Thursday, 31 January 2013

Where the Waters Divide: Neoliberalism, White Privilege and Environmental Racism in Canada

Fighting over a bottle of Métis Water

Dr Michael Mascarenhas has written a masterly book Where the Waters Divide: Neoliberalism, White Privilege and Environmental Racism in Canada that demonstrates many of the issues facing Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations in Canada. Using water as a backdrop to look at the larger issues of the why Aboriginal peoples see themselves as being in an inferior position and why non-Aboriginals do not see any issues because the system is colour blind and based on common sense. Michael is able to clearly state what neo-liberalism is which unfortunately most Canadians both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal fail to adequately understand. Michael demonstrates the neoliberal economic bias within the Canadian political system and how it affects not only First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples but all Canadians. He has been able to analyze how contemporary neoliberal reforms that came to the fore within Canada and the Western world since the 1980s with de-regulation, austerity measures, common sense policies, privatization and show how they have shaped contemporary racial inequality in Canadian society.

Michael has brought together theories and concepts from four disciplines; sociology, geography, Aboriginal studies, and environmental studies to build critical insights into the race relational aspects of neoliberal reform. “In particular, the book argues that neoliberalism represents a key moment in time for the racial formation in Canada, one that functions not through overt forms of state sanctioned racism, as in the past, but via the morality of the marketplace and the primacy of individual solutions to modern environmental and social problems.” Because many Canadians are no aware of Canadian history and how the economic system in Canada came to formed they are not aware of how most Canadians have benefits from the past policies which still affect a system wide racism in the economic policies. The Economist writes that the greatest challenges are not based on redistributing wealth, but ensuring mobility for large social classes within society and economic systems. The average Canadian is “not aware of this pattern of laissez faire racism, and because racism continues to be associated with intentional and hostile acts, Canadians can dissociate themselves from this form of economic racism, all the while ignoring their compounded investment in white privilege.”

Dr Michael Mascarenhas joined the Science and Technology Studies Department in 2007. Dr. Masarenhas completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of British Columbia in 2006, and received his Ph.D. in Sociology from Michigan State University in 2005. His current research examines the relationship between recent environmental governance regimes and their impacts on social relationships and structural hierarchies. In over a dozen publications, he has written on water, wolves, seed-saving, standards, supermarkets, family farms, and forests.

Where the Waters Divide: Neoliberalism, White Privilege and Environmental Racism in Canada by Michael Mascarenhas.


Monday, 28 January 2013

Aboriginal Children Count: A Campaign for Social Justice for Early Education

Kathy Mallett and Wendy Prince are conducting a research project entitled Kiskinwahamkwakewin. This is a cree word which describes the task of education or instruction.   Some of the findings were then taken and developed into the social justice campaign entitled Aboriginal Children Count.  Too often the debates happening around Aboriginal people ignore issues for young children. This campaign is to reach the grassroots and connect with parents and talk about the needs of young children. Further goals include making government more aware about the issues surrounding young children and their specific needs.

There were three stages to their work. The researchers invited families to participate in order to discuss the values they hold and what meaningful people in their lives gave them or taught them those values. The second aspect they asked the parents is what values they actually taught their children and what are the differences between the values they learned and the values they teach to their young children. Wendy and Kathy also asked the families what types of programming they wanted to see in their communities.

As an example Wendy talks about how she would yell at her children to get them to do things. She was mimicking the values in parenting she had learned from her mother, who was also a residential school survivor. Eventually she decided to ask the kids how the felt about the parenting values she was using during a family sharing circle. The children indicated that they did not like this and wanted to see greater respect. Wendy then used more Indigenous parenting techniques to convey her values to her children. 
Some of the values that the parents talked about where the seven teaching and other values such as courage, respect, helping one another, eating together, standing independently, language.

To close Kathy said that too often Aboriginal parents are stereotyped as being bad parents, but there are excellent parents who do wonderful work with their children and their research demonstrates that the values that Aboriginal peoples hold as parents are very important and positive and should be used by many different parents.

The researcher have the intent of going into other communities(i.e. William Whyte, St John's neighborhoods) to complete the learning circle portions of the research  in the near future. 

Kathy Mallet is a mother of two adult daughters and a grandmother of three boys and one girl.  Kathy is a band member of the Fisher River Cree Nation, and has lived in the inner-city of Winnipeg since the early 1950s.   In 2008 she received the Grass Roots Women’s Award, and in 2000 she received the first Manitoba Human Rights Commitment Award.  Kathy’s first award came in 1985 when she was recognized for her community work by receiving the YWCA Women of the Year Award in Community Service. Most recently Kathy received the Order of Manitoba on July 11, 2011 and the Grandmothers Keep the Fires Burning award.

Wendy Prince, Cree woman from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and also familial connections to Peguis First Nation.  Notawiy(mother of three amazing adults), Kohkum (grandmother of two).  Wendy currently supports young parents(13 -23) in the areas of housing, budgeting, educational pursuits, finding appropriate childcare, parenting, and provides 1-1 counseling(i.e grief & loss, self-esteem, family violence, etc.) via the Parenting Student Support Program @ Mount Carmel Clinic. 

To Learn More (Interview and Podcast)  


Thursday, 24 January 2013

Indigenous New Media Decolonizing Canadian Cities

I had a conversation with Jessica Jacobson-Konefall about her research entitled Decolonizing Settler Legacies: Indigenous New Media Art in Canadian Cities. Jessica is a PhD Candidate in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University and a visiting affiliate at The Center for Globalization and Cultural Studies. Her research focuses on how First Nations new media art shapes and defies concepts of civic space and related notions of identity and community in Winnipeg.

Her research The Decolonizing Settler Legacies: Indigenous New Media Art in Canadian Cities has three objectives:
1)      to understand how notions of identity and community currently function vis-à-vis what Sherene Razack calls civic “place-images” (2002) in Canada, how these mobilize civic practices and power relations in settler society;
2)      to analyze Indigenous new media art practices (video art, digital photographs, multimedia installations) within cities: how civic “place images” interact with Indigenous epistemologies in these works, reorienting prevailing notions of urban space, identity, and community for Indigenous and settler citizens; and
3)      to look at public responses to these artworks: the ways in which these artworks allow for the building of new “place-images,” towards decolonized citizenship practices in Canadian cities.

The conversation here covers aspects of New Media art, First Nations artists, and how their work intersects with city spaces. We also discussed how civic planning and design demonstrate the ideals of settler societies and how Winnipeg and its urban design also demonstrates settler principles.
To Learn More (interview & Podcast)


Thursday, 17 January 2013

A Separate Country: Postcoloniality and American Indian Nations with Elizabeth Cook-Lynn

This is the second part of a long conversation with the Crow Creek Sioux academic and writer Elizabeth Cook-Lynn and her political book entitled A Separate Country: Postcoloniality and American Indian Nations. It is  a collection of essays where Elizabeth takes those in the ivory tower to task for espousing the idea that “postcoloniality” is the current norm for Indigenous peoples in the United States. After a long career Liz gathers writes that American Indians remain among the most colonized people in the modern world, mired in poverty and disenfranchised both socially and politically. Despite Native-initiated efforts toward seeking First Nationhood status in the U. S., Cook-Lynn posits, Indian lands remain in the grip of a centuries-old English colonial system—a renewable source of conflict and discrimination. She argues that proportionately in the last century, government-supported development of casinos and tourism—peddled as an answer to poverty—probably cost Indians more treaty-protected land than they lost in the entire nineteenth century. Using land issues and third-world theory to look at the historiography of the American Plains Indian experience, she examines colonization’s continuing assault on Indigenous peoples. We also discuss the idea that Native Studies still has a lot of work to do in creating a more rigorous discipline, the difficulties in producing work while working within academia and the anger of writing about a cultural genocide.

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux tribe, was born in Fort Thompson, South Dakota, and raised on the reservation. She is Professor Emerita of English and Native American Studies at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington.

Liz says “The final responsibility of a writer like me … is to commit something to paper in the modern world which supports this inexhaustible legacy left by our ancestors...and yes I am angry.”

To Learn More: (Interview Podcast)


Monday, 14 January 2013

A Celebration or a Nightmare in Thompson, Manitoba: Forgetful History in the Residential School Era

This was an opinion piece submitted by Bill Sanderson where I am now publishing it in its entirety concerning the history of transportation and residential schools.

When the Lamb airplane model was erected along the river, next to the Miles Hart Bridge, I thought, what a wonderful way to recognize northern people’s work. I personally went to this site and took pictures and I also brought a visitor there so that she may take a picture next to it. I moved here in the north to teach at the University College of the North (UCN). There, I worked in two positions, one as an academic specialist and the other as the coordinator and instructor for the Tradition and Change program. In the latter, I was responsible to share my traditional knowledge with the UCN students. While teaching in this position, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet many students, both adults and youths. Thompson is located here in the far north and in the far north we have the larger population being Aboriginal, First Nations or Métis.  

On one occasion, while driving back with a student from Tastaskweyak Cree Nation (formally known as Split Lake Cree Nation), we talked about about many subjects, mainly personal experiences. As we entered into the city of Thompson, my student passenger focused her attention on the Lamb airplane. This female student, who shall remain nameless for privacy reasons, said that she was having the shakes as her memory was glued to this airplane. She said, “Do you want to know what I see when I see that plane?”  She said, “you know what, I remember the times they  would force us into those planes to take us to residential school.” She said that she still to this day has nightmares from those times she was kidnapped from home by the Federal government.

I was thinking after that experience, did anyone actually consult with the Aboriginal community what the erection of such a plane would do to the Aboriginal community members. More likely not. Following this thought, I completed some primary research to find out if in fact Lamb air was responsible for such atrocities. I found that information in relation to this topic was selectively shared.  So what does this mean really?  Only positive things were written. Particularly, when I went on the Lamb Family web site, there was no mention of performing the atrocities of kidnapping children for money. By avoiding the topic altogether, does it mean that the history of this airplane company is without a tarnished past?  Of course not.  I wanted to find out how close was Lamb air in relation to kidnapping children. I could not find anything whenever I would google Lamb air. However, doing deeper digging, I discovered that pilots who worked for Lamb air did in fact write about such atrocities, in shame. 

In particular, Keith Olson, in his book Flying the Frontiers wrote that some of his later flying jobs entailed picking up the Native children from remote settlements to take them to boarding schools. "We'd go to the various Eskimo camps and take kids into Chesterfield Inlet, or to Churchill.  "I don't know how Northern Affairs worked it, but we took the kids out in the fall and brought them back in the spring. They were away not quite 10 months, whatever was sort of convenient. "In those days, no one seemed to know just what to do with people in the North, in the Arctic," Olson says. "Should the Eskimos stay on the land, or shouldn't they? There were two schools of thought that never seemed to mesh. There still isn't any answer. But taking the kids out, I think, was the end of it, because once they'd been out they didn't mind going back but they didn't want to stay back." Olson observed first-hand the importance of family in the Eskimo culture. "They had nothing else. They lived a harsh life, and death was imminent from starvation or illness. So, to take away the kids, it was really hard. They were very stoic people," he adds. "One time when we brought the kids back to Aberdeen Lake west of Baker Lake, the sea ice was so rotten I had to land on a slope on the side of a hill, on skis.

These people had camped across the creek, waiting for their kids. A little girl got off the airplane with her school books and her doll. Her parents greeted her, but no one showed emotion in front of the white man. What they did was shake their daughter's hand, and you could just tell that they were so happy to see her back. "It was heartbreaking to realize these people hadn't had their kids around for a whole winter. As soon as summer came they got to see them for a little bit, then they were off again."

Olson, obviously recognized the importance of making notes of these atrocities, important enough to note it in his book. On the other hand, it is essentially impossible to find such written comments in any of the writings by the Lamb family. Could it be that there is some shame in it and that they did not want to be associated with such history? It is most likely the case. The photograph above is one of the photos on Keith Olson’s web page. Anyone who has the opportunity to raise children, knows full well that it is most of all extremely difficult to be away from your own children. Mr. Olson, knew full well the damage that he was contributing in flying the children away to residential schools. Mr. Olson’s strength to face this issue head on and write about it, this is most commendable and a true historian.

Mr. Olson continues to explain how this work was reached, the flying of children to residential schools. He writes about the shortage of work at the time. “The first morning on the job, he met the crew at a local cafe. There were six Lamb sons, who all flew. The principal owner, Tom Lamb, now spent much of his time at his ranch near Moose Lake where he raised prize-winning cattle.” (Ibid K.Olson) He writes that he wondered why he was hired given the work shortage. Following his hiring, he was then asked to recruit for work. He writes, “ In January, 1960, the company sent him to Gods Lake to stay with the Indian Agent and try to drum up some charter work. He stayed three months, picking up whatever work he could.” This digging gained the major contractual work to fly children to residential schools. Mr. Olson writes about flying to many communities, and these communities, for anyone living in the north will immediately recognize the names. For example, Gods Lake, Churchill, The Pas, Grand Rapids and the list goes one.

I want to make it clear that I did not question the honesty of my former student. Given that our society today would only find support in the written word, I found it valuable to do so, in order to state without question that these things in fact happened. Mr. Olson found it difficult to do such a job, nevertheless, he did it because that was the only work he could find at the time. 

A question one might raise is: “Why is he being so negative toward the Lamb family?”  Well, that is not the point here however, the point is, why were no members of the Aboriginal communities consulted prior to erecting such a monument which triggers an ugly part of this history.  I was blind to the fact that this monument held such negative nightmarish memories for many Aboriginal people of the north.  I found it incumbent to write about this oversight.

As a former survivor of the Catholic Missionary day School in St. Laurent, and the negative memories that I still, to this day carry, are at times very traumatizing, especially when I drive by that little community on my way to Winnipeg.  I would not want to be in the place of my Aboriginal brothers and sisters of the north, in that, they continually see this airplane if they live in Thompson, or in the neighbouring communities.  It does do something to the psychological aspect of a person, to continually be subjected to the awful memories of being taken away from their families.  To attempt to explain this aspect, here in this short article, is very difficult because to clearly understand this past and what it has done to us as Aboriginal people, one has to have experienced it to fully comprehend what it does psychologically. Some people have said to me, “come on Bill get over it already.” I would really like to do that, however, to leave trauma, especially when the general society, as in the case of this airplane does not fully acknowledge what has happened to us, makes it extremely difficult to do so. It is after all, right in our faces every time we want to cross that river. Our memories are kept alive, and this is not our choice. It takes a lifetime to deal with trauma, especially when the trauma occurred to us as children. It never goes away. It will be more difficult to deal with this past if Aboriginal views are continually compromised.  Let’s work together and talk about the truth and not be selective with our history writings.

Written by Bill Sanderson (Michif)

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Treaty & Constitutional Negotiations of 1980-82: Understanding the Past to Create the Future.

This is an interview I did with the great and knowledgeable Tony Belcourt who is a Metis leader from Ontario. He was there when Aboriginal organisations and especially the Metis defended their ideals of sovereignty and treaty rights. He discusses the roles and the histories surrounding the 1980-1982 Constitutional negotiations between the federal, provincial governments and the Aboriginal governments. For anyone wanting to know more where the word Aboriginal comes from, the origins of many Aboriginal organisations and the importance of this era to Indigenous Rights in Canada you would do well to listen to the words of Tony.

Understand the past to create the future.

To Learn More (Interview and Podcast) 


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Michif: a Language Born and Near Death on our Native Land.

This was an opinion piece I had sent to a number of news papers, but I never received much of a reply, it seems that Aboriginal languages are not interesting enough so I will publish it here. The National Post said it does not fit within their news parameters. Perhaps its a bit long, but you are all intelligent people. I also talked about Aboriginal languages with Radio-Canada on Oct 24, 2012 after the release of new stats that showed how they are declining.

Michif: a Language Born and Near Death on our Native Land.

Canada’s Aboriginal languages are dying and they are dying very quickly. In 2008 the United Nations dedicated it as the International Year of Languages, warning that thousands of languages face eventual extinction. Canada a rich nation and a member of the G8 has done little since then to save the cultural treasures which were born of our native soil. Around the world a language dies on average every two weeks and many aboriginal languages in Canada are among those considered in peril. The statistics from the 2011 census hide some terrible facts about the state of these Indigenous languages of Canada. While Anishnaabe and Cree (Nehiyaw) both have large speakers with people as second and mother tongue speakers it seems that by delving deeper into the statistics we are able to arrive at some startling discoveries. Dale McCreery a Métis from British Columbia and a linguist conducted a study of Cree language. Now, why would a Métis (Michif) be interested in the Cree? He wanted to interview adult learners who had learned to speak the Cree language not as a mother tongue, but as a second language to better understand “the challenges facing adult learners of Cree [which] would likely mirror many of the challenges facing adult learners of Michif.” Cree was not something they regularly spoke at home even though grandparents and parents might have spoken the languages. He was fascinated about the techniques of how they learned and what enabled them to speak the language with English as their mother tongue. According to Statistics Canada there are over 14 630 people who speak Cree as a second language in Canada and 83 475 as a primary language. This should make Dale’s time very easy finding how Cree has managed to survive so easily compared to other Indigenous language. Unfortunately Dale only managed to find 6-8 speakers who could hold a conversation and who had learned Cree as a secondary language. It seems the statistics are not telling us the entire picture. There are many people who have taken Cree in universities, technical colleges and school, but it seems that these institutions have failed in enabling us to learn the language. It seems many people write down information in the census which is not entirely true.

What is the actual state of Cree? Many are writing down that their language skills are better than they seem due to issues of identity. This is probably the same for both mother and secondary speakers. I had an uncle who very rarely had the chance to speak Cree which he learned as a child. He went to residential school and did not teach the language to his children and they did not teach it to their children. When his daughter would attempt to learn a few words such as hello (Tansay, Monanaantow) he would say you are speaking all wrong. She felt that she was not good and did not want to attempt to try again. Many of the secondary language learners at universities feel great social pressure as Cree people to know their language. Many prayers are conducted in Cree by the knowledge keepers and they cannot follow the words, but because it is not an appropriate time to ask questions of what certain words mean they never learn the understanding of the prayers. Often by the end of the university courses students are able to do multiple choice tests and even understand some of the seemingly complicated verb endings, but unfortunately they are often unable to hold a conversation. At one university Cree course I took, every week I would introduce myself in Cree to my fellow students, but they could not even recognize the word hello (Tansay). They had finished taking 13 weeks of Cree language classes and will now indicate on the census form that they have some knowledge of the language, but they cannot say hello.  They have wasted their time and money and we have wasted the opportunity to have someone who can preserve a language. The statistics give our Canadian and Aboriginal leaders a false sense of security about the languages. The Senate is writing a report about the Aboriginal languages and they will indicate that only 6 to 7 will have a reasonable possibility of survival in the next 20 years. My uncle and elder told me in no uncertain terms that Cree would no longer be spoken in 20 years except by a few pockets scattered across the country. I would say “come on uncle all the experts say Cree is the strongest, we will survive.” But in the cities who speaks Cree? Winnipeg with a population of 60 000 Aboriginal people supposedly has 2000 speakers of Cree. I have met very few though and the ones I have met are invariably elders. We believe the reserves will unquestionably maintain the language, but I am not sure because one of the findings of Dale is that when a school gets a Cree language class into the elementary and high schools the families will stop speaking Cree at home because it is now the schools responsibility. I have been to few reserve communities and when I try to use my broken Cree with some of the young students who want to go to university, they cannot even carry on a simple conversation. The elders can, but the young are too busy watching TV in English, using their iPhone in English and studying at school in English. The language is dying on reserves as well and is maintained only by a few die hard traditionalists. Invariably situations of herd mentality arise. As an example when you have a group of francophones and you add just one anglophone the conversation will invariably end up in English because humans are social animals and we want and need to have communication. It is just easier to speak English, because if the young person cannot understand you then you must take time.

The Louis Riel Institute on November 1 and 2, 2012 organized a mini-conference and workshop with speakers of the Michif language. Michif is the most unique language in the world traditionally spoken by the Métis or Michif people. It is a combination Cree and French. The verbs are based on Cree and the nouns are based on French. Linguists come from around the world to study this unique language. There are currently 640 speakers of Michif in the prairies. The few speakers left who came together with funding from the Aboriginal Language Initiative of Heritage Canada. The elders were concerned in finding how they can preserve their culture and language. It was an emotional few days where you could feel the weight of the many challenges facing those who care about a nation and culture born 300 years ago upon the prairies. Many of the fluent speakers are not getting younger, like elder Rita Flamond who is 81 from Camperville with a passion for her language and a writer of many books. There are though groups creating new initiatives like Leah Laplante, Verna DeMontigny and Norman Fleury from Brandon who hold Family Michif languages classes in the southwest region of the Manitoba Métis Federation and Louis Riel Institute, that are funded through the Aboriginal Language Initiative of Canadian Heritage. While Heritage Canada has been very good at dividing the monies between different language groups across Canada this is certainly just a start.

The saving of a language will be hard daunting fight, but when you take the time to consider how to do so invariably it will be with our children. Children spend 7 hours a day in schools across this province. Unfortunately there are no classes offered in the schools for Michif in Manitoba. My children attend the Manitoba French School Board (DSFM) where they fly the Métis flags, but yet there is little integration of Michif culture into the curriculum. This is not new, for all provincial schools are struggling with integrating a general Aboriginal culture into schools and some more than others. While the DSFM has been very good at preserving a general French culture many of the students like my children are not only French, but the sons and daughters of the Métis, the Michif, a people of bridges and connections. I personally would like to see more done.

You may ask what am I doing, well I have decided that the University of Manitoba will do its part by offering not only Michif languages courses, but Cree and Anishnaabe as well.  Currently there are few university courses in the entire country teaching the Michif language and none in Manitoba. We will not make the mistake of having people who take a language class and can only tell you the names of colours and few numbers, but attempt to teach the real learning of an Aboriginal idea of relationship. We will allow the families including parents, children and grandparents to come together and learn the language. This is a first for university level courses. Participants should be able to learn simple commands that families can use in their daily lives, which they can practise with their children. While this is only a small drop in the bucket of the great need to preserve a language and culture of a people, we each have a role to play. I am committed to finding other initiatives which will allow this unique language not to fade away on the land of its birth. I encourage those who are interested by our Aboriginal languages to advocate and demand that services be made available to preserve our cultures which are older than time.

Marci akwa khitwam.

Dr Robert Falcon Ouellette is a Program Director with the Aboriginal Focus Programs at the University of Manitoba and runs a blog At the Edge of Canada: Indigenous Research