Offended by Offence

Caledonia: A glimpse of aboriginal self-government

Over the last two weeks, Christie Blatchford has devoted a number of columns in The Globe and Mail to the fiasco that is known as Caledonia – “Abandoned, unprotected, afraid.  Afghanistan? No.  The Heart of Ontario” (November 21); “A reign of terror, a trail of OPP inaction” (November 20); “A false date, a shotgun fixation, and a fumbled cross-examination (November 19); “Finally, the weak have a voice against the strong” (November 18); “With a shotgun and his dog, he tried to defend his Caledonia home” (November 17); “Two standards of policing failed the residents of Caledonia” (November 14); “A couple terrorized in a ‘war zone’  while police stood by” (November 13); “Government preoccupied with how suit seen by natives” (November 11);  and “Just how sensitive is Canada’s native file?” (November 10). 

In these columns,  Blatchford documents how citizens in the town of Caledonia were terrorized by a group of “Mohawk warriors” who were involved in a land claims dispute with the Ontario government.  The reason for Blatchford’s column is a lawsuit initiated by two residents of Caledonia – Dave Brown and Dana Chatwell – against the Province of Ontario.  Brown and Chatwell are suing the government for $7 million for failing to protect them from various forms of harassment, acts of vandalism, and threats of violence.

While Blatchford justifiably focuses on the plight of Brown and Chatwell, and how their lives have been destroyed by the Ontario Provincial Police’s failure to enforce the law, the case raises wider questions about the realization of demands for aboriginal self-government in Canada.  Rather than being an exceptional set of circumstances, the Caledonia debacle is a logical extension of the irresponsible encouragement of the unrealizable rhetoric of “aboriginal nationalism” and “sovereignty”.

The argument underlying “aboriginal nationalism” and “sovereignty” is that Canadian laws should not apply to native groups.  This is essentially the assumption that “Mohawk warriors” are operating under in Caledonia.  These “warriors” consider themselves to be “sovereign”, and, as a result, have erected barricades, carried out searches, imposed curfews, detained individuals, and issued their own “passports” – actions that are attempting to deny the existence of Canadian law and sovereignty (Canadian passports are recognized throughout the world, unlike Mohawk passports, which will never be pereceived as legitimate by the international community).  The Ontario Provincial Police has essentially accepted this state of affairs because it tacitly recognizes aboriginal self-government.  The combination of the illegitimacy of Canadian law in the eyes of many native groups and political pressure to avoid violent confrontations with aboriginal “warriors” has resulted in lawlessness.

Defenders of the “Mohawk warriors” will probably argue that aboriginal groups have their own laws, and decolonization requires that this aspect of aboriginal culture be “recognized” and “respected”.  What this view fails to acknowledge, however, is that law is not an aspect of traditional tribal cultures.  As was explained in Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry (pp. 115-18), and in my paper “The Political Economy of Aboriginal ‘Customary Law’ (available on this blog’s Aboriginal Policy page), tribal groups are organized according to kinship, not legal rational authority, and this means that it is the will of the most powerful faction that prevails.  No procedures or institutions have evolved to accommodate the different interests of rival factions.  Liberal democratic principles such as equality under the law and the protection of individual rights and freedoms do not exist in tribal societies. 

As most of the residents of Caledonia are not related by blood or marriage to the Mohawks of the “Six Nations”, there is no mechanism, or will, to ensure that they will be treated equitably under any regime of aboriginal self-government.  If the claims of “aboriginal nationalism” and “sovereignty” are accepted in the rest of the country, similar catastrophic consequences are inevitable.

11 thoughts on “Caledonia: A glimpse of aboriginal self-government

  1. A note and apology to readers of my Dec 1/09 comment above, I mistakenly included the final bracket ‘)’ in the URLs for some references. If a reference will not load, please remove the bracket at the end of the URL.

    Also, I neglected to include a reference for the smear campaign by the OPP and Commissioner Fantino against non-native activists. Please see this Small Claim Court document:

    Again, apologies. Mark

  2. You are clearly full of crap. To imply or suggest that aboriginal culture doesn’t include law or a means to enforce it shows clearly that you are missing the facts.

    Consequently I hereby suggest you to shut up until you have gained a real and indepth look at tribal culture and actually know what you are talking about.

  3. RP follows the usual course of action for the idea impoverished. He refers me “missing the facts”, but provides no evidence as to what these “facts” are. It appears that RP’s reaction is due more to wishful thinking than actual analysis. I would suggest that he read “The Political Economy of ‘Aboriginal Customary Law'” on my Aboriginal Policy page before he embarrasses himself further.

  4. I have discuyssed the general topic of Indian self government for years and, if I may be permitted, would like to provide a fw comments relating to that issue.

    Mark D. Walters, in an article (actually part of his Doctoral Thesis) entitled, Mohegan Indians v. Connecticut, stated:-

    (…) In contrast to the inclusive theory of continuity, it may be argued, as American courts and jurists have done, that although the principle of continuity applied to British (and later American)-Indian relations, it provided not only that conquest/cession did not, by itself, affect native law and government, but that conquest/cession did not “by itself affect the internal sovereignty of the tribe – that, regardless of the express terms of treaties with Britain, native nations remained, in a sense, foreign nations, and native laws remained foreign laws, cognizable in British (or American) courts only under principles of private international law. This application of the principle of continuity recognizes Aboriginal nations as having a non international sovereign status and leaves native customs and government excluded from British (or American) law and sovereignty.

    Mohegan Indians v. Connecticut (1705-1773) And The Legal Status of Aboriginal Customary Laws and Government in British North America,
    Osgoode Hall Law Journal, Vol 33 No. 4, p. 802

    In similar fashion, speaking of the inherent powers of self government, Jack Woodward in Native Law stated para 2-300:-

    A distinction must be drawn between the system of band government established under the Indian Act, and the inherent powers of self government that derive from pre sovereignty systems of social organization. In dismissing a challenge to the self-government provisions in the Nisga’a Treaty, the B.C. Supreme Court has held that an aboriginal right to inherent self-government continues to exist and is protected under s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, notwithstanding the assertions of British sovereignty. The right of self-government is not displaced by the Constitution Act, 1867’s grant of legislative powers to the federal and provincial governments, and where established, can include the power to make laws that prevail over federal and provincial laws (emphasis is mine).

    I think it lcear, therefore, that, prior to makin comment on this admittedly complicated topic, one would be well advised to read some case law.Personally opinion, of course, has its place but should, hwere possible, be backed up with something more substantial.

    Happy New Years All

  5. In 1701, twenty chiefs from the Five (later Six) Nations Iroquois Confederacy surrendered all of the land they said they had conquered to the British Crown according to the Nanfan Treaty.

    They said that land was their beaver hunting grounds and it included the land in what is now southwestern Ontario.

    In 1763, King George III of Britain issued a Royal Proclamation, which defined Indian Territory in North America and took “Sovereignty, Protection and Dominion” over Indian Territory.

    Indian Territory included the land in what is now southwestern Ontario.

    Aboriginals in North America, including the Six Nations Iroquois, seemed to like the 1763 Royal Proclamation. The Royal Proclamation is now mentioned in the 1982 Canadian Constitution Act and Six Nations people frequently refer to the 1763 Royal Proclamation today.

    On May 22, 1784, Governor Haldimand purchased the land along the Grand River in what is now southwestern Ontario from the Mississauga Indians. At that point, the land surely became British Crown land.

    After Haldimand had purchased the land for the British Crown, Haldimand issued an announcement on October 22, 1784, which allowed the Mohawks and others of the Six Nations to move from what is now New York State to enter, occupy and use Crown land along the Grand River in what was then the British province of Quebec, now southwestern Ontario.

    Haldimand made some mistakes. First, Haldimand applied his own personal seal to the document and not the Great Seal of the Province of Quebec. That suggests the transaction was not approved by the Executive (Privy) Council. Second, Haldimand allowed Brant and his followers to occupy land at the north end of the Grand River that the British had not yet purchased from the Mississauga Indians.

    To correct Haldimand’s mistakes, Governor Simcoe issued in 1793 a letter patent, which allowed the Six Nations to occupy a strip of land six miles wide on each side of the Grand River from its mouth at Lake Erie to the northern boundary of the land the British had actually purchased from the Mississauga Indians on May 22, 1784. That northern boundary is at the north end of the Nichol block just north of the present-day town of Elora, Ontario.

    The Simcoe Patent was again a unilateral announcement from an agent of the Crown. It was not signed by any Six Nations person and it was not treaty. It was basically a deed to land from the Governor and it did receive the Great Seal.

    Nevertheless, Mohawk leader Joseph Brant and the Six Nations chiefs refused to accept the Simcoe Patent (deed). In fact, in an address to William Claus from Indian Affairs on November 24, 1796, Joseph Brant said “it does not appear from this grant we are entitled to call these lands our own”. Brant also said “of this Deed we could not accept”.

    Tte Six Nations did not take hold of the Simcoe Patent (deed). The original is now stored at library and Archives Canada.

    So, please explain to me how the Six Nations of the Grand River can have sovereignty over land along the Grand River they surrendered to the British Crown in 1701, over land over which the Crown claimed “Sovereignty’ according to the Royal Procalmation in 1763, over land the Crown bought from the Mississauga Indians in May 1784 and over land for which the Six Nations did not receive title and did accept title.

    And, even if the Six Nations had accepted title to some land along the Grand River, why would they have any more sovereignty over that land than any other person who receives a deed and title to land from the Crown?

  6. “(Canadian passports are recognized throughout the world, unlike Mohawk passports, which will never be pereceived as legitimate by the international community)”

    Ms Widdowson hasn’t checked her facts: Haudenosaunee Confederacy membership cards are accepted as passports by several countries and are used, for example, for travel to the UN. The Confederacy spans the CAN/US border and the US accepts them at the border , but Canada does not upon return.(!)

    In a TV panel discussion, it became clear that Ms Widdowson’s has a spiritual objection to Indigenous sovereignty: Since she has no religion/spirituality, why should she accept Indigenous spiritual connection to the land as law?

    She doesn’t have to accept the law … but it’s still there.

    Indigenous sovereignty is the reason Native men could not be conscripted during 2 world wars … but they volunteered as often as others.

    Ms Widdowson has opinions with no foundation, and she identifies with the right wing reactionary anti-intellectual crowd who attract neo-nazi/white supremacist sympathizers like this fellow from Sask.: [link deleted]
    “Whites are a distinct branch of humanity with a unique culture and history, and for this reason we should promote our interests, self-preservation, and autonomy. The Massive flooding of non white immigrants will result in the destruction of our uniqueness, therefore causing our genocide.”

    Ms Widdowson is welcome to their company, but no one should confuse her with an academic.

  7. Whether or not the U.S. or Canada accepts the passports concerns Canadian and American sovereignty, not “indigenous sovereignty”. Aboriginal groups do not have a state, and therefore have no capacity to exercise final authority over a population within a defined territory. Many states do not accept the legitimacy of Mohawk “passports” (Cuba, for example). The obvious reason for this is that there is no quality control or mechanism to prevent fake passports from being generated.

    There is no evidence that there is an “Indigenous spiritual connection to the land”, and it certainly is not “the law” (a binding decision, enforced by the state).

    Native men were not conscripted because of Canadian sovereignty, not “indigenous sovereignty”.

    The attempts to link me to a white supremacist group is libelous and offensive. My concern is with learned behaviour that can be changed, not genetic characteristics. I welcome the integration and intermarriage of aboriginal people with non-aboriginal people, so that all people can contribute meaningfully to humanity as a whole and share the benefits that come from increased cooperation.

    If one is really concerned about arguments with racist assumptions in Canada today, the attempts by certain Mohawks and Cree to maintain their “purity” by discouraging intermarriage with non-Mohawks and non-Cree should be the focus.

  8. There is no such thing as “inherent powers of self-government”. This is a religious idea that is not supported by evidence. Is this something that you accept? If so, why?

    It is my opinion that all the decisions made by the courts “recognizing and affirming” aboriginal rights (these are constitutional rights, not inherent rights) are an attempt to avoid dealing with the conflicts that inevitably arise when tribal societies (organized according to custom) are incorporated into modern nation-states that operate according to the rule of law. It is possible that these flawed decisions will have to be dealt with by amending the constitution.

  9. Re Conscription … hunh?
    I don’t think so!
    Indigenous people serve as allies, but cannot be conscri pted by Canada.
    It will never be as simple as ‘making them just Canadians’ unless they choose to, because no country can impose citizenship. After 500 years, they haven’t yet chosen to give up their Aboriginal rights despite sustained and horrific coercion, so I doubt you will do it.
    Policy must conform to law.

  10. Countries can impose citizenship; they do so every day. Aboriginal people already are Canadian citizens, whether they want to be or not. Furthermore, I am not trying to “do” anything. I am just trying to expose the irrationality of various claims to “indigenous nationalism” and “inherent rights”. It does not make sense to pursue a course of action that cannot be achieved.

Comments are closed.