Hockey is Part of Canada

A commentary on two tragedies that affected all Canadians

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Since my last post, two events have occurred that deeply impacted me on an emotional level.  I’ll start with the first; a horrific event. On April 6th,  the bus taking a hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game, collided with a tractor-trailer in rural Saskatchewan.  Sixteen people were killed with the youngest victim being a 16-year-old Broncos player. Even though I am not part of the hockey world and never have been, I was still shaken and saddened. For me, it is more about family members of the victims. I thought about my own children and the many times they were on buses going to basketball or some other sport.

A memorial at the stairs that lead to Elgar Petersen Arena is shown in Humboldt, Sask.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards ORG

What struck me most about this event, was the reaction of Canadians and even the world. According to CTV News Saskatchewan, Humboldt’s only florist received hundreds of orders from as far away as Australia to send flowers to anyone and everyone affected by the crash. The Canalta Hotel offered free rooms to family members travelling to the Humboldt after the crash, plus provided food and support. Restaurants handed out free food. In one instance, an individual driving through a Tim Hortons bought coffee for the next 50 people in line. The food manager for the City of Humboldt said he has watched semi-trailers full of water, soda and edibles come into the Humboldt Uniplex every day. Flags were flown at half-mast across the nation to show compassion for Humboldt.

What is even more astonishing is people across Canada and from around the world contributed to a GoFundMe campaign for the victims and their families, which has exceeded fourteen million dollars, one of the largest drives in Canada’s history. As Maclean’s magazine put it, Humboldt’s GoFundMe account expresses a nation’s grief in dollars and cents.

An initiative #JerseysforHumboldt was first proposed on Facebook by a group of hockey parents in British Columbia as a way to honour the Saskatchewan junior hockey team. The movement snowballed resulting in Canadians across the country putting on jerseys as a massive show of support for the Humboldt Broncos hockey team. (see Jersey Day)

One person started a phenomenon by tweeting a picture that showed a lonely hockey stick left out on the front step of a home with the message, “Leaving it out on the porch tonight. The boys might need it … wherever they are.”  Numerous people have tweeted their pictures under the hashtag #PutYourStickOut to show their support to the team and their friends and families. (see Hockey Sticks)

It was Al Gore who said (paraphrased) in his latest movie, ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’, “It’s our suffering that unites us”. That is what seems to be happening in my country because of this awful event. Perhaps the late Nelson Mandela said it better with his words, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” Whatever is happening, I can honestly say that I felt proud to be a Canadian.

The second event was also a horrific event that also involves hockey, but in a different way. It was an experience that affected me just as deeply as the one I described above. On the weekend I went to the Canadian movie, Indian Horse, a movie released on April 13.  This is a movie I would encourage every Canadian, and even people of other nationalities to see if they can. It tells a story that needs to be told and Canadians need to hear, even though it is a story that will likely make you uncomfortable.

What is so special about this film is it connects hockey with Indigenous issues. The story is adapted from a novel by Richard Wagamese, and is executive produced by Clint Eastwood. It explores the career of an exceptionally talented young Indigenous hockey player and  a NHL hopeful who endures Indian Residential school and struggles against racism-even from his own team-when he is recruited to a farm team for the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

The Star says, “Indigenous elders were on hand, as they had been throughout production of the movie…guiding the cast and crew through some of the darker moments they experienced.” The movie disturbingly shows the horror that indigenous children endured in Canadian Residential Schools as well as the relentless racism directed towards them outside the schools.

Here is a video telling a bit about the movie.

The story centers around the main character, Saul, who is forcibly taken from his family and placed in a Catholic governed Residential School. Saul’s only way to cope with his school hell is to turn to hockey.

Here is a quick lesson on the schools. In the 19th century, the Canadian government developed a policy called “aggressive assimilation” to be carried out at church-run, government-funded industrial schools, later to be called residential schools. It thought indigenous people’s best chance for success was to learn English, adopt Christianity and the Euro-Canadian culture.

To truly understand the mindset of Canadian government at that time in history, we just need to comprehend the mindset of Duncan Campbell Scott, who was head of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, a department he had served since joining the federal civil service in 1879. Mr. Scott said:

 “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.”

It is clear that the Canadian government saw the indigenous people as a problem that needed to be dealt with. In fact, Duncan Campbell Scott once said, the “policy of this Department [Indian Affairs]…is geared towards the final solution of our Indian Problem.”

The movie boldly showed how students of the Residential schools lived in substandard conditions, endured physical and emotional abuse as well as sexual abuse by people who claimed to be God’s representatives.  Essentially, the Government of Canada initiated a cultural genocide, a genocide carried out by various denominations of church missionaries.

I left that movie feeling sickened that my country has this dark history. I felt compassion for indigenous Canadians. I felt annoyed that it is only in the 21st century that I am now learning about this dark history regarding Canada’s treatment of its indigenous people. And most of all, I left that movie feeling ashamed to be a Canadian and ashamed of my Catholic roots.

Is Brainwashing a Real Thing?

A commentary on the use of thought reform in the military

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama

On my last post: Why is war so popular? I sited His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, specifically his talk on the Realities of War. I would like to continue with that discussion.  His Holiness says,

 

War is like a fire in the human community, one whose fuel is living beings…Modern warfare waged primarily with different forms of fire, but we are so conditioned to see it as thrilling that we talk about this or that marvelous weapon as a remarkable piece of technology without remembering that, if it is actually used, it will burn living people. War also strongly resembles a fire in the way it spreads. If one area gets weak, the commanding officer sends in reinforcements. This is throwing live people onto a fire. But because we have been brainwashed to think this way, we do not consider the suffering of individual soldiers. No soldiers want to be wounded or die. None of his loved ones wants any harm to come to him [or her]. If one soldier is killed, or maimed for life, at least another five or ten people – his relatives and friends – suffer as well. We should all be horrified by the extent of this tragedy, but we are too confused.

I mentioned in my last post that I was transfixed by the Dalai Lama’s use of the phrase, “we have been brainwashed.”  In my last post I concluded that we, the general public, have been brainwashed to accept war as normal and necessary. But what about the soldiers? Have they been brainwashed as well? The Dalai Lama later in his message says,

It is not only during times of war that military establishments are destructive. By their very design, they were the single greatest violators of human rights, and it is the soldiers themselves who suffer most consistently from their abuse…They are then compelled to forfeit their individual will, and, in the end, to sacrifice their lives.

His Holiness seems to think so as he says, soldiers “are then compelled to forfeit their individual will.” I guess I’ve never really thought about it before. It is unrealistic to believe that an individual could join the military and be able to do what is required of them without ‘reprogramming’. So, what happens to a person when they join? Are they brainwashed or reprogrammed so to speak?

According to Wikipedia’s, Recruit Training, psychological conditioning techniques are used to shape attitudes and behaviours of soldiers in training, so that the recruits will obey all orders, face mortal danger, and kill their opponents in battle.  The article goes on to quote specialists in US recruit training. These specialists say,

“The intense workload and sleep restriction experienced by military recruits leaves them little attention capacity for processing the messages they receive about new norms…Therefore, recruits should be less likely to devote their remaining cognitive effort to judging the quality of persuasive messages and will be more likely to be persuaded by the messages…”

Is this brainwashing? Is this mind control?

In the 1983 PBS production, Anybody’s Son Will Do, gave this assessment of what it means to be trained to be a soldier. Here is one of the opening quotes: “The secret about basic training is that it’s not really about teaching people things at all. It’s about changing people so that they can do things they wouldn’t have dreamed of doing otherwise.”  It can be found on YouTube. Here is part two.

In part V of Anybody’s Son Will Do, the commentator mentions the trainers indoctrinate the recruits with the idea that the enemy, whoever he may be, is not fully human, and so it’s all right to kill him. I haven’t viewed the entire program, but what I did view I found disturbing.  Don’t take my word for it. Have a look starting at 2:00.

Now I was curious. Is the military – and it doesn’t matter whether it is the Canadian, American, Chinese,  Russian military or any other country’s military – using mind control techniques, otherwise known as brainwashing?

HowStuffWorks is an award-winning source of unbiased, reliable, easy-to-understand answers and explanations of how the world actually works. In its explanation of how cults work, it claims cults use techniques known as “mind control,” or otherwise known as “thought reform,” “brainwashing” and “coercive persuasion.” It is the systematic breakdown of a person’s sense of self. The article explains that cults use:

  • Deception where new recruits are conned into joining the group.
  • Use of deprivation where a person may be deprived of adequate nutrition and/or sleep so the mind becomes confused.
  • Isolation where individuals are cut off from outside world or each other to produce intense introspection, confusion, loss of perspective and a distorted sense of reality.
  • Induced Dependency where total, obedient devotion, loyalty and submission is demanded.

There is no question in my mind that there are similarities between the mind-control practices used by cults and boot camp training in military.  It is important to note that there are differences. Firstly, military recruits know from day one of joining that they are giving up some of their autonomy. A military recruit makes a knowledgeable decision to relinquish that autonomy, whereas a cult recruit does not since they are deceived.  Also, a recruit signs up for a definite period of time, that is, he or she agrees to a legal contract that states how long he will be a soldier and what he will get in return. A person who joins a cult is deceived into thinking he or she can leave whenever he/she desires, but in reality, they cannot easily leave.

Now let’s be clear. At this time in history, we do need the military. There are times when a country needs to call upon their military. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama agrees as he states:

I want to make it clear, however, that although I am deeply opposed to war, I am not advocating appeasement. It is often necessary to take a strong stand to counter unjust aggression. For instance, it is plain to all of us that the Second World War was entirely justified. It “saved civilization” from the tyranny of Nazi Germany, as Winston Churchill so aptly put it. In my view, the Korean War was also just, since it gave South Korea the chance of gradually developing democracy. But we can only judge whether or not a conflict was vindicated on moral grounds with hindsight.

He goes on to say:

…in the case of the Cold War, through deterrence may have helped promote stability, it did not create genuine peace. The last forty years in Europe have seen merely the absence of war, which has not been real peace but a facsimile founded dear. At best, building arms to maintain peace serves only as a temporary measure. As long as adversaries do not trust each other, any number of factors can upset the balance of power. Lasting peace can assure secured only on the basis of genuine trust.

So what is the answer? Can a world ever be created by us humans where the military is obsolete. I believe the Dalai Lama has the answer. Until we build a world where there is trust; trust between religions, trust between nations, trust of governments, trust between corporations, and so on, we will never have genuine peace on this planet. Perhaps it is better put by this unknown person: “A relationship with no trust is kind of like having a phone with no service. You just end up playing games.” This is true whether we’re referring to a person, government, nation, or organization.

Why is War so Popular?

A commentary on why humanity engages in warfare.

A CBC News article, Here’s a look at Russia’s ‘invulnerable’ weapons, reports that on March 1st, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced to the world that Russia possesses an arsenal of new nuclear weapons that can’t be stopped. He publicized such weapons as nuclear-powered subs called uninhabited underwater vehicles (UUV), nuclear-powered missiles and hypersonic, intercontinental ballistic missiles. This kind of language has not been used since the Cold War. Why is Putin telling the world about its weapons of mass destruction? Is this talk of war?

Wikipedia has a list of ongoing armed conflicts. Two of the most notable are the Syrian civil war and the Iraq civil war. These are the two conflicts we hear about most often in the news. There are many others; many of them on the continent of Africa. This got me thinking. Why are humans set on war?

I recently read an interesting article called, The Dalai Lama’s Hard Hitting Message for World Leaders About The Reality of War.  Now the Dalai Lama is someone I deeply respect and I believe has much wisdom to offer the world. For those who don’t know, the Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and traditionally the political leader of Tibet, but the Chinese government forced him into exile in 1959 because of its imperialistic policies.  Here is some of the Dalai Lama’s message.

“…war and the large military establishments are the greatest sources of violence in the world. Whether their purpose is defensive or offensive, these vast powerful organizations exist solely to kill human beings. We should think carefully about the reality of war. Most of us have been conditioned to regard military combat as exciting and glamorous – an opportunity for men to prove their competence and courage. Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal or that accepting it is criminal attitude. In fact, we have been brainwashed. War is neither glamorous nor attractive. It is monstrous. Its very nature is one of tragedy and suffering.”

The words “we have been brainwashed” really struck me. Have we been brainwashed? I was attracted to the military as a youngster. I always thought it would have been glamorous to come back a war hero. I never actually seriously considered joining, except maybe on the day I had to register for university classes in the 1970s; a very stressful experience. What attracted me mostly was its discipline. Interestingly, the Dalai Lama was also attracted to the military in his youth. He explains in his message.

“Frankly as a child, I too was attracted to the military. Their uniform looked so smart and beautiful. But that is exactly how the seduction begins. Children start playing games that will one day lead them in trouble…Again, if we as adults were not so fascinated by war, we would clearly see that to allow our children to become habituated to war games is extremely unfortunate. Some former soldiers have told me that when they shot their first person they felt uncomfortable but as they continued to kill it began to feel quite normal. In time, we can get used to anything.”

I think the Dalai Lama is right. Society has been brainwashed. I used to play war games as a kid. I even had plastic soldiers to play with. Nowadays, there are numerous video games involving killing in war scenarios. As the Dalai Lama says, this “is exactly how the seduction begins.”  Or, shall we say the brainwashing begins.

One might ask: Why would our leaders want us to believe war is “exciting and glamorous”?  In June of last year, the Atlantic announced that the U.S. Approves $1.4 Billion Military Sale to Saudi Arabia. CNN says the U.S. accounts for one-third of global arms sales. If you are curious to who the Americans sell arms to, see: Here’s who buys the most weapons from the U.S.  So why are we being brainwashed to see war as “exciting and glamorous”?  It seems war is big business. If you want to make money selling arms, you must have wars. It seems very logical to me.

The New York Times published an article in 2014 entitled: The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth.  It says,

The continuing slowness of economic growth in high-income economies has prompted soul-searching among economists. They have looked to weak demand, rising inequality, Chinese competition, over-regulation, inadequate infrastructure and an exhaustion of new technological ideas as possible culprits. An additional explanation of slow growth is now receiving attention… the persistence and expectation of peace.

This is the only answer I can come up with. War makes money, so it makes sense in light of the fact that the U.S. accounts for one-third of global arms sales.

Buffy Sainte-Marie is an indigenous Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, composer, visual artist, educator, pacifist, and social activist. She wrote a song titled, ‘Universal Soldier’. If you’ve never heard it, here it is. The song begins at 1:48.

The lyrics go as follows:

He’s five feet two and he’s six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He’s all of thirty-one and he’s only seventeen
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years

He’s a catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jane
A Buddhist and a Baptist and Jew
And he knows he shouldn’t kill and he knows he always will kill
You’ll for me my friend and me for you

And he’s fighting for Canada, he’s fighting for France
He’s fighting for the USA
And he’s fighting for the Russians and he’s fighting for Japan
And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way

And he’s fighting for democracy he’s fighting for the reds
He says it’s for the peace of all
He’s the one who must decide who’s to live and who’s to die
And he never sees the writing on the wall

But without him how would Hitler have condemned him at Le Val
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body as the weapon to the war
And without him all this killing can’t go on

He’s the universal soldier and he really is to blame
But his orders come from far away no more
They come from him and you and me and brothers can’t you see
This is not the way we put an end to war?

It is the last stanza that reveals Buffy Sainte-Marie’s key message. The artist reveals that it is us (you and me) that are the ones who start, continue and end wars.  Remember, the politicians are controlled by the people and work for the people. Or as Abraham Lincoln, one of the American presidents, said in his Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” If citizens refuse to support and/or participate in conflict and wars, then the killing will stop. As long as people agree to fight unnecessary wars for their political leaders, the killing continues. Let’s face it. Hitler could not have carried out his atrocities without his countrymen supporting him and without their willingness to carry them out.

Just Another Movie About a Myth

A commentary about myths perpetrated by Hollywood.

Hostiles is Hollywood’s latest Western movie that was released January 21. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I was curious as to whether this movie was different from other Westerns I’ve seen. A typical Western is cowboys fighting the savage Indians or Native Americans. Was this latest movie any different?  This is a synopsis from Tribute.ca.

Embittered U.S. Cavalry officer Captain Joseph J. Blocker is given the task of accompanying Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk and his family from Fort Berringer, an isolated Army outpost in New Mexico, back to their tribal lands in Montana in the late 1890s, in order to make sure they arrive safely without incident. Yellow Hawk, who has spent seven years in captivity, has cancer, and wants to die in peace on his own land.

Blocker hates “Indians,” having slaughtered many of them himself, and having nearly died at the hands of a Kiowa. Although he sees them as nothing but savages, he’s still forced to accept the assignment. Once he and his soldiers get out of sight of the fort, he orders that the Chief and his family are put in chains.

Here is the trailer

 

I’m saddened to say Hostiles is just another Western portraying the aboriginal people as savage, uncivilized people who need to be wiped out or at the very least civilized. I grew up watching movies that portrayed Native Americans as savages. The Oxford Dictionary defines savage as barbaric, primitive or uncivilized. Because of Hollywood stereotypes, I believed Native Americans were inferior to Caucasians. We never studied First Nations (FN) culture in school. This video clip shows Hollywood’s portrayal of the FN people and consequently reinforcing stereotypic beliefs which are still alive today.

It seems this movie is no different. The Guardian’s review seems to agree with me.

It sometimes looks as if [Scott] Cooper [the director] thinks that his film can acknowledge and cancel the historical issues of white oppression simply by turning the violence levels up to boiling point, so that the shock of its cruelty, and the virulence of toxic masculinity, combined with the emollient beauty of the surrounding natural world and a growing emotional tenderness between Rosalie and Blocker, will somehow dissolve the great historical wrongs within a romantic narrative of learning and personal discovery…A flawed, but interesting drama.

I had hoped that in this 21st century Hollywood would at least begin to show the world the truth about FN people. Everything I’ve learned and taught (I taught Social Studies for many years) says that aboriginal people were highly civilized thus refuting the myth that when the European settlers arrived in the “New World”, they encountered bands of primitive, uncivilized, pagan savages.

Allow me to prove my point. Wikipedia’s Indigenous people in Canada says the First Nations people had settled and established trade routes across what is now Canada by 500 BCE–1,000 CE. Communities developed each with its own culture, customs, and character. Many Aboriginal civilizations established characteristics that included permanent urban settlements or cities, agriculture, civic and monumental architecture; a reference to the Mound Builders.  Mound Builders were inhabitants of North America during a 5,000-year period who constructed various styles of earthen mounds for religious and ceremonial, burial, and residential purposes. Most notably, this article says the Indigenous people had complex societal hierarchies, meaning First Nations people had a division of labour in which its members of society were more or less specialized in particular activities and depended on others for goods and services;  a system regulated by custom and laws.

Ojibwa Chief George Copway whose Ojibwa name was Kah-Ge-Ga-Gah-Bowh meaning “He Who Stands Forever.” He lived from 1818-1863 and was a writer, ethnographer, Methodist missionary, lecturer, and advocate of Native Americans. Chief Copway is reported to say;

“Among the Indians there have been no written laws. Customs handed down from generation to generation have been the only laws to guide them.  Every one might act different from what was considered right did he choose to do so, but such acts would bring upon him the censure of the Nation….  This fear of the Nation’s censure acted as a mighty band, binding all in one social, honorable compact.”   (source)

An ancient Cherokee proverb says: “When the white man discovered this country Indians were running it. No taxes, no debt, women did all the work. White man thought he could improve on a system like this.” (source)

This Iroquois Prayer gives us an understanding of the Psyche of some the FN people.

We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us. We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water. We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases. We return thanks to the corn, and to her sisters, the beans and squash, which give us life. We return thanks to the bushes and trees, which provide us with fruit. We return thanks to the wind, which, moving the air, has banished diseases. We return thanks to the moon and the stars, which have given us their light when the sun was gone. We return thanks to our grandfather He-no, who has given to us his rain. We return thanks to the sun, that he has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye. Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in whom is embodied all goodness, and who directs all things for the good of his children  (Source: Huffington Post)

Do these quotes sound like they’re from an uncivilized, savage people? Definitely not. They reveal a people who had a strong connection and respect for the land. They describe a people who were highly organized and structured. That would not be the case if they were savages. They were not barbaric which Meriam-Webster defines as marked by a lack of restraint. FN people showed much restraint when it came to the land and using its resources.

Most western movies portrayed the FN people as wild, savage killers; not a peaceful people. Did the various aboriginal tribes fight with one another? Yes. This was a way to settle disputes, but their preference, like us, was to live in peace.

Duhaime’s Encyclopedia of Law tells of a peace accord, roughly 1100, between the Cayuga, Mohawks, Senecas, Oneidas and Onondagas Indians (collectively, the “Iroquois”). This accord is also referred to as the Oral Constitution of the Five Nations Indian Confederacy. But it is known to the aboriginal people of North America as the Great Law or Great Law of Peace.

The website, The Great Peacemakers explains that the accord

… protected the independence and liberties of each individual, each clan, and each nation while uniting the five nations into a confederacy, committed to inward well-being and outward strength. Raw materials and hunting grounds were to be shared. All religions were to be accepted. Unauthorized search was prohibited. Immigration into a nation within the League was welcomed regardless of ethnicity, but predicated upon acceptance of the Great Law.

It reminds me of the European Union, an organization that enhances common citizenship rights and improves cooperation, among other things. It is difficult to refute that the FN people were uncivilized. The Free Dictionary defines civilized as  ” having a highly developed society  and culture”.  The Great Law verifies just that.  It seems to me that Hollywood should be making movies that celebrate the truth about First Nations people instead of keeping a myth alive. But then again, maybe that would not be the makings for a very exciting movie.

Unexpected Bonuses to Briefly Coming Out of Retirement

Maybe the aboriginal people had it right all along.

You’ve perhaps noticed that I’ve published less frequently lately. Well, there’s a reason for that.  The six weeks prior to Christmas, I took off my retirement shoes and taught full time. The school I taught at for 27 years could not find a teacher to replace a maternity leave. Since the principal was sounding desperate, I agreed to take on a six-week contract.

I enjoyed being with young people again. That was why I went into teaching in the first place. Having said that, this experience definitely reaffirmed for me why I retired. Going back to planning lessons, marking assignments, and putting up with disruptive students confirmed for me that retirement from full-time teaching was the right choice.

Even though it was exhausting and demanding, I am truly grateful for the opportunities this experience provided. During my brief teaching stint, there was a professional development (PD) day scheduled. I admit, I was a bit negative about attending. After all, I would be retired once again in a few weeks. Why would I need more PD? I talked to my principal about it and he directed me to attend as the topic was general. I am so thankful he did. It was a very moving and powerful day.

In the morning, I attended a blanket ceremony. What is a blanket ceremony, you ask? This ceremony came about as a result of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) initiated by the Canadian government in 2008. The commission provided those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools system an opportunity to share their stories and experiences. Here is a paraphrased explanation of a blanket ceremony according to the Karios website:

In 1996, the Aboriginal Rights Coalition worked with Indigenous elders and teachers to develop an interactive way of learning the history most Canadians were never taught. The Blanket Exercise was the result. The Blanket Exercise is based on participatory education methodology and the goal is to build understanding about the shared history as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada by walking through pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance. Everyone is actively involved as they step onto blankets that represent the land, and into the role of First Nations, Inuit and later Métis people. By engaging on an emotional and intellectual level, the Blanket Exercise effectively educates and increases empathy.

Now I thought I knew about residential schools as I had taught about them  when the social studies curriculum changed in 2005; when residential schools were included in the high school curriculum. Experiencing this ceremony left me feeling both shocked and saddened. Shocked because to visually see the result of European contact on indigenous people was appalling, and saddened that my Eurocentric ancestors could be so cruel.

The afternoon of the PD day was spent learning about First Nation (FN) culture. I’ve always been drawn to the indigenous people’s culture, especially their spirituality. It is a spirituality that is so inclusive and respectful of nature. This Ancient Indian Proverb expresses FN spirituality well.

“Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

This Cherokee Prayer also illustrates the FN People’s sacredness.

“Oh Great Spirit, help me always to speak the truth quietly, to listen with an open mind when others speak, and to remember the peace that may be found in silence.”

The afternoon included a smudging ceremony. For the FN Peoples, the purpose of the smudging ceremony is to cleanse and to remove any negative energy that may be present in a place, an object or a person. This is why many FN activities start with a smudge. A smudge is made by lighting dried plants (sage, sweetgrass, cedar or tobacco) in a shell or bowl until they smoulder.

We were shown what to do when doing a smudge. The smoke from the smudge is directed towards the head, so a person can think clearly, ears so you can hear the good things in life of others and of yourself; your mouth so you can speak of good things and say kind words to one another; your heart so you can feel good about yourself and others; and lastly you smudge your whole self so you can be blessed for the day. How beautiful is that?

Another opportunity I had during my six-week teaching stint was I got in on a field trip that was already planned before I started. It was a trip to Blue Quills, formerly a Residential School.

Sadly, I knew nothing about the Residential Schools until the mid 2000’s. It certainly wasn’t taught to me in school or university.  In case you don’t know about the Residential Schools in Canada, here is a brief history.

The Residential School system was created with the intent of removing children from their own culture and assimilating them into Canadian culture. Many of the residential schools were run by churches of various denominations, with the majority run by the Roman Catholic Church. Over its more than hundred-year existence, roughly 150,000 Indigenous children were placed in residential schools nationally.  At least 6,000 of these students are estimated to have died while residents.

The residential school system harmed Indigenous children considerably by removing them from their families, depriving them of their native languages, and subjecting numerous of them to physical, mental and sexual abuse. Detached from their families and culture, and forced to speak only English or French, students who attended the residential school system were unable to fit into either their aboriginal communities or Canadian society. The legacy of the system has been connected to an increased incidence of post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide within Indigenous communities.

Back to my personal experience. The present Blue Quills Indian Residential School building was opened in 1931, and housed about 200 students a year. We toured the building and heard from two of the school’s survivors, both who were forcibly taken from their homes at the age of six to attend the school. They told many stories of the injustices that befell them; injustices such as lack of nutritious and sometimes inedible food, mental abuse, sexual abuse, and shaming practices by the staff. I was shocked to learn that the people of nearby community of St. Paul were not even aware that the school existed.

In 1969, residential schools were removed from churches. The government intended to sell Blue Quills to the nearby town of St. Paul for a dollar. Local Indigenous people formed the Blue Quills Native Education Council and sought authority to operate the school, but Indian Affairs disregarded their requests.

When they attempted to close Blue Quills in 1971, the local FN people held a sit-in at the school, demanding control of the school. Control was turned over to the Blue Quills Native Education Council and it became the first Canadian residential school administered by Aboriginal people. Blue Quills is now a FN college, run by the seven FN communities that surround it. The college’s central emphasis is on language revitalization, especially the Cree language. I applaud the FN people for their courage and determination, and for creating a fully functioning college which is still going strong in the 21st century.

John (Fire) Lame Deer was a Lakota-Sioux medicine man who once said,

“Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents. We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth. We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society.”

Our ancestors entered North America, known to some Indigenous groups as Turtle Island, with their superiority complex believing that they were the civilized ones and had a responsibility to “civilize” the original inhabitants of Turtle Island. Now I always taught my social students the importance of practicing “historical empathy,” to place themselves in the historical situation to gain a deeper understanding of the events. Our European ancestors were acting in the best way they knew with their belief systems of the period. However, I have come to realize that it was the indigenous culture who perhaps had it right with their culture of sharing the land, stewardship of the land and spirituality. Although FN spirituality varied between tribes, it taught reverence for their ancestors by honouring and respecting others, and a respect for the land. In comparison, Europeans had a culture of land ownership, land exploitation and who viewed FN spirituality as a collection of superstitions.  I have to wonder how different our country would be had our ancestors arrived with an attitude of receptivity to new ways, instead of an attitude of superiority.

Christmas Controversies 3.1

A commentary on political correctness.

Every Christmas since blogging, I’ve written about Christmas controversies and every year I keep reading about a “War on Christmas.”  It appears there are people who believe the Christian festival of Christmas is under attack. Personally, I have never witnessed it nor have I talked to people who feel this way.  People who believe there is a war on Christmas take all-encompassing phrases like “Happy Holidays” as insults to Christianity. They make holiday greetings and decorations into hypothetically divisive political issues.

I find it intriguing to discover, according to the Washington Post’s article, Poll: Conservatives most likely to be offended by holiday greetings, that,

“the demographic groups most offended by “Happy Holidays” include strong conservatives (21 percent) …Trump supporters (18 percent) and all men (18 percent). These are the same groups of people that tend to say there is too much political correctness in society, yielding a paradox: The folks who complain the most about political correctness are the ones who are the most offended by what they see as “incorrect” speech.

To frame it another way, conservatives [traditionalists] often caricature liberals [according to Dictionary.com, those who are open-minded or tolerant, especially free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.] as too quick to take offense over politically incorrect speech. But in the [Public Policy Polling] PPP poll, people who described themselves as “very conservative” were more than twice as likely to be offended by “Happy Holidays” (21 percent) as “very liberal” respondents were to be offended by “Merry Christmas” (10 percent).”

As I talked about in my last blog post, Christmas Controversies 3.0, Trump wholeheartedly jump on the “Christmas is under attack” bandwagon when he told a rally of his devotees in Grand Rapids, Michigan “We’re going to start saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”

Mostly of what I’ve read, this so-called war seems to be an American phenomenon, but unfortunately it is overflowing into Canada.  It appears that some Canadians, or at least some of our politicians in the province of Alberta, are claiming that Christmas is under attack. Newly elected United Conservative Party (UPC) leader Jason Kenney has turned the holiday celebrating Jesus’ birth into a political issue.

Global News’ article, Twitter mocks Jason Kenney for suggesting the left thinks ‘saying Merry Christmas is hateful’, reports that Kenney was quoted as saying in a column posted by the Calgary Sun,  “The problem is people on the left [those labelled liberal thinking] think saying ‘Merry Christmas’ is hateful,” and that  “Those voices of crazed political correctness will not govern what is allowed.”

What I found even more captivating is Kenney reacted to the Twitter backlash of his comment by tweeting on December 21st, “It was a *joke* about the excesses of political correctness.” Most confusing to me was he said in the tweet, “But not too far off the mark at a time when songs like Jingle Bells & White Christmas are generating controversy.”

I had never heard of the classic songs of Jingle Bells and White Christmas being scandalous. What is so controversial about one of the best-known and commonly sung songs in the world?  Even more surprising was to learn that the 1942, “White Christmas,” made famous by Bing Crosby; a song reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas scenery, that is, a snowy Christmas. What could be contentious about that? I wanted to know, so I did some research.

According to the Guardian, in the article, Is Jingle Bells racist? Despite backlash from the right, it’s not black and white, a Fox News host told viewers that the “Newest Christmas controversy has social justice warriors claiming this classic holiday carol is racist,” warning that Kyna Hamill was urging people to “shun the jaunty tune.”

Kyna Hamill is a university lecturer who probed the origins of the popular carol, and published her findings, perceiving that during the past 160 years the song had become an example of music whose “blackface and racist origins have been subtly and systematically removed from its history”. Hamill did say much reporting of her research was incorrect and laden with “all sorts of absolutely absurd” accusations.

It seems that there are those that think the popular Christmas song, ‘White Christmas’, is a racist song as well.  This controversy originated, according to Opposing Views, when country music star Darius Rucker,  an African American singer and songwriter, who was asked to perform at the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Rockefeller Center. When Rucker began singing ‘White Christmas,’ people protesting the death of Eric Garner, a black man who was killed by a white police officer in Staten Island, flooded the Rockefeller Center and the surrounding area. The public turned to Twitter to voice their objections. “The irony of watching Darius Rucker singing ‘White Christmas’ around the corner from the Eric Garner protest is mind-blowing,” tweeted a law student based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Critics of the singing of White Christmas, believe that the reference to the colour “white” by a black singer during a time of racial tensions was offensive and suggested a contempt for the feelings of other black people. Now I can only speak for myself, but that seems to be a stretch for me. Some individuals appear to look for any opportunity to create a political issue. I am still trying to wrap my head around as to why they feel the need to do so.

My conclusions: There is NO “War on Christmas.” Christmas is not being attacked. There are those that want us to believe it is, but all evidence that I’ve found says this ‘war’ is a myth being perpetrated by some for political gain.

I really like what Christopher Stuart Taylor, a Diversity and Inclusion Professional, says in his Huffpost article, If We Can’t Say ‘Merry Christmas’ in Canada, Multiculturalism Failed. Mr. Taylor wrote:

“As I returned the greeting I wondered: since when did “Merry Christmas” become a political statement especially in multicultural Canada? … Multiculturalism is a complete and utter failure in Canada when it is politically incorrect to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ …. When was the last time you told someone you didn’t know ‘Merry Christmas’ without pausing and wondering if they may or may not be offended?”

For those that do not know, multiculturalism is official policy in Canada, as it should be. The Act says, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage.

That tells me there is no need to stop wishing people ‘Merry Christmas’.  As I said in my last post, it is really about common-sense etiquette. If you know someone is a Christian who is celebrating Christmas wish them ‘Merry Christmas.’ Likewise, say ‘Happy Hanukkah’ to those you know to be Jewish.  To your Hindu friends say happy Diwali when they celebrate. During Ramadan, say “Ramadan Mubarak” which means “Happy Ramadan”. If you don’t know a person’s faith, don’t worry about political correctness. Just say what feels right. When in primarily a Christian country, no one should be offended when greeted with a ‘Merry Christmas.’. If I were in Israel, I would not be offended if someone wished me a “Happy Hanukkah.” Most non-Christians would not be offended when wished a Merry Christmas in a Christian country?

The statistics appear to agree. According to the Washington Post’s article I sited earlier, “only 3 percent of respondents said they’d be personally offended if somebody said “Merry Christmas” to them. But 13 percent said “Happy Holidays” would be offensive to them. So, individuals who opt for the more inclusive, nondenominational “Happy Holidays” may end up offending more people than if they’d just said “Merry Christmas” in the first place.”

The Importance of Remembering

A Commentary on the victims of war.

Once again, the November 11th Remembrance Day is upon us. It is the day of the year that marks the anniversary of the official ending of World War I. In Canada Remembrance Day is a national holiday and all Commonwealth Nations observe this day as a day to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. For those that don’t know, the Commonwealth is an organization of 53 member states that were mostly territories of the former British Empire, which includes the United Kingdom. The United States has a day of remembrance called Veterans Day, which is an official federal holiday that is observed annually on November 11. Its purpose is to honor people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, that is, veterans.

Allied military cemetery in Normandy, France

Since visiting Vimy Ridge and the Normandy Beaches in France two years ago, my wife and I have a stronger appreciation for all soldiers and the sacrifice they made to maintain freedoms. Visiting both WWI and WWII military commentaries was truly a humbling experience. What struck us both was the age of many of the soldiers, some as young as 17 years old. We now attend the Remembrance Day ceremonies with much more gratitude and appreciation for all soldiers.

Remembrance Day is an important day and it is imperative that we remember the soldiers who have lost their lives or put their lives on the line to protect the rights of its citizens. But what about the countless civilians that lost their lives during times of war or worse, through genocide. Article II of United Nation’s 1948 Genocide Convention describes genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Countless numbers of people have lost their lives as a result of genocide or because of bombing runs or merciless killing because they were considered enemies. Shouldn’t they be remembered too?

I would like to believe that one of the reasons the world went to war in 1939 (WWII) was because the Nazis were exterminating not only the Jews from continental Europe, but millions of others it deemed “undesirable.” By the end of the war in 1945, some eleven million people—over half of them Jews—had died, either through mass extermination, deportation, starvation or overwork in his prison camps. However, much of the world ignored or denied that the Nazis were doing this.  There is little doubt in my mind that it was a genocide that occurred.

Also during WWII, the Rape of Nanking took place. We seldom hear about this event as most schools in the West focus on the fascist Nazis. The Rape of Nanking began on December of 1937 when the Japanese Imperial Army marched into China’s capital city of Nanking and proceeded to murder 300,000 out of the 600,000 civilians and soldiers in the city. The shocking violence consisting of citywide burnings, stabbings, drownings, rapes, and thefts which continued for about six weeks. The Japanese troops are most notorious for raping over 20,000 women, most of whom were murdered thereafter so they could never bear witness. Clearly this was a genocide.

Then there was Joseph Stalin, the dictator of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1929 to 1953. Stalin ruled by terror, and millions of his own citizens died during his brutal reign. It has been estimated that between 1934 and 1939, one million party members were arrested and executed. During the same period, it is thought that 10 million were sent to the gulags (system of forced-labor camps in the Soviet Union) with many of them dying either in transit or as a result of the terrible living conditions they had to endure.  This certainly was a genocide.

Bones of victims at a memorial to the Rwandan genocide By DFID.

Many of us older people remember the Rwandan Genocide which began on April 6, 1994. This was when groups of ethnic Hutus, using mainly machetes, began a campaign of terror and bloodshed the Central African country of Rwanda. For about 100 days, the Hutu militias followed a premeditated attempt to exterminate the country’s ethnic Tutsi population. The killings ended after armed Tutsi rebels, invading from neighboring countries, managed to defeat the Hutus and halt the genocide in July 1994. By then, over one-tenth of the population, an estimated 800,000 persons, had been killed. At least the history books label this event as a genocide.

There are many, many other genocides that have occurred in history. Those listed above are but a sampling. Shouldn’t the innocent victims of genocide as well as civilian casualties— referred to as “collateral damage” by the military, be remembered? Many of these victims were children.  Now I’m not suggesting this be done on Remembrance Day, but perhaps there could be another day set aside as a holiday to remember civilian victims of war and of genocide. Perhaps this day could be called Victims of War Day or Victims of Genocide Day. It just seems like the right thing to do.

Diane Samuels, a British author and playwright, said, “How can I pretend that nothing happened?”  Sometimes I feel like that is what is happening. We pretend that these genocides or civilian deaths did not happen because we focus solely on our soldiers.

But perhaps Aldous Huxley, an English writer, novelist, philosopher, said it best when he said,

“The most shocking fact about war is that its victims and its instruments are individual human beings, and that these individual beings are condemned by the monstrous conventions of politics to murder or be murdered in quarrels not their own.”

We need to pay more homage and respect for those who innocently have lost their lives in conflicts that were not of their own making. They deserve that respect and honour.