THE INSURGENT TEMPTATION (National Post July 04,2007)


Barbara Kay, National Post
Published: Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The June 29 Aboriginal "Day of Action," bruited as a pressure tactic to hasten land claims resolutions and call attention to native misery, passed without violence. Phew. Canadians seem divided about the moral legitimacy of illegal mini-occupations of public spaces by native activists. Any individual Canadian's degree of sympathy for the protesters' chutzpah is probably proportionate to the diffuse general guilt he or she feels around the intractable plight of the First Nations.

Against the global canvas of civil and non-civil disobedience, the railway blockade provided a study in ironic contrast. Friday's tame gesture, staged for maximum media exposure and public inconvenience rather than harm, was immediately eclipsed by London's and Glasgow's narrowly averted terrorist acts staged for maximum death and destruction.

The timing being what it was, I daresay I was not alone in wondering if, in an age when once unthinkable acts of casual terrorism have become commonplace and even, sadly, effective in eliciting support in certain Western ideological quarters, a number of hyper-aggrieved aboriginal militants, contemning the patient incrementalism of their responsible mainstream leaders, will eventually tire of the static tableau-style protest, and succumb to the blandishments of the insurgent temptation.

Take the worrisome, but presumably calculated statements by one Day of Action organizer, Chief Terry Nelson of Roseau River, who favours rail blockages because they demand modest plans and no expertise: "The reality is that there's no army that can actually protect all that." Rhetoric or portent?

I was reminded by these fighting words of similar threats by the James Bay Cree of Northern Quebec during the lead-up to the 1995 referendum. In their own cleverly anticipatory referendum, staged to remind sovereigntists that the Cree would resist an independent Quebec's political coercion, 96% of native voters affirmed their Canadian identity.

Alongside this peaceful statement, however, shocked Quebec nationalists were warned -- not in so many official words, but in pretty blunt language, if memory serves -- how vulnerable were the gigantic hydro-electric dams in their northern territory, and how easily they could be sabotaged.

So it wasn't sweet reason, but the sobering prospect of the devastation of Quebec's economy and essential services that wilted the confidence of many potential Yes voters. (Indeed, I credit the Cree with the narrow referendum defeat.) I admit to a distinct frisson of schadenfreude at the panic produced in nationalist circles by that coolly dangled hypothetical terrorist scenario. As a law-respecting conservative, I should have been horrified at such outrageous blackmail. But at the time, as a federalist with my back to the wall, I found myself curiously non-judgmental toward scoff-law threats that served my interests (as long as they didn't actually follow through on them).

The personal lesson I took from my holiday from principle was that when one feels territorially insecure and under political siege, as Quebec federalists did then, defence trumps civic virtue.

We should thus be less sanguine about the potential for escalation amongst restive native groups, many of whom never feel anything else. Terry Nelson believes "there are only two ways of dealing with the white man. One, either you pick up a gun, or you stand between the white man and his money." (Note the order.) Nelson is producing a "victumentary" entitled A Long Train of Abuse, which he plans to release to American media and YouTube. In the studio, he favours a T-shirt sporting an image of the ruthless Apache warrior Geronimo above the slogan: "Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorists since 1492."

I confess to foreboding at the term "terrorists" being attached to white colonizers. Along with its false revisionist branding of Europeans' intentions and policies, not to mention pre-emptive self-exculpation for possible future reprisals in kind, the word speaks to a reckless sensibility with an itchy trigger finger. By extension, I sense in Nelson's identification with Geronimo, whose diehard refusal to recognize the American government resulted in years of futile Intifada-style bloodlettings, a romantic intoxication with an ideological zeitgeist that justifies random violence amongst the world's ( soi-disant or actually) colonized.

Who would constrain neo-Geronimo revanchists of the 21st century? The blockade-facilitating Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine and our equally supine political leadership recused themselves from judgment of last Friday's Day of Testing the Appeasement Boundaries. It's not often citizens in a rule-of-law country chance to see a high-speed train with no brakes waved off from the station by the safety inspectors, but that is arguably exactly what Canadians have just witnessed.

© National Post 2007