Tag Archives: First Nations

Hunger Strike 1983

Early morning, April 21st 1983, St. John’s. Atlantic Place offices were just starting to wake up. Thirty-one Mi’kmaq men and women from Conne River went upstairs to the RAND offices. The Rural and Northern Development Department of the Newfoundland Government. They occupied the office.

RAND occupation-daily-news-22-apr-1983
The Daily News, Apr. 22, 1983. Click for larger view.

For over a year, RAND had withheld funds from the Conne River Band Council in a dispute over its administration. Discussion and negotiation had not ended the deadlock. So it was time for direct action.

Conne River (now Miawpukek) was one of the “designated native communities” in the province. Thereby it received federal funding through a federal-provincial agreement. The others, Innu and Inuit communities in Labrador, had continued to receive their funds.

St. John's Telegram Apr 1983 Conne River
St. John’s Telegram Apr 1983. Click for larger view.

At the RAND offices, police arrived and arrested 23 of the protestors. They later got out on bail. And, the next day, the second phase of the protest began.

The hunger strike

Nine men went on a hunger strike. They and about a hundred others from Conne River camped out in a church community centre, along with St. John’s supporters of their cause.

The hunger strikers were determined to win, and winning meant getting the funding released. There was no Plan B.

After nine days, they won. The federal and provincial governments reached an agreement with the band council. RAND released the funds in full.

conne-river-hunger-strike-apr-1983 weigh-inIt was an intense week, and a good week. According to this photo, I was involved in the weighing-in of the hunger strikers. But the main thing I remember was chopping vegetables. We made huge pots of soup and stew every day.

I also remember Michael (Misel) Joe. He had not been chief long at that time. I had spent a bit of time with the previous chief, the late Billy Joe. So I knew Michael had big boots to fill. And he did, especially during those nine days.

The hunger strikers were: Misel Joe, Billy Joe, Andy Joe, Ches Joe, George Drew, Wilfred Drew, Rick Jeddore, Aubrey Joe, and Michael G. Benoit. Thanks for what you did.

Thanks too, Facebook friends, for sharing these photos posted on the Miawpukek Mi’kamawey Mawi’omi page.

First Nations Books

First Nations Books

Here are some books that are valuable for anyone wanting to know more about First Nations and the history and process of colonization within a land. That land might be Newfoundland, Labrador, Canada as well as others around the world.

The peoples of such internal colonization is what George Manuel defined as “the Fourth World”. I’ve been thinking about that since hearing that Arthur Manuel died last week. He was a chief and political activist in British Columbia. He was also the son of George Manuel, author of The Fourth World.

I read The Fourth World at university. Wow, I thought then, and still do whenever I reread parts of it. I still have my original copy. It’s moved with me many times over four decades.Books and cat

Going through my bookshelves for it, I saw other books that I consider indispensable for thinking about First Nations and Canada.  Make a list then, I thought. So this is its beginning. I will add to it as I think of more. I have put in links for purchase when I could. Otherwise, libraries and used book stores are your best bet.

The Books

prison of grass cover Amazon linkPrison of Grass: Canada from the native point of view, Howard Adams, General Publishing 1975 & 1989

"With the publication of this eloquent, passionate and scholarly work, no Canadian can ever again boast that this is a country free from the cancer of racism." - from cover blurb by Pierre Berton. (Click image for Amazon link)
surviving as indians amazon linkSurviving as Indians: The challenge of self-government, Menno Boldt, U of Toronto 1993

Government-First Nations history and how self-government might work, written at a time when band self-government agreements were sought by the federal government. (Click image for Amazon link)
Son of the Morning Star Amazon linkSon of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn, Evan S. Connell, North Point Press 1984.

A novel, and a history of a big moment in Euro-American and First Nation "contact" - the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn. Facts and interpretation, in lyrical writing that carries you along in the action. (Click image for Amazon link)
Son of the Morning Star DVD eBay linkSon of the Morning Star (DVD)

The 1991 movie based on Evan Connell's book stars Gary Cole and Rosanna Arquette. I didn't think a movie could do justice to the book, but this does. (Click image for eBay listings)
First Nations in 21st century Amazon linkFirst Nations in the Twenty-First Century, James S. Frideres, Oxford U. Press 2011.

"...legacy of residential schools;
intergenerational trauma; Aboriginal languages and culture; health and well-being on reserves; self-government and federal responsibility...(Click image for Amazon link)
Grassy Narrows link to AmazonGrassy Narrows, George Hutchison and Dick Wallace, Van Nostrand Reinhold 1977

Hutchison and Wallace covered the Grassy Narrows, Ontario mercury poisoning story for the London Free Press. My mother bought me this book. The story and images were horrifying then, and they still are 40 years later. (Click image for Amazon link.)
Amazon link for The Inconvenient IndianThe Inconvenient Indian: A curious account of native people in North America, Thomas King, Anchor Canada 2013

Anything written by Thomas King is worth reading, but this look at 'being Indian' - historically and in modern Canadian society - is especially valuable. (Click image for Amazon link.)
unsettling canada amazon linkUnsettling Canada: A national wake-up call, Arthur Manuel, Between the Lines 2015

"...chronicles the modern struggle for Indigenous rights covering fifty years of struggle..."(Click image for Amazon link.)
cover the fourth world book by george manuelThe Fourth World, George Manuel and Michael Posluns, Don Mills: Collier Macmillan Canada 1974

Colonization within lands and the connections between "Fourth World" peoples. Available in libraries and, if you're lucky, somewhere for sale. (I couldn't find it online at a reasonable price.)
Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A history of Indian-White relations in Canada, J. R. Miller, U of Toronto Press 2000 3rd ed.

I asked Dr. Gordon Inglis, of the Anthropology Dept. at Memorial University, what would be good texts for an introductory class on indigenous issues. This was one he recommended. He was right. (Click image for Amazon link.)
Big Chief Elizabeth Amazon linkBig Chief Elizabeth: How England's adventurers gambled and won the New World, Giles Milton, Hodder and Stoughton 2000

Queen Elizabeth I's 16th century adventurers in North America. The early colonies, and also Sir Humphrey Gilbert and his "discovery" of an already fairly crowded St. John's harbour. (Click image for Amazon link)
We Were Not The Savages Amazon linkWe Were Not The Savages: Collision between European and Native American civilizations, Daniel N. Paul, Halifax: Fernwood 2006

A history of European-First Nations relations, from before contact to the late 20th century. The focus is on Atlantic Canada from the point of view of the Mi'kmaq. (Click image for Amazon link)
People of Terra Nullius link to AmazonPeople of Terra Nullius, Boyce Richardson, Douglas & McIntyre 1993

"Terra Nullius, a land that is empty of people. This is a legal concept used by Europeans when they first arrived in North America." (Click image for Amazon link)
Lumbee Indian Histories link to AmazonLumbee Indian Histories: Race, ethnicity, and Indian identity in the Southern United States, Gerald Sider, Cambridge U. P. 1993

A fascinating look at definitions of identity. The Lumbee of North Carolina fought for many, many years for recognition as an indigenous people. Dr. Sider also has spent a lot of time in Newfoundland. (Click image for Amazon link.)
Nitassinan link to AmazonNitassinan: The Innu struggle to reclaim their homeland, Marie Wadden, Douglas & McIntyre 1991

The story of the Labrador Innu, internally colonized perhaps doubly. First by the Dominion of Newfoundland, then by Canada. (Click image for Amazon link)
Where the Pavement Ends link to AmazonWhere The Pavement Ends: Canada's aboriginal recovery movement and the urgent need for reconciliation, Marie Wadden, Douglas & McIntyre 2009.

Like The Dispossessed, a journalist travels around First Nations communities. The stories told are both sad and hopeful, personal and political. (Click image for Amazon link)
Stolen Continents: Conquest and resistance in the Americas, Ronald Wright, Penguin Canada 1992

First subtitled 'The "New World" through Indian eyes since 1492', it is the story of contact and its aftermath in North, Central and South America told from the perspective of the indigenous peoples. (Click image for Amazon link)
The Dispossessed link to AmazonThe Dispossessed: Life and death in native Canada, Geoffrey York, Vintage UK 1989

This was the other book that Dr. Gordon Inglis suggested as a Native Issues course text. Some students said it was depressing. Yep, it is. And what's more depressing is that, all these years later, it still reads like current news. (Click image for Amazon link)
People of the Pines link to AmazonPeople of the Pines: The Warriors and the legacy of Oka, Geoffrey York and Loreen Pindera, Little, Brown & Co. 1991

The standoff in the summer of 1990 at Oka and Kahnawake told by two reporters who covered it. (Click image for Amazon link)

Secret Path

Chanie Wenjack died October 23rd 1966. He was twelve. He and two other boys ran away from their residential school, taking a Chanie Wenjack the secret path jeff-lemire-cbcsecret path north into the bush. They wanted to go home.

The other boys succeeded. They found their uncle’s cabin and stayed with him. But Chanie’s home was much farther away. He didn’t know where exactly, so he left on his own to continue walking until he found it.

He didn’t. Chanie died of exposure following the train track he hoped would take him home. He did get home, in the end. Indian Affairs sent his body by train and then plane home to Ogoki Post, 600 km north of the residential school he attended in Kenora, Ontario.

fort_albany_residential_school_students-c1945-edmund-metatawabin-coll-u-of-algoma
Fort Albany residential school, ca 1945, Edmund Metatawabin Collection, University of Algoma

Chanie, or Charlie as he was called at the school, was Ojibwe. He is one of thousands of First Nations children who died at residential schools in Canada. The stories of the dead and the survivors have been told to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

‘The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack’

Chanie Wenjack’s story was told at the time of his death. A 1967 article in Maclean’s paints a bleak picture of a boy’s unnecessary death and of unwanted institutional life. Author Ian Adams:

“The jury found that ‘the Indian education system causes tremendous emotional adjustment problems.’… But the most poignant suggestion was the one that reflected their own bewilderment: ‘A study be made of the present Indian education and philosophy. Is it right?'”

1948-letter-bc-teachers-federation-project-of-the-heart
Christmas Vacation letter to parents 1948, Kamloops Indian Residential School. Click for larger view.

50 years on, Chanie Wenjack’s story is being told anew. Gord Downie, of The Tragically Hip, and graphic novelist Jeff Lemire tell it in song and pictures. The Secret Path is a elegy, and eulogy, for Chanie and all the children forced into residential schools. Joseph Boyden published a novella, Wenjack, imagining the final days of a too short life.

project-of-heart-bc-residential-schools
“This powerful graffiti message by an anonymous artist was painted on all of the doors of St. Michael’s Residential School before its demolition in 2015.”

For over a century, children were taken away from their families, and their languages and their identities. Many also  were abused sexually and psychologically. For all, however, the direct or indirect assumption that their First Nations cultures were not good enough was abuse. It probably takes as long to rebuild a culture as it does to kill one. So it’s going to take a long time to recover.

The photos of the door and the letter are from Project of Heart: Illuminating the hidden history of Indian Residential Schools in BC (BC Teachers Federation pdf).

The Acadians: Review

Bill Smallwood takes a complicated period of history and makes it more complicated – Smallwood-Acadiansand that’s good. The Acadians, the first novel in his Abuse of Power series starts in 1749 with the British looking for a site to build a fort in Nova Scotia. They choose a harbour they rename Halifax. It ends in 1757 with British soldiers and sailors choosing tracts of “unoccupied” Nova Scotia land to homestead. The Acadians have been deported and the Mi’kmaq are being ‘cleared’ off their lands. The French have been driven back, and Nova Scotia is open for British business.

The facts of it: war between the French and British for control of North America, deportation of long-time Acadian settlers to France and the future United States, and war with and suppression of First Nations. We know these things from living in the Maritimes or reading history. By situating the facts in a story, Smallwood brings them to life and explains the intricacies of ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘why’.

Deportation_Grand-Pré-wikicommons
Deportation at Grand Pré 1755, by George Craig 1893

I have read a lot about the colonization of North America and the history of the Mi’kmaq and Acadians. I have been to Halifax many times and traveled around Nova Scotia. So I thought I had a fairly good understanding of the history and geography of the region. But this book made so many things click into place for me. Instead of a spreadsheet of facts, the story gave me a flow of events, places and reasons. The dots were connected.

Deportation_of_Acadians_order 1755 Grand Pre,_painting_by_Chas Wm Jefferys 1923
Col. Winslow reads Order of expulsion, Grand Pré 1755, by C. W. Jefferys 1923

The main character in The Acadians is William Gray who was in real life a clerk to Governor Cornwallis. Smallwood promotes him to British Navy Lieutenant in order to permit him to travel to the extent he does and be privy to the discussions that he is. But it is not only from his perspective that we look. We get to know all the players involved; British, colonial American, French, Acadian and Mi’kmaq. Fear and confusion, bravery and avarice – we see the emotions and actions of all sides. Only the Mi’kmaq remain relatively unknown to us, and I’m sure that is remedied in later volumes.

Smallwood lets history shape story

It is history that shaped Smallwood’s story and character rather than the other way around. Most of his characters are real people. Events are based on letters, logs and other documentation of the time. When he creates or alters events or characters, he explains why and gives what is actually known in notes. So you can become involved in the story and also keep track of the real events. He references his sources and changes in chapter endnotes.

Citadel Hill Fort-photo-D-Stewart
Fort at Citadel Hill, Halifax, today

My only quibble is that footnotes would save having to flick to the end of the chapter each time. You can, of course, ignore the notes but they contain archival sources as well as additional bits of information, quotes from letters and official records as well as the points at which history and this story deviate. That, I found, adds to the story.

The Acadians, 1749-1757 is the first of seven in the Abuse of Power series: The Colonials and the Acadians, 1757-1761; Crooked Paths, 1755-1862; The Planters, 1761-1921; Expulsion and Survival, 1758-1902; Rebels, Royalists and Railroaders, 1841-1910, and Lives of Courage. You can read more at Mr. Smallwood’s website or the publisher Borealis.

Idle No More

Our ancestors wanted this land Canada so damned bad that they crossed the ocean, crossed the country in wagon trains, fought each other, fought the indigenous peoples, and cleared forest for pasture and crop land. Subsequent waves of immigrants saved up for steerage passage to the New World.

ox-in-field-hrsbstaff.ednet.ns.caNow we, descendants of these migrants, stand idle and leave it to the First Nations peoples to fight to save the land. Idle No More is not just about protecting existing First Nations and treaty rights. It’s about protecting all of us, and our shared homeland, from legislative changes that may have serious repercussions down the road.

Bill C-45 was a catalyst for Idle No More.  Now passed, it is a 443 page omnibus Bill consisting of changes to over 40 diverse pieces of legislation. Its amendments to two Acts in particular are of concern to first nations panow idle no more protest--dec.-21,-2012-newstalk650.comIdle No More. They are changes to Canada’s Navigable Waters Protection Act and to the Indian Act regarding reserve land.

Reserve land is owned by the Crown, held for use by the resident First Nation. The band can “surrender” land to the Crown (federal government) for sale or lease in order to have developments not possible under the strictures of Indian Act land title. Until now, doing so required approval by a majority of a majority. Over half of those eligible must vote and, of those, over half must vote in favour in order for it to pass. Bill C-45 has changed this to simply a majority of those who vote. So if 100 of 1000 eligible voters vote, a yes vote by 51 means it passes. The potential for skewed results is mindboggling.

‘Speed things up’

Also, before Bill C-45, the entire federal cabinet had to approve the vote result before it took effect. Now only the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs must approve it. The Idle no more victoria-bc-21-Dec-2012-r-a-paterson-wikicommonsfederal government says the new rules will speed things up. The old system, government says, took months and even years for change to take effect. But why not speed up the implementation instead of changing the ground rules of democracy?

Land surrender might be used for a shopping mall or something wanted by a reserve’s residents and affecting only them. But it also might be used for negotiating agreements between industry and governments. Maybe for plans that only a very small minority of band members, and Canadians in general, want.

Protection of waterways is another biggie in Bill C-45 with potential for huge destruction of Canada’s environment. Although this is not an aboriginal-specific issue, it seems it’s rabble.ca-blogs-2012-12primarily First Nations that are upset about it. By removing most of the country’s lakes and rivers from federal protection, management and development can occur at the provincial, municipal and private levels without consultation with the federal government.

That can be a good thing when you’re talking about small streams and local management that can do quite nicely without federal red tape. The downside is it also lessens the ‘red tape’ of environmental assessment. So large-scale inter-provincial developments can go ahead more easily.

See something similar in both these cases? Less consultation and assessment making an easier process for development. And current large-scale projects like the Enbridge pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, just wishing First Nations, environmentalists and environmental impact studies would go away.

Idle or Action

banner settlers in solidarity with 1st nations beaconnews.ca-2012-12If we think that our immigrant ancestors’ efforts in settling Canada were worthwhile, we should remember that, by and large, they used their new homeland carefully and respectfully. We all have reasons to protest changes wrought by Bill C-45.

Here is an informative interview about Idle No More and Bill C-45 with Pam Palmeter on CBC Radio’s Day 6.

Ancestry Search

Thirty-three years ago I started doing Newfoundland Mi’kmaq genealogies. Over the years, I’ve added and corrected information and marked changes in families. This Mi'kmaq Ancestry Tony John Glenwood Nfld 1997weekend, I sadly updated the database with the death date for Tony John of Glenwood.  

FNI President and Vice-President Tony John and Calvin White hired me to do family history research in central Newfoundland. Tony’s parents, Greg and Mary, became my “Glenwood parents.” Tony never needed help tracing his own Mi’kmaq roots; he knew his family ancestry through his father’s side and his mother’s, the Francis family of Clarke’s Head.

Tony was instrumental in establishing a political voice in the 1970s and in getting recognition and rights for all Newfoundland Mi’kmaq. Thank you, Tony, you will be missed. (Here’s more from the Gander Beacon.)

Mi’kmaq Ancestry

For those of you searching for information and documents about your Newfoundland Mi’kmaq ancestry, it can be difficult and time-consuming but doable. Start with the internet if you don’t have family or neighbours to ask. (I have links for family trees that I found good, and also books that give Newfoundland family or community history.)

Google a name or a pair of names, husband and wife or parent and child. I add Newfoundland in my search phrase to weed out those of the same name(s) from elsewhere. Same thing with community names or regions: without adding Newfoundland, you also may get material from elsewhere. For example, “Bay of Islands” alone will give you New Zealand sources as well as Newfoundland.

To find a husband and wife, I try their first names and his surname. You’ll have better luck getting records for their children that may not have the mother’s maiden name on them. You might also luck into their marriage record that likely will have her birth name.

Table_of_Consanguinity_degrees_of_relationship-Sg647112c-wikicommons
How to calculate ‘greats’ and ‘removes’. Click to enlarge.

You’ll find other people’s ancestry pages and discussion forums. With large genealogy sites, see if there is an index of names or use an internal search box. With genforums, people’s questions often can provide answers to your own questions. If someone says “X’s wife’s name might be Y,” search for X and Y together and see if you find more.

If they’re available, look at sources in online genealogies. They usually are numbered endnotes that say where the information came from. You need this information if you want to get the actual record itself.

Church Records and Archives

If you’re looking for church records, don’t just assume that if your family is of a particular religion now, that your ancestors were all married within that Church. Many people were married by whatever minister was handy. Sometimes you’ll find different marriage dates. This discrepancy may be explained by Church and unofficial marriage. If clergy were not available, people may be married “by the custom of the country”, by a layreader or someone who presumably said “time you two got married.”

For documents, the Provincial Archives is your best bet. There is a fee, of course, for their service. You can contact the Church itself for parish records. Some have their records and others have sent them to the Archives. Again there is a fee and, whether Church or archives, the more information you provide, the faster will be their search.

Few records actually have anything indicating ethnic ancestry on them. Your best bet for that is some census years that included it. Newfoundland census information is online but ethnic identification was not included in the transcription. The Archives have the originals. Reliability of information varies between census district and year.

Name Variations

And spelling variations of surnames! There are some well-known ones, like LeBlanc/White and LeJeune/Young but others you might not think of. Swyers might be Swyer, Swoir(s) or even Squires. Sometimes the difference in spelling means they are from different families and sometimes it’s just different spellings for the same people. You have to judge each one as you encounter it. If you can’t find someone under one name, type in variations. In long lists like Church records, if I’m not sure, I just type the first few letters in my search box and see what comes up.

Names like Young, White and Bennett may have been anglicized but also might not have been. You might think, good, I’ve found a Young, must be the Acadien/Mi’kmaq ones, but not necessarily. They may be different and unrelated families.

First names also vary significantly. Samuel and Lemuel for instance – likely same person. Some Church records have the Latin forms of first names, so Jacobi was probably known as James; Joannes, and variations, as John. There are also a lot of people with the same name married to people with the same name in the same region. So the John White married to Mary Young you find may not be the ones you are looking for. Look for corroborating information – place of birth, baptism date, name of a parent, sibling or child to be sure you’ve got the right ones.

Record Keeping

Question marks and sources are your new BFFs. Note where you got a piece of information. You won’t remember later. And if you or your source is unsure of anything, note that too because you’ll forget that uncertainty later.

Amazon link for Family Tree Maker 2012
Click for Amazon link

I have switched to Family Tree Maker 2012 and am still learning how to use it. Quite different than my favourite 2006 version. You’ll see I am slowly going through your queries but please be patient. Learning a new system means it takes me even longer than usual to find anything relevant for you. If I don’t reply to your comment, it means I have nothing useful. While I would like to tell you that directly, I don’t want to clog up the comments section with “sorry, got nothing.”

War of 1812

In 1814 we took a little trip – Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’

Johnny Horton Battle of New Orleans youtube linkWe took a little bacon and we took a little beans

And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’

There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago

We fired once more and they began to runnin’

On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

The Americans won the Battle of New Orleans, but not the war.  The War of 1812 was ended by the Treaty of Ghent, signed December 24th 1814, and Canada was still Canada, not part of the US.  The Americans did get this wonderful song written by Jimmy Driftwood,Fort McHenry flag war of 1812 an Arkansas school teacher, and made a hit by Johnny Horton in 1959.  They also got their national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, written for the flag atop Fort McHenry that survived the British attack on Baltimore.  The 1814 Battle of Baltimore followed upon the burning of Washington DC, including the White House, by the British.

The Americans wanted to take over Canada and get Britain totally out of North America.  They thought it would be easy, with the British already involved in the Napoleonic Wars.  It didn’t quite work out.  But the British weren’t going to easily let go of more North American territory.  The UEL settlers of Upper Canada had made their political position clear when they left the United States after the War of Independence and they weren’t inclined Six Nations War of 1812 veterans phototo come under US rule again.  First Nations on both sides of the border, for the most part, fought with the British because they had promised a neutral Indian land in the mid-west.  One of them was John Smoke Johnson, a Mohawk chief from Six Nations near Brantford, maybe related through marriage to my family.  He’s on the left in this 1882 photo of the last Mohawk veterans of the War of 1812.

In the end, not much changed after 1814.  Geopolitical lines were restored to pre-war status in the Treaty of Ghent.  But Canada got a new sense of nationhood from fighting a war for our land.  The US didn’t lose or cede any land to the British, so claimed it as a map of Tecumseh's war 1811victory.  The First Nations did not get their promised land, which stayed in the hands of the US, and were not given an independent homeland elsewhere in Canada.  Some moved north to Canada, hoping for better conditions with their military allies.  By fighting with the British, they had burned their bridges with the American administration, and it came down even harder on them.  But the British and Canadian governments didn’t keep their territorial promises.  Having defeated US encroachment, Painting by Lossing of what Tecumseh may have looked like ca 1868Canada believed there was no longer need of First Nations as military allies.  They became irrelevant to Canadian plans and were treated either as “wards” to be cared for or obstacles to development.

Tecumseh, the Shawnee war leader and politician, had been the main force behind the plan for an independent homeland.  He was killed October 5th 1813 at the Battle of the Thames, near Chatham, Ontario.

West of London there is what’s now a beautiful wooded park.  It was the site of the Battle of Longwoods, where, this weekend May 5th and Battle of Longwood cairn near Delaware Ontario6th, there will be a reenactment of that battle.  I hope Tecumseh’s spirit watches over it and all the reenactments this centenary year – remembering what might have been, what should have been.

Tourist Board TV

Last night I watched the first episode of Arctic Air, CBC’s new series Arctic Air banner cbc website - tourism tvset in Yellowknife and surrounding lands.  Tonight Republic of Doyle, set in St. John’s, returns for its 3rd season.

Major sponsors of both shows are their respective provincial tourism departments.  I Newfoundland and Labrador plane at Arctic Air hangardon’t know if that is the reason why there’s a plane with the Newfoundland and Labrador logo at the Arctic Air hangar.  It might also be in recognition of the fact that there is a disproportionate number of Newfoundlanders employed in the North West Territories, both in government and private industry.  Either way, it was a nice touch.

Arctic Air struck me as kind of ‘North of 60 does Dallas’.  There’s the bad exploration DC-3 flying over waterguy, from away.  There’s the conflicted hero, from ‘here’ but been away.  There are the crusty, savvy locals.  There’s the nice pretty girl and the not-so-nice pretty girl.  There are locals (Dene and white) and come-from-aways, so we will always have someone who needs northern cultures and terrain explained and those who can do so.

DC-3 engine and wingAnd we have the terrain and the DC-3s – both starring ‘characters’ of the show.  As trainee pilot Dev said, these planes fought the Nazis.  And Dev himself, played by Stephen Lobo, is an absolute treat.

I want to like Arctic Air.  Early in last night’s episode, I wasn’t sure.  I’d seen these characters and dramatic conflicts before.  But, by the end, I wanted to see how Dev makes out as a pilot.  The rest of it, I can kinda predict.

Republic of Doyle banner cbcTonight, we get Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism’s offering – the Doyles back in the sleuthing business in old sinjohns.  It’s another show where you can see its television history.  It’s been compared to the Rockford Files, aptly, but as homage rather than copycat.

Weather: Tourism ideal vs. actual

They do argumentative father and son well.  And they place it in the glorious backdrop of St. John’s.  I’ve wondered how much leeway they have to build into their shooting schedule to get all those sunny days.  I can imagine cast and crew being woken up at dawn, after weeks off – “looks like a fine day, byes, let’s get at her!”

St. John's streetI lived in St. John’s a long time.  I know summer fog and drizzle.  I know early spring when you’re ready to gnaw your own leg off to get out of fog and snow and rain.  But you are trapped.  Even if you had all the money in the world, planes aren’t flying, ferries aren’t sailing:  the weather is too bad.  We don’t see that weather on Republic of Doyle.  And it is beautiful and awe-inspiring in its own right – once you stop trying to gnaw your foot off and look at it and feel it.  But I forget that weather while watching RoD.  I remember glorious days with sunshine reflecting off brightly painted old buildings, just like on the tv.

Attawapiskat ‘Solution’

In a Sun Media op-ed column this week, Jerry Agar suggests a solution for the people of house interior Attawapiskat news.sympatico.cbc.ca 9 Dec 2011Attawapiskat, the embattled Northern Ontario reserve: leave it.

He points out that doing the same ineffective thing over and over again is, in general, a good definition of insanity.  His second point is that, in order to solve problems, individuals need to take action themselves.  I agree with both points.

But his solution – go to where the opportunities are – has also been tried and doesn’t slums of Ramos Arizpe Mexico photo by Codowork that well. The shantytowns of Mexico City are testament to the decisions and actions of individuals to leave their rural homes in search of employment and a better life in the city.  On a small scale, it works.  On a mass scale, not so much.

Will it help individuals and Canada as a whole to have everyone flocking to Toronto or Winnipeg?  What about the rest of the landmass we call our country?  The government has to pay incentives to medical students to get them to practice in rural areas.  Everybody, it seems, wants to be a doctor in Toronto, not so many in Nippers Harbour.

I give Mr. Agar credit for thinking laterally.  But let’s go a little further than just “leave the reserve.”  Why not make the reserve a centre of enterprise itself?  If people want to stay in the north or in rural areas, why shouldn’t they?  Who exactly benefits in the long run by having overcrowded megacities and vast expanses of unpopulated land?  In making First Nations communities viable wherever they are, the big stumbling block is the Indian Act.  So let’s think way outside the box and change that.

Miawpukuk Example

Aerial view of Miawpukek, from mfngov.caLet’s use the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq reserve Miawpukek as an example.  It was created from the village of Conne River and surrounding land in 1987.  At that time, Indian Affairs was promoting new measures of band self-government.  The people of Conne River, never before officially recognized as Mi’kmaq, were accustomed to the control afforded over life and actions afforded by regular municipal, provincial and federal government.  They were not about to give that up.  So, from the beginning, Miawpukek had a degree of control over economic and educational development that went beyond the Indian Act.

The prosperity of the community speaks to the success of that.  In the 1990s, former chief Shane McDonald showed me around.  Driving in, he laughed, “see, we’re on reserve land now, and the pavement starts.  Usually the pavement ends when you come into a reserve.”

dancers-from-miawpukek mfngov.caThe reason for its success?  The people used Indian Affairs money in ways that worked best for their community.  They built up a local economy that had people moving back there to find employment.  That development is largely connected with their traditional methods of land use.  The culture and the environment are alive and healthy.

So my solution for reserves like Attawapiskat starts with the Department of Aboriginal Attawapiskat 'solution' photo of town sign firstnations.ca/attawapiskatAffairs.  Redraft the Indian Act so that those who come under it have the same freedom to develop businesses and own property that other Canadians have.  Don’t force depopulation of northern and rural communities by action or inaction.  Let them develop in a way that makes sense for their people and their environment.

Attawapiskat

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, 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 and at what cost in wages, expenses and materials?

Attawapiskat housing photo huffingtonpost.ca 2011 11 26 Red CrossAnd another question, I guess.  Why does reserve housing continue to be built using southern Canadian designs and materials when 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 a rhetorical question, I guess, is 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?

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 and patience was running out. Two decades later and it’s like it’s a big surprise that conditions on many reserves are appallingly bad and there are problems with people being able to adequately provide 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, and 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 and get it sorted out – for the long term.