***A lot of the material discussed in this next section deals with the Akwesasne Reserve and makes reference to the the Mohawk Nation and Oka Crisis of 1990. For a detailed military history of these events, I can recommend Timothy Wineguard’s Oka: A Convergence of Cultures and the Canadian Forces as an excellent military history, while Harry Swain’s Oka: A Political Crisis and its Legacy does a good job covering the civil government and legal side. For a good introduction to the Indigenous perspective, see Alanis Obomsawin’s excellent documentary Kanehsetake: 270 years of resistance.***
“Alex too was up early, relieved that his nap had turned out to be a full night’s sleep. They hadn’t summoned him at midnight or some such stunt to keep him off balance. But now someone was banging on the door. “Come on Captain, you’re wanted in the Complex.”
We started this story in medias res, in the middle of the action. Now we’re pulling back a bit to fill in the background. We’ve already had our first glimpses of the white side of the equation with our trip to NDHQ, now we’re getting a look at the Native Peoples’ Army and their secret command post in Awkwesasne.
“The Complex” sat within a sprawl of trailers, vans, and makeshift huts, surrounded by a high wire fence – all set aside from the usual band residents and partially hidden on the far eastern section of the St. Regis, the American portion of the Akwesasne Reserve close to the Canada-United States border. The compound provided a secure headquarters and logistical base for the Movement and its leaders.
The long, narrow inside hut was divided into small working areas, separated by standard movable partitions of different colours for different functions. But the deceptively simple layout hid a sophisticated computerized command and control capability. Every computer connected to the Internet or to the specially constructed secret First Nations network, which was protected by a sophisticated high-security firewall. The cables leading to external access points in the village were buried in deep, shielded concrete conduits. Alert guards kept the separate staff from wandering into the most vital areas, especially the code room in the communications centre far down the corridor in the heart of the compound.
This inner area – nicknamed the Complex, after the NORAD command post in Colorado – was at the heart of the First Nations Movement. And this morning the staff was fully alert and very active. Alex was taken down another tight side corridor, past a cramped meeting room. Before the door could be hastily slammed in his face, he recognized a few senior chiefs of the First Nations Assembly.
And once again I’m disappointed with Bland’s lack of imagination. A collection of tents and portable housing? Generators and radios and phone lines? Dozens of Native soldiers manning posts and work stations doing…I’m not even sure. What are they doing? This is less a rebel HQ and more like the secret lair of Cobra.
There’s a lot to talk about here so I’m going to borrow a page from Bland’s own style and break things down into bullet points that could fit into a power point:
- This is less an actual guerrilla headquarters and more a cartoon stronghold. While in a cartoon it may look extra cool to have a giant command post with a bunch of nameless extras doing non-specific things at computers, in real life you’re inviting exactly what GI Joe will do to it every week in the cartoon: Blow it the fuck up and ruin all your plans.
- Unless they physically built an entirely new phone system, and ran cables across the country, there’s no such thing as a First Nations Network to run parallel to the internet. You’re still using the same phone/cable lines as the rest of the population, and while your network might be encrypted, the signal will still be there and can be traced.
- The same goes double for cell phones. Like, you know, those cell phones that Will Boucanier is carrying around with him up in Chisasibi?
- Where’s the power coming from to run all of this? If they’re on the grid (even if they bypassed any metering) then they’ll be out of action the moment the government cuts the power. If they’re using generators, they’ll still need hundreds of litres of fuel a day and their emissions footprint will increase that much more.1
- So they got security guards to prevent operators from different sections from talking to each other and learning too much. Okay cool. Who are the security guards? Are they dependable? All of them? Because that’s a lot of very dependable people that you’re wasting on guarding a hallway!
These are not just facetious questions. SIGINT or Signal Intelligence is a vital resource in any modern war, and when you’re up against an enemy that has fire superiority, COMSEC (Communications Security) and EMCON (Emissions Control) becomes vital. Bland tries to get around this issue with some vague statements about ‘encryption’ but the fact is, if this is going to be a realistic hypothetical scenario that he’s presenting us with, then he’ll have to do better than that.
Regardless of how much encryption or encoding you do, there’s still a physical signal in the electromagnetic spectrum. Even if this signal can’t be read, it can still be detected (as you will instantly learn if you’re ever the only guy with a non-secure radio on a secure net). A single, giant command post broadcasting to the entire nation? That is not going to go unnoticed for long.
Who are all these people talking to? Is there really this much comms chatter going back and forth across the area? We’ve already seen Boucanier in action. He makes one or two phone calls, then ditches his phone, and he’s the field commander for an entire front of the upcoming war.
For that matter, how far out are they communicating with people? Is this one headquarters controlling things nation wide? Even if that were the case, how many people could they be talking to at once? How many people need to be manning the phones at any given time to keep the organization running?
“Although Alex was a key combat leader in the NPA, he knew that his status didn’t mean he was a trusted agent in the inner circle. Alex had learned this lesson some time before. When he had first agreed to join up, he had tried asking questions about the structure and plans of the Movement. However, he had been told that, for the sake of the Movement, such things must remain secret. Revolutionary organizations, Alex had been told, are secretive with good reason – they operate outside the law and threaten established governments and leaders. Governments use their considerable authority and means to infiltrate revolutionary organizations, even comic and inept groups, to gather information, plant disinformation, disrupt plans and the supply of resources, especially money, and to collect evidence of criminal activities for future use in courts. A revolution’s best defence against these types of intrusions is internal secrecy and compartmentalization of information, people and plans. Any clandestine movement that works on trust is soon destroyed, often from within.2
So supposedly the NPA is working on some kind of cell system, with each individual cell kept in the dark about other cells for security reasons. Yet Gabriel already knows the twenty plus men in his team (none of whom he recruited himself), presumably his handler (who may or may not have been the man who recruited his team), can positively identify the man who met his team and trucked them and the weapons out of Petawawa, not to mention his own grandfather, plus The Elders who first voiced the prophecy of the chosen one all those weeks ago. And now he knows there’s a massive command centre in the Akwesasne Reserve, and in a moment his suspicions about the leader of the NPA will be confirmed when he meets her in person. But otherwise, yeah, totally in the dark.
Torture him all you want. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t tell you much.
Bland tries to brush this off by claiming that the location is the NPA HQ’s ultimate defence. Akwesasne is supposedly an impenetrable jungle which conventional forces can only glare at in frustration from the outside.
This is how he describes it when Alex Gabriel first arrives:
“Akwesasne was a logical base for the Movement, Alex thought, and had obviously been chosen with care. Alex remembered details from an intelligence briefing he had attended during an internal security training exercise. Some 13,000 Mohawks lived in Akwesasne, a huge tract of land on the banks of the St Lawrence River near Cornwall, Ontario, and about 150 kilometres west of Montreal. The reserve had gained notoriety with both civil and military authorities because of the numerous illegal activities supposedly given cover by the fact it was, in the report author’s words, a “jurisdictional nightmare.” Straddling the international boundary between Canada and the United States, and governed under laws, agreements, and customs of these nations as well as the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and the state of New York, the reserve was felt by many police and military leaders to be almost lawless….
…The complexity of Akwesasne administration was illustrated by the fact that the security and policing of this small community could involve five legally separate police services; the reserve’s own Mohawk Police Services, the RCMP, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Surete du Quebec, and the New York State Police, not to mention other American federal police and security agencies.
As a result of this “jurisdictional nightmare,” the reserve did attract criminals and criminal gangs, native and non-native, who saw it as an ungoverned space where overlapping judicial and police responsibilities provided room to manoeuvre….
…But Akwesasne’s home on both sides of the international boundary offered an added bonus over any other Canadian reserve – almost unhindered movement across the border, and uncomplicated access to American aboriginal leaders and their rich and secure communities across the United States.3
So I’m going to call bullshit on this right off the bat.
Here’s a map of the Akwesasne Reserve. True, it is a pretty big piece of territory, but only in relative terms. It’s got roads, it’s got fields. Huge tracts are wide open and while there are built up areas, there’s nothing the maze-like Casbah we see in The Battle of Algiers or the steamy south east Asian jungle from The Killing Fields or Platoon. You could drive across it in under an hour without four wheel drive and cover all of it’s landmass with a single M777 battery of artillery deployed safely in the city of Cornwall.
Were the NPA an actual rebel movement, operating clandestinely from houses and businesses and the occasional camp out in the woods, then something might be done. As the British Army learned in places Northern Ireland, kicking in front doors in a hostile neighbourhood is a business of diminishing returns. But a large-scale conventional command post? Set apart from civilian residences? One two thousand pound bomb would end matters in a second.
But then there’s the fact that the police and Federal government have already overrun Akwesasne once before.
In May of 1990, just weeks before the fatal confrontation at the Pines that would trigger what became known as the Oka crisis, a combined force of RCMP, OPP, and New York State Police supported by nearly two hundred members of the Canadian Forces descended upon Akwesasne in a sweeping series of raids. In a matter of hours the reserve had been secured without a shot fired and the next several weeks would see the confiscation of weapons, drugs and illegal cigarettes, along with several arrests.
Named OP FEATHER (and later re-named OP AKWESASNE) the catalyst for the raids was the escalating violence between Mohawk residents and the growing power of gambling and smuggling organizations and those Mohawks who controlled them.4 This violence came to a head over over 30 Apr-01 May with the deaths of Matthew Pike and Harold ‘Junior’ Edwards in a series of gun battles that saw an estimated 3-4,000 rounds expended over a nine hour period.5 Although the mission had its share of errors and close calls, it was meticulously planned and carried out without further loss of life.6 By early June that year, a number of more moderate Mohawks managed to win local elections, and the Band Police Force (who had been largely suppressed by the criminal elements in the reserve) had resumed its duties. While the eruption of the Oka crisis would leave OP AKWESASNE still technically active for nearly a year, by the end of June 1990, the majority of the police and military presence had been scaled back and the operation itself was effectively closed down.
To be completely fair, I can’t say for certain to what extend Douglas Bland studied OP AKWESASNE or the later OP SALON (the CF operations around Oka). However, they do represent the first incidents of the military engaging in Aid to Civil Power post-FLQ Crisis and as such is a prime legal example of the Emergency Measures Act getting put into effect. Later in the novel, Bland will have various characters discuss the EMA and its implications in terms of chain of command and military authority.
If he hasn’t studied these two operations in detail, then I would be very surprised. And yet he seems to think that Akwesasne is some kind of impenetrable labyrinth from which the Movement can operate with impunity.
Then there’s the issue of actual personal security. Bland pays some lip service to this in his discussion on the cell system but he quickly forgets his own advice when inventing his HQ. Limited number of people with access to information? How many people are here in one place, at one time, talking to everybody? How many of them can vouch for their entire family, their circles of friends? Where do their family and friends think they’re going every day? What do they think they’re doing?
These are serious questions. Bland has tried to posit the idea that every last Indigenous person in Canada has whole heartedly jumped on board the band wagon of revolution (a premise, we will later see, that not even Bland himself can keep to) but this ignores the fact that people are human and that humans are, by their nature, exploitable. He’s already had Will Boucanier warning his troops not to drink as their operation draws near. How many people in the Akwesasne Reserve have substance abuse problems?7 How many of them know or are related to NPA warriors currently working in the HQ?
Bland tried to portray the Akwesasne reserve as some lawless frontier town, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. What he seems to forget is that there is such a thing as honour among thieves, and that any large gathering of thieves tends to attract the attention of authorities as well. He correctly points out that the Akwesasne reserve falls into the jurisdiction of multiple police forces from both Canada and the US, and while he is correct that this will lead to all sorts of jurisdictional conflicts, it also means that multiple sets of eyes will have all sorts of reasons to be looking in.
A giant collection of tents and trailers, with multiple generators, all sucking down hundreds of kilowatts of power a day? Even if you had no concept of revolution, the whole setup would scream ‘grow op’ or maybe ‘humungous meth lab’ to me, and if I were a cop on either side of the border then I’d be wondering if a Mohawk version of Walter White had moved into the area. An operation like this instantly produces an enormous footprint in both physical size and emissions, and with potentially over a thousand people possessing some kind of knowledge about it’s location, how could they not come to the attention of some branch of law enforcement?
And this doesn’t even begin to take criminal organizations into account. In this part of the country, while we do have a certain amount of Mafia in the cities, organized crime generally means bikers more than anything else. And the bikers in Canada are serious bad news.
In the late 1990s in Quebec, various chapters of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang fought it out for dominance, killing more than a 160 people over 8 years. Bland already knows about cross border smuggling. What are these smugglers going to do if they think someone local is trying to set up some competition? Now a criminal organization might be a lot more amenable to being paid off to look the other way, but this instantly adds dozens if not a hundred more people into the know. The Hells Angels have an international profile, meaning any one of them might be under active surveillance by different police forces. All it would take is some biker talking in front of a random drug dealer who might later get picked up by the police and decide to offer up something for a plea bargain…
Then there’s the question of Band Police. Yes, I know in Bland’s world all Native Peoples have either joined the Movement or else are helpless members of a corrupt liberal establishment, but in the real world, how would an underfunded police force, trying to keep the peace in a marginalized community already hard hit by drugs, crime and neglect, respond to what basically looks like Pablo Escobar’s indigestion dream appearing in their back yard?
Now finally imagine this:
“A band cop with no budget, no support, and an increasingly undermined Band leadership, suddenly realizes that something way more violent than a biker gang has just moved in and set up shop in his back yard. His usual sources either know nothing or have suddenly gone mysteriously silent, and even the bikers look like they’re backing off. Meanwhile, this is happening against a backdrop of the Railway Massacre, a Canadian Bloody Sunday. Six native protestors dead in a shooting that looks increasingly like a staged event. But staged by who? And to what end? As the police of two white nations begin to stir, slowly but implacably turning their attention towards his home, our hero must race to discover the secret of the mystery compound, and head off a confrontation that could spell doom not only for his people, but for all of Canada itself…
Tell me that’s not a better story. Tell me that’s not a more respectful story.
1 Emissions footprint is a term for the amount of radio signals, EM emissions, heat, noise, and…well anything at all that you’re emitting into the environment that can give away your location and/or significance. So their fibre optic cables are buried…how much heat/EM is the building giving off? What about the generators? How much movement is there around the building every time there’s a shift change?
2 It’s worth noting here that the format of Bland’s writing mirrors the structure of a CAF training manual, with teaching points outlined in bullet format, ready to be transferred into power point as needed.
3 I’m sure the Native Americans living on those reserves will be very surprised to hear how rich and secure they actually are.
4 At least a few historians and journalists refer to this period as ‘the Mohawk Civil War,’ although this is a term subject to a great deal of controversy. As I am by no means an expert on the subject, I am going to refrain from using it in this deconstruction other than to acknowledge here that it does exist.
5 It’s worth noting that one of the people organizing the defence on the side of (Mohawk) law and order was a Warrior named Richard ‘Cartoon’ Alford, an AIM activist who had taken part in the standoff at Wounded Knee 17 years earlier.
6 There is at least some speculation that the success of the raids in Akwesasne were a factor that spurred the SQ to launch their own (much less well planned) raid on the Pines at Oka. Whether out of overconfidence that the raid could be easily carried out, or desire for their own high-profile police action, the raid on the protest camp at the Pines proved utterly unprepared for a confrontation with the well armed Mohawk Warriors, resulting in a shoot out and the death of Cpl Marcel Lemay.
7 Bland probably thinks he’s being kind to his Indigenous subjects by keeping the references to alcohol and drug abuse to a minimum, even though it’s not the subject itself but the way it is handled that makes a text racist or not. For the record substance abuse is, sadly, a widespread issue throughout Canada’s (and the US’s) Indigenous population. It is an illness. It is generational in its transmission and in many cases it was deliberately introduced by the colonial society as a weapon to destabilize Indigenous communities. The ongoing battle against substance abuse is the defining conflict for many of these communities and it is one that is laced heavily with tragedy. My purpose in bringing it up here is to point out that a person suffering from an addiction is vulnerable to exploitation, and as a result is a potential crack in the security Bland’s imaginary Native People’s Army.