Understanding the Colonial Roots of Anti Native Activism

by Nancy April

The actions and words of Gary McHale are deeply rooted in colonial and racist understandings of Native peoples and Canadian history. Caledonia Wake Up Call materials, actions, and rhetoric clearly criminalise Aboriginal assertions of sovereignty. This criminalization trivializes and de-historicizes the very reasons Aboriginal nations across the country are pushed to make these assertions as they confront the continued theft of their land. McHale consciously uses the language of civil and human rights, and his reliance on ‘peaceful activism’ serves to distinguish between those who are civilized and those who are not. So while McHale and followers define the CWUC movement as rooted in peaceful activism, they cast the Six Nations reclamation as terrorist in nature.  This is a racist tactic and a very old colonial justification for violence against Aboriginal people.

In fact Caledonia Wake Up Call, the Caledonia Militia and CANACE are only the newest groups in a long history of anti-Native/anti-sovereignty organizing in Canada. Anti-sovereignty/Anti-Native groups are those groups defined solely or in part by their opposition to Aboriginal sovereignty and treaty rights. These types of groups have existed since the arrival of Europeans on this land. Today these types of groups and organizations often passionately employ language based in civil rights movements, calling for ‘equal rights for all Canadians’ and using the popular slogan ‘one law for all.’ The names of anti-sovereignty organizations also usually “combine patriotic symbols to evoke notions of political fairness and equality.”1 Tracing the history of anti-sovereignty and white supremacist movements Kim Goldberg writes that:

Like other anti-democratic movements before it, the anti-Indian movement cloaks itself in the populist rhetoric of “equality,” “democracy” and “civil rights,” thereby concealing its true agenda and netting a much wider following than it could otherwise obtain. Language becomes so distorted that anti-democratic proponents not only seek to deflect the damning but accurate labels applied to them, they shoot them back at their critics. So it isn’t the opponents of aboriginal self-government who are racist but rather the very concept of self-government along with those who advocate it.2

A report on anti-sovereignty organizing in Canada, entitled “Friends, F.I.R.E., and Aboriginal Rights”, contends the use of the populist slogan “one law for all” by these groups “is an attempt to deny the existence of aboriginal rights, and to undermine federal and provincial governments’ efforts at negotiating modern treaties with First Nations.”3

McHale styles himself as something of a civil rights leader, and categorically denies that he is a racist or white supremacist insisting that his mission promotes non-violent struggle. Alongside their professed commitments to liberal ideologies Caledonia Wake Up Call relies on and elicits highly racist ideas and actions.  While the slogan “One Law for All” began to be used by anti-Native groups in Canada in the early 1990s, it was previously popularized by the KKK in the early 1970s.   Though Gary McHale denounces any connections with overtly white supremacist groups and says he cannot control who shows up at his events, “dozens of open neo-Nazis have participated in events organized by McHale.”4  For example Paul Fromm, active white supremacist leader linked with Heritage Front and well known for his support of Canadian holocaust denier Ernest Zundel, attended one of McHale’s events and actively advertises McHale’s events on neo-nazi web pages.  In fact you can find many active threads positively endorsing McHale led events on explicit white nationalist websites. Although anti-Native movements and organizations may seem extreme, representing a fringe group of society, in both the past and present these groups have held prominent links to the political parties and economic interests that govern Canada.  In fact many of these groups are off shoots of Canadian provincial and federal parties.  McHale and the groups he leads are linked with the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party and have the support of several Conservative MPPs. When both openly white nationalist/neo-Nazi groups and Canadian political leaders begin supporting the same groups/cause, its time we take a closer look at what is happening.

Describing Native reclamations as terrorist in nature and describing Natives as having an absolute willingness to commit crimes, the Caledonia Wake Up Call movement casts Natives as inherently violent and as ultimately savage. In fact this is what some scholars and historians have called the “new improved language of colonialism:”

…in a political climate where the worst accusation is one of anti-democracy, where terrorism lurks around every corner. The implication is that treaty rights are somehow undemocratic. It is the new nomenclature for what old-style colonialism called uncivilized and savage. 5

Caledonia Wake Up Call and its counterparts readily use distinctions between the civilized and the savage.   These groups insist that the human rights of innocent Caledonia residents are being systematically violated by what Gary McHale calls“ the absolute willingness on the part of Native People to commit crimes,”6 and the government’s willingness to allow it. The movement also claims that the government and the police are aiding and abetting terrorism against the very people they were sworn to protect (i.e.:(white) settlers, not Natives). Not only does the movement evoke the ‘war on terror,’ but with references to Armageddon and ‘evil doers,’ they evoke the ultimate battle between good and evil, between the Christian God and Satan.  The movement plainly describes the reclamation and assertions of sovereignty as ‘evil.’ Alongside the calls to stop the ‘terrorists,’ ‘extortionists and ‘criminals,’ are calls to stop the ‘evildoers.’ Describing Native people as inherently violent or as having an absolute willingness to commit violence or an inclination towards evil, is a very old phenomenon in Canada. It stems from the racist belief that prior to European arrival on this land Natives lived in a state of savagery. The idea of savagery is understood an inferior state of being, characterized as being without laws or organization, a being without civilization. This belief is a very common one in Canada, and is part of a story most Canadians are told over and over again—Europeans brought civilization to the “savages” that “roamed” this land.    Gary McHale equates Native reclamations with a descent into lawlessness and as landclaim terrorism, and for him recognizing Aboriginal sovereignty means to welcome savagery as the order of the day. This is a racist idea that at its roots understands the sovereignty of Aboriginal nations as something inferior to Canadian sovereignty. This understanding is rooted in the idea that Aboriginal people are inferior, and their governments do not have the same integrity as Canadian democracy.

Unfortunately Gary McHale’s ideas are not uncommon. Canada has long advocated these kinds of racist ideas and policies of genocide that created the rational for residential schools (the last of which closed less than two decades ago). Those who created, ran and supported residential schools probably did not think themselves racist either, though their actions and the ideas that guided their actions were undeniably racist.  Residential schools were created under the premise that Canada wanted to “civilize” Natives in order that they might participate fully in Canadian/civilized life.  Today much of the same logic is still rampant and is readily used by groups like Caledonia Wake Up Call and CANACE.  Instead of assimilation policies oriented around the mandate to “civilize”, today assimilation proponents use words such as “democracy” and “equality” claiming we should all be equal under one rule of law.  A report on Anti-Native movements produced by the Montana Human Rights Network indicates that:

the anti-Indian movement….in America is as old as the arrival of the first Europeans. For long periods of time, the anti-Indian movement successfully advanced a policy of genocide which was embraced by virtually all social and political institutions in the country. The modern anti-Indian movement advocates the continued elimination not by the murder of individuals, but by the termination of their structures of self-governance, the taking of their resources, and by defining them as part of the “rest of the country” through forced assimilation.7

Genocide, described as forced assimilation, is a key mandate of anti-sovereignty movements and has long defined Canadian policies toward Aboriginal peoples.

Though Gary McHale and those who support his cause claim they are fighting for equality and democracy, trying to protect innocent Canadians and the rule of law, there is a fundamental flaw in the logic of their cause—we do not all belong to the same nation. In fact the very foundation of the Canadian state and its laws come from recognition of Aboriginal sovereignty, as evidenced in the Treaties.  Treaties are the foundation of Canadian law, and so to uphold the rule of law we must as Canadians uphold these treaties.   Treaties and other agreements, like the Two Row Wampum, have been systematically violated by the Canadian government and its citizens. And this is part of what Six Nations are resisting. Six Nations are protesting the continued violation of both their own rule of law and Canada’s very first rule of law.

If as Canadians we want to protect the rule of law, then we must honour our agreements and obligations.  Therefore, if McHale and others are so concerned about the rule of law, they might begin by recognizing Six Nations sovereignty. If these individuals are so concerned about democracy and freedom, they might try to learn something from the diplomacy of the oldest living League of Nations and democracies on earth.  If they are so concerned about the protection of human rights, they might look to United Nations reports that have consistently admonished Canada’s treatment of Aboriginal peoples, the continued expropriation of Native land and the violation of basic human rights.  As Canadians we have decisions to make. Will we continue to support and allow vigilantism, theft and genocide in our names? Or, will we honour and reclaim the first laws of Canada, laws that respect the land and sovereignty of Native nations?


1 Kallen M. Martin. “Under His Authority: Slade Gorton and the New Terminators in Congress.” Native Americas 13.3 (1996): 22-9.

2 Kim Goldberg.“Anti-indian movement on the rise in BC (Delgamuukw decision and Nisga’a treaty).” Canadian Dimension. Winnipeg: Sep 1998. Vol. 32, Iss. 5; pg. 6

3 “Friends, F.I.R.E., and Aboriginal Rights.” Quaker Aboriginal Affairs Committee. (2004):1-7. < http://cfsc.quaker.ca/pages/documents/FIRE-QAAC.pdf&gt;.

4 Tom Keefer. “The Politics of Solidarity: Six Nations, Leadership, and the Settler Left.” Upping the Anti.4 (2007): 107-123., p,115.

5 Neu, Dean and Therrien. Accounting for Genocide: Canada’s Bureaucratic Assault on Aboriginal People. London :Zed Books,2003 p177

6 Gary McHale. “Who are we?” Caledonia Wake Up Call. 14 June 2007 <http://www.caledoniawakeupcall.com/who.html&gt;.

7 “Drumming Up Resentment: The Anti-Indian Movement in Montana.” The Montana Human Rights Network. (2000):1-48. < http://www.mhrn.org/publications/ specialresearchreports/ DrummingUp.pdf>. p.5


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4 responses to “Understanding the Colonial Roots of Anti Native Activism

  1. Hi there that is a very good article. Please visit me at Democracy for First Nations, on face book.

    All the best, take care

  2. May I use you article on my group?

  3. The constitution is not understood or known by most Canadians. Otherwise we would not have people opposing native activism. Native people are an integral part, when it comes to the creation of this country. If there are no founding peoples, than natives Canadians have not existed on this land, therefore it seems rather obvious they are part of the founding peoples.

    So why have a constitution, other than to give rights to those outside the majority? You cannot talk about Canada without its constitution. The constitution if anything recognizes the advantaged and disadvantaged. Rather than have the people play a part in its construction, it has been put together without their input. How can you implement law without confiding with the people?

    And so the majority are up in arms, it seems when ever natives seek any rights, rather than see native activism as a Canadian process, that moreover is all laid out in the constitution, it is often opposed and not accepted. The opposition is put together under the guise of equality, yet it is just about rendering to the majority. There is a majority and a minority, and those rights have to be balanced, one way or another, otherwise the majority would run over the rights of minorities/disadvantaged.
    All of this is fundamental politics, majorities and minorities.

    Democracy was never meant for a homogeneous society, even though many people have attempted to promote the tyranny of the majority. People have twisted things to sound like serving the majority is about equality, and we know not all people are equal.
    Sec 15 in the Constitution says, “ (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law, without discrimination and in particular without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, color religion, sex age or mental or physical disability. (2) Subsection (1) does not preclude (Rule out or close) any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration (to make better) of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”
    Programs, that attempt to bring the disadvantaged into parity and give them a better chance; is of all things constitutional. It is not a blatant attack against equality, like some would have us believe. Rather it is democracy at work where the rights of minorities/disadvantaged are given consideration. The only inequality in Canada is being disadvantaged. Programs as well as laws attest to the inequality in Canada. The FNUC is a prime example of a program meant for parity. It is not a racist construct but it is meant for giving a disadvantaged group a chance at success.

    Democracy is implemented by using the people, the people are central to the government. Yet there are countries that put down the laws and call this a democracy, why because we go to the polls and vote? There is more to a democracy that just that.

    My point is how can Canadians understand their government if they had no part in making the laws. If people knew that minority’s rights are part of a democracy, then maybe it would not have been so hard for them to understand that native people need certain opportunities for parity. But true to the European philosophy of utilitarianism, the majority’s way overshadows the minority’s needs. It’s an injustice that is justified by numbers and nothing more.

    In essence, the constitution was meant to bring us to a maturity as a democratic country.

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