Thank-you to my guests this week: Chelsea Vowel, Brooke Torgerson, Carey Newman, Conrad Saulis, Doug Jarvis, Karen Lawford, and Nahnda Garlow
Thank-you to my guests this week: Chelsea Vowel, Brooke Torgerson, Carey Newman, Conrad Saulis, Doug Jarvis, Karen Lawford, and Nahnda Garlow
✎ 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.
✎ 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.
✎ Wayne K. Spear | November 21, 2017 • Current Events
Douglas Hunter on Amazon.
✎ Wayne K. Spear | November 2, 2017 • Indigenous Affairs
THE NOVEMBER 1 interim report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) is the first bit of positive news from an organization known for headlines like these:
– National inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls postpones first family fall hearing
– Trudeau sidesteps calls to reboot MMIW inquiry amid calls for resignations
– Manitoba families push for Indigenous-led MMIW inquiry, want commissioners to resign
– Government policies making it difficult for MMIW inquiry to do its work on time: chief commissioner
– Family members say Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry a failure; call for ‘hard reset’
There are only a few plausible reasons that an agency will tumble into the category “problem plagued,” as the National Inquiry clearly has. One is suggested by a headline, above: government policies. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was a mess in the beginning, because it was a micromanaged sub-department of the federal bureaucracy, subject to the government’s byzantine rules and lacking executive authority. Early on the TRC headlines had to do with things like the delays faced by the Commission while waiting for ministerial authorization to order furniture and paint offices. The work stalled and morale took a dive and everyone wondered if the TRC would be able to restore the lost trust and confidence, just as they wonder today about the wayward inquiry into murdered and missing women and girls.
TRC Commissioners came and went—again, just as they have at the National Inquiry. I interviewed a number of people who told me the TRC departures were a result of political interference from the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. I was told that political agendas had contaminated the organization and made cooperation among the three commissioners impossible. Internal politics and political rivalry is a second plausible cause of dysfunction.
The third is personality conflict, and doubtless there’s some of this going on at the National Inquiry, as there was at the TRC and in every organization I’ve ever seen that was staffed by members of homo sapiens.
A moment ago I said that the interim report was the first bit of positive news from the National Inquiry, but that’s not entirely the case. The report has already been trashed by those who don’t see it as positive at all. Pam Palmater wrote on Twitter that “if u subtract references notes graphics definitions & recycled #MMIWG NI promo, then all that remains is a mini-literature review. #disgrace.” I wouldn’t say her assessment is wrong, but only that her expectations are high. Just as the expectations of the TRC were high. And not only high, but misguided.
At the onset of the TRC’s work, I had conversations with Indian residential school survivors who made no secret of their pleasure that justice was about to be served. I had read the Commission’s Terms of Reference and didn’t have the heart to tell them that there’d be no such thing. The lawyers who created the TRC are the lawyers fighting the Human Rights Tribunal ruling that orders Canada to bring on-reserve child and family services spending to parity with its non-native equivalent. They are the lawyers who have absorbed $110,000 in legal fees fighting a $6,000 dental procedure required by an Indigenous girl. The government’s lawyers are risk-averse and tenacious and not at all in the business of exposing their client to the messy inconveniences of justice.
The National Inquiry’s interim report is a literature review, as Pam Palmater says, because the Terms of Reference say so:
an interim report, to be submitted before November 1, 2017, setting out the Commissioners’ preliminary findings and recommendations, and their views on and assessment of any previous examination, investigation and report that they consider relevant to the Inquiry.
There’s even a helpful list of reports for review, such as the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Invisible Women: A Call to Action, What Their Stories Tell Us: Research findings from the Sisters In Spirit initiative, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in British Columbia. The TRC, like the National Inquiry, is mandated to “sit at the times and in the places, especially in Indigenous communities in Canada, that the Commissioners consider appropriate” for the “gathering of statements by qualified trauma-informed persons.” It is not mandated to go after the police or to point a finger at the corrupt or inept. The MMIWG National Inquiry is furthermore mandated to submit its findings, on or before November 1, 2018 (“without expressing any conclusion or recommendation regarding the civil or criminal liability of any person or organization”) and a list of non-binding recommendations.
So far the MMIWG National Inquiry has been a disappointment, but I wonder how much it is within the power of this organization to do better. To what extent is the National Inquiry hindered by Canada? Over the years the federal government has mastered the art of politically expedient, toothless commissions which provide ministerial speaking points and aspirational calls to action that may be ignored or co-opted. The independent or arms-length inquiry, with powers of subpoena, has given way to therapeutic talking circles micromanaged by the Privy Council Office. Recent experience suggests that the inquiry process is broken, and it’s at this dysfunctional process itself we should be directing our ire.
✎ Wayne K. Spear | October 24, 2017 ◈ Current Affairs
FROM THE DAY I first set my eyes on Justin Trudeau, I thought he was an inconsequential narcissist, and I said so. I would say it to his face, to both of them in fact. Yes, Trudeau is charming. But that’s a problem, not a solution. Bill Clinton taught me long ago to mistrust charisma and charm, which is to say the political art of working out what a credulous audience wants to hear and then delivering it. If you’re a sucker for a schmoozer and a charmer, consider yourself warned: you really do get what you ask for.
A phone for a phony
A lot of people fell for the Trudeau pitch, but the shrink wrap has been off a while now and buyers’ remorse has set in. Especially for Indigenous people. Just look at the ledger: discriminatory chronic underfunding of on-reserve child and family welfare, continuing lack of clean drinking water in communities, Ottawa’s refusal of non-insured health benefits, and a list of unfulfilled promises. It’s as if the principal interest of the federal government is in creating aspirational terms it has no intention to fulfill. Gathering Strength, The Aboriginal Action Plan, Self Governance, Nation-to-Nation, Reconciliation, A New Relationship. Nice, shiny charismatic words.
The charismatic Liberal is a compassionate feminist who rolls up his shirtsleeves to serve a beloved middle class, but the real Liberal has a trust fund and a bottomless budget for self-serving propaganda, like the $212,000 cover of the 2017 budget. The charming Liberal happens to jog past your wedding, where he poses for selfies, but the real Liberal planned the stunt in advance and used your nuptials as an occasion for personal PR advancement. The charming Liberal goes to the UN, where he cringingly displays his Liberal guilt, but the real goal of this contrition is self-serving—a Canada seat on the UN Security Council. The charismatic Liberal thought it would be cool and fun to box Senator Patrick Brazeau—for charity—but the real Liberal contrived to beat up an Indian, to show the voters how tough he was.
Reconciliation is just another Liberal scam from a government that is scam-ridden. A government that claims to stand for the middle class but that has spent $400 million to hire CRA employees who harass clerks and waitresses and other low-wage, service industry workers, all while the Finance Minister fattens himself on conflicts-of-interest. A government that promised to help small businesses but didn’t, until public outrage forced them to. A government that is more interested in cutting deals with a brutal communist regime in China than it is in human rights. A government of arrogant and entitled trust-fund millionaires.
The Liberals are not going to take Canada in some bold new direction, because they can’t. No government can. A loud segment of Canadians would never accept the disruption and inconvenience, no matter how small. As bad as it is for many Indigenous people, the status quo has worked well enough for the country, which is why it’s the status quo. The Crown hasn’t solved its Indian Problem, but it has managed it. Canada is sovereign from sea to sea to sea, and it has its fingers in all of the resources, and Indigenous communities are under thumb. This isn’t ideal (total assimilation and disappearance of a distinct Indigenous population, the original government plan, was the ideal) but it’s not bad. So the politicians concentrate on political damage control, trying to contain things like the news of youth suicides, or class action lawsuits for residential schools and the Sixties Scoop. There’s no reason Canada can’t go on like this for another 500 years, and as far as I can tell, there’s no compelling reason it won’t.
That’s why I think all the Ottawa talk of reconciliation is just part of an ongoing branding effort, by governments looking for shiny words to put into expensive budgets and aspirational press releases.
Reconciliation within our families is another matter entirely. It’s meaningful and real, beautiful and necessary. So, too, reconciliation of community members. I am encouraged by every survivor who learns to express the love of a parent, love that he was denied in a residential school, to his own children. I am encouraged by the communities that cast their eyes into the pit of collective historical trauma, determined to understand and to heal. I am encouraged by open and honest conversations between ordinary Canadian citizens and Indigenous people. I believe in the power of everyday people, and not in the empty words of career politicians. We don’t need Ottawa for real reconciliation, and that’s a good thing, because Ottawa is never going to give it to us.
In 2016, Residential Schools: With the Words and Images of Survivors won the Golden Oak Award. Now in its 2nd Edition, this comprehensive history of Canada’s Indian Residential School System is also available on iTunes as a deluxe Apple iBook. The electronic version features audio and video enhancements, as well as other additional material. The full colour, hardcover version can be ordered from the publisher here.
Here is what readers are saying:
“A respectful and informative book about the residential school system written by Aboriginal author Larry Loyie. It includes first hand accounts of many different survivors of the school system as well as photos and documents. This is a heartbreaking, but very important read as it includes the long term effects the school system has had on these families.”
“This is an excellent introduction to the history of the Indian Residential School System in Canada. I truely hope it finds it’s way into every school and church library. The authors compile personal stories, many photographs, and history in a well sequenced telling of the tragic history of relations between First Nations peoples and colonial Canada.”
“Researched and written over the span of almost two decades, the authors document the history of residential schools with first-person interviews (including that of author Larry Loyie) and photographs. It is written in a very accessible way for readers from teens to adults, and should serve as an important introduction to this blight on Canada’s history.”
“Absolutely wonderful overview of Canada’s residential schools, with firsthand accounts and pictures from survivors. Especially loved the “myths” section at the back of the book 🙂 Bravo to the survivors and authors brave enough to share their story.”
“Very comprehensive summary of Residential Schools and their legacy. Great visuals and witness accounts.”
• Week of 09.01.2017
The Roundtable Podcast 75
The year is 2020 and Indians, as they were known, have been extinct in Canada for a century. Nor are there official provisions for memorial, commemoration, or retrospective, nor even a nation’s momentary reflection. The Indians have been written out of history and out of literature: they are gone, and it is as simple as that.
LAST WEEK I WAS interviewed for a CBC program on the topic of Bill C-33, the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act. The name of the program is immaterial. If you look it up, you won’t find me. That interview was tossed, and another guest was found.
WE ARE INFORMED by the Oxford English Dictionary that the word “ghoul” derives from an Arabic root whose meaning is to seize. More specific, the term refers to an evil spirit said in Muslim countries to prey on human corpses exhumed from graves. In this case however the seizing and the devouring of human beings are crimes of a Christian character and constitute the explicit subjects of Jeff Barnaby’s first full-length feature, Rhymes for Young Ghouls, which at eighty-eight minutes — short by today’s standard — is an economical and engaging story.
CINDY BLACKSTOCK is a member of the Gitksan Nation, the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, and an Associate Professor at the University of Alberta. Last year, she became the subject of media headlines when it was widely reported that the federal government had been spying on her. I spoke to her about her life, her work, and a human rights complaint launched by the Assembly of First Nations and FNCFCS against the Canadian federal government.
Please visit I Am a Witness.
Download the interview (320 kbps mp3).