Radical tactics are effective

While radical political tactics like rail blockades enrage many Canadians, they galvanize action on First Nations issues.

Last Wednesday, VIA Rail’s train services between Kingston and Belleville were disrupted after a group of activists stood on the tracks to raise public awareness about missing or murdered First Nations women. Many of the protestors were from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville.

Canadians could stand to think about the problems facing First Nations people a lot more than they currently do. In particular, the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women is one that demands heightened attention. At the very least, an inquiry should be held into the specific causes of this longstanding tragedy.

The Harper government has been especially cynical when it comes to First Nations issues. Harper’s 2008 apology on behalf of Canadians for the Indian Residential Schools system will ring empty in the annals of history. The apology wasn’t followed up with significant action to ameliorate the widespread social ills plaguing First Nations people.

While blockades strike many people as an illegitimate means of protest, First Nations people in Canada are at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to getting their voice heard. They are economically disadvantaged and have little power in the mainstream political system. In effect, they are an oppressed minority that has to use diverse means to get their point across.

Those who disavow radical political actions on the basis that they will alienate most “average Canadians” are partially correct. However, the opposition of average Canadians doesn’t automatically mean that a political goal won’t be accomplished.

During the 1990 Oka Crisis — a land dispute between a group of Mohawks and the town of Oka, Quebec — First Nations people demonstrated that they were willing to go to extreme lengths to defend their interests. Many Canadians were outraged, but the radical tactics were essentially successful.

While their basic tactics are effective, the organizers of blockades like the one that happened last week could stand to be more organized. When asked about the purpose of the protest, organizers only stated that they hoped to “raise awareness and support”. A more focused approach would be prudent.

There will always be many people who take exception to radical political acts. Conscientious and compassionate Canadians should worry less about those who might be offended and concern themselves with the grievances of those who are systemically oppressed.

— Journal Editorial Board

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