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“November 27th marks a dark day in the history of the Battlefords. It is the anniversary of the executions which took place at Battleford in 1885, which were also the largest mass execution in Canadian history.

Six nêhiyawak (Plains Cree) and two Assiniboine men were hung at Battleford and their bodies dumped into an unmarked grave that remained undiscovered until the 1970s when erosion on the riverbank exposed some of the remains.

The men were named:

Kah – Paypamahchukways (Wandering Spirit)
Pah Pah-Me-Kee-Sick (Walking the Sky)
Manchoose (Bad Arrow)
Kit-Ahwah-Ke-Ni (Miserable Man)
Nahpase (Iron Body)
A-Pis-Chas-Koos (Little Bear)
Itka (Crooked Leg)
Waywahnitch (Man Without Blood)

Some facts about the hangings at Battleford:

1. Judge Rouleau, the man who sentenced the eight men to die at Battleford, had his house in Battleford burned during the Resistance: The local newspaper at the time reported that Judge Rouleau: “is reported to have threatened that every Indian and Half-breed and rebel brought before him after the insurrection was suppressed, would be sent to the gallows if possible. In view of all the circumstances, and particularly as Judge Rouleau was a heavy loser pecuniarily by the Indian outbreak at Battleford, it is contended that he should not have been allowed to preside at the trial of the prisoners. A memorial has been received by the Department of Justice asking that the matter be investigated.”

2. Although the men spoke Cree – not English, none were provided with a translator at their trials.

3. Almost all of the historical writings about the hangings were written from the perspective of settlers. Blood Red the Sun and other narrative accounts paint the men as criminals. Barry Degenstein, local author of In Pursuit of Riel, as one relatively recent example, has continued to assert the men were “cold blooded murderers of innocent civilians.” (See: https://www.newsoptimist.ca/…/grave-not-that-of-heroes-and-…) It is important to remember that the North West Mounted Police (now Royal Canadian Mounted Police) played a major role in colonizing the region around the Battlefords and committed serious violent acts against Indigenous people here. The history of the Battle of Cut Knife Hill and other major events are primarily told in history books and other accounts from the perspective of the colonizers and settlers. (See also: Views from Fort Battleford: Constructed Visions of an Anglo-Canadian West https://archive.org/details/ViewsFromFtBattleford)

4. Hayter Reed, the Assistant Indian Commissioner in 1885, wanted a public execution. He asked the Lieutenant Governor to send any Indians who were sentenced to death during the second series of Regina trials so they could be executed with those sentenced to die in Battleford. He insisted that “the punishment be public as I am desirous of having the Indians witness it – no sound thrashing having been given them, I think a sight of this sort will cause them to meditate for many a day and besides have ocular demonstration of the fact.” This was echoed in the local newspaper. The Saskatchewan Herald’s P.G. Laurie understood the importance to the government of making the hangings a public spectacle. “We are not in favor of public executions as a rule,” wrote Laurie, “but we believe that in this instance it would have a wholesome influence on the Indians at large to have the extreme penalty of the law so carried out on those whom the court may find guilty.” Laurie viewed the hangings as a type of deterrence to further violence, arguing that the calm administration of punishment would impress the Native population more than further battlefield bloodshed. Laurie also agreed with the government that the executions should happen at the place of the capital trials, in Battleford. Laurie argued, “[I]f the Department of Justice will.. .permit the executions to be public, the sight will have such an effect upon the native beholders as will make them think twice before they again take up arms.” (See “A Lesson They Would Not Soon Forget” Chapter 3: https://drive.google.com/…/1yvqkd4LfbfO4YC5mWcQS0QfCPVEWNo_k)

5. The biography of Senator John Tootoosis notes at page 77 that among the witnesses at the hangings were “the Indian children from the Battleford Industrial School who had also been brought to see the eight men die. It was a part of their education that none of them would soon forget!”

6. One week prior to the hangings, Prime Minister John A. MacDonald wrote in a confidential letter to the Indian Commissioner: “The executions… ought to convince the Red Man that the White Man governs.”

7. Little Bear continued to assert that he was innocent until his death.

8. Loyal Til Death (a thoughtful account of the true history of this period by Blair Stonechild and Bill Waiser – https://www.amazon.ca/Loyal-Till-Death-North-West-Rebell…/…/) discusses the terrorizing effect the hangings had on Indigenous people in the region: “As for the Indians assembled in front of the gallows, they watched in quiet horror as the men dropped to their doom and then silently moved off once the bodies had been placed in the coffins. Nothing was said or done. They simply returned to their reserves, trying to put behind them the shock of the executions. But to this day, the executions have remained a numbing event, comparable to an old scar on the soul of a people. Elder Paul Chicken of the Sweetgrass reserve recalled how the Indians of the area lived in morbid fear of being picked up and tried before "Hanging Judge Rouleau.” Dressyman’s grandson, meanwhile, related how his reprieved grandfather and several other men were forced to watch the executions and threatened with a similar fate if there was any more trouble. “My grandfather was there, he saw them hung, he watched it all,” he recounted. “They didn’t like the hanging… the law overdone it.” Don Chastis, a descendent of one of the Cut Knife warriors, said that he often heard the Elders speak of the bravery of the condemned men, how they all sang on the platform in the face of death. He also speculated that the police refused to release the bodies for a traditional burial because the government did not want the men glorified as braves. “So they were forbidden to have anything to do with them. That’s why they buried them right there in a mass grave,” Chastis said. “It would have defeated the whole purpose of the hanging if they let these people [bodies] go.” The Battleford trials and executions accelerated the exodus of Indians to the relative safety of the United States.“ (At page 226-227 of Loyal Til Death.)

9. There are almost no artistic works or photographs that depict the hangings other than the attached illustration from "Loyal Til Death” by Blair Stonechild and Bill Waiser – https://www.amazon.ca/Loyal-Till-Death-North-West-Rebell…/…/

We remember the eight men who were executed at Battleford, and encourage people to consider the perspective of the historical accounts and begin working to decolonize the accounts of this history.

Is it time to consider exonerating or posthumously pardoning the eight warriors executed at Battleford?

(See: https://www.cbc.ca/…/pm-trudeau-exonerate-tsilhqotin-chiefs…)”

– from the Battleford Residential School Facebook page

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“The April 1960 decision proved prescient. Almost exactly a year later, four senior generals executed a putsch in Algiers. In response, the regime declared a state of emergency in mainland France and invoked — for the first and only time in the history of the Fifth Republic — the unequalled emergency powers afforded by Article 16 of the 1958 constitution. Acting under this dispensation, de Gaulle issued a series of executive decisions two days later, including one that prolonged the state of emergency indefinitely.

Before the law finally expired in May 1963, it would be prolonged three times. France lived under a continuous state of emergency for just over two years, well beyond the signing of the Evian Accords and the conclusion of hostilities in Algeria.

This period witnessed a distinctive, two-pronged coordination of state violence directed against both the nationalist insurrection and the mounting threat of praetorianism and right-wing terrorism. Brutality across the Mediterranean — the systematic use of torture by French forces, massive population transfers and internment camps — was accompanied by an “Algerianization” of the metropolitan home front. Functionaries and police formed by their colonial experience re-imported practices of population control and counterinsurgency.

The bloodiest consequences of this transfer appeared over the autumn of 1961, when Parisian police murdered well over 120 Algerians, leaving bodies to float in the Seine. Scores were killed on the single night of October 17, when a peaceful march, forbidden under emergency powers by a racist curfew (targeting French Muslims), elicited a brutal response from forces commanded by chief of police Maurice Papon.

Erstwhile prefect of the Constantine region, Papon shared the belief that France was waging a new form of war; in the words of one of its theorists in the army, this conflict could not be fought “according to the Napoleonic Code.” Months after the October massacre, official violence again shook the capital when police attacked a February 8, 1962 protest against bombings orchestrated by the right-wing terrorist Secret Army Organization (OAS). Although the march was forbidden by Papon, acting on orders from the government, corteges formed at surrounding metro stations to advance to Bastille. They would not get the chance.

At the intersection of Boulevard Voltaire and Rue Charonne, a group of demonstrators was cornered by two companies of police which, after a peremptory order to disperse, charged into the crowd. In the ensuing melee, dozens of protestors were forced into the entry to the Charonne metro, bludgeoned by officers. When it was over, nine — all but one Communists, and all members of the party-affiliated trade union (the CGT) — were dead, either beaten or suffocated.

As with the murder of Algerian demonstrators the preceding October, the violence at Charonne represented not a sudden break with normal policy, but the reasoned outcome of political and strategic decision-making. Of the fourteen police commissioners present for the October 17 demonstration, thirteen were on duty on February 8. Behind the delirious behavior of individual police lay a generative matrix of colonial warfare, anticommunism, and obsessive concern for the security of the state.

Political elites were also shaped by these forces. The same paradoxical logic that presided over the crackdown on the FLN Fédération de France governed reactions to the anti-OAS campaign: if the government repressed the communist-led protests against the OAS so ferociously, this was because it was preoccupied with retaining the support of the armed forces — not least in its struggle to retain their sympathies for mobilization against the OAS itself — for whom anticommunism remained a great unifying force.

At the very moment that terrorist violence employed by colonialist settlers and their supporters was reaching its apogee, then, governmental logic dictated that maximal violence be turned against their left-wing opponents.

Perfectly encapsulating this perverse dynamic, Interior Minister Roger Frey delivered a televised address on February 10 in which he denounced two sources of subversion. “The events [of February 8],” he observed, “prove once more the collusion of extremes against the Republic.” Faced with an existential threat of “political subversion,” any threat to public order could only be seen as itself an additional form of subversive activity.

It would be another forty years before the state of emergency again took force in France. In the interim, its legitimacy was affirmed by the Socialist government of Laurent Fabius, which applied the law in 1984 to the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, with the purpose of facilitating repression of the Kanak independence movement. Contested at the time by the right-wing opposition and the Communists, this episode all the same demonstrated the bipartisan appeal of the legislation.

When Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced recourse to the law in 2005, following two weeks of revolt in the Parisian banlieus, its colonial history had not been forgotten. Unrest over discriminatory policing and harassment in the impoverished suburbs had been catalyzed by the deaths of two French teenagers, electrocuted while seeking refuge from police pursuit in an electrical substation.

Belligerent comments by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who boasted months earlier of “cleaning up” the area with a pressure washer and now denigrated the rioters as racaille (trash), further aggravated matters. Villepin avoided mentioning the “state of emergency,” referring more obliquely to the “loi de 1955.”

The relevant decree, put before the council of ministers by President Jacques Chirac, limited the scope of exceptional powers to twenty-five départements, including the region surrounding the capital. Exercised to impose curfews, a power already invested in municipal authorities, and to forbid public gatherings in Paris and Lyon, the 2005 state of emergency served little practical purpose. Villepin himself spoke of the desire to create a “shock” effect, and speculation focused on his political rivalry with Sarkozy, styled as a hard-line advocate of law and order.

If the colonial echoes of the law aroused denunciation on the Left, they did not dampen public approval; some three quarters of those surveyed voiced their support for the measure. Challenges to the legality of the November decision maintained that the threat to public order — a condition for the law’s application — had been overstated. These were rejected in December by the Conseil d’État, which nonetheless envisioned a proximate end to the emergency in view of changing circumstances.

Since 1999, the French state has officially recognized that its military operations in Algeria constituted a war. But the ambiguity of that conflict has left an enduring imprint on the state apparatus. The decade spanning the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the New York attacks of September 11, 2001 witnessed a rejuvenation of French thinking about counterinsurgency and counterterrorism.

Persistent unrest in the banlieus, coupled with military intervention in the Middle East and domestic repercussions of the Algerian civil war, inspired fresh reflections on the “enemy within.” No longer the Communist militant or anticolonial revolutionary, this figure took on a distinctively deterritorialized, racially marked form: the immigrant and the Islamic terrorist now loomed as the gravest threats to national security.

Debates over Vigipirate, an anti-terrorist initiative conceived of in the late 1970s and continuously in effect since January 1991, underscored the connection between immigration and terrorism. Amalgamation of the two phenomena similarly appeared in the context of proposed reforms to French nationality law, and controversy surrounding the supposed danger posed by dual nationals.

Enemies Within
Today, reminders of this history are omnipresent. In his November 14 appearance on TF1, Valls did not hesitate to summon the menace of the ennemi intérieur. He likewise refused to rule out the possibility of establishing internment camps to house those suspected of terrorism. This eventuality, although explicitly prohibited under the 1955 law, was realized to barbaric effect in Algeria.

Laurent Wauquiez, leading figure of the parliamentary right, first revisited the notion, introducing a slight variation to Duclos’s line from Saint-Just. “There is no liberty,” he declared. “for the enemies of France and the Republic.” General Vincent Desportes, former director of the École de guerre, adopted an American idiom popularized by the country and western singer Chris LeDoux: “Freedom isn’t free.” “It must be paid for somehow,” Desportes added, “precisely by restricting liberties. This is the state of emergency.”

So far parliament has agreed. Bellicosity prevailed in the Palais Bourbon Thursday, and a rhetoric of macho hyper-violence took hold even of hitherto doveish Socialist MPs. “We need our Battle of Stalingrad!” exclaimed PS deputy and former president of SOS Racisme Malek Boutih, as Valls spoke again of war and asserted that “security is the first of our freedoms,” parroting a familiar slogan of the far-right National Front.

The modalities of the emergency law, specified by two decrees dated November 14, include heightened security measures, especially in public places, schools, and transport hubs, and limits on the movement of people and vehicles. In the Île-de-France area police have been empowered to conduct warrantless searches, assign suspects to house arrest, and ban public gatherings.

Historical precedent abounds, but so too do elements of novelty. Several modifications mark a departure from the 1955 text. Notably, constraints on the procedures for house arrest have been slackened: whereas Article 6 of the law originally referred to the detainment of those “whose actions pose a danger to security and public order,” the recent legislation instead concerns anyone “with respect to whom there exist serious reasons to think that his or her behavior constitutes a threat to security and public order.”

Those detained may also be tagged with electronic monitoring devices, a longstanding demand of the right, endorsed in parliament Wednesday evening by a number of Socialists. Philippe Gosselin, right-wing stalwart of Sarkozy’s Les Républicains (LR), saluted a sign of “intelligent progress” in this bipartisan initiative. “We have won the culture war!” he exulted.

A corollary decision, favored in the same quarters, has granted police officers and gendarmes the right to carry their weapons even when off duty. Searches are no longer limited to the homes of suspects, but extend to any locale they are known to frequent — restaurants, cafes, places of worship.

Additional refinements have updated the law for a digital age, including a wide remit to scour data accessible from personal computing devices. Punishment for violations has also been dramatically reinforced, from a penalty of up to two months in prison and a €3,750 fine to up to three years imprisonment and a fine of €45,000.

Other amendments to the law attenuate some of its repressive features. Censorship of radio and the press, which played an important role during the war in Algeria, has been ruled out, seemingly on grounds of practicability — given the proliferation of new media — rather than principle. The offices of MPs, lawyers, judges, and journalists are excluded from police searches, although a proposal that would have afforded similar protection to their private residences was rejected.

Increased judicial oversight has also been introduced, and the procedures allowing citizens to contest their treatment under the law simplified and strengthened. What significance these decisions will have remains to be seen.

In addition to amending the 1955 law, the government has expressed its intention to seek a constitutional revision to formally consecrate the state of emergency, including it alongside the state of siege under Article 36. Proposed among a slew of other reforms in the 2007 report of the Balladur Committee, this alteration is essentially technical in character.

More controversial is talk of revising French law to allow dual-nationals born in France to be stripped of their citizenship, in contravention of Article 25 of the civil code. When Sarkozy reopened this longstanding fixation of the Right in the wake of the January attacks, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve objected that it would constitute a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Concerns are now brushed aside.

Meanwhile, the forces of order have already undertaken hundreds of raidsand administrative detentions, and strikes planned by Air France employees and Paris hospital workers called off. The assault Tuesday on a squat in Lille, conducted by the elite counterterrorism unit of the national police (RAID), encouraged fears that expanded powers will affect targets unconnected to the putative terrorist threat, a prospect confirmed days later by a wave of repression in the Nord Pas-de-Calais targeting drug dealers and petty criminals.

Operation Sentinelle, put into effect following the January attacks of this year, mobilized some seven thousand soldiers, the equivalent of two army brigades, mainly tasked with guarding public places in and around the capital. For this campaign, as the journalist Jean-Dominique Merchet has observed, “Bataclan was another Sedan.”

Hollande now declares it is his intention to recruit five thousand more police and gendarmes in the coming two years, an unlikely target given the limits of available resources and training facilities. Plans for reducing army troop strength have been put on hold until 2019; in the last week, demands to enlist are reported to have tripled.

Rhetorical intensification notwithstanding, France in fact has been continuously at war for some time. Four overseas military operations (Opex) have been launched in as many years: Libya, Mali, Central Africa, Iraq. Beset by personal humiliation and catastrophically low approval ratings, Hollande has embraced his role as commander in chief, relaying the baton of his predecessor.

Against a backdrop of crisis and diminished economic power, France more and more looks to its armed forces as warrant of international prestige. In reaction to recent events, the Socialist government has dared for the first time to declare its willingness to violate the European austerity regime, with the president proclaiming that security must take precedence over stability. The UN Security Council and the EU have rapidly acceded to French requests for support in its campaign against ISIS.

The conjunction of anti-terrorism measures at home and open-ended warfare abroad has invited comparisons with the US response to the September 2001 attacks. An unpopular president surrounded by a powerful, ideologically motivated retinue of advisers, opting for domestic repression and foreign adventurism, in each case animated by the exigencies of a “war against terrorism.”

Hitherto France has been relatively reticent on both counts. In the above-mentioned instances, “invitation” to intervene militarily was secured from local authorities. Syria, where France began conducting airstrikes two months ago, is an exception: juridically, ISIS is recognized as a territorial state, with borders encompassing parts of Iraq and Syria. Fighters who return to France are in principle subject to domestic law; unlike in the US, there has so far been no full-scale elaboration of an alternative legal regime for those accused of crimes relating to terrorism.

As the country enters its second week of emergency, public support for the government remains high. Preliminary polls suggest that Hollande’s Socialist Party may well capitalize on disaster, and the gelatinous president, his popularity reaching historic lows in the months before November 13, could emerge rejuvenated.

But contraindications have also appeared. A rally on Sunday in support of immigrant rights, planned well in advance of the attacks, went forward despite official prohibition on gatherings in the capital (prolonged through the end of the month). Some five hundred demonstrators, marching from Bastille to République, transformed their act into a protest against the state of emergency itself, and chants echoed of “état d’urgence, état policier!” Reports indicate that fifty-eight of the participants, identified by the police, are now facing prosecution.

Paris has announced that protests scheduled to coincide with the COP21 international climate talks, held the weekend of November 29, will also be banned. How authorities react to flouting of this decision will furnish an index of future repression.”

– Gerry Anderson, “The French Emergency.” Jacobin. November 24, 2015. 

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“Consider the forceful idea of Red scares and the related mechanism of social control that swept nations and communities across the world from the geopolitical power center to the distant peripheries. The idea was adapted to specific local conditions, sometimes becoming more radical and destructive in the process of dissemination and developing into a massive force of anti-Communist state terrorism across regions from the 1950s to the 1980s. If kidnapping individual ideological suspects was a notable form of anti-Communist terror in places such as Chile and Argentina, the so-called collective-responsibility system mentioned earlier, which punished an individual’s thoughts by criminalizing his or her entire web of blood ties, was one of the most notable instruments of societal control in places under anti-Communist military rules, such as Indonesia and South Korea. The penal practices against alleged ideological crimes often had no rule-of-law boundary and distorted the traditional conceptions of social subjectivity and moral liability. The globalization of these pathological formations and their local variations are an important subject matter in the investigation of cold war political culture.”

– Heonik Kwon, The Other Cold War (Columbia UP, 2010), 30 (via your-instructions-from-moscow)

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