By Kate Milley
On April 28th, 2010 “An Open Letter Protesting the Presence of Anti-Native “Militia” Leaders at the May 5th Aboriginal Policy Forum” was posted on the GoPetition site. With over 300 hundred signatories, the letter, written by non-native academics, protested Frances Widdowson’s personal invitation of Gary McHale and Mark Vandermaas to the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forum. As the letter accounted, scholars, students and citizens’ were concerned that Widdowson was lending legitimacy to anti-Native agitators and their activities.
Within a period of two days, signatures amounted to nearly two hundred. Upon learning about the letter Frances Widdowson posted “Here we go again” on her blog “Offended by Offence.” The letter she indicated was noteworthy for three reasons: 1- it included ‘misinformation’, 2- a “constant accusation of racism without one shred of evidence being presented.” Including “spurious linkage of McHale and Vandermaas to white supremacists”, 3- “the petition is an outrageous attack on freedom of inquiry within the university.” http://blogs.mtroyal.ca/fwiddowson/2010/04/24/here-we-go-again/
In response to accusations of a “libelous smear campaign” the authors of the letter on the GoPettion site subsequently posted a series of links that outlined evidence of claims made in the open letter. Though Frances Widdowson stated quite clearly on her blog that neither Vandermaas nor McHale were members of any “militia,” a number of links to articles were posted that provided clear evidence that McHale and Vandermaas were intimately involved in the formation and activities of the “Caledonia Militia” a group which after public protest of its founding meeting later renamed itself the “Caledonia Peacekeepers.” While McHale, acting as the media relations for the group, claimed that the initial name was simply a publicity stunt, this switch in name came only after a great deal of negative press and a 200 person strong counter protest outside the founding meeting of the militia.
Nevertheless, given McHale’s knowledge that leading neo-Nazis have attended his rallies, whatever the reason for the name it was IRRESPONSIBLE and the name itself conjured the racist violence of the frontier. Whether “militia” or “Peacekeeper”, what is at issue is the suggestion that a group of white residents should organize themselves to effect citizens arrests of Indigenous people. Whether “within the law” or not McHale has focused his efforts on laying charges through private prosecutions, and has attempted to organize a body of persons to effect arrests all the while heavily critiquing the OPP and laying charges against officers himself. The following is a definition of ‘vigilante’ from the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:
Main Entry: vig·i·lan·te Pronunciation: \ˌvi-jə-ˈlan-tē\
Etymology: Spanish, watchman, guard, from vigilante vigilant, from Latin vigilant-, vigilansDate: 1856
: a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate); broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice
While McHale claims there is two-tier justice against him, as a white man, one can only imagine what the police response would be if a group of Black men started organizing to effect citizens arrests of white people, posted wanted signs of individual OPP officers on their website, and then began laying charges against white people and the police force itself. At the first “militia” meeting, McHale spoke for over an hour instructing those in the audience about how to effect citizens arrest of Indigenous people. While Doug Fleming, the man who announced the formation of the ‘militia’, indicated that the group was not racially motivated it was clearly organized with respect to people at Six Nations asserting their land rights.
Frances Widdowson forcefully decried the letter as an attack on academic freedom, and indicated the letter itself was taken down from the GoPetition site because of “slander.” In fact the letter was removed when go petition advised that they had “received a legal opinion from Mr McHale arguing that contents of the petition constitute defamation in Canada. GoPetition does not offer any opinion as to whether these assertions are legally accurate. However, in these circumstances, we cannot continue to host your petition. Our actions are in no way a commentary on the validity or utility of the contents of your petition, but rather reflect our own internal policies.” Mark Vandermaas soon celebrated this “victory of free speech” and wrote on his blog that “Mr. McHale has captured screen images of the names and comments for ‘future use.’” Though she decried the letter as an attack on academic freedom, there was no response when the voices of over two-hundred academics, scholars and citizens, including Caledonia residents, were silenced in the face of their protest nor threatened with the “future use” of their names by McHale. Despite their attempts to silence, the letter gained over 300 signatories, ten times the amount of people that actually attended the conference. And indeed apparently signatures are still coming in!
On April 25th Mark Vandermaas posted “Native militants & CUPE try to intimidate Mount Royal University into silence re: Caledonia;” alongside the text a picture of the Nuremburg laws were provided. As per usual any protest of McHale and Vandermaas was spun by them into a rampant conspiracy of ‘native terrorists’ and non-native ‘terrorist’ supporters to smear their ‘good name.’ While simply outlining the documented evidence that neo-Nazi and leading white supremacists have attended and advertised their rallies is apparently a smear campaign orchestrated by ‘violent prone Natives’ and their supporters, comparing Six Nations resistance to the KKK or Nazi ideology is according to these men perfectly reasonable—they after all take their inspiration from Dr. King.
What is of interest in both Vandermaas’ and Widdowson’s responses is the fixation on two facts within the letter 1- that McHale and Vandermaas were very involved in the formation of the Caledonia Militia, 2- that neo-Nazis have attended and advertised their events. Their reactions speak to a superficial understanding of racism, wherein racism is understood as belonging solely to KKK style militias and neo-Nazis. Nowhere for example in Widdowson’s post does she make mention of the fact that Vandermaas and McHale readily describe Six Nations people resisting the ongoing theft of their land as “sociopathic,” “evildoers,” “terroristic” or as “organized crime.” And neither McHale nor Vandermaas understood this factual outlining as racist, indeed in Vandermaas’ response he continued to use this language.
According to their logic, to call the Six Nations Men’s Fire an “organized crime group” or to suggest that the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which is the union of most academics in Ontario, support terrorism is not slanderous, or a smear campaign. And even more glaring is that to compare Indigenous people resisting colonialism to the KKK, to go so far as to superimpose a KKK hood on a picture of a Six Nations man—an extremely symbolic act of racist violence, particularly as Indigenous people were lynched by the KKK—is according to McHale and Vandermaas apt and reasonable, whereas the comparison of a group of people organized in a white-backlash movement mobilizing themselves under the banner ‘militia’ to the KKK is a media/left wing/native militant conspiracy.
For further reading on anti-Native movements and white backlash please see:
It seems still neither Vandermaas nor McHale are able to break out of the racial binaries that so haunt their work. The letter was automatically accorded to “Native militants”, despite the fact that the letter was written by non-Native academics. A similar reaction was also seen on March 21st, 2010, when in an attempt to appropriate “ant-racism” and The International Day for the Elimination of Racism in the name of ‘white victimhood,’ 60 non-Native protestors came out to protest his rally. On that day McHale claimed he and his group were threatened by the presence of ‘Native Militants,’ though there were only a handful of Indigenous people present, most of whom were standing back from the main group of protestors. The use of racial binaries is glaring in McHale and Vandermaas’ analysis and rhetoric. It seems so inconceivable to these men that non-Natives would support Indigenous resistance against the ongoing theft of their land, that they are unable to process the reality that those who came to oppose them were non-Native.
To See video and write ups of these events please see:
According to Vandermaas the letter was as an attempt to silence the victims of Caledonia. What is becoming increasingly clear and alarming in their rhetoric is that McHale and Vandermaas have a funny way of conflating themselves with Caledonia. The letter was not written to protest any Caledonian resident, the letter was written to protest the presence of anti-Native activists at an academic forum, neither of whom are from Caledonia. The letter stated in reference to McHale and Vandermaas that “Many Caledonia residents are fed up with their antics, especially those who are working to heal the tensions between Caledonia and Six Nations……We stand for peace and justice in Caledonia and Six Nations, and decry those who attempt to increase violence and tension through inflammatory actions and speech.” It is to be noted that out of those from Caledonia who signed the letter, many made sure that their names were not visible to the public, in order to protect themselves. As one Caledonia resident wrote: “As a resident of Caledonia I can assure you that these people are NOT Caledonia’s National Voice. Out of concern for my family from the intimidation and retaliation these people and their followers wage, I sign “Anonymous”. I encourage ALL peoples of Caledonia and Six Nations to continue to build friendships and understanding. Together through communication we will find the key and “lasting peace” will be our answer.”
Though the letter was taken down because McHale and Vandermaas made a claim that it was defamatory, even after the conference signatures continue to flow in. The conference held on May 5th, 2010 in Calgary was minimally attended (no more than 40 participants, including speakers) and as stated by a Mount Royal professor, many of Widdowson’s colleagues refused to attend the conference because of its content. Several Mount Royal professors and former students added their names to the Letter. Leading scholars from across the north half of Turtle Island added their voices to protest the promulgation of anti-Native colonial logics in an academic setting. More professors added their name to the letter than attended Widdowson’s conference. It was extremely important that the academic community be informed of Frances Widdowson’s personal invitation of these anti-Native leaders to her conference. Most importantly over three hundred people became aware of the anti-Native activities of these men, and it can be assumed that Gary McHale can no longer circulate in national news sources uncritically as a ‘civil rights activist’ without loud and informed dissent.