One Day There Will Be An Indigenous Prime Minister

And I couldn’t care less.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | January 23, 2018 • Politics

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OMEWHERE ON THE INTERNET there’s a video of Bill Wilson telling Pierre Trudeau that Wilson’s two children, “for some misguided reason,” want to be Prime Minister. His children, he adds, are both women. It’s worth a watch. Trudeau, not surprisingly, has a clever retort and draws approving laughter. And there it would have ended, for most who went one-to-one with Trudeau the Elder—but Bill Wilson is not most people, as his riposte (and Trudeau’s telling reaction) show.

I met one of Wilson’s daughters years ago at an event where she gave a speech, and I left with no ambiguity concerning her ambition. She was going somewhere, probably a place with a name that rhymes with Schmottawa. Bill Wilson hadn’t said only that she wanted to be Prime Minister, he said lawyer as well, and as it happened Justice Minister and Attorney General were in her future. In 2015 Jody Wilson-Raybould became the first Indigenous person to be named to this position, in a year when a record number of Indigenous Members of Parliament were headed for Ottawa. She may yet become Prime Minister, adding another first to her account, to the cheering of many Indigenous people. But I will not be one of them.

Everyone remembers the firsts, or at least they should. Firsts are history’s way of provisioning a word to the wise. The gates parted for the reception of Canada’s first Indigenous Attorney General just as the first Inuk cabinet minister, Leona Aglukkaq, was being told by her constituents not to let the door hit her backside on the way out. Some of my Indigenous friends were given to rapture when Wab Kinew became leader of the Manitoba NDP, as if every time a charismatic Onkwehonwe wins a vote, an Indigenous angel gets its wings. But who knows, maybe Kinew will be a brilliant champion not only of his constituents broadly, but of Indigenous people in particular. Or, another Leona Aglukkaq. The point is that you should cheer only after the points are on the board and not at the first sighting of the ball.

This week St. Anne’s Indian Residential School was in the news, again. For years Canada denied the existence of evidence disclosing abuses, until an OPP investigation made this claim untenable. The government refused to release documents in its possession, with the result that former residential school students could not prove their claims of mistreatment and deprivation. (St. Anne’s is the residential school most known for the electric chair used by its administrators on the children in their “care.”) When the government was at last forced to release their files, Justice Canada fought efforts of survivors to re-open their cases, and the government won. Now Canada wants them to pay the government’s legal costs.

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Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first Indigenous Minister of Justice, superintends the administration of matters such as the preceding. In this capacity she has prevailed over a small and powerless group of Indigenous people who say they are victims of abuses in an Indian residential school, and that the evidence which proves it, and which was long hidden by government, is now available and should be considered. Although much of the St. Anne’s story happened under former governments, these late decisions, to shut down the Independent Assessment Process and to pursue government costs from the claimants, belong to the administration of Mr. Trudeau.

Beginning in January of 2016, or in other words with the onset of the Trudeau regime, the Attorney General has so far spent over $700,000 fighting a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that says Canada discriminates against Indigenous children, by providing health and social services funding below the amounts allotted to their non-Indigenous counterparts. It’s the residential school system all over again: Indigenous children suffer and in some cases die, and what does the government do? It lawyers up, naturally. The government has lost its appeals and is in violation of three compliance orders, and with each passing month the legal bill goes up, all in the service of denying equitable care to Indigenous children.

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Federal Justice Minister Jody-Wilson Raybould was asked to provide the legal costs spent fighting a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order. (ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Today, from sea to shining sea, frustrated Indigenous people resort to fighting Canada in a colonial judicial system whose face is the mottled Kwakwaka’wakw visage of Ms. Wilson-Raybould. Many of them are going to lose, and if the Minister of Justice has her way then Canada will prevail at every turn, because it’s her sworn duty to make it so. Under Section IX.128 of the Constitution Act, every Member of Parliament (and every senator and every member of a provincial parliament) must “take and subscribe” an Oath, stating, “I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.” Keep her faith and true allegiance in your mind, my Indigenous friends, when you hear this servant to Her Majesty talk about the “Indigenous-Crown relationship.” And for the love of god don’t cheer when she, or someone like her, for some misguided reason, becomes Prime Minister.

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First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada versus the Attorney General. Cindy Blackstock took Canada to court over discriminatory policies, and won. Canada refuses to comply with the ruling to this day.

Podcast 92: Talking Books with Angie Abdou (In Case I Go) and Frank Busch (Grey Eyes)


Podcast Season 5

Life, edited

Would I even notice the absence of cream in my coffee, once my mind had let go the idea of it?

✎  Wayne K. Spear | January 18, 2018 • Essay

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N THE MORNING I make my coffee, sometimes I walk to the nearby cafe. When the barista sees me coming, she, or he, begins to make my drink: a large Americano. It is a routine whose origins I am unable to summon. There was a first time that I ordered an Americano at this shop, a first time I drank coffee. I don’t remember these firsts, I only know that they are so. Just as there are lasts.

My earliest memories of coffee are of the church basement where we gathered after service. An enormous stone building, with stained glass windows and many rows of pews, benches for the choir, a pipe organ, a vaulted ceiling. And below, a gymnasium, a Sunday school room, a large kitchen. For years we attended church on Sundays. There must have been weddings and funerals also, but I have no recollection of them. I have seen sun-bleached photos, of aunts and uncles, the happy brides and grooms whose future self will divorce and remarry, or perhaps not, retaining across the decades some small semblance of this person frozen in time, covered in wedding confetti, surrounded by those I remember as once living among us.

We went to church, as most others did. Afterward we gathered in the basement to drink coffee made in enormous steel percolators, or tea from mismatched cups and saucers, donated by kind ladies with blue hair. The same ladies who made the trays of triangle sandwiches. In one palm, the adults balancing a cup and saucer, in the other hand a wedge of sandwich nested in a paper napkin. The women in polyester dresses of harvest gold, the men in rayon jackets and chocolate brown slacks, shirts with enormous collars, the indistinct voices of grown-ups punctuated by the laughter of children. The kind ladies with blue hair appear from the kitchen, take note of the trays, and retreat. One imagines them forever baking, forever replenishing the silver trays with triangle sandwiches, even now.

One day we stopped going to church. Why, I don’t know, any more than I know why we started. Nothing was said about it, to me at least. We went, and then we didn’t. As the last of many other things arrives, must arrive, the end comes but without fanfare. “Goodbye,” you say, and “see you later,” to someone you will never say hello to again.

How does a ritual become a ritual? I used to drink my coffee with cream. I would often find myself without, sometimes on cold mornings, the coffee already made, me in my pyjamas not wanting to go outside. I couldn’t bear coffee without cream, back then. I found it too bitter, undrinkable, nasty even. And against this, the going out into the cold, to get cream from the nearby convenience store. First I would have to dress. Or at the least put on a coat and boots. I would hope to find enough change in the laundry dish. If the dish was emptied of laundry money I would have to use the bank machine. It was a scenario I grew tired of repeating.

I read that a person can learn to like something they find unpleasant, like black coffee. The article said it takes, on average, fifteen attempts. I think of the first time I drank Guinness, in a Kingston pub, on a cold December night. I found it disgusting, and yet the next week I was back, drinking another. And another after that. I became curious to know what black coffee would taste like to my re-calibrated brain. Would I even notice the absence of cream, once my mind had let go the idea of it, as it had let go so many other things? Habits, lovers, misguided notions, the many sordid details.

At first it was unpleasant. But I was surprised at how quickly I was able to edit the cream from my morning ritual and not miss it. I oughtn’t have been. After all, one day I disliked Guinness. And another day I sat in the Wellington, my back to the stage where Gerry O’Kane played his guitar and sang, drinking my Guinness at the windowfront table with my friends, walking home later in the clear December air, holding the hand of a woman to whom I was not romantically inclined when we arrived at the pub hours before. Life before and after, coffee with and without cream, love and loss, weddings and funerals. Sunday arrives. I drink my coffee black, my routine simplified, no need of cream or of choirs, of expired passions, of the rows of creaking pews, the moulding hymnals, or of kind old women with blue hair, gone but not to heaven.