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 3.1

A commentary on political correctness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Pope, a TED Talk Celebrity

A commentary on the importance of community.

A few days ago, I went to the CBC news website to see if anything significant was happening in the world. This is something I do frequently. I was surprised to see an article called, Pope urges powerful to put people ahead of products in surprise TED Talk. My first reaction was, “the Pope gave a TED talk? How cool is that. When I read the article, and watched the talk, I was taken with his message as it made me think. Now I don’t always agree with the pope, but in regards to this talk, I think his message is one that the world needs to hear. It was a message about how influential people are failing to help those in need, and what the pope refers to as a “culture of waste”, a culture that puts products ahead of people. If you haven’t seen the talk, here it is.

The first thing that struck me in the Pope’s TED talk were his words:

People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centred around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves “respectable,” of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road. Fortunately, there are also those who are creating a new world by taking care of the other, even out of their own pockets. Mother Teresa actually said: “One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense.”

The pope is absolutely right. Our society is centred around money. Our society tends to put money and possessions before people. According to Wikipedia, a 2012 study for the years 2002–2008 found that about 25% of all senior citizens living in the United States declared bankruptcy due to medical expenses, and 43% were forced to mortgage or sell their primary residence. A 2004 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)  report said: “With the exception of Mexico, Turkey, and the United States, all OECD countries had achieved universal or near-universal (at least 98.4% insured) coverage of their populations by 1990.” I will always be grateful that Canada has a universal health care system. Private, for profit health care is but one example where money and possessions are prioritized before people.

We are all familiar with those stories where people are treated as outcasts. The Syrian refugees would be one such group, but I would rather focus on the second part of the statement, that is, “creating a new world by taking care of the other.” One such example of this is Ontario’s basic income pilot project (see basic income). Basic income is when payments are provided to eligible families or individuals that ensures a minimum level of income. Ontario’s plan is to implement a pilot program. Supporters of the basic income say it could eliminate poverty and streamline government bureaucracies because a basic income would replace many other benefits, potentially including welfare, unemployment insurance, Old Age Security as well as others. Glasgow in the United Kingdom is considering such a project as well (see BBC). Sweden and Switzerland are also considering Basic Income programs (see Huffpost). The way I see it, basic income programs are merely a way of “taking care of the other”.

It’s interesting that research is indicating that “taking care of the other” is what happens in nature. Science Daily reports in their article, Species Take Care Of Each Other In Ecological Communities, that a University of Alberta study has determined that there are rules of existence in tropical rain forests. One species will not take up too much space so as to not squeeze out other species. Researchers say this is a way that ecological communities regulate themselves. Really, it is just “taking care of the other”.

Another message the pope had that caught my attention were his words,

Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: “Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.” You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” This is a quote by Benjamin Parker (Uncle Ben) in the Marvel comic series “Spider-Man”.  Those in positions of power have a responsibility to do what is best for all the people they have influence over. Political leaders must, as Pope Francis says, be willing serve others as a force of good. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said,

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” This is so true and this is really one of Pope Francis’ key messages in the TED talk. Or, to put it in the pope’s own words:

But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.” We all need each other.

The blog called Tiny Buddha, gives six reasons for why we need one another in a post called The Power of Community,. They are:

  1. Collective wisdom. No one person ever has all of the answers. This makes sense since the more ideas there are, the more likely a solution to a problem can be found.
  2. Pushing our limits. When a person is alone, it’s easy to give up when things get tough. When you’re with others you’ll have people to motivate, and push you to do things you likely wouldn’t do otherwise.
  3. Support. On those days when you most want to give up or just can’t seem to move forward, you need to lean on your community for support to get you through.
  4. New ideas.  In a diverse world, there are many views. That is a good thing as it provides many approaches to a problem since everyone sees things differently.
  5. Motivation.  Sometimes all we need to do is look around our community to be inspired.
  6. Accountability.  When you’re accountable to others you are more likely to “step up to the plate” and accomplish something.

There is no doubt, in my view, that we need community; that we need one another simply because we cannot do it alone. The poet, John Donne, says it best when he said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We need one another therefore we have a duty to take care of one another. There is an idiom that says, “I am not my brother’s keeper”, but I say we are our brother’s keeper. That is what Pope Francis is saying. If humanity is to survive, we must take care of one another. I would add we also need to take care of our home, the planet earth, as well because I know the pope would agree with that as well.

Malala Yousafzai: One of Today’s Heros

A commentary on the impact of Malala Yousafzai

On April 12, Malala Yousafzai became a honourary Canadian in a ceremony in our parliament in Ottawa.  That is when Canadian citizenship is bestowed upon a foreigner for extraordinary distinction. It is purely a symbolic honour as recipients do not take the Oath of Citizenship or receive rights, privileges, or duties typically held by a Canadian citizen. Only five other foreigners have received honorary Canadian citizenship before Malala. Two notables are Nelson Mandela and Tenzin Gyatso. In 2001, Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist, former President of South Africa, and recipient of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize became a honourary Canadian citizen. In 2006, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and recipient of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize also became a honourary Canadian citizen. Malala Yousafzai became the sixth person in history to receive such an honour.

Ms. Yousafzai is a Pakistani student and education activist who was born July 12, 1997, making her a mere 19 years old. She is known for her crusade for girls’ and women’s rights, most especially for a girl’s right to go to school. Sadly, she was a victim of a gunshot attack in October 9, 2012, when she was shot by the Taliban. The Taliban are a radically militant Islamic group that controlled some 90% of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2000. They set out to create the world’s most pure Islamic rule by introducing a disturbing and deeply revolutionary form of Muslim culture. Under the Taliban, women were forbidden to work outside the home, were forced to wear a head-to-toe covering known as a burka, and could not leave the home without a male guardian. The Taliban also prevented women from having access to health and education. After the assassination attempt, Malala was given emergency treatment in Pakistan and then moved to Great Britain for more medical treatment.

Malala Yousafzai is one impressive young lady. For a person who has only lived 19 years, she has had an enormous impact on this planet. At age 11, she became known because of a weblog published by BBC News. The BBC issued translated writings about her life under Taliban rule. In October 2013, a book about her life I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban was published, with her help. This is a very educational and inspiring book, so I would encourage you to read it. Yousafzai was chosen by TIME magazine as a candidate for 2013’s Person of the Year. She was nominated for the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child in 2014. Also in 2014, Yousafzai has won a Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest person ever to do so. She will also be given a Doctor of Civil Law degree by the University of King’s College located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’m sure her list of accomplishments will grow. This is a person I have grown to admire and in fact consider a hero. If you haven’t heard the speech she delivered on April 12, here it is.

I happened to be waiting for our SUV to be serviced in a waiting room in the car dealership with the TV on. At that moment, a news channel was broadcasting Malala’s speech. Two parts of her speech caught my attention. The first was:

The man who attacked Parliament Hill called himself a Muslim — but he did not share my faith. He did not share the faith of one and a half billion Muslims, living in peace around the world. He did not share our Islam — a religion of learning, compassion and mercy.

I am a Muslim and I believe that when you pick up a gun in the name of Islam and kill innocent people, you are not a Muslim anymore.

He did not share my faith. Instead, he shared the hatred of the man who attacked the Quebec City mosque in January, killing six people while they were at prayer.

The same hatred as the man who killed civilians and a police officer in London three weeks ago.

The same hatred as the men who killed 132 schoolchildren at Pakistan’s Army Public School in Peshawar.

The same hatred as the man who shot me.

Malala is confirming what I have stated before in posts such as; Are All Muslims Extremists? Contrary to the rhetoric we’ve heard south of the border, all Muslims are NOT terrorists. Most Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding individuals. As Malala says, “when you pick up a gun in the name of Islam and kill innocent people, you are not a Muslim”.  The same holds true for Christians as well. When a person picks up a gun in the name of Christianity and kills an innocent person(s), you are not a Christian. In fact, the same is true for any world religion as when you get down to the core beliefs or practices of any world religion, they all advocate for peaceful coexistence. It is when people start interpreting religious sacred scripture in ignorance that the true teachings of the religion become warped.

The other portion of Malala’s speech that caught my attention is:

I have travelled the world and met people in many countries. I’ve seen firsthand many of the problems we are facing today — war, economic instability, climate change and health crises. And I can tell you that the answer is girls.

Secondary education for girls can transform communities, countries and our world. Here’s what the statistics say:

  • If all girls went to school for 12 years, low and middle income countries could add 92 billion dollars per year to their economies.
  • Educated girls are less likely to marry young or contract HIV — and more likely to have healthy, educated children.
  • The Brookings Institution calls secondary schooling for girls the most cost-effective and best investment against climate change.
  • When a country gives all its children secondary education, they cut their risk of war in half.

Education is vital for security around the world … because extremism grows alongside inequality — in places where people feel they have no opportunity, no voice, no hope.

When women are educated, there are more jobs for everyone. When mothers can keep their children alive and send them to school, there is hope.

But around the world, 130 million girls are out of school today. They may not have read the studies and they may not know the statistics — but they understand that education is their only path to a brighter future. And they are fighting to go to school.

Now as an educator for 35 years, I know this to be true. Secondary education, not just for girls, but for all people can transform communities, countries and our world. I especially was struck by her statement, “When a country gives all its children secondary education, they cut their risk of war in half”.  It seems to me that the cure for violence and conflict is education. This makes sense to me as through education we can teach tolerance and understanding. It is ignorance, and especially fear, that breeds tensions and conflict. It is education that will decrease a fear of Muslims. It is education that will prove to sexists and misogynist that the sexes are equals. Science has unequivocally proved this. To quote Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. So as Malala says, “Education is vital for security around the world”.

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!