Native Canada and the call for a maple spring.
First, let me be clear about a couple of things – I love maple (I literally take shots of the stuff), but the term Maple Spring as is being used in “Occupy” circles in Canada (following the “Springs” in North Africa last year) isn’t quite right. We’re in a very different situation in Canada than our fellows in North Africa.
I prefer the term introduced by American Natives in response to “Occupy” – Decolonize. Much better.
Second, full disclosure here, my father traced our family tree back 400 years or so, and didn’t find any native branches to our family. I was surprised, considering one side of my family is French (or French-Canadian, or Quebecois), and there was a greater mix between French and Natives than English. Nevertheless, my family’s been here for 400 years, so my ties are to this place, not Europe. I don’t feel French, English, Scottish, Irish, German (althought that’s my ancestry). Neither do I feel Canadian. It’s a weird place to be.
As I’ve posted previously, I’m studying Inuktitut, as I think it’s important to learn a native language wherever you happen to live. Even the idea of native languages is a bit strange, as they evolve and displace others over time. However, Inuktitut was spoken here before the Europeans arrived, and it is still spoken, but few people have bothered to learn it. English holds dominance (a point the Francophones are vocal in pointing out, as their own imposed minority is constantly under threat of erosion).
I grew up in France (well 3 years there, but they were formative, important years), and was astounded at the amount of languages people spoke (to various degrees of fluency), and here we have a majority who stubbornly speak one. It’s coming to a head though, as more and more newcomers bring Mandarin and Arabic (and certainly other languages as well). Nevertheless, there are already a number of languages here, that have dwindled through deliberate eradication and genocide.
Cree, Inuktitut and Ojibwe are the three languages that stand the best chance of surviving the continued tides of colonization.
Genocide in the 21st Century
One of my fellow Inuktitut students works with addictions and mental health recovery in Inuit communities, and he told me some statistics that I’d known, but hadn’t really digested. The suicide rate among Inuit is an order of magnitude above the national average. The rates of tuberculosis are the highest in the world (185 times the national average), as are incidents of other diseases. Because the Inuit live predominantly in the territories, it is the Federal Government that is supposed to be resonsible for them. The systematic neglect is appaling.
He reminded me of the policy of massacring sled dogs at trading posts, essentially stranding people and preventing them from living nomadically as they had (the Arctic is a big, treeless expanse, and impossible to navigate on foot).
The Inuit were exposed to the same cultural genocide as other communities subjected to the Residential School System. Separated from their families, children were sent far, far away from their communities, where they forgot their language, culture and family ties. Many were abused, thousands were murdered, all under the auspices of the church and Canadian Government (who have since issued a hollow apology).
When former Governor-General Michaelle Jean was in office, she had this to say in an address to the Calgary Teachers’ Convention:
Schools are the most wonderful spaces for nurturing universal values, all cultures, based on the wealth of the contributions of all citizens. Some of the darkest pages in our history show how we have failed in this regard.We are still living under the disastrous fallout stemming from the systemic dispossession of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples in this country, who were robbed of their ancestral knowledge, their history, their words and their beliefs. As we think about education : we cannot dissociate ourselves from this reality whose deficit, social and human costs are measured each day and affect us all collectively. We need to stop identifying this as a native problem. That’s the reason why our curricula must include better education for Canadian youth on our ancestral cultures, on the realities that continue to afflict them, and on the gaps that remain to be filled in this country.
It’s no surprise that South Africa based its Apartheid system on the Canadian Reservation system. Although the Commonwealth never kicked Canada out.
Treaties Aren’t Worth the Pulp they were Spit Upon
The Federal Government continues its undermining of Native communities, in part by ignoring its responsibilities in treaties. More often than not this has to do with the exploitation of Natural Resources (mining, oil, wood, water, fish, and so on), ignoring agreements to which the First Nations (at least those with treaties) are held, while ignoring the government’s end of the bargain.
See Canadian Indian Act, called “An Act Respecting Indians” without the least bit of irony. No other ethnicity or culture has an act in its honour, no the Anglo- or Franco-Canadians, neither the Scandinavians, Italians, Chinese, Vietnamese, and countless other peoples who have come to live in this country. Why the exceptionalism?
Architect of Aparheid:
Canada’s support for Israel has taken many forms, but perhaps its greatest gift has been a real-life how-to guide for establishing and maintaining a settler society that includes an array of strategies, tactics, and programs for taking land, subjugating Indigenous populations, and weakening their resistance. It’s also worth noting that many of these tactics and strategies were used by the South African apartheid regime, including the Bantustan system and the use of the Dom Pass to restrict the movement of black South Africans.
The Indian Act of 1876 must be seen not only as the centrepiece of Canadian colonial policy towards Indigenous peoples, but also as a blueprint for apartheid. The Indian Act enshrined completely unequal rights, relations, and – over time – vastly disparate living conditions between Indigenous peoples and Canadian settlers. It also represented a policy of extermination as it facilitated the forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples, and deprived Indigenous nations of their right to decide who was and was not “Indian.” This was a very gendered process as different standards for retaining “status” were applied to Indigenous women as compared to men, resulting in vast numbers of Indigenous women and their descendents losing not only their recognized status as Indigenous peoples, but also their ability to remain in their communities.
Taseko Mines has asked the Harper Government to limit First Nations input. This on the heels of the same government streamlining the project review process, which essentially paves over the possibility of community opposition and thorough environmental reviews. It may be news to some, but the Native people of Canada (and the world) have been dealing with this behaviour and its repurcussions for far, far too long.
And there’s enough of it in the news, if you look hard enough. It’s certainly not on the mainstream evening news unless someone wants the RCMP to get involved.
Plenty more if you want to sniff around and see what’s happening in your neck of the woods. Here the Harper government has gutted anything that might have been considered the last remnants of “good government” – and with a majority in Parliament, and a stranglehold on the Senate (not to mention the most secretive government Canada’s ever had), we’re royally screwed. If only they had souls, it might not be so bad.
the Lunatic end of Civilization
Welcome to the Asylum by Chris Hedges
When civilizations start to die they go insane. Let the ice sheets in the Arctic melt. Let the temperatures rise. Let the air, soil and water be poisoned. Let the forests die. Let the seas be emptied of life. Let one useless war after another be waged. Let the masses be thrust into extreme poverty and left without jobs while the elites, drunk on hedonism, accumulate vast fortunes through exploitation, speculation, fraud and theft. Reality, at the end, gets unplugged. We live in an age when news consists of Snooki’s pregnancy, Hulk Hogan’s sex tape and Kim Kardashian’s denial that she is the naked woman cooking eggs in a photo circulating on the Internet. Politicians, including presidents, appear on late night comedy shows to do gags and they campaign on issues such as creating a moon colony. “At times when the page is turning,” Louis-Ferdinand Celine wrote in “Castle to Castle,” “when History brings all the nuts together, opens its Epic Dance Halls! hats and heads in the whirlwind! Panties overboard!”
The quest by a bankrupt elite in the final days of empire to accumulate greater and greater wealth, as Karl Marx observed, is modern society’s version of primitive fetishism. This quest, as there is less and less to exploit, leads to mounting repression, increased human suffering, a collapse of infrastructure and, finally, collective death. It is the self-deluded, those on Wall Street or among the political elite, those who entertain and inform us, those who lack the capacity to question the lusts that will ensure our self-annihilation, who are held up as exemplars of intelligence, success and progress. The World Health Organization calculates that one in four people in the United States suffers from chronic anxiety, a mood disorder or depression—which seems to me to be a normal reaction to our march toward collective suicide. Welcome to the asylum.
When the most basic elements that sustain life are reduced to a cash product, life has no intrinsic value. The extinguishing of “primitive” societies, those that were defined by animism and mysticism, those that celebrated ambiguity and mystery, those that respected the centrality of the human imagination, removed the only ideological counterweight to a self-devouring capitalist ideology. Those who held on to pre-modern beliefs, such as Native Americans, who structured themselves around a communal life and self-sacrifice rather than hoarding and wage exploitation, could not be accommodated within the ethic of capitalist exploitation, the cult of the self and the lust for imperial expansion. The prosaic was pitted against the allegorical. And as we race toward the collapse of the planet’s ecosystem we must restore this older vision of life if we are to survive.
The war on the Native Americans, like the wars waged by colonialists around the globe, was waged to eradicate not only a people but a competing ethic. The older form of human community was antithetical and hostile to capitalism, the primacy of the technological state and the demands of empire. This struggle between belief systems was not lost on Marx. “The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx” is a series of observations derived from Marx’s reading of works by historians and anthropologists. He took notes about the traditions, practices, social structure, economic systems and beliefs of numerous indigenous cultures targeted for destruction. Marx noted arcane details about the formation of Native American society, but also that “lands [were] owned by the tribes in common, while tenement-houses [were] owned jointly by their occupants.” He wrote of the Aztecs, “Commune tenure of lands; Life in large households composed of a number of related families.” He went on, “… reasons for believing they practiced communism in living in the household.” Native Americans, especially the Iroquois, provided the governing model for the union of the American colonies, and also proved vital to Marx and Engel’s vision of communism.
Native communities have long been aware of the rapacious nature of business interests in Canada. It was the founding of the country. The beaver is the national emblem less for its industriousness as its economic value: the fur was made into felt for hats that were popular in Europe at the time, and the fur trade was essential to the founding of the European colonies.
Indigenous Resistance across Ontario (Apr 25th 2012)
I’ve been following the Indigenous Environmental Network, Indigenous People’s Issues, Mining Watch Canada, and a number of other such sites, and it’s hardly surprising how much they repeat the same stories around the world. People fighting for their land against devastation. Currently, the biggest fight in Canada is against the Enbridge pipeline. The Government vilifies anyone opposed to it as foreign-funded radicals, and the opposition has brought together a diverse swathe of people, lead by affected Native Communities.
of the American Indian Movement has been a critical voice in the fight for survival that yet continues. His website contains a wealth of his talks and issues. He gave a recent speech: Sovereignty benefits US.
“Continually allowing of your government to violate the Constitution of the United States of America on a daily basis with us has caught up with you, hasn’t it?” Means said of government failings in living up to tribal treaty obligations.“Your representatives don’t care. Your Supreme Court is political, not judicial. Your president is a quasi-king.
He has much to say (and I can’t say I agree with all of it, but I wouldn’t want it any other way). Here are his thoughts on the Inuit.
Despite the overt racism expressed in the comments section of any CBC news post regarding Natives, there is a growing solidarity among resistance and protest groups. The national media are slow to take up the story (quel surprise) if at all, as they seem to be on an economic cheerleading squad, regardless of how short-sighted and destructive such economic “progress” is.
First Nations Child Advocate Wins First Battle With Ottawa over Services – First Nations is a political designation, and excludes the Inuit and Metis.
Cindy Blackstock, a long-time advocate for aboriginal children in Canada, won a major victory on April 18 when the Federal Court ruled that further scrutiny is needed to determine whether Ottawa is discriminating against First Nations children on reserves by underfunding child welfare services.
The court ordered the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which dismissed the original discrimination complaint in 2011, to hold a new hearing on the case before a newly constituted panel of adjudicators.
Wonders Never Cease
Each culture has something to offer every other culture. If nothing else, a different way of thinking about and looking at the world. The greater variety of tools we have, the richer we are. Nothing breeds death like a monoculture. Aside from the horrific human toll, it is the true horror of genocide – the death of language, culture, ways of thinking, experiencing and being, lost to us.
Yet traditions are making a comeback, as people become more interested in recovering their traditions.
Ron Eglash is the kind of researcher I appreciate. He has traveled around the world, and found valuable insights into how cultures across the glove do things – basic things, like design their houses and towns, or think, or perceive the world. In so doing, he provides plenty of instances that undermine the common distorted vision of the Hollywood Indian.
In Arctic Dreams, I read that Inuktitut was a language better suited to the discussion of quantum physics than English or German. It was part of the reason I was curious to learn it. Then I came across this article by Ron Eglash, and the subsequent links to the inherent structure and mathematics in the artwork of various native cultures:
Native American Cybernetics: Indigenous Knowledge Resources in Information Technology
It’s Not for Me to Say
Really, I can’t speak for any Native group, culture or people. I’m trying to listen to their own words and stories, and put it into a context I can understand. That’s why I’ve often dismissed the well meaning but misguided talks patronizing Native communities. It’s not that they can’t speak for others, nor act as advocates, or supporters in solidarity, particularly those who have lived in the communities concerned. I’m thinking more about the outsider, political correct and misinformed, who are better off listening than speaking.
And as a fan of stories, I recommend the following Canadian Native writers:
There are many more Native voices, however, these are the ones with which I am more familiar, and I recommend.
It’s a complicated situation, and one that is polluted with much mis- and disinformation as well as assumption, misconception and so on. As for my role in this whole mess, it isn’t to speak on behalf of any cultural population (how could I when I don’t even really consider myself Canadian?), but to support those who fight to dismantle the mechanism of colonization on which this country is founded, and put my efforts into nurturing the mutlicultural nature of 21st Century Canuckistan.
So I’m learning Inutitut, and putting my energy into decolonizing Canadian thinking.
225 Days to Dec 21st 2012