Offended by Offence

Here we go again…

On April 23, 2010, the “Solidarity with Six Nations” posted an open letter “protesting the presence of anti-native ‘militia’ leaders” at the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forum at Mount Royal University on May 5, 2010.  The open letter contains a link to a petition with a few hundred signatures.

The open letter is notable for three reasons.  The first is the misinformation that it contains.  Neither Gary McHale (CANACE), nor Mark Vandermaas (Caledonia Victims Project), is a member of any “militia”.  Also, it is erroneously implied that McHale and Vandermaas were the perpetrators of the violence that occurred in Caledonia.  It is noted that “Mr. McHale was from 2007 to 2010 banned from entering Caledonia due to bail conditions stemming from the eruption of violence…”, but it is not mentioned that it was Six Nations residents who were the perpetrators; McHale and Vandermaas were the victims. If you are curious as to why it was a victim of violence, rather than the perpetrators, who was banned from the community, you are not alone.  Welcome to the bizarre world of “culturally sensitive” policing.

Secondly, there is the constant accusation of racism without one shred of evidence being presented.  The spurious linkage of McHale and Vandermaas to white supremacists is made on the basis that “Paul Fromm, a high profile white supremacist leader, best known for his support of holocaust denier Ernest Zundel, has actively publicized McHale and his events on the neo-nazi website Stormfront. Fromm has been photographed at McHale led events, as have other members of neo-Nazi organizations such as the London, Ontario ‘Northern Alliance’ group”.  But this is the result of the mistaken logic that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”.  Obviously, white supremacists would oppose movements for indigenous sovereignty, as the latter often assert the cultural (racial?) superiority of those who are not “White” (because of the alleged aboriginal “spiritual relationship to the land” and their “covenant with the Creator”).  This, however, is unrelated to McHale and Vandermaas’ criticsm of indigenous sovereignty, which is NOT racially motivated; it is rooted in the LIBERAL value of equality  under the law – something that tribal societies, with their kinship orientation, resist.

This distinction between liberalism and racism is lost on “Solidarity with Six Nations”.  They even imply that my views are tainted by racist assumptions when I argue that “current demands for ‘aboriginal nationalism’ and ‘sovereignty’, because they connect land to ancestry, have more in common with the ideology of Nazi Germany than left-wing ideas”.  So, to point out instances of racist viewpoints is to be racist?  And what about the content of my argument?  Is the attempt by some Mohawks to maintain “cultural purity” by evicting non-Mohawks from their land, and the comments by Chief Wayne Roan of the Ermineskin Band that “the moose and elk do not mate, that is the natural law …Our elders have always said Cree should marry Cree to preserve the culture and way of life” (Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry, p. 107), similar to the doctrines that were expressed in Nazi Germany?  If there are any doubts, these ideas should be compared with some of the more pernicious statements in Mein Kampf.

“Solidary with Six Nations” argues that “we believe that the inclusion of McHale and Vandermaas in a discussion on Aboriginal Policy will serve to normalize racism, aggression, appropriation, and citizen-led militias as tools to solve localized conflicts over Indigenous lands, whereas what is needed is a recognition of Indigenous land rights, nation to nation negotiations and the peaceful settlement of land claims”.  But how can this be determined?  Why is it believed that “recognition of Indigenous land rights, nation to nation negotiations and the peaceful settlement of land claims” is “what is needed”?  How can we know that this will achieve “peace and justice in Caledonia and Six Nations”?  The plea for “nation to nation” negotiations, for example, is based on the erroneous assumption that groups of a few hundred people with no economic base or capacity to assert statehood are “nations” – a fabrication that cannot be challenged because of the Aboriginal Industry’s control over current policy discussions. 

This brings me to the third, and most important, point – that the petition is an outrageous attack on freedom of inquiry within the university.  The same people who correctly opposed the attempts to muzzle speech during Israeli Apartheid Week are now, in an unprincipled fashion, trying to prevent challenging viewpoints being expressed about Caledonia and Ipperwash.  While the analysis of McHale and Vandermaas might be mistaken, none of us has perfect information or a monopoloy on truth.  Therefore, actual scholars should promote the free exchange of ideas to determine how best to proceed with this very complicated and difficult policy area.  Instead of promoting censorship and engaging in unwarranted smear campaigns, advocates for indigenous sovereignty should make their case on the basis of logic and evidence.  With all the accusations of “racism”, “hate”, “white supremacy”, etc., rational thinkers who might question some of the nonsense that masquerades as scholarship on aboriginal policy are likely to keep silent, impoverishing our capacity to more fully understand aboriginal-non-aboriginal relations and to make informed efforts to achieve social justice today.

9 thoughts on “Here we go again…

  1. Any pretense of simply trying to host a challenging conversation in the spirit of critical inquiry flew out the window the minute you invited Gary McHale to speak at your conference (if not long before that).

    First, I think it’s necessary for you to clarify how exactly Mr. McHale of Richmond Hill was victimized by the occupation at Caledonia. There may have been some innacurate assertions made in the petition, and if so, as ever you’ve chosen to fight BS with BS.

    Second, I feel compelled to provide a link to Mr. McHale’s website: It’s a compelling compendium of mostly-incoherent, utterly-appalling, wildly-unreasoned diatribes. To even speak of their scholarly value is an insult to us all.

    So no, Alan Sokal can’t save you here. This isn’t about protecting some orthodoxy from critical engagement. This latest, unforgivable move has nothing to do with reasoned inquiry and everything to do with shock jockey-ism. If you’re okay with that, so am I – but lose the self-importance.

  2. I believe McHale and a number of others were assaulted, and that these people were not arrested or charged with assault. The point of the forum is not to judge the “scholarly value” of the ideas of presenters. It is structured to allow diverse viewpoints to be heard on a controversial policy area in an academic setting, which, because of actions like the aforementioned petition, appears to be rare these days.

  3. The letter was not counter to freedom of speech, it did not ask that they be muzzled or not allowed to speak. What it did was condemn their presence there. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to condemn the speech of others.

    Also, McHale and Vandermass DID start an organization known as the Caledonia Militia, which they later renamed the “Caledonia Peacekeepers”. They clearly admit this in their own material. Why are you saying this is not true?

  4. From some of the libelous comments on the petition’s website (which caused the document to be removed), it was clear that many who signed wanted to influence Mount Royal University to stop McHale and Vandermaas from speaking. This is due to the FALSE linkage of McHale and Vandermaas with white supremacism in the Open Letter (I have addressed this in an earlier post). Besides, either one thinks that a subject should be discussed in a university setting or one doesn’t; to suggest that one would protest the appearance of speakers yet think that they should be allowed to speak is disengenous and wanting to have it both ways. Fortunately, the principled administration at Mount Royal University has always supported academic freedom and open inquiry and it was not influenced by this (apparent) effort to stifle free speech.

    Below are Vandermaas’ comments concerning the “militia” that are in my possession. Do you have evidence that indicates anything to the contrary? Again, my quotation of Vandermaas in no way indicates my agreement with this tactic or his ideas more generally; I am just attempting to correct misinformation and ensure that discussion and debate can proceed on the basis of evidence.

    In Vandermaas’ words:

    “The Caledonia Militia/Peacekeepers was organized by a Caledonia resident named Doug Fleming who was frustrated by the refusal of the OPP to enforce the law. It is hard to convey to you just how terrified, hopeless and abandoned victims in Caledonia and Ipperwash feel by government and law enforcement. Doug’s militia was intended to be a group of carefully chosen people who would act within the bounds of the Criminal Code to use reasonable force to remove trespassers and effect arrests of those committing crimes when police refused to act as they often did.

    I had no involvement in organizing it whatsoever, nor was I a member. Gary was not a member, either. Since Doug doesn’t have a computer, and doesn’t have a lot of experience working w/media, he asked Gary to help him with media contacts and to lecture on the use of private prosecutions – which he has a lot of experience with. Both us did however, fully support the right of Fleming to organize it so long as he remained within the law. We support all efforts by residents so long as they stay within the law.

    Tom Keefer, CUPE and 6N media have tried to paint Fleming’s militia idea as a racist, neo-nazi, vigilante group led by Gary and I that would go around looking for innocent native people to beat up which is utter nonsense. They refused to meet with Doug in advance or listen to the presentation, but instead orchestrated a massive smear campaign trying to link CANACE and Doug with KKK, etc.

    Fleming’s militia idea never really took off other than in the media, and not a single arrest was ever made. I think Doug has asked volunteers to take video of smokeshack activity now and then, and that’s about the extent of it”.

  5. Just a further clarification to address the tiresome racist/white supremacist allegations head-on which were also made against Mr. Fleming who was the actual founder of the militia:

    1. I am the son of parents who suffered under Nazi-occupation in Holland and so, have a deep and long-held revulsion to doctrines of racial superiority.

    2. Mr. McHale is a devout Christian who has repeatedly told me that racism is against the word of God.

    3. Mr. McHale and I are not now, nor have we ever been members of white supremacist groups nor have we associated with such groups nor have we ever expressed any support or sympathy for their ideologies because we believe in equality and justice for all people irrespective of race, religion or grievance.

    I would refer you to a statement condemning racial supremacy made by us on a website page that has remained unchanged since August 2007. The authors of the petition are well aware of this statement which is why they did not mention the organization Mr. McHale and I co-founded in the petition – Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality (CANACE ).

    CANACE Statement of Principles: We Believe…

    3. Mr. Fleming personally invited Tom Keefer of CUPE 3903 to attend the presentation, but he refused and instead, orchestrated a campaign to paint Fleming, McHale and CANACE founders as members member of the KKK, etc.

    Since Mr. Fleming does not own a computer and cannot respond himself, I am providing a reprint of his opening statement (as reported by the Dunnville Chronicle) at the public townhall meeting he held to explain his plans for the militia:

    “In his opening statement Fleming said, “I’m going to be very blunt here. My grandfather’s generation fought a war against Nazi Germany to combat that type of thinking. If any of you here have bought into this racist doctrine, I just want you to know this: I despise your beliefs. I couldn’t disagree with you more, and this is not the group for you.” Fleming went on to say that he personally knows people who have suffered for the last two years and feels compelled to do something about it.”

    The tactic of insulting non-native activists and Caledonia residents, and falsely accusing them as ‘racists’ and ‘white supremacists’ has been a favourite among those who do not wish light shone on the terrible things done in Caledonia.

    Mark Vandermaas, Founder
    Caledonia Victims Project

    P.S. I wonder if ‘Morden’ (comment above) has even bothered to read the abstracts of our presentations in the forum’s program, or the text of my speech, ‘Natives are victims of Two Tier Justice’ both of which can be found on this page of Dr. Widdowson’s site along with the works of other speakers:

  6. The idea that McHale and Vandermass were not part of the organizing the milita is contradicted by Vandermass’s own statement that McHale provided media work and assistance to another organizer who “didn’t have a computer”. Where I am from, sending emails and promoting events on forums and such is called organizing.

    Besides, both McHale and Vandermass were present at the meeting of the militia (renamed the “peackeepers”). I was there: Vandermass stood outside the meeting intimidating and videotaping protesters and was clearly a part of the militia (or peacekeepers) organization. And McHale spoke at length inside the meeting. There is abundant video footage of their presence and actions there, so to disassociate themselves now from something that they are basically admitting to have done media work, spoke at, and were on the side of is a frankly a little silly.

  7. My understanding of the concern was whether or not McHale and Vandermaas were members of a “militia” – an unfortunate choice of words because the group was not armed – and engaged in “vigilantism”. I don’t think there is any question of whether or not Vandermaas and McHale supported its formation, as they openly have said that they did. I have viewed the footage of McHale at the meeting, and it appears from it that he was not a member of the group in question, which was organized by Doug Fleming (although the streaming on the video is choppy, which makes it difficult to watch and absorb its contents). In the meeting, McHale refers to the group as a third party external to himself, which suggests that he was not a member. McHale spends most of his speech talking about the character of Canadian law, and what actions can be taken by citizens lawfully to ensure their protection – a circumstance that seems to challenge the charge of “vigilantism”.

    Morgan has a particular view on this matter. As to whether it is unbiased or not, it is impossible to determine. I will know more tomorrow when I hear McHale, Vandermaas, and Elliott speak, and hear them respond to questions.

  8. Today, for the first time, I read ‘morgan’s’ assertion that I “stood outside the [militia] meeting intimidating and videotaping protesters and was clearly a part of the militia (or peacekeepers) organization.”

    His/her argument that I was a member because I videotaped the CUPE/Keefer group is just plain silly, so let me address the more serious allegation of intimidation.

    If Morgan has videotape of me “intimidating” anyone I’d sure like to see it. Despite being personally insulted by CUPE organizer Tom Keefer about my U.N. peacekeeping service, and hearing him fabricate statements I supposedly made about people living in the Middle East, not to mention the constant accusations of us being racist anti-native goons, I remained completely silent, on the far side of the road, quietly capturing the entire cast of speakers on video which I later transcribed.

    Perhaps ‘Morgan’ can produce his ‘evidence’ of me ‘intimidating’ people, and I’ll produce my video & transcript, and we’ll see who is telling the truth.

    Yes, that’s what I thought – it’s never going to happen because he/she doesn’t have any evidence because – like all of the smears directed against me/us – it never happened.

    I think the comment by one forum attendee to me says it all about this smear campaign: “I discovered you’re not the monsters I thought you were.” I’ve always believed that truth rises to the surface eventually, and it certainly did in Calgary.

    Readers can see photos, video and notes from Panel II presentations at the forum here:

    Mark Vandermaas, Founder
    Caledonia Victims Project

  9. Correction re comment above: the quote from the forum attendee to me should have read, “I discovered that you’re not the monsters I was led to believe you were.”

    Mark Vandermaas
    Caledonia Victims Project

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