Category Archives: Fiction

Short stories by Wayne K. Spear.

Too many Chiefs, not enough Indians

The Toronto District School Board is making a mockery of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | October 17, 2017 ◈ Current Events

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T TAKES A LOT to render me speechless, but there I was nonplussed by the October 11 CBC headline, “Toronto District School Board to remove ‘chief’ from job titles out of respect for Indigenous communities.” Job titles with the word “chief” will now be replaced with “manager.”

TDSB

The Toronto District School Board says its decision to scrub “chief” from the lexicon was “in the spirit of recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, or TRC. It’s a shame they didn’t spend more time with those recommendations in the flesh. Or with Indigenous people, who would have helpfully informed the board that their proposal was a cure in search of a disease, and a ridiculous one at that.

It would be easy to mock the initiative for its frivolity, but this is no laughing matter. The cynic in me wondered if perhaps the bureaucracy was undergoing an internal job title review and simply tacked-on a high-minded purpose. Indeed, the TDSB has said the move is part of a larger renaming initiative, the most generous interpretation of which is that TDSB acted alone and only afterward took to the work of selling the public on the supposed merits of its decision.

And I’ve no doubt the bureaucrats believe this is for the good of Indigenous people, in the spirit of every boneheaded policy ever made in our absence and dropped on our heads from on-high.

I’m discerning a trend, and I don’t like it, and neither do many other Indigenous folks. The trend is to read (or pretend to have read) the TRC’s recommendations and to have been “inspired” to do something symbolic no Indigenous person has ever requested and that will have no discernible material benefit.

The word “chief” can be used as a slur, but it happens also to be an honorific title. It’s considered a breach of protocol, for example, not to address the Assembly of First Nations’ leader as National Chief.

The title “chief” is widely used in the communities, but there are, in some cases, preferred usages derived from Indigenous languages. I am a member of the Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations, whose traditional leaders are called rotiianer. When using English, we typically render the word roia:ner (singular of rotiianer) as “chief.” If you’re ever unsure what word to use, don’t worry. The rule of thumb concerning protocol is: when in doubt, ask.

An empty gesture would be bad enough, but it’s worse even than that. The TDSB’s proposal trivializes reconciliation and makes the cause appear pernicious by putting into the minds of the public a spectre of thick-headed literalists, nit-picking school-marms and language police, set loose to hunt down and banish words deemed offensive by the Politbureau. The TRC called for a lot of things, comrades, but not for this.

I know a bit about the Toronto District School Board. I’ve been the chair of a school council, and I’ve given TDSB presentations on Indian residential schools. I’m the co-author of a book (Residential Schools: with the Words and Images of Survivors) used in classrooms and libraries across the city. The teachers and librarians of the TDSB are good people. They are making an effort to involve Indigenous people — especially those who were in the residential schools — in the work of education and reconciliation.

Fulfilment of the TRC’s “Calls to Action” is not an easy task, and the educators I’ve spoken to feel the weight of their responsibilities. They have my respect. But whatever sub-committee made this decision needs to understand that they are undermining the work of educators.

Symbolism can be powerful in a good or a bad way, and this is a case of bad symbolism. Bad symbolism misrepresents reality and diverts our attention to non-existent problems like “offensive” job titles. When the bureaucracy of an institution with great power dabbles in bad symbolism, the confidence of the public in that institution is undermined.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has provided specific recommendations for educators and educational institutions, such as creating age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools and providing appropriate teacher training. There’s more than enough there to keep you busy. If the TDSB needs guidance or clarification, you can have it, from the many Indigenous people who are more than willing to work with you.

But if you go it alone and as a result alienate the public with bad symbolism of your own doing, you will find it much harder to do the work that actually needs to get done.

The Made-for-TV President

Where would Donald Trump be without fake media like The Apprentice?

✎  Wayne K. Spear | October 10, 2017 ◈ Politics

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FEW YEARS AGO I spent a week at Sunset Bronson Studios, in Hollywood, home of Let’s Make A Deal and The Biggest Loser and the first-ever “talkie,” The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson. Opposite the third-floor offices of Judge Judy a fellow named Clint Arthur runs his business, Celebrity Launchpad. Arthur’s Sunset Bronson students learn pitching to small-market morning television producers and the art of hustling their way to New York and Los Angeles, where celebrities are born. His tagline is “Make a difference & a fortune sharing your message on local TV.” Celebrity after all translates nicely into influence and money, regardless of the means by which it’s attained.

celebrity apprenticeDonald Trump plays a successful human being on a TV game show

You can easily grasp why the President of the United States makes me think of Celebrity Launchpad. The Arthur method bares a truth of our era, that performance is everything. In the 1980s Donald Trump worked the New York tabloid and chat-show circuit as a Lothario figure, and in the 1990s his revised performance, as a builder and politician, went national. The celebrity breakthrough arrived in 2003 when Trump was offered the starring role in a reality television program. Here is what Kelly McEvers had to say of this, in an October 5 NPR interview titled “The Apprentice Creators Look Back.”

At the time of The Apprentice, Donald Trump’s companies had already been through four bankruptcies, and there were two more to come, including the Taj Mahal. Airbrushing all this out is what [producer] Bill Pruitt says he feels most guilty about now. He says he was a good con artist, and his con helped take Donald Trump all the way to the White House.

There you have it: the performance is everything. Mark Twain once remarked that a man with an established reputation for rising early could safely sleep until noon, and the same appears true of a man with an airbrushed reputation for business success. Over and over again The Donald failed—at marriage, at dealmaking, at ingratiating himself with the members of a social class whose acceptance he craved, and at business. When the new millennium arrived he was persona non grata among New York’s elite and a notorious credit risk no American bank would touch. No one who had followed his antics since the early 80s could take him seriously, whether as a businessman or a politician. But that was in real life, and television is something altogether different.

Donald Trump kept at it when there was nothing in the bank and nothing in the tank except hype. The columnist Christopher Hitchens was asked in January 2000 what he thought of the rumoured Trump candidacy and dismissed it with the comment, “he’s managed to cover ninety percent of his head with thirty percent of his hair.” Such was the state of affairs when Mark Burnett committed the considerable resources of his major-network prime-time game show to a rescue and rehab operation. We’ll never know what would have become of Mr. Trump in the absence of this deus ex machina, but we know what did happen. An entire generation who knew about Trump only what The Apprentice chose to tell them swallowed Burnett’s fiction whole. Trump used the show to perfect a business model he’s since carried into the White House, surrounding himself with toadies whose sole job is to flatter the boss, shilling Trump-licensed products, giving his children jobs as “advisors,” and spending NBC’s money at Trump properties.

Don’t ever forget that Donald Trump hadn’t built anything for years when The Apprentice made him the world’s most famous builder. In the 1990s he became a RINO (Real estate In Name Only) by licensing the word TRUMP to the developers who did the negotiating, land acquisition, financing, contracting, and project management. A large chunk of The Apprentice was fabricated, from the sets to the pretense that Trump was judging the contestants to decide who would be fired. (In fact the producers chose who would leave and who would stay, using criteria that had everything to do with show business and little to do with Trump’s in any case dubious business acumen.) But it wasn’t all fake. The show’s star was, as the theme song goes, a lover of money, and as we’ve seen since January 20 of this year he likes to fire the people around him. The Apprentice did well—very well—because the future President has a knack for drawing attention to himself, which is the alpha and omega of a celebrity job description.

The President has spent his life working three of the principal routes to fame: New York talk shows, Los Angeles film and TV, and DC politics. (He’s hinted at a fourth with his comment about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue.) Today he’s the most famous and most-talked-about human being on our planet. When he tweets the world moves. Every day the newspapers turn his cast-away and often incoherent utterances into news. The stock market rises and falls on speculation over the thoughts in his head. He may soon say something that starts a war. Hundreds of thousands of lives perch upon his volatile mercies. And this, all of this, because he understands that in America you prevail as long as you perform.

Sonny Daze Meets the Orange Menace

The two August Leaders, one the President of America and the other the President of that country somewhere in the vicinity of America, clashed in a fierce battle of handshake. The Orange Menace grimaced, jerking the arm of his rival. Sonny Daze stood his ground, dreamily smiling, his core muscles taut with alacrity. The Orange Menace worked the resolute limb, twisting and yanking as if extirpating a root. Yet the mighty tree could not be felled. The Orange Menace has met his match: he who spends an hour each morning at his hair now contends with he who also spends an hour each morning at his hair. One lives for the camera, the other for the camera lives. Each adoration craves. The Orange Menace applies brutal force in service of dominance, while Sonny Daze has charmed his way to this mountaintop.

– I am King of this Mountain, says the Orange Menace.

Sonny Daze does not speak. He adopts a Yoga pose and gazes dreamily into the cameras.

– I have done more in 100 days of being President than any President in the history of the world of Presidents.

Sonny Daze says nothing. He puts on a fringed buckskin jacket and portages to the river, dropping his canoe into the water. He paddles his vessel toward the cameras.

– Look upon my tremendous works! says the Orange Menace.

Sonny removes his buckskin jacket and rends his shirt. Bare-chested, he dashes four miles westward to a couple busied at their nuptials. Henceforth and forevermore shall he be immortalized on the mantelpiece photo where this day will be eternally commemorated.

A jealous and enraged Orange Menace takes to Twitter in an effort to regain the world’s attention. Sonny Daze puts on a faux Indian headdress. It is the War of The Manchildren, a force of personality against the force of personality, a clash of surfaces, a contest of brands, a struggle of perception against perception. They are different and yet the same. They are what you want them to be. They are yours and you must love them, if for no reason other than they are created for you and in your image.

Who will emerge victorious in this battle of the vanities?

– Look upon my mighty works, says the Orange Menace.
– Strong Together We Middle Class Better We Good We, says Sonny Daze.
– I will smite America’s enemies! says the Orange Menace.
– Love We Middle Class Together Good Together Canada Strong, says Sonny Daze.

They take their places. The battle proper has begun. Now we will see and judge them by their works.

The sky darkens as the Orange Menace lifts his adamantium scimitar heavenward. The mighty instrument draws an electric stream from the firmament. Energy ripples from the Orange Menace like an angry stone thrown into water. He shouts a primal scream

– Yyyyaaaaaaawwwwwwwwaaaaaaoooooooorrrrrrrraaaaaaaaggggggggaaaaa!

The Orange Menace points his scimitar to the West. He issues a tremendous bolt of energy with a roar that splits the Earth. The bolt in an instant strikes the ground at 719 Church Street, in Nashville, Tennessee, 666 miles distant. When the smoke dissipates, the Orange Menace gestures with pride toward the awe-inspiring deed.

– Look upon this hole, which by my own hand I now designate the future Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and United States Courthouse!

With a nice and supple hand, Sonny Daze takes up the Unicorn-feathered holly wand, gifted to his father by a once-Potentate of the Levant. He raises the wand to a swell of birdsong. Of a sudden, the air is redolent of neroli and mandarin. Across the world the humble pause momentarily their toil to hold the hand of a neighbor. The cameras chatter. Sonny Daze points his wand north to the Langevin Building of Ottawa, Canada, 565 miles away. A stream of glowing pixie dust issues from his magical tool, crossing Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and the US-Canada border into Ontario at the eastern edge of the Great Lake. Up goes the pixie dust, along Highways 401 and 416, turning east at Highway 417 where it exits at Bronson Avenue to travel north toward Wellington via Queen.

When the pixie dust arrives to its destination of Parliament Hill, Sonny Daze tucks the Instrument of Dreamy Wonder in an inner pocket of his suit jacket, designed specially for this purpose. He pauses dramatically, before saying

– I hereby re-name the Langevin Building “The Building Where Governmenty People Do Governmenties Stuff.”

The people cheer. Look at his eyes, he is so dreamy, they say.

Not to be outdone, the Orange Menace next names the Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic, in Pago Pago, American Samoa, the Faleomavaega Eni Fa’aua’a Hunkin VA Clinic.

Not to be outdone outdone, Sonny Daze renames National Aboriginal Day “National Indigenous Day.”

Not to be outdone outdone outdone, the Orange Menace renames the Department of Veterans Affairs health care center, in Center Township, Butler County, Pennsylvania, the “Abie Abraham VA Clinic.”

Sonny Daze renames the ten dollar bill the “Indigenous People Are Wonderful Bill.”

The Orange Menace re-renames French Fries “Freedom Fries.”

This goes on for hours and then days, with no clear victor emerging. Incapable, or perhaps unwilling, of anything of substance, they lock themselves into a shambolic war of pandering gesture. Their tribes applaud them, as the cameras record every word and facial expression. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, life goes on.