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Thursday, January 11, 2018

They always return to the mother


I began my career in journalism at the CBC. I got in the way that most do. I knew someone who knew someone. My brother Monty had a friend whose mother worked in the HR department at CBC Winnipeg. I got an interview and soon I had a job. It was a rewarding experience.
There was one hurtful rebuff on a story I had proposed on whether the reserve system in Canada had been used by South Africa in the creation of Apartheid Homelands.
It was crushing in that I was a devoted follower of the faith. I believed in the profession. I mean, I wasn’t completely naive. I had seen Broadcast News. I still believed that any story idea had value.
In regards to the Canada/South Africa connection, I can’t remember exactly where I had heard this theory at the time.
My guess would be that it was likely amongst my good friend Laver Simard’s group of hippie hip family and friends who were educated by state and street. This was the time when South Africa was the universally agreed upon as the worst country in the world.
The regime was race based fascism of the kind we believed had been wiped from the face of the earth after WW 2. Rarely had the political and cultural classes of the world clucked with such overwhelming agreement. These were the new Nazis.
So here I was 21 years old and I bring up the notion that perhaps Canada had inspired the Nazis of the day. I did not think the idea would be greeted with such venom. I was 21 years old. I did not know what Shakespeare meant when he wrote “I think she doth protest too much.” The person who reacted with such invective is well known but her name doesn’t matter.

I left after 18 months to begin my new life with wife to be Shelly Bressette on the Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation raising a family of two boys and two girls. It was not much longer than a year in Ontario when I had an opportunity to work at CBC Toronto.
It was once again an opportunity that came from knowing someone who knows someone.  My wife had interned at CBC radio with James Cullingham who was now taking over the network’s signature radio documentary program “Sunday Morning”. He called to ask her if she would like to join the team.
She declined. Her focus upon moving home was to start a newspaper. She gave James my back story and soon I was in Toronto working for the CBC.
When I told my older brother Marshall I was going back to CBC, he said a phrase I have only heard from him and yet sounds and seems to be conventional wisdom in the Canadian Media.
“They Always Return to “The Mother”.

It was a rough ride at HQ.
It was the most competitive and disagreeable group of people I had ever worked with. There was no sense of teamwork and a shared belief that the quality of the whole show was our united responsibility. Instead the individual producers were committed to their own story and the only thing that mattered in relation to the program was how many minutes they could own.
There was simmering acrimony over who should have taken over the show and here I was the new guy’s guy so that didn’t help. Sometimes I was the new guy’s Native guy and I know that didn’t help.

There was a producer helicoptered in to do a single documentary was chummy with a lot of people on our floor which was split between the Sunday Morning team and the group at As it Happens. Although the space was open concept there was a clear and obvious invisible line between. Whoever this journalist was, she was a big deal. Everyone on both sides of the border was kissing her ass.

Anyway I was working late on a story one night and the lady was working on her story and she came up behind me and started to rub my shoulders and neck. I jumped up and moved back.
I did not know who this person was regardless of how obsequious she was greeted by everyone else. I don’t know if I said anything but the lady reacted with one of those “Hey what’s the big deal I am just trying to help you relax” kind of thing.
I am a large man and I can, and in this case literally did, stand up for myself. But then the senior producer who was there at the time says something like – “Oh Miles is Native and they have a problem with being touched.”

So not being comfortable with a strange person rubbing my body is my problem and not only that - it’s because of my race.

There was also the time I lost out on interviewing James Cameron. There was a pitch session where everyone got excited about doing something about the new Batman movie with Michael Keaton. It was one of those typically Canadian here’s another example of how the U.S. is such a trash society and how can we mock it.
After that discussion wrapped, I saw a chance. Batman wasn’t the only highly anticipated film of the summer, at least in my mind. I pitched a piece about the latest film by Canadian director James Cameron. The Abyss was to be the follow-up to the ground breaking Terminator and the box office smash Aliens. It was an underwater epic that Cameron had equated to shooting 2001 – A Space Oddessy in space.
The gathered were nonplussed by a director whose films they knew were successful but did not see as visionary. Still the Canadian content made it a go and I began the process of setting up an interview.
I could not be more excited. When at Western University’s Program in Journalism for Native People, Paul Rickard and I held a holy trinity of the Three C’s – Cronenberg, Craven and Cameron.
In the meantime I was still working on another piece for the Arts section of Sunday Morning. Arts was the fiercely defended terrain of Judy Brake who made it clear to all and often that she was still master of her domain.
She gleefully added to the toxin floating in the air that Cullingham had unceremoniously usurped the throne and that she was the remaining refuge of resistance.
The story I had been assigned was the Canadian movie of the season, a biography of Mohawk leader Joseph Brant – “Divided Loyalties”. Much of the telefilm would be shot on historical locations at the Six Nations of the Grand River. I spent a few days on location and found that many of Six Nations members were offended that their great leader was being played by non-Native actor Jack Langedijk.
I went to present my findings to Judy Brake with a bit of pride. Now we have some conflict, some debate, there was a story here- this wasn’t going to be just another fluff piece. Her reaction was simple.
She lost her shit. Although I don’t believe that phrase was part of the parlance of the times. She did “spit her musk melon”. (Which is a phrase that never caught on.)
I told her as she sat in her desk oozing classic Canadian entitlement. She held a small plate of sliced cantaloupe and musk melon.
When I told her about the brewing controversy she stood up and started berating, chunks of musk melon exploding from her bloated face.
“I sent you to do a story about the movie - not to go on the fucking warpath looking for an issue.”
And you can guess what the fall out of that exchange was.
I never got to interview James Cameron since that was in the purview of Judy Brake.
A few weeks later, the story was on the cover of Maclean’s magazine. 

My final piece at the show never got to air. I was doing a story about the impact of pollution on the marshes of Walpole Island First Nation from the oil factories up stream in Sarnia. The story was punted ostensibly because I wanted to use Bruce Cockburn’s then pervasive song – If a tree falls in the forest. My connection was that the song was about the destruction of the rainforest which were the lungs of the world and these marshes were like the kidneys of the Great Lakes. Stop looking beyond our borders when the destruction is happening right here.
My senior producer back in Toronto would not go to air with the piece. The producer I worked with at CBC Windsor was crying after she heard it.

National Native Affairs Broadcaster

Before a year was up another golden opportunity came my way. Dan David who I had developed a close friendship during my time at the Mother was leaving his job. Dan was the National Native Affairs Broadcaster which was part of Infotape – CBC’s national syndication service.
It was not an upward move. It wasn’t even sideways. It was a step down. I was going to leave a flagship national program and launching pad to even bigger things within The Mother. This was going back to the regions. This was to cover a beat that to this day is given minimal effort by CBC.
This was the work that I wanted to do.
I was doing some good stuff.  I didn’t break anything I just listened and allowed stories and voices to be heard.  Still the biggest story in Canadian history was looming.
July 11, 1990 following a months long blockade to stop a golf course development on their traditional territory and burial grounds the Surete du Quebec (Quebec Provincial Police) raided the Mohawk Community of Kanehsatake. The 75 day standoff that would become known as the Oka crisis began.
I headed to work with the notion that I would have to get ready to go.
I went to my producer who was a nice person and who I believe did not make the calls. I said, “When am I going?”
My boss said that they weren’t going send me as they had enough people on the ground. I was stunned. I was the National Native Affairs Broadcaster and this was the biggest Native story in the Nation.
It was that old trope. Native journalists can’t be trusted to cover Native stories.
Why?
Because Native people can’t be trusted.
It would be 10 days, with me going to work every day and saying, “when are you going to send me?”
Finally I got my orders. It wasn’t from HQ. The calls were coming in from the regions. The Regions!
“When is Miles going to go?”
“When are we going to get something from Miles?”
 The story could not be contained and the audience desire was insatiable.
The next day I was sitting in the waiting room of the Quebec Native Women’s Association along with reporters from around the world. The association had become the de facto communications headquarters for the people behind the barricades. I was not waiting more than 10 minutes when I bumped into an alumnus of the Program in Journalism for Native People. Within a half hour I was invited to a closed door meeting where I was told that an attempt to break the blockade with food and medicine was going to happen. They wanted me to be witness.
“The SQ says it will fire on all boats that don’t stop and we are not going to stop.”
That night I was on a group of boats smuggling food and medicine across the Lac des deux Montagnes. The group was greeted as heroes and when anyone questioned my presence someone would often say “He’s one of the Boat People,” and the questions would end and the compliments would begin.
I gathered tape for about a half dozen stories in my first four days and had relatively free movement inside the barricades. As far as I knew then and what I know today, I was the only major media journalist with that kind of access. I may have been the only journalist with that kind of access.
Nevertheless my bosses were calling me home. I pleaded my case. I would send the raw tape and trust someone else to cut it for me and do script and clip pieces over the phone. It seemed like madness to give up a front seat to history. It was illogical.
I have a theory now that would have helped me then. Racism is illogical therefore acts that are illogical may be acts of racism.
I returned to Toronto.
I did not get to witness the rest of this historical event. Although I did get to witness how the first draft of history is written.
CBC’s Loreen Pindera was one of the few journalists who was covering the story from the very beginning and began to have a deeper understanding of the history. She was discovering the story that was not ingrained, she was breaking free of Canadian indoctrination. She was starting to see both sides of the story. She must be losing her mind.
A whisper campaign was making it’s way around the office. Loreen was suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome.  The Stockholm Syndrome described a mental breakdown where the captive begins to sympathize with the captors. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for Loreen to overcome this scarlett letter.
My friend Bud Whiteye was working with Morningside the show hosted by national icon, Peter Gzowski . One day Bud came up to my office, visibly distraught. The man had done three tours of Vietnam, he was not easily rattled.
“Let’s go for a walk.”
Whatever he had to say he could not say it within these walls.
Once we got outside and out of the parking lot, he started.
“(Executive Producer for Morningside) Patsy Pehlman is storming through the office screaming – “Find me someone who has the fucking balls to say it’s time to call in the army.”
This was a soldier. This was a man who was in the real shit – three times. As a human being, he was offended. As a journalist the reality that the most influential radio show in the country wanted to manipulate the discussion in such a dangerous way was reprehensible.
It is stressful to work in a place where your perspective or opinion may be considered invalid at best and insane at worst.
My time wrapped up as my wife had successfully launched the newspaper Nativebeat and it was my time to go to work with her. In the many years that followed I did a few interviews with the Mother but never achieved a level where they would call on me to share my opinion.
I did meet with a former Sunday Morning staffer who was now working in Public Relations, he asked me what had happened to me? I wasn’t aware that anything happened to me. He suggested that the word around the campfire was that I had gone off the deep-end. I laughed about it at the time because I had no idea what he meant.  
In the years since I have continued to work in media and communications and almost exclusively within the Native community. It’s been good

Trying To Get Back In

A couple of years ago I got a message out of the blue from Rosanna Deerchild. She was the host of Unreserved which was the national Indigenous affairs program for CBC and wanted to know if I was interested in applying for the job of Senior Producer – Indigenous Programming. I did not know anything about it. She encouraged me to apply.
So I did and after jumping through a few hoops I made the final cut. It did not go as planned.
In a Facebook message to a friend on the eve of the interview I write.
“Hey ####...I am in the final four or five..I have the face to face interview on Friday...my goal is to convince them that I am good little Indian that knows my place...Trojan Horse them. I won't make eye contact...that's the ticket. Hah.”
November 18, 2016
I have not heard anything about the Sr. Prod job at CBC although I was told it would be a few weeks. In all honesty I did not do that well in the interview. Some of the questions were strangely confusing to me. "Tell us about a time you were criticized?" My wife really hates it when I soak the dishes...she thinks I am avoiding the job but I feel I am using science."
I just blanked for a good two minutes.
They also asked "What kind of values do you hold?"
I thought...
"Is the answer, “ Canadian”?
"Is the answer “Family Values"?
They gave me a hypothetical where a Chief used his influence to get his grandchildren out of Children's Aid. The suggestion being that he had unfairly used his influence. I said unless he did something illegal I don't know what the story is..why wouldn't a grandparent use whatever means to get kids out of the system and back home.

November 19, 2016
The one dude was doodling the whole time...an hour...I thought he was taking extensive notes, at first...I looked over and it was a sequence of circles with a square around them. He kept doodling that symbol over and over again.
I was put off by that. Like what the heck man?
So you want Indigenous people who are represented by the circle put in the box which represents mainstream society.
Ok...I did not think about that at the time...but still.

*

The job of Senior Producer of Unreserved came up and once again I got a note asking if I would apply. Once again I did.

This time I did not make the final cut. I did not get a pre-interview. I was not considered.
I was in the running for Senior Producer of Indigenous Programming but not in the running for a position under the purview of that job. It is like saying we considered you to be captain but now we don't even want you on the team.

The job was given to a non-Native person because....you know.


-30-  

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2017- Year in Review

Canada 150 was a thing.   

It was OK.
Seriously, it’s like a couple that has a 15th Wedding Anniversary because they don’t think they will make it to the Silver.

Canada 150 – Ad Fail – Urination of Dreamers – CIBC
CIBC like many of the big banks were running ads celebrating Canada. CIBC wanted to rouse us up with a line that reads so much better that it is heard.
“You’re a nation of dreamers.”
I’m a word geek and that killed me every time. 

Death of Richard Wagamese

This year we said goodbye to one of Canada's most important writers. Richard Wagamese died suddenly at home. I hate that phrase. I don't know if it means what I think it means. 


Election of Wab Kinew to Provincial NDP Leadership

Do we really need to apply the Gladue case to politicians?  If he was white I don’t think he would have won. There is something called Brown White Man Privilege.

People were upset that he was being judged. Then why did he apply for a job that asks people to judge him.
I'm saying not saying I don't think he should hold elected office, I just wouldn't want him dating my daughter.


The Metis Left out of 60’s scoop settlement –

"Go Fiddle Faddle yourself", said Justin Trudeau. "Daniels case be damned."
Still that's the government and cold blooded anti Indigenous action is why they were built. That doesn't really bother me. What bothers me is that the First Nations representatives had to be told that this was going to happen. They had to sign off on this act of bureaucratic racism. I hope their money helps them sleep at night. 

The biggest story of the year – Gord’s Goodbye

Silent Path was the final act of Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip. He was expressing his gift long after it had faded. I say this as a fan. I loved this band. I wish they had written and recorded one song at the height of their powers that spoke to me as an Indigenous person.  I don’t mean a New Orleans is Sinking but maybe a Grace Too. Something that would get everyone dancing and thinking. No one is humming Secret Path.

Joseph Wannabe Boyden

The controversy surrounding Joseph Boyden and the legitimacy of his Indigenous heritage dominated media and social media debate. I don't know. I don't care. I thought his books read like a man writing about people he didn't know. I don't think that means anything about who he is. For me it was big smoke and no fire.

Let's be real. The problem in our communities is not white people pretending to be Native - it's Native people pretending to be white. 

Tom Wilson - That Guy Looks Like a Gabriel

As a member of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Tom Wilson is part of one of Canada's best live acts and a group that prides itself on touring and songwriting. This year the band toured Kings and Kings a followup to their album Kings and Queens that came out in 2011. The first album featured the top women singers in country and Americana music and this year's album featured the men. Both are fantastic. During a stop in London, ON. Wilson shared a personal story. "I always thought the dad I never knew was a greasy Irishman from Hamilton but it turns out he was a greasy Mohawk from Khanawake." He then launched into Beautiful Scars. 

Northern Cree – Grammy Nom
Congrats once again to the Northern Cree. I can only say that I have only recently fallen madly in love with Northern Cree.
I love this band.
"Good God People.Wake the Fuck Up. Are you Deaf?
This is our Hip Hop. This is our RnB."
These are random things I have shouted out at the TV while listening to Northern Cree on youtube.

Alanis Obamsawin's 50th film

I was fortunate to see the 50th film by Alanis Obomsawin, the Queen of Canadian Documentary Film on the big scren. The film was shown at the Kineto Theatre in Forest ON and much thanks to those folks. Our People will be Healed shared the story of positive community development in Norway House Cree Nation. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was named by TIFF as one of Canada's Ten Best Films of the Year.

Brooke Simpson - Indigenous Voice

Although she did not win. Simpson made a huge impact during this season of The Voice - the top song contest on American television. The member of the Haliwa Saponi tribe finished third under the tutelage of Miley Cyrus.

Wind River – Best movie about contemporary Canada.
There is not one single reference to Canada in this film but it is without a doubt a film that is about Canada. It is a film about missing and murdered Indigenous women and how it relates to resource extraction. Brilliant and emotionally overwhelming. Wind River was largely financed by ACACIA Entertainment which is a division of the Tualip Tribe of Florida.

Rumble Rocked

Rumble: This enjoyable documentary about the role of Native American music and musicians in the history of contemporary music from the blues to jazz to soul to today. Credit is rightfully given to Brian Wright Macleod, Mr. Renegade Radio who literally wrote the book on Native Music,.

Thor – Most Indigenous thing ever said in a Marvel Universe Blockbuster.

“Well, I tried to start a revolution, but didn't print enough pamphlets so hardly anyone turned up. Except for my mum and her boyfriend, who I hate.”

Thor was directed by Maori filmmaker Taika Waititi who has yet to make a bad movie. He was able to maintain his own unique Indigenous perspective evident in his early films while directing a $180 million dollar Marvel franchise flick.

In terms of pure joy it is the best film of the year.

Indian Horse – Wagamese novel comes to the big Screen

Although he did not get to see the film premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Richard Wagamese's novel Indian Horse made it to the big screen. The novelist died suddenly early in the year but left a legacy for us all.

Trumped

Trump and Code Talkers – It should be obvious to everyone that Donald Trump is an idiot. There may be some truth in what he says but a peanut in the shit don’t make it a chocolate bar.

Grey Cup

Once again the Grey Cup proved that in the Canadian Football League anything can happen. A surprising amount of snow had fallen.  In a world where the odds are one sided any change favours the underdog. I loved the introduction acknowledging the traditional territories of the game location and the home teams.

Shania Twain killed it. Do you know she has a status card? We need to welcome her big time in the circle. 

Huff Post Canada redesign leaves out Indigenous Voices

Despite calling them out in a tweet earlier in the year Huffington Post Canada left out Indigenous Voices when it did their redesign. This is the Liberal Media, btw.

These were my stories of the year. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

They Say It's Your Birthday



Happy Birthday Canada. You made it to 150. Which impresses pretty much no one outside of Canada. And not really everyone within Canada.

The Bank of Montreal is stepping all over the country's big day to promote its 200th birthday. It is sad and disturbing that a Canadian bank is older than Canada.

Although it does say a lot about what this country was founded upon.

Yet, I am not going to jump on anyone's hashtag to protest this moment and not because no one ever jumped on one of my hashtags.

No one should tell a single parent with three kids they can't go to the community BarBQ or the fireworks because someone created a hashtag.

No Native artist should apologize because they are actually getting paid to perform and share their work during a national celebration.

Leading up to Canada Day, I saw many media reports about how Indigenous Peoples were protesting Canada 150. 

A story on national news was filled with images of a Pow Wow while a disembodied voice spoke of protest.

These two things are not the same. This person speaking from an unflattering Skype angle did not speak for the people at this Pow Wow.

It does fit into the Canadian media obsession with conflict when it comes to the Native beat.

*

July 1, 2017 came and went with fireworks just a little bit brighter.

In Native communities around the country the day was celebrated.

Our people love a party and they deserve a party.

On the national stage - National Chief Perry Bellegarde in full regalia danced with other traditional dancers to the Pow Wow drum and it was a beautiful thing.

Buffy Sainte-Marie delivered a career defining performance that may come to define this country.

The people who set up a TeePee on the grounds of the Parliament buildings got to speak face to face with Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada. This would not happen in the United States.

Some got a chance to be heard and they dropped the mic in a way that kept screeching feedback to be remixed and repeated.

If you have a press conference you are going to have press. Be ready.

This is the way it is now.

This is the time of lasting memories and creating histories..

People have to move forward together.

Do not assume lead without taking direction.

Canada has always been making itself up.

July 1 is not Canada's birthday, it's March 29.

So I wish a happy belated birthday to Canada as most of you already did.

  

***

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Stand as one and be one no longer



This Mother Earth is the only force able to sustain life 
in the known universe.
In the Known Universe. 

We have to protect this last bit of fresh air and fresh water 
in the known universe. 
In the Known Universe. 

This is all the Fresh Air and Fresh Water 
in the known universe.
In the Known Universe

We have to protect this last bit of fresh air and fresh water 
in the known universe.
In the Known Universe

*

We are allowing Mother Earth to be destroyed with our own actions and non actions. 

Do YOU know the definition of complicit?

**

It should be illegal to conspire to leave Mother Earth. 

People are free to leave but they can't come back.


***

The Greatest Minds
profess and prepare 
that we must leave our Mother Earth

Is that all a great mind is worth?

****