Is First Contact with Indigenous People Necessary?

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

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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.

Christmas Controversies 3.0

A commentary on the Christmas controversies of 2017

I realize it has been a while since I’ve published a post and I’ll tell you more about that in another post, but the Christmas season is fast approaching so it seems only appropriate that this post be about Christmas. Every year at this time of year, I am curious about what controversies will erupt regarding Christmas. I’ve learned this year, like previous years, there are many.

In October, while speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., Donald Trump claimed that political correctness has gotten in the way of celebrating the holiday. He told the crowd that “we’re saying Merry Christmas again” now that he’s president. At the Christian public policy conference, he said “We’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. They don’t use the word Christmas because it’s not politically correct.”  (see Trump: ‘We’re saying merry Christmas again’). I can’t say as I’ve experienced that as most people still say “Merry Christmas” in my community.

Every year we hear about this storm.  Essentially, the issue is about political correctness and whether people should say to one another Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. To me there is nothing to debate. Just let common sense prevail, but it seems common sense is not so common. It is really about basic etiquette. If you know someone is a Christian who is celebrating Christmas you should say to them ‘Merry Christmas.’ Likewise, say ‘Happy Hanukkah’ to a person you know is Jewish. Similarly, say a happy Diwali to your Hindu friends. Diwali is the autumn Hindu festival of lights celebrated every year.  During the month of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month, say “Ramadan Mubarak” which means “Happy Ramadan”. If you don’t know a person’s faith, say what feels right; either Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. Being that Canada (and the U.S.) is primarily a Christian country, no one should be offended. If I were in Israel, I would not be offended if someone wished me a “Happy Hanukkah”. Why would a non-Christian be offended when being wished a Merry Christmas in a Christian country?

In fact, The Guardian’s article, Don’t cancel Christmas on behalf of Muslims like me – I love it by Remona Aly, a Muslim, says, “Trying to avoid offending the sensibilities of other religions by watering down Christmas traditions merely fuels the myths of Islamic intolerance.”  The article also says, “there are non-Christians who won’t feel comfortable with saying, “Happy Christmas”, or with being in a nativity play, and that’s totally fair enough and up to them. They shouldn’t be treated like weirdos, nor should they be labelled with that grating word, “intolerant”. So there you have it. I doubt a non-Christian would be offended in a Christian country that celebrates Christian festivals. Why would they?

ABC News article, Upside down Christmas tree trend sparks controversy online, describes a trend whereby Christmas trees are literally turned upside down and decorated. So why would this be controversial? It seems some on social media say this fad is disrespectful to Christmas traditions. Well, traditions can and do change. Now, to be honest, I don’t believe this fad will catch on, but if someone thinks it is cool, then why knock it. Everyone is free to celebrate how they wish so long as it is not injuring someone else.

I’m curious. Where did this idea of decorating a tree for Christmas come from? No one can say for certain, but Country Living’s article, Where Did the Tradition of the Christmas Tree Come From?, says in 1771 “while Christmas trees were appearing in Germany years earlier, the trend really caught on after writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Strasbourg, near the German border, and included the concept in his novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther”. That same article says that the 1820s was the first record of German settlers in Pennsylvania decorating evergreen trees in America.  It is interesting to note that as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.

According to History.com,

“The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colours and interlaced with berries and nuts. Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition”.

Now I say to you, traditions regarding the decorating of the Christmas tree have evolved over the years, and they continue to today. No reason to get offended, folks!

Now for the final controversy that I’ll address. It seems for three years in a row now, Starbucks has been immersed in a Christmas controversy over its Holiday cups. This year is no different. According to the New York Times article, Starbucks Is Criticized for Its Holiday Cups. Yes, Again, some people feel that Starbucks is promoting homosexuality.  The interlinked hands on the 2017 Starbucks holiday cups have some suggesting a “gay agenda.” Are people just looking for something to attack Starbucks about?

On November 1st the Holiday cup was introduced with an online video. It featured a diverse cast of Starbucks customers, including a pair of cartoon women who were shown holding hands. The nature of cartoon women’s relationship was not specified, but some viewers saw them as a sign of inclusion of gay and transgender customers. My reaction to that is gay and transgender customers should be included. Why would a business exclude a potential customer? More importantly, I would like to remind people what Christmas is about.

I think the late Dale Evans. an actress and singer, said it best when she said, “Christmas, my child, is love in action” or the late Bob Hope, an actor, comedian and singer, who said, “My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others”.  Christmas is the time Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. This is the same child that grew up to give a new commandment, according to Christian scripture. In the Book of John, chapter 15, verse 12, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. He didn’t say love only those you approve of. In fact, in Luke 6.27 Jesus says, “But I say to you, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Jesus’ message was to love everyone. No exceptions!

Since Christmas is a Christian holiday, I’ll define love using Christian scripture. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, it says, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. This says love is kind and love does not insist on its own way. It seems to me excluding gay and transgender people stems from arrogance and insisting on its own way.  This is not love; in essence, going against the spirit of Christmas.

Dr, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, once said,

“There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt…”

If this is true, why do people fear the LTGB community? It is time to stop fearing one another and get back to the true meaning of Christmas; a message of love, acceptance, and inclusion. Perhaps this is what Starbucks is endeavouring to tell the world; that Christmas is about loving and accepting one another.

Do Good Samaritans Exist?

A commentary about the goodness of people.

Helen Keller, an American author, political activist, and lecturer, once said, “Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.”  The Free Dictionary defines apathy as a ‘lack of interest or concern or as indifference.  George Carlin, an American comedian poked fun at this quote when he said, “Scientists announced today that they have discovered a cure for apathy. However, they claim no one has shown the slightest interest in it.” Leo Buscaglia, an American motivational speaker and writer is quoted as saying, “I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate –it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn.”

So why am I bringing up the subject of apathy? I have to admit that sometimes I can be cynical. By that I mean I believed that people are motivated chiefly by selfish concerns. So where does that cynicism come from? I’ve determined that its from the news media. For example, here are two recent news headlines: Indian guru jailed 20 years for raping 2 followers and killer costs family $45K fighting estate. When you hear stories like these, you begin to believe  that people are selfish, uncaring and apathetic.

Of course, there are people in the world that are selfish, uncaring and apathetic, but are these people commonplace? The Guardian has an article called,  We’re not as selfish as we think we are. Here’s the proof says, “The media worships wealth and power, and sometimes launches furious attacks on people who behave altruistically.” Altruism is unselfish concern for the welfare of others.  So is this true? The article sites a study by the Common Cause Foundation which reveals two findings:

The first is that a large majority of the 1,000 people they surveyed – 74% – identifies more strongly with unselfish values than with selfish values. This means that they are more interested in helpfulness, honesty, forgiveness and justice than in money, fame, status and power. The second is that a similar majority – 78% – believes others to be more selfish than they really are.

I recently had a stark reminder that my belief that humanity tends to be selfish, uncaring and apathetic simply isn’t true.  A few weeks ago, my wife and I were on our way to a lake with our fifth wheel when we encountered four Good Samaritans. The Free Dictionary defines a Good Samaritan as ‘a compassionate person who unselfishly helps others, especially strangers.

In case you are not familiar with the Good Samaritan story, I’ll give you the Wikipedia summary version. It comes from the Christian biblical story found in the book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 25–37 where Jesus tells a parable which is a simple story with a moral or a story told to teach a lesson. This story is about a Jewish traveler who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. First a priest and then a Levite comes by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveler. What makes this story so powerful, is that in biblical times Samaritans and Jews  despised each other, but strangely it is the Samaritan who helps the injured man.

So, back to my story. About five minutes into our trek we encounter our first good Samaritan. A vehicle pulls alongside of us (we were on a four-lane highway) and using hand gestures signals us to pull over. Heeding his signals, we pull off to the side of the busy highway as did the Good Samaritan. Not knowing why he signalled us to pull over, we get out to talk to this man who thankfully told us that he saw rubber flying from our trailer. It turned out that we had blown a trailer tire. We were very grateful to this kind man who took time out of his drive to inform us of the unfortunate incident.

from winjana5thwheelers.com.au/

After taking in what happened, we notice another fifth wheel parked just ahead of us. A lady comes walking towards our truck and fifth wheel to talk to us. This is when we encounter our next three Good Samaritans. This wonderful lady tells us that they had just blown a tire on their RV and her husband and son had just finished changing it. She asked us if we would like them to change our tire since her husband was a retired trucker and had lots of experience, as well as the equipment to do so. She assured us that is was not a problem or an inposition for them. How could we refuse an offer like that, so we accepted their gracious offer. After the tire was changed, we both drove to a tire shop in the community where we came from. The young man even volunteered to carry our blown tire into the shop for us. Who says Good Samaritans don’t exist. We encountered four of them in a few minutes.

Curious, I searched to see how common Good Samaritans are. Global News has a page with links to several Good Samaritan stories. One the stories is about a Teen Hero, a story about a 13-year-old North Vancouver teen when he heard a woman screaming at a strip mall in July of this year. When he saw was a man carrying a bag and running away from an SUV with a smashed window, so the teen chased down the man and tackled him wrestling the bag out of his hands. This does not sound like someone who is selfish, uncaring and apathetic to me.

An even more heroic story, Mother of 5 loses both legs, describes an incident that happened in April of this year, when a mother of five from Florida had to have both of her legs amputated after helping a car crash victim. Dani Hagmann was driving home on a highway when she noticed another car on the road had lost control and crashed. She stopped, got out to assist the driver, called 911, and waited with the injured woman until first responders arrived. Wanting to keep the injured person comfortable, she went to get a blanket when another vehicle crashed and pinned Hagmann in-between the two cars. She certainly wasn’t selfish, uncaring and apathetic. There were many more stories on the site and there are other sites.

Now I’ve always known that the world was full of ‘good’ people, but sometimes we humans can get sucked into rhetoric and the sensationalized, ‘bad’ news stories reported by the media. I know I did. Don’t believe everything you see and hear in the news. It is misleading and can give you a false sensation that people are selfish, uncaring and apathetic. There truly are more ‘good’ people on this planet than there are ‘bad’ people. When I think about my life experience so far, I can think of countless acts of kindness shown to me and my family by random strangers. That is what I want to focus on and not what I hear on the news. You should too!

But Words Will Never Hurt Me

A commentary on bullying

I was really saddened by a video I saw on Facebook. The video was featuring a 14-year-old boy named Jack Higgins who auditioned on Britain’s Got Talent. It is about a boy who refused to give up on his dream of being a dancer and thankfully Jack was rewarded for his efforts.

In fact, watching that video made me somewhat emotional. I felt so much compassion and heartbreak for 14-year-old Jack Higgins. Why you might wonder? I felt bad for Jack because he was bullied on the school yard simply because he prefers ballet to football. This led some of his schoolmates to look down at him and even call him “gay”, saying that dancing was for girls. As a teacher for 35 years, I witnessed this kind of bullying many times. When I personally see the pain that bullying brings, it breaks my heart. If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

Jack gives a truly magical performance when he auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent and as a result was showered with compliments, but Simon Cowell’s words were the most powerful. Simon told Jack: “You know the one thing bullies don’t like? They don’t like it when you do well. I can see how hard you’ve worked for this moment and I congratulate you, Jack!” I applaud Simon for those words.

Bullying is never okay. We as a society must never accept it when someone behaves badly towards others just because of how he or she may look or what that person does. All humans deserve to be treated with equality as well as love and respect.

I’ve always known that bullying is prevalent, but how prevalent is it? I did some research to find out. Before we do that, it is important to know what bullying is. Psychology Today defines it as a distinctive pattern of harming and humiliating others, specifically those who are in some way smaller, weaker, younger or in any way more vulnerable than the bully. The organization PromotePrevent (preventingbullying.promoteprevent.org) defines bullying as a repeated aggressive behavior where one person (or group of people) in a position of power deliberately intimidates, abuses, or coerces an individual with the intention to hurt that person physically or emotionally. So how prevalent is bullying?

The Canadian organization known as PREVNet does work based on four strategies: education, assessment, intervention and policy in order to stop bullying and victimization and to create environments where children feel safe. According to the article, Age Trends in the Prevalence of Bullying, these are some statistics:

  • Today, an estimated 200 million children and youth around the world are being victimized by their peers.
  • It is estimated that 10-15 % of children repeatedly bully others, and 10-15% of children are repeatedly bullied.

With the introduction of the Internet, came cyberbullying. When I was in school, a bully had to harass you in your face since a tormenter had no way to hide. Most bullies today are cowards as they hide behind their computers because they are too afraid to confront their victims face to face. Cyberbullying involves sending mean and sometimes threatening emails, tweets or text messages, spreading gossip, secrets or rumours about another person that will damage that person’s reputation and other such activities. The article, Electronic Bullying: Definition and Prevalence, reports:

  • Among youth who bully others electronically, 6% report frequent bullying, 6% report occasional bullying, and 17% report limited bullying within the previous year.
  • 55% of youth who are victimized report multiple electronic or cyber bullying incidents in the previous year.
  • About 50% of adolescents know someone who has been victimized online.
  • A majority of teachers (84%) report that they have been electronically bullied.

In terms of all types of bullying, Statistics Canada reports:

  • Canada has the 9th highest rate of bullying in the 13-years-olds category on a scale of 35 countries.
  • At least 1 in 3 adolescent students in Canada have reported being bullied recently.
  • 47% of Canadian parents report having a child victim of bullying.
  • The rate of discrimination experienced among students who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans-identified, Two-Spirited, Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) is three times higher than heterosexual youth.
  • Girls are more likely to be bullied on the Internet than boys,
  • The most common form of cyber-bullying involved receiving threatening or aggressive e-mails or instant messages, reported by 73% of victims.

Bullyiingfacts.info reports that in the United States in 2010,

  • 1 of every 7 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 has been a bully or has been bullied.
  • 61% of students who were interviewed stated that bullying can resort to students shooting other children.
  • More than 56% of students had already witnessed bullying that happened while they were in school.
  • 71% of students reported that bullying is an on-going problem.
  • 1 in every 20 students has seen a student carrying a gun while in school premises.
  • Each month, a shocking number of around 282,000 students are being victimized by bullying in the US.

These statistics are distressing to say the least, and they clearly indicate that bullying is a very serious problem. So, who is to blame? I hardly think it is fair to blame the children when many adults model bullying. Statistics Canada reports that 40% of Canadian workers experience bullying on a weekly basis.

from: http://www.panorama.com.al/

Even more disturbing to me is that some of our world leaders are bullies and model this to our youth. New York Times has a list of insults that U. S. President Trump made using Twitter since declaring his intention to run for president. Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, said during the primaries that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “bully” and the United States and its allies in Europe should be resolute in responding to Russian aggression (see Jeb Bush). Clearly, the Russian president is a bully when you consider what Putin has done to the Ukraine (see Ukrainian nationhood). Until adults stop bullying and sanctioning bullying, the cycle of bullying (actually a cycle of violence) will continue.

As long as our youth see adults harassing, they will continue to think that bullying is normal and acceptable. There is a well-known idiom that my friends and I used to spew at our tormentors growing up; “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Well, the truth is, words to do hurt and words can have a life-long effect on us. According to Psychology Today,

Ridicule, distain, humiliation, taunting, all cause injury, and when it is delivered in childhood from a child’s peers, verbal abuse causes more than emotional trauma. It inflicts lasting physical effects on brain structure.

The reality is, words (verbal abuse) hurt just as much, maybe more, than other forms of abuse.

John Powell, an English composer living in the U.S., is quoted as saying, “More than 90 percent of all the prisoners in our American prisons have been abused as children.” In light of the above quote from Psychology Today, I believe him.

Is There a Cure for Racism? You Bet There is.

A commentary on racism

Obviously, I must be naiver than I thought because I truly thought that my generation was less racist than my parents and grandparent’s generations. I believed that racism was disappearing more and more with each generation. It seems I was wrong. The racism, at least in Canada, was hidden; below the surface so to speak.  Racism in Canada was intangible until all the rhetoric from south of the border starting filtering into Canada’s news media.

From cbc.ca

CBC recently published a news article called, Ottawa church fi
ghts racism. A Baptist church in Westboro, an area in the west end of Ottawa, Canada, is trying to use lawn signs to build community, and combat the negativity and racism being directed towards refugees in both Canada and the United States.  The First United Church printed 200 signs that read “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbour,” in the languages of English, French and Arabic. The idea for the signs was inspired from similar campaigns in the United States and southern Ontario.

It was felt that the signs were a way to make a public statement without being political. One church volunteer said, “Make it clear that we’re happy, that diversity is a positive thing, that having neighbours from all over the world and from diverse places is great and that we’re happy to get to know our neighbours and welcome everyone to the community.”

There seems to be a perception in Canada, and seemingly more so in the United States, that diversity is a bad thing; that immigration needs to be slowed or even stopped. Well the truth is, diversity makes for a better society and scientific studies prove that.

In the Scientific American article, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, studies show that being around people who are different from us makes us humans more creative, more diligent and harder-working. One study involving “more than 350 students from three universities participated in the study. Group members were asked to discuss a prevailing social issue (either child labor practices or the death penalty) for 15 minutes. The researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white members deliver them to their groups. When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us”.

This is just one of the numerous studies stated in the article. The fact of the matter is, the article clearly shows how diversity improves creativity, increases innovation, and increases open-mindedness. In other words, society is healthier with diverse environments.

A debate has gone on for some time over whether people are inherently racist; whether infants are born racist. Personally, I think it is a ridiculous argument. If you’ve ever held a child under six months old, you would clearly see that babies love everyone. They just want to be loved by everyone.

A US News’ article, Babies Not Racist, reports on a University of Massachusetts—Amherst study. The study found white 9-month-old babies were worse than white 5-month-old babies at telling apart African-American adults. The news media had a “field day” suggesting that the study is evidence for inherited racism. Time reported the study with the headline, Your Baby Is a Racist, and the Telegraph with the headline, Babies show racial bias. As the US News article points out, all the babies in the study had “little to no previous experience with African-American or other black individuals.” In fact, at that age, babies can’t tell apart something they’re not used to seeing. At least four previous studies suggested that infants who aren’t familiar with other races have difficulty identifying differences in facial structures.

There is convincing proof that racism is learned. In Jane Elliot’s infamous “Blue eyes–Brown eyes” exercise, she clearly demonstrates how racism is learned. Ms. Elliot was a third-grade schoolteacher in the 1960s and 1970s. She decided to base the exercise on eye colour rather than skin colour in order to show the children what racial segregation would be like. If you are not familiar with the exercise, here is part of a documentary explaining her exercise.

The results from the exercise are startling. As a result of the exercise,  Jane Elliot declared,

 “You are not born racist. You are born into a racist society. And like anything else, if you can learn it, you can unlearn it. But some people choose not to unlearn it, because they’re afraid they’ll lose power if they share with other people. We are afraid of sharing power. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Atlantic’s article, New Evidence That Racism Isn’t ‘Natural’, reports on a 2013 paper in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, of four researchers who performed amygdala studies, previously done on adults but now was being done on children. The amygdala is mass of grey matter inside each cerebral hemisphere involved with the experiencing of emotions. The researchers found that the racial sensitivity of the amygdala doesn’t kick in until around age 14 and once it kicks in, it doesn’t kick in equally for everybody. The more racially diverse the peer group, the less strong the amygdala effect. At really high levels of diversity, the effect disappeared entirely. The authors of the study write that ”these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., an American civil rights leader in the 1960s said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” This is what I believe as well. Pierre Berton, a noted Canadian author of non-fiction, 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.” There is no doubt in my mind that racism is learned and evolves from fear and ignorance.

I’ll finish with another one of Jane Elliot’s quotes.

“White people’s number one freedom, in the United States of America, is the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white. We don’t have to learn about those who are other than white. And our number two freedom is the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant.”

The same holds true for Canadians. We too have the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white and we too have the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant. “Ignorance is bliss” they say. It is time to speak up against the stupidity of racism!

The Hideous Consequences of Political Rhetoric

A commentary on the increase in “hate crimes” due to political rhetoric.

rhetI am deeply disturbed by some of the events occurring in my beloved country of Canada. I have always been proud of the fact that Canada celebrates cultural diversity. Multiculturalism in Canada is the sense of an equal celebration of racial, religious and cultural backgrounds.  The Canadian federal government, under then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, put forth the ideology of multiculturalism which places emphasis on the social importance of immigration. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act is a law that was passed in 1988 and it aims to preserve and enhance multiculturalism in Canada. When I taught high school social studies I always proudly emphasized this fact to my students. So, when I learn of islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigration views expressed in my country, I am alarmed and angered. These are some of the things that have happened in Canada.

In early March, Montreal police arrested a 47-year-old man hours after a bomb threat targeting Muslim students forced the evacuation of three buildings at Concordia University’s downtown campus. Apparently, several media outlets in Montreal received a bomb threat claiming to be from the “Council of Concerned Citizens of Canada,” a white supremacist organization also known as C4, which claimed that “small […] amateur explosive devices” had been placed in two buildings on the University. The email stated that C4’s goal was to injure Muslim students. The email also began by citing the election of U.S. President Donald Trump as inspiration for the group’s violent agenda (see CBC News).

Also in early March, a late-night fire at an Islamic information centre and mosque is being investigated by Toronto police. A police spokesperson said the fire is considered “suspicious” and being investigated as arson. It was not ruled as a hate crime then, but it certainly “smells” like a hate crime (see CBC News).

The Globe and Mail is reporting that police are investigating the discovery of swastikas inside an Ontario university classroom this week which left some students feeling distraught; the school calling the symbols “hate graffiti”. The news report says the police are treating the incident as a case of mischief at the time of the article. Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario told reporters, “This incident is an unfortunate reminder that anti-Semitism continues to persist even in a society as welcoming as Canada and a city as diverse as Toronto.” Hillel Ontario is an organization that strives to enrich the lives of Jewish students attending Ontario’s colleges and universities (see Globe & Mail). Sure seems like a hate crime to me.

Far right groups opposed to a federal government motion condemning Islamophobia took to the streets of Montreal in early March. On the opposing side were around 100 representatives of anti-fascist groups, carrying signs saying “Make racists afraid again” and chanting “Immigrants in, fascists out.” Tensions between the groups quickly flared despite a police presence (see CBC News).

Then there was the Quebec City Mosque attack that occurred on January 29th. Alexandre Bissonnette, only 27, was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder while using a restricted firearm. During that attack, six men died in the shooting while evening prayers were underway at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (Islamic cultural centre of Quebec) [see CBC News].

A Winnipeg business owner who identifies herself as a witch says her store has been repeatedly vandalized over the past six years and she wants police to investigate the incidents as hate crimes. Dominique Smith owns Elemental Book & Curiosity Shop Inc. Smith sells alternative spirituality products such as herbs, crystals, incense, books and tarot cards. She also teaches classes out of the business and occasionally has gatherings for worship and rituals. She says her shop’s window has been broken three times. She has had people come into the store harassing her and her staff, telling them that we were evil and needed to repent. Ms. Smith says she’s had to clean spit and urine off of her door and windows countless times over the past few years (see CBC News).

Now I ask the question: what has happened to “tolerance and understanding”? Why does it appear to be disappearing? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not that naive. Canada has always had its share of racists and bigots, but for the most part my country is seen as a tolerant, multicultural society. In fact, analysts at the London-based think tank, the Legatum Institute, ranks 142 countries based on their economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom and social capital.  In 2015, the Institute ranked Canada as number one for being the “freest country in the world” with its tolerance of immigrants, minorities, freedom of expression and beliefs. In fact, an overwhelming percentage of Canadians (92 %) agreed that their country is a good place for immigrants. The United States was ranked 15th for personal freedom (see CTV News).  In 2016, Canada dropped to second place and the United States dropped to position 26 in terms of personal freedom. (see Legatum 2016).

mother-teresa-beautiful-words-love-thy-neighbor-quotes-if-you-judge-people-have-not-time-acknowledge-them-caring-givingCanada is predominantly a Christian country. In the 2011 National Household Survey, two-thirds of Canada’s population reported affiliation with a Christian religion. Christianity is a religion that follows the teachings of Jesus whose teachings focus on the themes of love of God and love of neighbour. In fact, Matthew 22:36 – 40 in the Christian scriptures says, ‘Teacher [Jesus], which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He [Jesus] said to him,” You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ If Christians believe this, then I do not understand why Canadians (at least some of them) are becoming (maybe they’ve always been so) increasingly intolerant and bigoted. At least this is what the various news articles are suggesting is the trend. It just doesn’t fit with the teachings of Jesus.

Sadly, this trend seems to have begun when the US presidential campaign began and much anti-immigration, anti-Muslim and anti-Mexico rhetoric began filtering into Canada’s news. Middle East Eye, an online news organization that provides news from a Middle Eastern perspective, reports that Donald Trump’s election victory is causing a ‘spill-over effect’ in Canada, where hate-motivated incidents have seen a recent spike (see MEE). Even some of our Canadian politicians are now spewing toxic, divisive rhetoric. I truly thought Canadians were different; that Canadians were more tolerant because of our multicultural diversity.  In fact, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, during an address in London, United Kingdom, in November of 2015 said, “Diversity is our strength.” Now I always thought so, but perhaps I’m just naive.  It was Pierre Bayle, a French philosopher, who once said, “It is thus tolerance that is the source of peace, and intolerance that is the source of disorder and squabbling”. He is so right! I still choose to believe that the majority of Canadians are tolerant and welcoming people no matter what race, religion and belief a person may have. The individuals carrying out these despicable hate crimes act out of fear perpetrated by rhetoric. Publius Cornelius Tacitus, a senator and an historian of the Roman Empire, once said, “Fear is not in the habit of speaking truth.” People are acting out of fear and thus executing heinous, hateful, acts because of lies spread by toxic political rhetoric. This has to stop!

Sexism is Alive and Well :(

A commentary about the prevalence of sexism at least in the political arena.

When Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor-General of Canada, was interviewed by the Globe and Mail in March of 2016 she said,

Politics has always been a man’s club. When Judy LaMarsh was elected as a parliamentarian, she could not find a women’s washroom anywhere near the House of Commons. That women are now half the federal cabinet is a wonderful step forward. I never thought I would see the day.

In case you didn’t know, of the thirty cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, 15 (50%) are women. In outgoing US President Barack Obama’s cabinet only 25% of them are women. In the province where I reside, there are 10 women, including the Premier, in a cabinet of 19 ministers. That means over 50% of the cabinet is comprised of women.

Witnessing these kinds of historic events led me to believe that sexism was decreasing and that sexism was well on its way to becoming extinct. Boy was I wrong. But first, what do I mean by sexism? Dictionary.com defines sexism as “attitudes or behaviour based on traditional stereotypes of gender roles” or as “discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex or gender, as in restricted job opportunities, especially such discrimination directed against women”.  It seems when referring to equal gender rights, the idiom, “One step forward, two steps back” is true.

09-donald-trump-bully.w536.h357.2xSo what has taken us backward. From my point of view, it is people like Donald Trump, now president elect Donald Trump, who is taking us backward. I’ve already written about Trump being a sexist  in posts such as, Trump This and Seriously, I don’t Get it.

photoThe Atlantic published an article titled, Fear of a Female President, which shocked me when I read it. The author of the article, Peter Beinart, reported that at the Republican National Convention the hostility toward Hillary Clinton was everywhere. These are his words.

Inside the hall, delegates repeatedly broke into chants of “Lock her up.” Outside the hall, vendors sold campaign paraphernalia. As I walked around, I recorded the merchandise on display. Here’s a sampling: Black pin reading don’t be a pussy, vote for Trump in 2016. Black-and-red pin reading Trump 2016: finally, someone with balls. White T-shirt reading Trump that bitch. White T‑shirt reading Hillary sucks but not like Monica. Red pin reading life’s a bitch: don’t vote for one. White pin depicting a boy urinating on the word Hillary. Black T-shirt depicting Trump as a biker and Clinton falling off the motorcycle’s back alongside the words if you can read this, the bitch fell off. Black T-shirt depicting Trump as a boxer having just knocked Clinton to the floor of the ring, where she lies face up in a clingy tank top. White pin advertising kfc hillary special. 2 fat thighs. 2 small breasts … left wing.

I was stunned when I read this. I like everyone else thought Mrs. Clinton would make history and that she would be the first female US president. Yes, I understand she had made mistakes and that controversy surrounded her but that was also true for Donald Trump.  I believed Americans would see him as the bigot, sexist, misogynist and liar that he is. I was sure that Americans would vote for Hillary, the best, most qualified candidate of the two choices. Boy was I ever wrong. So I reflected upon this. I asked questions. Why would Americans vote against her? Why were the polls so wrong? Was there really a silent majority of people who wouldn’t admit that they supported Trump? Was there something deeper going on? I began to wonder if sexism is more prevalent in society than we like to admit? It seems Peter Beinart agrees.  He wrote in The Atlantic article, Fear of a Female President,

Standard commentary about Clinton’s candidacy—which focuses on her email server, the Benghazi attack, her oratorical deficiencies, her struggles with “authenticity”—doesn’t explain the intensity of this opposition. But the academic literature about how men respond to women who assume traditionally male roles does. 

Now we Canadians like to think we’re different than Americans. We like to think that there are no sexist or racist people wanting to lead our country. WRONG. Kelly Leitch is wanting to lead the Federal Conservative Party of Canada. Upon hearing of a Trump victory, Leitch told her supporters “Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump…It’s an exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well. It’s the message I’m bringing to my campaign to be the next Prime Minister of Canada”. Like Trump, Kellie Leitch has proposed screening immigrants for Canadian values and refers to her competing candidates as out-of-touch elites.

On the day after the Trump victory, I discovered that Alberta politics has its fair share of sexism.

500px-alberta_in_canada-svgThe National Post reports that the only two women candidates in the Alberta Progressive Conservative (PC) Party leadership race have dropped out because of harassment and intimidation. It is interesting that it is only the female candidates that are being harassed. After much research I could not find any news reports of male candidates getting harassed.

Sandra Jansen, one of the two female PC leadership candidates, reports in the National Post article that at the PC convention: “My social media has been filled with filth, my domain name purchased to direct people to smear pieces on me and finally, this past weekend in Red Deer, the final straw. Insults were scrawled on my nomination forms. Volunteers from another campaign chased me up and down the hall, attacking me for protecting women’s reproductive rights, and my team was jeered for supporting children’s rights to a safe school environment.” She did not identify any wrongdoers by name, but she did point a finger of blame at former federal Conservative Party Member of Parliament and Alberta provincial leadership candidate Jason Kenny who flooded the convention with youth delegates.

The Calgary Herald reports, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has and still is being harassed. Now I have to wonder if it is because she is a woman. The Premier’s press secretary has said: “This kind of social media or correspondence activity is not unusual in any way,” and labelled the threats as “totally normal.” These things come by letter, phone and, as in the case of the most recent ones, via social media. Premier Notley has had threats made against her which appeared on two Facebook pages where some Albertans opposed to the New Democratic Party (NDP) go to rant. They included a warning to Notley to be careful, or “you’ll be the first assassination,” while another read: “I’m not advocating for violence against you — yet — but keep talking like that and someone will take matters in their own hands.” I personally find this deeply disturbing to the point where I wrote my provincial representative encouraging him to speak out against this nonsense. I never did hear back from him and in fact he has since become one of the Alberta PC leadership candidates.

CBC News reported last year that Alberta female politicians were targeted by hateful, sexist online attacks. The news article makes reference to gender consultant Cristina Stasia who described the comments as shocking and sexually violent, taking specific aim at the premier’s gender. Stasia said, “There’s a fury that lurks underneath this … that we have a woman running our province” The consultant also said the remarks seek to degrade but say little about policy and show Alberta, which is “saturated with misogyny and high rates of violence,” still has a long way to go. Is it normal for premiers to be threatened? I tried to find news reports of male premiers being threatened but found none. This is occurring in the province I live in. This is not the kind of province I desire to have. I find this deeply troubling.

We males need to look inward. We need to accept that times are changing (I hope) and that the patriarchal world of the past is disappearing or at least needs to. Men and women are equals. Women need to be treated and respected as equals. Yes, I am a man and I sexismsincerely believe this. Gloria Steinem, an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist says, “A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.” I agree. I’ll give the last words to Hillary Clinton who almost became the first female US president and if you go by popular vote should be. Mrs. Clinton says, “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” Thanks for trying Hillary!