Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Politics of Protest - The National Day of Action

As a scholar who sometimes deals with the history of social movements in Canada and who has taught aboriginal history, I've been closely monitoring the build-up to the June 29 National Day of Action being organized by Canada's First Nations. Part of me views this as an academic, who wonders whether the strategy being followed by protestors is a sound one. Part of me views this as a holiday traveller, who planned on driving up to Ottawa on Friday, and is now looking at the possibility of a blockade on the Highway 401.

I can't say that I'm convinced that this strategy is going to produce a constructive response. Certainly, the threat of a major protest, which will shut down holiday traffic, has succeeded in getting a great deal of media attention. In this respect, First Nations' leaders have been quoted about the plight of life on reserves, and thus gained some much-needed attention. What I'm not convinced of, however, is that the negative blow-back from a major obstruction will not overshadow any good will that the media attention may garner. In particular, I'm thinking of the recent train blockade in Eastern Ontario, and the 1990 bridge blockade at Chateauguay, QC. My recollection is that both events spurred a great deal of hostility to the protestors. Was this hostility balanced out by increased sympathy in other quarters, or by sufficient concrete government action to address the concerns of the protestors? That's what I'm not certain about, and currently leaning towards the "no" side, although I'm open to being convinced otherwise.

Another possibility is that the recent rail blockade was a smaller-scale show of force, to make the threat of a larger protest seem viable. Calling off the highway protest in time for holiday traffic to proceed as planned would then make the First Nation at Tyendinaga seem open to dialogue and win greater support. Perhaps that's the plan? Or maybe that's just a little too Machiavellian for Canadian politics...

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At 7:30 am, Blogger g said...

Another way of looking at it is ... perhaps we should be thinking of arrangements that do not require travel across traditional Indigenous land, because our government has defaulted on the treaties that allowed Canada access to that land.

To avoid traveller uncertainty and inconvenience, the government should be negotiating for access. However, our government refuses to follow the Supreme Court ruling ordering it to do so!!

Indigenous people have always avoided inconveniencing us, because we react with ugly racism and government oppression.

They are not concerned about losing our 'sympathy'. They do not need sympathy. They need justice.


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