Grassy Narrows Road Blockade 2002: Analysis of Media Coverage

The Grassy Narrows road blockade has become the longest lasting blockade in Canadian history. In a recent article by the CBC news which highlights the ten year anniversary of the blockade, one of the main protesters, Judy DaSilva, is quoted. DaSilva stated that when the blockade was initiated, police told protesters that what they were doing was illegal and that this scared the community members but it was not enough to stop them (Porter 2012: 1). This makes it evident that immediately after the blockade began the police tried to threaten the protesters in order to deter them from continuing with their actions. An analysis of earlier articles tended to follow suit. Most articles made note of police presence and discussed how protesters were arrested even though they were never violent. Further to this point of non-violence, one article blatantly highlighted how the original road block on December 3, 2002 did not receive much mainstream media coverage; whereas had it been violent it likely would have received more attention (Harries 2003: A08). Such a statement speaks to the issue that media coverage is mainly attracted towards indigenous struggles only when violent tactics are employed as a strategy to make these certain groups of people appear as dangerous.

In a 2003 Toronto Star article, DaSilva is once again quoted and this time she discussed the importance of the peacefulness of the protest. She is aware that if aggressive tactics were to be used, it is likely that law enforcement officials would be sent in (Harries 2003: A08). The article also makes reference to the Oka crisis which is a previous Aboriginal protest that engaged in a violent battle with police. This was in an effort to highlight what the Grassy Narrows protesters could potentially face as a result of their choice to block the road. In an article in the National Post, reference to another Aboriginal dispute in Caledonia was also used (Patrick 2006: A5). This strategy was used by the media as what seems to be an attempt to expose the numerous ongoing Aboriginal struggles. As Todd Gordon discusses in “Producing Capitalist Order”, the Canadian state has been shaped by Aboriginal struggle and an increase in police surveillance has developed in response (2006: 34). By exposing that there was more than one site of Aboriginal resistance, the media is helping to legitimize the state’s reactions which include increased policing of their territories. The Toronto Star article explicitly stated that the local Ontario Provincial Police have been keeping an eye on the Grassy Narrows situation (Harries 2003: A08).

This same Toronto Star article contextualized the Grassy Narrows protest by highlighting the adversity that the Ojibway have faced at the hands of major corporations and other colonial processes over the past fifty years. This is something that many of the other newspaper articles lacked. In another one of his articles titled “Empire at Home”, Todd Gordon discusses how capitalism rests upon the forceful subjugation of indigenous nations and their resources and it is evident that this process is occurring in Grassy Narrows; however, most news articles chose to ignore this key aspect of the issue (2011: 67). In fact, in a National Post article, the Ojibway are undermined when the author discussed how the massive plot where Abiti Consolidated plans to clear cut is their “traditional land use area” (Patrick 2006: A5). By the use of the quotations around the words traditional land use area, the author de-legitimized their struggle by making it appear as though the land is not necessarily theirs and they should therefore not be contesting the extraction of the resources. Another article by the Canadian Press expressed a similar standpoint. The article discussed how clear-cutting is an acceptable practice and that even though Aboriginals are supposed to be consulted when it comes to development in their territory, it does not give their communities a “veto” (Puxley 2007). The promulgation of this viewpoint through the media works to uphold capitalist ideals which rely upon the acceptance of imperialism because it allows for expansion and in turn strengthens the state.

In articles by the Winnipeg Free Press and Victoria Times Colonist, the disruption frame is vividly used to describe the actions of the Grassy Narrows protesters. They are both reporting on one of the roving blockades. A roving blockade means that the Ojibway moved locations in order to stop trucks from entering their territory through a different route. This event escalated media coverage of the Grassy Narrows blockade in the summer of 2006 when a protester chained herself to a logging truck and others erected a ten metre metal tripod in the middle of the road. These acts caused major backlogs of traffic and the articles both noted that the protesters caused many inconveniences for the local community. It is likely that this event attracted more media attention than the original 2002 blockade because the protesters became more aggressive in their tactics.

The Victoria Times Colonist article also stated that some of the protesters involved were arrested and charged with mischief and then released and ordered to appear in court (Janzen and Lett 2006: B11). As discussed by Jackie Esmonde in “The Policing of Dissent”, the state utilizes the criminal law in order to curb effective social movements (2002: 275). The Grassy Narrows protesters have been successful in preventing logging trucks from entering their territory; therefore, these arrests are another attempt to de-legitimize their contentious struggle and portray their actions as illegal in an effort to deter others from joining or engaging in similar movements. Overall, the mainstream media’s showcase of the Grassy Narrows road blockade quietly worked on the state’s behalf to frame the Aboriginal struggle as one that is unnecessary and potentially threatening.

References

Esmonde, Jackie. 2002. “The Policing of Dissent: The Use of Breach of the Peace Arrests at Political Demonstrations.” Journal of Law and Equality 1(2): 246-278.

Giroday, Gabrielle. 2006. “Protesters block Trans Canada. The issue: clear-cut logging near Grassy Narrows reserve.” Winnipeg Free Press, July 14, pp. A4. (Retrieved from ProQuest on December 3, 2012.)

Gordon, Todd. 2006. “Producing Capitalist Order: Police, Class, Race and Gender.” Pp. 29-51 in Cops, Crime and Capitalism. Halifax:Fernwood Publishing.

Gordon, Todd. 2011. “Empire at Home.” Pp. 66-133 in Imperialist Canada. Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing.

Harries, Kate. 2003. “Grassy Narrows, still fighting.” Toronto Star, November 30, pp. A08. (Retrieved from ProQuest on December 3, 2012.)

Janzen, Leah and Dan Lett. 2006. “Arrests stun native protesters.” Victoria Times Colonist, July 16, pp. B11. (Retrieved from ProQuest on December 3, 2012.)

Patrick, Kelly. 2006. “Native activists block Trans-Canada Highway: Grassy Narrows Reserve.” National Post, July 14, pp. A5. (Retrieved from ProQuest on December 3, 2012.)

Porter, Jody. 2012. “Longest running First Nations blockade continues.” CBC News, December 3. Retrieved December 3, 2012 (http://www.cbcnews.ca).

Puxley, Chinta. 2007. “Ontario First Nation declare ban on industrial activity on its territory.” The Canadian Press, January 17. (Retrieved from Factiva on December 3, 2012.)

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