By Barbara Amiel - Friday, February 1, 2013 - 0 Comments
Aboriginal peoples of Canada deserve justice, says Barbara Amiel, but negotiations will be complicated
The hunger strike of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence was really more of a diet and thank goodness for that. Spence went 44 days eating only fish broth, herbal tea and water and emerged looking haggard but still well-rounded. IRA protester Bobby Sands, skeletal and comatose, died of hunger—the first of several IRA hunger deaths—in a British prison hospital in 1981. Our other Aboriginal “hunger” striker, Manitoba elder Raymond Robinson, ended his strike simultaneously and told CBC he couldn’t get a proper medical exam after his ordeal. He encountered that special Canadian experience—the overworked emergency ward of delays and curt questions, in his case by a “blond” nurse who he felt was exhibiting “racism” in her tone—and so he went home.
I appreciate that hunger strikes aren’t a competitive sport but one shouldn’t despoil them by so poor a showing. Or they become meaningless, rather like armed road blockages and millions of bucks gone missing on some reserves, not to mention the billions poured annually into Aboriginal programs. These tactics tend to put non-Aboriginals off. Continue…
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 10:31 AM - 0 Comments
Aboriginal communities say decades-old bans on alcohol failed to curb abuse. Not everyone agrees.
As a young man in the mid-1980s, Glenn Pelletier took elaborate steps before coming home to the Cowessess First Nation, the reserve in southeastern Saskatchewan where he grew up. Pelletier, who was working in Calgary at the time, would pull over his 1972 Mercury Montego before reaching reserve land so he could stash his weekend supply of whisky in his rusted hulk of a car. Cowessess was a dry community—or so Pelletier thought. “I figured if I got stopped there and the cops found my liquor, they’d take it away,” he says. “So I’d put it under the seat, in the trunk, in a suitcase. Wherever.”
Years later, Pelletier learned the truth: Cowessess was not officially dry in those days, and never had been. All that time, his elders had hoodwinked him and his friends, throwing around the phrase “dry reserve” so often the youngsters assumed the band had passed a bylaw imposing prohibition. It was a masterpiece of brainwashing—and testimony to the power of an idea. At the time, the “dry” movement was sweeping Aboriginal communities across Canada, where leaders saw it as a means of curbing the catastrophic effect of alcohol abuse on their populations. Why wouldn’t Cowessess do the same?
Much has changed. Pelletier, now a band councillor, hasn’t taken a drink in seven years. And prohibition is an idea that he and many Aboriginals are happy to leave behind. In February, 67 per cent of residents in the remote Arctic hamlet of Kimmirut voted to rescind their dry status, bringing the number of dry communities in Nunavut to six, down from eight just a few years ago. Voters opted instead for a system where residents wishing to ship liquor into the community can apply to an “alcohol education committee.” The decision stunned outsiders, because Kimmirut had been the site of an alcohol-fuelled shooting of a young RCMP officer in 2007, an incident that drew nationwide attention to the hamlet’s substance abuse problems.