From Savages to Terrorists: Justifying Genocide of First Nations

I am moved to write this blog because a couple of my readers/listeners/followers have contacted me about comments I made a while back on Facebook where I was critical of the US using the codename “Geronimo” in the assassination of Bin Laden. I was critical about First Nations being publicly characterized as terrorists and some members of the public thought I was over-exaggerating the situation. In my view, this is a direct association between the world’s most notorious terrorist and an Indigenous hero. In their views, no one had really compared Indigenous peoples to terrorists and my alleged exaggeration would only cause more harm than good. I respect the fact that these individuals shared their viewpoints as it is only through this discussion and debate that these issues can be resolved. However, in this instance, the facts do not support their allegation. In fact, there is more than enough evidence which demonstrates a far-reaching pattern of racism and public vilifying of Indigenous peoples in Canada and even the United States. The terminology, description, and context used by government officials, politicians, academics, and others to describe Indigenous peoples is little more than propaganda used to justify the ongoing genocide in our Nations. Public outcries against Indigenous gangs, criminals, corrupt leaders and “terrorists” do not serve to improve relations between our peoples or undo the harms inflicted by the settler society, but instead act as a distraction from the crisis in First Nations poverty and the ongoing theft of our lands and resources and denial of our sovereignty. The characterization of our peoples as terrorists reinforces the notion of us vs. them and helps provide excuses for society to walk by our homeless, jail our youth, remove our children, murder our women, disempower and vilify our men, and support governments which provide funds for other countries while our communities lack drinking water, sewage, food, fire protection and schools – the basic necessities of life. Sadly, some of our own even partake in promoting the negative stereotypes against our people. As a lawyer, I fully realize that despite the fact that this is just a blog – which has no real rules, my readers will expect links to articles, documents, and reports which back up my argument. For those of you who doubt that First Nations have ever been called terrorists, I refer you to the following selected examples. Of course, these are only a few examples as there are far too many to include here and after a while it hurts my heart to read too much of this. (1) Tom Flanagan As you all likely know, Tom Flanagan is no fan of First Nations and in fact has strenuously advocated for their assimilation for years saying that “it has to happen”. His books, First Nations? Second Thoughts and Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights have portrayed First Nations as “primitive”, “communists”, and “corrupt” and have also set their complex traditional property issues within the context of studies of “chimpanzees”. Here is the link to the book review I did of Beyond the Indian Act: Flanagan, who is a political scientist who has focused on western political issues and First Nations, is now apparently a “security” expert and has authored a paper for the Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute in 2009  entitled “Resource Industries and Security Issues in Northern Alberta”. In this paper, Flanagan argues that due to the “rapid expansion of natural-resource industries in northern Alberta, accompanied by growing environmentalist and aboriginal-rights movements” that “violent resistance to industrial development” is very possible from specific individuals like “saboteurs”, “eco-terrorists” and “First Nations”. While Flanagan explains that his paper could not deal with “Islamic terrorists” the focus of his paper was primarily on “security threats”. Some of the examples he used were the “Lubicon Cree”, the “Woodland Cree”, and “warrior societies” like the “Mohawks in Ontario and Quebec”. Flanagan creates fear in his argument that an “apocalyptic scenario” of “nightmare” proportions would arise if Indigenous warrior societies and eco-terrorists joined forces:

“A nightmare scenario from the standpoint of resource industries in northern Alberta would be a linkage between warrior societies and eco-terrorists. Members of warrior societies would brandish firearms and take public possession of geographical sites, while eco-terrorists would operate clandestinely, firebombing targets over a wide range of territory. The two processes could energize each other, leading in the extreme case to loss of life and a shutdown of industry over a wide area. But this apocalyptic scenario is unlikely to happen because the members of warrior societies and environmental activists are different types of people with different objectives. It would be difficult for them to maintain coordinated action for very long.”

But, then again, this is just his “expert” opinion. Does it really matter? I think most educated people would see Flanagan’s unsupported claims for what they are. However, one can’t ignore his political influence – having been Prime Minister Harper’s right hand man or his influence on an uneducated public. Sadly, his books, presentations and backroom influence will likely continue to promote the view of Indigenous peoples as terrorists for the sole purpose of justifying assimilatory state actions and laws. (2) Christy Blatchford Some of you may know Christie Blatchford, the “journalist” who wrote the book: Helpless in Caledonia: Caledonia’s Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy and How the Law Failed Us All about the situation in Caledonia. Her book portrays the Six Nations land claims as an unimportant issue as compared to what she calls the “lawlessness” in Caledonia. She also appeared on TVO’s The Agenda to speak about her book and compared her coverage of the protests at Caledonia to the terrorist activities at “ground zero” in New York. Just the fact that she held her book signing in Caledonia and brought “protection” with her perpetuated the stereotypical view that Indigenous peoples are inherently dangerous thugs and terrorists ready to strike at a moment’s notice. She got even more publicity for herself by bringing police to her book signing at a local university. (3) Canadian Military Then there is the Canadian military who have listed Mohawks as a threat to national security alongside terrorists like “communists”, “anarchists”, “Hezbollah”, “Tamils”, “Mexican Indians”, and “Northern Ireland’s paramilitary groups”. They specifically noted that: “The rise of radical Native American organizations, such as the Mohawk Warrior Society, can be viewed as insurgencies”. The manual defines an “insurgency” as “a manifestation of war and that “The military’s counter-insurgency actions “seeks not only to defeat the insurgents themselves, but the root causes of, and support for, the insurgency”. The manual itself can be accessed at this link: The military said in 2010 that they would apologize to the Mohawks, but no apology has been forthcoming: However, the Canadian military is not alone in its depiction of Indigenous peoples as terrorists. APTN was provided with copies of US State Department cables from Wikileaks where the US described “Indigenous terrorist groups” in Canada. APTN explains: “The cables, sent from the US embassy in Ottawa, and entitled Security Environmental Profile Response for Mission Canada, appear to be part of regular updates on the situation in the country.” (4) RCMP We also know that the anti-terrorism unit of the RCMP has been over-zealous in its monitoring of Indigenous peoples. If the RCMP did not consider Indigenous peoples to be terrorists, its anti-terrorism unit would not be actively monitoring Indigenous peoples. The unit has been known to use excessive force on Indigenous peoples alleged to be involved in “Native Issues”: In addition, in a confidential report written by the RCMP’s criminal intelligence unit, they argue that our Indigenous youth are a threat to to civil society alleging that “street gangs and violent activity” will continue to increase and that “organized crime” is especially a part of Mohawk communities. I received this information from an ATIP request in 2008. However, the RCMP did recognize that the Aboriginal populations are “marginalised”, have a “diminishing quality of life”, that the crimes committed by Aboriginal peoples are symptoms of “poverty” and “will only get worse” unless such poverty is addressed. They also highlight the Indian Act’s role in their destitution: “Many Aboriginal people find themselves limited in education and employment opportunities because of the social order created by the Indian Act”. So, if we know the causes of these situations, why doesn’t Canada go to war against poverty in our communities – instead of against us? Instead, the military, RCMP and sister enforcement agencies like DFO (Fisheries and Oceans) have intervened time and again to deny our rights at Kahnesatake, Burnt Church, Gustefsen Lake, Ipperwash,  and other Indigenous territories. First Nations are not the Terrorists: Historically, First Nations were viewed as “primitive” and “savages”. Even today, academics like Flanagan continue to promote that view of us.  It is no longer acceptable to call us savages, so the new word is terrorist – a word used to justify a whole series of unjustified enforcement and military actions against our people. As far as the military is concerned, they are at “war” with us. Far worse, is the justification it gives Canadians to ignore the crisis of poverty in our communities and the ongoing discrimination faced by our people – men who are over-incarcerated, children who are removed from their families at epidemic proportions, or women who are murdered at alarming rates. It should be kept in mind that the Criminal Code of Canada prohibits acts of genocide which is defined not only as the direct killing of an identifiable group of people, but the creating of conditions that lead to their early deaths. In fact, if one were to tally the casualties of war, I think we would see that we are the ones who have suffered and continue to suffer. The fact that our struggles to survive and preserve our lands, resources, cultures, languages and histories for our future generations are considered as acts of “war”, “insurgency” or “terrorism” is more than mere discrimination – it is propaganda designed to justify the continued assimilation and genocide of our people. Here is an excerpt from a memorial posted on Daniel Paul’s website related Native Americans: “Today I remember: The thousands of Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole & Chickasaw People who suffered untold agony during the forced removal from their homelands in the 1830’s. Innocent men, women and little children perished in concentration camps or froze and starved to death on the Trail Where They Cried.   The 90 women and children who died in the Bear River Massacre in southeastern Idaho.  The 200 Cheyenne men, women and children who were slain at Sand Creek in eastern Colorado by the US Cavalry led by Col John Chivington, a Methodist minister who ordered his men to “Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”  The 200 murdered Blackfeet women and children who died at Maries River in northern Montana and the other 140 People who were left to freeze to death in the January cold. The 103 Cheyenne women and children who were butchered on the Washita River in western Oklahoma.  The 200 to 300 Sioux who were slaughtered under a flag of truce at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The 500 Sauk and Fox Indians led by Black Hawk who were massacred by militia forces while trying to negotiate a surrender.  The Yuki’s and other tribes of Indians in California whose populations declined from 11,000 to less than 1000 because white men wanted the land to search for gold. Organized Indian hunts were held on Sundays and our People were killed for sport. The little children who were kidnapped from their homes and forced to attend BIA schools. Many of them died alone and lie in unmarked graves. From the small pox, measles, typhoid, cholera, diphtheria, TB, and VD epidemics brought to us by the white invaders to the continued genocide still being waged against us, we know about terrorism.  And I remember.” We can never truly address the problem until Canada admits that it has one. Sadly, Prime Minister Harper’s statement that there was no colonisation in Canada does not give me much hope. Geronimo was a hero, not a terrorist. Many of our leaders who fought to protect our lands and our Nations and who signed treaties were also heros – not terrorists. How quickly the settlers forget that it was they who invaded our territories and killed our people. Many have asked about the solution. I don’t think there is one solutions. A complex mix of tactics are required. While we fight Canada on the political and legal front, we must also ensure we protect what we have left. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us to love and protect our people – regardless of how our actions are labelled. We are not the terrorists.


  1. As always Pam your are very gracious & insightful in how you make your point.Some of us,of the male persuasion, could definitely take a few pointers.
    Keep up the good work.

  2. Many of us have seen all of these coming and happening for a long time…. but the question that has always been there, is "What now?"

    The path of public education/awareness? The path of confrontation? The path of litigation in national and international courts? The path of self-empowerment and Ghandi-like movements?

  3. Once again, Pam, you have nailed it, but with a velvet hammer as Dirk has pointed out above.

    We must continue to "connect the dots" in this way, and use this new technology to better inform our own Peoples, and the Settlers. To the extent that we Indigenous folk can access the net – once we get here, it is a level playing field.

    As to solutions – there is not one – there are many, including all in the list that Ken Sanderson has put forth.

  4. Hi Pam
    It is very interesting how Many First Nations Women (so educated ones) are being led to believe that the real problem is womens rights.
    Yes the issue of the way First Nations Women have and are being treated is a problem.However does not this have to be put into context of Genocide of First Nations people in overall.Rights to my knowledge did not become a issue until we were put under British rule.
    Seems like more divide and conquer to me.
    Please comment .I look forward to your input.

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