The following quotations are taken from:
Chris Vance, “Canada and Zapatismo,” from Midnight Notes, Auroras of the Zapatistas: Local and Global Struggles of the Fourth World War. Autonomedia 2001.
“Mohawk 1990: ‘The people lead’
On July 11, 1990, the Quebec Police approached a barricade erected by Mohawk people on the border of the Kanasetake lands. The people’s blockade served to protect their pine forest from a golf-course expansion. Police demanded another male authority. ‘You are talking to our spokesmen,’ replied a Mohawk woman. ‘There is no leader. The people lead,’ a Mohawk man agreed. Within hours the police assaulted the barricade with tear gas and hundreds of bullets, retreating only when they shot down one of their own.
This conflict is typical of first contact encounters as the metropole commands absolute conformity to its rules and the people assert their own different practice. For example, the force which would evolve into the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was established in 1873 to violently destroy trading independent of chartered corporations. Police immediately targeted the extensive circulation of gifts and ceremonial gatherings of people (known on the west coast as potlatches). At that time the Metis (mixed indigenous and French) defended their provisional government in the Red River Valley of the prairies up until 1885 when their leaders were militarily defeated and hanged in the capital city of Ottawa. Similarly, the Mohawk’s own social structures of longhouses and councils of decision-making were outlawed by force of arms in the early 1920s. Many have since revived these traditions.
‘The people lead’ was also a hopeful saying for the entire working class which by 1990 in Canada was forced into job training and welfare wages by the hundreds of thousands. ‘Free’ trade with the United States was restructuring the economy after an election on this issue in which the overall majority voted against the pro-free trade party but enough of that party’s individual candidates for Parliament were elected to form the government. Indeed, a majority of people polled in Canada also supported the Mohawk people but the state’s orders stood for 3,500 soldiers to surround the barricades for 10 days. The land in question is used by Mohawks for ceremonies, especially burials and caring of graves. A neighboring resort town, Oka, was supported by capitalists, politicians, and judges in its effort to expand a golf-course over the pine forest. The basic practice that the land is part of an unceded commons is precisely what the Mohawk could reclaim only through intense struggle. Canada’s gluttony for the labor and lands of the commons is so great that in 1867 it attempted to unilaterally sever the nation-to-nation relation between Britain and the indigenous peoples by proclaiming itself a ‘Dominion’ with power over all people, indigenous and otherwise, delegating provinces to administer the Crown (really common, indigenous) lands. Indigenous victories always involve an effective counter to this enclosure of the commons. The state’s reaction in co-ordination with capital is o negotiate final surrenders of these commons through new treaties between colonial indigenous agents (‘Band’ and ‘Tribal’ leaders), provinces, and the federal government.
The circulation of struggles in 1990 confronted the state with enough pressure to recognize the Mohawk use of the pines. Throughout August and September, tens of thousands of people in the downtowns of many Canadian cities turned banking districts into centers of popular education and noisy agitation. On September 4, in Ontario, anonymous actors brought down five enormous electrical towers. Three days later, in Alberta, Milton Born-With-A-Tooth and other Peigan Lonefighters repelled dozens of armed officers guarding the destruction of the Lonefighters’ diversion of water from an unpopular dam. By September 26, the Mohawks reached an agreement with the state over the pines and crossed their own barricades to face a deflated Canadian Army.” 67-68
Uses of land contrary to colonial expansion and capitalist accumulation are generally suppressed in Canada, occasionally with as much intensity as at the site fo a sundance ceremony in British Columbia in the summer of 1995. The Ts’peten Defenders of the sundance are significantly similar to the Zapatistas. The Defenders presented themselves after years of organizing, demanded recognition of their own territories (‘sovereignty’), and articulated popular opposition to global capitalist planning. Absent from the sundance struggle, however, were Zapatisata-style bases (‘autonomous municipalities’) and a circulation of struggle among various sectors of the working class. Nonetheless, the military attacked each in like fashion, revealing the coercion which rules neoliberalism
Beginning in 1988, various people, mostly indigenous, reclaimed the sundance at annual gatherings on parts of Ts’peten land which the state and capital recognized as a cattle ranch settlement, even though none of the 450,000-acre ranch was ever ceded by the indigenous Shuswap. The sundance subverted the colonial pattenr of settler forts enclosing lands reserved for Indians. Now, a center of indigenous life recreated a commons against the settlement of the area. Before, the chartered corporations assumed ownership of all lands. Now, the sundancers reminded all that the expanse of unceded lands remained their sovereign indigenous territories.
Twenty years before the Ts’peten sundance, the Dene and Inuit fo the far north attempted their own end-run against colonial death on the far northern frontier. A massive oil pipeline in the Mackenzie Valley was proposed to finish off what trading post settlements began only a few generations before. The past and proposed development projects threatened the fertility of common lands and the free movement of hunters and trappers. In unified resistance, dispersed people asserted their livelihoods and thus defeated the pipeline and their frontier status.
Significantly, the course of this struggle the Dene and Inuit specified how their traditions of noncoersion rejected colonial/capitalist development. ‘No one can decide for another person… when working, for instance, a person should not be forced into anything.’ The opposed roles of indigenous/settler continued in and around Ts’peten while their respective leaders forged desperate deals in the face of threatened neoliberal crisis.” 71-72
“The police implemented a ‘smear and disinformation campaign’ as a sergeant then said into a videotape later played in court. They labeled the defenders ‘terrorists’ after seizing weapons from an unrelated group of fishermen and accused the Ts’peten of shooting officers after displaying a fatigued bullet-proof jacket. A corporal said at the time, however, ‘This is not the first time we’ve had to take flak-jacckets to the firing range.’ The police also covered-up their relations with the military, which involved their importing machine guns, 50-caliber barrels, and Armored personnel Carriers. The police even requested the paramilitary Joint Task Force 2, a secretive arm of the Canadian military reportedly experienced in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. A Superintendent warned, ‘Once the APCS come out of the package, there will be a war,’ and the commanding officer noted, ‘There are six har-liners in the camp who will require killing.’
The Canadian military was interrupted by a murder at the Ipperwash park in Ontario. On September 11, an unarmed indigenous protestor, Dudley George, was assassinated by the police charging a barricade defending a burial ground. The police continue to evade even a state investigation, reinforcing how the police are themselves a most tyrannical criminal racket. The specifically racist character of police operations is shown by the fact that 50 percent of those killed by the police since 1980 were indigenous, and the murders of 200 indigenous women since 1969 remain unsolved and under investigated.
Back on Shuswap land, the Ts’peten were attacked once more on September 11 when their supply truck was blown up by a land mine and shot at with tens of thousands of bullets while an indigenous negotiating liaison group drove into the sundance area (one liaison member suffered a heart attack from the explosion). After another week of military harassment, the deenders vacated the sundance ceremony and were arrested.
A useful definition of Zapatismo is the combination of indigenous and other anti-capitalist approaches together creating a common space to assert revolutionary autonomy based on ‘democracy, freedom, justice.’ In Chiapas, an indigenous tradition of ‘command by obeying’ replaced the left strategies of the ‘vanguard’ and ‘foco’ while ‘communities in turn broke with their centuries-old isolation, to comprehend the function of the state under neoliberalism, and to see themselves as part of the world of labor.’ (Lorenzano)” 73-4