Essays on Indigenous Struggles Offer Both Insight and Oversight

By McCreary, Tyler | Canadian Dimension, Winter 2017 | Go to article overview

Essays on Indigenous Struggles Offer Both Insight and Oversight


McCreary, Tyler, Canadian Dimension


Blockades or Breakthroughs? Aboriginal Peoples Confront the Canadian State

Eds. YALE BELANGE and

WHITNEY LACKENBAUER

McGill-Queen's University Press, 2015

CANADA HAS a long history of Indigenous resistance to colonialism. A geography of Indigenous struggle with the state is invoked by the names Oka, Ipperwash, Gustafsen Lake and Caldeonia. Blockades or Breakthroughs, a new collection edited by Yale Belanger and Whitney Lackenbauer, examines the politics of Indigenous occupations and blockades. The authors examine how Indigenous peoples have used direct action to effect forms of territorial control and press their political demands in Canada.

The book is scholarly in orientation, providing neither a sensationalist nor a celebratory account of Indigenous blockades. The editors examine: the motives informing Indigenous militancy, the evolving state strategies of response, the representation of events in the media, and the ultimate efficacy of direct action as an Indigenous political strategy. Rather than lending itself to an endorsement or censure of direct-action strategies, this book uses case studies to demonstrate the successes and shortcomings of various occupation movements.

While the collection covers prominent flashpoints such as Oka, it is the chapters on lesser-known conflicts that are most insightful. Addressing the 1985 Haida blockade of South Moresby, David Rossiter highlights how a combined environmental-Indigenous campaign led to the creation of a national park. He convincingly argues that establishing a park forwarded environmental concerns without addressing the question of Indigenous territorial authority.

Examining Innu mobilization against low-altitude military flights, Whitney Lackenbauer argues although their direct action failed to address community environmental concerns or advance Indigenous territorial control, it nonetheless fostered a sense of common struggle. Similarly, Sarah King documents how Mi'kmaw efforts to implement an Indigenous-controlled fishery built a sense of common purpose in their struggle against hostile white neighbours and federal fisheries officers.

In contrast to the unity of the Haida, Innu and Mi'kmaw, the book also shows how intra-community conflicts inhibited some campaigns. John Sandlos' review of the 1922 Chippewa occupation of Point Pelee National Park highlights how federal officials used internal divisions within the Indigenous community to dismiss the territorial claims underlying the occupation. Timothy Winegard describes how the Six Nations occupation in Caledonia was mired in community-level conflict and led to escalating settler resistance to the occupation. …

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