Tribalism Isn’t Working, so There Needs to be a Better Way

A commentary on our present state of democracy.

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The province where I live is presently immersed in an election to determine who will govern  for the next four years. As I educate myself and watch the campaigning, I am alarmed.  Why you ask? The Edmonton Journal’s article, Controversies hound numerous MLA hopefuls ahead of Tuesday’s election, outlines numerous candidates, most from one political party, who have posted homophobic, Islamophobic, and white supremacist comments on social media. There are other controversies as well, such as one of the parties being under RCMP investigation for voter fraud and a “kamikaze’ scheme during the leadership race, yet people continue to support this party. I don’t understand why.

More and more, it feels like elections and politics are becoming increasingly divisive and polarized. Politicians show no shame in provoking anger, attacking one another, bolstering fear, and pitting people against each other. This certainly is true for the provincial election happening right now. I see it in our Federal politics as well, with the current Prime Minister and his government attacking the opposition leader and his party and visa versa. Threats of lawsuits for defamation of character are taunted. Then there is the United States, the most polarized country with its president constantly attacking someone and most definitely displaying these polarized views.

I’ve gone through numerous elections before, so I’m trying to understand what is happening in this one. I don’t recall them being so divisive before. It could be my memory, but I don’t believe so. We seem to be living in turbulent times. Recently, someone helped me understand what is happening. He said—not  in these exact words—’our democratic system is based on tribalism’. What is he talking about?

The Oxford Dictionary defines tribalism​ as “the state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes,” and “the behaviour and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group.” Yes, this is what is happening in our politics. We have tribes—political parties with specific philosophies on how to govern—with members loyal to the tribe, that is, political party, and its tribe members refuse to consider philosophies different from the one they align themselves with.

From Debate.org

I see two main philosophies; conservatism and liberalism, or some may say the progressives. The Oxford Dictionary defines conservatism as “commitment to traditional values and ideas with opposition to change or innovation,” and “the holding of political views that favour free enterprise, private ownership, and socially conservative ideas.” It defines Liberalism as, “willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas,” and “favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms.” That same dictionary defines progressives as “an idea favouring social reform,” and “favouring change or innovation.”

That appears to be it. Both philosophies are found in most democratic countries,  and its people are aligned with one or the other. In Canada, some of our political parties even have these words in their names. Federally, we have the Conservative Party of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada. In my province, we have a Liberal Party and the United Conservative Party (UCP). In the U.S. there are the Democrats—the tribe that follows liberal/progressive philosophy—and the Republicans—a conservative philosophy. Even churches like the Catholic church is divided into conservatives and liberals. I’ll be honest about which tribe I align with. It’s the Liberal tribe as we have to be open to new ideas, since many of the old ways are not working.

From my point of view, political tribalism is failing us. As I mentioned earlier, it stokes anger, promotes attacks on one another, bolsters fear, and pits people against each other. I’ve read many of the comments on political stories involving the provincial election, and people are nasty, and insults are written to those who oppose their views. Conservatism is strong in rural areas of my province, and my experience has been most are unwilling to listen to other points of view. They dig into their positions and refuse to listen to counter arguments. This is NOT healthy!

The New York Times has an opinion article called, The Destructive Dynamics of Political Tribalism, which outlines the many ways tribal politics is detrimental to our societies. Canada’s Maclean’s Magazine has an article titled, Tribalism is tearing Canada apart. The title needs no explanation.

There must be a better way; a gentler, kinder, and more cooperative way. I’ve pondered this and the only system that makes sense to me is a system of governance involving consensus, which means a general agreement must occur in decision-making.

Wikipedia explains consensus decision-making as,

a group decision-making process in which group members develop, and agree to support a decision in the best interest of the whole group or common goal. Consensus may be defined professionally as an acceptable resolution, one that can be supported, even if not the ‘favourite’ of everyone.”

Wikipedia says consensus decision-making aims to be:

  1. Agreement Seeking: A consensus decision-making process attempts to generate as much agreement as possible.
  2. Collaborative: Participants contribute to a shared proposal and shape it into a decision that meets the concerns of all group members .
  3. Cooperative: Participants in an effective consensus process strive to reach the best possible decision for the group and all its members, rather than competing for personal preferences.
  4. Egalitarian: All members of a consensus decision-making body are afforded, as much as possible, equal input into the process. All members could present, and amend proposals.
  5. Inclusive: As many stakeholders as possible should be involved in the consensus decision-making process.
  6. Participatory: The consensus process should actively solicit the input and participation of all decision-makers.
The Legislative Building of the NWT.

Does consensus decision-making exist in governance today? Absolutely. Consensus democracy government is alive and well in Canada as it is used in two of Canada’s three territories; Northwest Territories and Nunavut. These Legislatures are designed so politicians sit in a circle, symbolizing a unity of purpose.  In Provincial Legislatures, opposing parties sit across from each other, symbolizing opposing views. It’s interesting to note that the population of these territorial jurisdictions are a majority of Indigenous people.

Consensus democracy government stems from the Indigenous culture. I’ve always maintained that the traditional Indigenous people have always done things right, and this is but another example. A blog by Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. called What does traditional consensus decision making mean? explains some of the roots of this form of governance. I know many of you are thinking “no way consensus democracy would work because it is impossible to get everyone to agree.” This blog explains,

Consensus is not the same as unanimity. Consensus means a group or community arrives at a consensus by listening to the opinions and concerns of others – they work towards a suitable decision. Not everyone is necessarily pleased with the outcome but they realize it is the best decision for the community. Unanimity requires that everyone involved agrees.

This is how governments should work, and need to work. Perhaps it is time for democratic countries to seriously look at alternatives, such as consensus democracy. Just because tribal politics has been our the way till now, doesn’t mean we can’t make a change for the better.

When Will the Meanness End?

As a teacher, I spent my entire career trying to instill in my students the values of respect, responsibility, honesty, integrity, kindness, and compassion. I know many of my colleagues did as well. We tried, as teachers, to show students that bullying behaviour was unacceptable, and not the way to solve problems. We also taught that all people were equal and that racism was immoral.

What is discouraging is the amount of bullying I see happening in the world. The World Health Organization defines bullying as, “repeated exposure of one person to physical and/or emotional aggression including teasing, name calling, mockery, threats, harassment, taunting, hazing, social exclusion or rumours.”  Here are two recent examples.

The Edmonton Journal reported that an Edmonton, Alberta mosque received a detestable letter in January of this year. Here are some of the highlights of the letter:

“On behalf of real Albertans, we would like to advise you that you and your religion [Muslims] don’t belong here in Alberta…We are White. We are Christians. We are Proud…Our Premier to be…is going to take Alberta back…We are not racist. We just want our way of life back.”

What amazes me is the author(s) say they speak on behalf of real Albertans. For those who may not know, an Albertan is a person who lives in Alberta, one of the ten provinces in Canada. I googled ‘real Albertans’ because I really don’t know what a real Albertan is. I could not find a definition. By the tone of the letter, I would say I am not a real Albertan, even though I was born, raised, and lived here all my life.

The letter says ‘we are White’ and ‘We are Christians.” I’m also white and raised Christian. A declaration of ‘we are white’ can only be interpreted as a declaration of white supremacy. Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines white supremacy as a “person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.” So, that definitely makes me not a real Albertan as I think ALL humans are equal. That is what the UN Declaration of Human Rights says in Article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Now what astonishes me the most about this terrible letter is the declaration, “We are Christian.” There is nothing Christian about this letter’s message. Romans 2:11, in the Christian Bible says, “For God shows no partiality.” Furthermore, Mark 12:31 commands, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” The message of the letter is the opposite. There is NOTHING Christian about this letter’s message.

The declaration, “We are not racist,” in the letter is what astounds me the most. Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” The letter’s declaration of “We are White” infers whites are superior. Clearly the author(s) of this letter are racist and don’t know what a racist is, nor what a Christian is.

In January of this year, CTV News reported that a threatening letter was left on the doorstep of a Leduc, Alberta Indigenous family urging them to ‘move out’.  The letter said, ‘We do not like your kind’. This is eerily similar to a letter I referred to in an earlier blog post, Should we be worried.  That letter, like this one, was signed “Your friendly Neighbours.” There is nothing friendly about a letter that threatens. The authors of this letter are hypocrites.

Furthermore, this is a racist letter. The author(s) are suggesting superiority of a particular race—the white race—for they stated, ‘We do not like your kind’.  They disapproved of the family’s “lifestyle,” criticizing the upkeep of the family’s home. The writers wrote, “If you cannot take care of your property, then go back to the Indian reservation where it is accepted…We gave you land and you need to respect the generosity.”

The last statement is insulting, as the author(s) clearly don’t know Canada’s history. Indigenous people are the original peoples—thus why they are referred to as First Nations People—of Canada. A website of the government of British Columbia (another Canadian province), also called B.C. says, “Indigenous people have lived in the area now known as B.C. for more than 10,000 years.” Europeans, on the other hand, landed in Canada in 1497 with the expedition of John Cabot. Really, the Norsemen (Vikings) were the first in Canada dating to around the year 1000. L’Anse aux Meadows, in Newfoundland and Labrador is the only confirmed Norse archeological site in North America, and is widely accepted as evidence. Indigenous people were in Canada long before Europeans.  This is why the letter’s statement, “We gave you land and you need to respect the generosity,” is absurd. If anyone was generous, it was the Indigenous people who welcomed and allowed the Europeans to stay.

I like to believe that we teachers made a difference in instilling values into our students. I’ve had parents tell me we have. But, it only takes one person to undermine what teachers and parents do. The Psychology Today’s article, The Trump Effect: An Update, says,

“Last spring, we wrote a two-part post about “The Trump Effect,” which was originally defined as an increase in bullying in schools caused by the rhetoric Donald Trump used during his presidential campaign. Now, a year into Mr. Trump’s presidency, the definition of The Trump Effect has expanded to include religious and racial bullying by adults as well as: misogyny, sexual assault, and other socially unacceptable behaviours.”

The article goes on to say,

“Free speech and expressing our opinion is a constitutional right. It’s up to others whether or not they want to listen. But when the speaker is POTUS, we all listen. And when the president’s use of provocative rhetoric that causes harm to others, including and especially innocents, or when he behaves in previously unacceptable ways, what can we do? What should we do?

First, we can realize the only person we have control over is ourselves. We control what we think, what we choose to say, and how we act and react. We can choose to be harsh and damaging, or to be kind and compassionate.”

It is not fair to put all the blame on the current resident of the White House, as there are other world leaders spewing rhetoric promoting racism and bullying. However, Trump is likely the single most negative influence in North America. This childish man has brought out the worst in some people and his rhetoric is impacting my country. What Trump has taught me is our world needs more love, kindness and compassion.  Thankfully, there are good people. Neighbours of the Leduc Indigenous family overwhelming came out supporting the family. (see Hateful letter backfires).

A TRUE Christian speaks out against unkindness, racism and bullying. Christian or not, that is what we need to do. I think Francis of Assisi said it best in the Serenity Prayer. “Lord, grant that I might not so much seek to be loved as to love.”  Or as the Christian Bible says in 1 John 4:20,

“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” If the authors of these letters claim to be Christian, then they need to act as one.

Should We Be Worried?

A commentary on the rise of bigotry

On October 27th, yet another mass shooting occurred in the United States at a Pittsburgh synagogue. A radicalized, American born citizen expressed his hatred of Jews during the rampage, telling police officers afterward that Jews were committing genocide and he wanted them all to die. Sadly, this disturbed individual shot and killed 11 Jewish worshipers during the Jewish Sabbath service. (see Pittsburgh synagogue)

anti-hateWhile watching CNN, I saw an interview with a Jewish Rabbi hours after the mass shooting happened. The words uttered by the Rabbi struck me. He said, “I worry that hatred is becoming mainstream.” These words struck me because he expressed what I’ve been feeling. It seems people feel empowered to express their hatred towards people, such as visible minorities, indigenous people, Jewish people, Muslim people, immigrants, LGBT people, transgender people, and the list goes on and on. This sense of permission to express hatred is not only happening in the U. S. but in my country as well. I began to recall all the things I’ve read or heard in the news this month.

Earlier this month, CBC News reported in an article entitled,  ‘Go back where Indians belong’: St. Albert mother frightened by racist letter from neighbour, that a  woman living in St. Albert, a city two hours from where I live, fears for her children’s safety so has decided to move out of her rented condo.

An anonymous letter, which her 12-year-old daughter found in the mailbox, complained about children riding a scooter on driveways and playing basketball and football on the street. Then the letter said, “We don’t like your kind around here.” The tone of the letter became threatening and focused on the family’s First Nations or indigenous background. The letter told the family to, “Move out or things will escalate. Would not want to see the kids getting hurt. This isn’t a reserve. Go back to the reserve where Indians belong.” The letter ended with, “Your friendly Phase II Neighbours.”

Now I find this entire worrisome incident ironic for two reasons. First, the letter is signed “Your friendly Neighbours.” I would hardly call a letter threatening a family as friendly. The author or authors of this letter is/are hypocrites to say the least. Secondly, it is ironic that these neighbours, presumably white Caucasians, are telling an indigenous family to go back where they belong—in their minds the reserve—when indigenous people have been living on this land that we call Canada for thousands of years before the white Europeans arrived. It was our ancestors who created reserves in  the first place to acquire land for the state. It seems to me that if anyone should be telling someone to go back to where they belong, it should be the indigenous people telling the Caucasians to go back where they belong. I would be willing to bet that the “friendly Neighbours” are ignorant of Canadian history.

Another CBC News titled, Indigenous man kicked out of McDonald’s after racist confrontation says he feels lucky to be alive, describes how an Indigenous man in June was kicked out of one of the city of Red Deer’s MacDonald’s restaurants  following a racist and profanity-laced encounter with another customer. Zach Running Coyote, an indigenous actor from a nearby town, says he decided to confront a man who used a racial slur. Coyote said he wanted the man to say it to his face when he heard the racist say, ‘What’s your f–king problem?’ The racist customer then turned to his girlfriend saying, ‘That, “insert expletive,” little Indian know-it-all should mind his own business.'” Leaving the restaurant’s parking lot, the bigot yelled that he was sick of Coyote’s people “mooching” off tax dollars and living on welfare, spewing more profanity as he sped away. Clearly, the xenophobic is ignorant of history. If you read my post entitled, Is First Contact with Indigenous People Necessary? or do some research on your own, you will learn most of the indigenous stereotypes are based on misconceptions. To stereotypically label all indigenous people as welfare recipients simply is untrue.

Also, in the province where I reside, a story came out this month about one of Alberta’s new political parties, the United Conservative Party (UCP), claiming it does not share the “hateful views” of Soldiers of Odin, a white supremist group, after three candidates, contending to run as a UCP candidate, posed for photos with members of the extremist hate group. (see Candidates unknowingly posed).

What I find ironic, is in another CBC report, UCP nomination candidate says he knew Soldiers of Odin were coming to party’s pub night, the candidate told reporters that, ‘People have a constitutional right to voice their opinions and I’m not going to deny them that.’ In other words, he knew all along who the Soldiers of Odin were. Is this new political party attracting racists? Do its policies allow extremists to feel comfortable in their party? I have a difficult time believing any political party encourages racist extremists to join them, but sometimes actions speak louder than words.

These are just three examples of intolerance in my province. There are many more, I assure you. If this is occurring in every province, then racism seems to be rampant in my country. Hate crimes are on the increase. The National Observer reported last year that police-reported hate crimes in Canada rose in 2016 for the third year in a row, and became much more violent, according to data from Statistics Canada. With all the rhetoric coming from the current resident of the American White House bombarding  the Canadian news, it doesn’t surprise me that hatred is becoming mainstream. Even some of our Canadian politicians are spouting that there should be less immigration. Maxime Bernier, a once outspoken Conservative MP who left the party and has since formed a new political party, criticized an immigration system that he said was attempting to “forcibly change the cultural character and social fabric of Canada.” (see Maxime Bernier’s rebellion) Are these politicians bigots or just ignorant? Whatever it is, I don’t want to live in a world that is divisive and exclusive.

One thing I have learned from the many years of travel and experiencing numerous cultures, is that every human being, no matter what race or culture, just wants to live comfortably, enjoy life and live in peace and safety. The late Pierre Berton, a Canadian non-fiction author and journalist, once said, “Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” I believe that to be true. Racism comes from ignorance. Racism is a learned attitude. Racism does not belong in my world or in my country. It needs to be met head-on and stamped out. Everyone, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation have the right to live their lives with dignity. As stated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, declared in 1948,

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The bottom line is a bigot is a bully. Bullies intimidate to get their way. There is no place for a bully in my world.

Is First Contact with Indigenous People Necessary?

A commentary on the ignorance of non-Indigenous people about Canada’s first residents

This month, CBC reported on a ‘Offensive’ online test about Indigenous Canadians.   This test was being used in an Outreach school, which is a school for students who don’t fit into a traditional school.  This school was using distance Learning materials which contained a multiple-choice test question which asked about the “positive effect” of residential schools. Students could choose from four possible answers such as “children were away from home” and “children became civilized.” A photo of the question was posted to social media by an offended student from the school, sparking swift apologies from the province’s education minister and school officials among condemnation from critics.

As the CBC article states, this question reflects views that are decades old; the very views highlighted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada that calls for change. With all that has been learned about the Residential Schools in recent years, it amazes me that a question like this is still in use. Clearly there is much educating and healing to be done between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people. As a social teacher who taught about Residential Schools, I assure you there was nothing positive about these schools. The only intent of these schools was cultural genocide. Or, as spoken by our first Prime Minister, Sir. John A MacDonald in 1887, “The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion [of Canada] as speedily as they are fit to change.” There is nothing positive about destruction of another culture.

In another CBC news article titled, Radio ad claiming to debunk ‘myths’ of residential schools draws criticism, reported this month that a two-minute ad aired across multiple private radio stations in the province of Saskatchewan. It begins with a question: “are Canadians being told the whole truth about residential schools?” It continues, “We have been told that the residential school system deserves the blame for many of the dysfunctions in Indigenous society — abuse of alcohol and drugs, domestic violence and educational failures can all be blamed on the school system which did not finally end until the 1990s,” says the ad. This ad then goes on to debunk what it calls myths, such as the myth that residential schools robbed native kids of their childhood and the myth that the harm that was done to those attending residential schools has been passed on to today’s generation.

I was appalled to learn of this. It reminds me of the Holocaust deniers who deny the genocide of Jews occurred and who claim that Nazi Germany’s Final Solution was aimed only at deporting Jews, claiming the slaughtering of Jews is a myth. Now  we have residential school deniers who deny that residential schools were  harmful and that the problems of the Indigenous people are unrelated to these schools.

Earlier this month my wife and I watched a three-part series on APTN (The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) called First Contact. If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to watch it when it is rebroadcast on October 8th. I have taught Social Studies for years and thought I knew all there was to know about Indigenous people. This program taught me things I never knew and challenged my stereotypes about Indigenous people.

First Contact takes six Canadians, all with strong opinions about Indigenous People, on a 28-day journey into Indigenous Canada. These were people from all across Canada and who describe Indigenous people as alcoholics, drug abusers, welfare cheats, lazy, and entitled. They claim Indigenous Canadians are angry at white people, always get free money and handouts, are a drain to the system, and they just want people to feel sorry for them as  they are victims. One participant, who lived by a reserve growing up, spoke of how she was told never to go on the reserve as it was dangerous and to never look  at an indigenous person.

These six individuals left their everyday lives behind and traveled to Winnipeg, Nunavut, Alberta, Northern Ontario, and the coast of BC to visit Indigenous communities. The idea was to challenge their perceptions and confront their opinions about Indigenous Canadians.

In Episode one, the participants begin their journey in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In Winnipeg they work alongside two community driven movements; the Bear Clan patrol which works to keep Winnipeg’s notorious North End streets safe, and Drag the Red which takes on the sobering task of helping to solve cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women by searching the river, and the riverbank, for remains or other evidence. Then the group traveled over 2,000 kilometres north to the remote Inuit community of Kimmirut where they discover how difficult life on the land is for the Inuit people.

In the second episode, the group of six arrive in Muskrat Dam, one of several fly-in reserves in Northern Ontario. Let’s face it, us non-Indigenous Canadians cannot understand why aboriginal people continue to live in remote places like Muskrat Dam. While there, the participants learn why relocating isn’t an option for them as families have lived there for generations. They will also learn tough lessons about educating youth in a remote fly-in community, the impact of the legacy of residential schools, and learn that clean drinking water is unavailable there, and is unavailable in 140 other reserves across the country. The next stop takes the travellers to Alberta. With a population of over 17,000, the Maskwacis reserve has a reputation for gangs, crime, and a high suicide rate.  In Maskwacis, the six attend their first Pow Wow and sweat lodge ceremony, causing some attitudes within the group to shift.

In the last episode, the group is taken to Calgary, to experience life on the streets, and then north, to an Edmonton prison to learn about life on the inside for Indigenous inmates. According to a Statistics Canada report, Indigenous people comprise about 5 per cent of Canada’s population but account for 27 per cent of the federal prison population in 2016–17. The final stop is in Ahousaht First Nation, on the west side of Vancouver Island. Historically, Ahousaht has suffered many issues, but in recent years, with strong leadership from within, the reserve has made many changes and turned the community around. Sadly, not all minds were changed. A rift began to occur in the group, ending with four of them challenging the two individuals from my home province who still held the same view of Indigenous Canadians as when they started.

One of the lines in the series that struck me was, “We are all treaty people.” Indian Treaties were agreements made between Europeans and Native Canadians used to secure alliances, and most often to acquire land from Native Canadians. None of us were present when these treaties were agreed upon. It was our ancestors who made these agreements. That is true for those of us who are descendants of European settlers as it is for Indigenous Canadians. These Treaties are still honoured today, so the statement, “We are all treaty people,” is true. Treaties do not just apply to Native Canadians.

The chief from Alberta’s biggest reserve, Maskwacis, said money for his people came from a fund. He said most non-aboriginal people don’t understand that the money they use to run their reserves comes from this fund and that the fund is a finite amount of money. I wondered what he meant by fund. The CBC article, How does native funding work? explains how funding from the federal government works. The article states,

“The federal government established each First Nation band as an autonomous entity and, therefore, provides separate program funding to each one…”

“The primary method to fund [Indigenous] services is through what’s called ‘contribution agreements.’ The agreements are renewed annually, although not always on time…that means ‘First Nations must often reallocate funds from elsewhere to continue meeting community service requirements.’ The article also says that “while the agreements state the services or actions to be provided, they do not always focus on service standards or results to be achieved…there’s no linking of funding levels to national standards for services such as in the equalization program for provinces.” The article says the growth rate of federal funding to First Nations has not been keeping pace with the growth rate in transfers to the provinces.

This must be what Maskwacis’ chief means by fund.  Each reserve receives a set amount of funding from the federal government to provide services for their band.  The truth is, Indigenous people do not get endless handouts from the government, as many Canadians think.

There is so much misinformation about Indigenous Canadians and stereotypic beliefs about aboriginal people . It is time that we as non-Indigenous Canadians learn the truth about residential schools and the effects of it instead of sitting comfortable in our ignorance and being arrogant with our judgemental point of views. The two individuals in the series from my home province illustrated this by their lack of openness to change their views.

Hockey is Part of Canada

A commentary on two tragedies that affected all Canadians

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.

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.