Wednesday, March 31

And a little more on yesterday's subject...

A short story from CBC on the daring heroics of our Mounted Police...

...and a press release from the AHF below.

OTTAWA, March 29 - Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo and AFN Regional Chief Bill Erasmus today issued a call for all governments and the private sector to support the Aboriginal Healing Foundation so it can continue to fulfill its critical role in supporting Indian residential school survivors and their families.

"We cannot heal one hundred years of abuses in twelve years. Ending projects supported by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation now will create a gap in support at a time when it's needed the most," said National Chief Atleo, noting that projects delivered by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation will be especially important as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission launches its national hearings and commemorative events. "The Aboriginal Healing Foundation is a proven institution that's highly accountable and effective and should be given the opportunity to continue its good work in supporting health and healing for the survivors of residential school and their families."

Federal funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, which currently provides culturally appropriate community-based services to Indian residential school survivors and families across Canada, ended as a result of this year's federal budget. Without support, 134 projects across various regions will end as of Wednesday, leaving entire regions without these healing and health supports, including Manitoba, Yukon, Nunavut and Prince Edward Island. This is in addition to the 1,211 projects that have had to end already, impacting thousands of residential school survivors and their families.

"The AFN is working with Health Canada on a broad health and healing support plan for Truth and Reconciliation Commission events, but more needs to be done to assist our people and communities," said National Chief Atleo, adding that the uptake on the Common Experience Payment (CEP) and Independent Assessment Process (IAP) has exceeded projections, also increasing need for healing and health supports for former students and their families.

"The Aboriginal Healing Foundation supports a range of diverse healing and health supports that are needed in our communities, as identified in the 2007 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement," said AFN Northwest Territories Regional Chief Bill Erasmus. "The important work of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation is far from complete and we need to walk together on a healing journey to address the legacy of the residential school system and work towards reconciliation. This is consistent with the 2008 federal Apology to residential school survivors and their families."

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada released its evaluation of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation this March - one day following the federal Budget. The evaluation, which identifies an ongoing demand for healing, outlines a management response and work plan and reinforces the point that the Aboriginal Healing Foundation has been very effective and efficient in its delivery of programming.

Just as this Government committed 125 M in 2007, a renewal of this investment over the next three years would extend the Aboriginal Healing Foundation until 2013, providing the opportunity to continue to deliver First Nation-driven, community based healing and health supports to those impacted by the Indian Residential School system.

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation provides resources to Aboriginal communities that promote reconciliation and support in building and reinforcing sustainable healing processes that address the legacy of physical, sexual, mental, cultural and spiritual abuses in the residential school system, including intergenerational impacts. It has operated 1,345 quality projects since its inception in 1998.

Tuesday, March 30

“How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one's culture but within oneself?... There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light." Barry Lopez, ‘Arctic Dreams’

Until the early 1990’s I had never heard of the Residential School system in Canada. It had, after all, been dismantled in the 60’s, and the Canadian government had done a pretty good job of trying to bury the horrific truth of what had happened.

The Residential School System was an official national policy, enacted by the Federal Government and solely designed to destroy first nations culture and ‘integrate’ first nations peoples into our European culture. Starting in the 1840’s and continuing for over 120 years, First Nations children were forcibly removed from the homes of their parents for ten months per year, subjected to punishment if they spoke their own language, subjected to unsanitary conditions that resulted in tuberculosis epidemics and, in some cases, a 69% mortality rate. And, of course, most infamously, there was the rampant incidence of sexual and physical abuse perpetuated by the Catholic and Protestant ‘teachers’ that the Federal Government farmed the actual task of assimilation out to.

It is, in my opinion, the darkest episode of Canadian history. The schools, funded by Federal grants, mandated with the systematic ethnocide of a people by the Federal Government, and knowingly staffed with sadists, pederasts and pedophiles by the willing churches tasked with that ethnocide, are a dark stain on Canada's history.

Awareness has grown over the last fifty years as courageous First Nations people brought the issue to the forefront of public discussions. It was a fight. The evidence was overwhelming that the abuse, that the ethnocidal policies had existed, but the ability of a government and a nation to live in denial should never be underestimated. It took until 2008 for a reluctant Prime Minister Harper to offer a long-overdue official apology from the nation to the peoples they tried to destroy.

A decade before that apology though, way back in 1998, perhaps as a way to try to silence the protests, or maybe as a form of bribe to shut them up, or perhaps, just possibly because somebody had a sane moment and thought it was the right thing to do, the Canadian Government provided funding for an organization named the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. The original funding mandate was for eleven years. It was extended last year to make it twelve. But this year the Federal Conservative administration of Stephen Harper has cut all funding to the AHF effective March 31. Not all of the programs that the AHF funds and supports will be closed because of the AHF’s funding being cut, but many will, and all of them will suffer. Many of the programs that the AHF funds are the most progressive and successful residential treatment programs in existence, and the AHF has received praise and commendations for being one of the most fiscally responsible organizations of its kind in Canada.

To be fair, the Federal Tories say that other systems and programs will be mandated to fill the void left by the AHF, but those programs are not run by First Nations peoples and have a far broader mandate than to focus on the victims of residential schooling. They may care, but they won’t care enough, aren’t mandated to care enough, to do the job right. The organization that does care enough to do it right, that has been doing it right for twelve years, is being gutted by a government that, in spite of that fake apology a couple years ago, apparently still doesn’t give a damn.

And in case you’re tempted to walk away from this thinking, “that damned Harper government again”, remember that we still all own a piece of this. If we get to be proud of the soldiers in WWI and II, if we get to be proud of our Peace Keepers, if we get to be proud of the Penticton Vees and the National Junior Team and the Olympic Gold, then we also have to – HAVE TO – own this disgrace as well.

And it lives on, every time we turn our head instead of look at a person living on the street, every time we ignore articles about things like the end of funding for the AHF or think that it’s not very important, every time we grumble over the entitlements provided to First Nations people in terms of education or taxation. And even every time a First Nations person assumes what a person of European descent thinks about them. The old prejudices still exist in all of us.

It’s part of our heritage. It’s part of what makes us Canadian. It’s part of what makes this our home and native land.

I don’t believe much in the value of guilt, but I do believe in remorse. Guilt holds us frozen, trapped in our own self-flagellations, but remorse shows that we see, that we can learn and change. I have a hard time not feeling guilty about what my ancestors did though. I try to focus on the remorse, to focus on learning and supporting change, to focus on leaning into the light as Mr. Lopez so eloquently puts it, but damn… some days it’s hard.


You can find out more
, among others places. Try a Google search if you want more.

You can also find a petition through this Facebook page.

I don’t think that our government’s responsibility, our responsibility, is fulfilled yet on this subject. Perhaps we can apply enough pressure to make them do the right thing for a change.

Monday, March 1

‘It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.’ Arthur C. Clarke

I’m not a fan of nationalism in any form, extreme or otherwise. That’s a hard position to explain during the Olympics when everyone is actively encouraged, by our Prime Minister among others, to forego the traditional Canadian sense of composure and modesty to wave flags and cheer unabashedly. (Not that I’d follow Harper’s exhortation advice on anything.) It get’s even more complicated when I admit that I love the sport aspect of the Olympics. I told one friend that I’d be cheering the athletes and booing the IOC, VanOC, Harper and Campbell every chance I got. So, fair to say I found the Olympic festival to be a challenging time, full of conflicting emotions and a guilty sense of admiration.

Let me clarify by saying that I admire Olympic athletes for their athletic ability and the purity of their performances. How could you not admire some of the stories that manifested themselves? A young skater whose mother dies suddenly goes on to skate the competition of her life and take a medal; a guy throws himself down a skeleton track head first at 145 km/h to come from behind and win gold; a couple in ice dancing (is that really a sport?) pull off a gold medal in a competition perennially dominated by Europeans; both men’s and women’s hockey teams come through to take the gold medal in “our game”. And that’s a very incomplete list. It was heady stuff, and I cheered along with everyone else when Sid potted the golden puck yesterday.

I’ll admit it; I was proud to be Canadian in that moment.

The feeling hadn’t been there the entire last two weeks though, and it isn’t there today. I’m still overwhelmed by the disgrace of our government’s arrogance and their lack of integrity; still ashamed that we are lapdogs to the Americans practically everywhere except on the ice; still ashamed that the spectacle of the closing ceremonies may be a swan song for the arts in BC because of our government’s desire to line their pockets instead of support programs that made that kind of expression of artistic ability a possibility. I still consider nationalism, in even its most benign forms, to be an evil thing, pitting nation against nation at a time when cooperation should be the only word on any politician’s lips.

On top of that nationalistic fervor, seen as a positive aspect of the games by so many, there’s the fact that athletics are only a part of the spectacle. They are the draw that corporations use to attract and entertain so that we are watching all that advertising, using our Visa cards exclusively, eating the least healthy fast food possible and shopping at all the right stores for all the right products. Do you think that this is the spirit of the Olympics? Is it the true spirit of athletic competition to sell out the games and everything pure they are intended to be so that corporations can sell product more effectively, and so that local real estate investors can get rich on the public dime?

Can I share a secret? To justify watching the game yesterday, I had to think of it in terms of which team had more of my favorite players on it, clinched by who was playing my favorite goalie, rather than by what national colors the players were wearing. I’ve written before about the evils of nationalism and patriotic fervor. I won’t start again here. Suffice it to say that nationalism magnifies our differences instead of celebrating our similarities. I had to try to ignore the commercials and strategically time my smoke breaks.

This morning on CBC they were talking about the political ramifications of the games and how they might trigger an election, with Harper and his conservative slaves riding high on the euphoric high of the mass hysteria and group hypnosis brought on by the games. How sad. How cynical. They were talking about how happy everyone was too. How we threw a “good party”. One politician was impressed by how the games drew us together as a country. All for the low, low price of roughly seven BILLION dollars. How many homeless people could have been helped with seven billion dollars? How many programs like Insite could have been carried on in perpetuity or created in other places? How many jobs, permanent ones, not six-month, part-time ones, could have been created? But there’s no profit in that kind of social altruism, is there? No commercial opportunity or advertising rebound.

There are times when I sort of mourn what I see as a loss of innocence. I remember my unadulterated joy when Canada struck gold in Salt Lake City and look back on it now with a bit of nostalgia. I found myself wishing that my enjoyment of the moment yesterday afternoon wasn’t toned by the more expansive context that I see the games within now. I wished for a moment, to make a pop culture reference, that I had taken the blue pill.

But I didn’t, and I wouldn’t if I had to do it again, and how I see the world is irreconcilably changed. I still celebrate what athletes from around the world were able to accomplish these last couple weeks; the adversity they overcame, the excellence they achieved. They are amazing and heartbreaking and wonderful (especially if they did it without drugs or gene therapy or blood doping).

Forgive me if I don’t get a Canadian flag tattoo though. That part of the spectacle just makes me depressed.