Tag Archives: Canada

is it freedom of speech?

QC papers reprint cartoons

QC papers reprint Charlie Hebdo cartoons

Thirteen people are dead.

Most are writers and satirical cartoonists at a Paris magazine called Charlie Hebdo. The killers added two police officers to the list of dead during their getaway.

Headlines around the western world trumpet expressions of shock, sorrow, outrage, anger, denial and solidarity in something called  “freedom of speech”.

In Quebec, French-language newspapers repeat the insult — reprint cartoons of the prophet Muhammed — as though one outrage committed by murderers justifies repeating an insult to all Muslims.

Before this goes further, nothing justifies the slaughter of unarmed people. It’s a crime — a mass murder. For the news media, it’s too easy to identify every massacre of innocents as “terrorism”.

Maybe it is. For certain, this was carried out by extremists who threatened to kill the people at this magazine, firebombed it, and decided to wipe out those working at the magazine that mocked the sacred, their sacred. The question we must ask is: Why?

Why did Charlie Hebdo decide to shock, to push, to push beyond good taste into insult, to venture slightly and then more beyond political satire, to sneer at and insult, to promote racism and intolerance in pursuit of something — but not truth anymore.

When that happens, it isn’t satire. It isn’t to expose the criminal, the incompetent, the idiotic, the stupid, and the lying liar. It becomes something else. It turns into a deliberate and concerted campaign against an enemy; a magazine looking for a fight.

There’s no such thing as limitless free speech. We all know the example of the person who yells ‘Fire!” in a burning movie theatre. There are consequences for being an ass in public. But the consequence or reaction should never be murder.

Neither should the reaction by journalists be further provocation and insult. This isn’t responsible journalism nor is it defending or practising free speech.

It’s piling one stupid insult upon another.

1 Comment

Filed under Canada, Canadian politics, journalism, racism

“Day of Action”?

DayOfAction4I missed yesterday’s “Day of Action” (Jan 16).

Despite all the technological tools –  phone,  cell phone, email, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – I couldn’t find out if there was a local event, when or where, until too late.

I’m dying to know what it was like.  For you.

Please. Reply only if you went.

Just an impression, an image or picture that sticks in your mind. One or two short sentences (140 characters) about the spirit of yesterday’s “Day of Action”.

What was it like?

Leave a comment

Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canadian politics, human rights, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights

eternal questions

Picasso

Pablo Picasso

Pondering the Idle No More movement.

It’s gone from teaching sessions, flash mobs to mass marches involving thousands. One simple, easy to understand message. It’s time to change.

It’s time to stop paternalistic policies that everyone agrees doesn’t work but has resulted in cultural destruction and human devastation.

The message, heard over and over: It’s time to end Canada’s internal system of colonialism.

Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing complicated about that.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Aboriginal peoples, art, Canadian politics, human rights, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights

fool me twice, shame on me

Idle No MoreIf you want to understand Idle No More, listen hard to what people don’t say. Listen to the emotions that emanate from them when they gather. Listen and hear everything from joy and pride, to anger and shame. And great disappointment too, for believing government promises time after time.

The shame I’ve heard seems to come from peoples’ sense of helplessness, of being told change and improvement are hopeless – and believing it.  They’re fed up at being sucker punched by the Government time after time, and having shame pressed upon them by society. They don’t like feeling that way. They don’t want their kids to feel that way. Not anymore.

Continue reading

6 Comments

Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canadian politics, human rights, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights, journalism

a cheery little xmas story

ugly tree

ugly xmas tree

Years ago, more than I care to count, I confess that I was a federal civil servant. That’s not the worst part. I got that job at the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. But wait. That’s still not the worst.  The worst is yet to come.

Maybe I should begin with the good part of this tale. I actually felt lucky when I got the job because of where it was. A nice woman named Barbara Shaw took a shine to me, hired me into her Audio-Visual shop. There, I honed my photographic skills, learned more about audio recording and mixing, and was introduced to multi-media (slide shows and video production). I also was lucky enough to work with a few nice people.

Michel was second-in-line and loved the remote film projects he got to work on. Next came Bucky holding court in the studio, half blind and a jazz drummer. Finally, “Raw Bear” (aka Robert) in charge of the photography, slide and visual arts side of things. Down the hall was Howard and the Indian News. I took over the not-so-glam job of news monitoring, a duty the rest of the guys willingly, too willingly it seemed, let go.

I set timers on video and tape recorders every night, and the next morning reviewed local and national newscasts for anything to do with the Department’s mandate. The minister, every minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, didn’t want to be caught with his pants down at Question Period. Also as part of the job, I got to read the daily print clippings. My political spidey sense became more acute. My critical analysis of the Canadian news media took shape.

At first, the sum total of recorded news items each morning might be one fluffs-and-feathers piece. These usually, often, almost always began with the sound of drums and chanting. Always those damn drums and chanting. I read way too many newspaper and magazine clippings with headlines or stories that contained phrases like “dancing up a storm” or “whooping it up” somewhere for something. If it weren’t for that strange thing call a Mohawk sense of humour, I might have become suicidal thereby completing the tragic stereotypical process.

But I survived.  And I digress. This is supposed to a cheery little Christmas story.

So one day in December, during what turned out to be my last few months at Indian Affairs, Raw Bear and I decided to accept the Assistant Deputy Minister’s invitation to partake of some holiday cheer in his offices up on the 21st. floor. This was THE 21st. Floor, usually out of bounds to lesser beings such as we.

There was only other time I’d taken the elevator up to that floor. I dropped off some news summaries because some faecal matter had struck an electric aeration device and the Minister’s Office (caps required) demanded immediate attention. Usually, one of the other guys  responded to such directives. That one time, given my suspicious racial background and therefore dubious security status, the gods on 21 decided to take a chance and give mew the job of delivery boy. I felt so freaking honoured I wanted to puke. But, again, I digress.

So there we are, Raw Bear and I. We’re chuckling and stifling laughs as we prowled the food table. “White food,” I said, looking down at the usual bits of cheese and crackers. “Where’s the Injun food,” I add?

“Maybe they couldn’t afford baloney,” Raw Bear replied.
“You mean Indian steak?”

So we scoured the tables looking for something, anything more edible. We slipped over to the drinks area where someone was dispensing wine and beer, all the while looking about completely amazed at the cavorting of normally dour and dull civil servantry. This was not just another day in the belly of the beast.

I’d never seen so many comely but poorly paid secretaries… uh, I mean clerical staff, groping or hanging off each other as well as senior managers of a more lecherous bent. Suddenly, Raw Bear and I felt the joyous mood in the room become decidely cooler. We could feel pairs of eyes boring into the backs of our necks. We were definitely in someone’s scope.Then a tap on the shoulder and a whispered command to both of us: “Follow me.”

Raw Bear and I had quietened somewhat. Well, okay, I’d gone a whole lot quieter. Raw Bear had seniority while I was still on the endless cycle of six-month appointments that was the fate of most Indigenous folk at the Department. I knew one poor schmuck who had been on similar appointments for nearly 18 years. I repeat: nearly 18 years!

“Shhhh,” I whispered. “This looks serious.” This just made the slightly inebriated Raw Bear giggle even more.

We were escorted into an adjoining room and told to stay. We stood there looking at each other, wondering what the hell was going on, scanning the walls for about a minute but feeling it much longer, when the owner of the office came in. There he was. Rob Brown, the ADM himself.

Mr. ADM entered and shut the door behind. He didn’t even both with a “Merry Christmas.” He went straight to the point, which is why he got paid the big bucks: “I want you both to face the wall, and put your hands up against it.”

I wish I’d had an out-of-body experience at that moment. I wanted so much to see the exclamation points and questions marks popping like bubbles above our heads. We turned to look at each other. Then we both turned around the other way to face the wall. Dutifully, me and Raw Bear  assumed the position. Y’know: That position.

By this point, being slightly pickled, we were both giggling at the whole ludicrous, ridiculous, surreal situation. We were giggling like a pair of school girls while this highly priced ADM is running his hands up and down our arms, armpits, waists, and down our legs to the ankles. And just like that, it was over.

“Okay,” he said. We were clean. Not quite innocent but not proven guilty either. Mr. ADM then turned to the door and went through it.  Stunned, Raw Bear and I stayed in “the position” for a second or two before finally breaking into full blown guffaws.

Stunned, we rejoined the party.  But the implications were starting to gnaw at our party spirit. Yes, our libidos went limp. We had another drink but soon decided the thrill was definitely gone.

I saw a friend, Monik, deep in shmooze mode on the other side of the room. We didn’t want to interrupt so we waved goodbye to her, headed out the door and down the hall to the elevators, shaking our heads all the way down to our floor at the pat down.

The next day, I ran into Monik. I asked if she knew what happened to us at the party? She seemed more shocked than surprised. As the tale unfolded, Monik’s expression slowly turned fron concern into a smile. What was so goddam funny, I asked? For me, the funny left town on last night’s bus to Toronto.

My civil rights, my labour rights, my human rights as an individual in Canadian society – all had been violated by my boss, the ADM of Indian Affairs. I know that shouldn’t have surprised me – me of all people! So why was Monik on the verge of busting a gut?

That’s when she confessed.

There was a little toy Christmas tree with tiny decorations on a table near the food and drinks areas. ADM Brown noticed that some of these decorations had grown feet. There we stood, me and Raw Bear, hanging around that area, just a-giggling away. Ergo, ipso fatso, we must be the guilty parties. That’s why the dragnet came out, the die was cast, and so on and so forth.

There is a moral to this story. Maybe two.
Never, ever trust any senior official at Indian Affairs.
And beware Abenakis bearing gifts.

Happy Kwaanzaa!

Leave a comment

Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canada, humour

changing lenses

I try not to have a lot of regrets. Things happen. Move on, if possible. Leave it behind. A former love suggested that only I could be responsible for my  happiness. She’s a former love so she must have taken her own advice.SABC News

But there are things that continue to gnaw even these many years later. This is one of them. It started out as most ideas like this – half-baked. It bounced around the back of my skull for months, maybe years. By the time I pried that slippery thing out and inflicted it upon others, I was in a position to take it from germ to proposal. Whether my immediate audience was able – or even willing – to understand is another matter. I should probably have considered that beforehand.

So what was this big idea? Simple, I thought in saner moments; bloody genius, after a few beers or tokes. Why do we accept the way that the world is structured? Why do we operate as though this is the only way that things should work? If the information is there, and we have the ability to interpret and use that information as we see fit, or as we should see fit… Then why don’t APTN Newswe? Why do we accept a status quo or a model or a system that really has not worked too well for us? Don’t we have a duty to try to either fix the damn thing? Or scrap it? Start over?

Now, in most things, such as engineering, airplane construction, putting a new roof on the house, I’d agree wholeheartedly to just leave things as they are. Don’t screw around. I don’t want that plane or roof falling with me or on me. But some things don’t work, fail continuously, inflict damage and/or pain, and it just doesn’t make sense that it keeps going on and on and on.

My big idea had to do with culture. News. Journalism. Writing. (Bet you thought it’d be the Indian Act or Indian Affairs, eh?) For years, I’d worked in mainstream journalism and became an advocate – if not acolyte and born-again missionary – for western journalism methods and standards. I believed in public broadcasting and public service journalism; that the bottom line should be informing people and protecting democratic rights not entertaining people for cheap eyeballs to keep stockholders happy. My problem? Even public broadcasting didn’t seem to work or to satisfy me.

My qualms took shape in South Africa in the late 90s. I’d gone to help some friends try to transform the SA Broadcasting Corp from an apartheid apologist and mouthpiece, maybe even spy, into something responsible to all of the people, and dedicated to changing the world for the better of everyone. Hah! Silly me. It’d be easier to get an intelligent policy out of Indian Affairs! (Oops, I really, really tried to leave Indian Affairs out of this post. Me bad.)

The problem with the SABC, as I learned to see it (with the help of former SA exiles who returned to fight the good fight in the corridors of the news department) was its culture. We could train people – producers, editors, reporters, camera people, etc. We could help them revise policies and procedures. We could mentor and nudge, encourage and suggest. We could even develop new shows for them. But that old culture of obedience and subservience to power and authority was engrained in the wood and paint, polluted the water and air in that monstrosity called Auckland Park.

So, after a few years, I became convinced that we were not freeing minds as much as showing experts at camouflage how to become better chameleons. It wouldn’t matter after awhile whether our trainees served the Broederbund or the ANC since they had been trained for so long to blend into the background and survive.

Now that’s a huge over-simplification and tarring with a massive brush. I came to admire and regard with awe a number of SABC journalists. Brave, sharp as hell, curious, modest, caring, worried about their country and their fellow South Africans – all at the same time. They had all of the qualities that the best journalists  embrace and personify. They somehow survived the old masters and I worried how they’d deal with the newer ones.

Survival, after all, is not for the faint-hearted or the polite in places like South Africa or many other places on earth. It’s easy for foreign devils like myself to helicopter in with fancy ideas about how the world should be. But then we’d go home and those people we grew to love and respect would have to find the gumption to speak truth in the face of power.

A typical day and another workshop, this time in Durban with a group of newspaper journalists. Some write for richer, established, formerly White dailies and others for poorer, newer Black papers hoping to capture the huge readership in the townships. They did essentially the same kinds of stories and used the most of the same news sources. The only real differences were in pay scales, the names of their papers, and sometimes the owners.

Asked to identify their target audiences, the reporters gave strangely similar replies. It turned out that they were all going after the same top 10% of the population – the same target readership during apartheid. Things have changed, I asked, and shouldn’t their target audiences change as well? Certainly the Black newspapers should be explaining the world from a township perspective if they wanted to become relevant to that readership? Silly me, they replied, didn’t I know that Blacks didn’t have money? That money powered the engines? That most township Blacks couldn’t or didn’t read?

So one of the lessons I learned, and they taught me many, was that the owners of most of their newspapers weren’t that interested in serving the majority of poor, poorly educated Blacks. They talked change but didn’t walk it. Informing the Black populations about this thing called democracy, informing them of and protecting their rights, advocating on their behalf, explaining their world in terms that they could relate to and understand, got in the way of profit. That’s when it struck me that things weren’t much different with Indigenous reporting back home in Canada.

But… and here’s the regret… they taught me so much that I wanted to bring home to Canada. Their lives, their hopes, their dreams, and the way that they saw through all of the bullshit excuses, euphemisms, and justifications inspired me. Now, to put it all to good use, I thought to myself. So I came back to Canada, and got THAT job – the one  I’d probably been preparing myself for during all those years kicking around places like the CBC.

So there I was; top news guy at my not-yet and still-to-be-built national TV news operation. I’d be the one picking the journalists. I’d be the one providing a vision for a world of Indigenous journalism that had yet to be articulated let alone made real with sound and pictures. Holy shit! Now what was that big idea that kept rustling around back there? I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was no matter how hard I tried.

I’m scrambling to get material ready for our first-ever news department group hug, bitch-slap, sucker punch, condolence, forgiveness, argument, blame and name, correcting, and agenda-setting meeting. What is it I really want to do? There are lots of things that must be done. A pile of things that can be put on hold or bumped up in priority. But if I could only remember what it was that I really…. Then it hit. Got it! The memory flooded back in full 16-bit colour.

What if we changed the cultural lenses by which we – native, Indian, Métis, Inuk, Indigenous – journalists did things? Why, I asked myself, do we seem to arrange our newsroom beats or areas of responsibilities to mirror government departments or business sectors without an apparent thought? We just do it.

We create beats for reporters to cover Health (Health Canada, provincial depts of health), politics (Indian Affairs, prov depts of native affairs, Aboriginal political organizations, etc), housing (CMHC, Indian Affairs, etc), education (Indian Affairs – again!, prov depts of ed, school boards), etc, etc, ad nauseum. Just like in that Harry Potter movie, I looked into the thing I feared (or hated) the most, waved my wand, and uttered the incantation: Ridikulus!

I walked into that meeting with those journalists, editors, and producers at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and said: Why don’t we chuck the usual beat system and try something new? Why don’t we define how we – as Indigenous peoples coming from Indigenous cultures and communities across Canada – are going to cover stories so they make sense to our peoples, our nations, our communities? (sound of crickets… shuffling of chairs… a pen falls off the conference room table way down there…)

What are going to do instead, someone asked. Good question, I answered right back! What, I asked the wall of blank faces in front of me, if we redefine and reclassify stories along the lines of things that our folks, our main audiences, think is important to their lives?

First step is to ask ourselves this question: How do we define the most important things in our lives? (more sound of crickets… more shuffling of chairs… I swear a pen is thrown across the conference room way down there…)

Eventually, with a lot of hard work, I’ve dragged out a flip chart full of things that don’t look anything like the standard, mainstream news media’s beat system. We identify a whole bunch of things that are common and central to the lives of our Indigenous audiences. Take the following:

  1. Family and extended family, Mothers and children, Elders, Young adults, Men. (In other words, people.)
  2. Community, Society, Culture, Language, Work, Justice, Resources, Learning, Governance. (Things that serve or are there for to provide to people.)
  3. Foreign governments (like that damn Indian Affairs department), Outside cultures, Foreign laws, Foreign rulers. (Things that oppress people)

The list wasn’t all my invention – it came from the group as well. I thought it was brilliant. Revolutionary. Remarkably intelligent and sensible. Why don’t we – as the Indigenous news organization – tell stories from our perspectives, using our own values, and shaped to suit our audiences needs.  Wow! Double holy shit!

Some of the folks looked at that list in horror, and at me with not a little fear that I’d completely lost my freaking marbles. The faces of some, okay maybe one or two, beamed as though struck by a celestial light. I wish I could have pointed to something that already existed to help everyone understand that what we were talking about was a cultural lens. We were talking about replacing the foreign lens that dominated mainstream news about Indigenous peoples, with a much more appropriate Indigenous lens.

At least, we might end up with stories that would be a lot more relevant to the peoples and nations that we had identified as our core audiences.

Now the beauty of such sessions is that they eventually end. Bitch-slaps are forgotten if not forgiven. Friends go their separate ways to never speak to each other again. Red hot overnight romances fizzle out in the  old light of a new dawn. Then people settle back into familiar places and routines, like that one producer who  went back to writing poetry or playing solitaire when she could’ve been producing some kick-ass stuff about Pickton.

The experiment went ahead more in fits than in starts. They tried. They really did. But they didn’t have it in them to continue down this road for long. Eventually, they just slipped back into the old and familiar same old.

What did I learn about the whole damn thing?

Revolutions suck.

But what other choice do we have?

2 Comments

Filed under Africa, Canada, Indigenous peoples, journalism, South Africa

the frontier follies

I thought it might be interesting to examine a document that sought to make the rounds of government offices and academic circles with the stated intent of influencing policy in Canada in regards to northern and remote communities – in particular Indian policy and reserves.

Respecting the Seventh Generation cover

"Respecting the Seventh Generation"

Its authors made the rounds to promote this product; issuing news releases, writing commentary in at least one national newspaper (Nat Post: Some reserves can’t be fixed) but reaching national readers through the CanWest chain of local dailies, appearing at conferences, seeking broadcast coverage, etc. In other words, the authors wanted this paper to make waves and sought to influence Canadians and policy decision-makers.

This paper was produced and published by the Frontier Centre on Public Policy (FCPP) which, according to its blurb, “undertakes research and education in support of economic growth and social outcomes… enhance the quality of life in our communities… explores policy innovations required to make the prairies region a winner in the open economy… and improving the performance of public expenditures in important areas like local government, education, health and social policy.”

The FCPP bills itself as a ‘think tank” but is not unbiased, has a strong right-wing slant, promotes transparency and accountability but is rather vague about its own finances; the majority coming from “foundations.” Although it’s not clear from the information provided on its web site what foundations, where these foundations are situated (U.S. or Canada, both, or other), or what these foundations do, promote or support.

Back to the report…

It’s entitled “Respecting the Seventh Generation,” authored by Joseph Quesnel; “Métis ancestry from Quebec,” although he has claimed to be Mohawk in the past and in previous FPCC publications. (cite: Quesnel, Joseph. Respecting the Seventh Generation: A voluntary plan for relocating non-viable Native reserves, FCPP Policy Series No. 81, Winnipeg. January 2010)

At the beginning of this paper, you’ll find a picture of the author and an outline of his past and present work. You’ll also find this rather curious qualification by the FPCC:

The authors of this study has (sic) worked independently and the opinions expressed are therefore their own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

I consider the above qualification “curious” because the authors are staff employees at the FPCC, not outside or contract consultants hired to produce this report. But I’ll leave it for you to decide if that’s relevant or not.

I won’t examine the full document here or provide a complete critique, since a quick look at only the first few pages should make the point.  Let’s begin with Page 4:

Throughout Canada’s history, Indian reserves were deliberately placed on marginal lands. They were intended to warehouse First Nations while they prepared for enfranchisement and settlers built the country.

It almost sounds as though the author is saying that the Canadian government set up temporary internment camps for Indians while they waited sheep-like to have their treaties (contracts between peoples) torn up by the government, their “Aboriginal” rights erased, but in the end able to vote just like white men.

Removed and relocated from their traditional lands, I suppose, “settlers” could then move in to carry out the task of national building without nagging Indians underfoot, without the need to share any bounty with them, avoiding unwanted invoices from Indians wanting to paid for the use of their lands and resources, or interference by the courts as they pursued legal means for fair treatment.

It seems to me that this statement actually strengthens the perceived fears of Status Indians so quickly dismissed by the authors elsewhere in this document. But let’s move on to another paragraph on the same page:

When discussing the issues, policy-makers should bear in mind that a land base is not enough when building a viable economy. The land must be capable of being put to productive use. The community must also be able to produce a needed good or service that can be sold competitively in a global market.

The author seems to suggest that local economy isn’t good enough. One must determine the viability of a community’s right to exist (more to the point – Indian reserves) based on its ability to compete in a “global market” as well. Or perhaps he meant only in a global market.

The author provides no evidence to show how many towns or villages in Canada could possibly meet this standard. Nor does he provide a comparison between northern and remote towns and villages with those Indian reserves (that he deems worthy of bulldozing) to use as a yardstick. In other words, the statement seems baseless, ill-conceived and rather flippant for something so drastic, dramatic and probably traumatic to those on the receiving end of things.

Furthermore, the author appears to be suggesting that there may be wealth in these lands after all, but the bounty is – and will remain – out of reach to the settler so long as those pesky Indians are in the way. If they – say – were enticed or coerced to relocate though… those settlers could move in to extract and exploit the natural resources to their hr=earts content. Maybe they’d even build new towns where those unviable reserves used to be. Do I hear the sound of heavenly horns?

Still on Page 4:

One should also remember that, historically, indigenous peoples have always moved around and reserves are not their creation. In addition, attachment to a piece of land does not make one indigenous. Moreover, Canada should look to the extreme example of Australia as to where it does not want to end up. Serious sexual abuse and chronic child neglect forced its government to take control of some indigenous communities.

In this paragraph, the author makes a leap in logic worthy of a philosophic Cirque du Soleil act. To wit: Indians have always been shoved around. They’re used to it. They don’t have a genuine geographic attachment to any piece of land. By the way – did I mention “sexual abuse” – I mean “SERIOUS sexual abuse” – and “CHRONIC child neglect.” (my all caps)

That non-sequitur could choke an elephant. But a pattern is emerging in which a “solution” is proposed, pre-determined actually, closely followed by a terrible social or living situation which needs to be remedied or eliminated. However, the author presents no evidence that conclusively ties one to the other.

People are poor because of all kinds of reasons, not just because they live in northern and remote communities. People experience all kinds of ugly social ills, not just because they live in southern cities. That leap in thought reminds me of the dogs in that animated Disney feature, “UP,” who yelp “squirrel” every now and then.

While this paper calls for voluntary solutions, constitutional protection of Aboriginal title prevents the federal government from taking over indigenous lands or reserves, so First Nations need not fear a coercive approach.

Of course, that is exactly what this paper proposes – only with a wink and a nod. Once the Federal government feels it’s been given the “green light” by Canadians to condemn and shut down entire communities because they’re in the way, because they cost too much in someone’s estimation, because they’re not white or not wanted… Where does it end?

It’s not as though this hasn’t been done before. Ipperwash Park was created after the Second World War, after an Act of Parliament “borrowed” the land from the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point. Indian Affairs relocated the community, folding them into them onto the same land. Thus the Kettle AND Stony Point. Of course, the federal government reneged on its promise to return that land after the war and we all know what happened then.

Africville in Nova Scotia was bulldozed at the behest of the City of Halifax so the province and the city could build a bridge, while simultaneously removing an unwanted community of Black Canadians from sight.

Newfoundland decided it either didn’t want to or could not afford its outport communities so it uprooted people from their homes, sometimes houses and all, and relocated them someplace more convenient – for the government.

Disasters one and all.

The author also contends, without a shred of evidence or personal experience, that Indians are somehow different from anyone else in the world when it comes to ties to the land, relationship to geography, to a territory they call home. Apply that same pretzel logic to the Middle East, to Israel and Palestine, to England or France, or any people in the world… and the insane underpinnings of this paper must become apparent to even the most ardent right-wing crank. (Okay, maybe I went a bit far on that one.)

Before I move on, however, one last item. Much of the author’s argument – in fact, central to this paper – is based upon (what he calls) “The Kashechewan Case.” That’s a Cree community that was located and built by Indian Affairs, against the advice of the Cree inhabitants, on a flood plain. Indian Affairs built the community a water treatment plant downstream from its sewage outlet, again ignoring the warnings of the Cree inhabitants.

Many homes and public buildings were in disrepair and with severe mould infestation due to the forewarned and predictable flooding that occurs every year, combined with the also inevitable lack of funding for new homes and repairs. The community was evacuated to Timmins – by the Ontario government – after news people finally listened to pleas from the member of parliament for that area. A DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) and other repair crews applied band-aids to contaminated water systems and brought living conditions up to minimal standards.

That was in 2006. Not much has been done to follow up promises to “fix” the community which, given the option to relocate, were determined to stay on their traditional and ancestral territories. The story fell off the front pages, except for this report by the FPCC.

The province (because Indian Affairs went into hiding) sent in Allan Pope following the evacuation of Kashechewan. A former environment minister, Pope’s mandate was to look, study and report back with recommendations.

Tidbit: Pope once advocated the diversion of water from Hudson’s Bay to the water parched U.S. midwest; it was called the “Grand Canal Scheme.”

The author of “Respect the Seventh Generation” refers extensively to Pope’s report. But here’s the thing: he never once cites the report directly.

Take a look for yourself. This is from the Endnotes section:

1. Tenille Bonoguore, “Report Urges moving Kashechewan to Timmins,” Globe and Mail, November 9, 2006.
2. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, “Canada’s New Government signs agreement with Kashechewan First Nation to redevelop community,” July 30, 2007.
3. Allison Jones, “Kashechewan chief warned Ottawa of jail fire possibility months before deaths,” Canadian Press, April 1, 2009.
4. Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, “Mr. Alan Pope submits report to Minister Jim Prentice on the Development of a Sustainable Solution for the Community of
Kashechewan,” November 9, 2006.
14. Indian and Northern Affairs, CNW Telbec, “Mr. Alan Pope submits report to Minister Jim Prentice on the Development of a sustainable solution for the community of Kashechewan,”
November 9, 2006.

Not a single reference to Pope’s report. Every reference is to a newspaper report or to a news release, which makes me wonder whether the author bothered to obtain or read Pope’s report at all.

Perhaps worse, there is not one single reference to an interview with anyone living there which makes me wonder if the author(s) had ever gone to Kashechewan, or called them by phone to get their views before or during the writing of this paper.

There was reaction afterward. Here’s what John Solomon had to say:

We have to look at how we got here in the first place,” said Kashechewan Chief Jonathan Solomon. “Legislation and policies such as the Ontario Mining Act have forced many communities from benefitting from resources and development and that’s why we are in the situation we are in. First Nations should have the opportunity to sustain themselves.

Yes, but that really makes things difficult when you already know the “solution” and you only need to re-define the problem to fit.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I could go on… and on… but it becomes too depressing. In the end, I can only conclude that this so-called policy discussion paper is nothing of the kind. Further, its author(s) have raised questions about the credibility of their work as well as that of their employer.

The authors don’t seem to be interested in honest research or debate, despite their protests to the contrary and their portrayal of Aboriginal leaders as unwilling to engage them in such. How does one engage in honest debate when faced with half-truths, bizarre interpretations of history and fact, and outright dishonesty?

Perhaps the real question is: Why would anyone want to?

Leave a comment

Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canada, Canadian politics, human rights, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights, journalism, racism