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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - Year in Review - SPORTS

(Warning: Language suitable to a closed locker room)

Me and the NFL
  
I quit the national football league this year. It was my solitary protest to the hateful and racist name of the Washington Football team. I love the game. Everyone who knows me knows I love the game. I felt a kindred spirit to the men. I would tell my daughters, “you see that…those men are crying…that is a beautiful game that will take all that you have and let you cry like a man.”
I loved that it had a place for men all sizes and shapes, even the frail intellectual who can kick the ball. I dreamed of a day when the great Grandchildren of Jim Thorpe would rise up and dominate the gridiron again.
I quit the NFL but the NFL did not quit me. It was the year in which the NFL was always in the news and for all the worse reasons. Ray Rice’s vicious attack on his then fiancĂ© in a hotel room elevator is the most despicable act I have ever seen in a close circuit security camera video. This man needs to be in jail. He needs to serve some time for what he did and if the league will have him back after he paid his dues he should be allowed to go back to work. He can’t just go back to getting paid to play. That shit ain’t right.

The stories and charges of abuse continued to flow for most of the season. I love the game but now that I have seen it without blinders, I am not sure if I can come back.


The Oiler's Walk of Derision

If you haven’t seen the video that went viral earlier this hockey season, you are probably better off. The Edmonton Oilers are slogging through their first long losing streak of the season. After another home loss, they have to walk past an opening where the fans can gather and see them into the dressing room. It was imagined, one imagines, a place where the loyal fans could gather and see the home team one more time. On this night the barricades held back a seething pit of vipers screaming derision upon the young men who carry the banner of their team.
It was sad. You can cheer and yell all you want from your couch and your favourite bar stool, if that’s how things roll in those places, have at it. But these young men didn't deserve the be treated with such bitterness and disdain.

Jersey Throwing Bastards

At the arena, I think you should be there as a fan. I’ve been lucky enough to see the Toronto Maple Leafs four times. All in the old building, the Maple Leaf Gardens, they only won one of those games. It was a beauty. CUJO was in net and we were in the standing only section underneath the seats and behind the goalie. The Leafs won. It was a beautiful thing.

That's how it is, a real fan has to survive all the shit that the team will go through with the belief that maybe one day.

Those Maple Leafs “fans” who have the money to buy a jersey attend the game and throw your jersey on the ice. FUCK YOU. Your not a fan. Most of us will never be able to attend a game at the Air Canada Centre and many of us can't afford to wear a quality Maple Leafs jersey. I can't imagine going to a game and making a show of throwing my jersey on the ice. If you can do that you are no fan.

World Cup Fever

It was most enjoyable and I got the whole thing but come on boys Instant Replay one flag per team. The acting and phantom penalties are undermining any possibility that the sport will be taken more seriously in North America.   

Canada's Football League 

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers had a shit season. I guess my locker room speech after the loss to the Hamilton Tiger Cats did not help. The Bombers season turned into a nightmare and the Tiger Cats had a near fairy tale season. The Cats did not lose a game in their new stadium and came one flag away from the most magical ending in when Brandon Banks who is literally 150 pounds soaking went ran a punt back for a touchdown. It would be his third return for touchdown in two playoff games. It would be the upset of the year and the Hollywood ending. It was not be.

This is when the penalty should not be a penalty. Did it really make a difference in the play? Was it that egregious? I think not. This is an area where I think a challenge should be available.

The Canadian Football game is great and I don’t understand why won’t it expand. When is there going to be a team in Halifax or Moncton, What about Windsor, What about Quebec. Wherever there is a University Football team that has a decent stadium a CFL team should be considered. Brandon should have a football team to take on the Bombers monopoly. There is room for a lot more competition in this league.

I’m not just saying that because I have NFL withdrawals.

-30-

2014- Year in Review - Politics

Idle Reward

The National Chief walked away from the job to ride a motorcycle across America and no one noticed. That did not bode well for the Assembly of First Nations as a voice of the people and for Idle No More as an instrument of change. Foreshadow came to pass. 
The Former National Chief no longer wanted the job when an internal revolt took advantage of a backlash against the AFN that was spreading as part of Idle No More. 
In their commitment to the philosophy of a leaderless movement, Idle No More had refused to identify and thus create leaders. Part of the vision was speaking out and rejecting the institutionalized  patriarchy that is the dominant form of government on First Nations and within representative organizations like the AFN and in particular the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians where Idle No More began.

The Old Boys Network would have the last laugh. When election time came there would be no fresh faces to vie for leadership. The challengers were all political lifers, Leon Jourdain, Ghislain Picard and eventual winner Perry Bellgarde. They all knew the secret handshake. The whole thing was smoke and mirrors with the right amount of overacting. Before leaving the spotlight in defeat Jourdain laid a curse on the whole shindig saying that the events of the day “would haunt us all.” Someone should have said, “You’re haunting us right now…get off the stage.” Newly Elected National Chief laid out some bafflegab about what’s the other. Does the Turducken still go quack? 

Bellegarde had been elected despite being called out during the election by Idle No More co-founder Sylvia McAdam. The future National Chief shut her up with the classic "why you bring this up now, Women." He told APTN, "Look at the timing of it all and then you question the sincerity of dealing with the issue." He was running for National Chief and he was being asked what role he played when he was at the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Chiefs and the province began taxing First Nations. He told the co-founder of Idle No More to go Idle.

Supreme Leader

You have to admit it though. At least the AFN maintained some illusion of democracy, the President of the Manitoba Metis Federation was elected by acclimation. I think maybe the title should be Supreme Leader or something more befitting that kind of election. 

Missing in Action on the Missing and Murdered

I believe that we must make sure our homes and communities are safe. It is our responsibility as Native Men to must do more to stand up to the violence. We must be ready to take our place in order to protect our women and children. Our young men have become IED within our communities. Our leadership fails.

The horrific attack on the 6 year old girl at the end of the year reminded us all the truth its not all the White Boogeyman. She should be our Eric Garner. 

It is disappointing that the provinces continue to watch the carnage and do nothing but call on the federal government to have an inquiry. It is especially disappointing that Manitoba with such a high percentage of these cases continues to do nothing. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs is First Nations, the government is NDP which acts as though it is some kind of friend to Native People, what is going on under the Golden Boy. 


Stephen Harper is King

Stephen Harper can do whatever he wants and no one is going to stop him. The Liberals are trying to convince people that they have the second coming of Pierre Trudeau and we all know it is more like the second coming of Margaret Trudeau. Not the reflective Margaret of later years but closer to the "No panties waiting outside the Rolling Stones dressing room while my husband is the Prime Minister of Canada" Margaret.

Thomas Mulcair. Shave off your beard. I don’t what else to say about that guy but he scares the shit out of me and I think maybe it’s because of that fucked up beard.  The NDP could have made a better choice.

The opposition sucks and the Conservatives will have all the money in the world to convince people that all looks no brains Liberal and bearded NDP are not to be trusted with the keys to the kingdom.
The devil you know. You know.

Obama's Lincoln Moment

South of the Border it looks like President Barack Obama had a good year on many fronts, the Affordable Health Care Act, Executive Action on Immigration and Naturalization and Normalizing relations with Cuba. The Health Care Act is commendable although my personal belief is that the people need less health care. I do wish I traveled to Cuba before they let the Americans back in.

It is the Immigration Act that will forever change North America. These are Indigenous Peoples. It was just before American thanksgiving and it seemed like President Obama was returning the favour to the Indigenous Peoples of North America in one bold and historic action. It will be his Lincoln moment. He has made them Human Beings in the U.S. and they are still children of Mother Earth and that means we have a chance.


War of 1812 Re Dux

Here at home, the First Nations made an aggressive expression of their ownership of the beach from Kettle Point all the way to Stony Point. I don’t know the details but one day the First Nations had road crews remove the barriers that blocked access by vehicle to the beach. The barriers were large poles about the size of telephone poles and a backhoe was used to pull them out of the sand.
You could now drive down the beach that had been easily accessible only to the private land owners. They were upset and were talking about boycotts and at one feisty meeting broadcast on the London TV News a resident was calling for “WAR”. The man dared use the “W” word.

It is shameful that the average Canadian is so woefully uneducated that few acknowledge that the reason this strip of land that extends far south of the 49th and boasts some of the most important agriculture and industrial lands in all of Canada are still Canada because of these First Nations and the sacrifices made by their ancestors in the War of 1812. Racism is the highest expression of ignorance.

Perhaps, I should not so quickly put the blame on the Canadian education system, it is possible that this upset owner had crossed the border from the US as many of the largest homes are owned by non-Canadians.

Enough about the past, that’s what they always say. What I do know is that the average folks around these parts are all intermarried and intermingled with the First Nations. It’s not just familial it is cultural and economic, they love our cheap smokes, cheap gas, tax free groceries, auto parts and hardware (yep tax free to all) and radio bingo.
We put millions of dollars into their businesses and the ones who know what’s what know what’s up. There are few towns in this region that would not benefit immensely from have a First Nations in their region. That is an economic fact.
The one percenters who own land along the beach front have the media jumping and the trolls working overtime online, but there's nothing on fire. Once again it's all smoke and mirrors.


Two Crazy White Men let the Crazy White Man in Charge Go to War

It became known as acts of terrorists that were somehow connected to the web of international terror and the rise of radical Islam; but it was Two crazy White Guys. The actions of these individuals struck to the heart of Canadian society but it was still just Two Crazy White Guys. Two Crazy White Guys seen crazy shit from Crazy people and they murdered. It had nothing to do with anyone else other that these were terrible men and their minds were driven by and with hateful insanity.
The Stephen Harper government used the actions of Two Crazy White Guys to commit our country to war against ISIS and enact who know what laws to limit our speech and our dissent. These are dangerous times.



-30-

Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014 - The Year in Music

2013 was the year Idle No More smashed Canadian complacency like a huge rock landing in the middle of a calm lake. 2014 saw a Tidal Wave of Native Music washing from sea to sea to sea created in that wake up call.

Canada's Conscience Award - Neil Young took up the challenge to Canada and rock n roll's conscience brought the message home. Young kicked off the year with the Honor the Treaties Tour on Sunday, January 12 at historic Massey Hall in Toronto. Young raised awareness but also money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation to hold back further Tar Sand developments on their territory. Dianne Krall joined in with Young for some of the tour dates although support from Canada's music and entertainment community was sadly lacking.

Worth the Wait Award - In March, the Juno's recognized George Leach with Aboriginal Album of the Year and it was well deserved. Leach's Surrender came 12 years after his much loved debut album "Young Enough". It showcased a musician and songwriter expressing his art at the height of his talents. He continued to exercise his love of traditional and gutbucket blues while spicing up the disc with straight up rockers and more experimental sounds that veered into the pop polish of Coldplay. It was a great second album. Hey George, don't make us wait so long for the next one.

MTV's Rebel Music - MTV chose Supaman's Prayer Loop Song for it's video of the Week in March of this year and it signaled that the Music broadcaster south of the border was seeing rumblings of a musical revolution. MTV followed up that promise later in the year with the broadcast of Rebel Music which showcased Witko, Inez Jasper, Frank Waln, and Nataani Means.

Breakthrough of the Year Award-  The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Science gets the breakthrough of the year for awarding A Tribe Called Red the Juno for Breakthrough Group of the Year. Perhaps the glass ceiling won't be completely repaired by the time the Juno nominees are decided for 2015. If all the Native Artists are in one category and there is no room for us in the other categories then we will know.

Idle No More Anthems - Tara Williamson's Come My Way makes me want to blockade the railway and fall in love all at the same time.
Nadjiwan released Broken Treaty Blues which brought the message with a bumping guitar riff, war drum beats and angry chants.

Songs for our Missing and Murdered - Pray Sister Pray was the first single released from Crystal Shawanda's The Whole World's Got the Blues and it was no doubt intentional. In this powerhouse song Crystal lays down one of the harshest lines of the year a cold hard slap in the face of Canadian false humility. "They're just glad another is gone." The prayer at the end of the song is for all of us.
In the song Bella from Leela Gilday's fantastic disc Heart of the People, she sings, "They say we're still to blame for the things that happened to us." It was the truth and it was painful and defiant.
Shawnee who released one of the year's best rock EP's Let It Burn also released a single Canadian Cry to speak out against the silence and asking, "How can you sleep at night?"

Heart Tugger of the Year Award - Rellik's Hank Williams meets Tupac Shakur ballad The Hour about his late mother is beautiful and sad in all the right ways. The guitar is simple and soulful, Nathan Cunningham adds the hook and you have a song that deserves the names referenced.

Biggest WTF Moment of the Year 
- In June, Billy Ray Cyrus is the headliner at Aboriginal Day Live. The organizers must have thought this would bring some much needed mainstream media attention to the event. The only way that would have happened with Billy Ray Cyrus as a headliner is if he twerked his bum against Robin Thicke's crotch during the performance. This is one of the great years for Aboriginal Music and...and...WTF?

B-O-M-B of the Year - A Tribe Called Red dropped a bomb right on American Thanksgiving when they released Burn Your Village to the Ground. The single was trending on Twitter that day and the Huffington Post had it on their front page. The single builds around a speech by Wednesday Addams from the movie Addams Family Values. Wednesday shares that the Native Americans have learned the true intentions of the settlers and will now burn their village down. It is hilarious and menacing and you can dance to it. It may well become a Thanksgiving Classic.

How We Got our Groove Back Award - This was the year in which Native music reclaimed it’s sexuality in a big way. Meet Me at the Pow Wow by Lightning Cloud and Leonard Sumner was filled with cultural references, inside jokes, questionable pickup lines and a singalong chorus for the Men and for the Women. It was the Snagging Anthem of year. Digging Roots goes All Night Long to kickoff their For the Light album. Raven is singing about going deep enough for you baby and he doesn't mean his baritone. I played Crystal Shawanda's Cry Out For More at 2 in the afternoon on my radio show and I was blushing....my, my, Crystal.
It would seem to be some kind of cosmic karma that the original Native American come-on classic would make a comeback forty years later. It was certainly cosmic.

Come back of the Year - Red Bone's Come and Get Your Love was featured in Guardians of the Galaxy which became the biggest movie of the year and the top selling soundtrack of the year.
RedBone's funky classic kicked off the movie that many people are calling a Star Wars for a new generation. The song written by the late Lolly Vegas was the first song by a Native American group to reach the top of the billboard charts. Ring up a few more number ones to that list after this year.

Debut of the Year - Rikki Linklater's The Last Time sounded like Taylor Swift was making the kind of music that made us fall in love with Taylor Swift in the first place.

Album of the Year – Crystal Shawanda – The Whole World’s Got the Blues. This is the best album in a very, very good year. Not just for Native Music but for Canadian music. It is the Golden Age. The star on this glorious year in music is Crystal. I don't think it was easy to make this record. A continuation in the new country genre would be the critical and commercial safe bet. Crystal broke down all the barriers and released the album that sounds like the record she was born to make...bluesy, ballsy, hot and heartbreaking.
Crystal may have come up in Country but her voice always had a raw edge that was too much for Country to contain.  She's more Janis Joplin and Etta James than Martina McBride and "The Whole World's got the Blues" let's us hear that voice. This isn't computerized. The pain, the anger and the pleasure; it's all right here. The lyrics delve into the deepest darkest regions of the soul of Canada itself. It is the best album of the year in Canada. It may be the best album of 2014.

Collaboration of the Ages Award - Dawn Star Rising is the first truly Canadian contribution to the world of ballet. The story of the two young Native People who find that their lives in the city remain imprisoned in the cycle of violence and rape that began in the Indian Residential Schools. There are many moments of breathtaking beauty and heartbreaking silence in this historic work. There is a moment towards the end of the performance. A women is singing a solo hand drum song and it is filled with hope and is gorgeous at the highest. Then the strings come in. The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra joins in with the drum and it takes all I have not to break down and start crying. Maybe there is hope for us to make something beautiful together after all.

Tanya Tagaq Wins Polaris Prize- It is the most prestigious award in Canadian contemporary music and this year the winner was Tanya Tagaq's Animism. Tagaq's selection continues the tradition of the Polaris where winners are often the most complex and challenging music of the year. I am not going to lie to you. I didn't get Tanya's music. I understood it. I respected what she was doing. But that's not what music is about. That is not what art is about. If you can't feel it, you don't get it. 

I was fortunate to be in the audience when Dawn Star Rising made it's debut. In the beginning of the second act after you have been introduced into the reality of the residential school legacy the second half takes you into the horrors of the past. In the darkness the voice beats and we see Tanya centre stage. She moans and grunts and screams and each breath and gasp and rise and fall and fire and will and life define what words cannot. I got it.

The Tour of The Year - Red Ride 2014 featured Kristi Lane Sinclair and Cris Doerksen two artists who are making some of the most dynamic music around. They performed with special guests including George Leach, Iskwe, Nick Sherman and others on every stop of the tour and we can only hope that the Red Ride continues to roll and grow.

Industry Builder We're Gonna Miss Her Award - Miss Melissa is heading to the Desert and a new gig at a rock n roll station in Phoenix Arizona. She built Streetz FM with her bare hands and the proverbially blood, sweat, and tears. The National Aboriginal Music Countdown is an institution that was built on the credibility of her voice and personality. 

Language in the Music Award - Tall Paul put his Prayers in a Song and showcased the struggle to maintain your identity in this world and threw down a challenge for our own community when he rapped how culture is "More than Frybread and Contest Powwows." Digging Roots brought in the flavour of the language to the title track of their album To The Light.

Drop the Mic on 2014 Award: The year ended with Derek Miller dropping his latest disc Rumble. Miller covers the Link Wray classic Rumble which has the distinction of being the only instrumental to be banned from the airwaves for being dangerous. That's how you end a year.


***

This is just what I heard. Great new music from a number of artists that didn't make the list but deserved to be heard such as Teagan Littlechief, Hugh Poorman, Janet Panic, Donny Paranteau, Gary Farmer and the Trouble Makers, Murray Porter, Kinnie Star and on and on. Here are other lists of artists and music that you might want to check out.

RPM's Best Indigenous Music 2014

RPM'S Best Indigenous Videos 2014

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Chickadee Forgot Memory


Each year the Chickadee would hide seeds in thousands of places and she would remember every one of them.  During the cold of winter she would recall seeds hid in light of summer that would feed her and her family.

She picked at the bark. There wasn’t anything there. She picked again. It was gone. It was gone. She moved quickly to the next branch and there wasn’t anything there and then the next and then she stopped.

Someone was watching.

She spun quickly and on the Great Oak sat the Red Headed Woodpecker. She froze in his stare. He held her gaze for a long breath and then turned deliberately and began stabbing and penetrating into the tree. 
He maintained one eye on Chickadee.

“I hate Woodpecker,” she thought.  She imagined what he would smell like when he was dead. She felt satisfaction. Then she shuddered and stilled. 

She scolded herself for creating those thoughts. There was only so much that she could remember.  Her winter feathers were coming in thick. Soon, it would be very cold.
She remained motionless with eyes held shut. She could hear the pounding of her heart and she held her breath until the beating plugged her ears from inside and she was drowning in syrup of dying plasma and tissue. There was blinding light that screamed inside her head and she pushed hard to the surface.

The light returned.

She opened her eyes and took a breath. She turned her head to the sound of the woodpecker hammering on the Great Oak.

She did not recall the bird.


*

The human beings began the forgetting ceremony by closing tight the door to the sweat lodge. There had been great discussion in the days leading to this moment. It was not a ceremony taken lightly. People had lost their minds and went back to when they were not human beings.

The lodge was small, there was enough room for the four and no more. The thick canvas tarp covered the sapling ribs and had been folded over twice to create a shell of darkness. The young man of the outside used his feet to push the tarp downward and inward. He was the doorman.
Unseen hands tapped against the inside of the lodge and he push down and in around there. Silence signaled that only darkness existed inside the lodge.

The Doorman returned to the fire and covered up the ceremonial stones with flaming wood.  The old man began to sing the song to Chickadee. His helper sitting to his right began to pour water on the stones. The young woman began to cry and her grandmother next to her in the dark joined in with grandfather. The old people sang the song of forgetting to the beat of the Chickadee’s song.

Outside the lodge, the young man was adding more split wood onto the pyre. He was facing the lodge when it started.

He could hear it behind him. It sounded like wind but became a hum and as the song inside had begun the fourth round he knew what it was. The old people’s song was the familiar Chick a dee dee dee Dee.
He stilled and looked into the fire as a thousand tiny wings flew around him and into the lodge.


**

In the morning Chickadee opened her eyes. She could see the spots all over the Great Oak where she had hidden seeds. The ancient tree was throbbing a hundred thousand bubbles of life. She could see around the Great Oak and into the forest beyond. She saw everything.
She saw every place where she had stored a seed during the warm days of summer. She was blinded by the memory of the thousands and thousands and thousands for the days and days and days and days and days.

Chickadee closed her eyes and squeezed as tight as she could. She would use her people’s ancient power to force this reality away. She would do it now; just as she had before, just as she had so many times before.

How many times? How many times? How many times?
She did not know. It was all too much. It was all too much at the same time.  A shiver went through her body and her claws gripped harder her perch. Her head was spinning and she felt like she was going to throw up.

Every little crevice, every little crack, every definition, all the spaces and the lines in between the trees and the branches and the leaves and the lumps and the secret places in the vines and the plants and the ivy.

All the work and work and work to find and collect and to find and to collect and to fight and to flee and to hide and hide and hide and most of all to remember and she could feel her body reeling.
It swelled with the living memory of every moment of her thousand days. It was in her blood pulsating in all the little voices that made up everything that she was. She could hear dead memories speaking the same thing.

HOW CAN YOU FORGET ME!

**

When the girl woke up she knew without checking the time that she slept too long. She couldn’t remember when she had slept as long. She must have been little. She thought for the briefest moment that it was the longest time she had slept.

She rolled over and found the clock. It said 6:25. She looked to the window and the sky was purple behind the venetian blinds.

She remembered that the clocks had fallen forward. It was a day ago. Two days ago. She hated losing that hour each fall. She was always losing track of time for most of the month. She preferred time springing forward. It would slap you into reality on the first day but with Fall Back you were still dealing with effects weeks after.

In school at the top of the hill they taught her that daylight savings was done to benefit farmers. She read on the internet that it was because the Germans did it during World Ward 1 and then everyone followed.

She knew Grandpa’s great uncles had served honourably in World War 2. So did Kookum’s uncles. Still it didn’t make any sense to her. How did we defeat following against our will in order to follow against our will?

She thought about the old movie that she watched with Kookum on Sunday. It was on Turner Classic Movies and was about a bitter writer in the days after World War 2.  The lead was Van Johnson and the bad girl was Kookum’s favourite, Elizabeth Taylor.

She could see Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson swoon in love and victory over fascism while a sign stating English Only was prominently displayed in the background.
The smell of bacon took over the senses and she got up. When she entered the kitchen she saw her grandfather at the stove cracking eggs into a cast iron skillet. In a similar pan on the other front burner sputtered strips of bacon.

She had never seen Grandpa cook. She looked out the front window and she saw Kookum. Her grandmother had turned from the prayer rock in the front yard. The girl knew that Kookum had been saying prayers. Kookum was wiping away tears.


***


Chickadee was fighting and crashing into the light of this world. The hunger and the cold were constant and her parents gave all heat and food. In the next breath her sibling is snatched away by something with fur and teeth and she can smell its breath.
Then she was free. She could hop and hide and fly and be wherever she wished to be and she could see the opening beyond the trees.
The next morning Mother had a Grasshopper in her mouth. It was fat and green and mother had sad eyes and Chickadee turned up her beak. Mother held the kicking grasshopper in silence.
She remembered all the spots she had planted the day Mother had sent her away. All the places she had placed seeds and dreamed of being free and on her own.
She did not look back to her mother when she had set upon her own perch for the night. The moon was full and its brightness swallowed up all the stars in the sky and Chickadee knew that this was how you would die; swallowed up by a great light.
She could see her fledging children captured in the air by the Hawks and they would scream her name when they were eaten and all of them would scream her name when they were eaten.
She didn’t want to have eggs anymore. She didn’t want to have any more babies. It was too much. She began to use the forget power of her people. Not just to forget all the thousands of seeds they had stored for the past winter. Chickadee began to willfully forget her pain.
Then she could not stop. She could not stop. She could not stop. Over every little thing until it was for nothing.
Her thoughts settled upon the night before. Her mother and her grandmother and her great grandmother and most of the elders had gathered at her nightly perch by the time she had returned for the night.
Her mother was saying something. She can’t remember what it was.


****









Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Portage and Main - 3


He walked across the 10 by 10 living room and into the smaller kitchen. He found the cleanest dirty glass from the sink and opened the fridge door to grab the water jug. It was only thing inside the gloomy and unsanitary interior other than a mummified onion and a nearly empty jar of salsa topped with a thick grey fuzz.

Is that blood? That’s blood.
The jug was empty.
“Shit.”

Ryan turns to the sink and opens the cold water tap which sputters to life as though it does not appreciate being woken from its slumber. No one has asked for the water on this day. It will hiss and sputter all the way to the top.
It chugs and vomits out rust colored liquid for a moment and soon it is urine colored and soon enough it is clear. He fills the cup and then drinks like he is gasping for air. He hacks some back up as he fills the cup a second time. It’s already working. He puts the jug under the tap and fills it to about a cup and then puts it on the counter and shuts off the water.

He heads to the shower without putting the jug back in the fridge. The shower water is lukewarm and the pressure is non existent. He squeezes a final drop of shampoo out of the bottle and stares ruefully at the full bottle of conditioner that he got a great price. As he massages the foam into his scalp mindful of working the thin and empty spots he recalls the first times he had come into the city on the bus.

It was an exciting and scary place. It was where you would meet people who were coming in and out of the city. This was before the brothers were old enough to go to the Manor and The Savoy.
It was at the bus depot where he had been busted for his first real crime. He still felt bad about it. After all these years.

He had committed other crimes since that one. But that was one he considered to be a real crime. Everything else was something that he figured he had the right to do. No man should tell another man how to live. This was what he believed.
He was sure those words came from Old Lodgeskins from Little Big Man, but he couldn’t be sure about that. Either way, he knows he heard it in a movie and that it was a Hollywood writer’s version of what he thought was the summation of Native American philosophy and as far as Ryan was concerned the writer had nailed it.

He and Laurence had stolen chocolate bars from the convenience store at the bus depot on their grade 9 school trip. It was wrong and they were humiliated. Dad was humiliated. Teased when out with the men. That wasn’t the worse part. Father Marcien preached a cruel and judgmental teaching on the commandment “Thou shall not steal.” It brought shame upon the family because it happened out there. Amongst the white people.

That’s how our communities are. No one will ever forget any mistake that you make. This was part of the ongoing history of residential school. You are either being judged or you are the judge. You are the sinner or the condemner. Make a mistake and we will never forget.

That’s how it was with the church. Poor Noah. He listens to the craziest message left by God and he follows through on it. He builds the Ark and loads the animals and saves all the creatures from the Great Flood. Later in the Bible he gets hammered and he wanders around naked and someone puts that in the book. That’s not cool. Not cool.

*

There was no bus serving the neighbourhood on Sundays. Ryan stood looking up as the words “not in service” tracked in an endless loop.  It was the same posture he held each morning as he caught the bus downtown to the Millennium Library.
He took a deep drag of his cigarette. It would be the last one until he got back up north although he was likely to bum a smoke at the stop in Lundar. If there were Neechies smoking, he would be good. If it was only Whites they would expect a toonie. One usually just held the coin out and got either a nod or a shake although someone would usually shout out “Here!” and be reaching for their pack as they walked towards you.
He took in a deep drag filling his lungs to capacity and then spewing out the obnoxious miasma.
It was a crime. It was also a shitty thing to do. But the fact was there was no bus service and it was cold as fuck outside. So he smoked his smoke inside the bus shelter with adolescent defiance. This was a good smoke. He had not had a good smoke in a long time.
A car turned left down the street and his good feeling disappeared. He cupped the cigarette into his hand like an adolescent. What the hell? He was old enough not to give a fuck but that changed when he moved onto Scotia Street. He had never seen so many cop cars patrol a street in his life. It wasn’t policing. It was security.
Some of the oldest richest homes are on this street along the Red River and some of the finest crackhouses are just a stone’s throw away.
He looked to the right.  Down this street was the Battle of Seven Oaks. It was there that the Metis Flag, the infinity flag is officially recorded in the history books of Canada. In was 1816, a generation before there was a country and almost 150 years before the Maple Leaf flew over Parliament. If you followed this street on the way to Kildonan Park you will pass a marker, a plaque on the corner. Not much. Truth be told and if you don't know where it is, you are not going to find it.
Also along this street there is a beautiful little resting area with a park bench and a flower garden and one of the few places where one can sit along the banks of the Red River. Here there is another plaque for a nuclear physicist that may have saved the lives of his colleagues or who may have caused the accident in a Homeresque error. It depends if you wanted to believe the plaque or the Wikipedia page.

It was cold that much was sure. Ryan dropped the smoke on the floor and crushed it with his feet. It would be 30 minutes if he made good time, 40 if he was slow.

***






Monday, June 9, 2014

Jonah, The Bill Collector

The bill collector had a Manitoba area code and his name was Jonah. My co-worker handed me the note and shrugged his shoulders in apology. I gave him the no problem nod and wave. I took the note home with me, this wasn't something to be dealt with at work.

I have been reading the Bible in a random manner. I thought this was a reason to read the Book of Jonah. It is one of the shorter books and that didn't hurt. From what I could recall the story of Jonah was about how the Creator had saved Jonah's life after he had been swallowed by a whale or giant fish. Jonah's faith in the Creator and his various good deeds and positive outlook was rewarded.

It turns out that the story I remembered is most likely based on the illustrated version for kids that kept the messages simple. I never did any serious reading of the Bible as an adult until I read Robert Crumb's Book of Genesis about five years ago. It is an exceptional telling of this text and the illustrations brought everything to vibrant and steamy life.

In reading the Book of Jonah, our hero runs away when the Creator has charged him with the duty of preaching to the people in the city of Nineveh. Jonah doesn't want to do this and he jumps on a ship and heads out to the sea. A storm is waged upon the ship of such ferocity that everyone aboard knows that they are being cursed by a higher power and they all pray to their various gods to no avail.

They draw lots at this time trying to decipher who has brought this cursed storm about their vessel. It is Jonah who pulls the lot and finally at this time he admits that he is fleeing the command of his God. Understandably the people on the ship don't think this is very cool and Jonah is cast overboard. Jonah is swallowed by the whale and the seas become calm.

Inside the whale, Jonah prays for forgiveness and says that he will fulfill his calling. The whale spits Jonah up on dry land and he goes about preaching the word to the people of Nineveh. He tells them that the city will be overthrown in the next 40 days. He convinces the people of the city even to their king to fast and wear sackcloth and sit in ashes. The Creator sees that many of the people of the city are repenting and Nineveh is spared. "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly and he was very angry."

Jonah was preaching the end of days for the people of Nineveh and he was angry that the Creator did not bring it about. Jonah then goes and sits outside the city and stares at it with anger and pretty much pouts for the rest of his life. Jonah could not offer to others the forgiveness given to him by the Creator.

This is not the story that I knew. I wondered what else I had misunderstood about the Bible. That weekend a Jehovah's Witness came by the house and found me outside working in the garden. He provided the proper pronunciation of Nineveh and suggested I read the book of St. Matthew, which is the story of Christ. I said I would.

I soon came across a discrepancy that I find almost revolutionary. In the Bible, when Jesus says the Lord's prayer he says, "Give us this day our daily bread and forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors."

I had always known the prayer as "Forgive us our trespasses as those who trespass against us." If someone trespasses against you that doesn't mean they owe you a debt. In the difference, the lesson is less if not lost. Jesus was anti-capitalism. He didn't just tip over the money changers tables once, he did it twice.

Not sure what all that means, but I'm pretty sure Jonah the Bill Collector is going to be disappointed.


Epilogue

I take the call the next time it comes into the office. Jonas, his real name, apologizes for calling at work and asks if I am the Mr. Morrisseau that lived on Cathedral in Winnipeg. I say no. He then adds a so to his first sorry and I hang up.

It wasn't for me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I am the Metis Nation

When I think of the Metis Nation. I think of my family and my communities. I don't think of a big office in the city and a fancy hotel room in some other city. I think of grandma and granny and grandpa and grandma and mom and dad and my aunties and my uncles and my brothers and my sisters and my cousins and my cousins and our babies and babies and babies.

If you grew up in the Metis Nation in Manitoba this is how it was. There were Metis kids on this side of the river and Indian kids on the other side of the river. We didn't really notice that much when we were little because we just mostly played with our cousins and whoever was closest on our side of the water. At school it didn't seem to matter. When we got to be teenagers we knew we could run around with the teenagers on the other side of the river. We were not likely cousins but we were also possibly cousins.

When I took my first real job working on the gang for CN. I worked with Metis guys and Indian guys and the story checked out. There would be a Metis community near a First Nation usually across a river. I did not know that it wasn't that way for the rest of Canada until I went to the University of Western Ontario and saw the First Nations in that territory.

In our family we are connected to the two distinct Metis Nation groups in Manitoba. In Crane River our family in the south are part of the Metis Nation that are Anishinaabe (Saulteaux, Ojibway), French, Roman Catholic and affiliated with the Northwest Company. In Grand Rapids our family was Cree Scottish and Anglican and were connected to the Hudson Bay Company.

My childhood on the prairies in my father's community was a life where the living was still off the land in harvesting, hunting, fishing and farming. In my mother's community the people lived off the river, the lake and the bush and our family still lived on Metis Scrip land along the shores of the North Saskatchewan.

We were told we had no rights and Metis people who were out hunting, fishing or harvesting were breaking the law. We were raised with a pride in both avoiding the government and not being beholden to the government. It was the Metis Way. No one was going to help us but no one was going to stop us from helping ourselves.

These days our once thriving Metis communities are fading away and no one seems to care. In Crane River, it is though the community survives despite great neglect that sees few opportunities and little reason to stay for the youth.

In Grand Rapids my mother's generation saw their way of life bulldozed into nothing while Manitoba Hydro built it's first dam. Our family and perhaps others had scrip on that land and yet today there is a road and buildings on land that was once Metis Nation land. Only a fraction of scrip land still remains within the family.

Last year the Metis won their land claim at the Supreme Court and recently the Federal Court of Appeal has refused to challenge a ruling that says that Metis are the same as First Nations and Inuit and should be afforded equal rights and supports. The 1.4 million acres promised in the Manitoba Act should allow historic Metis communities the same services and rights afforded the neighbouring First Nation.

Land owned by individuals could be deemed Metis Nation land which means that it would no longer be taxed and although the land could be sold it could only be sold with the Nation. It would always be Metis Nation land. Communal lands and Individual lands would create Metis Nation Homelands similar to those in Alberta.

Once territories have been established in which Metis communities have been identified for the 1.4 million acres, economic development can occur utilizing all models available to Inuit and First Nations.

This needs to be followed by identifying fair traditional land use practices. It is a shared resource but one in which Metis right have only recently been acknowledged as equal to First Nations and Inuit. After the Powley case established that Metis do have the same harvesting rights as the other Indigenous Peoples of Canada the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that those harvesting rights are connected to historic Metis communities.
,
Revitilizing our home communities is essential to the future of the Metis Nation.

Our Metis Flag is the oldest flag recorded in Canadian history as it was flown by Cuthbert Grant at the Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816, a generation before Canada existed and almost 150 years before the Canadian flag flew these skies.

We are at another great moment in our history and we need to take the time to gather our voices and this should take place in our communities. We need to have Homecomings in our communities and identify our families and our connection to those historic communities. The grandmas know their children and grand children and great grand children.



*


"Appropriate a portion of such ungranted lands, to the extent of one million four hundred thousand acres thereof, for the benefit of the families of the half-breed residents, it is hereby enacted, that, under regulations to be from time to time made by the Governor General in Council, the Lieutenant-Governor shall select such lots or tracts in such parts of the Province as he may deem expedient, to the extent aforesaid, and divide the same among the children of the half-breed heads of families residing in the Province at the time of the said transfer to Canada, and the same shall be granted to the said children respectively, in such mode and on such conditions as to settlement and otherwise, as the Governor General in Council may from time to time determine."

Manitoba Act 1870





*

Who are the Metis? 
What is the Metis Nation? 
I am Metis. 
I am the Metis Nation.


***

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Portage and Main - 2

When Ryan got up that morning, he knew before his eyes were open that the math was against him. He didn’t have the cash. He had to walk. It wasn’t that far. He had done it dozens of times.

Tick tick. Tick tick.

He could smell fresh cigarette smoke rising up through the century old floor from the room below. Rooney was smoking. If he was awake, the man was smoking. He would smoke until he died.That was taking a lot longer than Ryan had thought it would. It’s weird about some people. It’s as though smoking helps them live longer. He talked to the guy once since he had moved into the unit..

His accent was English in the way that must have been very identifiable but Ryan couldn’t figure it out. It wasn’t My Fair Lady. It would be like trying  to tell the difference between a Scottish and an Irish brogue or Australian and New Zealand based on movies. Maybe he was Welsh. Ryan was sure the second hand smoke was taking two days from his life for every day he stayed at the place. It was like living above an old dragon that no longer killed with violence but breathed out poisonous fire, smoke and brimstone all day long while waiting to pass away. He had the voice for it.

His eyes popped open and it felt like he had been slapped on the back of the head. 

He didn’t know why he had become such a poisonous thinker; the kind of person who looked at life with such bitterness. He shook that from his mind. 

It’s because you’re an asshole and you’re too fucking old to do anything about it.

That’s why Rooney smoked all the time. It wasn’t that he had lost his fair maiden to a prince. He just didn’t give a shit anymore. The poison became thicker.

Tick tick. Tick tick.

Who was he kidding? He had smoked far worse in this unit than old Rooney did down below.  At least as far as he knew; who knew anything about anyone these days? A chill ran through his body and he could feel the cold sweats soaked deep into the mattress lurking like a gelatinous ghost, biological and phantasm. 

His body shivered and his memory was cast into darkness. It was the days of suicide and Ryan had smoked and drank with the intention of that night being the last one. He changed his mind but when he came to his senses he had lost the sun. He would be passed out all day long until he would awaken to see the last rays of light sink away with cruelty. 

He desperately wanted to stay awake to meet the day, but he could not get through the night sober and nearly drowned in darkness. The memory roared through his body with more purpose and settled with a clammy grip in his shoulders. He shook his head as the hair on his arms rose and he felt the twinge in the broken rib that never healed properly.  

Drinking. Drinking. Drinking.  

He flashed to his brother Laurence. His face was right into his face and back into his face. He was him in that smile. And they laughed. “A man who drinks like that….He’s going to die.” Big gulp of water. “When?” 

His brother could quote all of Blazing Saddles to him it was hilarious, to Ryan it was the most honest history of the United States on film. The line, “We will take the Chinks and Niggers…but we won’t take the Irish” really had an impact on him. He recalls being offended when he first heard it. It was shocking that a White Man was put in category lower than a Man of Colour. It made him think about himself.

He smiles in the dark and shifts the blankets squeezing out whatever comfort they offer. He pulls his arms into his body and rubs his legs together until the chill of the memory retreats.

The wind picked up outside with a sharpened scream and reclaimed his attention. It was going to be wicked cold but once he got to Portage and Main he would take the underground maze into the warmth. It made the walk farther but it would be out of the wind.  

Tick tick. Tick tick.

He rolled on his side and reached for his device. It was 8:47. He had almost two hours. He rolled into a sitting position but did not touch his bare feet to the hardwood floor which would be cold as concrete. In the murk, he sighted his moccasins and reached outward delicately with his left foot. The tips of his toes felt the fur lining. He slipped in his foot pressing against the floor with the ball to secure the slipper.

The soft leather was cold but was beginning to warm as his heat connected to the life force that remained in the moose hide. The drum on the wall made a ping in affirmative and Ryan nodded his head in reflexive acknowledgement. With his right foot he hooked into the other moccasin and lifted it up and across his knee and snugged it tight with his left hand taking time to feel the comfort of the rabbit fur between his fingers.

He crossed his left foot up and snugged the other moccasin with his right hand. This time he held the fur between his fingers longer and he tried to find a memory. He spun the silk of the fur and then traveled deeper to the supple strength of the moose hide.  He ran his hand over the sheen of the moccasin bottom. It was worn smooth and thinner from the wear and weight but somehow seemed stronger and more impenetrable.

He ran his hands up onto the beadwork. The flower beadwork people. He could see his Grandmother smile. He brought his hand back to the fur trim and with practiced delicacy he grasped as much of the fur trim as possible with all five fingertips. And with gentle and determined pressure he ran his fingers back and forth along the fur trim. His thumb and middle finger rubbed and pulled upon each other on the edge of the moose hide and then were brought up to his nose and breathed in with deep hunger.

It was still there. The smoke of the hide and the life and sweat and the prayers and the dreams and the life of all and the feeling that sometime somewhere ago it was all the way it was supposed to be. He tried to reach out towards Grandpa and find that story about the days gone by that would help him get up and get on with the day. He could feel a warm hand at the base of his neck gently pushing him forward. He could picture the smile and he could smell the smoke. It was the moosehide and the smoke and something else. Something burning.

Cigarette.
“Shit.”
Ryan put his foot on the floor with a bang and then pulled his quilt around his shoulders and stood up.
“Fuck you, Rooney.” He muttered.
A long fit of coughing and hacking greeted upwards.
It was going to be a long day. 

Tick tick. Tick tick.

He could hear the monkey dancing.
There would be no sunshine on this day but the solar powered monkey on the window sill was swinging side to side.

Tick tick. Tick tick.
It danced with its little brown arms stretched upwards and reaching to an invisible sun. 

***

Friday, May 2, 2014

Portage and Main - 1




There is no silence. The wind does not stop blowing. The wind ached with cancerous rage as it swept over Turtle Island and gripped tightest at the continent’s heart.

Having stampeded from the Arctic Circle to the centre of North America, the wind funnels head-smashed-in from Portage to Main like vengeful frozen ghosts of the billions slaughtered. We were being punished and whether you believe it to be an act of God or an act of Science the end is the same.
The man turned right from Main Street and walked east down Portage Avenue and into the wind. The grey of the day deepened as it came into being.

It would have been possible to enter the hamster maze below the street at the entrance in front of the Toronto Dominion.  Everyone who walked these streets would have headed directly to the descending concrete stairs. It was city planning by Skinner.  Staying warm is the cheese.
Ryan Golden should know that. He knew that. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” his late grandmother’s words via his cousin’s mouth echo in his head.

With the continent from Saskatchewan east to the Atlantic Ocean locked in the third day of a raging polar vortex, Ryan knew he was outside by choice and not for failure to understand the situation; he couldn’t take the same path. Not two days in a row and definitely not on a travel day.  
Now Stevie Wonder admonished him, but did so in a funky way that made Ryan feel better just for a moment, a heartbeat or two.

He lifted his hand in front of his face and kept pushing further on against the charging wind. He now heard Marion’s voice in his head. “You think the rules don’t apply to you. You’re the special one.”
He stopped walking, turned his back to the wind and tightened his hood, adjusted his scarf and googles. His leather coat provided little protection.  He had lost the lining a few years ago, but it was still his favourite coat.

The tips of his ears were beginning to freeze. That’s not possible. He could hear the wind howling.  Raging.  Assault with intent.

A bomber jacket moved past him. Gary stitched on the arm. On the back, the embroidered logo God’s Rapids Cree Nation Powwow 2010. An eagle flies over blue water within a circle that is a drum.  
His mind flashed to Gary Muswagon, his buddy from the high school hockey team. He was from that side.

The man was moving with purpose. He also had a hoodie pulled over his head. Ryan thought to yell and then caught his breath. He was starting to freeze. He could feel the warm coming over him.
He yelled, “Gary”.

He remembered guys in school back in Cranberry Portage who spent the whole winter in a jean jacket. They never complained. Thinking about it now, he wondered if that was all some could afford.
He yelled the name again but more a yelp like a coyote talking through the darkness and across a campfire. The wind whipped just then and took the sounds forward. Gary jacket stopped and turned, hoodie and dark sunglasses stared for moment and then raised one mitten, inside of which a Fuck you finger was surely raised. Gary jacket turned.

The wind came harder now and the frost skittered like spiders up from the frozen concrete and entered from the bottom of his feet up his spine and into his skull.
Gary jacket began to run and Ryan turned to face the wind.

***


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Native women pay the highest price for our Rape Culture

The revelations of rape culture throughout Canada's highest institutions of learning is further evidence that this country remains a dangerous place for Native women. 

My wife tells our daughters to always be on guard. "There is no such thing as paranoid for an Indian girl." The numbers of our Murdered and Missing sisters continues to grow without action as though our current sum is not staggering enough to make people care.

My wife told me many years ago that she believed Native girls put on weight as an act of self-defense after years of being under attack. The society that we have created is one that demands women to be as small as possible. It makes them even more defenseless.

As in the movie 12 Years a Slave it is the women who suffer the most under racism and repression. It is the Native people of Canada who are on the lowest rung of this society. It is women who are the lowest rung of this society. It is Native women who hold onto the last rung as though it is the final grip on our humanity itself.

The fight is at our door. It is our responsibility as Native men. Our men have to start within. There is no win in this fight until that fight is won. Until then our women stand alone.

Men who are not connected to anything are dangerous. The ones who are not connected in some real way to the larger community are dangerous. They are the ones that need to be watched. But they are not the only ones.

I have waved this sickness awash in my mind as alien weight. This blind to humanity. It is not what the Creator made of me when I came into this world. It is not how my mother raised me before she sent me out into the world. It is not what I can be to be all the things that it takes to be called a man. Napayo.

This is the greatest infection of the residential schools but it has to be understood at another level beyond sexual violence. It was spiritual violence that was spread to the thousands and thousands and thousands. Yet this is another violation often imposed upon our women and girls by Native men. 

I don't what your name is, what you do or what you've done. If you disrespect our women you disrespect our mom and all your words and action become none. Do not keep our women down and done and unsafe and unsung. 

This is our fight first. We must change. We can protect our women and then we can help them all. But first we must take care of our own homes. If we cannot protect our women in their own homes and in their own communities then all is lost.




***

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In Praise of The Vulture

I see the big shadow swoosh over top me and onto the ground below
and hear the power of the wings flap with great and unending power
I turn my head with excitement to see the large black body fly over head
I want to see the bold white head and tail feathers flash in the sunlight

It is not the Eagle
He is not the special one
He is despised
His bald red wrinkled head
is unseemly
as though carved from the
very rotten flesh which he
is always feasting

He rises up and my eyes follow
He joins in a circle with seven brethren
And spin in celebration

If these were Eagles
I would fall to my knees
and cry

I hear the Voice
I can't tell you where it comes from
but it told me this

Who are you to judge the Vulture
and how he is spreading across Mother Earth
like never before
Eating up all the death Man creates

Then I saw my brothers
for what they are
and what they do

So then I smiled and said my thanks
and hoped for something new

And if one day
it becomes that way
that I get to return to
this Mother Earth

I would be proud to serve
with all of my friends
as one who cleans up
after all of our sins

Saturday, March 1, 2014

What if this Winter NEVER ends?

What if this winter never ends?

There it is.
I said it.
That is the shit we do not want to hear.

That is not what we need to be thinking right now.
Those are not the words we need to be saying out loud right now.
We need to shut this guy the fuck up right now.

We need to put him in jail delete his name from the files because he is saying shit we do not want to hear. We can not have this. Not right now. Because the thought is banging around my head like a stray bullet inside an empty bomb shelter.

So calm the fuck down and shut the fuck up.
That is not what we need to hear right now.

They'll be coming for your wood.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Olympics 2014 - NativeWritesNow Edition

It was a Native Olympics second only to Jim Thorpe owning the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in Sweden. The Sauk and Fox/Pottawatomie athlete won gold in both the Decathalon and Pentathalon at those games and had the King of Sweden declare him the greatest athlete of all time.

A century later, the Sochi Games brought together Native athletes from Canada and the US that made indelible marks on the Olympic stage.

The Ted Nolan Story was already plenty dramatic. Even if it ended with him hoisting the Memorial Cup as Coach of his Sioux Greyhounds. Nolan grew up on the Garden River First Nation and overcame poverty, racism and limits of size and talent to make it to all the way the NHL.

Soon after his playing career ended he began coaching. He coached his hometown Greyhounds to three consecutive Championships and soon Nolan found his way back in the big leagues this time behind the bench.

After one year as Assistant Coach he was hired by the Buffalo Sabres to be their head coach. By his second season Nolan had turned around the lowly Sabres and led them to a Division title and he was chosen the NHL's Coach of the Year.

Nolan's clashes with all-star goaltender Dominik Hasek saw him run out of town. The whispers were that it wasn't that Nolan was such a good coach but that Hasek was such a good goaltender. Anybody could win with the Dominator in net.

The team would continue the rise initiated by Nolan and ascend to the Stanley Cup final the year after he had left the team, but the descent for the Buffalo Sabres has been brutal since those heady days.

Nolan would speak out publicly in the years that followed about the open racism that he experienced and that he believed was a factor in him not returning to a job behind the bench.  He returned to the NHL behind the bench for the New York Islanders and led them to the playoffs in his first year.

He was let go again after his second year by a Islanders management team swirling in confusion and led by newly hired General Manager Garth Snow.

Nolan had his second chance in the NHL and it didn't work out. He had been kicked out of the circle. It had to hurt. Nolan is a "Player's Coach". He makes the players believe in themselves and you can't lie in their face to do that. You have to put your heart on the line right next to them. It's gonna hurt sometimes. Sometimes it's gonna break.

He would be banished to Latvia or so it would seem but it was in this former Soviet country that Nolan would find his love of the game once again.  He got his players to rise up and win their way into the Olympic tournament. He overseas success brought him back once again a third act in an NHL coaching career. He was greeted on return to Buffalo as second coming and prodigal son all rolled into one.

His return had one caveat. During the Olympic break he would return to his place behind the Latvian bench. During the tournament he showed the world that he could coach men to challenge superstars.

I googled Latvia when I heard that Nolan was coaching the country and the first thing that came up is Latvian Jokes. I clicked on the link and turned out that Latvia jokes make fun of the people's intelligence and also starvation and rape. It's that insidious hatred that is disguised as a smile, the good old ethnic joke. They were picked on and they were disregarded and disrespected.in more ways than one.

They were true underdogs and if you love sport as much as I do, you found yourself rising up as well to cheer David Latvia versus Goliath Canada even as a fan of Team Canada. Yes, there is the nationalistic side to the Olympics but there is the pureness of sports that reaches into the most human part of us. It is why the first Rocky movie is the best. Rocky doesn't win, he goes the distance with the Champ.

The Canadians didn't even know they were in a fight until half way through the game by that time New York Islanders franchise player Jonathan Tavares was knocked out of the game and out for the season. It would have Garth Snow, the man who exiled Nolan from the NHL crying foul on the whole idea of sending superstars to play against men.

Yes, Nolan is a Player's Coach but he's also a strategist who had his team committed to a system that kept them in it against every team they played including eventual Olympic silver medalist Sweden.

He is also a trickster with the guts to try something on the Champ. The only goal by Latvia was a trick play where one player entered the front bench door and another snuck out the back door. It was so crazy that it might have worked again if CBC commentator Glenn Healy hadn't screamed the information to the broadcast booth.

When Nolan had tried the same trick again in the third, the Canadians were ready; but without that extra intelligence one wonders if the Canadian brain trust would have been fooled again.

Who knows what would have happened to Team Canada if they actually trailed in the third period. The population of Canada is small but the weight of it's hockey expectations are greater than any other country.

Nolan and Team Latvia had their chances but the final decision was also in the hands of a First Nations man. It was Carey Price, Ulkatch Nation BC who led Canada past Latvia and then shut the door the rest of the way. No one would score on Price again. I know it's a stereotype, but the truth of it stares you into the face when you see Price. He is stoic. Steadfast and unbeatable in the end.

Jocelyne Larocque Metis Nation, MB took home Gold and as one of the new generation of Women's Hockey.  It was Larocque that started the play that turned the whole game around and led to the team's already legendary comeback against Team USA. Larocque fired a crisp pass out of the Canadian end that found Meaghan Mikkelson, then Brianne Jenner and then the back of the US net. A few other miracles later and Team Canada was wearing Gold.

On the American side, TJ Oshie (Anishinaabe) and Team USA Hockey got off to a fast start but fizzled out when they came up against the stonewall of Carey Price. Oshie had already earned his place in the US Olympic legend with his snake dance scoring performance against Team Russia.

I am sure somewhere Jim Thorpe is smiling.

Monday, February 17, 2014

I love the Olympics and the Native Athletes Representing

I love the Olympics. I can't help it. Ever since I was a kid.

Especially the Winter Olympics where in Canada, my generation grew up with commercials with Nancy Greene that showed you could win a gold medal if you were Canadian and if you ate Mars bars.

As kids, my brothers and cousins built a bob sled run in the snow. In our school in Crane River MB, Metis and First Nations kids learned how to cross country ski and it soon became a province wide competitive sport in the Frontier School system.

Was I programmed by the state to be a proud Canadian by the Olympics? Yes. I was, should I rail against this as I have so many other campaigns. Perhaps.

It's elitist. It is a waste of valuable resources that can be better put towards. It is symbolic of war and is ultimately about physical domination. It is rich countries sticking it to poor countries. Money wins.

I know that some terrible things can be laid at the feet of the Games. "Are you a Nationalist?" I was asked once upon declaring my love of the games to my friend, Jon the Punk Rock Anarchist Photographer. "No," I said defensively. I was upset, because I hate when people label.

Sports is religion in the same way that science is religion. It is something that sustains us. It reminds us of how much we can achieve as human beings.

It's still going to be about talent. Performance drugs are being monitored as well as possible following years of public shaming. It is still going to be about that amazing moment when human beings achieve the highest level.

I feel so proud of our young people representing Canada and competing with great pride, strength, beauty, passion and grit and blood and sweat. It is a beautiful thing to see and I love it. I absolutely love it.

This year there are a number of Native athletes who are making this Winter Olympics the most memorable ever for me.

Carey Price is the starting goaltender for Team Canada Men's Hockey. Price is Ulkatcho Nation from BC will have his chance to create his own legend for a team with Gold on nothing expectations.

Ted Nolan is from Garden River First Nation in Ontario and the former NHL coach of the year and current Buffalo Sabres coach is behind the bench for Latvia. It is the first time a hockey team from this former Soviet bloc nation has made it to the Olympic tournament. It is likely Nolan is a national hero.

Jocelyn Larocque is Metis Nation from Manitoba and is suiting up for Team Canada Women's Hockey and will walk away with either silver or gold from these Olympics. As it is for the men the philosophy is first or last.

TJ. Oshie (Anishinaabe) from Warroad, MN has become the breakout star of the games with his shootout performance against Russia that is already being etched in stone in the Hall of U.S. Olympic Memories. It could very well come down to Oshie versus Price for Olympic Gold.

That would be the Olympic moment of a lifetime for Native people across Turtle Island. Here my love for the great story overwhelms any thoughts of nationalism. Truth be told I would love to see the US win that one it's the best ending for the story.

Monday, February 10, 2014

First Nations Education - Money for Native Languages - You had me at "Tansi"

It looked shady. From a communications and media perspective it looked like someone wanted to bury the story. That was my immediate reaction to the news that Prime Minister Stephen Harper would be announcing the most significant changes to First Nations Education in almost 20 years.

The media would not say which school the announcement was going to be held. I was not sure how to interpret that as it concerns the Canadian media who take great pride in their inability to pronounce the names of First Nations. I was not sure if the whole operation was that clandestine if it was good old borderline racist Canadian broadcasting standards.

It was also likely that Prime Minister Harper and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo wanted to avoid the possibility that the whole thing turned into another Idle No More spectacle as had befell former National Chief Phil Fontaine recently when he was out stumping for TransCanada and the Keystone Pipeline.

This story was buried of that there was no doubt. The announcement and press conference was on the same day as the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

The Olympics is one of those media black holes that can be predicted well in advance. Most media black holes require a star big enough to explode to swallow up all the eyes and ears, but that is impossible to predict. The opening of the Olympics is the one of those events guaranteed to swallow up all the light.

No one books a press conference on that day unless the least amount of media attention is their intention.

*

I am suspicious and I am a critic. I have written some very critical comments about Stephen Harper and his conservative government and I will again. But I must commend this contribution to education.

It is important for people to remember that the most devastating wound to First Nations education came at the hands of Paul Martin, who as Finance Minister imposed a 2% cap on all funding including education in 1996. Over the decades since that policy; First Nations schools have fallen off the cliff in comparison to the funding of their provincial counterparts.

The cumulative effect of falling behind year after year in the nearly 20 years since created unconscionable gaps between funding per child in a First Nations school and the the rest of Canada's children. Lifting the cap to 4.5% is righting a historical wrong.

Once again, the conservative government actually provides some action when it comes to Native people; be it Mulroney's Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and The Aboriginal Healing Foundation to Harper's Residential School Settlement, The Apology and now The First Nations Education Act.

One can argue the sincerity or intent of any of these but I know they are greater than anything I can think of from when the Liberals were in power. All I know is that they put the 2% cap on First Nations Education in 1996. Next to residential schools that has been the most damaging thing done to the education of Native children in modern history. Now it's gone.

*

There is funding for culture and languages and that is a beautiful thing.

What can I say? There is money for languages, you had me at "Tansi".

*

I know educators in communities and in urban centres. My brother works with Native children in urban education systems, my cousin is principal of our community school and has been building language curriculum along with local Cree speaking educators. Our neighbour across the snow field is a retired teacher and the first principal of our First Nations School. And on and on and on.

I heard stories from the pathfinders and leaders of First Nations education in Manitoba during a brief stint at the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre. If was without question the most impressive organization I had ever seen from the inside. I did interviews with many staff inspired me and awed me with their commitment and their love and their passion for education and most importantly for our children.

The challenge for our educators is to ensure that as much of the money makes it to the student level. The government has already built in their costs right off the top for the necessary level of bureaucracy they require which you can picture as Lego blocks swallowing up office space at the twin towers in Hull, PQ.

Then there is the shadowy netherworld of the consultants, advisers and experts that turn to money like sharks smelling blood in the water. You have to be mindful of them lest you fall victim to the same fate of the Old Man and the Sea.

Finally their is our own bureaucracies which is to each its own but is likely eating much more than it's share.

Just get as much of that dollar into the hands of our educators and watch amazing things happen.

Give them the resources and they will show you what a teacher can do.


                                                                 ***

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Let's Talk. Why are so many Canadians depressed?

"Let's Talk" about mental health.

It's about time after months of being bombarded by the media about depression and suicide.

If anything maybe we can get a break from those commercials after today. There's a bright spot. Those depression commercials are depressing. Holy Shit, I feel sad, every single time I watch that one with the lady that is all dressed up for work and she calls in sick.

That dude that is at home and his buddy can see him ignoring the phone through the picture window. Who is the sadder guy in that commercial. I think it's the guy who is outside and he doesn't have the balls to bang on the door and give his buddy a "What the Fuck, Man? I can SEE you!"

No, I am not going to make light of depression and act like people just need a good kick in the ass. Although some people need a good kick in the ass. I know depression. I know what it's like to obsess over ending it all. Day after day after day after day. I have lost friends and family to that lonely heartbreaking battle.

I remember the first great sadness in my life, black as Kubrick's monolith in my memory.  It was that period that followed the collapse of our newspaper, Nativebeat and lead to almost complete nervous breakdown. The heaviest of depression lasted about three years and has returned in smaller more manageable but no less black chunks in the years since.

I had a second great run of depression that coincided with a thirsty obsession during a soul sucking period of life in Our Nations Capital. I drank a million tears that were not mine. I drank a million tears and wondered why I couldn't stop crying. I dug deep for darkness and then cursed God for making me blind.

I survived the heaviest unknowable depression in silence and with support from powers also unknown.

My second bout of depression was handled by sobering up. I went to AA for a while and that helped. I don't go there these days since I still drink. I know, by sobering up, I mean, not drinking booze like people drink coffee.

I will drink now and then but rarely to get sad. But I can't say I will never again because sometimes you need to cry like a great big baby but most times you just end up acting like one.

I am a strong supporter of marijuana although I do not know what the practical applications are regarding mental health. I do know that it will put a smile on your face. I also know that Chronics are cranky.

I do not support the overwhelming acceptance of pharmaceuticals as the quintessential treatment for depression.

I hate to get all Ron L. Hubbard on people but blindly taking whatever pill is being pushed is foolish at best, when the pill is for your mind it can be dangerous.

If it works, it works. Do whatever needs to be doing. Take as much as you need it's your say but just remember to take a look at who is getting paid.

The Mental Health industry is booming and people driven campaigns like "Let's Talk" can be exploited to get more people hooked on more drugs and become lifetime consumers. That is the sad truth.

It is the sad truths that are connected to the larger miasma of depression and mental illness that has settled over Canada.

***

I have said it before and I will say it again. If you aren't depressed you aren't paying attention.

There is a reason why and it's time for people to stand up

Throw open their windows and scream out,

"I am sad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."

It is time to speak up but not just acknowledge the pain but seek for the truth.

There is so much that is not right. So much that makes no sense. So much that we cannot speak about. The ghosts in the many rooms of the house we now live.The Overlook Hotel had nothing like this. This feeling that we are being driven blindly towards the cliff. At best buffalo and at worst lemming.

It is an assault on the minds of young people to teach them one thing while the awful truth lay bare before them. Revelation of the ongoing genocide that is the foundation of Canada and is reflected daily in actions of resource companies and official government policy is a stab to both the heart and mind.

They tear the truth from your heart and treat you like a fool
This is the journey to enlightenment for open minded Canadian youth

*

I have found sanity and joy in ceremony and in life.
I greet the sun with smile and can hug a tree until I cry.
I am blessed I know and still at times the darkness comes
and doesn't let me go until he is done.

*

Too much drinking and drugging
and hating and sulking have taken away
all you can give

Whatever it takes to get a smile on your face
If a prayer or a toke or a cry or a joke

There is only one thing I can say
The sun is shining today
And that's more
than a reason
to live

****

Monday, January 27, 2014

Harper sings Hey Jude to join Bieber and Ford in destroying Canada's image around the world

A puffy, pasty and horribly, horribly out of tune Prime Minister Stephen Harper singing "Hey Jude" while Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visibly squirmed in the audience was the cherry on the cake of a week in which Rob Ford and Justin Bieber returned to the international spotlight to continue their own on-going destruction of Canada's image.

The Beatles song is connected to an incident in 1968 in which Paul McCartney painted "Hey Jude" on the window of the Apple Boutique. McCartney's actions created outrage in the local Jewish community with the window being smashed and some threatening violence on the Beatle. "Juden" is German for Jew and "Juden Raus" was painted on windows of Jewish businesses during the Holocaust. McCartney said he did not know of the association at the time and apologized as he did not mean any offense.

Why would Harper chose to sing this song at that time to that audience? It does not make any sense. Who is advising him? I know he sang the song before a large Jewish audience in Canada, but this is Israel. They treated Harper as statesmen of the highest order by inviting him to speak at the Knesset, a first for a Canadian Prime Minister. It won't be that speech that will be remembered, it will be this ignorant song choice.

Seriously? Is this the only song he can sing? You get the feeling of the precious little boy to whom no one can say "No".

If he knew that this was a song that could conjure up any anti-Semitic connotations why would he sing it. Was he drunk? That's what we would ask if he was just Stevie the mid level wonk.

So now he has returned home after his vacation. (No time to visit the troops.) He is surrounded with the obsequious as we do with all men of power.

The economy is in free fall and his government is mired in corruption traced like a thick film of rancid slime right back to him. Don't hold your breath thinking that things are going to change. The spoiled brat who was behaving in all the right ways to get what he wants has been telling the country to "suck it" ever since he got his majority election. Having acted out on the international stage will only make it worse at home.