By Colby Cosh - Sunday, February 10, 2013 - 0 Comments
Sometime last year I found myself wondering about the effects of residential schools on the younger generations of aboriginal Canadians. The schools have more supporters than you might think, more than almost anyone likes to admit, amongst former attendees; the resentment felt toward them by those who had terrible experiences is matched by the ferocity with which Indian families agitated to keep the better ones alive late in their existence. We have chosen to take a monolithic view of the residential schools as a bad idea, full stop—to the point at which any educational intervention into Indian welfare that smacks of paternalism will now be run from as if it were a rabid grizzly. (Just for starters, the scale of the residential schools was obviously one of the problems; if there had been four, instead of 80 or more, they could perhaps have been run with some professionalism and accountability.)
It is hard to be sure that this is fortunate. And it is hard to be sure that it is helpful, for if there are other systematic explanations for Indian poverty and social issues, the “it’s all because of those hellish residential schools” explanation might cause us to overlook them. The schools have been shut down for a long time now; they can’t be blamed for the remainder of eternity, any more than I can attribute my incompetence with money to the Highland Clearances. Though maybe I should give it some thought.
Anyway, it turns out that there are surprisingly detailed data concerning Indian social welfare. The federal Aboriginal Affairs department collects and calculates a “community well-being index” for all Canadian communities, and has used the numbers to identify top-performing Indian bands, in order that policy lessons might be extracted from them. The latest index data are old, dating to the 2006 census, but visualizing them still teaches useful things about Indian societal health.
The tool I used is called a “box-and-whisker plot”, or, for short, a “boxplot”. The Great Tukey (peace be upon him) gave the boxplot to us, describing it as a “microscope” for data analysis. But presenters of statistical information for public consumption don’t show boxplots very often, because their features are not too intuitive. It lets you put series of numbers side-by-side and eyeball them for differences in the distributions. The parts of a boxplot are thus: (1) a box around the “interquartile range”, or the middle half of the data; (2) a line through the box at the median; (3) a “whisker” usually extending outward from the box up to 1.5 times the interquartile range from the median (but no further than the furthest actual data); (4) individual dots for outlying data points beyond the whisker. The length of the whisker was chosen by Tukey so that data matching a normal, symmetrical bell curve would have few outlying points, no more than 1% of the sample; many dots are thus a convenient quick indication that a data set is non-normal. (That’s important for statisticians because it rules out further analysis techniques that assume normality.)
I’m not going to quiz you on all that: a boxplot is not too intuitive, but it’s intuitive enough that you can just look and feel. So here’s a picture of First Nations well-being (as of 2006) broken down by province, with tiny P.E.I., largely FN-free Newfoundland, and Inuit communities set aside:
Why did I want to look at this information this way? Because Canada actually performed an inadvertent natural experiment with residential schools: in New Brunswick (and in Prince Edward Island) they did not exist. If the schools had major negative effects on social welfare flowing forward into the future we now inhabit, New Brunswick’s Indians would be expected to do better than those in other provinces. And that does turn out to be the case. You can see that the top three-quarters of New Brunswick Indian communities would all be above the median even in neighbouring Nova Scotia, whose FN communities might otherwise be expected to be quite comparable. (Remember that each community, however large, is just one point in these data. Toronto’s one point, with an index value of 84. So is Kasabonika Lake, estimated 2006 population 680, index value 47.)
On the other hand, and this is exactly the kind of thing boxplots are meant to help one notice, the big between-provinces difference between First Nations communities isn’t the difference between New Brunswick and everybody else. It’s the difference between the Prairie Provinces and everybody else including New Brunswick—to such a degree, in fact, that Canada probably should not be conceptually broken down into “settler” and “aboriginal” tiers, but into three tiers, with prairie Indians enjoying a distinct species of misery. (This shows up in other, less obvious ways in the boxplot diagram. You notice how many lower-side outliers there are in Saskatchewan? That dangling trail of dots turns out to consist of Indian and Métis towns in the province’s north—communities that are significantly or even mostly aboriginal, but that aren’t coded as “FN” in the dataset.)
I fear that the First Nations data for Alberta are of particular note here: on the right half of the diagram we can see that Alberta’s resource wealth (in 2006, remember) helped nudge the province ahead of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in overall social-development measures, but it doesn’t seem to have paid off very well for Indians. This isn’t a surprising outcome, mind you, if you live in Alberta; we have rich Indian bands and plenty of highly visible band-owned businesses, but the universities are not yet full of high-achieving members of those bands, and the downtown shelters in Edmonton, sad to say, still are.
These little boxes go some way toward explaining why the Harper government’s focus on Indian-band accountability may make less sense to Ontarians than it does to Albertans—or why Harper’s prairie base might have had a different reaction to the conditions and the controversy in Attawapiskat than Eastern voters did. It is data of which everyone should be aware, and I wish there were an easier, more natural way to depict it. I’m also curious about how the same data will look once they’re compiled from the 2011 census, heaven knows when.
By Ken MacQueen - Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
Poverty isn’t unique to Aboriginals, but Canada’s health disparities are most apparent among them
On Feb. 4, Maclean’s is hosting “Health Care in Canada: Poor Health No More,” a town hall discussion at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The free, two-hour event—focusing on the social conditions that impact the health and longevity of Canada’s Aboriginal people—is held in conjunction with the Canadian Medical Association, and will be broadcast by CPAC. The conversation on the effect of social disparities on health will continue in the coming months in the magazine, and at town halls in Hamilton, Calgary, and Charlottetown.
It was 3 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2008, when 45-year-old Brian Sinclair rolled his wheelchair into the emergency department of the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre, referred by a clinic doctor because of a bladder infection caused by a blocked catheter. He was a Metis with a cascade of social and health issues, the product of a mother haunted by her residential school experience. He had neurological and speech problems, a past history of substance abuse. He’d lost both legs to frostbite in 2007 after spending a bitter February night outside. His landlord had locked him out.
To some who saw him on the streets he was a stereotype of dysfunction. But what killed him in this busy, inner-city hospital on a September weekend were equally insidious attitudes that rendered Sinclair invisible. He spoke to a staff member at the triage desk, then rolled into the waiting area . . . and waited, vomiting and growing weaker. When he finally received medical attention—almost 34 hours later—it was to pronounce him dead. Fellow patients had found him dead in his wheelchair. The cause of death was “peritoneal infection.” A change of catheter and antibiotics could have saved him. An inquest will finally be held this August. But as a headline succinctly said, Brian Sinclair was “ignored to death.” Continue…
By David Newland - Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 4:25 PM - 0 Comments
How Canadians are failing a tolerance test
Canadians are a tolerant people, right? It’s certainly something we pride ourselves on. The Idle No More movement provides an ideal opportunity to test this notion, as Canadians turn to mass media outlets online to express their thoughts about the matter.
Let’s take, for example, the comments on articles about Idle No More from a variety of media outlets: Globeandmail.com, CBC.ca, NationalPost.com and CTV.ca, just as easy examples. By this I mean the comments that have not been removed for being blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, violent, vulgar, or hateful. The ordinary stuff, in other words. The ideas and opinions that are helping to form and reflect actual public opinion on this important issue.
Now, it would, at first blush, be easy to read some of the comments on those articles as intolerant. But let’s face it: people often misread online communication. So it’s only fair to give these folks the benefit of the doubt, and try to understand where they are coming from. It’s the Canadian way, eh? Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 10:33 AM - 0 Comments
Amid all else, the House voted unanimously last night—268 to 0—to approve the following NDP motion.
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should adopt Shannen’s Dream by: (a) declaring that all First Nation children have an equal right to high-quality, culturally-relevant education; (b) committing to provide the necessary financial and policy supports for First Nations education systems; (c) providing funding that will put reserve schools on par with non-reserve provincial schools; (d) developing transparent methodologies for school construction, operation, maintenance and replacement; (e) working collaboratively with First Nation leaders to establish equitable norms and formulas for determining class sizes and for the funding of educational resources, staff salaries, special education services and indigenous language instruction; and (f) implementing policies to make the First Nation education system, at a minimum, of equal quality to provincial school systems.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
On the eve of today’s summit between the Harper government and Aboriginal leaders, the Prime Minister met privately with a delegation of chiefs. It seems to have not gone entirely well.
Harper told chiefs that they should consider contacting their MPs and that he can’t just focus on Aboriginal issues because he has to run the country, according to three chiefs who were present at the meeting. His comments left chiefs concerned the prime minister was not taking their issues seriously.
“To hear the prime minister make reference to the number of issues he is dealing with raises questions in my mind and those questions will need to be answered in his words tomorrow to First Nations,” said Serpent River Chief Isadore Day. “Tomorrow will be a very good indication of where the prime minister is in his resolve, or lack thereof, to deal with First Nations issues.”
The Prime Minister had already been criticized for plans to leave the summit early. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, meanwhile, warns of a peaceful “uprising” if the situation for Aboriginal doesn’t improve.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, December 12, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
The Aboriginal Affairs Minister and Attawapiskat chief seem to have communication issues.
When the minister, John Duncan, said the band’s chief had agreed to have third-party manager Jacques Marion supervise finances, co-host Craig Oliver said he had just spoken to Chief Theresa Spence. She says that’s a lie,” Oliver said. “She did agree to everything else you said but did not agree to work with the third-party manager. We have a serious conflict here.” Then Duncan said, “We talked to her within the last hour.” To which, Oliver replied, “We talked to her 10 minutes ago.” The minister concluded: “The reality is the third-party manager is in place.”
In a telephone interview with CTV News after the program’s conclusion, Spence said: “He’s a liar, because I didn’t say I agreed. Third party is not the answer here. We declared an emergency crisis, not a crisis on finances.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 1:11 PM - 72 Comments
The third-party auditor will cost Attawapiskat about $1,300 per day.
Aboriginal Affairs officials told The Canadian Press they have an agreement to pay Jacques Marion of BDO Canada LLP a total of $180,000 to look after the reserve’s accounts from now until June 30. The money comes from the Attawapiskat First Nation’s budget. That rate over the course of a year would run up to $300,000 and easily pay for at least one nice, solid house, notes Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Stan Louttit.
Conveying a request from the community, the NDP says the military should be used to help get supplies to Attawapiskat. John Duncan is raising the possibility of evacuating those who do not have adequate housing.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 2, 2011 at 8:30 AM - 36 Comments
Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne criticizes the federal government’s response to the Attawapiskat crisis. And in an interview with APTN, Ms. Wynne says she can’t get Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan to answer her calls.
Minister Duncan ran into NDP MP Charlie Angus yesterday at the CBC offices in Ottawa.
The minister insisted his department did not have “an awareness of what was in the community until a few days after Oct. 28.” But he went on to tell van Dusen that the feds had “people in the community” since April. ”I don’t understand,” she interrupted. “You said you didn’t know until Oct 28.” Duncan shot back with: “They did not identify there was an issue — and neither did Charlie Angus, the representative of the area, who is not shy about talking about Attawapiskat.”
If the latter was a dig at Angus’ abundant media availability, then Duncan was repaid in more than equal measure when he attempted to make a break from the interview. Hustled off by handlers —’We gave you the time. We have to go’ — Duncan made it down one stairwell before bumping into the man himself. Angus greeted him with a hearty, “Mr. Duncan! We’ve got an emergency in Attawapiskat. You’ll know now. Just so you don’t get caught flat-footed.”
Full video here.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 4:44 PM - 22 Comments
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan says “things don’t add up.”
Meanwhile, during QP today, Nycole Turmel quibbled with the Prime Minister’s numbers of choice. Continue…
By Ken MacQueen - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 8 Comments
On moving beyond residential schools, overcoming cynicism and trusting the Tories
AFTER TWO YEARS as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo is cautiously optimistic about the relationship he is forging with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. On Tuesday, at the assembly’s annual meeting in Moncton, N.B., he proposed replacing the federal Aboriginal Affairs Department with a system that allows bands more autonomy and lessens the heavy federal intervention required under the Indian Act. “The patterns of the past have to be essentially smashed,” he told Maclean’s. Atleo, a hereditary chief in the tiny B.C. island community of Ahousaht, reads vindication in the recent report by now-retired auditor general Sheila Fraser. It warns, as Atleo and successive national chiefs have said, that the quality of life on reserves is worsening and the existing system of financing and accountability must be overhauled.
Q: The last time we spoke, you called your home community of Ahousaht a microcosm of First Nations across the country. So, how is Ahousaht faring?
A: Oh, it has its struggles, to be frank. They’re working on them, and we’ve got a new generation of leadership coming on.
By Colby Cosh - Monday, July 18, 2011 at 1:00 AM - 42 Comments
Christie Blatchford is doing an amazing job of describing the social problems in the four-cornered Indian town of Hobbema, Alberta—such an amazing job, indeed, that one is almost lulled into forgetting she is there because of a crime. It was not alcohol, poor governance, or residential schools that shot a five-year-old child in the head while he was sleeping last week. Some specific person, still at large, had to pull the trigger.
This, perhaps, is the true shame of Ethan Yellowbird’s death. We know there is not much point in rallying the majestic resources of an outraged mass media behind the quest for a killer—as we would surely do if a white child died under these circumstances. The person who shot Ethan is someone whose disregard for human life makes him arguably more dangerous than a mere power-hungry gangster; yet there can be no doubt that dozens of residents of Hobbema know his identity, or, at the very least, where they would start looking for him. They do not seem especially interested. The code of omertà holds; police and media inquiries are still met with chilly hostility. And, after all, Ethan might as well have been carried off by rogue eagles or the plague, for all the good that turning in the intoxicated ne’er-do-well who fired the fatal shot might possibly do.
We can say this with an unusually high degree of confidence, because another child, two-year-old Asia Saddleback, was wounded under exactly the same circumstances in Hobbema in 2008. And, as it happens, the person who shot her did get caught. Consider what, in your own ideal world, you might consider an appropriate penalty for such an action. Then consider what actually happened to Christopher Shane Crane, who shot Asia through a wall of her house after already committing an armed home-invasion robbery the same evening. The judge who sentenced Crane was keenly cognizant of his youth—the shooting was the culmination of an 18th-birthday party that got way, way out of hand—and of his “troubled past”. The troubles in question, needless to say, already included a certain number of assault priors. Who knows? Considering his gang involvement, he may even have grown up with bullets whizzing around him, poor creature.
Crane got six years’ imprisonment for the home invasion and six years for the aggravated assault of Asia Saddleback, to be served consecutively. His year awaiting trial counted double both ways, making the remaining sentence four years plus four years, with an extra year knocked off because the judge applied the “totality principle”. The “totality principle” in sentencing basically boils down to “If you’re adding jail time together from separate offences that somehow overlap in time or in nature, you should probably take your foot off the throttle a little bit.” It is more or less a technical name for the notion that excessiveness in the compounding of criminal penalties is inhumane.
And thus we arrive at a final quantum of punishment for the haphazard wounding of an infant, committed out of boredom; half of seven years. Or, rather, eight, if you are a stubborn literalist who wishes to count Crane’s year in remand as an actual astronomical-type year. (Who knows? Maybe you’re one of those “truth in sentencing” wackoes who just doesn’t grok justice-system math.) Our correctional system being the fount of hope and rehabilitative expertise that it is, Christopher Crane may already be out of prison. Indeed, one hopes that the RCMP has taken care to ascertain his whereabouts on the evening of July 11, if only as a matter of bookkeeping.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at 9:05 AM - 6 Comments
Shawn Atleo, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says it’s time to move toward scrapping the Indian Act and dumping the recently renamed Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Here is his speech to AFN’s general assembly in Moncton yesterday.
Advancing the First Nation Crown relationship means progress through steps like the First Nation-Crown Gathering, First Ministers meetings with First Nations and a potential First Nation-Crown agreement that advances and affirms our rights. We need new fiscal relationships built on common, mutually acceptable principles that guarantee and deliver sustainable, equitable services based on mutually agreed-to standards. We must implement our governments through building our institutions, planning and accountability mechanisms and finally we must drive structural change.
This is change that must first affirm First Nation jurisdiction, must include careful legal review and analysis and then advance structural changes to the machinery of the federal government. Right now, the bureaucracy and its policies are failing miserably. We need new structures that affirm the relationship and uphold the responsibility.
The AFN report that sets out this vision is here.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, June 10, 2011 at 1:14 PM - 10 Comments
Heather Scoffield considers the Auditor General’s findings on Aboriginal welfare.
Education, adequate housing, clean drinking water and child welfare are all in an “unacceptable” state, despite a large stack of government recommendations, initiatives and money over the years, a 10-year examination of First Nations policy concludes.
“I am profoundly disappointed to note … that despite federal action in response to our recommendations over the years, a disproportionate number of First Nations people still lack the most basic services that other Canadians take for granted,” Fraser wrote. ”After 10 years in this job, it has become clear to me that if First Nations communities on reserves are going to see meaningful progress in their well-being, a fundamental change is needed.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 10:40 AM - 33 Comments
From Question Period yesterday, Stephane Dion attempts to expand everyone’s mind on this matter of civility.
Mr. Speaker, I did not hear an answer to the question of the $127 million being cut in this budget compared to the previous budget. Can the minister answer the question? Common courtesy in this House also means getting answers. It is only natural for the opposition to protest if it does not get an answer. Can he give us an answer regarding the $127 million in cuts to aboriginal housing?
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan did not provide such an answer. And so it fell to government House leader Peter Van Loan to explain the Conservative side’s policy on ministerial explanation. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 20, 2011 at 11:33 AM - 10 Comments
Bill Curry considers the department formerly known as Indian Affairs.
At first glance, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reclassification appears to be in keeping with prevailing moves toward political correctness: replacing a label that doesn’t have much relevance any more with one more widely accepted. “Indian” is dated, in much the same way as Inuit are no longer called Eskimos. But there is power in naming. The semantic shift could have all sorts of consequences for native people from the laws governing their treatment, the services they get, and even their identities.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 1:53 PM - 21 Comments
The Prime Minister’s former advisor apparently figured he was within the law.
Carson, however, seemed to sense he was on shaky ground in terms of his lobbying. At one point, Carson said he was worried the Lobbying Commissioner could start looking into his activities. When asked if the thought he could slip through under the rule that allows someone to lobby without registering if it makes up less than 20 per cent of their work, Carson said he thought he would. “I really don’t want the Lobbying Commissioner sort of going crazy over my involvement in this,” he said. “This would be like one-tenth of one per cent of my time so we’re all right.”
By Paul Wells - Friday, November 12, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 19 Comments
WELLS: Almost 700 Aboriginal students are enrolled at the University of Victoria
Increasingly it seems we must look to the University of Victoria for good ideas. This year’s Times Higher Education Supplement rankings put it sixth among Canadian universities and 130th in the world. UVic does well in our own rankings too, as you’ll see. Rankings were the first thing David Turpin, UVic’s president, wanted to talk about when he visited me in Ottawa last month. But his other story was more focused and may be more important: Victoria’s success in attracting, retaining and rewarding Aboriginal university students.
In 2006, only eight per cent of Canadians with Aboriginal ancestry had university degrees, compared with 23 per cent of non-Aboriginal Canadians. This is not merely too bad. There is a genuine economic and human cost, because the correlation between higher education and various social goods is exhaustively documented. Post-secondary education attainment is associated with better health, increased civic participation, lower crime rates, higher income, correspondingly higher tax payments, reduced dependence on social benefits, and more.
By Paul Wells - Friday, April 2, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 156 Comments
Hillary Clinton knows Stephen Harper has trouble getting Barack Obama’s attention
Nobody remembers the act that appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show after Elvis Presley. After the kid with the guitar, nothing else could leave much of an impression.
Similarly, whatever history records about Derek Burney, it will pay scant heed to the speech he gave at the big Liberal thinkers’ conference in Montreal over the weekend. Burney used to run the Prime Minister’s Office for Brian Mulroney. He was Canada’s ambassador to Washington from 1989 to 1993. He led Stephen Harper’s transition to power in 2006. But on Sunday he drew the short straw and spoke after a barnburning speech by Bob Fowler, the retired former ambassador who accused both Harper and the Liberals of selling out the country’s best diplomatic traditions. Coming after that broadside, Burney was all but ignored.
Too bad. Burney had useful things to say about Canada-U.S. relations. He devoted nearly half his remarks to the dangers of passivity and timidity, urging leaders not to “hestitate to lead,” calling for “confidence” over “reticence,” preferring a “vigorous, creative and active approach” over “risk-averse, correct stewardship” in a bilateral relationship that “should be stimulated and led by the prime minister.”
By Nancy Macdonald - Wednesday, March 17, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 11 Comments
Are First Nations groups in B.C. ready for independence?
When you pull into the Tsawwassen First Nation in suburban Vancouver, the ﬁrst thing you notice is a brand-new TransLink bus stop serving Metro Vancouver. It’s the first, tangible benefit of a treaty that came into effect last spring, says Chief Kim Baird, a 38-year-old mother of three. Even a year ago, you’d never have seen Vancouver’s blue and white city buses plowing through here; there was no public transit at all. Another change: Tsawwassen was the only First Nation to receive federal stimulus funds last fall. The $6-million cheque went to kick-start a new industrial park. It’s another opportunity the band would have missed were it still under the Indian Act, says Baird, who has a quick laugh and a shock of curly brown hair. But with the treaty, the Tsawwassen acquired the legal standing of a municipality, making them eligible for funding.
Soon, the reserve itself will effectively disappear. Members will begin paying income tax and GST. And from here on, Tsawwassen—not Indian and Northern Affairs—will control its development. Sure, Baird admits to beginner’s jitters. “If anything goes wrong, there’s nobody to bail them out like before—a huge risk,” explains treaty expert Doug McArthur, who teaches public policy at Simon Fraser University. But fear can be a good motivator. Tsawwassen had a draft budget finalized by fall—months ahead of the February deadline. An arm’s-length economic development corporation is already up and running (the former head of the Vancouver Port Authority was hired as chair). It’s exploring opportunities ranging from a waste-to-energy trash incinerator, a retirement community, and a massive warehousing facility for shipping containers, linked to the expansion of the nearby Roberts Bank Superport.
In a matter of months, the Tsawwassen have managed to deep-six the Indian Act, which made natives wards of the state, and has frozen Aboriginal institutional development in time at 1876. They’re not alone. B.C.’s Gitxsan, going a step further, are petitioning Ottawa to drop their “Indian” status altogether. They’re willing, they say, to hand over reserves, tax exemptions, free housing and, yes, the ambition of a separate order of government in return for a bigger prize: a share of resources on ancestral land. “We seek no special status or parallel society,” the coastal tribe announced in half-page ads that ran last summer in the Vancouver Sun and Globe and Mail. “We wish to live as ordinary Canadians in our own way in a multicultural society. Further, we wish to pay our own way.” This they’ll do through joint ventures in oil and gas, logging, eco-tourism and run-of-river power projects, they say. Simply, the status quo is not working, says chief negotiator Elmer Derrick; his people have been brought to their hands and knees.
By Anne Kingston - Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 11:00 AM - 3 Comments
It’s a bar, an art exhibit, the star of the other Olympiad in Vancouver
As millions tuned in to watch Canada’s founding First Nation tribes being celebrated with spectacular production values in the Olympic opening ceremonies at B.C. Place, another audience was participating in a more gritty and audacious Aboriginal spectacle just blocks away at the far less grand Playwrights Theatre Centre on Granville Island. There, more than a hundred thronged to the Candahar Bar when doors opened at 7 p.m., eager to check out the opening night of one of the most buzzed-about art installations on Vancouver’s jam-packed 2010 Cultural Olympiad calendar: a pop-up replica of a Belfast public house that’s part performance space, part ongoing social experiment.
The fact the $5 admission covered a glass of wine, beer or whiskey helped draw the crowd. But when patrons approached the pub to wet their whistles, they found it packed with revellers. A burly bouncer blocked the entrance; only Aboriginal people were allowed inside, he told them. Everyone else had to wait until 8:30 to be served liquor; until then, there was water or pop. The only non-native revellers inside were the Belfast-born brothers Chris and Conor Roddy—the unscripted performance artists who also serve drinks—and Theo Sims, the puckish British-born artist who masterminded the Candahar, which is named after a street in Belfast. Sims wanted to construct a space that would dismantle the car-bombs-and-balaclavas stereotype of Northern Ireland, where he went to university. First staged in Calgary in 2006, the installation has since toured the country, with Vancouver its fifth and final stop. When it was exhibited at the 2007 Biennale de Montréal, Sims deflected the demand to provide bilingual barkeep, which became a heated subject of debate within the bar itself.
And so it was last Friday night, when patrons discovered they’d been part of “Indians Only,” a one-off production by Vancouver multidisciplinary artist Rebecca Belmore, herself an Aboriginal Canadian. The idea, Belmore told Maclean’s, was to confront stereotypes about Indians drinking and to challenge presumed notions of privilege and prejudice.
By Mark Steyn - Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 7:00 AM - 228 Comments
Mark Steyn on the opening ceremonies: Where was the genuinely bizarro cavalcade?
Judging by emails from readers in America, Britain, India, Australia, Europe, Africa and beyond, Vancouver’s Olympic ceremony was a gold medal snoozeroo of politically correct braggadocio impressive even by Canadian standards. A Florida correspondent suggested that Beijing’s decision in 2008 to downplay discreetly its official state ideology might have been usefully emulated by Canadian organizers unable to go a minute and a half without reflexive invocations of their own state ideology of “diversity.” A reader in Sydney said he had no idea until the ceremony that the majority of Canada’s population were Aboriginal. Actually, if they were, you’d be hearing a lot less talk about “diversity,” for reasons we’ll come to later.
But don’t take the word of doubtless untypical Steyn readers. Out on the Internet, the Tweeting Twitterers pronounced it a bust, and even in the Toronto Star Richard Ouzounian declared that “the eyes of the world were upon us and we put them to sleep.” On the other hand, the Vancouver Sun’s reporter cooed that this was “the Canada we want the world to see, magical and beautiful, and talented.” This just after she’d written: “Maple leaves fell from the sky. And then, the divine poetess Joni Mitchell and her haunting Clouds fills the air while a young boy floats and soars above the audience, undulating fields of wheat below.” I was pleasantly relieved to discover that a story about “the world’s most lethal cocktail” concerned some enterprising dealers who’ve been lacing heroin with anthrax, and not whichever malevolent genius came up with the idea of having airborne ballet dancers doing interpretative choreography over the Prairies to a mélange of Both Sides Now and W. O. Mitchell’s Who Has Seen The Wind. As is traditional, most of the creativity went into the audience estimates: apparently, this tribute to the only G7 nation comprised solely of high priests of the Great Tree Spirit, armies of Inuit sculptors, and Cape Breton chorus lines of federal grant worshippers was watched by three billion people “worldwide.” As if the Royal Canadian Mint could afford to commission that many commemorative authentic pewter maple-encrusted manacles.
Canada’s message to the world: every cliché you’ve heard about our plonkingly insecure self-flattering PC earnestness has been triumphantly confirmed. You need pay us no further heed until the 2068 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. Half the countries, twice as long!
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, October 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM - 0 Comments
Will we be better off when H. pylori is gone for good?
The town motto of Aklavik, an Arctic hamlet huddled at the Mackenzie River Delta in the Northwest Territories, is “Never Say Die.” So when the close-knit community of 600 noticed an alarming trend—a high number of people were getting sick with stomach cancer—they decided to act. “In the past, we hardly ever buried anyone except elders. The graveyard wasn’t touched for so long,” says child-care worker Annie Buckle, 54. Now, “there’s a new gravesite. You’d be surprised by the dates [on the headstones].” Buckle says she lost her mother to stomach cancer last year.
The culprit, residents believed, was a common bacteria: Helicobacter pylori. The spiral-shaped bug, which lives in the human stomach or intestine, is a major cause of gastric cancer and peptic ulcer disease. (Gastric cancer is the second most common cancer among Inuit men, but ranks 10th overall for Canadian men.) So, the community invited a medical team from Edmonton and Yellowknife to investigate. In February, 27 doctors, nurses and researchers descended on Aklavik, surveying 314 people and endoscoping 193. Among 255 people given a breath test for H. pylori, 57 per cent came back positive. Buckle was one of them: she took a preventative 10-day course of antibiotics to rid herself of the bug. All who tested positive, symptomatic or not, will be offered treatment.
Humans have lived with H. pylori for over 50,000 years. Now, across the developed world, it’s rapidly going extinct. A century ago, it’s thought that nearly everyone had it in their stomachs; today, thanks to clean water, better hygiene and antibiotics, just five per cent of people born in the 1990s do, according to one U.S. study. (The bacteria, which is transmitted orally or fecally, is more prevalent in rural and developing areas.) The bene?ts of eradicating H. pylori have been great. “Ulcer disease is going away; stomach cancer is going away,” says Dr. Martin Blaser, chair of the Department of Medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, whose work was instrumental in linking H. pylori to gastric cancer. But as those ailments disappear, “new diseases are rising,” he adds.
And the loss of H. pylori could be partly to blame. A growing body of research suggests the bug might not just cause ulcers and cancer—it could actually prevent some diseases, too. As H. pylori is wiped out, a host of health problems are on the rise: more than half of the population in Canada is now overweight or obese. Over 15 per cent of kids aged four to 11 suffer from childhood asthma. Six million Canadians have gastroesophageal reflux disease (better known as GERD), when stomach contents splash up into the esophagus. Could the much-maligned bacteria actually protect against these conditions? Blaser believes it might. “If the world is more complicated than what was originally proposed, then so be it,” he says. “The question is, what’s the truth?”