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First Nations Under Surveillance: Harper Government Prepares for First Nations “Unrest”

July 25, 2011

BY RUSSELL DIABO AND SHIRI PASTERNAK
Full article at mediacoop.ca

Internal documents from Indian Affairs and the RCMP show that shortly after forming government in January of 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had the federal government tighten up on gathering and sharing intelligence on First Nations to anticipate and manage potential First Nation unrest across Canada.

Quebec riot police advance on Barriere Lake community members after a peaceful blockade in October, 2008 in north-western Quebec

Information obtained by Access to Information requests reveals that almost immediately upon taking power in 2006, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) was given the lead role to spy on First Nations. The goal was to identify the First Nation leaders, participants and outside supporters of First Nation occupations and protests, and to closely monitor their actions.

To accomplish this task, INAC established a “Hot Spot Reporting System.” These weekly reports highlight all those communities across the country that engage in direct action to protect their lands and communities. They include Tobique First Nation, Tsartlip First Nation, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) First Nation, Six Nations, Grassy Narrows, Stz’uminous First Nation, the Likhts’amsiyu Clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Gitxaala First Nation, Wagmatcook First Nation, Innu of Labrador, Pikangikum First Nation, and many more. They include bands from the coast of Vancouver Island to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

What we see in these documents – from the hot spot reports themselves, to the intelligence-sharing between government and security forces – is a closely monitored population of First Nations, who clearly are causing a panic at the highest levels of Canadian bureaucracy and political office.

Fear of Aboriginal “Hotspots”

In 2006, INAC gave the name “hot spots” to those First Nations conflicts of “growing concern” due to “unrest” and increasing “militancy.” In a briefing presentation that INAC gave the RCMP that year, they identified certain communities as hotspots: Caledonia, Ontario (Douglas Creek Estates occupation); Belleville, Ontario (Montreal/Toronto Rail Blockade in sympathy to Caledonia); Brantford, Ontario (Grand River Conservation Authority Lands); Desoronto, Ontario (Occupation of Quarry); Grassy Narrows (Blockade of Trans Canada Hwy by environmentalists); and Maniwaki, Quebec (Blockade of Route 117).

But the “hot spot binder” prepared each week by INAC officials closely monitors any and all action taking place across the country and names dozens more communities as sources of potential unrest. A particular concern of the federal government is that these “hotspots” are unpredictable protests because they are led by what the federal government labels as “splinter groups” of “Aboriginal Extremists.” As INAC describes in the same presentation to the RCMP:

“Incidents led by splinter groups are arguably harder to manage as they exist outside negotiation processes to resolve recognized grievances with duly elected leaders. We seek to avoid giving standing to such splinter groups so as not to debase the legally recognized government. Incidents are also complicated by external groups such as Warrior Societies or non-Aboriginal counter-protest groups.”

Telling in the INAC statement above is that the identified protests are “outside of negotiation processes” with elected councils. Canada is clearly spooked by the spectre of First Nations demanding Crown recognition of Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination, as well as Aboriginal and Treaty Rights, beyond the narrow confines of Crown land claims and self-government policies. These so-called “splinter” groups also threaten the status quo by demanding their own First Nation leaders, staff and advisors to pull out of the compromising negotiations.

Also telling here is the cozy cooperative relationship between INAC and the RCMP. The INAC briefing to the RCMP is almost indistinguishable from a presentation one would expect to see from security forces, rather than from a government ministry. Contrary to their claims, Indian Affairs is not an institution of reconciliation and negotiation, but rather appears to be a management office to control the costs of Native unrest, and they are willing to work closely with law enforcement to accomplish this task.

In addition to the hotspot reporting, the Deputy Ministers of Public Safety Emergency Preparedness Canada and INAC directed that a summer operational plan be prepared in 2006 to deal with Aboriginal occupations and protests. A progress report on the operational plan reveals the blueprint for security integration on First Nations issues.

The “Standing Information Sharing Forum,” for example, is Chaired by the RCMP and includes as its members the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Department of Fisheries, Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Transportation Canada, and involves weekly conference calls and continuous information dissemination by INAC to its partners.

Harper is moving towards a security paradigm familiar since the War on Terror was launched in 2001. The inclusion of Transportation Canada at the Information Sharing Forum should also alert us to the commercial threat of blockades to the free trade agenda.

Aboriginal people who are defending their lands are now treated on a spectrum from criminals to terrorists. On either side, under Harper, an intensification of intelligence gathering and surveillance procedures now govern the new regime.

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