The word blockade is most often associated with disgruntled Native groups who are getting nowhere through the usual channels of negotiating with the government, or in the form of a court case snaking its way through the painfully slow judicial process.
Recently, forestry company Chantiers Chibougamau and its supporters from Chibougamau, including the mayor, set up a protest in the form of a blockade to raise awareness to their plight. They were concerned about a decrease in their wood allocation as a direct result of the Paix des Braves Agreement, signed in 2002.
Although dialogue is a much-preferred method of getting a point across, blockades serve a purpose.
That is not to say Chantiers Chibougamau and its supporters were right or wrong, but it is something they felt they needed to do.
One problem that arises in situations like this is the sudden limited access the community has to things like medication, food, water and other necessities.
Two of the most famous Native blockades occurred in the 1990’s, when Aboriginal people, frustrated at losing more of their land yet again, set up shop on their ancestral territory to protect what little they had left.
In 1995 at Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario, peaceful protestors from the Stony and Kettle Point bands demanded their land back. It had been taken illegally by the federal government during World War II, serving first as an army base and then a park.
They erected a peaceful “it-in” at the entrance to the park to raise awareness of their plight. The media coverage they received was large enough to help their cause, but Ontario Premier Mike Harris and his Conservative government would not budge.
An aide close to Harris later testified in the Ipperwash inquiry that Harris shouted, behind closed doors of course, that they needed to “Get the f*cking Indians out of the park!”
At the end of the standoff, unarmed protestor Dudley George was shot and killed by officer Kenneth Deane, part of the Ontario Provincial Police SWAT team, who claimed he mistook George’s tree branch he was holding for a rifle.
Deane was convicted of criminal negligence causing death and given a light sentence. He never served one day in jail. He later died in an unrelated car accident.
Probably the most famous and the most influential blockade of the modern era happened in 1990 in Kanesatake Mohawk Territory. Mohawks gathered in the area known as “the Pines” to stop the town of Oka’s planned expansion of its nine-hole golf course over a Mohawk cemetery.
It was a poorly planned project with blatant disregard for Mohawk rights. Surete du Quebec police corporal Marcel Lemay was shot and killed by an undetermined bullet and what became known as the Oka crisis lasted a long and arduous 78 days.
It is important to note that police stormed the peaceful barricades, shooting, hurling tear gas and firing bullets at unarmed men, women and children.
That land is still in question to this day as negotiations have stalled.
Erecting a blockade usually involves a land dispute, but Chantiers Chibougamau put its up for access to wood, money and jobs. It is a method Aboriginals can relate to.
Aboriginal people have always adapted and evolved with the constant changes in our lives. We don’t have nearly as much land or resources as we once did so we fight for what we have left.
Instead of pointing the finger at those erecting the blockades it is important to take a step back and figure out why.
The Canadian government put us in the position we are in and the only thing that seems to pay immediate dividends is to block access to a small parcel of land to get attention.
We are running out of land for the future generations and that is the major reason why this relatively new tactic is so vital.
Maybe now that more and more non-Natives are using the last-ditch effort of barricading the roads to get their point across will it give added respect to Aboriginal protestors and their plight that all too often falls on deaf ears.