Distracted by the on-going "War on Terrorism" south of the border, it seems that we have forgotten about the war on us. Remember that one? The war that was so important in the days before 9.11, the one for the environment, for our homelands and our rights? We may have become total suckers for the news now, and developed a strong collective case of anthrax-envy, but the Twin Towers falling down hasn't stopped the greedy land developers in British Columbia or all those racist white fishermen in New Brunswick. The enemy is still after our lands and our resources, and -- sad but true -- they are winning the fight.
We've turned a blind eye to the armed assaults on Mi'kmaq fishers, the destruction of their property and livelihood by organized mobs and the police harassment of Burnt Church community members. No one seems interested either in the fact that Neskonlith land is being outright stolen to build another white-owned ski resort in the interior of British Columbia, despite young Native people's determined efforts to stop it. We've had little if anything to say about supporting the young women and men defending our land and rights in places like Burnt Church and the Sushwap.
Now more than ever, it seems that our people are scared of being labelled as "radicals", or being linked in some way with "fundamentalists". Grave tones are adopted when people talk about how "the world has changed" as they try to give good reason why they're turning their backs on our young warriors to catch the latest TV talk about the pain and suffering of US firemen and postal workers. Maybe the lies streaming from our television 24-7 have taken effect? Maybe some of you actually do believe that the news is important, and that the US and Canadian governments are in a righteous battle against evil? If that is what you believe, then smack your own face and snap out of it.
The truth is, bin Laden has totally taken the "fun" out of fundamentalism. It's not cool to strike a rebel pose these days, or socially correct to be a trouble-maker anymore. People give you mean looks if you don't wave the flag and give a rah-rah for the troops. I think many of our people are just plain scared to do or say anything that would provoke or make white people mad now that everyone's in a mean mood and the stakes are real. Our most outspoken people are all of a sudden so quiet and complacent. Where have all our strident editorialists and big-mouthed politicians gone? None of our intellectuals or leaders wants to be associated with radical action. Everyone's into statements "supporting the victims of terror", "standing firm with our partners against foreign terrorists", "being sensitive to the pain" or "defending our shared homeland", blah, blah, blah. This is wartime, and people don't want to be a target, so they keep quiet and hope people look the other way, and don't mistake them for a Muslim.
But now more than ever, it is time to stand up for ourselves. The so-called anti-terrorism laws being put forward in the US and Canada are dangerous to our existence. The federal government is manipulating fear and riding a wave of terror to a future of near-dictatorial powers for its police agencies this cannot be good for our people.
Jean Chretien and his little scary smurf of a "justice" minister are proposing a new anti-terrorism law even though there are plenty of laws already on the books against treason, murder, conspiracy, sabotage, hijacking, et cetera. Criminals have been convicted of terrorist activities in the past using existing laws even the former head of the Canadian spy agency has said that CSIS doesn't need more laws to protect Canadians from international terrorists, just more money. So why does the government need special anti-terrorist laws now? I'm not suggesting any conspiracy here: the federal government simply wants to be able to arrest, detain and imprison people who oppose their policies and actions, and they will use mainstream societies' fears and prejudices to undermine civil rights and gain that power. It's simple, really. This is just a convenient time and historical moment to advance that objective.
Did you know that the stupidly named USA PATRIOT law passed last week by the United States Congress allows US authorities to arrest and detain non-citizens with no legal protections? Or that it also allows them to ban non-citizens (including landed immigrants and members of indigenous nations divided by the border) from entering the United States permanently? In putting forward very similar measures on the northern side of the border, the Liberal Party is simply falling in step and following orders from their bosses in Washington.
The new definition of a "terrorist" proposed by the federal government apparently outside of any logic or reason, but definitely on the inside with the right-wing fanatics running the government in the US includes any person who does anything "with the intention of compelling a government to do or to refrain from doing any act". You read that right: anyone who tries to stop the government from doing what it wants to do. And it goes further, as it defines "terrorism" to include acts that are "intended to cause serious interference with or disruption of an essential service, facility or system, whether public or private, other than as a result of lawful advocacy, protest, dissent or stoppage of work". Translated into English, this means that the only forms of protest allowed against government and corporations in Canada are those licensed by the federal government.
You don't want that nuclear waste coming though your hometown? That's extremism. You don't care for that giant garbage dump filled with Torontonians' trash being built next door? That's a radical view. You block a logging road to stop them from cutting down those ancient trees on unsurrendered lands? Terrorist.
Of all the peoples of the world, indigenous peoples surely have the most compelling case for lashing out in a murderous rage. We endure a genocidal occupation of our homelands and a humiliating denial of our existence as nations. Think back only as far as this past summer, just days before 9.11, when all of the world's governments together declared at the UN Conference on Racism in Durban that the only people in the world who do not deserve the protection of human rights law are us, indigenous people. The Irish and the Palestinians have nothing on us so far as rational motives for aggression go.
Yet in spite of it all, we have remained peaceful people, asking only that our rights as human beings be respected; demanding only that we be treated with dignity. Our resistance has been creative and it has been non-violent. We are not cowards who kill innocent people for a political cause. We are so committed to peace that we don't even call for harm to come to the very ones who hurt us and who are occupying our land and benefiting from the degradation of our rights. In our struggle for justice, we have never killed innocent people, embarked on a strategy of destruction, or used violence to advance our cause. Weapons have only ever been used in self-defence, when governments and organized racists have used terror tactics against our people. And even then, our actions have been marked by restraint, discipline and honourable conduct. We are not terrorists.
If terrorism is using violence against innocent people to pursue a political, religious or ideological objective, who is the real terrorist? Ask all the innocent people starved out and abused by police in Kahnawà:ke and Kanesatake in 1990, ask the young people beaten and shot at in Burnt Church this Fall, ask the ones who were at Gustafson Lake, go and ask the relatives of Dudley George in Ontario. They'll tell you what terrorism is, and they'll tell you what a terrorist looks like. I have a bumper sticker on my wall at the office. It has a SWAT policeman all masked-up and decked-out in black, holding a machine gun. The caption reads: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help". Now that's a terrorist.
Forget about anthrax attacks and Muslims bombing your house, Brothers and Sisters those people are not after you and me. That's not our war. The ones we need to be afraid of are doing their dirty business under cover of the rule of law.
Personally, I think the law is an ass; I disagree strongly with the government's policies; and I totally support those people who stand in defence of their lands, lives and homes. I won't stand down from our fight against injustice just because white peoples' nerves have been rattled. But I am non-violent, and I do seek change through peaceful means. I gave up on violent aggression when I quit the US Marines back in 1985 and adopted the Great Law of Peace as my creed. Yet according to George Bush and Jean Chretien, that puts me in the same category as bin Laden and his crazed henchmen.
The way things are going now, it's getting downright dangerous to be an Indian with an opinion and the guts to say it. I might as well just go ahead and change my name to something like Tayak-Azziz Al-Fared, and get used to being a target.
(Distributed with the permission of the author. This editorial is also published in Windspeaker, November 2001)