A Land Acknowledgement, But About a Stolen Bike

Before we get this meeting started, I’d like to acknowledge that we’re on land where I stole Chris’ bike. You see, this is the traditional land where he would cycle. Then I moved here and saw the bike, and I thought, that’s a nice bike and I think it would be fun to ride. Which it is, to be honest. So I’d like to thank Chris for being a steward of my bike. He kept it well tuned and clean as a whistle all the time before I came along and stole the bike from him. It wasn’t easy, either. I used a bolt cutter and it took me over 20 minutes. In his wisdom Chris locked the bike up really well so that no one would take it before I came along. Back before I stole the bike, Chris would have a gathering with the other traditional people of this territory. Ryan, who works as a bartender in that tapas place on McCleod Avenue, Jim the graphic designer, and Phil, who last I heard was trying to open a barbershop. The hipster kind where they have pinup girls and indie bands on Saturdays, and somehow they play between the barber chairs. They would traditionally get together for bike rides, which they don’t now because Chris can’t afford a new bike, and certainly not one as nice as my bike, which I acknowledge I stole. Also, his traditional name is Christopher and not Chris. I called him Chris for years because I just like it better than Christopher. One year I dressed up as Christopher for Halloween. I found a plaid shirt, just like his, at Value Village, and that stupid green jacket he always has on. I got the idea while I was riding my stolen bike. I figured, with the bike I was already half way to a costume. Christopher didn’t like it, even after I explained that I was honouring him. “Give me my fucking bike back,” he yelled. And I totally get it. That’s why I want us to be friends again, like we were before I had sex with his girlfriend and then stole his bike. I’ve done a lot to atone for these things. I acknowledged that I had sex with his girlfriend in his bed and stole his bike from his yard. And, yeah, I took his Macbook, too, because I’m pretty sure he wasn’t using it and I wanted to burn some CDs. I think we can all agree that there’s been enough animosity, enough rancor. It’s time for a new relationship, and being chill again like the old days, before I killed his brother in a bar fight. And then the girlfriend thing, the Macbook, the bike. It’s history now, and I feel bad about it. Sometimes when I’m riding my bike I even tear up a bit, but that might just be the wind in my eyes. Maybe I should get some sun glasses. I noticed Chris has a nice pair.

A Governor General Worthy of the Post

Mary Simon

Mary Simon will make an excellent governor general

WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 7, 2021 • CANADA

Over the years my work has brought me into the orbit of Mary Simon, the next governor general. In a time of disturbance, where the relationship of Canada and Indigenous people is concerned, I recall Simon as a patient and calming presence. By now you’ve seen the highlights of her resume: broadcaster, diplomat, politician, ambassador, negotiator. All of these roles require the skill of working effectively with people of diverse natures, a skill she possesses in quantity.

A governor general should have an impressive career, and Simon’s has been very impressive indeed. There are things a resume will not tell you, however, and it’s these that make her an excellent choice. She is an exemplary listener and an astute observer. She possesses humility and, in contrast to a recent governor general, will not besmear her function with drama. Her empathy served her well as moderator of the RCAP hearings, where for the first time Inuit told stories of the residential schools. Mike DeGagné, the former Executive Director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, remembers her ability “to tap into what people were feeling” and her “wonderful way of allowing people to express themselves.” These are the qualities I expect her to bring to the job, and they are the right qualities for the times.

The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution, the Charlottetown Accords, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the creation of Nunavut, the Indian Residential School System — there is no major event or issue of the past fifty years, touching upon the affairs of Indigenous people, in which she’s not been involved; and yet I would dare to guess that many Canadians have not heard of her. The reason is that, in contrast to many public figures (including some Indigenous ones I could name) she is not driven by ego and therefore does not crave attention and accolades. Again, a delicious change.

On July 11, 2008 Simon responded to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “Apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools,” saying, “I am one of those people who have dreamed for this day … Let us now join forces with the common goal of working together, to ensure that this apology opens the door to a new chapter in our lives as aboriginal peoples and in our place in Canada.” Christi Belcourt’s stained glass window, installed in Parliament’s Centre Block and commemorating that day, reflects Simon’s phrase that “a new day has dawned, a new day heralded by a commitment to reconciliation and building a new relationship with Inuit, Métis and First Nations.”

These words will sound to many as excessively optimistic, but they are consistent with a career that has emphasized listening, cooperation, opportunity, and negotiation. In a 2011 article, Canadian Inuit: Where we have been and where we are going, Simon lists the many colonial assaults on the Inuit yet concludes that “we continue to hope that other Canadians seek and support creative solutions to our issues in ways that will benefit us and Canada as a whole.” She was likewise hopeful today, when she characterized her latest role as a historic and inspirational moment.

The new governor general will have her critics, but know that she is a serious and effective person. The past few years have highlighted the poor judgement of the Prime Minister where appointments are concerned, but in this instance and for a change he has made a good decision.⌾

Controversy over Canada Day is nothing new

75cbbe6eeabd0167825a8ee3a4973a8dThe Cariboo Indian Girls Pipe Band performed in Ottawa on July 1, 1965

As early as 1867 it had its champions and detractors

WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 1, 2021 • CANADA

THE BRITISH NORTH AMERICA ACT came into effect on July 1, 1867, establishing the Dominion of Canada under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick confederated, as did Nova Scotia, but with such opposition in the latter province that voters elected eighteen of the nineteen parliamentary seats held by a secessionist Anti-Confederate party. The theme of a reluctant union reprised in 1949, when a bankrupt Newfoundland under a caretaker government narrowly chose Canada, by an affirmative vote of fifty-two percent. Fully half of the four founding provinces of Canada have challenged Confederation at one time or another. One of them has yet to formally approve the 1982 Constitution Act amending and patriating its 1867 predecessor.

Dominion Day celebration was first advocated by the first Governor General of Canada, Charles Monck, an Anglo-Irish member of the peerage who established the tradition of the Governor General residing at Rideau Hall. Monck’s proposal to create a public holiday was met with hostility, especially in Nova Scotia, where July 1 was for many an occasion for lament. Owing to opposition, a Dominion Day bill introduced in May 1869 by the Barrie businessman and Member of Parliament Thomas McConkey was debated but withdrawn after the second reading. Ten years after this, Senator Robert Carrall sponsored a successful effort to establish Dominion Day as a federal statutory holiday, a designation which occurred on May 15, 1879.

Despite the establishment of a federal statutory holiday, Ottawa played no role in the festivities for the first forty-eight years. Celebration of Dominion Day was a local, informal affair in which village and town committees provisioned space and resources for sporting competitions, theatrical and musical performances, rounds of Quoits, pyrotechnic displays, and Calithumpian processions. An 1888 annual report of the Department of Indian Affairs contains this T.P. Wadsworth description of a Dominion Day on the Mistawasis reserve, west of Prince Albert:

A most pleasing gathering took place on Dominion Day, the agent and instructor invited the settlers and Indians of the agency to attend a picnic a most enjoyable day was spent by all, the amusements being similar to those provided for true entertainments in the east, namely, athletic sports, dancing, singing, speeches, & c. Mr. Chaffie furnished from his private means a fine fat steer and the agent and a few of the settlers provided another, these were killed, dressed, and eaten on the ground; delicacies were also provided – they all had a very enjoyable time, and it had a very good effect upon the Indians who said that it was better than a “sun dance.” It also showed them that they could have plenty of amusement without the “tom-tom.”

Wadsworth’s keenness to induce Mistawasis Nêhiyawak to the amusements of the empire (to say nothing of the implausible, smoke-up-the-arse reaction that he records — better than a sun dance!) reflects the broader assimilationist bent of turn-of-the-century Dominion Day celebrations, as immigration from Eastern Europe and Asia changed the country. The holiday became an occasion for organization committees to, as Robert Cupido puts it, “get at the mind of the foreigner.” Poems, plays, and processions emphasized the British character of Canada and the virtues of assimilation, as for example in parades featuring immigrant parents in Old World dress followed by their Anglicized children. Eventually there were protests and push-backs. Matters came to a head as a result of the head tax and the introduction, on Dominion Day in 1923, of the Chinese Immigration Act. After this, July 1st was known among Chinese Canadians as Humiliation Day.

In 1917, the fiftieth anniversary of Confederation, Canada was at war and the holiday was a lower priority. Ottawa undertook celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee in 1927, marking the first federally-organized observance of Dominion Day. These celebrations featured cross-country historical pageants, one of which was performed at Massey Hall in Toronto with a cast of six hundred children. In his coast-to-coast radio coverage of the day, broadcast from Parliament, Graham Spry described the Dominion of Canada (a phrase that persisted into the 1960s) as “one nation, two cultures; one nationality, two races; one loyalty, two tongues.”

Efforts to rename Dominion Day would not succeed until 1982, and then only by the questionable means of a vote undertaken by twelve MPs, but in 1946 Philéas Côté introduced an unsuccessful bill to rename Dominion Day what it eventually became: Canada Day. Côté also resurrected an 1864 Charlottetown Conference proposal to name the country the Kingdom of Canada, an idea declined by the British Colonial Office, in deference to American sensibilities. “Dominion under the Crown” was effectively London’s compromise.

Federally-sponsored annual Dominion Day celebrations were formally established only in 1958, by a Conservative government concerned with the Liberal trend of eliminating the word Dominion from the government vocabulary. Secretary of State Ellen Fairclough was tasked by Prime Minister Diefenbaker with fashioning Dominion Day celebrations, but even at a date as late as this, there was opposition.

In an article titled “Fireworks, Folk-dancing, and Fostering a National Identity: The Politics of Canada Day,” Matthew Hayday writes that a government official named William Measures “did not consider Canada to be a retrospective country, but rather a forward-looking one that was confident in its future.” Measures also raised concerns over the symbolic elements, noting that both the flag and anthem were unresolved. He furthermore took the view that government ceremonies to celebrate a national day were contrary to Canadian and Commonwealth tradition and unusual in British countries. Some people, he added, regard them as “evidence of national immaturity.”

Yet as Canada matured, Dominion and later Canada Day were larded with more significance, likely for reasons specified by Measures as having to do with confidence in the future. During the 1960s and 70s, celebration of the British empire yielded to displays of multiculturalism and concerns of national identity and national unity. In 1968 Pierre Trudeau became leader of the Liberal party having promised to frustrate the Quebec separatist movement and to unify Canada as a bilingual nation. The celebration of Dominion Day that year was overshadowed by the June 24 St-Jean-Baptiste Day riot, where Quebec separatists threw bottles and rocks at the Prime Minister and shouted “Trudeau to the stake.” Federal interest in Dominion Day reached a low point in the mid-70s, and in 1976 budget cuts cancelled Ottawa’s celebrations altogether.

As 1992 approached, a group of eminent persons was invited by the Secretary of State to an October 1989 Ottawa conference where ways to celebrate Canada’s 125th birthday would be discussed. In a CBC Morningside program covering the event, host Peter Gzowski noted that “no speech made a stronger impact than one that wasn’t celebratory at all.” Here Gzowksi was referring to a spontaneous eight-minute jeremiad by the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Georges Erasmus, later titled Nothing to Celebrate, which conveyed the feelings of many Indigenous people.

There is nothing new under the sun — and certainly not disagreement over a holiday that already in the 1860s had its champions and detractors. Today another Trudeau finds himself amidst another controversy over a Canada Day he has said should be a time of reflection. Still, for the great mass of Canadians, Canada Day has always been a time for recreation and casual entertainment rather than politics or history. Does anyone really expect a grassroots uptake either of cancellations (unless due to Covid-19) or Erin O’Toole’s weird call for a rededication programme? What matters is what happens when life returns on the day after Canada Day, and forward. ⌾

Read this article at the National Post.

Standing In for the Wet’suwet’en People

Wet'suwet'en Solidarity Protest
This article previously appeared in the February 25, 2020 edition of the National Post.

We have data for almost everything, but we lack information about what the Wet’suwet’en think and why they think it

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JANUARY 26, 2020 • Current Events

WHEN DID YOU LEARN TO SPELL “Wet’suwet’en”? If you’re like many Canadians, you hadn’t yet heard of this First Nation, in British Columbia’s central interior, when the latest cable bill arrived. Now, everyone has a view. If opinions could be shipped to market, millions of barrels of them would be headed to Kitimat, B.C., for export.

I know the politicians’ positions, and I know where Extinction Rebellion and the Toronto anarchists stand. The only opinions I’ve had trouble sourcing are those of the Wet’suwet’en, whose interests every side of the aisle claims to be supporting. Did voting occur, and what were the results? I’ve read reports on consultations, but nowhere have I found voting data. The closer you get to the ground, the muddier things become. Amber Bracken, in her article, The Wet’suwet’en Are More United Than Pipeline Backers Want You To Think, mentions a survey that found 83 per cent of the Witset First Nation’s members were against the pipeline. The company that undertook this survey, she adds, doesn’t seem to exist anymore, and if there was ever a document, it appears to be unpublished. Whatever the views of the people, the Witset band council eventually voted to support the pipeline. Further east, 70 per cent of the Nak’azdli — another branch of the Dakelh tree — rejected an agreement with Coastal GasLink in a 2015 referendum that the chief overturned three years later, and the First Nation became the last nation to sign on. Less than 15 per cent of Nak’azdli’s 2,000 members voted.

Accurate, relevant data are critical — that’s why governments collect them. Every day, data firms solicit opinion on a range of matters. How popular are Canada’s political leaders? What do Canadians think about their health-care system? Do they trust the media, and how much? How do they feel about immigration, affordable housing, climate change? According to the Environics Institute, 49 per cent of Canadians say they’re better off than their parents were at their age. (Thirty years ago, that number was 60.) Seventy-one per cent of respondents answered “No” to the question, “In your opinion, is Alberta treated with the respect it deserves in Canada or not?” These aren’t just numbers, they are the raw materials for future political campaigns, government initiatives and public policy.

We have data for almost everything, but we lack information about what the Wet’suwet’en think and why they think it. As Robert Jago has written, “we don’t know how many chiefs are opposed to the pipeline, we don’t know for certain what percentage of people in the Wet’suwet’en country support or oppose the pipeline and we don’t know if the pipeline was approved by a referendum, a town hall or a simple vote in council. With that information gap, people grasp onto whatever numbers are presented to them.”

Some of the examples are trivial but make the point. A report coming out of a Feb. 19 public meeting, at a Houston, B.C., movie theatre, asserts that “about 200 people gave up three hours of their afternoon” to express community support for a pipeline. That’s a decent turnout in a town of 3,500, which is precisely the point that the author of the article wants you to absorb. I mean, imagine if only one-quarter of that number had turned out. Well, you don’t have to imagine, because there’s an article for that outcome, too, stating that “around 50 people were in attendance.” That’s not a small discrepancy. It’s a difference of magnitudes, like winning a majority government versus deciding you’d like to spend more time with your family.

Lyndsey Gilpin’s Feb. 21 article for the Columbia Journalism Review, A Pipeline Runs Through Southern News Deserts, concerns a 965-kilometre natural gas pipeline along the eastern coast of the United States that has much in common with the Coastal GasLink project. Both face opposition and are currently stalled, and both run through what Gilpin calls “news deserts” — areas where outside media “parachute in to cover major updates or catastrophes,” but otherwise ignore. The burden of reporting on these projects is left to local citizen-journalists and under-resourced independent media, and in the absence of consistent national reporting, the likelihood of misinformation and confusion increases. The people who live in news deserts are typically poor and, Gilpin writes, “stand to lose the most … from a lack of information.”

As if this lack of reliable information isn’t bad enough, some non-Indigenous pipeline opponents will tell you that the numbers don’t matter, because democracy is a Western colonial construct and what matters is the hereditary chiefs, not the views of the people. Nonsense. Band councils and traditional leadership have differing mandates and represent contrasting governance systems, but hereditary leaders are not monarchs, just as guesstimates aren’t facts. The concerns and aspirations of ordinary people matter. And we need to know what they are. ⌾

Neil Peart, 1952–2020

Neil-Peart

Neil Peart had little interest in the Rock formulas, setting the band apart from their peers

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JANUARY 11, 2020 • Obituaries

IN THE EARLY 70s John Rutsey started a band with school mate Alex Zivojinovich. Their lead singer and bass player, Jeff Jones, left the band and soon after John left too. Jeff was replaced by Gary Weinrib, who took the name Geddy Lee, and Rush acquired a drummer by the name of Neil Peart. You know the rest.

My introduction to Rush was 1980’s Permanent Waves. This exciting new band had seven albums and a couple minor hits to their credit, but it was the songs The Spirit of Radio and Freewill that delivered fortune and fame. The songs sounded like nothing else we were hearing in 1980, a remarkable fact, because there was a lot going on then. Ska, Post-punk, New Wave, Reggae, and Disco were flourishing, but even among their progressive and hard rock peers, Rush were distinct. Hugh Syme’s grainy, post-apocalyptic, and artsy cover was an instance of form following content, perfectly capturing the spirit of a band that took its music seriously without taking themselves seriously.

Neil Peart wasn’t merely a drummer, he was a reader and a writer with a melodic approach to percussion. Neither Geddy Lee or Alex Lifeson had a knack for words, although Lee had been forced into the role of lyricist when John Rutsey tore up his sheets for the first Rush album. Peart’s imaginative lyrics recalled bands like Genesis and Led Zeppelin, grounded as they were in obscure myth and philosophy. At bottom they conveyed the struggle of the individual against conformity and compromise. Peart had little interest in the Rock formulas, which set the band apart in a manner satirized by the Trailer Park Boys character, Ricky:

Helix was a wicked concert. They had good lyrics. “Give me an R O C K,” and the crowd yells Rock really loud. Rush’s don’t do stuff like that. They got these lyrics about how trees are talking to each other, how different sides of your brain works, outer space bullshit.

Peart’s lyrics in other words weren’t for everyone, but in the 1980s and 1990s Rush produced a stream of albums capturing the restlessness of life in the 905 suburbs and celebrating the interior world of those who neither fit in nor wanted to. Along the way he penned nostalgic songs like Lakeside Park, a tribute to the St. Catharines waterfront where he had spent his youth. As a Brock University student I spent a good amount of time there myself. Rush was Canadian in a way and to a degree that others, such as Neil Young, are not, and to appreciate their music it probably helps to be from a certain time and place. This is not to deny their worldwide appeal, only to point out the fact that they remained rooted in their origins.

Neil Peart yielded an army of air drummers, and at one time or another many of us were the Jason Segel character from Freaks and Geeks, playing along to Tom Sawyer in our parents’ basement. John Bonham’s performance on Kashmir is the only worthy rival.

Rush’s Moving Pictures tour, which arrived at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium on May 9, 1981, was my second, or maybe third, stadium show. (Don’t ask me to recall the details: there were a lot of substances at a rock show back then.) The show was memorable not only for the skill of the performance, but because Peart lost the beat during The Spirit of Radio and threw off the band. The audience, and for that matter the band, had a good laugh. That was something audiences weren’t likely ever to see.

Rush would release fifteen studio albums and perform into the middle of the 2010s, when the physical stresses of performance would force Peart into retirement. In interviews Neil Peart was shy and retiring, as well as unassuming, and in life he was private. No one knew how seriously ill he had become. As Matt Gurney notes in an obituary, “Peart liked to slip out of his concerts without drawing any attention so he could ride off on his own, finding his centre again. It’s no surprise he chose to exit this life the same way.” ⌾

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.

Podcast 95: “Indigenous, Canadian, Indigenous-Canadian, or….” How do you identify?


Podcast Season 5

Thank-you to my guests this week: Chelsea Vowel, Brooke Torgerson, Carey Newman, Conrad Saulis, Doug Jarvis, Karen Lawford, and Nahnda Garlow

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.

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.

An honest telling of Canada’s story will make Canadians uncomfortable

Still, the truths of history are better than lies

✎  Wayne K. Spear | November 9, 2017 • Current Events

BEFORE BRONWYN EYRE was Saskatchewan’s Education Minister, she was an opinion columnist battling godlessness, political correctness, the myth of global warming, and other menaces. Her broadcasts were hosted at CKOM and CJME, and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix featured her columns, as did lesser-known publications like the Saskatchewan Pro-Life Association’s “Saskatchewan Choose Life News.”

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Why do I mention this? To establish that Bronwyn Eyre is an experienced writer of opinion columns and, as such, a person able to put thoughts into words. And yet when she was asked recently to clarify comments she made in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, Bronwyn Eyre produced gobbledegook. Her initial comment however was plain enough and had the courage-of-conviction candour that you’ll find in her articles: “I would submit that there has come to be at once too much wholesale infusion into the curriculum, and at the same time, too many attempts to mandate material into it both from the inside and by outside groups.” Later on in her comments, made during the Throne Speech Debate of November 1, 2017, she says exactly what she means by wholesale infusion:

My grade 8 son brought a homework sheet home the other day — they’re always sheets — in which he was asked to outline nothing less than his vision of his collective past, his country, and his world. As background, however, he’d copied from the board the following facts which were presented as fact: that European and European settlers were colonialists, pillagers of the land who knew only buying and selling and didn’t respect mother earth. He asked me if it was okay if he could write that he associated with his pioneer great- and great-great-grandparents because no one was writing down their vision of the world. And I said yes, of course, and that after all, they had known poverty in Norway or Ukraine, or war in Germany, that they had come here and tilled the land that produced food for everybody and loved their families and tried to create whole, stable communities in this province, and had loved it here.

And here is the non-clarifying clarification Eyre offered a reporter:

What I was trying to highlight is that it’s maybe something that we all feel on some level that I think we can acknowledge that, you know, we’re perhaps free to love the story and our families and for him too to love the story without excluding loving anybody else. That’s really all I’m saying.

Anyone who has read Eyre’s works, as I have, will doubt “all she is saying” is that we should be free to love our stories and our families. She disapproves of the drift of current changes to the curriculum, just as she disapproves of the drift of politically correct modern society, and if she weren’t a politician she would have found the cahones to say so. But if her point were only about love, I would agree with her. It’s a good message: love your family and your ancestors and your country. We all need this love. And this love is what Indigenous people were denied for generations, by residential schools and the Sixties Scoop and the story of Canada.

I grew up in Canada in the 60s and 70s. I went to a public school and the history I was taught was definitely infused. Infused with lies. The textbooks had nothing to say of the inner life or aspirations of my Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) ancestors, who suffered losses of every kind so that settlers could start a new life. It would have been nice to hear stories that made me love who and what I was, and where I was from, but there was no love, and no compassion, for Indians in the curriculum. My teachers told me stories about Indigenous people that justified the casual daily racism every Indigenous child experienced in the playground and in the town. The story of Canada wasn’t a story you could love as an Indigenous person, because it made you feel stupid and ashamed and worthless. Our schools didn’t give us a vision of the future, they told us we Indians belonged to the distant past. It’s no wonder so many gave up on life and took the leap into an early oblivion.

An honest telling of Canada’s story will make Canadians uncomfortable, but in the long-run Canada will be better for it. The truth is often unpleasant, but it’s morally and practically more defenisible to live a life informed by what’s true and real than it is to live under the sway of comforting half-truths and lies. In 2002 I wrote a speech for the launch of a residential school exhibit, at the National Archives of Canada, that began:

The National Archives of Canada is a solemn place, dedicated to the service of the nation’s identity. It gathers what has been as an endowment to what will be. Because no legacy is enriched by counterfeit, a nation is ill-served by history which is not genuine. And so, we are here today to consider a national institution committed, not to the preservation of a people, but to their forced assimilation.

“Because no legacy is enriched by counterfeit, a nation is ill-served by history which is not genuine”—I wrote these words 15 years ago and they guide me still. I care about truth, and I care about authenticity, and I consider it a tragedy to live without either. I’d like to think Canadians of honour feel the same. I used the metaphor of an inheritance of fake money because that is what I believe Canadians have received from their educators, for generations—a counterfeit. I know it’s what I received, and as a result I’ve been a skeptical person my entire adult life.

Ms Eyre, you can love your family and your ancestors and your accomplishments without sacrificing intellectual and moral honesty. In fact, you have to. Otherwise it’s not really love.