‘A Licence To Break The Law’

Canadians are puzzled by police refusal to arrest aboriginal road, rail and pipeline blockaders, or government office occupiers. However, this two-tiered, racially-biased policing can be traced back at least 40 years. Here’s an analysis of some 1970s’ lawlessness produced by an Aboriginal Industry activist and anti-Canadian who is, of course, employed by a taxpayer-supported Canadian university: 

“When approximately thirty members of the ‘Idle No More’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’ movements entered the ‘Indigenous’ and Northern Affairs (‘I’NAC) office in Toronto on April 13, 2016…the group, calling itself ‘#OccupyINAC’ was drawing on long-established political strategies.

“‘Indigenous’ peoples have occupied Indian Affairs offices before. 

“Perhaps the most well-known was the 1972 ‘American Indian Movement’ (AIM) occupation of the ‘Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) headquarters in Washington, DC… 


“When the caravan reached Washington, 500 American Indians took over the BIA office, destroyed records, and began a seven-day occupation, during which they presented AIM’s “Twenty Point” position paper to President Nixon, listing their demands.

“Less well known are the occupations that occurred in British Columbia three years later.

“On May 1, 1975, ‘indigenous’ activists in B.C. took part in the pre-planned, simultaneous occupations of Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) district offices in Kamloops, Williams Lake, and Vernon. Like the BIA occupation and the current ‘#OccupyINAC’ movement (which spread quickly to ‘Indigenous Affairs’ offices in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Regina, and Gatineau), this burst of coordinated action, dubbed “Militant May”, used peaceful {only because the law wasn’t enforced} occupations and pan-‘indigenous’ {racial} solidarity to resist ‘settler colonial’ {‘Canadian’} intransigence and forward well-defined political aims {‘an aboriginal racial nationalism’}. [1]

“Activists, including ‘indigenous’ leaders, ‘grassroots peoples’, and {U.S.} AIM members sought to dismantle DIA, demonstrate ‘indigenous’ {racial} ‘sovereignty’, and resolve the outstanding B.C. land claim.

“Although direct {illegal} action was not a new strategy in 1975, it was an unusual approach for the ‘Union of BC Indian Chiefs’ (UBCIC), the organization responsible for organizing ‘Militant May’. Since its inception in 1969, the UBCIC sought to resolve the land question through policy papers and political mediation, but DIA soon overwhelmed the organization with bureaucratic service delivery {In other words, the Chiefs wanted the authority but not the work…}.

“Frustrated with DIA interference and paternalism, as well as inadequate program funding that left ‘indigenous’ communities perpetually underserviced, the UBCIC and its member communities decided to “become radical” and declare political and fiscal independence from DIA..

“They resolved to reject all forms of federal and provincial funding {Yeah, right — wouldn’t that be nice…} and use coordinated {illegal} occupations, {illegal} blockades, and ‘strategic law-breaking’ for one month beginning 1 May, 1975, to achieve their stated aims {So, they conspired to commit several crimes, in an attempt to extort money from the federal government}. ‘Militant May’, therefore, involved a multi-pronged {illegal} approach that incorporated DIA occupations as part of its core strategy.

“The impetus for ‘Militant May’ built on these local circumstances, but also drew on the ‘global {Leftist} political mood’ and the political histories of more radical {American} ‘indigenous’ communities. ‘Red Power’ {Now there’s a racist moniker}, AIM, and other political channels — including ‘ethnic nationalisms’ and global ‘decolonization’ {‘anti-capitalist’} movements — were active at the time, and BC ‘indigenous’ activists were part of these global networks. At the same time, specific BC communities, including Osoyoos and St’uxwtews (among others), organized highly-publicized protests and {illegal} blockades in their {ancestors’ former} territories, and the UBCIC built off these strategies.

“True to the UBCIC’s promise {threat} that {illegal} seizures and demonstrations would “explode all over B.C. on May 1”, that morning hundreds of activists simultaneously occupied DIA offices in Kamloops, Williams Lake, and Vernon… [2]

“The Kamloops demonstration, led by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Mary Leonard, attracted one hundred supporters from the twenty-five bands in the Thompson-Nicola region, while the Williams Lake takeover drew one hundred and sixty participants from the fifteen bands in that area.

“Support quickly spread across the province, with occupations at the Bella Coola and Nanaimo offices beginning shortly after. Organized locally to promote a wider single goal, activists planned for the occupations to continue until the federal government agreed to negotiate the land claim, and until DIA permanently closed its offices and ceased to exist

PHOTO: Nesika--July, 1975
PHOTO: Nesika–July, 1975

“Viewing the occupations as expressions of ‘indigenous sovereignty’, participants argued that, in the absence of fully-functioning offices, Indian Affairs no longer had a purpose, and its budget should be returned {To the Canadian taxpayers…} to the bands to administer. {It’s indicative of their shallow thinking – and self-serving hypocrisy — that they would point out the lack of Treaties while at the same time insisting that they’re entitled to funding, and then ‘rejecting all federal and provincial funding’ while saying all funding should come to them! It’s also fascinating to note that they felt that taxpayer monies should be ‘returned’…to the tribe!}

“The occupations were also distinctly local. The Kamloops takeover, for example, deviated from the others by employing a ‘class-based’ {communist} strategy to shut the office down. Elsewhere, activists did not interrupt office operations or place limitations on staff, but peacefully {illegally} occupied the space and ‘discouraged’ {interfered with} community members from conducting regular business there. In Kamloops, Thompson-Nicola community members began with this strategy, but after two days, moved outside the building and set up a picket line. [3] 

“Unlike the other offices, which continued to function — albeit in limited form — at Kamloops the picket prevented Department employees from entering the office altogether. This was because employees were members of the {Leftist} ‘Public Service Alliance of Canada’ Union and refused to cross the picket line. Through the picket, the Kamloops protestors quickly achieved their goal of closing down the district office, which forced DIA officials to consider alternatives.

“As early as 23 June 1975, DIA regional director Larry Wight was arranging for district staff to be retrained and relocated to other government agencies {At great expense, instead of simply arresting the illegal protesters!}. Wight did not express any hope that the situation would be resolved. [4] 

London Free Press
London Free Press

“The district occupations were ‘successful’. Despite the inherently confrontational nature of the takeovers {Because you were illegally bullying people}, they were, for the most part, well received {!} by district DIA employees and the Minister of Indian Affairs Judd Buchanan. The organized and peaceful nature {Again – peaceful only because the law wasn’t enforced!} of the occupations, as well as broad participation by {a handful of} community members, elicited sympathy and acceptance. Although maintaining a paternalistic tone in his response, Buchanan promised to support band wishes {Another cowardly lack of leadership…}.

“By September, activists succeeded in permanently closing the offices in Kamloops and Vernon with DIA transferring administration to the thirty respective band councils throughout the Thompson River and Kootenay-Okanagan Districts {Rewarding criminal activity and setting up the situation we have today, with extravagantly-overpaid Chiefs and Councils, lacking transparency and accountability…}. [5]

“Protestors achieved similar outcomes in Vernon and Nanaimo. Ultimately, the occupations and resulting disruption to DIA services allowed many communities to envision governance unfettered by Department considerations {A disaster for financial transparency and accountability, one of the reasons for the explosion in tribal fraud that has further impoverished tribal members…}, and this was a powerful boon to ‘sovereignty’.

“The occupations also extended to the regional Department of Indian Affairs office in downtown Vancouver, where ‘indigenous’ leaders and activists and one hundred AIM members from across the province {and the U.S.}, came together to shut the office down.

“‘Vancouver Sun’ reporter Ron Rose described the Vancouver, or “Black Tower”, occupation as noisy but peaceful {because of a lack of law enforcement}, and outlined how an AIM ‘security force’ {‘gang’ — illegal criminal bullies} ‘maintained order’ by ‘allowing’ Department staff to move freely {When they had no legal right as trespassers to interfere with the staff’s free movement}…and restricting the occupation to Department offices only {Where were the police???}. [6]

“Like the district occupations, the ‘Black Tower’ takeover had a strong and well-articulated political goal. Occupiers designed the {illegal} action to last until the June 25 land claims meeting between the province and {so-called} ‘indigenous’ peoples. They argued the occupation would function to {illegally} ‘pressure’ {extort} a suitable agreement and would ‘encourage’ {‘force’} DIA to turn over its budget to the communities.

“Yet, in contrast to the district occupations where Department officials took activists’ goals seriously, Wight saw {accurately} the ‘Black Tower’ occupation as illegitimate – the work of foreign {American} radicals who had co-opted the B.C. ‘indigenous’ movement. Failing to account for AIM’s strong presence in Canada {nonsense}, its ‘unique expression’ {?} in British Columbia, and widespread community support at the occupation {?}, Wight homogenized ‘Black Tower’ occupiers into a trope of foreign radicalism to dismiss the activists’ objectives {No, he simply, and accurately, summarized the source of the aggression and provocation – A.I.M. in the U.S.}.

“This opposition took its toll as Wight quickly {and responsibly!} called in the police {!} and activists quietly left the offices in a “gesture of responsibility” {What spin doctors!}, to begin an information picket outside. The occupiers did not use {illegal} force to escalate their tactics, but employed the same types of ‘direct action’ {interference} applied in the districts. The presence of AIM, then, made little difference in terms of the occupation’s goals and tactics, but made a significant difference in how DIA officials evaluated it.

“‘Militant May, like ‘#occupyINAC’, exposes the complexity, careful negotiation, and transformative power of direct {illegal} action. Both also demonstrate the overwhelming belief in pan-‘indigenous’ {foreign-influenced racial} unity and solidarity across movements as an effective strategy for achieving real political change.

“Yet, forty-one years after ‘Militant May’, ‘#OccupyINAC’ reminds us how {some} ‘indigenous’ peoples are still fighting some of the same battles activists engaged with in 1975. Despite the current climate of {one-sided} “reconciliation”, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to implementing the ‘Calls to Action of the {Partial} Truth and {One-way} Reconciliation Commission’ and the United Nations ‘Declaration on the Rights of ‘Indigenous’ Peoples’ (UNDR‘I’P), we find that meaningful change has yet to occur.” {YOU ended up with a good-paying gig! One difference from 40 years ago is that our universities weren’t employing racial Segregationists who actively undermine Canada…}

–‘(Re)Occupied: #OccupyINAC and British Columbia’s 1975 Militant May’,
Sarah Nickel, Active {Left-wing} History, APRIL 26, 2016

(Sarah Nickel is an assistant professor of ‘indigenous’ Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. Email: sarah.nickel@usask.ca
She is Tk’emlupsemc (Kamloops Secwepemc) and she joined the Department of ‘Indigenous Studies’ in July, 2015. Her areas of research include comparative ‘indigenous’ histories, 20th century ‘indigenous’ politics/organization, ‘indigenous’ women’s politics/activism, ‘indigenous’ feminisms, community-engaged research, oral history/ethnohistory, direct action/protest/resistance, social movements 1960s-1980s, and western Canada. Sarah has presented and published on ethnohistorical and critical oral history methodologies, ‘indigenous’ feminisms, ‘indigenous activism’, and ‘indigenous’ sovereignty. Her most recent article, “Negotiating Sovereignty: ‘Indigenous’ Perspectives on the Patriation of a ‘Settler-Colonial’ {Canadian} Constitution,”…)


'I'NAC Toronto, 2016 04 13 (PHOTO: Simon Dingley – CBC)
‘I’NAC Toronto, 2016 04 13 (PHOTO: Simon Dingley – CBC)

[1] At the Gatineau and Regina offices, protestors staged demonstrations outside the offices. In response, INAC suspended operations at these locations. The Toronto office occupation ended on April 21, 2016.

[2] Ron Rose, “Indians begin to beat their war drums,” Vancouver Sun, April 24, 1975, 39.

[3] LAC, RG 10, Box 1, File 901/1-1-1-1, Office Phaseouts, 5/1975-9/1975, Telex from L.E. Wight to P.B. Lesaux, Assistant Deputy Minister, June 5, 1975.

[4] LAC, RG 10, Box 1, File 901/1-1-1-1, Office Phaseouts, 5/1975-9/1975, Letter from Larry Wight, Regional Director, British Columbia region to P.B. Lesaux, Assistant Deputy Minister, Indian and Eskimo Affairs, June 23, 1975.

[5] “Indians start sit-in at Interior offices,” Vancouver Sun May 1, 1975, 1-2; LAC, RG 10, Box 1, Vol. 2, File 901/24-2-12 (file part 2), Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, 1975-1977, News Release: Bulletin # 5, May 20, 1975; LAC, RG 10, Box 1, File 901/1-1-1-1, Office Phaseouts, 5/1975-9/1975, Telex from Judd Buchanan to Rose Charlie, July 10, 1975. See also: LAC, RG 10, Box 1, File 901/1-1-1-1, Office Phaseouts, 5/1975-9/1975, Letter from Judd Buchanan to Councillor Francis Amos, Hesquiat Band, July 22, 1975.

[6] “Indians continue occupation of downtown gov’t offices,” Vancouver Sun, May 10, 1975, 1 and 11. The “Black Tower” was the colloquial name for the Regional Headquarters of the Department of Indian Affairs. Louise Mandell, interview with author, Vancouver, BC, March 12, 2012.” 

Aboriginal group takes over Calgary Indian Affairs Office, November 29, 1974, Glenbow Archives, M-8787-135
Aboriginal group takes over Calgary Indian Affairs Office, November 29, 1974, Glenbow Archives, M-8787-135

From 1974:
“Calgary Urban Treaty Indian Alliance asked for American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) support in taking over Indian Affairs Office. They wished to meet Judd Buchanan, Indian Affairs Minister, and have the federal government recognize their demands. At stake were treaty issues for ‘First Nations’ peoples living off of their reserve, but whom still felt they were entitled to education, healthcare and welfare services. Leaders of CUTIA, a group which attempted to secure social services to ‘First Nations’ peoples in Calgary, also wished to reattain federal funding for their group. Funding had been cut out earlier that year. Although there was some blockading and damage, no violence occurred.”



See also:
Politicized policing around Idle No More blockades puts rule of law at risk‘ (Blatchford) {February 16, 2014}:
“Judges can’t predict with any confidence if police forces will enforce their orders, and one of them even wonders aloud if he should issue another toothless direction; police don’t even do the court the courtesy of appearing when summonsed, and native protesters need not bother with the ruse of feigning a land claim…”

Mohawks Block Rail Line{March 19, 2014}:
“Protesters near the Tyendinaga Mohawk reserve in southern Ontario have blocked the Montreal-Toronto Via Rail line {again}… The blockade is at Marysville, Ont., between Belleville and Kingston… Service between Toronto and Ottawa has been halted. Trains travelling in the Montreal-Toronto corridor have been replaced by chartered buses. Ontario Provincial Police in Smith Falls, Ont., have confirmed that Wyman Road/Highway 2 in Tyendinaga is also blocked…”

Aboriginal bullying, from 2011{March 4, 2014}:
“What began yesterday as a pleasant information session at the Nashwaak Valley School in Durham Bridge {New Brunswick} by shale gas company SWN, soon turned ugly as Indian band (‘First Nations’) members stormed the building to shut it down, sending executives packing…”

NO GO’ Zones On B.C. Reserves{October 26, 2015}:
“B.C.’s representative for children and youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, said she estimates there are about 25 of B.C.’s 203 ‘First Nations’ who have so-called ‘no-go zones’ on their reserves…”

The Mohawk Warrior Flag: A Legacy of Lawlessness{December 12, 2015}:
“Indeed, the imagery of the Mohawk Warrior with his war-ready shaven head intentionally designed to taunt enemies (today, it is the Canadian government and non-natives generally) is indeed intended as a call to unity as some claim, but not to peace: the Warrior flag is a call to unite in war, of occupations, of violence, of intimidation, of vandalism, of inciting hatred and fear against those they deem to be repressing native culture…”

Mohawk Gang Costs Ontario $50 Million{November 23, 2015}:
“Nine years later, after a Mohawk criminal gang threatened Hydro workers and demolished several new hydro transmission towers that were awaiting wiring – using one to blockade the entrance to the stolen ‘Douglas Estates’ housing development – the pathetic Ontario government continues to let the Mohawks, and their phony land claim, stop completion of the work.

“In the meantime, the province has paid over $50 million in interest alone on money borrowed to finance the project – and it has yet to transmit any electricity…”

Ipperwash and Two-Tiered Policing{August 22, 2014}:
“Government has allowed police to operate in vacuum of accountability with aboriginal protesters…”

Family Learns Lesson About Police Double-standards‘ (Caledonia) {December 12, 2013}:
‘After dog stolen onto Caledonia reserve, family learns lesson about police double-standards’
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