“Ragin” Kajan Johnson is hopping mad, but his anger isn’t directed towards his UFC opponents. Johnson is unhappy with Canada’s federal government.
Johnson, who steps into the octagon May16 against Zhang Lipeng in the UFC’s Manila debut, is particularly perturbed about the Harper government’s treatment of Aboriginal Canadians.
The man who now calls Montreal’s Tristar Gym home is a proud Aboriginal Canadian who identifies as part Blackfoot and grew up on a reservation in Burns Lake, British Columbia. Fans of “The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs Australia” will remember the fox skin headdress that he brought to his fight’s weigh-in as well as his pre-fight “smudging” ritual, which is an Aboriginal purification ritual using smoke from burned herbs. He has also used traditional pow-wow music for his fight entrances and implored his fans to “bring their hand drums” for his last UFC fight in Vancouver. He is a politically aware, politically active man who has protested with his family against Harper’s polices.
“Judging by certain policies that he’s trying to put into play, I don’t believe that he has First Nations people best interests at heart,” says Johnson. “I think it’s actually the opposite. He just sees First Nations people as a barrier, an opposition that he has to [overcome] in order to introduce big business industry into and strip the resources away from Canada to line the pockets of the rich and the powerful people in this large, concrete metropolis that really have no connection to the land that is being used.”
Johnson is far from alone in that viewpoint. Aboriginal Canadians have taken a hard stance against the Harper Government, whose alleged abuse of treaty rights and resource exploitation have galvanized Aboriginals and Aboriginal rights supporters.
The Harper Government’s policies have given rise to mass protests, particularly the 2011 omnibus budget bill which weakened environmental protection laws and waterway protection of bodies of water than run through Aboriginal land. The most famous of these protests has been “Idle No More”, an ongoing movement that began in Saskatchewan but spread nation-wide and have had solidarity protests conducted internationally.
Also of much consternation to Aboriginal groups is the planned Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which would allow bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to be sent to Kitimat, British Columbia in order to be shipped overseas. The project has been heavily opposed by Aboriginal groups who reject the idea of a pipeline running through Aboriginal land, as well as environmental concerns in the event of a spill.
Of particular objection to Johnson is that Harper is exploiting the resources of the land but unwilling to let those who live and work the land to reap in the rewards, in a sort of neo-colonialism. Johnson leans forward as he says “the grassroots people, be a first nations, white, black… they’re the one that should benefiting, if anybody is benefiting. They’re the one who should be benefiting from stripping away of these resources but that’s not the case. It’s always big business, always corporations, big oil companies, politicians who have their pockets lined.”
Environmental and treaty issues aren’t the only hot-button topics among the Aboriginal Canadian community right now. Also of particular concern is the nearly 1200 Aboriginal women that have been murdered or gone missing in Canada within the past 30 years. It’s an issue that has seen an outcry from citizens from many walks of life, with many political and charitable organizations calling for a national inquiry on the matter. The United Nations joined the chorus of those calling for an inquiry, with a committee saying, “Canada’s failures to act violate the human rights of Aboriginal women.”
Johnson has his own theory on the Harper Government and their refusal to call a national inquiry.
“If he calls an independent public inquiry into this, where somebody that’s not one of his lackeys is creating this inquiry, a lot of things are going to come out. There’s going to be a lot of talk about why Aboriginal people are so impoverished. There’s going to be a lot of talk about how racist some of these policing organizations, the RCMP and other policing organizations within the state of Canada are towards first nations people. A lot of the real reasons behind all of these murdered and missing women, let alone the murdered missing men, the incarcerated men, all of the people at poverty level, let alone that; there’s a lot of reasons that he does not want to shed light on because it will not help his people and it will not help him further his own commercial interests.”
The rise of “Idle No More” and other environmental and social protests have coincided with the Harper Government seemingly seeking ways to combat dissent. The RCMP issued a report that Canada’s energy sector was under a greater threat from what they deemed “environmental extremists” than from religiously inspired terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaida or ISIS. The Harper Government recently tabled the highly controversial Bill C-51, which seeks to give Canadian intelligence services a much broader mandate. Critics have said could ensnare peaceful protesters under “anti-terrorism” measures. It has been a source of concern for many prominent Canadians and another plank of Harper’s administration that Johnson disagrees vehemently with.
“I believe that’s [C-51’s] actual sole purpose [to label protesters as terrorists],” he says. “The way the bill is written right now, I’m a terrorist. If this passes, they’re going to be surveilling me. 100% they’re going to be surveilling me. When I go and protest with my family on our land against these pipelines that are trying to go through, I’m going to be labelled a terrorist. I’m going to be thrown in jail for an indeterminate amount of time, without due process, without proper trials just because they can slap a sticker on me calling me a terrorist and that’s the end of it. It just doesn’t make any sense to me why people are actually getting behind this. It doesn’t make sense to me how this can even be brought up in what’s supposed to be a free society.”
When pressed for solutions, Johnson admits it’s not easy. He muses on the merits of an aboriginal Prime Minister or someone in power that would be more sympathetic to an aboriginal viewpoint. He doesn’t limit his criticism to Harper there, saying that no current political party represents him or his views. He settles on a message of understanding, one that sounds particularly powerful coming from a man who makes a living through organized violence.
“Really it stems from empathy. The more that we can just blame; it’s not going to help anything. We need to really try to understand why people are acting the way they are. What have these people have gone through that causes them to act in the way they do? And if you can show empathy to people and put yourself in their shoes, you may start to realize how we can start to move forward. I don’t have all the answers, I’m by no means a politician,.I’m just a man who has seen both sides of the issue.
There is no question that Johnson is a born fighter. Whether it’s for his career or his rights, there is no challenge he will back down from.
To see the entire interview, where Johnson discuss his upcoming fight, goes into greater detail on his views on the Harper government, bullying and more, click below.