Violent, Disruptive, and Lawless – Depictions of Six Nations Protestors

Over the past six years there has been considerable media coverage concerning the Six Nations land reclamation in Caledonia. The Six Nations occupied the Henco Industries housing development in order to reclaim the land that was wrongfully taken from them. Although the media has provided considerable coverage concerning the reclamation, they have failed to provide substantial coverage of the issue. Regardless if the media’s political position is liberal, conservative, or centrist, or if the piece is an editorial, news article, or column, they all typically misrepresent the Six Nations protest. The media has spent the majority of its efforts to frame Six Nation protestors as violent, disruptive and lawless. The consequence of this is simple, by depicting Six Nations as dangerous “others” there is a lack of support and understanding for their cause.

There are three ways the media depicts Six Nations protestors as violent: 1. By stating they are violent, 2. By briefly mentioning violent actions done by the few, and 3. Having the violent act be the focus of the article. Violent actions that are depicted are instances such as, the assault of a camera man, violent threats being sent through email, the burning of a car, and the kid-napping of two police officers and two civilians (Wente 2006; Kelly 2006; Rook 2006; Coren 2011). Katie Rook accentuates the violence frame by discussing how the tossing and burning of a vehicle, and other related actions, caused the police to consider protestors as a threat to public safety (2006). Furthermore, both Margaret Wente and Michael Coren portray Six Nations protestors as violent by calling them “radicals” (Wente 2006; Coren 2011). In the case of Adrian Humphreys’ article, the entire piece is dedicated to the aggravated assault of Sam Gualtieri by Richard Smoke (2011). He relies on the testimonies of Mr. Gualtieri, his wife, and his brother to provide information of the attack and its reasoning. He only uses Mr. Smoke’s attorney near the end of the article, where she explains that this case should not be looked at against the backdrop of the protest (Humphreys 2011). By focusing on the violent actions of the Six Nations protestors, the media conveniently overlooks the violent actions of Canada against the Six Nations, and other aboriginal groups. As Mr. Smoke’s attorney exemplifies, the actions of the few should not be judged against the backdrop of the entire protest, yet this is exactly what occurs causing misrepresentation and lack of support for the protest.

Similar to the violence frame, there are three ways Six Nations are depicted as disruptive: 1. Six Nations disrupt Caledonians, 2. Six Nations disrupt society as a whole, and 3. Six Nations disrupt the negotiating process. Six Nations disrupt Caledonians through the construction of barricades that impede traffic, loud protestors in the middle of the night, and residents requirement of “native passports” to enter their home (Wente 2006; Kelly 2006; Murphy 2009). Six Nations protestors are seen as irresponsible and jobless individuals who fail to take care of their kids, which is why they are able to disrupt Caledonians (Coren 2011). The disruption to all Canadians occurs with the usage of “taxpayers money” in order to “buy peace” (Brown 2006; Wente 2006). The Six Nations protest is costing taxpayers $64.3 million dollars and counting (Brown 2006). Moreover, Six Nations protestors disrupt the negotiating process by constantly being in contention with the government (Wente 2006). Wente depicts Six Nations protestors as individuals who fail to cooperatively come up with a consensus, rather, it is their way or the highway (2006). Once again, the media fails to show how the colonization of Six Nations and other aboriginals were disruptive to their culture, land, and livelihood. This one-sided disruption causes for decreased support of Six Nations’ cause, because society can only support the issues that they are informed of.

Another major frame used within mass media is the injustice frame, where Caledonia is depicted as a “lawless oasis” with a “two-tiered justice system”(Humphreys 2011; Kelly 2006). This injustice can be subtly discussed, such as in Christie Blatchford’s article, where police must determine one’s ethnicity before placing charges, due to their rule of “non-engagement” (2010). As Blatchford explains, “almost overnight, officers stopping cars without licence plates…found themselves being asked, when they first called in the information over the radio, a single shocking question: ‘Are the occupants white or non-white?’ If the answer was ‘non-white,’ meaning native, the reply from the command post would be, ‘Get their names, disengage and if there are any charges to be laid, you can law them later.'” Although she does call the occupation lawless, she goes more into a discussion of lawless actions. Alternatively, the injustice can be blatantly depicted, such as in Rex Murphy’s broadcasting, where he states that the provincial government should be ashamed of themselves for abandoning Caledonians from the lawless actions of Six Nations protestors (2009). Coren exemplifies this injustice further, by discussing an incident with Gary McHale [1], where protestors were arrested for carrying the Canadian flag, but Six Nations protestors were allowed to wave their flag on an “illegal” occupation (2011). As well, Caledonian protestors began marching against the “lawlessness” in Caledonia (Kelly 2006). One protestor goes as far as to call Dalton McGuinty a “medical anomaly”, because of his ability to stand without a spine. The irony is blatantly present here, Six Nations have repeatedly been exposed to a “two-tiered” justice system, yet, little media attention has been given to this.

As we can see, the media plays an essential role in the depiction of dissent and often detracts from the meaning behind the protest. One of the ways this occurs is through the process of “false balance”. False balance occurs when the “mass media misrepresents dissent through falsely balancing dissidents with counter-demonstrators” (Boykoff 2007: 250). The media provides this false balance by focusing on the personal testimonies of Caledonians, in order to show their side of the issue. These personal stories frame protestors as violent, disruptive, or lawless, which distracts society from looking at the macro issues, and instead sensationalizes the micro ones (p. 251). Furthermore, by focusing on personal stories and actions there is a “relative disregard” to the actual issue (p. 254). It is difficult to gain support on an idea that questions our fundamental understanding of Canada, when there is no coverage of the issue. These counter-hegemonic ideas require more coverage, both quantitatively and substantially, than those that adhere to the norms (p. 250-251). It is only within the 8th Fire t.v series that we see a sympathetic frame used to depict the Six Nations protest (Walker 2012). It is only here that we see the reasoning behind the protest, the cooperative history the Six Nations had with the government, and the ways that the government has betrayed them. There is a need for more media sources similar to 8th Fire in order for Six Nations to gain more support.

The media has depicted Six Nations as “others” who do not fit within the Canadian system by using violent, disruptive, and injustice frames. By depicting Six Nations protestors as violent lawless “radicals”, the media is creating a “internal dangerous foreigner” who threatens the safety and livelihood of Caledonians (Dhamoon and Abu-Laban 2009: 169). This creates a dichotomy between who is considered a part of the community and who is a “other”. This dichotomy is highly problematic because society will not care to relate to the Six Nations, causing a reduction in support. As well, by framing these protestors as lawless “others” who need to be reprimanded for their illegality, the media and Caledonians are asking for the suppression of these groups. As these lawless “others” are suppressed, we see a dialectical relationship between “othering” and nation-building. By determining who is the other, you determine who is a part of the community. In turn, those who are “others” must be silenced in the name of national sovereignty (p. 167-168). This public call for action by the media and Caledonians is essentially calling for the silence of aboriginal injustice.

[1] Gary McHale is a strong conservative activist who fights against the First Nations occupation in Caledonia. He claims that the illegal actions of the First Nations violate the rights of Caledonians, and the police allow these illegal actions to continue, without consequence, because those who commit the acts are First Nations.


Blatchford, Christie. 2010. “’This is not right’; In the first of a four-part series from her new book, Christie Blatchford describes the suspension of the rule of law in Caledonia, Ont.” National Post, November 16, pp. A16.

Boykoff, Jules. 2007. “Mass Media Underestimation, False Balance, and Disregard.” Pp. 248-260 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.

Brown, Barbara. 2010. “Tab for Caledonia Dispute Soars; Taxpayers on the Hook for more than $64M involving land fight with Native protestors.” Toronto Star, January 7, pp. A14.

Coren, Michael. 2011. The Arena: Caledonia Crusader. [Television Broadcast] Quebec: Sun News.

Dhamoon, Rita and Yasmeen Abu-Laban. 2009. “Dangerous (Internal) Foreigners and Nation- Building: The Case of Canada.” International Political Science Review 30: 163-83.

Humphreys, Adrian. 2011. “Beating was ‘just a notch below culpable homicide’; Caledonia land dispute; Native man found guilty of assault in 2007 altercation.” National Post, September 3, pp. A5.

Kelly, Patrick. 2006. “Marchers Kept Away From Site.” National Post, October 16, pp. A4.

Murphy, Rex. 2009. The National: The Caledonia Conflict. [ Television Broadcast] Toronto: CBC.

Rook, Katie. 2006. “Hundreds Flock to Protest Site: Officers Arrest 16 in Dispute over Caledonia Development.” National Post, April 21, pp. A1.

Walker, Connie. 2012. 8th Fire Dispatches: The Six Nations: The Dilemma of their Unresolved Land Claims. [Television Broadcast/DVD] Toronto: CBC.

Wente, Margaret. 2006. “The New Warrior Class.” The Globe and Mail, July 15, pp. A17.


One comment

  1. Stephy13, great media analysis on the depiction of the Six Nations land reclamation in Caledonia. I particularly liked your analysis on the false balance that was created in the media reports. The false balance completely reinforces the media frames of violence and disruption, especially when they add personal stories and recounts by the residents of Caledonia to give the reader some context to allow the reader to relate and think, “Hey, those Aboriginal protestors could have been disrupting my life and terrorizing my children!” I agree that the false balance took away and deflected attention from the actual issue of land claims to focus the public’s attention on isolated incidents of violence and lawlessness. When I was doing my media analysis, I also found the media to be one-sided and misrepresentative. I saw the misrepresentation of information when the media only provided partial accounts of the issue, such as the National Post’s editorial “Hardly a ‘Nation’” (2006), which provided the history behind the Haldimandi Proclamation but it did not discuss the treaty obligations of that Proclamation and how they were ignored by the government for land exploitation. This, like the articles you have discussed, shows how limiting the media is in covering the actual issue of land claims issues.
    Your suggestion that there should be more media sources such as the 8Th Fire is very intriguing. It definitely would be a great way to inform the public and provide Aboriginal protestors with a sympathetic frame instead of the current bombardment of violence and disruption frame.



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