Why does the Hamilton Spectator use quotation marks for the term land defenders?
In a recent article about 1492 Land Back Lane, the Hamilton Spectator reported:
Several protestors are arrested for failing to comply with the court injunction. In response protestors, who refer to themselves as “land defenders,” blockade Argyle Street leading south of Caledonia, the Highway 6 bypass and Sixth Line.
Quotation marks were also used in this article, specifically:
Following the game, the self-described “land defenders” held a potluck dinner around a campfire, with teenagers and elders sitting and talking together.
It’s not clear why the Hamilton Spectator is doing this when land defenders is a term commonly used by a wide variety of sources.
The Government of Canada says: “A land rights defender takes peaceful action to protect the land of a group of people.” Using a broader commonly accepted variant of the term, the United Nations says: “Many indigenous peoples are also human rights defenders, struggling to protect their lands, environment and rights.”
A similar term is also used by human rights organizations such as Global Witness that released a report last month that documented that 212 land and environmental defenders were murdered last year as a result of their activism.
It’s also notable that the Hamilton Spectator article refers to those at 1492 Land Back Lane as protestors without quotation marks, despite it being reported that the term may be viewed as negative in contrast to a word like protectors.
Writer and editor Hans Rollmann has noted:
“Not only does [the use of the term protester] minimize and trivialize the land defense actions, but it doesn’t adequately reflect what’s going on. Insofar as Indigenous rights are constitutionally protected and acknowledged by Treaties, …they’re people taking action to defend land that by rights belongs to them…”
And University of British Columbia School of Journalism Professor Candis Callison has commented:
“I think that by calling Indigenous people mere protesters, it really erases the long relationship that they’ve been in with lands and waters, but it also erases the long resistance they’ve had to all kinds of moves by governments and corporations to dispossess Indigenous people of their land, and to limit their ability to give consent.”
Land defenders is an internationally accepted term used by governments, organizations and the media to describe those who protect the land.
Perhaps to further illustrate the point, the language now used appears as out of step as reporting: Protestor Martin Luther King, Jr., who refers to himself as “a civil rights activist”, marched from Selma, Alabama…
While Hamilton Spectator Editor-in-Chief Paul Berton has commented on this use of language, a further reflection on this issue is warranted.
Given the criminalization land defenders experience, 1492 Land Back Lane has established this legal fund “to support Land Defenders facing current charges and any future charges that may result from the numerous injunctions against us in this particular issue.”