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.

Do We Really Want to Erase History?

A commentary on how to handle controversial historical figures.

It seems there is a call for us North Americans to take another look at our history. That is a good thing. As a retired Social Studies and history teacher, I emphasized to my students that history is NOT fact since it is past events that have been interpreted by historians. In other words, historians analyze past events whereby they use diaries, archeological artifacts, and so on, to determine what happened. This is not without their biases and beliefs, or as Napoléon Bonaparte once allegedly said, “History is a set of lies agreed upon.” History is a historian’s interpretation of the past.

In  the United States many people are calling for long-standing monuments that honour confederate generals to be removed. A similar debate is also developing in Canada involving the country’s first prime minister (PM), Sir. John A MacDonald. Canada’s first PM was one of our more colourful politicians as he was a notorious drinker. It is well documented that MacDonald was a regular binge drinker.

I first heard of the controversial issue of removing statues of U.S. Confederate generals in April of this year when I watched a news report of New Orleans removing a monument during the dark. Numerous statues in various U.S. cities have been removed since. So why are they being removed?

General Robert E. Lee located in Charlottesville, Virginia

The Currents, CBC Radio program, addressed the issue of U.S. Confederate statues represent ‘image of America as a white society’. The article quotes Eric Foner, the author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. Foner argues what many Confederate statues actually represent is “this image of America as a white society. That’s why people object to them, not because of a lack of interest in heritage or legacy.” Foner says, He goes on to say, “These statues actually don’t have a lot to do with the Civil War …They were put up mostly to be part of the legitimacy of white supremacy, of the Jim Crow system in the South, long after slavery.” The Jim Crow system was a system of racial segregation in the southern U.S. Foner explains that many of the statues were erected in the 1890s when the rights of black people were severely reduced.

What is the debate in Canada about?  For those who don’t know Canadian history, Sir John A. Macdonald was one of the founders of the Dominion of Canada and during his terms as prime minister (1867-1873 and 1878-1891) he had a transcontinental railway built. The controversy regarding him comes from the fact that during that time, the federal government approved the first residential schools in Canada.

Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first PM

The Global News’ article, The controversy over Sir John A. Macdonald, explains that the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (EFTO), one of the teacher’s unions, is lobbying to remove MacDonald’s name from schools across the province. The union claims using Macdonald’s name creates an unsafe environment for kids to learn and work in because of what it calls Macdonald’s role as the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.”

James Daschuk, an assistant professor of history at the University of Regina and author of Clearing the Plains says. “It wasn’t just with Indigenous people. In 1885, Macdonald told the House of Commons that Canada should take away the vote from people of Chinese origin on the grounds that they were a different race than Europeans.”

It isn’t just about Sir. John A MacDonald. In July, CBC reported in its article, Statue of Edward Cornwallis, that the city of Halifax in Nova Scotia will make a decision on the fate of the city’s controversial statue of Edward Cornwallis, a military officer who founded Halifax for the British in 1749. It was Cornwallis that issued the so-called scalping proclamation, offering a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi’kmaq person.

So where do we draw the line? Do we stop at prime ministers? Fathers of Confederation? The Ottawa Citizen’s article, Where will it stop? refers to Michel Prévost, president of la Société d’histoire de l’Outaouais and a University of Ottawa archivist.  He says some people have lobbied for the removal of Mackenzie King’s statue from Parliament Hill for Canada’s decision in June 1939 to deny entry to more than 900 Jewish refugees who had fled Germany. Already barred from docking in Cuba and the United States, their ship, the MS St. Louis, returned to Europe, where more than 250 of them subsequently died in the Holocaust.

Prévost also explains that a Father of Confederation, Hector-Louis Langevin, would have his name stripped from the Wellington Avenue building that both bears his name and houses the prime minister’s office. Langevin was one of the original designers of the residential school system.

Preston Manning, one of our conservative Canadian politician on CBC Radio’s, The Sunday Edition said,

“I think there are unsavory aspects to populism. And I think one need to deplore those, but I think one needs to focus more on the root causes of that alienation, rather that fixating on just the negative eccentricities of it.”

Most often I disagree with Manning’s views, but I agree with this one. We are fixating on the negative. It is shameful to remove those names and statues of important figures in Canadian and American history. This is not the answer. Having said that, it is important to recognize the atrocities that these people have done. We mustn’t forget that Sir John A MacDonald was the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.” or wanted to take away the vote from Chinese people. Or, that Confederate statues represent an image of America as strictly a white society. As a retired teacher, the teacher in me says these could be some teachable moments. Instead of removing the names of these historical figures from buildings and streets, or taking down statues; instead we should be using them to educate people about both their achievements and the horrific things those historical figures did.

Debate about our histories is healthy! We should re-evaluate our history. Some historians agree with me. Don Doyle, a professor of history at the University of South Carolina, (see Historians Warn) says.

“I find it very exciting and refreshing that Americans are revisiting their history and questioning just why we honor some people, some events, and not others. It is a healthy reminder that history, as the search for understanding of the past, must always challenge public history as monuments and hero worship in the public sphere.”

Perhaps people are over reacting. Instead of removing all of these controversial statues of historical figures, erasing history so to speak, let’s relocate them to museums where people can be educated on both the positive and negative aspects our history. Good or bad, these people are still a part of our histories. Perhaps a plaque could be associated with each historical figure explaining the good achieved by the figure, as well as explaining the atrocities they are associated with that historical character. These people were only following the belief system of their time period. They didn’t know any different. When I taught history, I emphasized the importance of practicing historical empathy.  Historical empathy is the understanding of why people in history did what they did, as opposed to simply knowing what they did.  Instead of attempting to erase the dark periods of our histories, we need to practice historical empathy and acknowledge them. We should attempt to understand why these horrific things happened in our past so that they might not happen again. Maybe then healing can occur.

We Are Not All the Same

A commentary on stereotyping

I recently saw on Facebook a video called, All That We Share. It is a video that was created in Denmark and provides a powerful message about stereotyping. To be clear on what stereotyping is, Simply Psychology defines a stereotype as “a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.”  If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

The video discusses many stereotypes, but let’s focus on some of the common ones. First, let’s look at a big one, perpetrated by rhetoric by populist movements about immigration. A common stereotype that I’ve personally heard many times is that ‘immigrants are taking our jobs’. The reality is immigrants are usually filling job vacancies.  A country that is short of skilled workers will fill them with skilled migrants. Immigrants also will take jobs that most others are not prepared to do such as housecleaning. The fact is, migrants are not taking jobs away, rather they are filling a void.

Other stereotypes I’ve heard are; Immigrants don’t contribute to society’, ‘They are costing the country money’ and ‘They send money out of the country’. Like all of us, foreign workers pay taxes, pay rent, and spend money in our local economies on supplies such as clothes and food.  Even if they send some money to their home country, they are still helping out our local economies.

Another stereotype is; ‘Immigrants put pressure on the health care and education system’. It is true that helping newly arrived children with their English does add extra stress on the education system, but children from other countries have helped to save some schools from closure and expose children to cultural diversity which in turn builds tolerance. Let’s be honest; health care services could not function without the many doctors, nurses and supplementary staff from other countries. That is especially true for rural areas. I live in a rural area and all of our doctors are immigrants.

According to Migration Policy Debates (May 2014) using new and internationally comparative evidence on the fiscal impact of migration for all European OECD countries, as well as Australia, Canada and the United States:

Immigrants are thus neither a burden to the public purse nor are they a panacea [cure all] for addressing fiscal challenges. In most countries, except in those with a large share of older migrants, migrants contribute more in taxes and social contributions than they receive in individual benefits. This means that they contribute to the financing of public infrastructure, although admittedly to a lesser extent than the native-born.

Now there are other stereotypes regarding immigrants, but those are the ones I personally have had people say to me. Stereotypical remarks are not only made about immigrants, but also about aboriginals.  One stereotype I often heard in my youth was the stereotype of the “drunken Indian”. It was assumed by some that if you were of aboriginal ancestry you had a drinking problem.

According to a CBC News article, employers felt justified in refusing employment to aboriginal people based on this stereotype. Landlords would not rent to aboriginal people. Some establishments, bars mostly, refused to let aboriginal people enter. Taxi drivers drove past aboriginal people on the street. The daily humiliations added up to real social and economic barriers.

Not all aboriginal people have a drinking problem. That is a fact! I can personally attest to this as I have had the privilege of working with First Nations peoples over the years. Having said that, aboriginal communities have high rates of alcohol and drug use and consequently high rates of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome among their children. The reasons why aboriginal people have struggled with addictions have been studied for years. The root causes are pretty well documented. It all connects to residential schools, the Indian Act, child welfare issues, Indian agents, geographic isolation, racism, intergenerational trauma and so on. I like the way the CBC article ends.

Let’s spend our energy in supporting the healing, rather than propping up a label that only makes the healing process that much harder.

Now let’s address the most common typecasting that is occurring in our society today; the stereotyping of Muslims.  According to the Huffington Post, there are five common stereotypes.

One such stereotype that I have heard is, “Muslims hate Jews and Christians’. This is simply wrong.  There are multiple chapters in the Quran that mention non-Muslims. Now the Quran, like the Christian bible is subject to interpretation and there are plenty of verses that could be interpreted as Muslims are called to reject non-Muslims.  However, there are verses in the Quran stressing that justice be given to even those who show hostility and hate to Muslims.  Qur’an 5:8 says; “Do not let the hatred and animosity of other people prevent you from being just. Be just! That is nearer to righteousness”. That does not sound like a hatred to me.

Another stereotype is, ‘Muslims don’t believe in Jesus Christ’. What does that mean exactly? Does that mean that Muslims do not believe that Jesus existed. What people don’t know is Jesus is actually mentioned more times in the Quran than Muhammad is. Muslims believe that Jesus is an important prophet, but they do not recognize Jesus is the son of God as the Christians do. Nor do Muslims believe that Jesus died on the cross. They believe Jesus escaped crucifixion somehow. Muslims do believe in God, but call God “Allah”, the Arabic word for God.

C8TAPN Headlines Concept – Terrorism

The most common stereotype I hear is; “Muslims are terrorists” or ‘Islam promotes groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS’. This is not so. The Huffington Post rationalizes it this way.

ISIS most closely follows the ideals of Wahhabism and Salafism, which are extremist and radical branches of Islam. By best estimates, 87-90 percent of Muslims are Sunni and 10-13 percent are Shi’a, with small numbers belonging to other sects. If we go with these statistics, it’s safe to assume that Salafism and Wahhabism are less than five percent of the global Muslim population, and most likely does not represent the beliefs, thoughts, opinions, or actions of other Muslims. Additionally, Islam was not meant to have sects. However, Islam does not promote, nor does it encourage, joining radical groups. If you see stories of how people get radicalized, it’s usually through ISIS members themselves on radical jihadist forums.

In June, a Muslim “peace march” against Islamic terrorism was held in the German city of Cologne. (see Muslim Peace March).  Hundreds of marchers held banners including one that said: “Love for all, hatred for none,” and “A Muslim protects lives and does not take them”. This clearly refutes the stereotype that Muslims are terrorists. Clearly there are some who are not.

To have “a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.” is simply ridiculous. To declare that all world leaders are ‘idiots’ based on the reported idiotic behaviour of one or two world leaders (no names mentioned) is flawed logic. There always have been some ‘idiot’ leaders and some fantastic leaders. It is wrong to lump a group of people together and think that they all act the same. Not all Christians act the same. Not all Caucasians act the same. Why would we think all immigrants, indigenous people and Muslims act the same? Ridiculous.

What is up with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples?

A commentary on the Plight of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples

Recently, while my wife and I were travelling in the province of Newfoundland, we met a newlywed American couple from Atlanta, Georgia.  They were a delightful couple who we started chatting with while touring an archeological dig in Ferryland where one of the best preserved English colonial sites in North America is located. The colony was established in 1621 by Sir George Calvert and was known as the Colony of Avalon. What surprised me was the groom randomly asked us if Canadians treated their Indigenous Peoples as badly as they did.

Now this really struck me because all over Newfoundland, we were learning about the Beothuk. I used to teach about the Beothuk when I taught Social Studies.  We visited the Port au Choix National Historic Site of Canada where burial sites were uncovered in the 1960s & 70s. The archeological digs have provided evidence of its earliest settlers such as the Maritime Archaic Indians and the ancestors of the Beothuk. You’re probably wondering: Who are the Beothuk? Here is a short history of their sad story.

The Beothuk lived throughout the island of Newfoundland, and because of the Europeans’ arrival, the Beothuk were forced away from their coastal homelands and fish camps to inland territories. Possible violent encounters with the Vikings between 800 and 1000 CE likely caused the Beothuk to avoid the European newcomers as much as possible. The establishment of permanent European settlements in the 1700s significantly altered the Beothuk way of life. causing them to become increasingly isolated. With the increasing English settlement, the Beothuk now had to compete with the European fur trappers. The Beothuk were increasingly denied access to bays where they fished. This created tension, and at times, conflict, between the Beothuk and the Europeans. Many of the Beothuk were hunted and slain by the Europeans.

Shawnadithit

Sadly, as a result of European encroachment, slaughter and diseases to which they had no natural resistance, the Beothuk’s numbers diminished rapidly because of European contact. The last known surviving Beothuk, Shawnadithit, died of tuberculosis in St. John’s in June 1829. In essence, the Beothuk are now extinct.

Hearing the sad story of the Beothuk people got me thinking about how the Indigenous people were treated. I started paying attention to the news stories about our First Nations people. There has been a lot about the indigenous people in the Canadian news lately.

The CBC article, Gord Downie takes to Parliament Hill, describes a rare appearance that Gord Downie made on July 1st during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill. Mr. Downie is the lead singer for the Rock Band Tragically Hip and he rarely makes public appearances because he has brain cancer. On Canada Day, he said Canada’s young Indigenous people are still suffering the same kind of pain that aboriginal youth suffered in the residential schools. Downie told the crowd that young Indigenous children in parts of the Canada still must travel great distances to go to school. He said, “It’s time to listen to the stories of the Indigenous [people], to hear stories about now. We are blessed as a young country to be able to look to the wisdom of a really, really old country.”

In another CBC news article called, Cornwallis statue removal, is a story on the controversial statue erected in the 1930s of Edward Cornwallis, founder of the city of Halifax in Nova Scotia. The statue first became controversial in 1993, when Mi’kmaq writer Daniel Paul released the book We Were Not the Savages. Mr. Paul describes the treatment of the Mi’kmaq people by Cornwallis and the early British settlers whereby the British took land from the Mi’kmaq people, attacked their communities with the aim to drive them out of Nova Scotia, and in 1749 Governor Edward Cornwallis offered a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi’kmaq person.

Municipal crews draped a black cloth over the statue of Cornwallis on July 15th when protesters gathered with a plan to remove the statue. The protesters were told that the city would shroud the monument as a sign of good faith. (see Offensive and disgraceful). Indigenous protestors said they will continue negotiating with the city to peacefully remove the statue. Patrick LeBlanc, one of the protesters, said the statue is a painful reminder of the oppression of First Nations people in Canada. LeBlanc said, “This gentleman [Cornwallis] here represented a genocide for our people and to see it every day, it just brings back memories and it also brings back pain.”

In still another CBC news story, Indigenous leaders boycott, it is explained that leaders from the three national Indigenous organizations refused to attend the meeting of Canada’s premiers in Edmonton, Alberta, saying the format does not adhere to the spirit of reconciliation. Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and Métis National Council President Clément Chartier told reporters in Toronto, Ontario that the current format subjugates Indigenous issues, because they cannot participate in meetings as full members of the Council of the Federation with province-like powers. In other words, these Indigenous leaders feels that they are not being treated as equals.

Canada is currently celebrating 150 years as a nation, as we should. But let’s be clear. What Canada is really celebrating is 150 years since Confederation, when Canada was granted freedom from British Colonial Rule with the passing of the British North America (BNA) Act. I really like Gord Downie’s words, “We are blessed as a young country to be able to look to the wisdom of a really, really old country.” We are a really old country! Canada is much older than 150 years and it is time to fully recognize and honour the first occupants of our country, our Indigenous people.  There is a reason the Indigenous people are referred to as Canada’s First Nation peoples. They were here first.

Shortly after returning to our home province my wife and I attended a Pow Wow at a nearby Cree Nation Reserve. A Pow Wow is a social gathering of different American Indigenous communities where people meet and dance, sing, socialize, and honour their cultures. It often involves dance and drumming competitions. I was amazed by the elaborate, colourful regalia (costumes) and the supple movements of the ceremonial dances. It is truly an amazing culture and I felt privileged to experience some of it.

A CBC article entitled, Archeological find, describes the ancient archeological find of a Heiltsuk settlement on Triquet Island on the coast of British Columbia. The Heiltsuk are an Indigenous people centred on the island communities of Bella Bella and Klemtu. Archaeologists have excavated a settlement in the area and dated it to 14,000 years ago, during the last ice age when glaciers covered much of North America. William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation said, “This find is very important because it reaffirms a lot of the history that our people have been talking about for thousands of years,” This means the Indigenous people were here at least 14 000 years ago. The English and French didn’t arrive until the 1600s. That is less than 500 years ago.

Our Indigenous people are right to demand to be heard and deserve to be heard. Let’s face it, our European ancestors did not treat the Indigenous people very well, and I have to wonder if we are treating them any better today. If we are, then why are our First Nations people still protesting and demanding equality.

Our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in his statement to Canadians on Canada Day said,

“As we mark Canada 150, we also recognize that for many, today is not an occasion for celebration. Indigenous Peoples in this country have faced oppression for centuries. As a society, we must acknowledge and apologize for past wrongs, and chart a path forward for the next 150 years – one in which we continue to build our nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, and government-to-government relationship with the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation. Our efforts toward reconciliation reflect a deep Canadian tradition – the belief that better is always possible…”

I wholeheartedly agree.

You Just Have to” Give Your Head a Shake”

An outsiders view of the Trump presidency (so far)

Now I have been trying to avoid writing about Trump because I think he gets far too much attention than he deserves, but this man just keeps delivering me something more to write about.

A news headline that recently caught my attention was, Trump says anti-Semitism is ‘horrible’. My immediate reaction was to laugh. I literary shook my head. Why, you may ask? This is the man who said in June 2015, while announcing his candidacy for president, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”  Then in December 2015 rally in Charleston, South Carolina, he called for a complete and total halt of Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” Both of these statements are clearly xenophobic demonstrating his intolerance to Muslims and Mexicans.

09-donald-trump-bully.w536.h357.2xThe article, Trump says anti-Semitism is ‘horrible. reports that on Tuesday, February 21, after touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, Trump told reporters that the museum was a “meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all forms.” He then called the recent threats against Jewish community centres “horrible and painful.” Several Jewish community centers across the United States were evacuated the day before after receiving bomb threats. Trump reportedly said, “I will tell you that anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop and it has to stop”.

Trump has been accused of encouraging, or ignoring, bigotry against groups including Muslims, Mexicans and Jews. He refused to take a question about anti-Semitism during a news conference, plus his administration came under fire for not mentioning Jews or anti-Semitism in its statement marking Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It is hypocritical when someone utters anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and racist remarks and then talks about anti-Semitism being horrible. How can Americans, or the world for that matter, take this man seriously or believe anything he says. I am not the only person who sees Trump’s hypocrisy. Steven Goldstein, executive director of Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect (see Anne Frank Center Criticizes Trump) said on February 21,  “His [Trump’s] statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting anti-Semitism.”  These are pretty strong words.

The CBC news article, Human rights at risk amid rise of ‘fear and disunity’: Amnesty International, discusses Amnesty International’s annual report, The State of the World’s Human Rights, which documents “grave violations of human rights” in 159 countries. This 408-page report described 2016 as “the year when the cynical use of ‘us vs. them’ narratives of blame, hate and fear took on a global prominence to a level not seen since the 1930s,” when Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. I find these words rather upsetting. The report laid much of the blame on Donald Trump who’s “Poisonous” rhetoric in his election campaign exemplified “the global trend of angrier and more divisive politics”.

I am proud to say, the 2016 report highlighted Canada’s recent record on treatment of Syrian refugees, noting that at least 38,000 Syrians were resettled in my country. It was not all praise for Canada, though, as the report expressed concern regarding Indigenous people’s rights. I’ve always felt Canada has failed in its treatment of the First Nations people.

I am also alarmed by the effect Trump has had on Canada. I have always supposed Canada to be a much more tolerant and understanding society, but since Trump came into the picture, I’ve seen some intolerance and racism rise up in this country, like the January 30 Quebec City mosque attack. As a Canadian, I also find it disconcerting that a CBC news article, 1 in 4 Canadians want Trump-style travel ban, reports that an Angus Reid Institute poll that looked at Canadians’ attitudes toward the federal government’s handling of refugees, revealed a “significant segment” of Canadians say the country’s 2017 refugee target of 40,000 is too high.  It alarms me even more that one in four Canadians wants the Canadian government to impose its own Trump-style travel ban. This is the direct result of the rhetoric Trump has been spewing since announcing his candidacy for president.

Trump’s campaign slogan was, “Make America Great Again”. An AlJazeera news report, Mapping hate, provides some unsettling statistics. It reports that there has been a rise in the number of hate groups operating in the United States for a second year in a row. This is according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) monitoring group.  The SPLC found that the total number of hate groups in the US in 2016 grew to 917 from 892 a year earlier. Since 1999, the total number of hate groups in the US has more than doubled.  The article says there are now more anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, white nationalist, neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate and black separatist organizations than ever before. The sharpest increase was among anti-Muslim groups, which grew from 37 to 101, a 197% increase in just one year.

maxresdefaultWhat is especially troubling is the sharp rise in “bias incidents” following the election of Donald Trump. Bias incidents are instances of hate crimes or harassment and intimidation. In the first three months following Trump’s election, 1,372 bias incidents were reported. Of that total, more than 25% were motivated by anti-immigrant sentiments. Now I ask you, how is this making America great? I would argue the opposite is true. What Trump is doing is making America repugnant.

In my previous post, I discussed the Golden Rule and its relationship to karma, the law of cause and effect. When people spout anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and racist rhetoric it comes back to haunt them, as “what goes around comes around”.  Gertrude Buckingham, an American poet, says, “Hate brings to men wars and fear.”  I agree!  Hate begets more hate. Trump’s “hate rhetoric” has clearly caused more hate to come around. That is what the statistics suggest.

photoMartin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.  What America needs is more love. Ironically, in July of 2016, at a rally in Tampa, Florida, Hillary Clinton said, “You can’t put this into laws: We need more love and kindness in this country. We need more respect between and among our fellow Americans. We need to be listening more to each other.” One has to wonder what America would be like under a Hillary Clinton administration. Now give your head a shake! I am.

2/3 Wildlife to Disappear by 2020. That’s Disturbing!

A commentary on climate change and endangered species.

A few weeks ago, an article on CBC.ca caused me some distress. The article is called; Two-thirds of wildlife will disappear by 2020, WWF. The news report says that according to the WWF conservation group, “worldwide populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have plunged by almost 60% since 1970.” It then goes on to say, “the decline is yet another sign that people have become the driving force for change on Earth”. Specifically, according to the article, this change is due to “the rising human population…threatening wildlife by clearing land for farms and cities”. It also lists other causes as “pollution, invasive species, hunting and climate change”. Think about that for a second. The year 2020 is only three years from now and according to the WWF 2/3 or 67%; more than half of the worlds wildlife will be extinct. I grew up seeing many of these animals in the wild or in zoos. To think my grandchildren will only be able to see pictures or videos of these animals is upsetting.

I went on to research this topic further. Another CBC report; A third of birds in North America threatened with extinction, states that “the first State of North America’s Birds report finds that of 1,154 bird species that live in and migrate among Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, 432 are of ‘high concern’ due to low or declining populations, shrinking ranges and threats such as human-caused habitat loss, invasive predators and climate change”. Still another CBC report, Hundreds of animals, plants locally extinct due to climate change, reveals that a “new study found local extinctions (this is when a species can no longer be found at a location where it once lived) related to global warming have occurred in half of species studied”. But the article that alarmed me the most was CBC’s, Giraffes threatened by extinction, put on watch list. Giraffes! Really! The article blamed shrinking living space as the main cause. It says the giraffe situation is worsened by poaching and disease. There seems to be a common theme here, that is, that we humans are the problem. Another common theme is climate change.

Now I understand that climate change is not the sole cause for the loss of wildlife but I’ve read enough articles to come to the conclusion that it is definitely a big part of the problem. We’ve all heard the stories about polar bears. The chief threat to the polar bear is the loss of its sea ice habitat due to global warming. The National Wildlife Federation’s article; Effects on Wildlife and Habitat,  goes into detail of how climate change is affecting wildlife.

There are still people who have “their head in the sand”. There is still debate about the cause of climate change. Is it due to human activities or is it a natural phenomenon? There is no doubt that climate change is happening as the CBC news article, ‘It’s a little scary’: On Lennox Island, no one debates whether climate change is real, says. If you are at all skeptical watch the documentary Chasing Ice. It’s a 2012 documentary film about the efforts of nature photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey to inform the public to the effects of climate change. My wife and I, on recommendation of my sister, recently watched it on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, I would strongly encourage you to. In case you haven’t, here it is.

According to Wikipedia, a 2013 paper in Environmental Research Letters (a scientific journal) reviewed 11,944 abstracts of scientific papers matching “global warming” or “global climate change”. They found 4,014 which discussed the cause of recent global warming, and of these 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. To me that says that the vast majority of environmental scientists agree that climate change is due to human influence.

global_warming_0It concerns me when the president-elect in the United States tweeted in November of 2012 “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” and who promised during his campaign to roll back President Obama’s efforts to combat climate change. According to CNBC, a business news site, “president-elect Donald Trump’s Energy Department transition team sent the agency a memo this week asking for the names of people who have worked on climate change…alarming employees and advisors”. The fear is that Trump is preparing a political enemies list. At least I can proudly say that the Canadian government is working on implementing a national climate change plan (see Manitoba will not sign).

Historically, the European immigrants came to North America with their Eurocentric world view; a view that tended to interpret the world in terms of European values and experiences; a view that saw European values as better than Aboriginal values.  In reality, the aboriginal people had the right values as they had the far superior values. Before European influence, many First Nation communities believed everything was connected. The spirit world was connected to the earthly world; the sea was connected to the land and that the sky was connected to the land. Consequently, humans co-existed with animals and plants, with equal rights to life. In this belief lies commitment to respect all living things. George Blondin, a highly respected Dene Elder who was born in the Northwest Territories, put it this way.

“We are people of the land; we see ourselves as no different than the trees, the caribou, and the raven, except we are more complicated.”

First Nations people were very religious and respectful of the Great Spirit, and other spirits that they believe inhabited the land and animals all around them. These people were taught from a very young age to respect and give thanks to the animals, birds, plants, land and water which gave them everything they needed to stay alive.

Maybe it is time to take a serious look at aboriginal spirituality. These people once had a sacred relationship with Mother Earth and had a reverent respect for the plants and animals.  The reality is if we don’t, we may end up living on a planet with 2/3 less plant and animal species or worse. That would be shameful and a complete lack of respect for our future ancestors. But then again, maybe, just maybe, science can come to the rescue. CBC has a news article called, Reviving extinct species within reach, which quotes Hendrik Poinar, a scientist at McMaster University’s Ancient DNA Centre, who says, “The revival of an extinct species is in reach.” He is referring to a new field of science called ‘de-extinction’.

What to believe?

Napoleon Bonaparte was once reported to have said, “History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”   George Kitson Clark once said, “No historian should be trusted implicitly.”  Norman Pearson is quoted as saying, “To look back upon history is inevitably to distort it.” There was a time whenever I read something in a history book or was taught something in a history class, I believed it to be the “Gospel truth.”  Now being older and wiser I no longer do.  So why would I say that?

imagesI recently read a book titled, Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King. What surprised me, was that Mr. King claims that the massacre that allegedly occurred at the Alamo was a fabrication, a story created over the years. But that is not what history says.

I did some internet research and Wikipedia says this about the Alamo massacre: “In the early morning hours of March 6, 1866,  the Mexican Army advanced on the Alamo. After repulsing two attacks, the Texans were unable to fend off a third attack… Between five and seven Texans may have surrendered; if so, they were quickly executed. Most eyewitness accounts reported between 182 and 257 Texans died, while most historians of the Alamo agree that around 600 Mexicans were killed or wounded.”  I checked other websites which say more or less the same thing. So who is right?

Mr. King also says, the story about Pocahontas and John Smith, perpetrated by Disney’s movie Pocahontas  is also a myth, or in other words a fabricated story. He claims that John Smith would have been 24 years old and Pocahontas maybe 10 or 12 years old at best.

Now Disney’s version of the story is one of romance between an American Indian woman named Pocahontas and John Smith, who journeyed together to the New World with other settlers to begin new lives.  Do the children, or even adults for that matter, who have watched this movie believe they have watched a historically accurate depiction of events of the past?  Probably.  My experience as a teacher has been most young people think what they see in movies and on television is truth or is real history. At least Wikipedia sets the record straight about the story of Pocahontas as it says, “In a well-known historical anecdote, she [Pocahontas] is said to have saved the life of an Indian captive, Englishman John Smith, in 1607 by placing her head upon his own when her father raised his war club to execute him. The general consensus of historians is that this story, as told by Smith, is untrue.”  So we know Mr. King is likely right about the Pocahontas story.

In July of 2007 while on a family trip to Eastern Canada,  we visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, NS. At that time there was an exhibition on pirates. It was interesting to learn that commonly held belief that pirates make their enemies walk the plank as well as the belief that  pirates often have parrots on their shoulders are myths. We learned that these are myths. There apparently is no historical evidence to support these commonly held beliefs about pirates. Also, the wide held belief that pirates buried their treasures is also a myth. I guess I was somewhat disappointed to learn about these untruths as I always thought pirates did bury their treasures.

So what else have we been taught that is NOT a historical truth?  According to the article, Facts Prove Everything You Thought You Knew About History… Is Dead Wrong, Christopher Columbus did not discover America. He only discovered the Caribbean Islands.  I don’t know about you, but I was taught in school that Columbus discovered America.  It has been proven that the Vikings were in North America before Columbus as there is an archeological site at the northern tip of Newfoundland where they discovered the remains of the Viking’s houses. In fact, they reconstructed a replica of the settlement about 100 yards away from the site. It has been unquestionably determined that the Vikings were there for about 10 years, specifically, Leif Erikson and his extended family. I guess I can erase that untruth from my memory.

Dictonary.com defines the “Napoleon complex” as the condition of being small in stature but aggressively ambitious and seeking absolute control. It could just as easily be called the “Short Man Syndrome.” In other words, this complex is named after Napoleon Bonaparte because of the widely held belief that Napoleon was short. But according to the 16 facts article I referred to earlier, the truth is Napoleon Bonaparte was not short at all. He was five feet, seven inches. That was slightly taller than average for a Frenchman at the time. Another historical inaccuracy to erase from memory.

The idea that Albert Einstein failed math in school is an urban myth (see 20 things you need to know about Einstein). It turns out that Einstein didn’t fail math in school, it was a false claim published by Ripley’s. The truth be known is that when he was 15, he mastered differential and integral calculus which makes sense since he is widely held as one of the world’s few geniuses.

Then there is the History Channel series called Hunting Hitler that proposes that Hitler faked his own death, escaped through the Berlin underground to an airport, flew to Spain where he was smuggled onto a U-boat and taken to Argentina with a stop at the Canary Islands. He then lived hidden in the Argentina jungles and was eventually seen in Brazil and Columbia. Now I was always taught that Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin in 1945 although this apparently has never been confirmed. Now I must say after watching eight episodes and considering the evidence provided, I am now thinking what I’ve been taught about Hitler is wrong. I am now leaning towards the premise that Hitler did not die in his bunker in 1945.

Louis_RielIn Canada, history has always taught that Louis Riel, a Canadian Métis trailblazer, who led two resistance movements against the Canadian government and its first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald was a traitor. He was a traitor because he led two rebellions known as the Red River Rebellion of 1869–1870 and North-West Rebellion of 1885. In July of 1885 Riel was charged with treason. Riel was publicly executed by way of hanging in November of 1885. Since that time, the majority of Canadians have held the belief and been taught in school that Louis Riel was a trouble maker; someone who betrayed Canada which is why he was hung for treason. This is what I was taught in school and I have always believed that he was an insane traitor of Canada.  Ironically, on March 10, 1992, the Parliament of Canada passed a unanimous resolution that named Louis Riel as founder of the Province of Manitoba, because of his role in defending the interests of the Métis people and contributing to the political development of Western Canada.  So what is the truth?  Was he a traitor or was he one of Canada’s founders?  Personally, I now side with Riel as a hero who was willing to stand up to the government of the day for the rights of his people; the Métis people.

So what is a person to believe?  Should we trust what we read in the history books or what we see on the History Channel? I think not.  We must at the very least be skeptical. It is interesting how a person can grow up learning about historical events only to discover later in life that those events are untruths, or at least they have been exaggerated.  Having taught Social Studies for years, I have always taught my students to be skeptical.  History involves interpretation of the events that occurred in the past.  Therefore, interpretations can be slanted, exaggerated, and falsified.   To quote the Roman poet Phaedrus, “Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.” Things are seldom what we’ve been led to believe. I guess now I have become a bit of a skeptic.

A New Beginning!

As a now retired school teacher who taught high school social studies, I have taught about the indigenous (First Nations or aboriginal) people for about 30 years. I have always been drawn to the indigenous people especially to their spirituality and their tremendous respect for Mother Earth before contact with the European explorers. For several years I had the privilege of working with aboriginal people when I taught courses to adults a few weekends during the year. I have always been sympathetic to the plight of the aboriginal people in North America. From the moment the Europeans landed on this continent to the present day, aboriginal people have been exploited and treated unjustly, so when I read about improved relations between our leaders and indigenous people, I cheer.

According to a CBC article, Aboriginal’s top newsmakers of 2015, it was an exceptional year for indigenous people in Canada, a year that included truth and reconciliation, a year when ten indigenous Members of Parliament (MPs) were elected to Canada’s parliament and the year the long-awaited inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls was announced.

In case you are not familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), here is a little history lesson. The Commission’s five-year mandate was to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS).  The TRC hopes to guide and inspire Aboriginal people and Canadians in a process of reconciliation and renewed relationships that are based on mutual understanding and respect.  After travelling about the country for six years, the committee collected 6,740 statements from survivors of the Residential Schools and recorded 1,355 hours of testimony.  The Commission completed its task on June 2, 2015.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report makes 94 recommendations for change in policies, programs and the “way we talk to, and about, each other.” These recommendations include the creation of a National Centre and Council for Truth and Reconciliation and the drafting of new and revised legislation for education, child welfare, aboriginal languages, and the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.

ch-3-p40-41-old-sun-classroom-p7538-1005If you don’t know much about the legacies of Residential Schools, here is another lesson. (It’s the teacher in me. I just have to teach). After the closing of the schools, which operated from the 1870s to 1996, and held some 150,000 aboriginal children over the decades, many former students made allegations of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, plus accusations of neglect. The sole aim of residential schools was to assimilate First Nations children into the European culture. There were also student deaths at these institutions as well as burials of numerous deceased students in unmarked graves without the notification or consent of the parents. I personally have heard residential school survivors tell their stories and break down weeping when doing so. It is a very painful topic for many of them. This is not a part of our history that I am proud of. I have also taught about the atrocities that have occurred in these schools and witnessed students distraught because of it. Students instinctively know, as all of us do, that the way the indigenous people were treated was unjust.

CBC reports that on December 14,2015, the completed Truth and Reconciliation report was released in an emotional ceremony that had commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair choked with emotion and newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wiping away tears. Kudos to our leaders who recognize the wrongs done to the aboriginal people.

missing-and-murdered-aboriginal-womenThen there is the missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada, an issue that First Nations people have been lobbying our government to conduct an inquiry on for at least a decade. The following statistics are from the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) fact sheet based on March 2010 statistics. The association gathered information on about 582 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. Of these:

  • 67% are murder cases (death as the result of homicide or negligence);

  • 20% are cases of missing women or girls;

  • 4% are cases of suspicious death—deaths regarded as natural or accidental by police, but considered suspicious by family or community members; and

  • 9% are cases where the nature of the case is unknown—it is unclear whether the woman was murdered, is missing or died in suspicious circumstances.

The number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada is disproportionately high. NWAC’s research indicates that, between 2000 and 2008, Aboriginal women and girls represented approximately 10% of all female homicides in Canada. However, Aboriginal women make up only 3% of the female population. What is interesting is the NWAC has found that only 53% of murder cases involving Aboriginal women and girls have led to charges of homicide. This is dramatically different from other homicide cases in Canada, which was last reported as 84% solved cases according to Statistics Canada.

On December 8th, 2015, Canada’s new Liberal government announced that the first phase of an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls would begin. This is great news for those grieving families who lost their children. They have a right to know what happened to their loved ones.

liberal-cabinet-20151104The October 2015 federal election saw  54 indigenous candidates enter the race, and a groundbreaking push to have First Nation, Inuit and Métis people head to the polls. When it was over, ten indigenous MPs were elected to Canada’s House of Commons; the most ever. Newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Assembly of First Nations, “It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations people. One that understands that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations in Canada are not an inconvenience but rather a sacred obligation.”  This is great news for Canada. I cannot say it any better than Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde who said, “It sends a powerful statement about inclusion and it sends a powerful statement about the reconciliation that is going to be required in rebuilding a new relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples.” A new kind of relationship with our First Nations people has been long overdue. Kudos to Canada’s new PM for initiating a new kind of relationship; a relationship that can only make this a better country.

Now I know many people do not feel the same as I do about these events. There has been, and still is, much racism between our people. Having said that, racism stems from ignorance, and so much of that racism is due to misinformation and misunderstanding between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people. I am hopeful that the TRC and the National Inquiry will educate and eradicate that ignorance, bringing about a new relationship. They were the first people on this continent and rightfully deserve to be treated with the same respect and privileges as non-aboriginal Canadians. It has been a long time coming! 

Interesting reads: 

Source: The Two-Sentence View of History                                                                  SourceDEAR MEDIA, I AM MORE THAN JUST VIOLENCE