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 Aaron Wherry - Friday, March 30, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
The Chronicle-Herald looks at the proposed rules for foreign charities.
The Conservative government is threatening to decertify foreign charities that do not act “in the national interest of Canada.” Under rules announced Thursday in the 2012 budget, foreign groups can apply for registered charity status if they meet one of two criteria. The first is providing disaster relief or urgent humanitarian aid. The second is if they work in the national interest of Canada. The national revenue minister, working with the finance minister, will have the power to decide who meets the criteria.
Embassy reviews the cuts to foreign aid, immigration and defence.
Within the suite of departments and agencies that contribute to foreign aid, CIDA would take the largest hit: $152.7 million by 2012-13. That amounts to about 4.5 per cent of CIDA’s total budget for that year. That number would ramp up to $319.2 million by 2014-15. To put that into context, that ongoing $319.2 million decline is just under the $320 million CIDA currently spends on basic education programs and for water and sanitation, according to figures from the Canadian Council for International Co-operation.
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 8:10 AM - 0 Comments
International fur buyers are snapping up pelts at record prices. Nicholas Kohler went inside the auction house.
When lot No. 19002—a polar bear skin more than 10 feet in length—came up for auction in North Bay, Ont., a few Saturdays ago, Zhiqing Xu lifted his hand in the air and just left it there. The unorthodox manoeuvre forced Mark Downey, the auctioneer at the time, to belt out the skin’s rocketing price in one long, voice-destroying tear. Beside Xu sat his 21-year-old son Jason, who acted as interpreter and whispered a running translation of Downey’s rapid-ﬁre patter into his father’s ear: “$53 is here, fiftythreefiftyfourfiftyfiveandfiftysixandfiftyseven, $57 is left, $58 is Billy, $59, and $60’s there—HOOO!!!—$60’s right, it’s on the right at $60—HOOO!!!—your bid’s sixtyoneandsixtytwo . . . ”
Even as the dollar figure soared, that arm stayed ﬁxed, raised in a gesture that told competing bidders: back off. Xu, who moved to Vancouver from Beijing several years ago, went on to capture lot No. 19002. The price: $8,400. He spent thousands more on a second polar bear hide and a timber wolf skin. “Polar bear is a rare animal,” Jason, translating for his father, later told Maclean’s. “Not a lot of other places sell them—only Canada.”
Only Canada and, but for the small handful of polar bear pelts available each year at a competing auction house in Toronto, only at the Fur Harvesters Auction in North Bay, a town of 54,000 a few hours north of Toronto perched on the frozen lip of Lake Nipissing, a Group of Seven winter postcard come to life. The auction, which specializes in wild rather than ranched fur—from beaver to bobcat to muskrat to raccoon and coyote—has operated here in one form or another since 1947 and has long attracted international buyers. In the past, those fur shoppers came mainly from the U.S., Italy, Greece and other traditional fur-buying nations.
By Gustavo Vieira - Friday, January 13, 2012 at 7:35 AM - 0 Comments
Tehran takes aim at Canada’s treatment of its Aboriginals, in the wake of the Attawapiskat crisis
On Jan. 3, Iran summoned Canada’s envoy to Tehran to protest Canada’s “blatant violation of human rights.” Tehran took aim at Canada’s treatment of its Aboriginals, in the wake of the Attawapiskat crisis. Three days later, on an Alberta radio show, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Iran “the world’s most serious threat to international peace.” This less than amicable exchange captures the current state of affairs between Canada and Iran, badly strained since the death of the Iranian-Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi in an Iranian prison in 2003.
“I couldn’t stop laughing,” says professor Saeed Rahnema, an Iran specialist at York University. “I mean, there are serious problems with Canada’s dealings with its indigenous peoples, but the Iranian regime is the very last government that could mention human rights. They couldn’t care less for human rights.”
Pointing fingers at Western countries to deﬂect pressure from abroad is common practice for Iranian diplomacy, and Canada, for years, has been at the forefront of the international push to improve Iran’s human rights record. The issue is at the top of a very short list of topics Ottawa will discuss with Tehran, which also includes Iran’s nuclear program and the episode resulting in Kazemi’s death. Canada-Iran relations have been severely limited for a long time, with Kazemi’s death sparking the downward spiral, says Reza Marashi, research director of the National Iranian American Council. But while Iran likes to amp up the rhetoric, it will also do what it can to avoid international isolation, says Marashi, including asking Canada to let it open consulates in cities like Vancouver. Ottawa has so far rejected the offer.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 26, 2010 at 9:02 AM - 0 Comments
The Industry Minister has claimed that 160,000 Canadians “refused” to complete the long-form census in 2006. Statistics Canada now says 275,000 households failed to return a short-form census and 160,000 failed to return the long form, but only that census officials were unable to “make contact” with the majority of those households.
If a breakdown of the reasons for not responding exists, I’m not aware of it. (Requests for information in this regard have so far failed to produce a response.) It was reported in 2008 that 35,000 Aboriginals had refused to participate in the process. And there was something of a campaign to boycott that year’s count on account of Lockheed Martin’s involvement.
As noted previously, roughly 10.9 million households in 2006 received the short form, while 2.7 million received the long form. The response rates then were 97.5% for the short form and 94.1% for the long form.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 8:44 PM - 3 Comments
A new documentary chronicles the absurd misrepresentation of native people onscreen
As Avatar completes its quest for world domination, critics are still circling the wagons, asking if James Cameron’s visionary epic is revolutionary or retrograde, or both. The Vatican frets about its creed of nature worship. U.S. Conservatives condemn it as anti-military eco-liberalism. And the rest of us wonder how the characters in this 3-D marvel can be so flat. But there are Aboriginal people who have a more personal gripe. The Na’vi aliens on Pandora are clearly patterned on North American natives, or more specifically their Hollywood stereotype—noble savages in braids riding bareback with bows and arrows. And as in Dances With Wolves, their messiah is a white man who goes native. “Avatar angered me,” says CBC film critic Jesse Wente, an Ojibwa. “You have blue aliens with tails—why do you have to put feathers in their hair? The Na’vi even do the war whoop, which is a sound completely manufactured by Hollywood.”
Those persistent Indian clichés are the subject of a new documentary called Reel Injun, directed by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond. By turns funny and shocking, it’s a chronicle of how native people have been absurdly misrepresented onscreen from the days of silent film to the present. Growing up on a reserve in the James Bay community of Waskaganish, Diamond, now 41, remembers watching old movies as a kid in a church basement. “Raised on cowboys and Indians, we cheered for the cowboys,” he says, “never realizing that we were the Indians.” When he moved south, his new classmates asked this Cree from the Subarctic if he lived in a teepee and rode horses, because that was the image of Hollywood’s all-purpose Plains Indian.
With a mix of movie clips and talking heads, Reel Injun unearths some fascinating examples of inauthenticity. The Indian headband, it seems, was largely a Hollywood invention—for an actor doing stunts and falling off horses, it kept his wig in place. Indian dialogue was often just as fake. In one vintage western, it’s just English played backwards. In A Distant Trumpet (1964), Navajo speak their own language, but after Diamond heard stories of improv mischief, he had the dialogue translated and found them saying things like “You are snakes crawling in your own shit!” Some clips are more sobering. In The Searchers, cowboys uncover an Indian grave and John Wayne shoots out the eyes of the corpse, saying, “Ain’t got no eyes, he can’t enter the spirit land.” Talk about rough justice.
By Jason Kirby - Monday, February 22, 2010 at 5:00 PM - 3 Comments
Figure skating fashion goes wacky and the comments turn catty
In the lead-up to the Vancouver Olympics, the question on everyone’s mind when it came to figure skating was: will there be another scandal? Yes, it turns out. Only this one is solely of the sequined, frilly, spandex variety. Forget about how the judges scored so-and-so’s triple Salchow. Who let him out of the house dressed like that?
When the Ukraine’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov, clad in skin-hugging shiny blue jumpsuits, took to the ice for the pairs figure skating short program Sunday night, one might have wondered whether a couple of metallic Smurfs had just skated across the TV screen. Either that, or some blue-skinned cat people had escaped from James Cameron’s Avatar and made their way to Vancouver. As CTV commentator and former gold medallist David Pelletier, of Salé and Pelletier fame, remarked: “There’s just one word for this—wrong. Or maybe two words—wrong and wrong.”
Outlandish costumes have long been a part of Olympic figure skating, but at these Games they seem to be getting even stranger. At the same time, we’re also seeing a new level of cattiness from the broadcast booths and online. “I’m sorry, but you just can’t show up at the Olympics dressed like that,” Pelletier also said of the blue outfits. “This is a sport, not a carnival.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 11:47 AM - 33 Comments
Glen Pearson leaves for Africa with much on his mind.
Like many reading this blog, I’ve done a lot of thinking over the present prorogation of Parliament and I presume I’m in the vanguard of those who are deeply troubled by the development. Yet in so many ways, Canada has been prorogued for years. Suspending or cancelling our international commitment to Africa is bad enough, but where also is our commitment to battling climate change, or how could we spend so abundantly with no plan in place for how we pay it off? While our Aboriginal communities still suffer from our prorogation of the human spirit, this country yet refuses to sign the UN’s Declaration of Aboriginal Rights. We went AWOL on medical isotopes and have done absolutely nothing to deal with the emerging healthcare crisis already at our doorstep. Child poverty is roughly what it was 20 years ago and we still haven’t figured out what our development plans look like as we leave Afghanistan.
Heck, this country has been in prorogation for a long time, enough that it might be time to worry that it’s becoming part of our collective DNA. In our inability and lack of maturity surrounding minority government, we take the kind of incremental steps that lead to … nothing. Parliamentarians sit fewer days in the House than ever before and these significant issues lie in wait for someone to use power for anything other than the desire to hold on to it.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 26, 2009 at 6:25 PM - 40 Comments
“Mr. Speaker, survey after survey about the H1N1 vaccine show a dangerous trend. Only half of Canadians are planning to get vaccinated. That is down from two-thirds in July. Too many people do not think it is safe, do not think it is necessary. That is a communications failure that could put lives at risk,” Mr. Goodale posited. “How does the Prime Minister justify an advertising tsunami of $100 million for partisan Conservative propaganda, but only a pittance for crucial information about vaccinations?”
The Prime Minister, alas, was not present. In his place, Tony Clement took a turn.
“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “the honourable Minister of Health is doing an excellent job in communicating to Canadians about the H1N1 flu situation.
“She has said that the vaccine would be available to every Canadian who needs and wants one,” Mr. Clement reported on behalf of Leona Aglukkaq, seated perhaps 20 feet to his right. “Not only is the Minister of Health urging Canadians to get the vaccine but the Chief Public Health Officer is doing so as well. This is the best way to protect our health and the health of our loved ones. Despite the fearmongering on the other side, we are focused on protecting the health and safety of every Canadian.”
To better convey this fearmongering, the Industry Minister wiggled his fingers in the general direction of the opposition side. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 2:33 AM - 68 Comments
The Prime Minister’s Office offers its interpretation of what the Prime Minister meant when he said in Pittsburgh that Canada has “no history of colonialism.”
“It was in response to a question from Reuters about Canada’s voice and role in the international financial market. Basically, the prime minister was giving some context and saying that unlike past global empires, Canada does not have a history of colonialism with respect to the financial market,” said spokeswoman Sara MacIntyre. “Past global empires have implemented policies that are colonial in nature. It was really focused on the international financial scene … I think it has been misunderstood and the prime minister stands behind his apology that was made last year.”
Footage of the Prime Minister’s press conference at the end of the G20 is here, the question in question coming nearer the end of his availability (about a third of the way through that video). The Reuters reporter wondered whether the Prime Minister was concerned Canada’s voice would be “diluted” as the G20 supplants the G8. The applicable portion of the Prime Minister’s response reads as follows. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, June 12, 2008 at 12:08 AM - 1,023 Comments
A day of many words. And perhaps some promise.
The Scene. The moment came later than expected. Indeed, according to the official itinerary, the Prime Minister was due to start speaking at precisely 3:02 pm. But it was not until fully 3:15 pm that everyone was seated and Stephen Harper was called by the Speaker to begin.
He strode into the House of Commons with 11 representatives of the native community—last among them 104-year-old Marguerite Wabano, the eldest remaining survivor of Canada’s residential schools, tiny and dressed all in blue, a cane in one hand and her granddaughter by her side. Behind the Prime Minister walked Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian Affairs, and Strahl’s parliamentary secretary Rod Bruinooge, himself an aboriginal Canadian.
The delegates took their seats in the centre aisle, positioned in a circle before the Prime Minister. Government House leader Peter Van Loan, as demure and dainty as he may ever be, stood and moved that time be allotted for response from these visitors to this place. Each party duly consented and the motion carried unanimously.
Mr. Harper then stood, laid out his script on the green velvet lectern placed on his desk and, finally, began.
“Mr. Speaker, I stand before you today to offer an apology to former students of Indian residential schools,” he started, simply enough. “Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm and has no place in our country.”
Not for the last time, a packed Commons stood and applauded, hoots, hollers and the beat of drums coming down from the galleries above. Continue…