“The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on 21 March. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid “pass laws”. Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. The massacre in Sharpeville represents a much wider tragedy: we mark its anniversary to remember also the millions of people around the world who are still, today, victims of racism and racial discrimination.”
– Ms. Navi Pillay,
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
In resistance to colonialism and white dominated control of the land and people, Indigenous Africans formed the South African Native National Congress in 1912, later renamed the African National Congress (ANC). In 1960 when the South African Nationalist party outlawed the ANC it became designated as a terrorist organization. Canada and the United States both had the ANC and its leaders listed as terrorists. It was not until 2008 that Nelson Mandela, fifteen years after he won the Noble Peace Prize, and other ANC officials were removed from the terrorist list in the United States.
Akin to the ways Indigenous resistance is and has been described as terrorist in Canada, Black resistance against the apartheid regime in South Africa was also deemed as terrorist and as a threat to the state and white South Africans. Like Canada, South Africa was a white settler state created through a process of the colonization of Indigenous peoples and lands. In fact Canadian and South African officials shared colonial techniques. In the early 1900s South African officials came to Canada several times to study the colonial and reserve system set out in the Indian Act. Borrowing what they needed from these approaches, South African officials returned to implant these highly racist tools in their own systems of segregation and apartheid.
Within colonial states governments always actively criminalize and punish Indigenous resistance. This was true in South Africa prior to decolonization (for example Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for twenty-seven years), and continues to be the case in Canada. As in apartheid South Africa, the rampant criminalization of Indigenous people in Canada is not confined to heightened periods of resistance but is an everyday phenomenon. Just as prisons became filled with Black men in post-bellum United States, today prisons are described as the new residential school system for Native youth. In provinces such as Saskatchewan, 80% of prisoners are Indigenous. If you are Native in the borders defined as Canada, you are ten times more likely to be imprisoned, though you represent approximately 4% of the population.
Often in colonial and racist regimes, those who gain privilege and power from it fight to keep the order in place. Like those who condoned the Sharpeville massacre in the 1960s by blaming it on the inherent violence and terrorism of the protestors, today in Canada there are groups who condone the violence against and the killing of Indigenous people who protest the erosion of their rights. For example, when unarmed Ojibwa protestor Dudley George was shot and killed by OPP officer Kenneth Deane during the Ipperwash standoff, white local residents from the group ONFIRE gathered outside the courthouse on the first day of Deane’s trial proclaiming their support for the OPP and the officer who had shot and killed an unarmed man. Today the former president of ONFIRE currently organizes with McHale led groups, calling for the state to increase its repression of Indigenous resistance from the people of Six Nations.
While right-wing groups sometimes call for the end to Canadian Apartheid, they do so in a tricky way. Appropriating an ‘anti-racist’ or ‘equality for all’ framework they call for an end to the Indian Act and reserves. While this may seem at first an ‘anti-racist’ or ‘pro-equality’ stance, what these groups are calling for is the elimination of Aboriginal rights and rights to land. Basically they uphold an old and well established doctrine of assimilation, or cultural genocide, similar to Trudeau’s white paper of 1960.
Whether they admit it or not the activities of McHale and his followers increases the level of violence that can be “acceptably” directed against all Indigenous land defenders who ‘dare’ to resist the ongoing colonization of their lives and lands, as did Native Africans in South Africa. For McHale, and those who follow him, the alarming rates of Indigenous criminalization represents an under-enforcement of the law, he wants to see even bigger numbers. That they now attempt to call themselves “anti-racist” is a complete misrepresentation, an absolutely egregious appropriation that is an insult to the history and the purpose of the International Day for the Elimination of Racism. It is an insult to all Indigenous peoples and peoples of colour who continue to live, die, survive and resist under racist regimes. Trying to uphold white racial privilege and “White Man’s rights” to colonize is not anti-racist.
While there are groups who attempt to increase violence, racism and tension in this situation, others, who are committed to the principles of anti-racism and who are committed to living in peace with each other, are working in solidarity with Six Nations and all those affected by land claims and the government’s unwillingness to rectify centuries old injustices. Unlike tactics that promote increased violence, there are dedicated residents of Caledonia and Six Nations, Native and non-Native, who work tirelessly to build understanding, peace and justice.
It is truly a shame that media so often focuses on those who attempt to build violence rather than dismantle it. A shame that the teacher who created a pen-pal program so that 600 children in Six Nations and Caledonia can create friendships and cultivate peace, receives little media attention in comparison to the antics of Gary McHale and his followers. It is a disservice that those individuals who organize events where people come together to create stronger bonds and a sense of community, those who are not interested in making a name for themselves through fear mongering, do not make headlines. Because of the biases built into the media system, people who have worked hard to shatter the “Us” vs. “Them” dynamic, realizing that for the sake of themselves and the generations to come, it is essential to build peace and respect for each other and our world, are rarely covered in the press.
Gary McHale and those who organize with him do not speak for all non-Natives. They actively distort and misrepresent the views and actions of the people of Six Nations, and they use inflammatory language rooted in racist understandings of Indigenous people in the guise of their so called ‘human rights’ activism.
Though rarely reported Six Nations people and Native and non-native people from surrounding areas have come together to oppose the continued destruction of our communal environment, have come together to stand against human rights violations and governmental injustice. We have come together on many occasions to stand for justice, for as Martin Luther King said “ Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
For more information about how you can get involved in positive and proactive activism to overcome the fears, tensions and misrepresentions spread by Gary McHale and his followers, please get in touch with us. We are working to build peace, unity and a real resolution of the underlying issues facing the people of Six Nations and the non-natives living on and off of the Haldimand tract.