The Economics of Insurgency

Thoughts on Idle No More & Critical Infrastructure

Six Nations, 2006.

Six Nations, 2006.

by Shiri Pasternak, The Media Coop, January 14, 2013

News reports are ablaze with reports of looming Indigenous blockades and economic disruption. As the Idle No More movement explodes into a new territory of political action, it bears to amplify the incredible economic leverage of First Nations today, and how frightened the government and industry are of their capacity to wield it.

In recent years, Access to Information (ATI) records obtained by journalists reveal a massive state-wide surveillance and “hot spot monitoring” operation coordinated between the Department of Indian Affairs, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), local security forces, natural resource and transportation ministries, border agencies, and industry stakeholders. These efforts have been explicitly mobilized to protect “critical infrastructure” from Indigenous attack.

What is critical infrastructure? According to an RCMP internal document concerning the risk of Aboriginal protest, “critical infrastructure refers to infrastructure, both tangible and intangible, that is essential to the health, safety, security or economic well-being of Canadians and the effective functioning of government.” RCMP National Security Criminal Investigations have prioritized four critical infrastructure sectors: finance, transportation, energy, and cyber-security.

On January 5 alone, INM protests included five border crossing blockades, bridge blockades, and rail line disruptions spanning the country.

INM protesters temporarily block the Blue Water Bridge border crossing to the United States in Sarnia, Ont, Jan 5, 2013.

INM protesters temporarily block the Blue Water Bridge border crossing to the United States in Sarnia, Ont, Jan 5, 2013.

And it’s not only intelligence services that are warning of threats to critical infrastructure.

Conservative military analyst Douglas Bland has also long warned that Canada’s economic vulnerability is based on the “critical infrastructure that transports natural resources and manufactured goods from mines, oil fields, hydro-electric facilities and factories to international markets.” Without these critical systems, he cautions, “Canada’s economy would collapse.”

Though Bland has counseled a conciliatory approach to Aboriginals in order to stave off the coming crisis, his alarmism – and that of other right-wing pundits – simultaneously justifies the state’s security and surveillance apparatus by manufacturing a fear of native uprising. But for Bland and others, a coming “Native Spring” is less feared for its potential “violence” and all the more grave for its threat to property rights.

In Bland’s fictional book Uprising, he predicts coordinated attacks by secret native cells on key installations and urban hubs, such as the James Bay hydro-electric dam and the downtown core of Winnipeg. This attack on critical infrastructure tellingly ends in a blaze of heroic Canada-US military attacks on the rebel army. (The US gets involved only when they realize their source of electricity, oil, and gas is at stake).

Herein lies the real role of right wing alarmists in the INM movement: to maintain the economic status quo, because territory is capital. Land is money. And the circulation of goods, resources and energy through territory is the very essence of capitalism today.

The fact is that critical infrastructure in Canada is at the mercy of Indigenous peoples, who are more rural than Canadians and have access to important arteries for economic flows: transportation corridors, energy sectors, and sites of natural resource extraction.

Argentinian piqueteros block roads and intersections.

Argentinian piqueteros block roads and intersections.

This vulnerability is deadly to the logistics industry. Logistics is a business science concerned with the management of goods and information through global supply chains. As the World Bank has declared: “A competitive network of global logistics is the backbone of international trade.” For an industry dependent on maintaining open channels for capital circulation, a blockade means massive losses: the trucking industry alone is worth $65 billion dollars and employs over 260,000 drivers.

In the energy sector, Canada has oil reserves second in the world after Saudi Arabia, though less accessible – 98 per cent of this oil is in Alberta and 95 per cent of it is in the tarsands, where effective Indigenous resistance by Treaty 8 and other First Nations has led to global boycott campaigns and fierce resistance.

In northern BC, the Unist’ot’en Clan, with support from grassroots Wet’suwet’en, have built a community of resistance directly on the GPS coordinates of the proposed pipeline route from the Alberta tarsands to the Kitimat port. From this camp they have evicted surveyors working for Pacific Trails Pipeline. Meanwhile, in Ontario, Enbrdige’s Line 9 has been has been opposed by the Oneida, the Haudenosaunee Development Institute, and Aamijiwaang First Nation, who have all vowed to fight the pipeline to protect their lands and waters.

Members of Unis'tot'en camp, November 2012.

Members of Unis’tot’en camp, November 2012.

In terms of natural resource extraction, over 10 per cent of Canada’s economy is comprised of the natural resources sectors and earth science industries, which directly employ close to 763,000 people. The greatest concentration and correlation between Indigenous lands and mineral claims are being currently developed in the northern modern treaties and territories, such as Nunavut; Yukon; the James Bay region of Quebec, and the Quebec-Labrador border; on unceded northwestern BC lands (e.g. on Nakazdli, Tzalten, and Tlingit traditional territory); and in northern Ontario’s “Ring of Fire” on historic treaty lands, particularly Treaties 3 and 9.

In addition to mineral resources, over half of large intact forest landscapes are found on lands in historical Aboriginal treaty areas. More specifically, as Global Forest Watch reports, “Treaties 8 and 9 contain about a quarter of all of Canada’s intact forest landscapes and close to half of all the intact forest landscapes that occur within treaty areas. Modern land claim settlements contain about a quarter of Canada’s intact forest landscapes.”

That is not to say meaningful consultation concerning critical infrastructure has not been taking place. The problem is that it has exclusively been between industry and government, instead of between Indigenous peoples and the state. Journalists have been uncovering multiple incidents of high-level coordination between industry and government officials. For example, Access to Information requests revealed that the government has been sharing information with the oil industry on environmentalists and Indigenous groups twice a year since 2005 at secret briefings, even on such seemingly irrelevant activities such as participation in anti-G20 demonstrations.

The irony is that many corporations are tired of having operations held up by Indigenous protest and are willing to go further than governments to recognize Indigenous rights. The logics of colonialism and capitalism divide here around conflicting objectives of territorial acquisition versus the circulation of goods. But more often than not, the state and industry converge around the common interests of the ruling class. For Indigenous peoples, this becomes a question of coordinating leverage.

Tyendinaga Mohawks block railway, 2007

Tyendinaga Mohawks block railway, 2007

In conclusion, I want to highlight three main concerns expressed in the risk assessments undertaken by RCMP, CSIS, Indian Affairs, and right wing thinkers on Indigenous uprising that foreground Indigenous economic power.

The first, is that a mishandling of conflict will galvanize coordinated efforts of First Nations across the country. Hence, the relatively hands-off approach taken until now. In the Federal Coordination Framework for the AFN Day of Action in 2007, their proposed solution in the case of coordinated mobilization is to “isolate the splinter group.”

Second, that the economic cost of even a few hours of such coordinated efforts would be crippling and impossible to police given current resources.

Third – and this is one of the most worrisome trends to observers – that solidarity and coordination between non-natives and Indigenous peoples will encourage the movement to build.

As a final thought, while the general population might have been taken by surprise by the strength of Idle No More, the government had long prepared for this inevitability. As far back as 2008, when changes were first proposed to the Navigable Waters Act, CSIS’s Integrated Threat Assessment Centre warned about “potential unrest.”

Canada created the crisis of insurgency. Because Canada’s greed created a situation where Indigenous peoples stand with almost nothing to lose. Therefore the fight is theirs to take. It is also ours to support.

Shiri Pasternak is a Toronto-based writer, research and indigenous solidarity organizer. With files from Deborah Cowen, Tia Dafnos and Tim Groves.


Posted on January 14, 2013, in Defending Territory and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Watch out for Shiri Pasternak, she is with a group called Barriere Lake Solidarity that runs a fake website she advocates a solidarity with band-council types that sell the land and make agreements that they will not make public. This person is an academic industrial complex sockpuppeting astroturfing solidarity activist trading in guilt and non-transparency. WARNING! Complicit in ECOCIDE and silencing the traditional people. Read about it here:

    Tina Nottaway, who resides on the territory and counts herself and her family as its traditional peoples claims “the difference between the Matchewans and the traditional people .. is that they want to make back door agreements and we want is to co exist with nature….” adding, “it has to be clarified between these groups…”, Pasternak is a fierce defender of Norman Matchewan who used to be a police office and who is the son of the former chief, Jean-Maurice, who is under investigation for fraud and assault of women elders. This community needs unity, not oppression.

    for more information about this and to get in touch with others who will vouch for this information e-mail me at

  2. Associazione Hunkapi

    Hunkapi Genova Italy Support IDLE NO MORE

  3. Southern Ontario: Solidarity CN Rail Signal Sabotage

    On Thursday January 3, following the removal of the Aamjiwnaang blockade near Sarnia, Ontario we used copper wire to block train traffic in both directions on the CN mainline through the suburbs north of Toronto. Read below for directions on how to reproduce this action yourself.

    We were inspired to act by the numerious blockades of freight traffic, roads, highways and border crossings across so called canada by indigenous warriors and rebels, which has been one of the greatest demonstrations of unity in a decade. These actions have been undertaken by so many different communities and nations inspiring a new generation to join in struggles for land and autonomy.

    The Assembly of First Nations chiefs, Theresa Spence and government hacks have all tried to put the reins on these actions of dispersed sabotage and economic disruption but we are inspired by the fact that these actions continue to spread and grow, demonstrating these apparent leaders lack of control.

    These actions are easy and reproducible. Railways cross most cities and reserves and move money for the rich.

    Solidarity with the rebels disrupting capital.

    -Some Anarchists

    Choose a section of railway tracks with a degree of privacy. Using no less than 12 feet of large gauge copper wire (plastic casing removed), wrap each end of the wire around the two railway ties and back onto themselves, ensuring as much contact with the railway tie as possible. As soon as both ends are securely in place, the circuit will be complete and the railway traffic signals in the area will signal that there is a barrier on the tracks. Leave promptly.

    Please repost to #idlenomore websites

  4. great article, quite insightful. WE support Idle No More! I hope that such economic turmoil is brought upon this country because Ive had enough of their bullshit system! Im already in economic turmoil-have been for many years because I cant dig myself out from the shit life brings…once you are behind the 8-ball you cant get out! Thats their game and Im tired of it! It makes me irate when I see the `fat cats` misuse my tax dollars and continue to abuse the system for their own benefit! Yup-Ive had enough!

  5. Very useful and encouraging analysis, thank you!

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