Category Archives: Anthropology

Notre Dame du Mont Carmel, Ile St-Jean

The church and graveyard at Mont Carmel on the west coast of PEI. Here, the island feels Notre Dame du Mont Carmel, Ile St-Jean now PEIlike it should be called by its old name, Ile St-Jean, when it was part of Acadia. First seen at night, it’s scary and beautiful. The archway looming overhead in the twilight, the rows of headstones white and dark against the setting sun. ‘Oh My God’ isn’t blasphemous here.

You feel the power of God – in the form of the Roman Catholic Church – on this windswept bluff with the church and graveyard from coast line photo Jim Stewartdark brick monolithic shape on the horizon pointing skyward.

Revisited in the daylight, still imposing but less frightening. I wander the graveyard – and see the names. Aucoin, Arsenault, Gallant, Poirier. Names I’ve known for decades, names from my genealogy database. Maybe not the same individuals, but the same names. My people with these Poirier grave Mont Carmelnames are from Newfoundland, and more likely connected to Nova Scotia. But I know there are connections between Newfoundland and this island. The people buried here are related to mine. This was all Acadia, with families that spread throughout the area.

I’d see the same names in graveyards in graveyard fence post cross memorial Sylvere Aucoin photo Jim StewartNova Scotia, Quebec, Louisiana, France.  Same families. In the 1750s, the British deported Acadiens to Louisiana and France. Some escaped to Quebec and the west coast of Newfoundland, away from British control. Others remained where they were, hidden. Some returned to their homeland when it was safe and some stayed in their new homes.

Acadien history in a graveyard

Acadien history is rich and has spread across North America for two and a arch at graveyard entrance photo Jim Stewarthalf centuries. On the west coast of PEI, it is everywhere around you. In this churchyard, it is awesome.

I don’t think to see if the door to the church is open. I am overwhelmed by the power of the building. Go in? Not when there is no Mass. It doesn’t occur to me to treat it as a monument, a landmark of beauty and detail of arch Mont Carmel photo Jim Stewartarchitecture – to sightsee. I step gingerly around the building, not going too close, afraid of it I guess.

A large brick house is beside the church, the priests’ house I assume. I see a car there, but no people. I imagine black-cassocked priests flocking around. Probably I’d have got a shock if a real-life present day priest or brother had come out, likely in jeans and sweatshirt. The new SUV sitting out front looks out of Interior of church from shepaintsred blogplace. So I’m glad nobody came out, maybe glad I didn’t try to go in the church. I like the picture I have in my head. But I’m glad that someone went inside: at shepaintsred, you can see what I missed.

The feeling of family reverence I had in the graveyard has stayed Magloire-Gallant Road, Mont Carmel PEIwith me. Seeing names so familiar to me that they could be my own family. The solidity of community roots showing in rows of gravestones, hundreds of years of ancestors present with you.

(Click photos for larger views)



Look at Google News today:  “Send troops to help Attawapiskat.”   For a month, we’ve read about the Band Chief declaring a state of house in Attawapiskatemergency over the lack of housing and Prime Minister Harper saying that millions of federal dollars have been spent in the northern Ontario Cree reserve.  People have been living in tents and crammed into a construction trailer because there aren’t enough habitable houses.

So, I have just one question about those millions of dollars.  How much of that money was actually spent within the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Development? Spent not only on ministerial and high level bureaucrat salaries and expenses, but also in the low- and mid-level “worker bee” bureaucracy and on consultants?  How many memoranda and discussion papers have been prepared over how many years? At what cost in wages, expenses and materials?

Attawapiskat housing photo 2011 11 26 Red CrossAnd another question, I guess.  Why does reserve housing continue to be built using southern Canadian designs and materials? It seems pretty evident that neither usually hold up very well to northern weather and usage conditions.  And why is the construction often slipshod in the first place?

Inadequate housing on reserve is not new, especially in the north.  So now a rhetorical question, I guess. When is someone in government going to seriously look at how things are done and find a solution that works better?  The problems have been outlined and witnessed for decades. Solutions have been suggested.  Why is a system still in place when it has been shown to be unwieldy, inefficient, and just not working?

An old problem two decades ago

Amazon link for The Dispossessed
Click for Amazon link

For those of you who may not know about it or have forgotten it, Geoffrey York’s book The Dispossessed is an excellent collection of his essays on, as the subtitle says, “life and death in Native Canada.”  First published in 1989, it unfortunately is still a valid commentary on First Nations conditions today.  Read Chapter 3 “Inside the Reserves” especially.

When the book came out, the problems outlined in it were already old. Patience was running out. Two decades later and it’s like it’s a big surprise that conditions on many reserves are appallingly bad. Still news that people are having problems adequately providing for themselves and their families.

There are calls for the Canadian military and/or volunteer agencies to help out with the crisis in Attawapiskat.  The Red Cross of Canada has already become involved.  That is great. Maybe volunteers and the military can help alleviate the immediate problems.  But why on earth should any of them have to? In Canada, one of the richest countries on the planet?  If this is due to legislation (Indian Act) and bureaucracy, let the legislators and bureaucrats earn their money. Get it sorted out – for the long term.

Qalipu Band of the Mi’kmaq Nation

Monday it was announced: Mi’kmaq people of Central and Western Newfoundland are now members of the Qalipu band under the Indian Act.
Jim John and Dorothy, Gander River 1979 It’s been 39 years since they began politically organizing for that recognition. Hallelujah, and about time.

I’ve wondered if it actually would happen in my lifetime. I have spent my working life on and off involved in this process. I began in 1979 as a new graduate student at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Over the years, I’ve continued working for the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI). The early enthusiasm I felt every time there was a hopeful word from Indian Affairs faded long ago. All we have to do is show x, y or z? Yep, sure thing. Sorry, heard that before.

No Indian Act at Confederation

I’ve never really understood the reluctance by Canada and Newfoundland to give people Qalipu St. George's, Newfoundland, view from the beachthe recognition and status to which they are entitled. It was a fluke (or trade-off) when Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949 that excluded the new province’s First Nations from status under Canada’s Indian Act. At the time, it would have limited their rights of citizenry. Status Indians did not have the vote and other rights taken for granted by most of us.

But the First Nations of Newfoundland and Labrador also did not have the benefits and recognition that inclusion in Indian and Northern Affairs legislation accorded. And, in 1949, a major overhaul of the Indian Act was already in process. In 1951 the most restrictive aspects of ‘wardship’ were removed from the Act.

In the early 1970s, Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland and Innu and Inuit in Labrador began working for the same rights and recognition as their kin in the Maritimes and Quebec had. Together in one association at first, they split into separate groups to pursue their Sign entering Miawpukek (Conne River) reserve, Newfoundlandobjectives in the best way for each of them. The FNI was born in 1972, representing all Mi’kmaq people of the island.

In the early 1980s the Baie d’Espoir community of Conne River split off. As a small predominantly Mi’kmaq community, they believed they’d have better luck on their own than working with a larger Mi’kmaq population spread across a wide area. And they did. It took direct action, like a government office occupation and a hunger strike, to do it. In 1984 the people of Conne River gained Indian Act status. Three years later, land around the village was designated as Miawpukek reserve.

FNI to Qalipu

Soon after, Indian Affairs allowed people with direct kinship to Miawpukek to apply for “off-reserve” status. That gave them individual rights like post-secondary Larry Jeddore with moose in Glenwood tannery 1983education and non-insured medical benefits. Of those eligible to apply, many did. However,  people like the late Glenwood chief Larry Jeddore did not. He had been born in Conne River of a chiefly family. He spoke the Mi’kmaq language. And he was one of the founders of the FNI. But he wanted to see all Mi’kmaq people of the island recognized. He didn’t live to see it but he fought hard for it.

FNI Larry Jeddore in Glenwood band office 1983Agreement in principle to register all Newfoundland Mi’kmaq as members of a landless band was reached in 2008. And finally the new band, Qalipu, exists. Without reserve lands, members receive only the benefits of “off-reserve status.” However, it is official recognition of what they have always known and kept alive: their ancestry, heritage and community as Mi’kmaq people.

St. Thomas Ford Plant

Selectivity tower at Ford plant erected 1968In Grade 11, at St. Thomas’ Arthur Voaden Secondary School, I was the only girl, and only Art student, in an English class with Shop boys. I had read most of the assigned books already, in school or on my own. So the teacher said for me to just get my papers in. If I had any questions, come to him. Then he left me alone and concentrated on the boys. There was one boy he left alone too, one who really had a hard time in school. He could read a little bit and should have had remedial help. But he wasn’t worried. His dad worked at Ford.

He and I sat in the very back row of desks and played tic-tac-toe during class. The teacher knew but he ignored what we were doing. We talked some, in low voices. I must have worried about how he was going to get through school and what he’d do after. He told me his dad could get him on at Ford and he’d make $20 an hour. It would be a job for life and it didn’t matter if he “couldn’t read too good.”

Over the years, I’ve wondered how he got on. I felt kind of sorry for him, until I moved back to St. Thomas and found out, yes, people at the Ford plant did make very good money and the jobs were pretty much for life. If that boy was hired at Ford, where, yes, children of employees did have a better chance, he’d have done a lot better financially than I had despite university degrees and having read The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Falcon on St. Thomas Ford assembly line 1968Until two years ago when Ford announced the Talbotville plant would close. The boy I knew is now probably retired with full pension. I wonder if his son followed him to Ford. If so, he may be one of those facing layoff with a good severance package but with the belief in the “forever” job gone forever.

Ford Plant Closure

Possibly the big suburban house, the big gas-guzzling Ford pickup in the driveway with the bumper sticker reading “Out of a job yet? Keep buying foreign.” – all financed on expectations of overtime pay, all in jeopardy. Some will do ok, if they lived within their real means, and if they can think outside the factory environment and build a new job for themselves. Some, if they didn’t or can’t, will be in trouble.

The real estate market has been glutted with big, expensive new houses ever since Ford began the layoffs. Food bank usage has increased. We’ve seen that first-hand because we have a pet food donation programme and it can hardly keep up with the demand.

Restaurants, bars, stores – all are feeling the impact as people stop going out, stop buying. Everyone in the amalgamated municipality of Southwold will suffer with increased taxes to make up the shortfall caused by Ford no longer paying property and business taxes.

Out of a job yet bumper sticker on Ford pickup“Keep buying foreign” – not a lot of choice when the manufacturers move outside the country. A job forever? – not likely in “the new normal” of global economics.

I guess I’m glad I never had a job that was a sinecure, whether in a factory or government. You learn to expect job loss and be prepared for it. To my friend from Grade 11, dark hair and dark rimmed glasses, I hope you and your family are doing ok.


Skull among palms in fieldSeventeen years ago, one hundred days of genocide ended in Rwanda.  It was part of a long-standing conflict between Hutu and Tutsi, two groups who uneasily co-exist in the small Central African countries of Rwanda and Burundi.  This time, from early April to July, it was the Hutu doing their damnedest to wipe out their Tutsi neighbours, family and friends.

Canadian Armed Forces General Roméo Dallaire headed a small UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda and Burundi at the time.  He saw early on that there were genocidal objectives to what had seemed like intertribal fighting with colonial history overtones. More peacekeepers were deployed, too late to stop the massacre and without a clear mandate on use of force in a still-volatile situation.  An estimated 800,000 people, one-tenth of Rwanda’s population, were killed in that hundred days.  The majority of the dead were Tutsis, the numerical minority in the country.

Invitation to journalists

Skeleton on beach at Gisenyi, Lake Kivu, RwandaAfter the bloodshed stopped, the Canadian Armed Forces invited journalists to come to Rwanda to see what they were doing.  I was lucky enough to go in September.  A word of advice to writers, travelers, students of the world:  if you ever have an opportunity to go to a war zone or any area of violence and conflict, take it!

I went with no knowledge of Rwanda, of military or UN action.  My predisposition was anti-armed forces, and against sticking our noses in other people’s business because we usually make it worse.

Bodies outside and inside Ntarama churchMy 10 days in Rwanda were earth-shattering for me.  I had been in conflict zones before, in Central America in the 1980s, but I’d seen nothing like Rwanda after the killing stopped.  I cannot imagine what it was like while it was still going on.

The closest I came was listening to a CBC radio news item that summer.  In almost silence, the reporter walked through the refugee camp at Goma, Zaire (now DRC).  She whispered into her microphone what she was seeing.  I sat down to listen, chilled in the day’s heat, following her steps over and around corpses and living people moaning for help or food.

Smell of death in Rwanda

In Rwanda, I saw skeletons and smelled the odor of death that lingered in massacre sites now cleaned of bodies. I saw gutted villages, houses burned and people gone.  Survivors starting to clean up and rebuild.  Can’t describe it – I did soon after getting back in a Patients, doctor and soldier in hospital, KibunguCBC Radio documentary Rwanda Maps.  I still smelled it then.

I saw military men and women from around the world – operating field hospitals, rebuilding telephone lines and radio transmitters, guarding and patrolling against insurgents.  On days off, they’d visit orphanages and play with the kids.  They ran radio stations for their own entertainment and that of the surrounding area.

They sometimes talked about what they saw and their own fears.  Soldiers in a military and political no man’s land.  They were not engaged in war, but they were not doing a straightforward peacekeeping mission where the lines, literally and figuratively, are clearly drawn.  They could use their weapons for their own protection or that of others if there was a real threat.  But many of the threats were invisible.  Land was still mined.  Signal Corps linesmen had to work in bush to rebuild communications lines.  The same bush that our Canadian Forces minders told us to avoid for fear of explosive devices.  “Keep on the beaten path, where you can see!”  they told us.  Wasn’t possible for the Signal Corps, however.

Peacekeeper Post-Traumatic Stress

Canadian Forces Grizzlies, stopped for bones in pathWhen my documentary aired, a friend said, “they bought you easily – a free trip to Rwanda and you’re a big Armed Forces fan!”  Yeah, I suppose that’s all it took.  That, and seeing the faces of soldiers.  Seeing them at work, then at play with the little kids.  Hearing them talk about what they’d expected and what they were seeing.  Watching them at a massacre site, telling us to use Vicks Vaporub and our gauze mask to block the stench of death.  Watching them look at skulls split open by a machete.  Them looking at the scattered bones of a child, gauging the age based on the size of their own children.

I later heard a soldier I’d met being interviewed about the need for treatment of post-Village children, base of Virungu Mountainstraumatic stress upon their return.  I could see why.  A night or so after my return, I was in a mall parking lot.  An employee put some wood in a dumpster.  Then he broke it to fit it in.  Crack!  I dropped to the ground like I’d been shot. I was only in Rwanda a few days, after the killing had been somewhat cleaned up.  While there, I never heard a gunshot.

The Waitress Club

My very first job was waitressing.   It was a street corner restaurant with booths and tables, bigger than a diner restaurant coffee potsbut not fancy.  I had just arrived in a city new to me.

There were four or five waitresses working the day I started.  They were all older than I, ranging from their 30s to 50s.  I was 17.  I tried but I was pretty useless.  They were career waitresses, very good at their job.  Most of them helped me, but a couple looked at me with cynical eyes, as if to say “wonder how long you’ll last”.

Second day, not too bad.  One bowl of soup spilled almost in a customer’s lap.  But I knew where the mop and bucket were.  When my shift was nearly over, the manager came out of his office at the back.  “Take this to my brother” he said and handed me a fat envelope with a nearby address written on it.  I noticed the waitresses and kitchen help all watched me leaving.  Some had little smirks, all looked interested.

The restaurant was owned by the man I went to see.  Aside from the waitresses, the staff consisted of his brothers.  Cooks, dishwasher, manager, even the busboy who was the youngest brother.  All of them watching me.

“I like to help girls”

waitressing uniform, from backAt the apartment, the owner said, “Come in, sit down.”  I said my shift wasn’t over so I’d best be going.  “I’m the boss, it’s ok.”  I stood.   He asked where I was from, how old I was, was I going to school.  Coming close, he said he could help me if I wanted to go to university, you know, help out with expenses.  “I like to help young girls, you know.”  I said I really had to go, they’d be wondering.  “Think about it” he said, “here, you’ve got something on your uniform,” and brushed my backside with his hand.

When I returned to the restaurant, the waitresses stopped what they were doing and the brothers came out from the back.  “How did it go?” asked manager brother with a definite look of curiosity.  “Fine, I gave it to him, sorry it look longer, he wanted to talk a bit.”  “What did he talk about?” he asked.  I could see the waitresses all craning their necks to catch every word.  Brothers stood in and behind doorways, also listening. “Oh, just chatting.” Busboy brother snickered.

“You’re not going back”

I left after my shift, with waitresses saying “see you tomorrow?”   Their smiles were sly.  Back where I staying, I told my mother and her friend.  They said “you’re not going back.”  Mom’s friend phoned a friend who worked at a Community College and got an appointment for me.  I did go back to the restaurant the next day, on time, to tell them I was quitting effective immediately.  The waitresses just smiled.

I don’t know what would have happened if I’d not had someone to tell.  Mom was there just to get me settled.  I didn’t know what to think about the experience.  I’d never worked before; maybe this was normal.  But my mother and her friend certainly knew it wasn’t.  So owner brother did help with my post-secondary education.  I started it the next week.

Waitressing rite of passage?

waitresses, from the movie WaitressYou know who I most dislike for this?  The waitresses.  The rest of the staff were men and brothers.  But the waitresses were neither. It seemed to me, even as it happened, that ‘taking the envelope to the boss’ had happened before.  So this was some weird rite of passage that gave entertainment to the staff, both family and non-family.  Were bets laid?  What if I’d accepted boss brother’s offer?  Had other waitresses?  Had some of these?  I don’t know.  But those women – some of whom had daughters – never gave me a bit of warning or advice.

Amazon link for Counter Culture
Click for Amazon link

When looking for images for this, I came across a book called Counter Culture:The American coffee shop waitress by Candacy A. Taylor.  It looks wonderful, and her waitresses don’t seem to be like those in this story.  I later waitressed at a small diner and it was indeed a very good experience. The coffee pot photo came from Ms. Taylor’s blog and the photo of the three waitresses is from the 2007 movie Waitress.

Tilting at Windmills

My mother had trash compacting and recycling down to a science cans of food in cupboardbefore the words were part of our lexicon.  After she opened a can, she removed the label, rinsed it, then removed the other end of it.  Then she put it on the floor and stomped it flat before putting it in the garbage.  The label was kept with other scrap paper and used as tinder for campfires.  No bottle or jar was put in the garbage unrinsed.  Few were put in the garbage at all.  They were used for storing things or kept in the back shed for future use as storage containers.

I don’t know what she did with food scraps.  She didn’t grow a garden so wouldn’t have composted them.  But she hated smelly garbage so I can’t imagine she put them directly in the bin.  Years later, I’ve seen her back stiffen when she’s seen someone scraping leftovers into the garbage container.  Our output for the garbage man would be one partial can or a small bag.  She looked with horror at the huge bags and bins full outside other houses.

full recycling binThis is to explain why I was amazed at her reaction when recycling blue boxes came to her town.  I thought she’d be all over that programme since she’d been doing it her whole life.  But, no.  She was furious.  “I’ll throw out anything I want, any way I want.  Who are they to tell me I have to take a label off?”  She got irate when I laughed at her.  I said “Mom, you’ve taken labels off as long as I’ve known you.”  “Well, what I do with my garbage is my own business.”  Eventually, she and my dad got to enjoy the recycling routine of sorting and bagging every week.  But she still said no town council had any business telling her what she could and couldn’t do with her garbage.

Hazards of Windmills

Windmills in AmsterdamI thought of this when I read a recent column by Sun Media’s Christina Blizzard on the hazards of wind turbines.  What is the big deal about windmills?  It’s not like it’s a brand new, untested idea.  The premise of harnessing wind to make power has been around a very long time.  It’s not like nuclear power generation, for instance – something that is comparatively new with unknown risks.

There are risks to windmills – to birds certainly, to human psychic rhythms perhaps.  Some find a sea of offshore windmills aesthetically unpleasing. Perhaps, but I can’t imagine a sea of offshore drilling rigs would be a whole lot prettier.  We know for sure they’re not safe for birds either.

So why the big furor over windmills? Also from QMI, in our paper on modern wind turbinesthe same day, was an article from the solar power people asking farmers with solar grids not make their complaints public.  The spokeswoman basically said the industry has enough problems with government (especially the Conservative members) and the public, and they don’t need the farmers fueling those fears.

Is it because these forms of energy production are tagged with the environmentalist label?  Although both sun and wind are perhaps the oldest forms of energy known to humanity, somehow they’re seen as “new” and “lefty” and part of some conspiracy to “tell us what to do.”  It seems to me similar to the American fears about government provision of health care; some weird attitude of “I’d rather pay huge premiums or go without health insurance because then I’m free!”

Rare Earth Minerals

Christina Blizzard talks about the people of China who must live near the tailing lakes of the mining of the rare earth minerals used in the computers for windmills.  They can’t eat food from the nearby contaminated land or rivers.  Adults and children have developed strange illnesses and cancers.  Yes, this is a real and tragic problem that needs addressing.

However, she lost me at; “Every time I see a new turbine I’ll think of those children dying horrific deaths.  And I’ll hang my head in shame at the environmental disaster we’ve created.”   And so should we all.  However, I Man with electronic waste at recycling depot in Chinahope she isn’t so busy tweeting and emailing that message that she wears her smart phone out.  The market for rare earths is in all computer production, not just wind turbines.  And rare earths are an important component in cell phones.  So every time she uses her Blackberry, iPad, laptop or desk top, I hope she’s also thinking of those children in China.

I also hopes she thinks about the ones in China, Ghana and elsewhere in the Third World where our cell phones and computers Kids recycling electronics in Ghana dump, from PBSare dumped when we want to upgrade to the new version.  People there are getting sick and dying from recycling our electronic garbage.  That’s also a really big problem, and one that just has to do with us wanting the newest bestest toys.  Work is needed to improve safety for the environment and people affected by wind turbines, but at least they are meant to lessen reliance on non-renewable and ozone-layer depleting fuel sources.

Losing Sgt. Ryan

Police in funeral procession for Sgt. Ryan Russell from CTV websiteTuesday morning, I turned on the tv to watch my tape of Coronation Street.  On CBC, I saw the funeral procession for Sgt. Ryan Russell of the Toronto Police Force.  So, for the next several hours, I watched the procession and the funeral. 

There were over 12,000 police officers, firefighters, EMTs and soldiers.  The streets, lined with people watching the procession, were silent.  The funeral in the huge Metro Convention Centre was beautiful and sad.  It was also a forceful reminder of the risk taken every day by men and women who choose policing as a career.  And a reminder that they are people with spouses, children, parents and siblings – family, friends and colleagues have lost an important part of their world.

Sgt. Ryan Russell

Sgt. Russell was a recreational hockey player and a major hockey fan.  Legendary Montreal Canadiens goalie and senator Ken Dryden spoke to CBC on behalf of the Canadian government.  Sgt. Russell was fatally struck January 12th trying to stop a stolen snowplow on snowy Toronto streets.  All part of a quintessentially Canadian story Mounted police at head of cortege for Sgt. Ryan, CTV websiteperhaps.  And a story, and fear, shared by the thousands marching; police officers from across Canada and the US, firefighters, EMTs, members of the Armed Forces, RCMP in red serge, traffic wardens, K-9 unit dogs and horses from Toronto’s Mounted Police.  If it isn’t you who steps into the line of fire, it might be your friend.

I have a cousin who is a retired OPP officer.  I never gave it much thought.  Bill was a cop, and other cousins were mechanics, one worked in an office, one in a grocery store.  Different jobs for different interests.  I never really thought that, for over 20 years, Bill put himself deliberately in danger.  We all can get hit by a bus or be attacked by a crazy or evil person.  But cops seek out the crazies and evil-doers.  That is their job.  Thank you, Bill, and all of you.

Photos are from CTV‘s website.  Thanks, and thanks to CBC and Global for devoting five hours of airtime to the full funeral.  There is a trust fund for Russell’s son Nolan at CIBC.

Sarah Palin and Targets

The first time I saw Sarah Palin on television, I was impressed. It was soon after she was announced as John McCain’s running mate for the 2008 US presidential election. She was forthright with her opinions and seemed level-headed. I liked how she talked about being a woman – and wife and mother – with a political career. I might not agree with her political beliefs but I could respect her as a politician. That’s what I thought.

Sarah’s Targets

targets on SarahPac's Take back the 20 map of USIt went downhill from there, pretty rapidly. But never, even in my most extreme thoughts of “what stupidity is this woman going to do next” did I imagine she would post a list of Democratic party targets online, and show their geographical location on a map of the USA with marks that are very similar to gunsight cross hairs!

Gun imagery and reality

I had heard on tv about her statement that it was time to “reload”. Her choice of that word seemed incendiary and irresponsible to me, and I was sure it was deliberate on her part. Still, giving her the benefit of the doubt, I thought maybe she was just playing up her self- or media-created image as a rifle-toting, sharp-shooting “momma Grizzly”. Had I known about the list and map! I only found out about that on CNN today, the day a US congresswoman was shot in the head, 6 people were killed and many more wounded in a mass shooting in Tucson Arizona. The Arizona Congresswoman, Gabrielle Gifford, was on Sarah Palin’s list of targets.

Maybe there is no connection between these killings and Sarah Palin’s postings and tweets. But if there isn’t in fact, there is in spirit. An Arizona sheriff, shortly after the shootings, spoke of the spirit of “vitriol” in Arizona. That, CNN commentators agreed, could be extended to the whole of political discourse in the US at this moment. I don’t know what gets more vitriolic than marking a map with something very much like cross-hairs, even if it’s not meant to be taken literally. It is exactly that image of Palin – the gun-totin’ momma – that she has created for herself that makes her use of such language more problematic than with other people’s use of it. With her, it’s hard to hear the words ‘target’ and ‘aim’ without thinking of firearms.

Sanctity of fish life?

I watched a couple episodes of Sarah Palin’s Alaska recently. The one I watched had her and her daughter working on a fishing boat. They were processing halibut before putting them in the boat’s hold. Bristol, then Sarah, held the still-beating heart of a halibut. Both looked at it as the camera zoomed in for a close-up. I thought probably they were marveling at this little organ, strong, still beating, still alive even after it was detached from the halibut’s body. That’s what I was doing.

But nope. Bristol said something like “eew, gross”. Sarah looked at it solemnly for a minute and, just when I thought she was going to talk about the miracle of life, she shrugged, said “weird”. Then she flicked the still-beating heart over the side of the boat into the sea. So much for the sanctity of life, I thought.


Pipelines through Paradise

starfish on fjord shore, Jack DykingaThis past October, there was a documentary by Karin Wells on CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition about a RAVE (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition) to document and showcase the coastal British Columbia rainforest.  The First Nation community of Hartley Bay, near Prince Rupert, coordinated it.  Hartley Bay and the other aboriginal communities of the area asked photographers from all over the world to come to the northwest coast to capture its essence for the world to see what is valuable about it.

This project was the First Nations’ response to a plan by Enbridge to build the Northern Gateway Oil Pipeline.  That would send oil and gas from the tar sands of Alberta to the Pacific coast for shipping to wherever.  The pipeline would end at the seaport at Kitimat.

Northwest coast proposed pipeline map, Northern Gateway siteSo oil and gas would be transported through pipelines across two provinces and then loaded onto supertankers which would navigate through the waters of the northwest coast to the open Pacific. Between Kitimat and open sea there still are plenty of islands, points of land and shallows a ship must navigate safely through.  Many a slip between cup and lip, or oil sands and market.

Northwest Coast Ecosystem

In the summer of 1978, I went to the BC northwest coast to work for the Haisla Tribal Council.  Spearheaded by the band council of aerial view of a pipeline, from Northern Gateway siteKitimaat Village, the Tribal Council member bands were researching their traditional use of lands because of a proposed industrial development.  Yep, that development was a pipeline from northern Alberta carrying oil and gas across the north to the port of Kitimat for transportation to US markets.

men fishing, RAVE photo by Cristina MittermeierAt that time, the tack taken by the Tribal Council was the practical need for the land and rivers to be kept usable for traditional food and resource harvesting.  The heart of this research was the nutritional value of “country foods” compared to store-bought.

The First Nations believed that basing their opposition to the pipeline on demonstrable health and economic value of their traditional way of life would be more effective than only using land rights and cultural arguments.  Aboriginal land rights and the overall importance of safeguarding land as part of preserving the environment and wildlife, maintaining First Nations’ sociocultural integrity, keeping material cultures alive, protecting historical economies are all valid points. But they can sound like so much blah blah blah to industrial developers and a public wanting cheap gasoline.

Country Food Study

Salmon jumping upstream, Florian SchulzA thriving natural environment, they wanted to demonstrate, meant a real and measurable quality of nutrition in First Nations diet.  So the key person in this project was a nutritionist who weighed, measured and calculated nutritional content and values of traditional country foods and compared those to their store-bought equivalents.

She and anthropologist John Pritchard planned the research methodology and analytic framework.  I replaced Dr. Pritchard in the actual community fieldwork when he had to take time off.   Five villages were in the study:  Kitamaat Village, Metlakatla, Fort Simpson, Kitkatla and Hartley Bay. After the data collection, we all convened in Victoria to analyze it.  We had bags of food and lists of the quantities of wild food that people had in their freezers, in canning jars, smoked and dried – salmon, oolichan, game animals and birds, berries, tubers and greens.

Interviews gave us information on how much country food each household ate in a week and how much store-bought food.  We asked householders how much they spent on food bought at local stores or supermarkets in Prince Rupert.  We researched prices of store-bought food and calculated the cost if they had to replace the wild food with what was usually available in the stores.  Also we calculated the cost of store-bought food that had the same nutritional value as country food.

Socio-cultural Value

Bella Coola women drying fish, Cristina MittermeierOf course, we asked people about the social and cultural value of hunting and fishing. What it meant to them to be able to live on a diet familiar to their ancestors.  We asked about the ritual aspects of hunting, fishing, food gathering and preparation. As well, we asked about the material culture parts of those activities.  What equipment was needed, how did they make it, when and how did they learn these parts of their livelihood?

fisherman and halibut, Thomas P. PeschakThe results confirmed what the Tribal Council had thought. The nutritional value of country foods was far superior to that of store-bought meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.  The expense of buying food to replace country food in their diet would be astronomical in these isolated villages.  The quality of diet could not be matched with the income available to people.  And, realistically, it would be impossible to stock such fresh, high-quality food in local stores.

It was a good and important study.  In the end, they didn’t need it. That particular pipeline project died at the developer’s end as oil prices dropped. But the First Nations were happy to have the study. They knew it was only a matter of time before another pipeline was planned. And there has been talk of one over the years since then. And now there’s the Enbridge plan.

More Pipelines

fjords near Bella Coola, Cristina MittermeierI hope the photographs and videos of the Great Bear Rainforest help stop the pipeline plan.  I would hope common sense would prevail and the developers would see the folly of supertankers wending their way through the complex waterways of the northwest coast.  When they’re in Kitamat or Prince Rupert, perhaps, they will look at the mountains and the sea. They will realize this is a fragile beauty that is necessary to keep safe.

The map and pipeline aerial photo are from the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline website.  All others are from the iLCP Collection, Great Bear Rainforest RAVE Media Gallery.  Photos are by Cristina Mittermeier, Florian Schulz, Jack Dykinga and Thomas P. Peschak.