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How the truckers split indigenous Canada We are fed up with being viewed as virtuous victims

“The average Joe has had enough.” (Amru Salahuddien/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“The average Joe has had enough.” (Amru Salahuddien/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)


February 24, 2022   6 mins

Canadians aren’t known for the depth of their political feeling. If anything, our easy-going passivity is often a point of pride and distinction against our overzealous neighbours to the south. Yet if the recent Freedom Convoy revealed anything, it was that deep rifts do exist in Canada — and they could soon boil over.

In many ways, these divisions are unique: they are not draped in the usual identitarian focus on race, gender and sexuality that has come to define the West. Rather, they are between those minority groups which embrace a sense of victimhood and those which reject it; between the strong, self-determining subject capable of rational judgement and between the vulnerable subject who demands protection. Nowhere is this clearer than in the contentious case of indigenous participation in the Freedom Convoy.

Even in my own family, the truckers’ protest sparked an unprecedented sense of discord and division, both on and off reserve. In recent weeks, I have spoken with several relatives and their contacts who participated in and organised portions of the Convoy. What emerged was a sense of division that is a microcosm for a more fundamental rupture in mainstream Canada and beyond.

This is to be expected: no matter how hard policymakers and even indigenous leaders try to convince us otherwise, the issues faced by indigenous people are not so different from those faced by people around the world. Like so many groups, they are torn between the demand for freedom and the demand for safety. It is a conflict faced by governments and populations that predates Covid-19 — but which has become manifest with lockdown measures and the resistance to them.

While Trudeau dismissed the protests as sexist, racist outpourings of white supremacy, the indigenous participants I spoke to were keen to emphasise their diversity. Some indigenous people arrived in full regalia; a mother marched with a papoose on her back and two small children in traditional dress. “We met so many people from every background,” said an Ojibwa woman from a Northern Ontario reserve who helped organise protestors in her area. “Because we’re just like everyone else. We want the mandates to end. We want freedom of choice and autonomy over our own bodies. We want a good life and we want our children to have a good life. We want the same things.”

She pointed to problems on reserves but linked these to broader issues in Canadian society. “Like the rest of the population, we have suffered from so many drug-related deaths and suicides. Covid just made that worse. We don’t want that anymore. We’re so sad seeing this and we’re just hoping for change. Just like everyone else.”

Yet many in the indigenous community disagreed. Leaders issued statements condemning the protests, and in particular the use of traditional ceremonies and objects by both indigenous and non-indigenous people without “permission from us in order to proceed”, dismissing them as “ignorant acts of cultural appropriation”. While there was some controversy about a kitsch “pipe ceremony” that was posted online, the broader message underscored that ceremonies and ceremonial objects only have a place in certain approved protests and in relation to certain approved issues. Indigeneity, it appears, is the sole province of those who toe a certain line. And that line is not about freedom, but safety and protection.

Indeed, all these pronouncements highlighted was the insularity of Canada’s indigenous movements. Grand Council Chief Reginald Niganobe said: “Once again, we ask that you please remain vigilant within your communities where you are continued to be needed.” In a statement shared on social media, he argued: “It is counter-intuitive to the progression of our communities to be caught up in anti-government sentiment which fails to address the complexities of Anishinabe realities.”

Others framed the protests as a clear indication of racist inequality in Canada, pointing out that an indigenous-led convoy would have been met with swift suppression. The author of one such piece reflected that while some indigenous people might be attracted to the movement’s anti-establishment rebelliousness, “this is not the cause that we need to get behind because they’re not here to help our issues”.

But as Kenan Malik recently observed, racial specialness has often been used as a means of dismantling cross-race “fusion” movements that threatened the existing order. Take the struggle that brought together poor black workers and poor white farmers in the American south during the early 20th century. Rather than organising together, white workers were persuaded that their interests lay not in their class position but rather in their racial uniqueness. Of course, certain groups undoubtedly suffer individualised issues. Historically, however, the distinctiveness of one’s struggle was preached precisely to destroy the power of solidarity movements to achieve change.

And this is a danger that still runs deep today. Indigenous people are constantly invited to believe that their problems are distinct and rooted squarely in the past. When news broke last summer about the alleged existence of unmarked children’s graves at a Kamloops residential school, the media was awash with tales of suffering and horror. While many indigenous people did suffer greatly in these schools, it is important to note that not all children attended them. Nonetheless, a predictable narrative began to emerge: that, however indirectly, all indigenous people are essentially traumatised by this past. As one academic put it at the time, indigenous people have “ongoing issues in our communities that are a direct result of these schools”, and the failure to recognise this ensures “that new generations are continuing to suffer”.

Such claims about the colonial trauma experienced by all indigenous people have not been dampened by more recent evidence that the evidence of mass graves is shaky. It fits too well with the dominant ideal of the indigenous victim. As one young woman put it: “We’re still experiencing the effects of the residential school from our parents and grandparents. We’re all damaged, and we’ll pass it on to our children, so it will never end.”

With victimhood now all but regarded as an innate indigenous characteristic, it is hardly surprising that indigenous frauds have started to fabricate entire identities grounded in this trauma: Saskatchewan professor and public health expert Carrie Bourassa was revealed last year to have fabricated claims to indigenous heritage, appearing publicly in elaborate dress as ‘Morning Star Bear’ with attendant melodramatic theatrics. While organisers of the Freedom Convoy have similarly been outed for making shaky assertions about their mixed roots, it is interesting how long Bourassa’s claims went undetected.

Bourassa climbed the career ladder for years, steadily growing bolder with expanded claims to indigenous heritage and cultural roots. Why? Because Bourassa told a story that people wanted to hear. She talked of suffering, addiction and “endemic” sexual abuse — experiences that were likely a far cry from her comfortable middle class upbringing in Regina. “Everybody around me was either an alcoholic, drug addict or suffered from some sort of addiction,” she embellished. “There was a lot of violence in my family.”

True or not, here we had a story of a virtuous indigenous victim — the sort of victim that inspires a carefully positioned Justin Trudeau to be photographed with a single tear running down his cheek; the sort of victim that legitimises his decision to exclude indigenous citizens from obeying his draconian emergency laws without needing to explain why.

And for the people I spoke to, this can have an unintended effect: it makes them feel like frauds because that narrative of trauma is not their experience. Even if it were, I am not convinced it would be capable of fulfilling their desires for more control and freedom to decide how to live their lives.

Quite the opposite. As indigenous scholar Dian Million has warned, this narrative of virtuous victimhood runs expressly against claims to self-determination, a long established goal of indigenous communities. This is because when we assume victimhood, we often relinquish power. Constantly invited to confess endless tales of suffering and damage, the call for “self-determination” fades into “self-management” and the therapeutic “empowerment” of outside agencies.

And this is echoed throughout Canada at large. In recent years, indigenous communities have started to groan under the weight of expanding bodies of surveillance. It’s striking, then, that during the recent protest, truckers spoke of the encroachment of endless managers into their work, subjecting them to increasing surveillance, such as fitting their trucks with cameras in their cabs. And like indigenous leaders’ disavowal of indigenous participants’ demands for freedom in favour of safety, so too did the truckers’ unions retreat into threats, seeing their main role as providing not self-determination but safety.

Indigenous experiences, then, are a microcosm of Canada. We are not so different. Like so many others, some of us reject the vision of virtuous victimhood. And it is testament to the power of this unity that our community leaders should respond with such horror. They’ve finally sussed out that we too are the “Average Joe” — and as one indigenous participant told me: “The average Joe has had enough.”


Ashley Frawleyis a sociologist, a columnist at Compact and COO of Sublation Media.

AshleyAFrawley

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Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

I like the picture. I see the deep communing with the spirit of the occasion in his face, his Manly stance, and the Philacterie/Totem with a camera of modernity on his forehead, the peace sign, the Canadian flag, the aloof reflection in the dark eyeglasses, The rebellious Right wing, back country, chest length beard, shoulder length hair with full mustache, and ear-flap hat with the Camos for the Gadsden effect. He covers a lot of ground.

I assume he is not one of the victimhood ones, but rather ‘strong, self-determining, capable of rational judgement ‘

“Rather, they are between those minority groups which embrace a sense of victimhood and those which reject it; between the strong, self-determining subject capable of rational judgement and between the vulnerable subject who demands protection.”

And if Canada is really 30% for the convoy, 30% against, and 40% middle/sheep, as I heard – then the ones against could be said to be :’pro Authority instead of self-determining, not capable of rational judgement as the masks do nothing, the vax is useless, and the lockdowns have almost wrecked the world, yet they demand more and more of them as they wallow in victimhood – and demand to be protected from themselves, from their neighbors, from their countrymen, and from foreigners – so I guess the anti Convoy are the vulnerable – the scared, weak, irrational, victims demanding Trudeau save them from their fear. The picture says it all. I know which side I respect.

The Truckers – I work construction, I know these guys – they are strong, fearless, wise, hard working, productive, Honest, decent – all which the ones against them are not.

Last edited 2 years ago by Galeti Tavas
Michael K
Michael K
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Fear can be addictive. Indeed, some people grow to love their oppressors.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I feel that your ideas are just simplifications. I have family in Canada and they are not sheep but they don’t analyse in this crystal-clear, right or wrong fashion. There are many other factors.
If you read the article, the truckers were complaining about management and cameras in the cabs. So instead of a group of political heroes, there could have been just a small strike against their working conditions.
I have been self-employed for many years and I work with self-employed people. If they don’t work, they don’t get paid. I have heard many teachers, government workers, fire officers complain about having to wear masks. They talk about industrial action all the time. The self-employed just wear the masks so that they can work. They follow the rules; maybe you would call them sheep because you read books. I wouldn’t call them sheep – they are just people working for their families.
Trudeau is a horrible thing but your sheep have voted him in to power and they may do so again. (Non-voting sheep have the same effect). Certainly, my family in Quebec think he is wonderful. He will probably survive.

Last edited 2 years ago by Chris Wheatley
Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The tension he puts on the country is that he has almost no support in Western Canada outside of the largest cities. This always rankles – but it is much worse when the government is lead by a transparent hypocrite who explicitly has a policy to destroy the oil industry. Like his father he is personally straining Canadian unity. I can’t articulate how deeply people like me despise him and how profoundly frustrating it is that Ontario and Quebec elect him. It is outside of most people’s imagination to envisage Canada breaking apart. But Newfoundland only joined in 1949, the prairie provinces came into being in the early 1900’s and of course Quebec already almost left in the 90’s. Under certain conditions it could happen and Trudeau is definitely a factor.

Last edited 2 years ago by Gunner Myrtle
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Chris, when you criticise opinions you inevitably say that there are many factors at play. Of course there are – most (all) thinking people consider them and then form their opinions. You seem to think this is a strange thing – my opinion is that it is normal.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

Thanks for the translation of Grahamstown, unfortunately the Censor vetoed my initial reply.

The Baboons were shot as a punitive measure as one my friends magnificent dogs had been killed by them.! Also population control was necessary.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I voted you up, because I think you are right. Canadians get what they voted for. Of course, the system may be rigged, skewed, corrupted, or just be plain fair. After all, Canadians pride themselves in forming such a sensible nation. But in such setting the professional victimhood aka low expectation racism (including is well paid promotors) can thrive. And I believe that is what this article is about. The author got side tracked, and you somehow focussed on the branch line. And doing something because otherwise you cannot earn your money, does not make that act inherently good. People have to put up with a lot of things they would rather not have to, if they had a real choice. I hope there are three more voters to get you out of the red.

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

How depressing. But thank you anyway.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

“Bourassa climbed the career ladder for years, steadily growing bolder with expanded claims to indigenous heritage and cultural roots. Why? Because Bourassa told a story that people wanted to hear.”
This vile, filthy, disgusting impostor was enabled by the fake news media.
Too good to check? Of course it is, when you are not after facts but pushing a particular point of view. Facts don’t matter.
And she’s far from the only one. Likely she wouldn’t have gotten caught–as in many other cases–if the false claims didn’t get bolder and more outlandish over time.
And hey, before I get slammed for attacking women (I’m not, just one particular woman) please note that I said the same or worse (justifiably) about Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby in another post. Fair play.

Vince B
Vince B
2 years ago

The Canadian truckers’ protest was a class uprising. It is almost humorous how incapable the establishment is in seeing any discord outside the lens of race and other identity. Of course it simply had to be about race. When all you have is a hammer… But this was another of many compounding situations where the Narrative didn’t meet reality. Trudeau looked smug, authoritarian and creepy. The media looks reactionary.
The fact is that people such as truckers and others who work in the “real” economy have had to sacrifice a great deal more during the pandemic than people like me, who could Zoom into the office. My work wasn’t interrupted one iota, and in fact, I saved money from not having to commute, send shirts out to the cleaners, or eat lunch at a restaurant. To further demand on-going DefCon 1 pandemic measures as the pandemic recedes – in some false hope of “one death is too much!” – is simply asking too much of those who have already sacrificed so much. I can only imagine how economically devastated so many service workers have been.
These kinds of cross-cultural blue collar protests have been growing throughout the industrialized world, and will grow larger. Once the people stop buying the esablishment’s line that the biggest divider is racism, sexism, xenophobia and other bigotries but in fact class, it becomes a whole new ballgame.
Watch out for more Canadian truckers’-style protests, and watch how desperately the establishment tries to slime them a “white supremacist” and the like.

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
2 years ago

There is no conflict between the desire for freedom and the desire for safety: in fact, freedom is impossible without some degree of safety.
There is however a conflict between a desire for freedom and a desire for lack of accountability. Only small children and those who are extremely disabled lack accountability for their actions.
My concern is that groups of people who’ve suffered historical trauma are all viewed as disabled children who can’t help but flounder helplessly in the face of adversity.
This is an extremely insulting message to send, and it stigmatizes marginalized groups as innately ineffectual.
Those who bravely stand with their fellow protestors in the Freedom Convoy are rejecting the mantle of helplessness and are embracing their power. They are not cowering and begging for mercy, they are demanding the right to live as the free and responsible adults they are.
Those who support the rights of Indigenous people should support their right to participate in this protest.

William McKinney
William McKinney
2 years ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

Actually it’s precisely the reverse – safety is impossible without freedom.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

A hamster wheel maybe.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

This is what is happening all over the West – minority groups are seen as helpless victims, therefore they are seen to be incapable of success without grand scale interventions. This is of course not entirely true and so much that has been won will inevitably be lost if we continue down this course.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

Indeed. I was shocked a few years ago to hear one of my professors proclaim that it was racist to expect personal responsibility from ‘historically oppressed groups.’

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

But presumably not surprised?

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
2 years ago

Someone please point out that the Iroquois were allies of His/Her Britannic Majesty, and saw themselves as equal partners in North America.

Appeal to tradition, and treat them like allies, and things will improve.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
2 years ago

Let me pose this idea:
Evidence of diversity of policy preferences is evidence of a healthy society. It is evidence of sophistication. The alternative involves of cheap-and-easy appeals to crass tribalism.

Lloyd Byler
Lloyd Byler
2 years ago

Yeah, we Americans are so zealous about freedom.