The Arc of The Deal

The Trump years have taught us to be shocked but not surprised

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JUNE 18, 2019 • Politics

Trump on the escalator

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S I WRITE THESE WORDS Donald Trump takes to the sky to begin his re-election campaign, fittingly at the Amway Center, a company associated with multi-level marketing and evangelical Christianity. Four years ago his ascension began with a descent (by escalator) and so as the President climbs tonight one hopes for the historical symmetry of an eventual fall. Up he goes today; may he go down tomorrow. There are encouraging signs. When Trump lands, this headline will be waiting: “Our Orlando Sentinel endorsement for president in 2020: Not Donald Trump.”

Enough of the chaos, the division, the schoolyard insults, the self-aggrandizement, the corruption, and especially the lies. So many lies — from white lies to whoppers — told out of ignorance, laziness, recklessness, expediency or opportunity. Trump’s capacity for lying isn’t the surprise here, though the frequency is. It’s the tolerance so many Americans have for it.

An exhaustive inventory of the President’s deficiencies would be exhausting but also unnecessary, there being already many such compilations. In 2016 anyone who cared to know what Trump was knew what Trump was. For decades he had committed to drawing attention to himself. The tolerance of “so many Americans”—62,984,828 to be precise—was in many cases enthusiasm. Sixty-three million voters saw the qualities that the Orlando Sentinel editors see and cast their vote approvingly. The editorial evades the logical conclusion that Trump is no good for democracy and America but American voters (on a diet of reality television) aren’t much good for these either.

Tomorrow’s Sentinel will likely carry stories of white-power nationalists and of rowdy Orlando streets. For the garden-variety racists and the neo-Nazis and the theocrats and the admirers of dictatorship past and present, there has never been a better time to be alive in America. Whatever else one may say of them, the years 2016 to 2020 will be looked back upon by these elements as an American Golden Age, a time when views long driven to the margins could once again emerge into the daylight. Many impracticable objects, such as the mass-deportation of immigrants and state rule by Christian doctrine, became conceivable under Trump. Obama had often quoted Martin Luther King Jr on the “arc of the moral universe.” Maybe that arc could be turned back.

In a thousand ways big and small this has been the work of the current administration. In Donald Trump’s America a class of people who had learned to regard themselves as persona non grata were suddenly in demand and for positions in the highest of public offices. One after another grifters and cheaters and thieves and wife abusers ascended to Cabinet Secretary and Justice and Senior Advisor. And down they came, to be replenished by a fresh influx of third-rate crooks and malcontents. The Best People, according to the President. How surprised they must have been at their good fortune, just as the President himself must have been surprised by the outcome of his campaign.

The Trump years however have taught us that surprise has an arc as well and that it bends not toward justice but uncertainty. In 2015 a reality TV character pursued the Oval Office, and although he was mocked and dismissed, and for good reasons, he prevailed on the votes of 63 million Americans. In 2019 however he will be taken seriously. We are still capable of being shocked, but no longer of being surprised. ⌾

Populism and the Elites

Under Doug Ford, Ontario politics will likely be organized around an enemies list of cultural foes and special interests. We’ve been there before.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | March 13, 2018 • Current Events

IT’S NOW CERTAIN that a battle, between the people and the elite, is coming to Ontario. As it did in the days of Mike Harris, the province is about to flirt with populism and might even go beyond flirting, to courtship and consummation.

Mike Harris

We heard quite a lot about the elites—always plural—when Rob Ford was mayor and Doug was the hype man and principal enabler of his brother. The word comes to us from an Old French noun derived from the Latin verb ēligĕre, to elect. The elite, in other words, are the elected, or chosen. Like Doug Ford.

Only, to hear Doug tell it, he’s no member, or even friend, of the elites—too-clever snobs who bore the common folk with lessons in etymology. They’re not defined by income or by power, but by culture and attitude. They live downtown and drink Chardonnay, and they use big words, and they mock the lives and values of the town and suburbs. Elites think they know better than you, and they think that they are better than you. And they have been chosen to lead and have made a balls of things.

There’s no necessary connection of this elitism with political power, beyond annoyances like support for bike lanes and streetcars. The list of elitist traits which drive Fordies around the bend has few explicitly ideological entries. Mostly it’s stuff like fixed-gear bikes and smugness and drinking champagne with a pinkie extended. Doug Ford complains about the elites the way that anglos are sometimes known to kvetch about the smell of east Indian cooking.

Elites are irritating, and you know them when you see them. The circularity of this term applies to its cognate, liberal, which is also defined as someone who is irritating. Critics may thus be condemned as elites and liberals, without further ado, because the terms boil down to something which is entirely in the eyes of the beholder.

Populism has some of the same characteristics. Nothing is objectively populist—the thing is set of attitudes and postures, a performance that is front to end a matter of individual interpretation. It helps to use rough and “plain” language, and to express ideas that would be scolded in polite company. Populism requires the claim that what matters most in this world is the little guy, and as a rule a populist will go out of his way to affect an unvarnished outlook and demeanour, the little guy being typically conceived as rough around the edges. None of this is incompatible with ulterior political motives like self-advancement and self-enrichment. History is filled with populist candidates who ascend to power on a pile of corpses.

The principal evil of elitism, which populism ostensibly sets out to vanquish, is the idea that some people or ideas or pursuits are objectively better than others, for instance that a Harvard graduate is a better choice of governor than an unlettered man who says y’all and ain’t. Moreover, it’s impossible to talk usefully about the Ford Nation idea of elitism without mentioning the aesthetics of social class.

It’s no coincidence that Doug Ford, like his brother, is large, whereas his political opponents have tended to be relatively slim. (The same is true of Donald Trump.) Class snobbery is such that large bodies will be subjected to often unspoken but condescending judgements, especially when they are bodies that sweat and that are clothed in ill-fitting clothing. Stephen Harper and Preston Manning, well aware of eastern prejudice, invested in makeovers before attempting to run for national office.  This earned them a great deal of suspicion and ridicule, but all politicians make their concessions to the masses. Ford is no different. His populism, however, is less accommodating than its predecessors, and as such it is more nakedly a display of something that is common to all populism, the compilation of resentments built up over time.

There is an entirely different way to conceive of populism, as an expression of the inherent decency and dignity of ordinary people, ordinary being defined as neither wealthy nor politically powerful. Many decades ago, generations of the political left cultivated the revolutionary conception of the self-educated worker, possessing a mind and consciousness of her own and equal in physical and intellectual prowess to her presumed social betters. This form of populism established workers’ libraries and orchestras and universities, and it advocated not only bread but roses, which is to say the attainment among the common people not only of bare necessities but of beauty. Rather than tearing things down, out of resentment for those at the top, radical populism sought to lift up the people and to make privilege a universal condition. Nothing was thought too good for the working classes—whether champagne, Bach, or caviar.

The populism of M. Trump and Ford is not, however, radical or revolutionary, and it doesn’t look very deeply into the nature of the system against which it has declared war. The anti-elitist populism we will get from the Ontario PCs, assuming Doug Ford becomes Premier, will very likely resemble the program of M. Harris. It will be a negative form of populism, conceived entirely in relation to an enemies list of cultural foes and special interests who must be brought low. And when one is consumed by the work of bringing things low, a generalized condition of lowness, with perhaps a few winners, is likely to take hold. After eight years of watching the Harris Conservatives tear things down, the voters tired of anti-elite populism and chose another path. We forget this at our peril.

The Free Speech Debate Isn’t Really a Debate

And it’s not just about free speech, either

✎  Wayne K. Spear | March 8, 2018 • Current Events


MORE AND MORE, I’ve been avoiding Twitter. It seems there’s always a dumpster fire in my feed, which may be an ill-suited metaphor, since I’d probably want to watch a dumpster fire.

What I have in mind are the routine and fierce online exchanges which begin with someone defending the free speech of a self-described ethno-nationalist, or some similar kind of provocateur, whose views are being condemned by others as hateful and racist, and so on. These exchanges often devolve into declarations concerning nomenclature and semantics, for example “you are defending x, and x is a Nazi,” followed by, “x is not a Nazi, a Nazi is y, and x is not y.” I realize that if you’re not on Twitter, this will make no sense at all. But stay with me.

The online debate about free speech isn’t really a debate, at least not on Twitter. It’s more like a sorting of people into teams, whether intentional or not, to conduct a game of language. This free speech game is furthermore a proxy battle, between various types of liberals and progressives, on one side, and conservatives, centrists, and traditionalists on the other. This much should be obvious to even a casual observer. In its present form, the free speech game is a cultural and ideological disagreement at the centre of which are gender identity and expression and the cultural authority of Western liberalism.

Young women—and especially black, Indigenous, people of colour, or BIPOC—are doing most of the heavy lifting on the progressive side of the ledger. On the other side, there are a good many men, but also quite a few white women who self-describe as anti-feminist (or perhaps first-wave), conservative, and/or traditionalist. The labels themselves are less important than the substance of the disagreement, which I will try to capture in a precise and economical way, for it tells us something about the time in which we are now living, as well as about what may lie ahead.

Even though something objectionable to progressives is often the origin of these free speech exchanges, there is almost never a discussion of what free speech actually is and why it might matter. Nor are the objectionable views themselves given much attention, expiration, defence, or rebuttal. Attention is drawn to a comment made, offence is expressed and then, in turn, dismissed, and invariably everyone, irrespective of their position, scrambles for a patch of moral high ground. Whatever the name for this, it is not debate, and nor is it discussion. Much is said, but much is also left unsaid. It is the unsaid, so far as I am able to tease it out, that is my present concern.

America is a country established on paper, at an early stage of the Enlightenment, and as such may be subjected to a critical reading. The Declaration of Independence begins, as everyone knows, with the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The men who wrote these words owned slaves, and in fact had men and not women in mind—and not all men, either, but land-holding men, otherwise known as gentlemen. From this it follows that, at the time of the American Revolution, probably no more than 40 percent of the American population enjoyed the full meaning of the phrase “all men are created equal.” Following the revolution, the work of slavery and genocide would be taken up in earnest, at the expense of much life, liberty, and happiness.

I mention this only to suggest that the hypocrisy of liberalism has a long pedigree. The inspirational music of Benjamin Franklin’s “We hold these truths to be self-evident” would have been deeply touching for the land- and slave-owning founders, but not so much for black and Indigenous people. Something of the same is going on with what I am calling the free speech game, and there is no use dismissing it in a country where most of the top-earning columnists at the major newspapers are white, and where many are also men.

Anyone who is paying attention notices that certain kinds of views are more lucrative than others. A simple thought experiment will make my point. Imagine that you are setting out on a life as a political writer, and that you must choose one of two kinds of writing, with your goal being to earn the most money possible. Your first option is to write as a champion of anti-capitalist radicalism, anti-hetero-normativity, and BIPOC feminism, and your second option is to defend the status quo, to champion free enterprise, and to argue that the established institutions and authorities have our best interests in mind, that white supremacy is a lie and also a delusion, and that corporations should pay lower taxes in the interests of workers.

With few exceptions, the person who chooses the first option will drift into the employ of a fringe publication sustained by volunteerism and bake sales, while the second option has much more potential to lead to Fox News or the Wall Street Journal and other corporate media. One is free speech, and the other pays handsomely. This may be one reason (there are others) why freedom of speech is less compelling for some on the left.

For at least a year now, and probably more, Jordan Peterson has claimed that the censor is at his door and that he is in imminent danger of imprisonment for expressing his views. But far from being silenced and ruined, he is now a wealthy international celebrity whose speech saturates the airwaves. When I recently walked into my local bookstore, my first sight was a wall of 12 Rules for Life. Peterson is of course known foremost as a University of Toronto professor of Psychology and as a defender of free speech who refuses to use non-gendered pronouns, gender identity and expression being, as I stated earlier, one of the battlegrounds for which freedom of speech is a proxy issue.

No one knows what the future holds, but we are living in a time when both the progressive left and the traditionalist right suspect the enemy of a secret plan to destroy the world. Jordan Peterson frequently adverts to something he calls postmodernism and cultural Marxism, which he maintains leads to fascism, nihilism, and the collapse of Western values and civilization. And the progressive critics of Peterson suspect him of being sympathetic to the alt-right, if not to neo-Nazism. This disagreement, it seems to me, concerns many things but above all else the fixed versus fluid nature of human beings and human societies. Progressives seek to jettison the oppressive baggage of the past, while conservatives look to the past for meaning.

But are the rejection of free speech by progressives, and the threats of violence against those with objectionable speech, merely a matter of cynicism, as I have suggested above? The position of progressives at the moment is felt to be a defensive position. Since at least the 1960s, a form of liberalism, driven by feminism and the fight of black people for their civil rights, as well as by suspicion of established authority, has predominated in the Western nations. But there are signs of a resurgent anti-liberalism, up to and including open expressions of admiration for Hitlerism. The victory of President Trump has greatly emboldened those members of society who had long ago learned to keep their illiberal opinions to themselves. Now they feel the time has come to organize, to rally, to salute their flags in public, and to put up posters on university campuses.

As some have stated on Twitter, Nazism was a historical artifact inseparable from the National Socialist German Workers Party and the cult of Hitler, defeated and eradicated in 1945. The crimes of the Nazis, he points out, were war, genocide, and vast human misery: they are not remembered for the crime of putting up posters or giving lectures. The problem with this position however is that there was a point in time when Hitler was the leader of a rabble that few took seriously and who were known mostly for meetings and speechifying. Today, in Canada, there are efforts underway to constitute a National Socialist political party, along the German model. Simply defending the freedom of speech of this group, without submitting that speech to vigorous criticism and counter-offensives, seems to me a remarkably casual posture.

As I have said elsewhere, in one hundred years hence we will either be saying ze and zir or we will not. The Judeo-Christian values will continue to inform the laws and cultural norms of America, or they will not. The descendants of Western Europeans will constitute a majority population in places like Texas and Alabama and Saskatchewan, or they will not. As for gender identity, and identity in general, it is difficult to imagine human nature as fixed and immutable, when artificial intelligence and bio-engineering and nano-technology are just around the corner, and when medical science will make it relatively easy to transform from one sex to another (and back again) and when human beings might soon be composed, perhaps even mostly composed, of synthetic and robotic parts. Seen in this light, the argument over pronouns seems a small and risible sideshow. Soon we will be dead, and given the increasing pace of change, the world that is coming is likely unimaginable for us. To survive we will need new myths, new ideas, and perhaps even new values.

Or maybe not. We simply don’t know where we are going.

God Save America From Oprah Winfrey

America has had its magical thinking celebrity billionaires-endorsed President. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for something different.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | March 1, 2018 • Politics


THERE’S A FRESH ENTRY this week on the familiar ledger of billionaire celebrities the media can’t quite seem to leave alone, but probably should, and it goes like this:

Amid calls for her to consider a run for the White House — from fans as well as her closest friends — “I went into prayer,” she tells PEOPLE in the magazine’s new cover story.“ ‘God, if you think I’m supposed to run, you gotta tell me, and it has to be so clear that not even I can miss it.’ And I haven’t gotten that.”

Oprah Winfrey

I can’t sort out whether this article, tellingly titled “Faith, Weight, The White House, & More,” clarifies the question, or if we’re now in murkier waters. A clear sign from God? What, exactly, would that be—and who is to decide? You must have noticed, as I have, that God rarely discourages political ambition and will often encourage a half-dozen narcissists to chase a prize. Presumably all were given “a sign,” whether clouds in the coffee, an auspicious horoscope, a random passage of a book taken from the shelf, or something felt in the gut. As we’ve long known, pretty much every potential candidate who consults God is special and deserving and will make a first-rate Senator or Governor or President, or whatever. So Oprah’s gambit may be a done deal, after all.

Or perhaps the Almighty jests, but at whose expense? He gave us Roy Moore, who not only ran by holy counsel but refused to concede defeat. “What we’ve got to do,” Moore told supporters, “is wait on God and let this process play out.” God gave us Presidents Scott Walker and Ben Carson and Rick Perry and Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. “I am certain,” President Scott Walker told an audience. “This is God’s plan for me and I am humbled to be a candidate for President of the United States.” President Ben Carson said he would run “if God grabbed him by the collar and asked him to.” President Rick Perry hoped to see a burning bush, but decided in the end that “God sends messages through a lot of ways.” In Perry’s case, the way was the wife, who claimed to see a burning bush on his behalf and ordered him to run.

These career politicians have one thing in common: a regard of their self-promotion as part of a grand, eternal design crafted in the Beginning by an onmiscient and all-powerful Being. How nice it must be to figure in The Plan in this way. Billions of years ago, The Lord God Almighty willed that President Rand Paul would one day prevent gun control legislation, and shortly after uttering the words “Let there be light,” Yahweh ensured that men would lie only with women, and vice versa, and that President Ted Cruz would make it so. Between the stars and the planets, I AM THAT I AM brainstormed an impediment to embryonic stem cell research, under President Mike Huckabee. Should Oprah run? We may soon learn that there’s a heavenly plan for that, too.

Divine warrant gives us the nauseating comingling of arrogance and humility that every aspirant to political office seems to have mastered, but most conspicuosly the humble servants of God. It’s never Would I Run, it’s always should I, “should” (like its cousin, supposed to) being a word that drips with the sugar of practical and moral necessity. If it’s clear signs you’re after, nothing is clearer than the fact that there are no shoulds, and no supposeds, in politics. Just ask President Michele Bachmann, one of the few people who has prayed for a sign in recent years, to replace Al Franken, and not (yet) received it.

And while we’re on the topic of clear signs: Oprah’s deference to “going into prayer” is yet another indication that she’s not fit for office. It isn’t God that’s been speaking to her, brothers and sisters, it’s the billionaires’ club, and we’ve been there seen that, too. America has had its magical thinking celebrity prayers-and-billionaires-endorsed President. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for something different.

Racism, sexism, and indifference

From Helen Betty Osborne to Tina Fontaine, Canada has been a deadly place for Indigenous youth but remarkably safe for the killers

✎  Wayne K. Spear | February 22, 2018 • Current Affairshelen-betty-osborne

TINA FONTAINE WAS A CHILD OF FIFTEEN when her body was found in a duvet cover, loaded with rocks, at the bottom of the Red River. That was August 2014.

In October police arrested Raymond Cormier, and at the end of 2015, over a year later, he was charged with second-degree murder. Winnipeg police spent six months recording their conversations with Cormier, secretly and under plainclothes, hoping to get useful information, perhaps even a confession.

The transcripts of these ramblings—there’s perhaps no better word for it—are at times opaque and contradictory. Cormier says he did and didn’t kill Tina Fontaine, and that he did and didn’t have sex with her. Statements are incomplete, some inaudible. After eleven hours of jury deliberation, Cormier was acquitted. Counsel for the defence presented no evidence and the accused did not testify. The burden of proof was entirely upon the prosecution, as is the case under common law, and it was a burden they did not carry.

Tina Fontaine was cast into a river, which is a nice way of saying disposed of, tossed, thrown away like garbage. It happens all the time in Canada. Causes of Indigenous deaths are declared unknown and unknowable, investigations are not started or they are soon abandoned, and in rare cases where there are suspects and charges, the accused are exonerated. The courtroom clears, making way for the summary consideration of the next dead child and the next acquittal, and then the next, and the next after that, and.

Child and Family services found Tina Fontaine on the ground, sleeping behind the Helen Betty Osborne Centre. This is something a novelist might come up, but it’s reality, not fiction. Helen Betty Osborne was abducted and murdered at 19, in 1971, and three of the four men involved in her death were never found guilty of a crime. Dwayne Johnston alone was delivered a lifetime of imprisonment, sixteen years after the fact, in 1987. The death of Helen Betty Osborne led to the creation of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba. And the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission determined that racism, sexism, and indifference were the principal factors behind the length of time between Helen Betty Osborne’s death and a determination of guilt. And the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission made many recommendations, not only pertaining to justice but to the child and family welfare system, that remain unfulfilled aspirations.

And Murray Sinclair left the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission to later join the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and to study once again the systemic realities contributing to so much Indigenous death and misery. And the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada made 94 recommendations and soon the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls National Inquiry will make more and

We Need a Hunter S. Thompson

Because the bastards are winning, and we must never make peace with it.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | February 20, 2018 • Politics


HUNTER S. THOMPSON was an idealist and a lover of politics and of language precisely at the time in American history when the rot was infecting politics and idealism and language itself. He knew that the war in Vietnam was not only a crime but a cancer also, that in 1968 Nixon had committed to subterfuge and cynicism and a war at home against decency and the rule of law, and that there would be no turning back and no recovery. America, a nation of bullies and bastards, whores for power and oil, led by a succession of dishonest and greedy shitheads. He could’t have seen shithead Trump coming, but he knew a Trump was coming, and that the fascists and opportunists would fall into line. He wouldn’t have been surprised in the least. Enraged, yes, and indignant. Pissed as all fucking hell and broken-hearted. But not surprised.

Hunter S.Thompson made a contract with the reader, to speak for them in a voice of ink and rage. He would put the bastards of this world on notice, that he would not have their best interests at heart. Rage can be cheap, and hatred is often junk energy. But hate can also be an art, something you cultivate and nurture, a tool you sharpen and train yourself to use. Hate can get you out of bed in the morning, get the blood flowing. Only someone who believed in the best of America, and the best of humanity, as Thompson did, could have thundered the way he did. He chose his enemies with care. Politics, for him, was personal. He loathed Clinton the way you loathe someone who spits in your eye, because he knew that was the kind of prick Clinton was, or would have been if Clinton had more courage. No, Clinton was (and is) a shit-talker who knows how to play a sucker, just like the third-rate con artist in the White House today. Common, low-down, self-serving narcissists. Men who squander the privilege and honour of high office on vanity and blow jobs. Should we not be outraged? You’re goddamn right we should.

To believe in the best and to confront the worst, over and over, and to press on in bloody righteous indignation, in service of something better than what we are: that wide a spread is too much. Trump is the politician for a nation that doesn’t believe in politicians or in politics, unless it’s the politics of raw, brutal power, a fist forever smashing a face. When you get to that point, words themselves suffer. Language is corrupted by the easy habit of lying, of refusing to call things by their plain and proper names because we might discover we’re still capable of disgust if we did. And if enough of us can feel disgust, then it’s all over for the crooks.

Hunter S.Thompson has been gone for 13 years. When he died, the world lost a unique voice of moral clarity. There’s no one like him writing today, despite the fact we need someone like him more than ever. Would it make a difference? Probably not, but that’s not the point. The point is that the bastards are winning, and that’s an outrage, and we must never make peace with it.

The Prime Minister’s Indigenous Rights Framework Changes Nothing

Indigenous people have had to fight for recognition of every right we have. And we always will.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | February 15, 2018 • Politics


IN A WEEK WHEN Indigenous people announced that reconciliation is postponed, if not cancelled, the Prime Minister sprinkled us with the sunshine of his forthcoming legal framework on Indigenous rights. Mr. Trudeau used bold words like engagement and implementation, even uttering the C-word, and claimed that his government would complete the unfinished business started by Trudeau the Senior, with the repatriation of the Constitution.

The fashionable words were all there: rights, recognition and engagement, partnership and reconciliation. Not any, old partnership, but full partnership—a new relationship with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. Team Trudeau even had social media hastags, like #IndigenousRights and #decolonization. What a historic reconciliation engagement of full partnership respect recognition historic rights day it was.

A little background might help. Never forget that the federal government didn’t give Indigenous people Section 35 of the Constitution. Indigenous people—natives, as we were then known—weren’t even invited to the conversation, at first. Pierre “The White Paper” Trudeau had no appetite for discussing native rights, which in his view were simply the rights of all Canadians, and made no mention of a Section 35 in his 1980 proposal. Indigenous people made a stink, and you know the adage about squeaky wheels and grease. Eventually the Indian politicians got a seat at the table, and quite a few native people protested that, too, not wanting to be a part of whatever dirty work they suspected the feds were up to.

I’m not an expert on what happened next, but I’ve talked to every AFN National Chief involved in the repatriation talks and beyond. The Assembly of First Nations led the charge for recognition of inherent Indigenous rights, and met the resistance of Team Trudeau and the provinces, who whittled a much more robust series of proposed clauses into the now-familiar language of Section 35:

35.(1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed. (2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. (3) For greater certainty, in subsection (1) “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired. (4) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to in subsection (1) are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.

The resource-extraction provinces, particularly Alberta, took the position that Section 35 (existing aboriginal and treaty rights) was an empty box, to be filled in the future at the discretion of the courts. The premiers had seen similar work in Australia, where existing Aboriginal rights were interpreted to mean rights that come into existence, from this moment forward. But of course that’s not how it’s gone in Canada. Indigenous people have taken their Section 35 rights to court, over and over again, and fought like hell to get our rights into the box. And in many instances, certainly more than Canada would have preferred, we’ve won.

Constitution Express

The Section 35 fight for Indigenous rights, recognized and affirmed by the Constitution of Canada, has been a restless work from 1982 to the present. The view that we’ve made progress is not universal, with people like Mary-Ellen Turpel and Art Manuel and Russ Diabo arguing that the post-Section-35 world is a colonial world, just like it was before. Instead of Indigenous sovereignty over our lands and resources, and a nation-to-nation relationship with Canada, colonial interpretations of Section 35 give our communities municipal powers and brown bureaucrats. We can choose the day Rez garbage will be picked up, and our signs say Tésta’n instead of STOP. We get to say Yes to pipelines, and if we’re lucky receive a share of the take, but we don’t get to say No, because we are a minority sub-sect of Indigenous-Canadians.

What we all agree on as Indigenous people is that we’ve had to fight for everything we’ve ever had. Someone once said that government doesn’t give you your freedom, you have it already—if you exercise it. That’s true of all people, but it’s doubly and triply true for Indigenous people, who would have vanished entirely, like a narrow river into the ocean of Canada, if things had gone as originally planned. There isn’t an Indigenous right on Earth that we’ve been given by a colonial government, and there never will be. And Trudeau’s rights framework changes nothing.

We’re in no mood for explaining ourselves to Canada

We don’t need, and we don’t want, a devil’s advocate to set us right about the value of Indigenous lives

✎  Wayne K. Spear | February 11, 2018 • Politics

I CAN’T IMAGINE ANYTHING worse than losing a child.

Now consider, for just a moment, how weak that sentence is. A cliché, wrapped around a euphemism, squatting on a conjecture. I don’t want to imagine the death of my son, or even to write the words, and I definitely don’t want to know what it’s like. Grant me the bliss of ignorance, now and forever.

Colten Boushie

The trial of Gerald Stanley is about the death of a son, about pain that requires no explanation, about the worst of all possible nightmares come true. If Mr. Stanley were sitting in a cell at this moment, the family of Colten Boushie would be mourning a loss all the same. For those who knew and loved Colten, there is today an expansive, terrible hole the universe will never fill. Every parent across Canada can sympathize with this, and so too everyone who has lost a brother or sister. Some things are universal.

But some aren’t in Canada, and the trial of Gerald Stanley is about this too. When the acquittal arrived, I was shocked but not surprised, like Indigenous people everywhere. I felt a sickening, heavy weight come down on me. I was angry and sad, outraged and hopeless. I wanted to kick something over. Instead, I went to bed, thinking it best to check out for a while.

My show the next day was about Indigenous identity, and how we’re all different from one another. I couldn’t have arranged worse timing for this topic. Yes, we are all unique, but in the hours and days after the judgement of innocence was announced, we felt the same emotions and expressed ourselves in a shared language of pain. Indigenous people experienced the Stanley trial the same way because our lives have been shaped by common experiences. We know instinctively that other Indigenous people get it, without anyone having to explain a single thing.

At the Toronto #JusticeforColten gathering, a speaker said she was exhausted by reconciliation. Aren’t we all. At times like this we’re expected to go on television or to write moving newspaper articles explaining ourselves to Canada. Everything we have lived and known is fodder for debate: the suffering of Indian residential school survivors, the legitimacy of our expressions of pain, the continued existence of our communities. We are told that our past is something to get over, and that our aspirations for the future are impractical. As for our present, we should show more gratitude and get on with assimilating.

When I was twenty-four, the Oka confrontation taught my generation of Haudenosaunee that our lives were of less value and importance to Canada than golf. We were forever changed by the Summer of 1990. Twenty-eight years later, our young people are living their Oka, by which I mean they are having their place in the Canadian scheme of things underscored and re-affirmed. The message is clear: it’s okay and even necessary to shoot an Indigenous person over a quad, because a quad is a valuable piece of property.

Ah, but what about the other side? Balance and fairness. The devil’s advocates and the debate?

Some things are universal, like the grief of a bereft parent. Canadians should at least be capable of expressing sorrow over this without having it explained to them. Unfortunately, Indigenous people are forever expected to educate the country and to give an account of ourselves, over and over and over again, as if Canada would be moved by our pain to change its direction. We’re exhausted, and we’re in no mood for explaining ourselves right now, and after this week we may never be again.

Colten Boushie’s Death Must Have a Purpose

For Indigenous people, change is often a matter of life or death

✎  Wayne K. Spear | January 30, 2018 • Current Events

RCMP ROOFTOP SNIPERS were at-the-ready when Gerald Stanley arrived in North Battleford last April for his three-day preliminary hearing. There was drumming and a show of support for the family of Colten Boushie but no violence. There’s been no violence of any kind in the months since this Indigenous Rodney King (as some have called Boushie) was shot in the back of the head while sitting in a car stalled on Stanley’s Biggar, Saskatchewan property. The family has made it clear that what they want is not blood but justice and change.

Colten’s death must have a purpose. While his death revealed a deep divide that exists between many within this province, it has also brought us here to this courthouse, where we could come together and ask for a fair trial for everyone involved. We, Colten’s family, hope that this preliminary hearing and the issues that it raises about our relationships with each other will generate further discussion and dialogue to help us bring our communities together.

Biggar, Saskatchewan

It’s an understatement to characterise this sentiment as dignified, but then what isn’t an understatement when speaking of confronting the death of a child. As the family were grieving their dear lost son and grandson and brother and nephew, strangers were posting hateful comments on social media. The rooftop snipers, presumably deployed to snuff an incipient Indian uprising, turned out to be unnecessary. But there was rabble rousing and racial hatred to be shot down in the other column of the deep divide ledger, so the Premier stepped in to denounce racists and their racism. Before long a Browning municipal councillor named Ben Kautz had resigned over a posting on the Saskatchewan Farmer’s Facebook group, where a number of other mean-spirited comments could also be found. As if losing Colten wasn’t bad enough, random citizens heaped contempt on the family’s pain, and still the family called for healing.

There are good reasons why Indigenous people call for healing and peace at times like this. The first and perhaps most compelling is that we need healing and peace. At roughly five percent of the population, Indigenous people are not going to win a contest of force against Canada, and we know it. But there also isn’t an appetite for perpetuating the hatred and violence that has been commonly experienced by Indigenous people, for generations, whether in the residential schools or on the street. Far too many of us have become experts in trauma, intergenerational violence, and hate. We don’t just want something better, we need it, in a life-or-death way.

Last week the RCMP cleared themselves of a charge of misconduct made by the family of Colten Boushie. The officers can’t recall doing or saying the things that witnesses affirm that they did and said, in the course of their investigation of the Baptiste home. At the time of Colten Boushie’s death the RCMP issued a press release suggesting he was connected to an investigation of property theft. Then the RCMP allowed the 2003 Ford Escape in which Boushie was shot—a critical piece of evidence—to go to the salvage yard before it had undergone forensic (blood spatter) anaysis, thereby jeopardizing the integrity of any later trial. “The RCMP were, best case scenario, negligent,” the family lawyer Chris Murphy told a journalist. Still the RCMP seem to think they have done nothing wrong, which apparently means that they haven’t.

Next Spring Gerald Stanley will go to court, where he will face a charge of second-degree murder. In the meantime his rural Saskatchewan house has been put up for sale as he prepares for a new life either inside or ouside of prison. He has expressed regret for the death of Colten Boushie, just as Ben Kautz has expressed regret for his Facebook post, just as the RCMP has said it’s sorry for offences taken in the course of its faultless  investigation. The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) meanwhile agitates for a broadened right to defend property against trespass. The two solitudes of Saskatchewan, the reserve and the farm, remain as estranged as ever, and Indigenous people everywhere hold their breath in anticipation of a trial they don’t dare allow themselves to believe will be fair and impartial.

Colten Boushie is gone and the white cattle ranchers found guilty of property theft of their neighbours remain alive and well in the community, despite their crimes. There is indeed a deep divide, deep as the chasm between life and death.

The Debate About Indian Residential Schools Misses the Point

It’s never been about good and bad experiences. It’s always been about Canada’s Indian Problem.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | January 25, 2018 • Current Events

TRC
A page from the TRC report, “The Survivors Speak.”

SENATOR LYNN BEYAK laments that the histories of Indian residential school focus on the negative, and she has a point. A story about the abuse of a child does tend to capture one’s attention. So far as I’m aware, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission never once intervened mid-testimony to change the subject. “Yes, yes, we get it. But tell us about the knitting and the maths—you know, the good stuff.”

The topic of whether or not good things happened in the Indian residential schools, and whether they are sufficiently documented, is a mischaracterization of the debate we are now seeing. But while I’m on the subject, let me state once again that good things happened in the residential schools. Most scholarly sources describe them, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose reports include warm tributes to beloved teachers. (Every time residential school apologists claim that the TRC tells only the negative stories, they reveal their ignorance.) My own book, Residential Schools: With the Words and Images of Survivors, has entire chapters on movie and dance night, laughter, friendship, hijinks, and so on. My co-author, Larry Loyie, fondly recalled the teacher who encouraged him to write, and he had some fond and funny stories about his residential school days. He was however a writer of books, not of payroll ledgers, and never indulged the question of whether the arithmetic of good and bad arrived at a sum which could please critics like Beyak. We presented the whole truth, as best we could.

Indian and Eskimo Schools

Well, you can’t please everyone, but it’s useful to understand the character of a disagreement.The Indian residential school debate is and has always been about the right of one ethnic or cultural group to dominate and absorb another, and by doing so to appropriate and benefit from land and resources. The children, put into residential schools, often hundreds or even thousands of miles from home, could have learned English and grammar and grown up knowing the love of their mothers and fathers and grandparents. They could have got hockey lessons and a normal childhood. But the whole point of the Indian Residential School System as a system was to sever the bonds of family, so Indians could be turned into Christian Canadians free of the influence of their kin. Did Canada have the moral right, and moral obligation even, to do this? Does it have it now? Welcome to the real debate, ladies and gentleman.

The Let’s Focus On The Positive history of Indian residential schools was written, many times over, by women’s church auxiliaries, missionary societies, school administrators, Indian Agents, and government bureaucrats. Indian Affairs wrote it every year, in their annual reports. The folks who ran and oversaw the schools knew much, much more about them than today’s armchair apologists. When they declared the system a wise and benevolent success, math had nothing to do with it. Duncan Campbell Scott was aware that children were dying unnecessarily in the schools, of diseases caused by overcrowding and insufficient nutrition. The math, in this case, was not on his side. “But this alone,” he wrote to an Indian Agent, in 1910, “does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian Problem.” These folks knew what the debate was really about, and they made no effort to hide it. They were after a final solution of the Indian Problem, and no amount of bad news was going to make a difference.

I didn’t write this article to change anyone’s mind, because I’m not delusional. I wrote it to clarify. It was my day job for well over a decade to educate the public about the Indian Residential School System, and when I started, in the 1990s, most Canadians hadn’t even heard of it. Today there’s a consensus that the Indian Residential School System was not good, but a chunk of Canadian society can be depended upon to never take up that view. There are at present some thousands and maybe even millions of Duncan Campbell Scotts, looking forward to a day when there are no Indians in Canada and, as a consequence of this, no Indian Problem. There are also folks pained by the lost prestige of Mother Church, or by blemishes on the noble project of Empire. There are professional contrarians, skeptical of every affront to the status quo, a bag of human sand stubbornly anchoring the Old Order. I can’t explain the motives of every person who insists the residential schools were good, but I can ask them if they think Canada was right to attempt a wholesale assimilation of Indigenous people, and if they think Canada should stay on that course.

An Interview with Garnet Angeconeb

Last Summer, Garnet Angeconeb met with Senator Lynn Beyak to reconcile. Today he says she should resign.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | January 5, 2018 ◈ Interviews

Garnet Angeconeb
Above: Garnet (second from left, front row) meets with Senator Lynn Beyak in Sioux Lookout.

GARNET ANGECONEB is an Anishinaabe originally from the Lac Seul First Nation. He now lives in Sioux Lookout, Ontario.

 Garnet attended Pelican Indian Residential School near Sioux Lookout from 1963 to 1969. In 1975, he graduated from Queen Elizabeth High School in Sioux Lookout. In 1982, he graduated from the University of Western Ontario with a diploma in journalism.

 In 1985, Garnet was elected to the council of the municipality of Sioux Lookout. It was there that he spearheaded the founding of the Sioux Lookout Anti-racism Committee. Today the Sioux Lookout Anti-racism continues its work with an added dimension to mandate that being the Sioux Lookout Coalition for Healing and Reconciliation. The SLCHR membership comprises of local former Indian Residential School students, clergy and interested citizens. Its main purpose is to promote awareness and seek renewed relations as a result of the Indian residential school legacy. Garnet co-chairs the Sioux Lookout Coalition for Healing and Reconciliation.

 He is a recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee award. Visit his website, Garnet’s Journey: from Residential School to Reconciliation.

NatChief PB is Doing Very Good Great Things at the AFN

I watched the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly. This is what I saw

✎  Wayne K. Spear | December 7, 2017 • Current Events

IF YOU FOLLOWED THE Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly this week, like I did, you heard two federal cabinet ministers (and omg one of them is Indigenous) say that Canada did some very no good very bad things in the past—but the Trudeau Liberal government is a new and different government altogether. And on account of this differentlyness very good great things are going to happen to us very soon because. WAIT shouted the chiefs WE HAVE SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT THAT but the Ministers had to leave the moment their speeches were over. Just like pretty much every Minister at an AFN gathering ever but different.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde said much the same things the government people did—almost as if his speaking notes were coordinated with those of Ministers Carolyn Bennett and Jody Wilson-Raybould, who omg is Indigenous just like the rest of us. NatCheef B-Garde enjoys one of the warmest Crown-Chief relationships of the AFN’s history, so it was no surprise when his leather went all buttery-soft and he said dreamily that we are “in the midst of a tremendous opportunity” and that federal money is about to rain down upon us from the sky, along with big bucketsful of inherent Indigenous rights, no strings attached. The dangers, said Ency BeauGardz, are acrimony and division. Also, totally unrelated, there’s a National Chief election next year. The takeaway is that we must re-elect NC PeeBee (don’t get all dividey now, Chiefs!) and then also PeeEMJayT, so the wonderful things we have been promised will happen. In their second terms, for sure. Because.

Who Wants an Eagle Staff, Yo!

No Indigenous person outside of Ottawa actually knows what the AFN has been up to over the past few years. There’s an UNDRIP which sounds like a plumbing issue (if you’re fortunate enough to have actual plumbing) but isn’t. Also the AFN wants to close The Gap, which is fine because no Indian shops there anyway. None of us can point to a single improvement in our lives and say “Thank-you, National Chief, for this wonderful [fill in the blank]” but most of us can point to something that really sucks, like undrinkable water and moldy schools, and say ruefully that nothing appears to be changing. Fortunately that is all going to change lickety-split, because there’s a new Prime Minister in town who loves us, and we know this because tears fall from his dreamy bedroom eyes when he apologizes. He cares so much that, for the first time in Canada’s history, a federal government has a plan for the Indigenous people that is going to be great for them. We are going to love it! And it’s going to be different from the past because in the past governments never came up with ideas to make the Indians better-off.

For some reason there are Indigenous people who don’t trust the government or the AFN. (No, really.) These people say silly things like “Well what’s the plan exactly?” And by people I mean, of course, dangerous radicals. One of these unhinged extremists, the AFN’s Anishinabe Elder, Elmer Courchene, suggested that the AFN Chiefs were guilty of collaboration, which he defined as traitorous cooperation with the enemy. Whoa there, cultural Marxist SJW Elder Courchene! Not only that, he accused the AFN of disrespecting elders, then brought up National Chief Bellegarde’s gifting of an eagle staff to Marc-Andre Blanchard, Canada’s representative to the United Nations. I mean, what has the world come to when a Chief gets grief simply for handing sacred Indigenous objects over to random white guys?

Then other radicals jumped in and all hell broke loose. Even the youth took shots at poor nc/pErRyB. Mark Hill, Co-Chair of the AFN’s Youth Council, accused the AFN executive of centralizing power and authority, and he reminded everyone that the AFN is a lobby group and not a government elected to negotiate on our behalf. “The nation-to-nation relationship is between our peoples and the Crown,” he shouted, while setting his hair on fire. (Not really. I made that part up to sound more radical.) NatchyCheef PeBellGeGard didn’t look very happy about any of this, but later on he reminded everyone that this is a pivotal moment for a legacy so we are moving forward with much work to do it’s the grassroots let me tell you the youth they are our future. This didn’t convince anyone, so he pulled an 11.8-billion-dollar bill out of his headdress and waved it around until it was time for everyone to go to the casino.

Trump is Today But The Mess Will Stay

Whitehouse

It’s Time To Think About The Post-Trump Future

✎  Wayne K. Spear | December 4, 2017 • Current Events

ONE DAY Donald J. Trump will no longer be the President of the United States of America. Whether he is impeached (unlikely in my view) or he serves two terms (more likely) or congress abolishes the 22nd Amendment and he occupies the office until his death at age 107 (one can never know) Trump will one day stop being President.

Perhaps you think this is a wonderful thought. But have you considered: what happens when this President is gone?

Even if Trump were impeached tomorrow, he would already have what we’ve learned to call a legacy. He talks a good deal of his supreme court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and he’s been busy making lifetime judicial appointments at a near-record-setting pace, but these are the least of it. More important are the multiple ways he’s altered the business of politics itself, whether it’s the coarseness of his style or the clear disregard for norms of civil behavior. Donald Trump boasted in the Republican primaries that he’d brought millions of hitherto non-voters into electoral politics, and we now have a definite sense of those voters as well as of the reasons why they were, before the arrival of Mr. Trump, non-participants. Shunned from polite company, the ethno-nationalists and neo-fascists and white supremacists jumped back into the game when they could see it was becoming suitably nasty.

Everyone should understand that Trump has opened a Pandora’s box. The mass to which he has given voice and leadership will not stop being a cohesive political constituency in the post-Trump world, even if a Trumpist successor does not appear on the scene to lead it. And imitative although politics is, it is unlikely that there will be a political candidate who has Trump’s peculiar combination of characteristics. More likely is that some politicians will reject the Trump model outright while others (perhaps the majority on the Republican side) will adopt bits of the performance—the use of social media, shameless attacks on opponents, and so on. We are only one year into the Trump era, and for that reason it is impossible to say how deeply into the wood this President is going to burrow. At the very least Trump has made it possible to think that a President might go up against the media and the state and survive. Tomorrow this proposition could be proved wrong, but if this President serves two full terms it is difficult to imagine the country will be the same as it was when Mr. Trump found it. Either the President is going to change or America is, and that is less a proposition than it is an acknowledgement of the political experiment that is taking place before our eyes.

It is very difficult to see the Untied States coming out of the Trump years less and not more divided. If this president is able to change the country in the ways he plainly wishes to, there will be an appetite among one political tribe to hold firm and even to expand the advances, while among the other there will be an equal desire to push back. The use of executive power, that goes back at least to the Bush and Obama years, will continue under future presidents. Congress will have few incentives to find middle ground on any matters of importance. The broader polarization of the public will ensure that extremism is rewarded, as we see today in the candidacy of Roy Moore. Just as political conciliation and compromise live in the middle-ground, so too do the norms of political decorum. In 2017 we have set to blowing up all the norms, and with them all interest in outdated and unacceptable notions like shared interests and common ground. Politics today is a zero-sum proposition, and you are either (for example) with the sexual predator of teenaged girls who is running for the Senate or you are against God and Christian values.

Donald Trump did not and could not have created this mad world of value-speak. He discerned and then exploited it, which is the form of genius he shares with his fellow authoritarians, past and present. He is a symptom of the grievances and resentments and anxieties and aspirations that have long bubbled just below the surface of conventional political civility. His words are the unspoken and long-inadmissible words of millions of Americans. After Trump is gone, the things which he represented will live on. But they will live on in a world that Trump has had years to shape and influence. The post-Trump world will not be the pre-Trump world. That world is gone.

Building a Foundation for the Sixties Scoop Survivors

My personal thoughts on how it should be done

✎  Wayne K. Spear | November 30, 2017 • Current Events

THIS WEEK I participated in a discussion about the agency that will manage the $50 million fund negotiated as part of the Sixties Scoop class action settlement. The substance of that meeting, and the information provided in preparation for it, was shared with me in confidence. The purpose of this article is to reflect on what this agency might look like and what it might do, from my perspective as someone who has been involved in work of this nature. The people I was invited to meet with are in the initial stage of building the organization that will receive and manage the settlement funds. I was there as someone with experience and expertise in organizational development, in particular Indigenous organizations.

At the time I write this there is an agreement-in-principle awaiting the approval of the court. There are some criticisms of the AIP, one being that it doesn’t include Métis. My feeling, and this is based upon nothing but speculation and some experience with the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, or IRSSA, is that the AIP will receive court approval and that outstanding concerns (such as redress for the Métis) will be taken up in a separate effort. As it happens I found myself sitting next to the lawyer who represents the Métis, a fellow named Tony Merchant, who I first came across during the IRSSA years. This settlement took a lot longer to reach than the residential school agreement did. But the finish-line is near, owing to the sustained work of many people, some of whom I remember talking to more than a decade ago on this very subject. I also met the lawyer who created and managed the class action, and he seemed to me a very agreeable as well as decent and principled fellow.

Everything I have written to this point is public knowledge, which is to say non-confidential, and readily available. Anyone who wants to get information of the kind I’ve presented can go to the website sixtiesscoopclaim.com and find it. If you have never created a national organization from scratch then you can only imagine what it is like to do so. There are a thousand divergent considerations, many of them critical, and pitfalls await you at every turn. A single error made at the outset can doom everything. In the current case there is the additional fact that a good many angry and traumatized people are expecting swift remedies, which in my opinion they deserve, and it won’t do to not earn their trust. The work in short is heavy and delicate and complex beyond description.

Fifty million dollars sounds like a lot of money, and compared to a household budget it is, but when you confront the needs of Indigenous people you realize what a pittance this amount is. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation had 350 million dollars yet we turned away many dozens of communities and found ourselves unable to support worthy and credible proposals totalling hundreds of millions of dollars. For generations, Indigenous people have been abused and impoverished and have had their inner lives submitted to the attentions of a paternalistic and sometimes hostile state. There is no deprivation nor depravity we haven’t experienced from the hands of the authorities, and for this reason it is absurd to think a few hundred millions of dollars, spent over a few years, will turn the night into day.

In my opinion, whatever the interim board eventually build should have a life beyond a few years. Governments only think in months and at most a term of office, but the work of restitution is a work of decades if not of generations. Getting the politicians to accept the logical conclusions that follow from this is in my experience a work of supreme difficulty. Partly the problem is that the politicians and bureaucrats are constrained by rules and by the nature of the bureaucracy itself, so that even when they want to do what they know to be right they are unable. Then there are the political considerations, not least of which is the inevitable backlash whenever Indians are perceived as getting favours from the taxpayer. Successive auditor generals have made it likely there will never again be an Aboriginal Healing Foundation type of agency, despite the universal opinion that it was a good and successful model. Whatever its merits, the AHF was an arms-length delegated authority with a degree of independence, something that auditor generals look down upon. The idea that Indians might take possession of a considerable pot of money and with some autonomy is the kind of thing that keeps the Treasury Board and the Privy Council awake at night, and as a matter of course they are dead-set against it.

The agency should be governed by Indigenous people. This may seem an obvious and uncontroversial point but it’s worth emphasizing. Already words have been put on paper, by the non-Indigenous lawyers who are working out the terms of a settlement. Next these same lawyers will presumably make decisions about the kind of an agency they are going to create, and only then will they turn it over to the people who will run it. Along the way there will be consultation, which is fine and good but in itself insufficient for any agency calling itself Indigenous. Sooner rather than later competent and ethical Indigenous community people, preferably people who are not driven by the needs of their ego, should be brought in. And the lawyers and consultants (like me) should get out of their way and let them lead.

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls National Inquiry is a mess. Another mess, in the form of a national Indigenous agency seeded by taxpayer dollars, will do damage of a kind it is unpleasant to contemplate. The victims of abuse would be victimized once again, and a generation of Canadians would be provided ample evidence that native people are incompetent and probably corrupt as well. There would be calls for a reigning-in of every kind of program or service, and it would be difficult for politicians to resist, even if they wanted to do so. Every effort should be made to ensure that the Sixties Scoop foundation is governed and staffed by competent and reliable people and not by well-connected Liberal loyalists.

This agency will have to work very hard to develop relationships, and it will have to be open and candid in its communication. It will only have money to do a small number of things, for a limited number of people, and excessive expectations are certain to arise. I have often said it is better to give bad news that you can back up than it is to give pleasant news you can’t, and this agency is going to have to give bad news. People will forgive you for telling them a truth they would have preferred not to be true, but they will not forgive you for misleading them. The currency of our world is trust. Every day you are building up or else depleting your most precious asset.

An organization is people and systems. The critical thing now is to seek out and recruit the right people, which is to say the people who will build the right systems and perform the right tasks in the right way. If this is not done then no amount of money is going to make a positive difference. No consultant and no intervention will help if the first people through the door can’t or won’t understand, and build relationships with, the people they are meant to serve. The people of the Sixties Scoop have had unique experiences, and their needs are likewise. It’s no small thing to have lived in this world not knowing what many of us take for granted—who we are, where we have come from, where we belong, and the like. Already people are looking for information about the Sixties Scoop foundation, or whatever it will be called, as well as for opportunities to be involved in its creation. A great many things were discussed at the meeting, and the ten individuals present (including me) all felt the pressure to set things in motion so that the people could be heard and their needs answered. There are no shortcuts when it comes to building relationships, and if the right people can be brought into the fold, to do the right things in the right way, I trust that no shortcuts will be taken.

Martyrs and Millionaires

Why I defend free speech rights

✎  Wayne K. Spear | November 23, 2017 • Current Events

THE KERFUFFLE THIS PAST WEEK over Lindsay Shepherd looks like a debate about free speech, but it isn’t. In reality it’s yet another ingroup / outgroup event in the culture war.

We wouldn’t be discussing gender pronouns had transgendered and non-binary people not fought across past decades for recognition of their experiences and humanity. First-wave feminists fought to be at the table and second-wave feminists pointed out that it was a rotten table, accessible to white men and middle-class white women but not much else. Accessible spaces were not granted by the able-bodied, they were demanded by folks who faced everyday and omnipresent mobility barriers. Indigenous people in Canada were not given constitutional recognition and affirmation of their rights, they raised hell to take them. The history of social and economic progress is a history of struggle—of oppressed and silenced and exploited outgroups refusing to be kept forever to the sidelines of a society governed by privileged ingroups.

WLU

That’s the context for the gender pronoun battle, as well as for every other aspect of left-progressivism and anti-PC conservatism. Seen from one point-of-view, university safe spaces are a logical next-step from intellectual analysis and consciousness raising. First you identify and catalogue offensive speech, then you purge the speech and, with any luck, the oppressive systems and ideologies that go with it. From the opposing points-of-view, attacks on free speech are offences against liberalism itself: intellectual freedom, individual rights, the free-play of ideas, and progress through dialectic.

When I was a university student I had unpopular ideas. I got into arguments with professors over Duncan Campbell Scott and the prevailing notions of Canadian literature and history in general. The university may well have been incubating radical leftism: nonetheless I had no trouble finding conservative professors (and yes, they were usually white, cis-gendered and male) to tell me I was wrong. But I refused to be silenced. As a Haudenosaunee person, my ancestors’ lives and experiences had been undervalued and dismissed and erased, to make way for the views of colonizers, and every day the formal education system proved it to me. For a long long time in this country freedom of speech meant tolerance of diversity within the ethnic and cultural homogeneity of a dominant ingroup. “Should we turn these inferior savage Indians into labourers, or do they have the potential to be domestic servants? Discuss.” The aspirations of Indigenous people were beyond the boundaries of polite conversation.

The environment of the university is bad today, but it was bad in my day also. There’s no use pretending there were no unpopular nor unallowable ideas in the past, or that we’ve lost some golden age. But it was much easier to police and limit speech in the past than it is now. Unless you owned a newspaper or a television studio or a radio station, it was near impossible to get your perspective out into the world as little as 20 years ago. It’s ironic that we’re even discussing free speech at a time like this. Only hours after Lindsay Shepherd was disciplined, an electronic device that fits in a pocket allowed her to broadcast the event to the world. Similarly Jordan Peterson has made his silencing into a speaking point, and the speaking point has enriched him while broadening his fame.

I’m a free-speech advocate, and I’m dismayed to find that this position now puts me in the company of the alt-right, mens-rights, Jordan Peterson ingroup.

ABOVE: a typical alt-right Jordan Peterson shithead fanboyIf I were the only person on earth who felt the defence of unpopular views was a vital principle, it would be logically necessary for me to defend that position with greater eloquence and vigour, not less.  I’m certainly in the minority among the Indigenous people I’ve heard from. I have always defended the freedom-of-speech rights of people with whom I disagree, including my greatest enemies, because the rights of people who think differently are the only rights that need defending. Harmony can only be arrived at through negotiation and consensus building or by suppression and repression of offending ideas. In the latter case, who is going to be the judge and arbiter of admissible speech? There isn’t anyone I would trust to edit the world on my behalf. To enter into such a bargain is to invite the silencing of one’s own voice at some future point. And I will not abide that.

I don’t know where all of this is going, but I suspect that the Overton window is shifting, as it always has and always will. I don’t think pronouns are going to be a big deal for our grandchildren. Jordan Peterson will not be silenced (and I don’t think he should be) but we’re also not going to return to the days when girls were girls and men were men. The world is changing. In place of the old we will negotiate, and struggle for, the new. There will be disagreement and litigation and protest. People’s sentiments will be outraged on all sides. In an age of YouTube and Twitter it will be impossible to silence anyone, and the attempt to do so will only create martyrs and millionaires.