Clark on Rutherford, 'Canada's Other Red Scare: Indigenous Protest and Colonial Encounters during the Global Sixties'

Author: 
Scott Rutherford
Reviewer: 
Cathleen Clark

Scott Rutherford. Canada's Other Red Scare: Indigenous Protest and Colonial Encounters during the Global Sixties. Rethinking Canada in the World Series. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2020. Illustrations. 208 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-228-00406-6; $110.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-228-00405-9.

Reviewed by Cathleen Clark (University of Toronto) Published on H-Canada (June, 2021) Commissioned by Sarah K. Miles (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=56269

Scott Rutherford’s Canada’s Other Red Scare: Indigenous Protest and Colonial Encounters during the Global Sixties provides a much-needed contribution to Canada’s sparse literature on Indigenous Red Power activism. Drawing primarily on documentary archives, news media, and some published and self-conducted interviews, Rutherford examines how global “movements and moments” shaped a ten-year period of Indigenous resistance in Kenora, Ontario (p. 14). The book begins in 1965 when hundreds of Indigenous protestors took to Kenora’s streets to protest racism during “Canada’s First Civil Rights March” and concludes in 1974 with the armed occupation of Anicinabe Park and the Native People’s Caravan protest to Ottawa (p. 18). In these and the intervening chapters, Rutherford traces how Indigenous and non-Indigenous actors engaged with and adapted transnational discourses on race, Third World anti-colonialism, and other global movements of oppressed peoples to frame Indigenous struggles in Canada.

Set against the backdrop of what he terms the “Global Sixties,” Rutherford argues that Indigenous activism in this period was translated and understood through global comparatives. These comparatives proved a “double-edged” sword for Indigenous activists (p. 33). They offered inspiration and opportunities for connection and often led to greater media coverage of Indigenous issues by contextualizing them within broader developments with which Canadian audiences were already familiar. However, they also obscured the particular complexities of regional histories and Indigenous experiences. In 1965, for example, national media coverage made sense of the Kenora protest by invoking comparisons to apartheid in South Africa and racial segregation and unrest in the southern United States. The town of Kenora was described by Canadian news media as “Canada’s Alabama” while the march was referred to as a “Canadian Selma” (p. 29). Comparisons to the Black civil rights movement placed Kenora under intense public scrutiny but framed the town’s racism as a shocking anomaly rather than as part of a broader system of settler colonialism. Similarly, when a locally based Red Power group called the Ojibway Warrior Society occupied Anicinabe Park for forty days in 1974, it was likened to the 1973 takeover of Wounded Knee in South Dakota by the American Indian Movement. Rutherford contends that while public discourses often marshaled global comparisons in an effort to undermine the credibility of Indigenous activists—either by reinforcing myths of racism’s absence in Canada or outsourcing blame for conflicts to foreign influences—the Canadian state also used them to construct Indigenous militancy as a national security threat. Indigenous activists, especially those who aligned with Red Power and took up the revolutionary language of Third World struggles, found themselves subject to intense state surveillance, targeted policing, and infiltration by agent provocateurs due to their connections with other groups like the Black Panthers and perceived links to communism or even Cuban revolutionaries.

Just as global perspectives sometimes overshadowed the nuances of Indigenous realities in Kenora, Rutherford is alert to the potential to reproduce similar erasures in his book. He is careful to acknowledge “Sixties” Indigenous activism as a continuation of longstanding Indigenous resistance in Canada and is attentive to the local conditions and issues in Kenora and Treaty #3 territory in northern Ontario more broadly. He also makes it clear that Indigenous people did not uncritically adopt and replicate ideas from the Third World. They looked to these other movements out of shared interests and for inspiration but selectively engaged with ideas of race and anti-colonialism that resonated with their own experiences, adapting them to suit their own purposes. Here Rutherford points to Indigenous travel abroad, engagement with seminal anti-colonial works like Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961), and conference series exploring a range of Indigenous issues and their links to global developments, to show how individuals thought globally in their everyday lives. One of his most interesting contributions to this topic is his argument that Indigenous peoples took these ideas and, through cultural production in the form of documentaries, newsletters, and books, developed new critical frameworks that centered Canada as a settler-colonial state. Though an increasingly accepted narrative today, at the time this was a radical intervention that ran counter to most understandings of Canadian history.

Scholars of Canadian Indigenous history will recognize many of the common tropes (good versus bad Indians, the "Indian problem," outside agitators on reserves, etc.) discussed in the book from other historical periods as well. Indeed, one of the book’s strengths is that it shows how these established ideas were translated anew to better resonate with the preoccupations of the time. For example, Rutherford writes that social scientists and policymakers drew on the language of international development to cast Indigenous communities as “underdeveloped” domestic Third World colonies (p. 46). In doing so, they sought to rationalize the inequalities in Indigenous peoples’ socioeconomic status and advance assimilationist policies premised on cultural integration. In addition, though it is not a central claim of the book, Rutherford’s consideration of the 1965 Kenora march aligns him with other scholars who have also problematized the view of postwar Indigenous activism solely as a response to the Canadian government’s controversial 1969 White Paper.[1] That said, while readers seeking insight into how Indigenous peoples linked their struggles to other colonized peoples around the world will find much to appreciate in the book, they may also be surprised at how much it centers how non-Indigenous stakeholders thought about and perceived Indigenous protest. This is not necessarily a weakness, but it is worth noting.

Considering “Red Power” is such a central feature in the book’s second half, Canada’s Other Red Scare would have benefited from a clearer and more considered framework about what exactly Rutherford means by the term. Admittedly, in chapter 3 he writes that Red Power was “a framework that interrogated the specificity of settler-colonialism locality and Canadian government policy using globally circulating ideas about decolonization and anti-racism” (p. 65). This definition has merit when applied to his discussion of Vancouver’s Native Alliance for Red Power (NARP), the work of Indigenous scholars like Howard Adams, and the protests that feature in the book’s final chapters. However, this definition is also somewhat startling because in Rutherford’s analysis “Red Power” also appears to apply to Cree leader Harold Cardinal’s challenges to the 1969 White Paper and the transnational advocacy of George Manuel, a Shuswap man who led the National Indian Brotherhood in the early 1970s and advocated for international Indigenous rights. To see the efforts of these two men (and others like them) as part of a broader movement of globally connected Indigenous activism is not inaccurate. Still, to include them under the umbrella of Red Power is arguably problematic since during their lifetimes both denounced Red Power activism’s more controversial protest tactics and actively denied having any association with the movement. This suggests that Rutherford’s own interpretation of the term focuses more on the shared intellectual foundations of politically engaged Indigenous activists across a broad political spectrum in this period and less on whether or not individuals self-identified as being part of the Red Power movement itself. A case can be made for either definition; however, a more explicit discussion of these tensions would have addressed these apparent contradictions. Likewise, the book’s focus on how global movements outside of Canada shaped Indigenous activism within the country would have been strengthened with a more sustained discussion about the relationship between Red Power movements operating simultaneously on both sides of the Canada-US border. The only time this is really addressed is when Rutherford discusses the presence of US-based American Indian Movement members like Dennis Banks at the occupation of Anicinabe Park. These inconsistencies detract little from his overall conclusions, but more elaboration would have strengthened his arguments.

Lastly, the book’s conclusion takes the form of an unsent letter addressed from Rutherford to Louis Cameron, the Ojibway leader of the 1974 Anicinabe Park occupation. Rutherford notes that he has written several iterations of the letter over the fifteen years since he first began the dissertation research that eventually grew into the book. Unfortunately, Cameron passed away before Rutherford was ever able to reach out to him and so the letter highlights some of the questions and ideas that he would have liked to discuss. It also offers personal insights into Rutherford’s motivations and interest in the book’s subject matter as a settler person who grew up in Kenora. Despite the interesting premise of arguing for Cameron’s place in Canadian history as a “key anti-colonial thinker of the period,” ultimately, the conclusion feels somewhat disconnected from the rest of the book (p. 20). The ideas and auto-ethnographical themes discussed might have been better served had they been integrated and developed more fully throughout the book’s other chapters.

Canada’s Other Red Scare is accessibly written and a must-read for scholars and students interested in Canada’s Red Power movement and Indigenous activism more broadly. The book highlights many of the challenges Indigenous actors faced as they pushed for rights in a profoundly contentious domestic and international context, and Rutherford grounds his transnational framework in practical examples of how theories and ideas circulated, took hold, and were adapted to meet local needs. Several of Rutherford’s finer points about Red Power could have been elaborated to offer a more nuanced portrayal of Indigenous activism in this period. Still, Canada’s Other Red Scare is an important book. The subject matter is firmly situated in the 1960s and ’70s, but many of the themes and topics covered—Indigenous experiences with racism, violence, police and state surveillance, and economic marginalization, just to name a few—remain timely and relevant, a sad fact that attests to the continuation of these struggles today. In particular, the chapter featuring mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows stands out amid the ongoing failure of the Canadian government to provide accessible clean drinking water to all Indigenous communities. The book’s emphasis on radical Indigenous organizing, the circulation and production of transnational activist discourses, solidarity with other movements, and state and public responses to Indigenous protest will appeal to those engaged with Indigenous history, settler colonialism and race in Canada, and histories of postwar activism.

Note

[1]. Though not cited in Rutherford’s book, this position is most clearly developed in Tk’emlupsemc historian Sarah Nickel’s article, “Reconsidering 1969: The White Paper and the Making of the Modern Indigenous Rights Movement,” Canadian Historical Review 100, no. 2 (June 2019): 223-38.

Citation: Cathleen Clark. Review of Rutherford, Scott, Canada's Other Red Scare: Indigenous Protest and Colonial Encounters during the Global Sixties. H-Canada, H-Net Reviews. June, 2021. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=56269

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