Tag Archives: Canada

Canada and Israel: our shared apartheid histories

22 Feb

One of the most effective graphic representations of Palestine is the map that demonstrates the changing of its borders as Israel has expanded itself over many decades. You know the one. It’s a reminder that most often, a slow, decades-long war of attrition can be the most destructive to a people than a war in the sense that many of us would imagine first.

When rendered in this way, Canada’s map looks strikingly similar to the link above. Through its own genocidal policies, war of attrition and slow-paced though violent land grab, Canada stands as a map for what Israel is doing currently. It’s hard to imagine how their construction of illegal settlements is any different than the settlement policies of Canada during the 1800s to fill Turtle Island with Ango-Saxons. That’s how my family came to Canada.

Unfortunately, Canada’s too big for the image to be as easy for me to render (especially since my design skills aren’t so good). But I offer the image below as a starting point for others to use and change.

The past week, the Canadian Press reported that 3000 kids can be confirmed as having died at Residential School. Considering the fact that many schools’ designs included cemeteries in their plans, I’m sure we should assume that number to be much higher. But regardless, when I think back to my elementary school, and how not only did we not have a cemetery on our grounds, but that none of the kids in my school died while I was there, one kid’s death is too many.

3000 confirmed by the state; some of the manifestation of genocide.

Apartheid

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Honouring anti-Native protester Gary McHale

31 Jan

Screen shot 2013-01-30 at 11.27.13 PMApparently, stirring up racial tensions in the name of “saving taxpayers’ money” is a noble cause these days. A cause worthy of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal.

Gary McHale, loud, obnoxious, anti-Native Gary McHale has just been told he’ll be awarded the honour in the coming weeks.

To win one of these awards, the Governor General’s website says that one has to “[h]ave made a significant contribution to a particular province, territory, region or community within Canada…”

In fairness, a “significant contribution” doesn’t necessarily mean a positive one.

Yes, McHale has made a significant contribution to racial relations in Caledonia. He’s made being racist nearly okay. He’s battled “political correctness” (as he says) and tried to restore the White man’s proper place in Canada: wherever he wants it to be.

He’s also targeted the OPP’s policing tactics during the process, the reason why his nominators named him.

He was nominated by the prestigious Canadian Taxpayers’ “Federation,” a right-wing organization that claims to speak on behalf of, well, me, despite not clearly advertising the mechanisms for me to vote out the current lot of republicans, libertarians and racist sympathizers.

Their claim is that he exposed that the OPP was spending more than a hundred million dollars policing the events that surrounded reclamation of the Douglas Creek Estates at Caledonia. No word if money was actually saved, of course. No mention of how much the OPP had to pay every time McHale himself organized a rally of obnoxious, anti-Native protesters.

Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less from this so-called Federation. I would choke on my communist gruel if I heard they nominated someone who actually exposed wasted tax dollars, like whoever it was who exposed the ORNGE scandal (the Toronto Star?), E-Health (I can’t remember), the Mississauga gas plant scandal (both opposition parties?) or the F-35 fighter jet embarrassment (Kevin Page).

The nomination is as fitting as the “Federation” is a front group for anything but a voice for Canadian “taxpayers” (which, by the way, is everyone who’s ever bought something, anywhere in Canada).

Yes, it’s fitting that the day after the Idle No More global day of action, a man who is only famous for his anti-Native protests, is awarded an honour of the Queen. Indeed, she holds a position that is the most anti-Native of all.

The centuries of genocide that have happened in Canada were enabled by the colonial project of England (and France, Spain, Holland, Portugal…) and the Queen wears the blood of the murder carried out as a result of her Empire. Of course McHale’s award makes sense.

But aside from the historical appropriateness, there’s another angle. More than 60,000 Diamond Jubilee awards have been given out this year. If you throw 60,000 Diamond Jubilee Awards into a crowd of 60,000 people, you’re bound to hit an asshole or two (or more). And just as likely is that others who deserve the award have been honoured, too (like my aunt who has volunteered for the Timmins General Hospital for 60 years, who, though, has never organized a race-based protest that I’m aware of).

There’s also been some people who have rejected the award. Before this, many activists turned in their awards to stand in solidarity with Idle No More. After news that McHale was award circulated, Bill Montour, Chief at Six Nations (the community that has been most targeted by McHale in the past few years) turned in his medal. “I don’t want to have a medal, carrying the same medal (as McHale)” he told the Hamilton Spectator.

The confluence of the emergence of Idle No More and McHale’s medal honour is really interesting. It’s a reminder of how far Canada still has to go to undo the normalcy of white supremacy.

Although, I’ll give McHale some credit. His brand of racism is a lot easier for average (read: White) people to spot. Maybe if racism in Canada was more of his overt brand, there would be a critical mass of those of us who benefit from this system to say: enough.

…and actually mean it enough to help change our society.

Notes from the Canada-Québec-First Nations social forum

28 Jan

Progressive activists may not agree on much, but there is a broad consensus that capitalism and its attack on the earth and its people has to be stopped. To do this, we have to organize differently. Somehow.

In the wake of global social uprisings that have emerged over the past three years, old models relied upon by progressives are being re-imagined by new and old activists alike.

Occasionally, opportunities emerge for activists to get together: individuals mix with union presidents; sectors interact; regions break apart.

This was the backdrop for the Canada-Québec-First Nations social forum, hosted by Alternatives from January 26-27.

In a lecture hall at the University of Ottawa, more than 120 people, many representing more than 80 organizations, gathered to discuss the utility of social forums as tools for social change.

The forum began with presentations from Jeremie Bédard-Wien from ASSE and Russell Diabo. Diabo talked about the role of Indigenous activism in progressive struggles. Bédard-Wien linked the lessons of the Québec student movement to broader organizing against neoliberalism, in Québec and across Canada.

Jessica Gordon and Sheelah McLean, two of the four Saskatoon-based activists who co-founded Idle No More discussed the challenges and successes that have emerged from the Idle No More movement.

Each of these presentations offered inspiring stories of social movements, politicization, enfranchisement and empowerment.

The most impressive aspect of the social forum was the high participation of Indigenous activists from nations across Turtle Island. Many people remarked that it had been the best participation of Indigenous people in a non-Indigenous-organized event they had ever seen.

Alternatives hosted the forum to solicit the involvement of the diverse group in planning a future, larger social forum. Participants were presented with three visions of possible organizing models, each that extended beyond a social forum alone.

Alternatives staff argued that the social forum model, with a parallel forum of social movement organizations, was the next step necessary to continue this process. While there was some disagreement about whether or not a social forum needed to have a parallel structure, activists generally welcomed the opportunity for discussion that comes with a social forum structure.

Anil Naidoo and Gary Neil presented about Common Causes, an initiative lead by the Council of Canadians and several national unions. Through this network of progressive organizations, they plan to organize online and on the ground to defeat Harper in 2015. Again, activists generally agreed that this group could create an important organizing space for progressive organizing.

The third model emerged from another convergence of progressive groups hosted by the Canadian Autoworkers in November. Called the Port Elgin meeting, organizers brought together activists from social movements and labour to identify new ways of working together. With an emphasis on grassroots organizing, one of the working groups established in Port Elgin proposed that a broad coalition structure should both centralize and decentralize organizing across Canada.

While the Port Elgin process was somewhat vague and confusing, activists also generally agreed that such a network could be an important space for progressive organizing.

Unfortunately, the forum did not provide mechanisms for voting or to discuss these options in smaller workshops, so much of the response to the proposals were aired in plenary-style interventions from the floor, or informal and caucus discussions.

Despite the lack of an inclusive debate structure, poor facilitation, an obtuse, consistent refusal to properly ensure gender parity and the last-minute meetings that many people could not attend, the social forum brought people together so that ideas and approaches can collide, mix and hopefully evolve a political project into an effective strategy.

The emergence of the three models as non-competitive, complimentary progressive strategies was the final result of the weekend. Rather than raging debates about which model is more useful, activists tried to better understand how these models should be interpreted.

Perhaps backwards, activists who are interested in these initiatives will have to identify the common goals if any of these are going to be a success. As identification of common goals was not embedded into the program of the weekend, this work will have to continue online, over Skype and at blogs, like Rabble.ca.

What activists who were present at either the Port Elgin meeting or this weekend’s social forum will have to figure out will be how to actualize the discussions that have been had.

It wasn’t clear how to engage with these processes now that the social forum has ended. But, as always, the work continues.

Idle No More Québec and national myths

17 Jan

Screen shot 2013-01-17 at 11.08.52 AMLast week, I attended a presentation on Idle No More in Québec City. It was the first time I heard about Indigenous solidarity in a Québec context.

For the most part, it was very similar to other events I’ve attended. The crowd had a lot of questions and the two presenters did their best to explain the complex and difficult relationship between First Nations people and the Crown.

There was one intervention made, though, that I would have never expected to hear in Toronto, not because I don’t think this opinion exists, but because I don’t think anyone that has this opinion would be interested in attending an event about Idle No More. His words reminded me that with Québec comes a different kind of relationship and sometimes, a particular mentality toward Indigenous people.

The older man insisted that the history of colonialism in Québec is not the same as the rest of Canada. Where genocidal policies may have decimated language and culture, in Québec the relationship between Indigenous people and the Québécois was congenial, even mutually beneficial. As such, Idle No More’s demands are more of a “Canada” thing, rather than a “Québec” thing.

The intervention caused people to express their disagreement. I wondered though, how widespread is this belief?

On Wednesday, Lysiane Gagnon wrote a piece for the Globe and Mail about Idle No More that sounded like the intervention that I had witnessed a week earlier. Gagnon argued that Québec has had a “more serene relationships with its aboriginal population than many other provinces.” She says this despite referencing Oka in the same sentence as “one of the worst standoffs between aboriginal militants and the authorities in Canada’s recent history.”

This analysis directly clashed with everything I’ve seen posted by Idle No More Québec on Facebook. It contradicted everything I witnessed at the round-dance at Place Laurier in Ste-Foy and the January 11 rally where a few hundred people marched to Québec’s National Assembly.

Of course, Gagnon is not necessarily representative. One person on Facebook likened her to Margaret Wente. But, just like Wente, she needs to be challenged for the content of her columns.

It’s true that Québecers, through their descendants’ first points of contact, have had a longer relationship with First Nations people in this region of Turtle Island than, say, in British Columbia.

It’s also true that, like with Indigenous people, the British colonization of New France imposed assimilation policies on Québecers who resisted these colonial pressures so impressively that the province remains remarkably French today.

There are some similarities between the colonial experience of Québecers and Indigenous peoples. But to suggest that the relationship was harmonious, or as Gagnon argues, that Indigenous people in Québec were co-founders of the province, not victims (words that are all-around loaded) is misleading.

In fact, it hides the truth.

Québec was not immune to the genocidal policies inflicted against Indigenous peoples. Residential schools operated here. Pretending that First Nations in Québec are treated differently completely ignores the fact that the Indian Act is still present and still controls the lives of First Nations people in this province just like in the rest of Canada.

Yes, Québec and Indigenous people have a common enemy in the federal government. But Québecers, as citizens of Canada, also have a responsibility to demand that the federal government change its approach to First Nations relations. They should fight together as allies, and this means using the power mechanisms available to them. Québec commentators like Gagnon should not gloss over the history of this territory and argue that somehow the colonization of Indigenous people stopped at New Brunswick and restarted at Ontario.

Gagnon’s approach further colonizes Indigenous people, a dangerous approach for a province with a strong independence movement. While the colonized-turned-colonizer paradigm exists in nations around the world, Québecers must be careful to not take that path as the province evolves. Discussions about independence, for example, cannot be premised on the notion that the Jesuits brought education and order to a wild territory (one of the comments that I heard here, for example) because policies that flow from this belief will re-colonize Indigenous people.

Her column is also an attempt to silence the impressive work that activists have undertaken in this province. Blockades, round-dances and rallies have happened here just as they have happened in other provinces. She ignores this fact and instead highlights a few dissenting Indigenous voices, including a seemingly random letter to the editor.

The civil rights movement that has crystallized under the banner of Idle No More has created a space for White commentators from all regions of Canada to dredge up myths and lies about Canada’s history. Just like Tom Flanagan’s revisionist histories, Gagnon’s article (written for an anglo, Globe and Mail-reading crowd) tries to undermine the movement by claiming that the problems that have identified don’t really exist.

Luckily, their versions of the truth wont change the facts: Idle No More allows Québecers (and Canadians) to be better allies to Indigenous people; to build the bridges necessary between nations and to collectively fight for self-determination and independence.

That’s its strength, regardless of what the settler punditry says.

Idle No More: Resisting divide and conquer tactics

3 Jan

Screen shot 2013-01-03 at 12.09.36 PMNearly a month has passed since several Chiefs were physically denied access to the House of Commons to voice their concerns about changes that were about to be forced upon First Nations communities in the federal budget bill.

This, combined with the work done through teach-ins in cities in Saskatchewan throughout the Fall culminated in the first day of action called for Dec. 10 in the name of Idle No More.

With journalists slow on covering the Idle No More movement, the privacy offered by this group (sometimes mistaken for vultures) helped ensure that the grassroots could quietly develop the confidence needed to organize creative actions. No questions about leaders. No divisions magnified. No media tricks.

Amid stories about shopping and Christmas, the mainstream press awoke to find a groundswell of support and action in communities across Canada. It was national. It was leaderless. It was grassroots. It was everything that the mainstream media is not equipped to write about.

Then it started: The errors. The questions about leaders, chiefs and the cracks in the movement. The racist comments.

The current state of shorthand journalism dictates that every story should have two sides: one side is the little guy and the other is the powerful guy, as if the biblical tale of David and Goliath is an allegory for every single political conflict that may arise.

While there are parallels between this narrative and Indigenous struggle against colonialism, it isn’t the story of two people. It’s the story of hundreds of nations, millions of people dead, millions of survivors, hundreds of languages, one Crown with hundreds of agents, thirteen provinces and infinite excuses. This is too complex for a soundbite. This is too complex for a 30-second TV spot.

It is under these conditions that divisions start to surface, exploited both by accident by these constraints and on purpose by columnists who intend to dismiss or dehumanize Indigenous people and their movements.

On one hand, this story of genocide, colonization and neo-colonization is simple: settlers were brought by colonizing empires to settle “Canada” and push away the Indigenous populations. The result was centuries of government-sponsored murder or forced assimilation. As communities evolved to better resist this legacy, the Federal government looked at ways to take even more of their lands because of the mining, oil, gas or forestry opportunities that exist above or below. The result is a lopsided arrangement where few benefit and many suffer.

But this story is laden with complexities: complex identities and players, roles, legal statuses, histories, denial, exploitation, exploited divisions, bribery, theft, bureaucracy, legislated identities, apartheid.

Idle No More is compelling partly because it is so complex. It implicates everyone living in Canada. If we have ancestors who lived here, it implicates them too.

Idle No More risks being written off by the mainstream press much in the way that Occupy Wall Street was; sure, the campaign has noble goals but its leaderless, multi-issue approach will ensure that it fizzles out.

Activists need to learn from the strengths and weaknesses of other social movements and already, its clear that mistakes made by Occupy are not being reproduced. Spokespeople have emerged who are talented speakers and who are generous enough with their time to do the all-consuming TV circuit. Like during the Québec student strike, events are springing up across Canada daily, keeping the momentum of the movement alive.

Idle No More is strong because it is a grassroots movement. As long as people continue to demonstrate it will remain a grassroots movement. And, the longer these events go on, the more vicious the attacks against Indigenous people and the movement will become.

Unfortunately, federal politicians know this terrain; they have had centuries of learning how to most effectively divide Indigenous communities and people and foster in-fighting. Just look at Jason Kenney’s Twitter feed to see how this plays out. And when the mainstream press views the roles of chiefs as being to control their people, as stated in a Globe and Mail headline, the analysis of the complex issues is nearly always to be just as offensive and fall just as flat. Both forces will be working in different ways to ensure Idle No More goes away.

The resilience of the movement will lie in the resilience of people to continue to rally, to flashmob, to write letters, to interrupt economic activity and to ensure that “life as usual” ceases to exist for the folks in Ottawa. We need to expose attempts to divide or co-opt the movement in a way that is accessible and easy for people to understand.

Through our collective creativity, our thirst for justice and our desire to fight the powers who are imposing their agendas on us all, the attempts to break Idle No More that will inevitably come cannot be successful.

Burning Rex Murphy’s encyclopaedia: Promoting Idle No More

18 Dec

Screen shot 2012-12-18 at 9.36.52 AMSometimes I forget that Canada is a massive country where people are separated into silos.

Idle No More has reminded me that there exists massive gulfs between people, experiences and awareness.

I don’t actually fault the folks who aren’t aware of their ignorance. After an aggressive social media campaign, flash mobs, rallies, blockades, coordinated actions, letters of support from national unions and a hunger strike, the media coverage has still been significantly lacking.

How can someone know what’s going on if none of their friends are talking about it? How can they talk about it if there’s an effective media blackout?

How can Stephen Harper feel the necessary heat if he’s only hearing from people who he decided long ago he disrespects?

All news isn’t created equal and how we see the world is linked to whose version of events we read. And sometimes, we must look at the mouthpieces who exist in a world that many of us would consider to be foreign. Their insights, while oftentimes entirely laughable, are sometimes helpful.

To be able to understand why Harper thinks he can get away with refusing to meet with Theresa Spence, we need to look into the abyss of his cheerleading crew. Many of these privileged few have a platform like a national new program or newspaper from which to rant. So, let’s use Rex Murphy.

Three days before Idle No More took root across Canada on Dec. 10, Murphy wrote a love-letter to Stephen Harper and disguised it as a column. In Rex’s famous lilt, a combination of an angry great-uncle and Stuart McLean, he insists that the criticisms that are heaped upon Harper (mostly online) are unfair. Harper has been elected for seven years, says Murphy, and Canadians should have noticed that his “secret agenda” has not revealed itself. Harper, he says, has “not, contra naturum, transformed Canada into a gulag or prison house for the poor, artists, liberals, greens or whomever he sees as his opponents.”

Murphy’s flowery use of an encyclopedia (and an old Latin textbook) throughout does more than just obscure the debate about Harper. Like a magic trick, Murphy forces the audience to focus on his supreme intellect while his other hand is hiding the secret to his magic: that he’s practiced over and over on how to use an encyclopedia.

In the wake of the Idle No More protests, Murphy’s obtuse verbal diarrhea exposes just how far apart the two solitudes of this issue are: those Canadians who are aware that there exists a problem (or who live and experience it) and those Canadians who not only refuse to acknowledge it but who actively try to hide it.

Murphy’s column finishes with these lines:
So why is it that people are not content just to disagree with him, to label him simply wrong or misguided but must revile him? Why is there such fervour of suspicion about “the agenda” and so much invective and worse directed at him? I don’t know.
[…]
They make Mr. Harper, in their own white-hot minds, bigger and more scary than he is or could be.

I doubt Theresa Spence, who’s life hinges on Harper meeting with her, would agree with his flip analysis. I also doubt that the millions of Indigenous people in Canada who rely on Harper to uphold the Treaties but who have no clear recourse to punish him when he doesn’t would agree either.

Murphy’s analysis demonstrates the dangerous level of ignorance that has managed to infest the brains of many Canadians.

Sorry Rex, Harper is pretty big and scary. Not sure what a white-hot mind is (must have been a saying from some decade I didn’t get to experience) but in my mind, the power and danger that Harper yields should scare us. It should scare everyone who believes in Indigenous rights, the rights of refugees, the rights of unionized workers, women, pensioners, young people, etc. etc.

It’s obvious: Murphy is so far removed from reality that he lacks the necessary shame to avoid making such a claim about Harper. But as the voice that dominates CBC Radio across Canada every Sunday afternoon, we should also fear his influence to contort or obscure our issues.

He’s part of the problem that our society is so siloed and fractured.

There are great debates that we all need to have, together, but we need to have these debates on a level playing field. With men like Murphy and Harper in substantive positions of power, leveling this playing field is an enormous task. And, while I think that Murphy’s online rantings at the National Post are mostly background noise, it’s important to pause and remind ourselves the damage that such a narrative can do when it remains unchecked.

Indeed, Murphy’s audience, the comment section trolls that many of us have trained ourselves to avoid, need to be brought into the discussion. We need to cut through the rhetoric and challenge this encyclopaedic Trojan horse if we’re going to have any impact in shifting the national debate on our Prime Minister.

Put simply, we have a great deal of work to do. If our movements are ignored, obscured or made the object of fun by folks like Rex Murphy, then we have to tell our own stories and amplify them ourselves.

Idle No More: non-Indigenous responsibility to act

10 Dec

Today, thousands of Indigenous activists and their allies will march, demonstrate, blog, tweet or starve to get their message to Stephen Harper: enough is enough.

Normally, enough being enough isn’t enough and it hasn’t been for centuries.

Enough is the point at which people united, absolutely refuse to be subjugated. They refuse to be dominated, colonized and re-colonized. Enough looks different than a protest.

In Canada, I don’t think any social movement has reached the breaking point where “enough” truly has been enough.

But Idle No More could be the spark needed for a movement is built to truly say “enough.” Idle No More could be the rally call, the inspiration. The parental shove into the lake that all people who fight to uphold and honour the Treaties need.

Idle No More is a movement that was called after the news circulated that First Nations leaders were denied entry to the House of Commons to discuss the federal budget bill. This bill makes sweeping changes to hundreds of regulations that will affect all Canadians and Indigenous people in particular.

Born on social media networks, it calls for peaceful protests in towns and cities across Canada, and online.

Resistance will take many forms. From mass rallies, protests outside politicians offices to Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, activists will challenge the decisions of our unaccountable and undemocratic government.

When I say “our,” I refer to Canadians, descendants of settlers and for who, on this land, the current government is the only (federal) government we have. When Stephen Harper breaks his promises, lies about fighter jets or sells a part of Alberta to China, our political system works such that, while we may disagree, this government has been elected and they have the authority to pass this massive budget bill. We should voice our opposition and have a range of legal and less-than-legal options for how to do this.

But for Indigenous communities, this relationship is different. The lies of the federal government aren’t part of the regular [dis]functioning of their government system. It’s a break in the legally-binding Treaties that were signed between national governments.

When considered in these terms, the actions of the Harper government aren’t just another example of our broken democracy, it’s a break in the formal and legal responsibilities that the Crown has with Indigenous people.

These responsibilities are the flip-side of the rights that the government seems to have no problem helping themselves to: access and exploitation of land and resources for example. But there are no rights without responsibilities and the current lot has shamefully ignored the “responsibilities” aspect of the Treaty arrangements.

When Joe Oliver or Jim Flaherty refuses to meet with First Nations Chiefs in Ottawa, that’s a high insult. That is an action that signals that our government has no interest in meeting with the representatives of the people on who’s land we live, we pillage, we profit and we steal.

Of course, this isn’t really new in the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous people. What might be new, though, is the nationally-coordinated, sophisticated response that will coalesce around Idle No More.

Canadians: we have a responsibility to honour the Treaties, understand the Treaties and demand (vocally, physically, however we can) that our government honour the Treaties too.

I’m sure that today isn’t going to be the last that we hear of Idle No More and I’m excited to watch how the campaign unfolds in the communities that I’m connected to.

But, just as it will take unity and solidarity among First Nations people to fight for their rights, non-Indigenous activists have a role to play too. This is our government and we are partly to blame for allowing the current pack of wolves access to the hen house.

I hope you can participate in an Idle No More event either today or in the coming days. But more important than that, I encourage all non-Indigenous people to:

Know the history and the stories of elders of what has happened on this territory.

Place decolonization at the centre of all progressive/social justice organizing you do.

Read and understand the Indian Act and how this racist piece of legislation is used today.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be humble. Walk softly. Be kind. Be bold.