Saturday, December 10, 2016

Canadian Currency celebrates Black Civil Rights Victory But Equal Rights Awaits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Two Stone Colds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Suicide Solution

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

This is a Living Genocide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water is Life.

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

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Manufacturing Dissent - The future of media is here.

This was the future. The promise of the future of an independent online citizen journalism may have been lost before it really started. The dream was that the new technology would free journalism from the media giants that had been controlling the narrative for decades. You could not have a say unless you had earned your way into their cloistered halls and found your way up the ladder. Although you would have to toe the line in some way unless you were fortunate enough to simply share the bias of your great benefactor.

It was the media critic Noam Chomsky who had the highest pulpit to rail against the limited voices allowed within the mainstream media. It was his work in Manufacturing Consent that exposed how the media of all kinds simply acted as a tool to keep the masses quiet. The job of the media was ultimately to sell you something. Usually consumer goods but also the ideas that we are the good guys and of course that we live in free societies with a free and independent media.

The promise of the new journalism offered by technology was no one could be contained by the old structure. Anyone could have a say. Anyone could be a journalist. Anyone could have a voice. The problem was still the same - your voice only really matters if people hear you. This means that you have to trend in someway. If you are trying to remain true to some journalistic integrity then the chances that you will be read or heard or trend in anyway is very slim. If you are trying to remain unbiased, no one cares. If you are trying to avoid sensationalism, no one cares. If you are trying not to be racist, sexist, misogynist or deliberately offensive, no one cares.

It doesn't always have to be extreme; sometimes it is just a matter of appealing to the lowest parts of ourselves. The enduring appeal of what is called clickbait. How many times have you found yourself clicking on a story that you knew was a simple manipulation. 40 Pictures from the Past that will blow your mind. What these actresses from the 1960's look like today. 15 foods to avoid belly fat. Although that may seem like a small issue. Still it is filling our minds with mush which aids the ongoing intent to provide opiates for the masses. (Although our society has now reached the point where opiates are the opiates of the masses.)

As people continue to uneducate themselves a more terrifying beast has formed. The rise of fake news is the story of the day. This is the practice of creating fake news headlines in a fake news website and then posting to other websites and social media sites that are looking for a story that proves their own paranoia or conspiracy theories. As Paul Simon wrote, a man believes what he wants to believe and disregards the rest.

Fake news was an essential part of the recent presidential campaign that saw a reality TV star elected to the most powerful office in the world. He defeated a far more experienced, intelligent and qualified candidate. The United States has been tragically divided into two camps for many years where the choice is Democrat or Republican. Right or Wrong. Good or Evil. The chance for unity in that country has always been small.

It may be almost impossible. The most recent campaign was the most divisive ever and the power of fake news and the disturbing movement for more and more people to get their news from Facebook is an unholy threat to individualism. People seeking news from sources that tell them what they want and from their like minded Facebook friends has created shrinking information bubbles for them to exist.

Control is still the ultimate goal. Where Manufacturing Consent proposed that the goal of the media was to control people by making them think and do the same thing. This new future of the media is to create tiny little bubbles around people so as to feed their most basic sense of individualism by Manufacturing Dissent. They are convinced they are all fighting the powers that be and yet all they are allowed to do is shadow box in their tiny little circles.  They may think that they have created this safe space of truth that protects their individuality but in truth they are like a massive sack of frog eggs that hang together in the same tiny pond.