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Helpless: Caledonia's Nightmare of Fear…

Helpless: Caledonia's Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy, and How the Law…

by Christie Blatchford

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Aboriginal land claims are a fact of life in Canada today. There are well defined processes for the consideration of land claims, depending on whether the claimant has a treaty with Canada or not. In the former case, statutory three-year time frames exist to deal with claims. In the latter, claims can take much longer to resolve for any number of reasons, including historic research to substantiate and assess the claim (paid for by Canada), and the need for all three parties (First Nation, Canada and the province/territory) to agree on the terms of engagement.

In Caledonia, the First Nation chose, perhaps for valid reasons, to erect a blockade to bring attention to their claim. This book is about the impact the blockade and, more importantly, the way the police chose to deal with the protestors, had on the citizens of a small town in Ontario called Caledonia.

The author details the activities undertaken by both protestors (mostly Aboriginal) and the town residents (mostly non-Aboriginal) over many months while barricades were up. Her main point is the non-action on the part of the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ontario Government to enforce the law, especially as it relates to activities by the Aboriginal community, amounted to a serious dereliction of duty and was simply unfair.

It's an easy read, with lots of portraits of individual townsfolk. Maybe too many because I sometimes was confused about who was who.

What, to me, is most interesting about this story is the questions it raises. The author has been accused of racism for not putting the behaviour of protestors in the larger context of wide-spread abuse at residential schools, historic land grabs and other valid issues that affect Aboriginal Canadians. The question then becomes how much the past should be taken into consideration in dealing with illegal actions, including threats and intimidation, today. And, how far can/should one go in assessing a current crisis through the lens of history?

The author talks about a police force reeling from the very poor and tragic dealing of another Aboriginal protest (Ipperwash) by overcompensating for their lack of cultural sensitivity in that case. From this book, it is clear the the police did not protect the citizens of Caledonia. The author is saying that is not acceptable, regardless of cultural differences and historic grievances. We must use established processes to deal with such issues and fight to change those processes if they are inadequate. This book raises the spectre of racism -- which is easy to observe against Aboriginal Canadians -- and what is known as "reverse racism" against the majority.

The issues raised by this book are worth considering in a spirit of working towards a true reconciliation between governments and their aboriginal citizens. ( )
  LynnB | Oct 4, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385670397, Hardcover)

It officially began on February 28, 2006, when a handful of protesters from the nearby Six Nations reserve walked onto Douglas Creek Estates, then a residential subdivision under construction, and blocked workers from entering. Over the course of the spring and summer of that first year, the criminal actions of the occupiers included throwing a vehicle over an overpass, the burning down of a hydro transformer which caused a three-day blackout, the torching of a bridge and the hijacking of a police vehicle. During the very worst period, ordinary residents living near the site had to pass through native barricades, show native-issued "passports", and were occasionally threatened with body searches and routinely subjected to threats. Much of this lawless conduct occurred under the noses of the Ontario Provincial Police, who, often against their own best instincts, stood by and watched: They too had been intimidated. Arrests, where they were made, weren't made contemporaneously, but weeks or monthlater. The result was to embolden the occupiers and render non-native citizens vulnerable and afraid. Eighteen months after the occupation began, a home builder named Sam Gualtieri, working on the house he was giving his daughter as a wedding present, was attacked by protesters and beaten so badly he will never fully recover from his injuries. The occupation is now in its fifth year. Throughout, Christie Blatchford has been observing, interviewing, and investigating with the tenacity that has made her both the doyen of Canadian crime reporters and a social commentator beloved for her uncompromising sense of right and wrong.
In Helpless she tells the full story for the first time - a story that no part of the press or media in Canada has been prepared to tackle with the unflinching objectivity that Christie Blatchford displays on every page. This is a book whose many revelations, never before reported, will shock and appall. But the last word should go to the author:
"This book is not about aboriginal land claims. The book is not about the wholesale removal of seven generations of indigenous youngsters from their reserves and families - this was by dint of federal government policy - or the abuse dished out to many of them at the residential schools into which they were arbitrarily placed or the devastating effects that haunt so many today. This book is not about the dubious merits of the reserve system which may better serve those who wish to see native people fail than those who want desperately for them to succeed. I do not in any way make light of these issues, and they are one way or another in the background of everything that occurred in Caledonia.
"What Helpless is about is the failure of government to govern and to protect all its citizens equally."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:24 -0400)

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