Cree who is president of Nistanan, "Canada's first aboriginal policy think tank," says that aboriginals need more leaders with "education, drive and imagination." He feels the reason why chiefs often vote against necessary reforms is because they are afraid to take risks. I agree with Sandberg's assessment, and I hope a greater number of aboriginals heed his advice.

Although many non-aboriginal Canadians are concerned about the native situation for one reason or another, they often prefer to stick their heads in the sand in the hopes that the situation will improve on its own. And it likely will get better as long as people like Helin and Sandberg continue to speak out. But it will improve a lot more quickly if non-aboriginals, particularly federal, provincial and municipal leaders, start to look at how their own views are contributing to the problem. Citizens can help improve government policies by making their concerns known to their elected representatives.

The outmoded cultural relativism and white privilege doctrines contribute to appeasement strategies that ultimately do not help either side of the equation. If culpability is first established, then constructive solutions are more likely to follow.

Notes

• Both Helin and Sandberg have addressed the fact that intimidation and harassment are sometimes used by aboriginals in positions of power in order to maintain their power base. 

• A colleague recently made me aware of the writings of some aboriginal women who state they have been rebuked by aboriginal males and females if they deviate from the standard positions held by some aboriginal elites.  They have been accused of being sellouts, and have sometimes suffered professionally.

• The above factors could explain why some natives refused to side publicly with me, although I can't be sure. 

For Further Information

Aboriginal Reserve Governance

• Curry, Bill. "Big Influences, Tiny Reserves," Globe and Mail, August 13, 2009 <www.globeandmail.com>

Caledonia Crisis

• Caledonia Victims Project
• Caledonia Wake Up Call
• International Free Press Society-Canada
• Jeff Parkinson
• Voice of Canada

Helin, Calvin

Dances With Dependency. Vancouver: Orca Spirit, 2006.

Ipperwash Situation

• Voice of Canada's "Caledonia and Ipperwash Resources"

Sandberg, Don

• "Wanted: Productive Native Reserves," National Post, October 7, 2010 <www.nationalpost.com>

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Canadian Aboriginal Integration is Better than Assimilation or Parallelism

During a recent walk through my neighbourhood, I took this photo:
It shows the bottom part of a tree that has grown up on both sides of a fence. As you can see, the trunks have determinedly tried to break through the fence, but with minimal success.  In fact, a number of the branches have been sawed off.  The trunks of the same tree on the other side of the fence are growing at an angle, almost like they're trying to avoid the other side's conundrum.

To me, the trunks encased in the fence represent what I consider to be the unreasonable resistance put forward by aboriginal sovereignty advocates who want to separate from Canada. The trunks on the "free" side represent (to me) those natives who want to remain part of Canadian society, either as collectives on reserves, or as individuals or collectives in the urban setting. I remain firmly on the side of those aboriginals who agree that maintaining their Canadian citizenship is a good thing. As I have stated in my previous posts, particularly my "Violence Against Aboriginal Women" and my "Clans and Tribes in the 21st Century" posts, I am very much aware of the many injustices committed against aboriginals over the centuries, but I do not believe that aboriginal sovereignty is a viable or practical solution.

To help bolster my argument, I will be drawing on the work of Alan C. Cairns. He is a University of Waterloo (Ontario) political science professor emeritus who has written two thought-provoking books on aboriginal policy: Citizens Plus (2000) and First Nations and the Canadian State (2005). Both works are highly regarded by many of the people who have read them, although a few aboriginals took exception to some of his conclusions. Nevertheless, the back cover of his Citizens Plus includes an endorsement by Metis historian Olive Patricia Dickason (1920-2011). Suzanne Methot, a Cree writer and editor, also had complimentary things to say about the book in her review for Quill and Quire, March 2000.

The seeds for Cairns's aboriginal views were planted in the 1960s. At that time, he was a senior researcher for an inquiry the federal government held into the Indian situation in Canada.  (Indians are aboriginals who are registered as Status Indians under the terms of the Indian Act.  Status Indians are also sometimes referred to as legal Indians.)  H.B. Hawthorn led the inquiry, and the final report, published in 1966, was widely referred to as the Hawthorn Report. The term "citizens plus" was used in this report to convey the view that Indians were Canadian citizens who had additional rights.

However, the federal government did not follow through on the findings of the Hawthorn Report. Instead, the Trudeau government issued the 1969 White Paper which advocated assimilation of aboriginals into Canadian society. This paper was widely rejected by many of the country's aboriginal leaders. Some of these leaders felt the government should instead implement the Hawthorn Report's recommendation that the federal government's Indian Affairs Branch maintain a national role for the country's Indians. In response to the White Paper, the Indian Chiefs of Alberta issued Citizens Plus (the title employing the same term used by the Hawthorn Commission). As Cairns points out, Citizens Plus (a.k.a. the Red Paper) and other documents put out by aboriginal groups at that time did not recommend that natives separate from Canada. The aboriginals writing these documents clearly saw their people as part of the country's mosaic.

But from the mid-1970s onwards, more and more native groups started to declare themselves as nations. For example, in 1975, five aboriginal tribes in the Northwest Territories issued the Dene Declaration, in which they proclaimed to the world that they were a nation. Then in 1978, the organization changed its name from the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories to the Dene Nation. In 1982, the National Indian Brotherhood, which represents the country's first nations, changed its name to the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). Numerous reserves also added "First Nation" to their names. In addition, many Inuit and Metis groups started referring to themselves as nations. Cairns is correct in observing that the use of the term "nation" has contributed substantially to a change in the way aboriginal and non-aboriginal people discuss their relationship.

In 1987, the federal government failed to win aboriginal approval for the Meech Lake Accord. Then in 1990, a land dispute arose between the Mohawk community of Kanesatake and Oka, Quebec. The Oka crisis lasted for 78 days and resulted in the death of a non-native officer named SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay. Mainly as a result of these two developments, the federal government created the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP). RCAP's mandate was to investigate the situation of Canada's aboriginal people and to make recommendations. The commission started its work in 1991 and released its final report in 1996.  It advocated parallelism, i.e., aboriginals should form a third order of government separate from the non-aboriginal society. Cairns does not agree with the parallelism model proposed by the $58 million commission, and neither do I. As he points out, the RCAP Report spent very little time addressing the concerns of the high percentage of aboriginals living off reserves. It also did not take into account the high rate of intermarriage with non-aboriginals, or the fact that a third of the country's aboriginals do not identify themselves as such in the federal census.

The government's 1997 response to the RCAP Report was entitled Gathering Strength: Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan. Although this action plan acknowledged certain contentious issues addressed in RCAP's recommendations, e.g., the ones relating to the residential schools, it sidestepped endorsement of most of them. Cairns thinks it is a shame that the government did not do more to encourage debate regarding the Report, calling the government's response "an embarrassment." Cairns and I both agree that the parallelism recommendations should not have been acted upon, but we also concur that allowing the RCAP Report to gather dust so quickly was not a good idea either.

Cairns argues there should be a return to the "citizens plus" model, where natives maintain their rights, but also retain their Canadian citizenship. I agree with his position, but with the following caveat: that any rights maintained should be ones that are not going to damage aboriginals or non-aboriginals. In other words, I recommend that there be a selective retention of rights.

Cairns is correct in arguing that both assimilation and parallelism are unacceptable. I agree with him that a middle ground needs to be struck between both extremes, but instead of calling the model "citizens plus," I call it integration.

Here is a photo I took recently at a park near my home:
This is my view of what integration could look like. To me, assimilation is like a garden salad:  only good for a short period of time. Parallelism is like a heavily manicured flower bed that is nice to look at, but a lot of work to maintain (plus it only presents the gardener's aesthetic point of view). Integration allows the flora to do their own thing, but the result is still an intriguing cultural mosaic.

Notes

1. Statistics Canada reported that, in the 2006 census, 60 per cent of first nations people lived off reserve. They count both Status and Non-Status Indians in their first nations statistics. Twenty-two reserves did not participate in this census.

According to a CBC News article, June 12, 2010, 73.7 per cent of Canadian aboriginals (including Metis and Inuit) do not live on reserves and 72.1 per cent of those living off reserve reside in urban areas (based on the 2006 census).

2. I think there needs to be a careful review of some traditional cultural practices relating to bad medicine, the negative treatment of women and violence. I stress that many aboriginals do not practise bad medicine, treat their women badly or engage in violence, but some do. I have already covered this issue in my "Violence Against Aboriginal Women" and my "Clans and Tribes in the 21st Century" posts.

Additional Sources of Information

"Bridging the Divide Between Aboriginal Canadians and the Canadian State," Centre for Research and Information on Canada, June 2001. Web. August 3, 2011 <http://www.library.carleton.ca>. Contains critiques and discussions of Cairns's Citizens Plus book by seven people, including Mohawk Patricia Monture-Angus (d. 2010) who was originally from Six Nations.

Gibson, Gordon. A New Look at Canadian Indian Policy. Calgary: Fraser Institute, 2009. Gibson devotes part of a chapter to Cairns's Citizens Plus.

Turner, Dale. This is Not a Peace Pipe. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 2006. Turner is originally from the Temagami First Nation in Northern Ontario. Book includes a chapter critiquing Cairns's Citizens Plus. Turner believes in the parallelism model, although he has concerns about the RCAP Report.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Violence Against Aboriginal Women

On March 25, 2011, the Canadian House of Commons all-party Standing Committee on the Status of Women tabled Interim Report: Call Into the Night: An Overview of Violence Against Aboriginal Women (the final report should be ready by the fall of 2011).  Hedy Fry (Liberal, B.C.) is the chair of this committee, and Irene Mathyssen (NDP, Ontario) and Tilly O'Neill-Gordon (Conservative, New Brunswick) are the vice-chairs.  The committee traversed the country between April 2010 and February 2011, meeting with reserve, rural and urban stakeholders.  More than 150 witnesses provided testimony.  In her press release regarding the interim report, Fry said the problem was getting worse.

A Statistics Canada report, released May 17, 2011, provides chilling validation of the committee's findings.  In Violent Victimization of Aboriginal Women in the Canadian Provinces, 2009, author Shannon Brennan noted that nearly 67,000 aboriginal women reported they had experienced violence in the previous 12 months.  This represents 47% of aboriginal women, 15 years and older, in the provinces.  (The territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) were not included in this study.)  Aboriginal women were nearly three times as likely to self-report these incidents, as compared to non-aboriginal women.  Males acting alone were primarily responsible for the altercations.

I was saddened to learn the situation remained as bad as this.  More than 30 years ago, I worked in a native organization in which most of the aboriginal women on staff were getting beaten up on a regular basis.  I strongly advised one of my co-workers to leave her abusive male partner, which she eventually did.  However she had to live with a permanent reminder of the failed relationship:  a skeletal disfigurement.

Later I worked in another aboriginal organization in another part of the country.  Aboriginal male partners were victimizing both of my native female co-workers.  The husband of one of them would do things like lock her out of the house in sub-zero weather, and refuse to let her back in for more than an hour--even though she was only wearing her undergarments.  She was under so much strain from the abuse that she would sometimes break down crying at her desk.  I pleaded with her to leave him, but she stayed with him for about another five years.  Fortunately, the other younger co-worker ended her relationship much sooner.

I also learned first hand about the violent rages of some aboriginal men when I was in a relationship with one more than 25 years ago.  I broke off contact with him when he tried to cut off my hand with a knife.  Despite my refusal to have anything more to do with him, he found ways to continue to make my life miserable, e.g., stalking me and manipulating my co-workers.  I did not truly feel safe until I left the area entirely about two years later.  Yes, I know that non-aboriginal men can also be violent, but in my case the only relationship I had that turned violent was with an aboriginal male.  However, I want to stress that I know many aboriginal men are not and have never been violent.

Why does the violence continue to get worse?  I would argue that the constant blaming of forces such as colonization and the residential schools has not helped move the dialogue forward.  Yet many witnesses who presented evidence to the Status of Women committee included these two factors among the main causes.

Don't get me wrong.  I know that colonization and the residential schools have contributed substantially to the dysfunction, but I maintain it is completely unrealistic for some people to insist that all aboriginal misfortune only started when non-aboriginals arrived on this continent.  Numerous missionary and explorer reports indicate that some aboriginal tribes treated their women well, but others did not.  Surely at least some of the negative reports contain a modicum of truth.

There is a Wikipedia article entitled "Gender roles in First Nations and Native American tribes."  I cannot vouch for the accuracy of all of this article, but a lot of it rings true based on what I've read elsewhere or experienced.  If you look at this article, you will see that there were many variations in practice regarding the role of women.  I have no problem with some aboriginals pointing out that gender equality existed among their ancestors, and I think it is fabulous that they have affirmed and retained this practice.  But it is not accurate to give the impression that all aboriginals historically treated their women well.

In 2007, Australian writer Louis Nowra's Bad Dreaming was published.  I have not read the book, but I have read a March 7, 2007 article he wrote for The Australian ("Culture of denial"), that covers some of the same material as his book.  Nowra contends that some of the violence does result from traditional practices that are best forgotten.  Australian anthropologist and linguist Peter Sutton came to the same conclusion in his book The Politics of Suffering (2009).  Some researchers have noted there are similarities between the Australian and Canadian experiences, and I believe this to be the case as well.

Despite my reservations about some aspects of the Status of Women interim report, I do think it contains some important findings that will help move the dialogue in the right direction.  These include:
  • A coordinated, holistic approach is required that will help aboriginal men break the abusive cycle
  • Aboriginal men need support to overcome addictions, mental health and other issues that contribute to their violent behaviour.  Peer support groups initiated and run by aboriginal men have proven to be effective in this regard
A holistic approach involves looking at all sides of the story, including factors that may have contributed to aboriginal dysfunction pre-contact.  It also involves getting to the root causes of why some aboriginal men become violent.  I believe peer support groups can be an excellent way to help men break the abusive cycle, as long as the leaders of these groups do not advocate hatred or violence towards non-aboriginals, and bad medicine is not practised.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Clans and Tribes in the 21st Century

The anthropological definition for "clan" is "a group of people all descended from a common ancestor, in fact or belief" (Wiktionary, January 4, 2011).

The anthropological definition for "tribe" is "a society larger than a band but smaller than a state" (Wiktionary, April 22, 2011).
  
Thesauruses often list "clan" and "tribe" as synonyms of each other.

My maternal Scottish Highlander ancestors moved to Upper Canada in the 1850s. They experienced many hardships before they came here, none of which I would want to experience. I also have no desire to reignite the clan feuds that they eventually discarded in the New World. I am proud of their many outstanding qualities and accomplishments, but I see my lifestyle as constantly growing and evolving, not remaining static in the 19th century.

Nevertheless, I enjoy hearing stories about the different clans that existed among my relatives, and the symbols and tartans associated with them. I also believe that my interest in this helps me more fully appreciate why tribal systems are still placed in high regard by many aboriginal people in Canada.

Without question, Canadian aboriginals have often suffered a painful history, marred by the shameful legacy of the residential schools (although the schools were not all bad, but that's another story). For many years, I worked in aboriginal organizations, and witnessed first hand the difficulties residential school survivors faced because of the loss of their culture. In fact, I helped natives preserve their culture and tribal systems. However, I became increasingly concerned that they were preserving aspects of their culture that I thought they were better off discarding.

I felt the situation went from bad to worse when aboriginal rights were entrenched in the Canadian Constitution in the early 1980s. Entrenchment seemed to give some natives and their supporters the permission to believe that the aboriginal approach should always take precedence--even if there were better alternatives available. If I had known then what I know now, I would have departed from the aboriginal scene at that time. Instead, I remained involved up until the mid-2000s. I had many positive experiences with aboriginals throughout this period, but I felt these experiences were often superficial in nature. This was because I sensed they primarily regarded me as a political tool to help them get where they wanted to be.

It seems to me that some natives have overreacted to the loss of their culture by insisting that every aspect needs to be preserved. Don't get me wrong--many aboriginal practices are absolutely worth preserving--my home is filled with aboriginal art, music and literature that I treasure. But I now realize I was being forced into buying into the argument that all aboriginal cultural practices need to be maintained forever, and any questioning of this was usually labelled as racist.

What I experienced was cultural relativism. This principle contends that an individual's beliefs and customs should be viewed through the lens of that person's own culture. In other words, I was being forced to distrust my gut instinct that some aspects of the process did not result in positive outcomes. Unfortunately, far too many administrators in universities, churches, politics, media and unions have bought into the notion that cultural relativism is the route to go. It most definitely is not.

Just as I do not think it is a good idea for me to reignite the clan warfare of my Scottish ancestors, I also do not think that certain aboriginal tribal customs, such as bad medicine, should be preserved. There are many positive aspects to aboriginal spiritual practices, but bad medicine causes illness or bad luck to befall unsuspecting victims. It has been used on me with devastating consequences. In his book, Bad Medicine (2010), retired Alberta judge John Reilly recounts his own harrowing experiences with this affliction. Although I do not agree with some of the conclusions that Reilly comes to in his book, I am eternally grateful to him for getting his account published.

Australian anthropologist and linguist Peter Sutton also expresses concerns about bad medicine (he calls it sorcery) in his book The Politics of Suffering (2009). Sutton worked for more than 40 years among the Australian Aborigines, and has come to many of the same conclusions as I have. He laboured long and hard to help Aborigines preserve their culture, but became disillusioned when he saw that welfare dependence and substance abuse were leading to gross dysfunction in many of the outbacks. Aborigine scholar Marcia Langton wrote the foreword to Sutton's book and shares many of his concerns.

All cultures evolve and grow over time. Practices that are deemed counterproductive are discarded in favour of more effective ones. Although it is certainly understandable that many natives want to preserve aspects of their culture that they have lost over the years, I think they should carefully examine whether all of these practices are worth preserving. I contend that some aboriginal leaders would be better off concentrating on what will help their people move forward into the 21st century, rather than clinging to methods and ways that may be holding them back--and that may be causing unnecessary friction with non-aboriginals.

Monday, 4 April 2011

David Peterson and the Caledonia Crisis

As a follower of Caledonia Wake Up Call, Jeff Parkinson, Voice of Canada, International Free Press Society – Canada (IFPS-Canada) and related websites, I know about the “No More Nightmares” event, which was sponsored by the Free Thinking Film Society and IFPS-Canada.  It was held on March 22, 2011 at the Library and Archives Canada building in Ottawa.  The event included presentations by Caledonia residents and activists who are concerned about the breakdown in the rule of law in this Southwestern Ontario community.  I would like to comment on two of the presentations that mention the central topic of my post:  David Peterson. 

Marie Trainer was the mayor of Haldimand County (which includes Caledonia) from November 2003 to October 2010.  She was therefore in this position on February 28, 2006 when Six Nations protesters first occupied what was then the Douglas Creek Estates.  She says that during the height of the confrontations between the protesters and Caledonia residents, the following activities took place:

Digging up a main road in Caledonia; burning tires in the middle of a main street; throwing a van over the bridge onto the road below; burning down a bridge in the middle of Caledonia; running over a police officer; taking another 2 police officers hostage; beating up and permanently injuring a developer; holding a former premier hostage for several hours; making residents who live in the area show passports issued by protesters. . . .

The “former premier” referred to is David Peterson, who was Ontario premier from 1985 to 1990.  Peterson was also the “provincial lead” negotiator for the Ontario government during the Caledonia crisis, April 29 to June 5, 2006.  During this period he held 13 meetings with Six Nations and other “stakeholders.”  These meetings led to the May 23, 2006 removal of the barricades that had been placed on Argyle Street.

Although many saw the removal of the barricades as a positive step, people on the Sixth Line of Caledonia knew that the crisis was far from over.  Some of these residents expressed concerns about the deals that Ontario government officials had made with the protesters in order to secure the removal.  One of these deals was to not have Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) policing on the Sixth Line from April 20, 2006 onwards.  In fact, policing was not restored until around March 2010.

One of the Sixth Line residents who spoke out about the problems was a teenager named Pam Dudych.  The Ottawa event included a video that was filmed on April 17, 2007, when Dudych attended a Queen's Park rally organized by Caledonia activists, including Gary McHale, Merlyn Kinrade, Jeff Parkinson and Mark Vandermaas.  At the end of Dudych’s presentation, she says:

People on the 6th line have not had a good night’s sleep for over a year now!!! That’s sad!  This is why we need your help!  I’m 14 years old and I will fight with as much power as I have to get police and justice back on my road!  I know Mr. Peterson made the mistake of taking it away and it’s sad when he can’t fix his own mistakes and that I am, a 14 year old girl trying!

Obviously Dudych felt that Peterson played a role in her distress.  I don’t know enough about the goings on behind the scenes to say what role exactly Peterson may have taken in the removal of policing, but certainly Dudych was not alone in feeling he was at least partly responsible.

On March 31, 2011, I had a telephone conversation with Marie Trainer, and she said she thought there was media coverage of Peterson being taken hostage by the protesters.  She said it occurred on Argyle Street South before the barricades were taken down.  I have not been able to find the media coverage for this, so if any readers of this post can fill me in, please do so.  However, I do not think it’s surprising that this could have occurred since Peterson himself reportedly described one particularly wrenching time in the conflict as, “the day the Devil threw a party and everybody came.”

Although I have had many positive experiences with aboriginals, I have also been intimidated and harassed by some of them for what I consider to be completely unfounded reasons—I was used as a sacrificial lamb.  Therefore, I can well imagine it must have been very upsetting for Peterson to be held hostage for hours.  Did this incident contribute to his making concessions to the protesters that maybe he should not have made?

I am old enough to remember Peterson’s often less than successful relations with aboriginals during his term as premier.  He alienated various native groups across Ontario, particularly when they concluded that he had failed to live up to promises he had made to them regarding the Meech Lake Accord.  In fact, in June 1990, one aboriginal leader said Peterson had betrayed the country’s native people.  Mind you, aboriginal issues were a contentious matter throughout most of Peterson’s tenure, e.g., the Oka crisis.  Nevertheless, it seems to me that Peterson has gone from alienating the aboriginals when he was premier, to being overly accommodating when he was involved with the 2006 Caledonia negotiations.  He has been quoted several times as saying he views the Caledonia situation as “heartbreaking.”  But saying it’s heartbreaking is not good enough for me.

Some people have accused the Caledonia activists of stirring up trouble because they have asked for apologies from Six Nations, the OPP and the Ontario government.  But I completely agree these apologies are needed.  For years I tried to set up a healing circle regarding the harassment and intimidation I experienced, and was astounded by the runaround I got.  Although some aboriginals showed concern about what happened to me, they still would not follow through and help me bring about this healing circle.  I can personally identify with the distress being experienced by many Caledonia residents because they have not experienced the closure they deserve. 

This lack of accountability contributes to a breakdown in trust that does not help either the people of Caledonia or Six Nations to move forward.  The bottom line is, if there are no official apologies, then who’s to say it won’t happen again?  I advise all federal, provincial and municipal officials to bear this in mind the next time they are at the negotiating table.

• Helpless by Blatchford.  ‘No More Nightmares.’

• International Free Press Society – Canada.  Caledonia:  No More Nightmares.

• Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.  Land Claims/Haudenosaunee/Six Nations  Haldimand Tract Negotiations.  Background. 

• Voice of Canada.  Caledonia’s Youngest Hero:  14 year old Pam ‘Dancer’ Dudych.

• Jeff Parkinson.  Featured Video:  Pam ‘Dancer’ Dudych at Queen’s Park.