Before our anti-racist rally, I engaged many of Gary McHale’s supporters in one-on-one conversation. Afterwards, I framed my speech to the anti-racist rally by way of responding to arguments that McHale supporters made to me personally. Here’s how I framed my comments – not word for word but the general ideas.
McHale supporter Argument #1: We can’t negotiate with Six Nations. They have too many groups at the bargaining table. They are not united. They have no coherent bargaining position.
My answer: Interesting argument. However, often when we negotiate, we face situations where the other side doesn’t seem to be all on the same page. I remember the CAW president expressing frustrations on a recent set of major auto talks where he said out loud at one point he didn’t know who he was actually bargaining with. Still, we got a deal. Disunity is an issue for each side to sort out in its own house. If you want to see a really dysfunctional situation, just walk over to the other side of the table and look from the Six Nations sight lines at who’s there from “our” side of the two row wampum – I mean the non-aboriginal side. You have municipal and provincial governments passing the buck on land rights negotiations to the federal gov’t while they press ahead with development on land that is still subject to aboriginal claim. Then the federal government has resolved only one of 29 specific land claims in the Grand River. Then we have groups like the one we protested on Sunday going around saying that they have no intention of ever respecting any aboriginal rights anyhow. So, what is “our” strategy? I would say it looks dysfunctional at best. At worst, it is a pretty cynical exercise to pretend to negotiate while land that has never been surrendered gets taken away, piece by piece.
So, our responsibility on our side of the negotiations and the two row understanding is to demand that our side’s negotiators — the federal government — get serious about making a comprehensive, just and fair settlement of the outstanding land rights of Six Nations, in particular, and First Nations, generally, and that municipal and provincial
governemtns respect aboriginal title.
McHale supporter Argument #2: Look, you’re talking about stuff that happened 200 years ago. Let’s move on.
My answer. Yes, we are talking about stuff like the Haldimand Proclamation (1784) and the Royal Proclamation (1763) that happened a long time ago. A lot of things we cherish come from things that happened a long time ago – things like respect for other people’s property, laws, human rights, constitutions, representative government, right to vote, etc. Not everything that comes from a long time ago has no value. We don’t get up the in the morning, roll out of bed and make it up as we go. If we throw out commitments made more than 200 years ago to people we recognized as nations in their own right, what are we saying about respect for our own rights? The Old Testament didn’t say, “Thou shalt not steal – unless you’re stealing from an Indian.”
McHale Supporter Argument #3 Yes, I am a union member too. I have been on picket lines, but I never broke the law the way these Six Nations people did here in Caledonia. I resent union flags being flown at their protests. And I told my union that.
My answer: Actually, besides picketing, workers have had occasion to have to occupy factories and do things that look pretty similar to a native protest, but the irony is that natives might be trying to block development on land they never legally surrendered which suggests that they might actually own the land they are protesting. It would be nice if we owned the factories we have to occupy from time to time to defend our rights. (Maybe some day we will.)
So, there’s food for thought.
I thoroughly admire the way the Six Nations Solidarity Network conducted itself on Sunday. We poked holes in McHale’s arguments and made fun of a few things but we didn’t insult anyone. It was non-violent resistance at its best. It was education transformed into action. And, it was a tactical victory of sorts. McHale decided to disperse his rally rather than engage us in any debate.
Steve Watson, CAW.