The AMC and Indigenous Media

Arlen Dumas

We cannot trust native politicians to deal with their dirty laundry. We need our Indigenous media for that.

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 19, 2019 • Politics

YEARS AGO, while working for a national Indigenous organization, I’d sometimes get a GTTM, or Going To The Media call. The jist of these would be that the Chief, or whatever figure of authority, was guilty of crimes that the caller—isolated, powerless, and alone—was unable to challenge. She (or, as was less often the case, he) would adumbrate the transgressions, ending with the flourish”If you don’t help me then I’m going to the media.”

Help them I did, and not because they had threatened. I had the good fortune of working for an ethical and competent agency, and if someone was misusing our resources I wanted to know about it. My experience was that people rarely if ever fabricated a claim: even when mistaken they believed every syllable of the indictment to be true. So for example a caller notes the purchase of a new dishwasher by a recently funded Director of Health, or whatever it may have been. Well obviously the Director is stealing funds from the program. What else could it be?

The story of Arlen Dumas, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, is not a new dishwasher story, but it is a Going To The Media one. Two women have told the newspapers about unsolicited texts from the Chief and a third says she and Dumas once had consensual sex. The Chief claims he is victim of a politically motivated smear campaign, and while he admits to sending messages he says that he was responding to an earlier request for advice. Some of these messages came through the account of a Charles Forbes. Dumas says that he has nothing to do with this account, that someone is impersonating him online, and that he has hired a third-party firm to investigate.

For days now this matter has been covered by CBC, CTV News, Global News, and the Winnipeg Free Press. But it was the reporting of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network that triggered an unspoken community rule not to air the dirty laundry where outsiders can see it. I was already well acquainted with this rule when I was getting my first Going To The Media calls over twenty years ago. According to early reports the AMC women’s council stated they would investigate but Chief Francine Meeches, chair of the council, told CTV News that they have no mandate to do so. A women’s council statement later asserted that they will no longer be part of “a media frenzy based on little more than Facebook posts.” The AMC itself took the side of Dumas and against a “media circus which focused on unfounded allegations.” APTN’s Beverly Andrews asked a question about Dumas at a Peguis First Nation press conference and was told to leave. A July 12 article quotes Francine Meeches saying that “APTN’s credibility is BS. It seems more are losing faith in your organization. You represent those who are against First Nations not in support of First Nations.”

Who knows where the Arlen Dumas story will go tonight or tomorrow or next week or month. What endures is this toxic idea that Indigenous media should cheerlead our politicians while burying stories which cause embarrassment in the world outside—especially stories of incompetent, abusive, or unethical community leaders. It’s true that “those who are against us” (a phrase that almost certainly refers to white people) —might read them and discover therein justification of their prejudices. But Going To The Media is also a path of last but necessary resort in the seeking of remedies that cannot be had in isolated communities dominated by powerful families. The Grand Chief’s laundry may or may not be dirty. We cannot trust our politicians to tell us. We need Indigenous media for that. ⌾

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

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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.

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.

Is it Even Possible for the MMIWG National Inquiry To Do Better?

The problem may well be the inquiry process itself

✎  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.

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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.

Mr. Twoskies Goes to Ottawa

“A dynasty in the making” was the headline on the day Mr. Twoskies gave his speech of acceptance in the House of Commons. Billy, the father of Mr. Tim Twoskies, had been a politician also, presiding over the affairs of his First Nation for four consecutive terms. It’s said the apple falls near to the tree, but Mr. Twoskies was now more than 1,500 kilometres from the fly-in community where his father had been Chief years ago.

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Mo

Morrie is from Valley East in the Sudbury Basin, a long way from this west-end Toronto bench. Call me Mo, he says, shaking my hand. He tells a fishing story that begins with his wife giving him 30 dollars and ends with a store-bought salmon fillet and a night spent on the couch. In the middle of the story he is in the city, spending the money on drink. Next to him is the beer from my LCBO bag.

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FNCFNEA: An Interview with Chelsea Vowel

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In this interview with Chelsea Vowel, we discuss the recent Bill C-33 – the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act. Download Bill C-33 here. Visit the AFN’s website here.

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Notes Toward a Candid Conversation About Genocide in Canada

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AS THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION Commission of Canada hosts its national event this week, in Edmonton, the topic of genocide is once again surfacing. Usually the topic is posed as a question: is Canada “guilty of genocide”? Over the years, I’ve had many conversations that began with this question, and I’ve done a fair amount of reading and thinking. Here are my notes toward an informed conversation about Canada and genocide.

Continue …

An #idlenomore Reading List

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“As Attawapiskat shows, matters may go on unresolved for years and even decades. I am convinced that the reason is a lack of political will, the status quo being just good enough, or perhaps not quite bad enough, that those doing the political math feel it unnecessary to change course. So far their calculations have been proved correct ….” Read More.

“Canadians seem as oblivious to the plight of aboriginal people as they are to their own vulnerability should aboriginal anger boil over into insurrection. Imagine what would happen, for example, were “warriors” to roadblock every intersection of the Perimeter Highway. Imagine how quickly such actions could escalate from anger to outrage to violence. Now imagine what might be done to prevent it ….” Read More.

“Canadians are under the sway of some heartfelt but improbable notions, for instance the idea that the reserve system and its chief-and-council governance are anachronisms and tribal hold-overs awaiting rescue, in this case by the free market. Although as bad as its critics contend, the status quo was in fact crafted and imposed by successive leaders of Canada and at considerable effort, better to open up the land and its resources to the Crown ….” Read More.

“I am going to choose to focus here on those compassionate people of Canada, and not on the silver-tongued politicians. Upon such common folk, and upon them alone, our hope depends. We all know, my friends, what failures governments and politicians are. Is it not so? ….” Read More.

“The curious fact of this Crown-First Nations affair is the degree to which it foregrounds the present non-eventfulness of Crown-First Nations affairs. Is it really over four years ago that the five-billion-dollar Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement came into force? And have over three years really passed since the apology was made to the former Indian residential school children? ….” Read More.

“The theme of relationship shows the way out of this legacy. It binds past, present, and future. It is the underlying reality. That is one reason why, for instance, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples chose as the title of the Final Report Summary, “People to People, Nation to Nation.” ….” Read More.

Georges Erasmus: “Deal with us now or suffer the consequences” | CBC TV – June 2, 1988.