Sunday, June 4, 2017

Culture APP

Everything that is cool, interesting and original about Canada is some form of cultural appropriation whether it is place names or the iconic image of Pierre Trudeau canoeing in a buckskin jacket.

The thing with Canada it is that it is made up of people who left their lives and their loved ones behind. Think about that. From an Indigenous perspective this is hard to fathom. We would love to hear the stories about people completely abandoning their people and their homes.

Canadians have always liked the good Indian. The good Indian is exotic or at least from someplace else, it is one of the reasons why Joseph Boyden was so embraced by the literary establishment in Canada.
It is a shame that a writer like the too soon departed Richard Wagamese did not get opportunities that were taken by Boyden. Wagamese was from a family ravaged  by the legacy of residential schools and he wrote Indian Horse, a survivor's story that the National Post called "an unforgettable work of art."

Boyden’s fraud tarnishes the residential school ballet Going Home Star by the internationally renowned Royal Winnipeg Ballet and most egregiously the last great work by the Bard of Canada the soon to be gone too soon Gord Downie.  

What can a writer do if not imagine what it is to be another person? If writers were not allowed to imagine another’s life than all we would have is autobiography.

This is the land of stolen names
This is stolen land.
This is the land of stolen stories.
This is stolen land.
This is the land of stolen children.
This is stolen land.
This land is not my land. I am the land.

I am still trying to make sense of my story. I am still trying to find my own voice. I am trying not to go insane with the truth.
A writer of Margaret Atwood's genius could only have written A Handmaids Tale being oblivious to the truth of Indian Residential Schools. The book was published in 1985 and the truth of the abuse and torture that was occurring in those schools to tens of thousands of children did not come light until Phil Fontaine's on air disclosure in 1990. She could not have known the bureaucratic machinations between the governments and ALL the churches.
The churches can’t work together on anything. But they get together for this.

FUBAR 2 was a great Canadian film. Where are the books about the real stories of people living like that all across this country. The miners and the loggers and the drillers and the shalers and all the people feeding the extraction machine. Delve into their mines and their spirits.
All Quiet on the Front lines of the War against Mother Earth.

Canadian Writers have an obligation to look at what is really going on. Create the characters, share with the world the inner monologue of people who celebrate in light of people’s suffering in their own country. Who cannot shed a tear in face of a suicide rate that is the highest in the world?
What kind of people live their lives completely ignoring their own history.

It is understandable that you have forgotten your own stories, your own spirituality. But you can’t just take ours.  

Do you want to explore dangerous ideas? How about looking at Canada as a fascist country where the end game to eradicate the continent of Indigenous peoples continues.

When it comes to genocide, Canada plays the long game.

You think you know but you don’t. You don’t even know yourself how can you try and know me.

You have held us silent for generations. Give us a chance to tell our stories.

David Adams Richard creates murderers out of justice seeking MicMacs in Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul using the same Canadiana trope as in WP Kinsella’s Dance me Outside. The Globe and Mail reviewed the book under the title "No Mercy Among the Micmacs". This is projecting. This is what white people would do in that situation.

In a historical context the narrative in Richards book is most offensive in a part of  a country where they committed the actual genocide of the Beothuk not merely attempted genocide.  If this weren’t any more than a fictional trope there would be a lot more dead white people around this place.

Canada is so afraid of its own voices that CBC cannot allow online comments on stories about Indigenous Peoples.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Canadian Currency celebrates Black Civil Rights Victory But Equal Rights Awaits

The Bank of Canada has put the first woman on Canadian currency. After months of debate the choice was made and in 2018 civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond will be on our $10 dollar bill. I agree she is a very worthy choice and a great improvement over the drunken mug of John A Mcdonald.

Viola Desmond became a key player in Canadian history when she refused to move from the whites only section of a movie theatre in Nova Scotia. Her story has become a part of the historical text of Canada. Her actions will not be forgotten.

Although the honour is well deserved and her families and communities should be justifiably proud, her selection fits into the essential Canadian narrative. Canadians like to bemoan their lack of identity but from an Indigenous perspective, let me tell you, we know who you are.
The one agreed upon characteristic of Canadian identity is that “Canadians are so humble.” As I like to say, “Canadians sure love to brag about how humble they are.” Although the phrase has only recently been created in the wake of social media Canada invented “the Humble Brag”.

Now when Canadians have to explain the new face on the $10 dollar bill they can use the phrase “She is like Canada’s Rosa Parks.” This should explain things to most and for others you may have to say, “Rosa Parks was the African American woman who refused to give up her seat to a white man and move to the back of the bus. Her actions were an essential component in America’s civil rights movement. The concept of refusing to move to the back of the bus became a metaphor for any action in which you were expected to be treated as second class.”

Desmond's act can be seen in the same light – refusal to be treated as anything less than equal. Where the humble brag component enters the discussion is that Desmond took her seat in 1946 and Rosa Parks refused to give hers up in 1955. So Canadians can feel humbly superior, once again, to our neighbours in the south.

The second part of Canadian identity is the denial of Indigenous history and in particular acts of genocide, racism and segregation that occurred or exist in this country. Most of us Indigenous and Non were all indoctrinated into this Canadian identity by learning a history that was incomplete or manipulated. In most instances in order for an Indigenous person to learn the truth they have to learn from oral history and from their own research.

So when the story of Viola Desmond entered my life I learned a bit of my own history. Historica Canada is an organization which creates vignettes about Canadian history and a few years back produced an episode about Desmond. It came onto the screen while I was visiting my mother Nellie in Grand Rapids, MB and we were likely watching something incredibly Canadian such as Hockey or Curling. After the vignette played my mother said something like, “I did the same thing in The Pas but I doubt they are going to put me on TV.” And then she laughed her wonderful laugh.

I knew she wasn’t lying. So I wasn’t laughing. She explained that when we lived in The Pas there was a white’s only section at the local theatre. She said she went to sit in the Whites only section because it had the best seat available.

I have vague memories of my time in The Pas, being only 5 or 6 years of age. Or rather I have vague memories of having any contact with Non-Native people and can only really remember having experiences with other Metis and First Nations children in the collection of row houses in which we were all lumped together.

I began to research this historical fact and came upon this reference from Manitoba’s Aboriginal Justice Inquiry.

"At the (Lido) movie theatre, each group sat on its own side; in at least one of the bars, Indians were not allowed to sit in certain areas"

This was the reality in 1971 and the reason the inquiry was looking at this point in history is that this was when Helen Betty Osbourne was murdered. The young girl from Norway House was attending school in The Pas when she was raped and brutally murdered. Her murder was not investigated for years although it had become an open secret in the town. Everyone knew the truth. Yet the truth was also – “Who cares she’s just an Indian Girl.”

Today segregation is no longer accepted although whether it is tolerated is another question. The issue of murdered and missing Indigenous woman and girls continues to haunt our communities.

Though the new $10 bill will mark a victory for Black Civil Rights and for women in Canada it is not a time for Canadians to humbly brag about their superiority. The brave act of Viola Desmond may have been nearly 10 years before Rosa Parks. But 25 years after her defiance of whites only seating in a Nova Scotia theatre that racist segregation still existed against Indigenous Peoples in The Pas, Manitoba. And for the years since and continuing today the national tragedy of Murdered and Missing women and girls remains. A tragedy that exists in a country that still draws racial lines.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Two Stone Colds

It’s was 10:30 in the morning and the bus was full. Most of the people were on their way to some kind of productive activity many likely going to work or perhaps school others out to spend money and support the economy. I was working on a freelance project and was heading to the downtown library to do some research.

The bus stopped around Main Street and Dufferin and a Native couple got on board. They looked to be in their early to mid-thirties and had the shiny faced visage of a long night becoming day. In his arms the man clutched to his chest like precious twin babies, a pair of two liter plastic bottles of Stone Cold Beer. This is a locally brewed Manitoba product that has a strong 6.2% alcohol content and is a 2 liter bargain for under $9.00.

Is it possible for an entire bus to tense up at the same time? Maybe. I know I did. I have been a public transit person for most of my life. I have been on the bus through the core of Winnipeg thousands of times. I have seen this scene more than a few times. A Native person gets on board and they are highly inebriated and they want to get the attention of the entire bus. Sometimes in vulgar and inappropriate ways. 

It isn’t long before the man begins to make his presence known. He speaks loudly to the older man sitting directly across him as they are both up front where the seats face each other and not straight ahead.
“Hey Buddy, Do you know who I am?”
The older man shakes his head.
“I’m A-Nish-A-Naw-BAE”. He says it like that. With much emphasis on each vowel, not the smooth way that some people say it and he really punches the "BAE".
The older man nods his head.
The man sticks out his hand, “Welcome to my country!” I have to hold back a smile on that.
The man turns to his partner whose face I cannot see but for some reason I feel holds a look of amusement. He says “So you know what I said to the first old white man?”
“I said Hey Buddy…I’m a little short.”
“And he gives me .35 cents”
“And you know what I said to the second old white man?”
“I said Hey Buddy…I’m a little short.”
Now, I can hear his partner chuckling. She is clearly admiring her raconteur.
“And you know what? He gives me .50 cents”
“And look at me now.”
Here he takes the two bottles that he had been hugging to his heart and lifted them up in a raise the roof motion.
He says triumphantly, “Two Stone Colds.”
It was a great performance and his partner chuckled with appreciation.

There were a few more exchanges but that was the most memorable. They got off at Winnipeg City Hall and the collective sphincters upon the bus relaxed.

I thought how this plays out in this city in different ways and how this is something that the regular Canadian can’t stand. They can deal with the notion of a street person or someone living close to that life being ashamed, being timid and being beaten down. This is not always the reality.

I have had experiences where a street person has punctured my own ego. One time I was heading to a meeting and I was dressed up, suit coat, nice shirt, pants, shoes and running late. I had gone to the wrong downtown hotel. Now I was walking frantically down Portage Avenue and was on my fancy new blackberry texting away to my boss trying to get directions. Suddenly, I hear, “Hey, Big Sot! Big Sot!”
I look up and this dude has a grin on his face and when I make eye contact his smile widens.
“Heeeyy, BIG SOT!”
I smile, he’s got me.
He holds out his hand and I give him the change I got all the while nodding my head to let him know that I know, "That's right I'm acting like a Big Shot."

But you know. The thing I think about Native people is this. And I know some people won’t like this, because I have said it before and it never goes over. But what the hell, this is it. In all my travels across Turtle Island one constant that I found was that one of the Creator’s teachings was to be humble. Now the Creator should not have to keep telling you to be humble unless you got a problem.

Yet to be clear, there is a huge difference between being humble and being humbled. Still that is only part of this story. The other part of it is that people who live on the street or who won’t work don’t want to play this game. They don't want to be part of this capitalist society of birth, school, work, death. They have opted out of the system. They are off the grid in the middle of the city. They don’t want to have to bow down to some boss or company or government that they don’t like or respect just so they can have money. 

Most of us on the bus had a place to go and something to do that we felt we had to do even if we didn’t want to do it. Maybe in our secret hearts we wished we could be so free as to answer to no one and to be so confident and full of life as to share stories with a bus load of people, make our partner laugh and raise the roof with a hearty - “Two Stone Colds!”

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Suicide Solution

There are people dying to get into this country and Native people are dying to get out. The statistics for suicide in the Native population has been off the charts for decades. This is not a new reality. This is the result of a centuries long campaign to destroy the Indigenous Peoples of North America. The end game is one where the Indigenous Peoples abandon their hope and begin to kill each other and themselves.

This is a Living Genocide.

The big challenge for all Canadians is that they were educated with the lie of their creation story. They believe that Canada was created in a peaceful way with little-consequences to the Indigenous Peoples. It is hard for anyone to come to terms with the lies that form the foundation of their being. It is realizing that your loving father was a pedophile and a murderer.

Genocide is not mentioned in any history book and every generation and every New Canadian is indoctrinated into the great lie. If there is awareness it is comforted by the notion that it happened a long time ago. Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were taken away from their homes and communities and placed in Indian Residential School for re-education up until the early 1990’s.

Today, that daunting number is being surpassed and blown away by the number of Indigenous children placed in the foster care system. It is a system to remove children from family and community and has been in full effect since the period known as “The Sixties Scoop”.

The reason for this has also been the same land, resource, avarice and greed.

Indigenous Peoples are connected to the natural world. This is not just something that is said. It is our connection to the land and the water that makes us who we are. It is our undying love and respect for our Mother Earth. 

The ongoing destruction of traditional lands and waters creates an existential crisis for Indigenous Peoples. If we cannot drink the water, what hope is there for anyone? Indigenous Peoples are canaries in the coalmine for this country. Canadians don’t understand that the water story on First Nations is about everyone. The drinking water crisis isn’t about water treatment centres. It is that you can’t drink out of the river anymore. That is about everyone and everything. 

Water is Life.

We need to help all people get back to land and reconnect to our Mother. The great science of the modern day has proven many things perhaps most importantly there is no planet, no moon, nothing that is any match for our beautiful Mother Earth.

Our people who are living in Northern Communities have a higher degree of language retention and many of them have traditional skills that come from living off the land. The youth who are crying out, living in crisis and taking their lives at a horrific pace have something to share that cannot be found anywhere else. It is in these communities that live Canada’s future. They believe they are hopeless yet they may be the hope for us all.