Tag Archives: politics

Un-American Affairs

Marya Mannes on out of my time book coverFrom More in Anger (1958), a collection of essays by American social critic and satirist Marya Mannes. From 1904 to 1990, her life spanned most of the 20th century.

A fictional life-story of a man who, Mannes says, “drew strength” from the “poisoned climate of McCarthy”. Just change a few words and, maybe, ‘plus ça change…’?

The Brotherhood of Hate: Three Portraits (Pt. II)

If you should come across Charlie Mattson and his family barbecuing in the back yard of their Darien home, you would think they came straight off the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. There is the jolly father-chef in his apron, the pretty – but not too pretty – wife in slacks, the twelve-year-old boy with the T shirt and the crew cut, and the teen-age girl in heavy white socks and loafers, blue-jeaned, sweatered and pony-tailed. They appear to be having a genuinely good time.

There is no reason, really, why they shouldn’t. Charlie has a good job in a factory sub-contracted to a defense plant, his family is healthy, and he is a pillar of his American Legion Post, the Presbyterian church, the Kiwanis and the weekly poker group. One reason for this is his good nature, another is his repertory of jokes, mainly for male consumption. Charlie rolls ’em in the aisles.

Yet Charlie is one of those men who was, whether he admits it or not, happiest in the war. He got overseas late in the game, but not too late to taste the liberation of Paris and the advance into Germany, and he can never forget the excitement and fulfilment of either. Nor can he forget the German girl he shacked up with after the surrender, in the months of occupation that followed. Ruins, starvation and all, he found the Germans very much to his liking, and he joined a number of other Americans in wondering why the hell they had fought the Krauts instead of the Frogs. Fundamentally, the Germans had the right ideas, and one of those was plumbing.

The nearest he could come to those war days now were bull sessions at the Post, where the men would reminisce about the war and the women they had. But the years after the war were a letdown to men like Charlie. They were conscious of a great lack: there was no place to go, nothing to do, no direction, really. They were disgusted with the untidiness and frustration of civilian life, and they began to blame it on all sorts of things, beginning with socialism (the bastard Truman and his goddam Fair Deal) and ending with Jews, foreigners, do-gooders, pinkos and longhairs.

It was small wonder then that when the Junior Senator from Wisconsin began raising his voice in 1952, Charlie began to listen. Here, at last, was a call to action, a new kind of war for good Americans to wage. McCarthy gave men like Charlie a motive and a function: to rid this country of the traitors in its midst, to hunt down the enemy, to restore America to its rightful owners and guardians. The bugle had sounded and Charlie Mattson joined the colors.

But things have died down a bit since, partly because most of the reds had been smoked out, and partly because there was nobody left in the government who had the guts to keep up the fight against subversion. For there was no doubt in Charlie’s mind that his country was in constant danger of penetration, that the wrong people were getting back into power, and that the only reason the Russians were ahead of us was that they stole our secrets.

But what can you do when people are dumb? Make money and mind your own business and tell your children what the score is. If folks can’t realize, for instance, that this whole integration business is one more communist plot and that the Supreme Court is playing right into their hands, it’s their funeral. [pp 84-86]

More in Anger cover Keystone Books J B Lippincott 1958Charlie Mattson would be the father or grandfather of one type of Trump voter: the white man from the Rust Belt. The man who remembers, and wants back, those good factory jobs. Donald Trump says he’ll restore the jobs, restore “Made in the USA”, restore America. Many want to believe that. And some want the “call to action” that he appears to promise. No matter what it costs in the long run. No matter what it costs others, and us all.

 

First Hundred Hours

In his first hundred hours – from midday Friday to this afternoon, President Donald Trump has been busy. Trump_first_day_as_President signing orders and nominations-wikipedia

Signing executive orders:

  •  Directing all federal agencies to ease the “regulatory burdens” of ObamaCare by waiving or deferring any provision that puts a “fiscal burden on any State” or clients, insurers, medical services and manufacturers. Not included are the specifics on what and how.
  • Imposing a hiring freeze for federal government workers, excluding the military.
  • Withdrawing the USA from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. He also plans to renegotiate NAFTA.
  • Reinstating a ban on federal funds for international development NGOs that provide abortion information or services. First brought in by Ronald Reagan in 1984, this “Mexico City Policy” can adversely affect health care provision for people around the world.
  • Reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, as well as related orders that would expedite their environmental assessment process.

Trump has also told large corporations that he will cut taxes, fast-track their factory openings and remove 75% of government regulations affecting their operation. That’s the carrot. The stick is “substantial border tax” on companies that move production outside the US.

Sunday, he said discussions would begin on moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. With Israel and Palestine both having claims to Jerusalem, that puts the cat amongst the pigeons. He named son-in-law Jared Kushner as senior White House advisor and said Kushner would be part of Middle East negotiations. “If [Jared] can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.” Dad-in-law just made the job even more difficult.

Trump back-up

Trump’s minions have been busy too. On Friday, the White House website was updated. Gone were pages on climate change, civil rights, LGBT and disabled peoples concerns.

Spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway gave us a new term for lies: alternate facts. She did that after Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, tore strips off the media for publishing photos and estimates of the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration. Spicer gave much larger figures not backed up by any evidence whatsoever. “Alternate facts” Conway explained.

inauguration crowds 2017 left, 2009 right wikipedia
2017 Trump Inauguration, left, 2009 Obama Inauguration, right

Trump, his staff and federal offices are not the only ones sweeping with a new broom. On Monday, the Texas Supreme Court said it will revisit a 2015 case allowing spousal benefits for gay city employees.

All this in 100 hours – after a bizarre inauguration day.

Inauguration Day

Trump’s inauguration speech emphasized the ME in aMErica. He went on to insult 40 years worth of presidents sitting beside him in decrying the nest-feathering and self-serving of the previous administrations.

Then he watched the parade. He had wanted a tank in it. I don’t Melania and Donald Trump dance at Liberty Ball wikicommons USAF Staff Sgt Alyssa C Gibsonknow if it was due to the “optics” or the damage one would inflict on the pavement, but I’m glad the answer was no.

His last public function was attending the inaugural balls that, at $50 a ticket, were overpriced. In the First Dance with the First Lady to the song ‘My Way’, he smirked and mouthed the words “my way” directly to the camera. OMG!

I didn’t think it could get worse than that, or more surreal. It has. And it’s only been half a week.

Yesterday, in Value Village in Saint John, I saw a woman with George Orwell’s 1984 in her shopping cart. I wonder how many copies of it have sold lately.

Trump Imagery

What is the appeal of The Donald as president? Trump imagery over Trump policy, I suspect. But why? Reading The Englishman’s Boy, I got a clue from a 1923 fictional Hollywood studio boss:

Last year Mussolini marched his Blackshirts on Rome and the government, the army folded. The government possessed all the material force necessary to prevail, and yet they gave way to a few thousand men with pistols in their pockets. Why? Because Mussolini orchestrated a stream of images more potent than artillery manned by men without spiritual conviction. Thousands of men in black shirts marching the dusty roads, clinging to trains, piling into automobiles. They passed through the countryside like film through a projector, enthralling onlookers. And when Rome fell, Mussolini paraded his Blackshirts through the city, before the cameras, so they could be paraded over and over again, as many times as necessary, trooped through every movie house from Tuscany to Sicily, burning the black shirt and the silver death’s head into every Italian’s brain. [p. 109]trump imagery tv

Guy Vanderhaeghe published The Englishman’s Boy in 1996, long before the phenomenon of Trump the Candidate. Trump moved on a fractured Republican Party, and America, the same way Mussolini moved on a post-WWI fractured Italy and Europe. Like Mussolini, Trump knows the power of image.Donald Trump is showbiz and glamour, gossip and myth. His actual beliefs? Do we know? Do we care? Donald Trump is a green screen of outrageousness. You can project whatever meaning you want on to his words. Be offended or be empowered.

Trump as Green Screen

To his supporters, he is Everyman: just like us, with money. If you squint right, you can see the Horatio Alger story in him. A “small loan” from his father set him up to become fabulously wealthy, so he says. He knows how to play the system. We go to his casinos, hoping that Lady Luck gives us a helping hand. We dream that  we could parlay that stake into our fortune. Those with a more scholarly approach subscribed to Trump University, hoping to learn the art of the deal.

But if we can’t, maybe he’ll do it for us. He will stand up to big corporations and job-stealing nations and immigrants. He’ll out-bully the bully boys of international politics (who are ‘taking advantage of us’). He can arm-wrestle Vladimir Putin figuratively and probably literally.

To his opponents, however, he is racist, sexist – every ‘ist’ that is vile and not part of the mantra of “diversity and inclusivity.” Including fascist. (Here is an excellent article on Trump and fascism.)

Stylistically, he is everything that gilt and mirrors are. Braggadocious, as he might say, decor. But his political and social philosophies are less consistent. So look at his statements and performance and choose your interpretation. For example: he’s anti-women because he insults women; he’s pro-women because of his hiring practices.

Whatever the topic, his very public life provides the canvas upon which you can draw the picture you want to see. He knows the art of the image better, perhaps, than he knows the art of the deal. This election campaign is proving to be more about imagery than about deals and policies.

Battle of Ridgeway

Anger house Ridgeway near Fort Erie ONToday marks a bizarre incident in Canadian history. Irish-Americans invaded Canada, planning to hold it hostage as leverage to end British rule in Ireland. My family’s farmhouse was smack-dab in the middle of what became known as the Battle of Ridgeway. Reading about it, the threads I picked up led far into North American and Anglo-British political and cultural history.

June 2, 1866, soldiers of the US-based Fenian Brotherhood met Canadian militia at a limestone ridge near Ridgeway west of Fort Erie, Ontario. It was a kind of “who’s on first?” fight. The Canadians had no horses to pull ammunition wagons so only had what they could carry. The Fenians had dumped Battle of Ridgeway illustration, showing IRA flagmuch of their ammunition because it had got too heavy after a day of carrying it all. Information and communication on both sides were misinterpreted, resulting in costly mistakes.

The Fenians were American Civil War veterans, straight from battle. The Canadians were volunteer part-time militia who had never seen action.  Due to budget constraints, many had never fired a live round.

At the end of the day, both sides had dead and wounded. The Fenians, who wanted to move west, were pushed back east to Fort Erie. But then the Canadians retreated. The newspaper clipping Fenians are coming June 1 1866 Irish-AmericansFenians celebrated their victory and planned their next move. And then they saw US gunboats in the Niagara River pointed at them. American and Canadian authorities picked them up and imprisoned them briefly.

“We are the Fenian Brotherhood, skilled in the arts of war. And we’re going to fight for Ireland, the land we adore. Many battles we have won, along with the boys in blue. And we’ll go and capture Canada, for we’ve nothing else to do.”

Their marching song pretty much explains the Fenians. They had finished fighting in the Union Army just a year before. While the country tried to pick up the pieces after the devastation of the Civil War and President Lincoln’s assassination, the Irish-Americans were looking at the troubles in the homeland they had been forced to leave. The US government knew the Fenian plan but ignored it until the last minute. Their action might provide leverage for US negotiations with Britain as well. Indeed, on June 6, Britain paid the US $15 million for war damages caused by its commerce with the Confederacy and the US enacted laws to stop acts of aggression from within its borders.

Fenian flag 1866 crwflags.com
Fenian Flag 1866

In Britain, they downplayed it because technically it was a British military loss to the Irish, the first in over 100 years. In Ireland, they celebrated it for the same reason. Fifty years later in Ireland, the name of the Fenian Brotherhood’s invading force was resurrected: the Irish Republican Army.

In Canada, the government downplayed the battle because it was a military loss with significant casualties. At the same time, they were debating confederation of the four provinces. That spring’s Fenian campaign of raids (in New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario) convinced enough people that, individually, each was more vulnerable than if they united. In 1867 the vote was for Maple Leaf Forever sheet music coverConfederation. That same year, Alexander Muir, a veteran of Ridgeway wrote The Maple Leaf Forever, long an unofficial anthem.

The date of the battle was chosen in 1890 as Decoration Day, commemorating Canada’s war dead. That stood until 1931 when November 11th replaced it as Remembrance Day. The date and story of the Battle of Ridgeway faded into obscurity.

The Anger house, at the corner of Ridge and Bertie roads, holds its memories of that day. The shed that served as a field hospital still stands and the brickwork of the house is scarred by bullet holes.

Sources

Amazon link for Ridgeway by Peter VronskyFor more, see Peter Vronsky’s Ridgeway (left), or an introduction by him at fenians.org.  Other good accounts are:  

The American Legion’s Burnpit,

The Wild Geese Irish history site,

history.net,

“Here comes that damned Green Flag again”,

Loyal Orange Lodge, and

“The Fenian Raids” by Capt. (N) (Ret’d) M. Braham, CD.

An excellent novel about the Fenians is The Roof Walkers by Keith Henderson (click title or image below left for Amazon). 

On eBay – Fenian Raids Battle of Ridgeway

 

Ford Branding

Rob Ford at Ford Nation t-shirt boothTobacco companies are probably heaving a huge sigh of relief.  As far as we know, no cigarettes were smoked by Mayor Rob Ford.  So they do not need to distance themselves and their brands from him. One of few industries spared.

Due to the mayor’s littering, Newfoundland’s Iceberg Vodka distillery released a statement decrying drinking and driving.  Ford Motor Company said its logo can’t be used on t-shirts made by his supporters.  CFL officials must have had kittens seeing him wearing a Toronto Argonauts jersey while making his infamous statements Thursday about whom he was going to sue and why.

shocked cat with text Rob Ford Eats What?And speaking of kittens, I wonder when a cat food company will distance themselves from him after all of his revelations on Thursday.

We made a point of watching The Daily Show and the Colbert Report Thursday night.  This was way too good for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to pass up.  They and every other comedian could not believe he had actually said what he said.  In a nation grown accustomed to dirty little scandals like Anthony Weiner’s crotch ‘selfies’, Elliot Spitzer’s call-girls and a President’s hair-splitting denials of what exactly he dailyshow-14-Nov-13was doing with an intern, you would think nothing could shock American late night tv hosts.  So when the mayor of a Canadian city grosses them out, that’s an accomplishment of some sort.

I’m not a fan of Saturday Night Live, but I saw they plan to do something about him in their show this week.  You know we’ll be watching, along with the rest of Canada – except for maybe a few truly mortified Torontonians.

iceberg vodka-bottle-TO-police-picCongratulations, Mayor Ford, you have well and truly made Toronto a memorable city.  And provided hours of entertainment, both with your own words and the commentaries on them.  Thank you.  I haven’t enjoyed watching the news so much since President Clinton was Bad Billy.  Please don’t stop now!

A Nation’s Songs

Whatever one might think of the US of A, they got good anthems. Watching Monday’s Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir Alicia Olatuja nydailynewsPresidential Inauguration, the high point for me was the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir giving it to the Battle Hymn of the Republic. What a song!  What voices!  (click to hear)

Wonderful as it is, the Battle Hymn of the Republic isn’t the only great song that Americans can sing at special events. And they all came out at President Obama’s Inauguration. James Taylor sang America the Beautiful and Kelly Clarkson gave a nice country twang to My Country tis of Thee. Beyoncé closed out the nation’s music with the official anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.

Star-Spangled-Banner-1908-1919 Lib of Congress PDI especially like The Star-Spangled Banner because of the story behind it. As a Canadian, I feel a bit proprietorial about it. It came from an 1814 British Navy attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. The American forces won that battle and the tattered flag still proudly flew atop the fort. That sight prompted poet Francis Scott Key to write the words that, when set to music, became the national anthem. Despite winning that battle, the Americans lost the war. But they got a great anthem out of it.  Lemons and lemonade: the fabled American entrepreneurial spirit.

My Country tis of Thee was the de facto anthem prior to the official selection of The Star-Spangled Banner in 1931. It uses the same melody as the older God Save the King/Queen. America the Beautiful also was used as an anthem and efforts have continued through the years to make it the official anthem or at least an official national hymn. The arguments presented for it as national anthem are that, compared to The Star-Spangled Banner, its melodic arrangement is easier to sing and its sentiments are not evocative of war.

Anthem double meanings

Hartford circus fire 6 Jul 1944The official national march of the US is The Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa. It is customarily played after the President gives a speech at a public event or ceremony. In circus and entertainment venues, it is called “the Disaster March” and is played only to signal to performers and personnel that there is a serious emergency.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic has its origins in the Civil War, on the Union side. But the tune was written a bit earlier, in 1856, being first used in a camp hymn called “Canaan’s Happy Shore” or “Brothers, Will You Meet Me?”. Early in the Civil War, Union soldiers used the tune as a marching song, with their own words. “John Brown’s body lies a’mouldering in the grave” was a bit of poking fun at one of their members named John Brown and the memory of the anthem sheet music Battle_Hymn_of_the_Republic_Lib of Congress abolitionist John Brown who was hung after an attack on the Armory at Harper’s Ferry in 1859.

In November 1861 Julia Ward Howe put new words to the tune at the request of a friend, Rev. James Freeman Clarke. The Battle Hymn of the Republic as we know it was born. Indeed, the melody and the words do stir one to an overwhelming urge to march or at minimum stand to attention and salute. It has become perhaps the pre-eminent national hymn of the US. For the most part, its allegiance to one side of the Civil War is overlooked.

Powerful music all. And in the lyrics, melody or musical adaptation of each, a part of the history of the nation is told.

Reading History

Well-written and well-researched historical fiction gives the reader a two-fer:  a good story and a history lesson that you may have slept through during school.

Amazon link for The Boleyn Inheritance historical fiction
Click for Amazon

Recently, I’ve been living in the Tudor and Plantagenet eras courtesy of Philippa Gregory.  I started with the Boleyn sisters books, made into movies that I haven’t seen but I hope do justice to the books and their subjects.  I don’t know how it would be possible to make a bad movie out of the historical material itself and the treatment given the characters by Ms. Gregory.

Next I read the novels about the other characters in the Henry VIII saga:  The Constant Princess tells of his Amazon link for The Queen's Fool
first wife, Katherine of Aragon.   The Queen’s Fool tells of his childrens’ reigns, Edward, then Mary and ending with the ascension of Elizabeth.  The Other Queen is about Mary Queen of Scots in the later years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign.  It is the only one that I kind of wanted to end.  I knew what happened to her:  she ended up “with ‘er ‘ead tucked underneath her arm” and, with the interminable plotting and moving about the countryside, I found myself thinking “please somebody, chop her head off and be done with it.”

Then I moved to The White Queen and The Red Queen, books about the predecessors of the Tudors, the Amazon link for The Lady of the Rivers by P GregoryPlantagenets and the War of the Roses.  There are two more books in this series, telling the stories of the mother of Edward IV’s Queen Elizabeth (The Lady of the Rivers) and the daughters of the Earl of Warwick (The Kingmaker’s Daughter).

You’ll notice a similarity in topic here – these are stories told from the woman’s point of view.  Even if you were the most dedicated history student, you may well have not been taught much about the queen consorts or dowager queens of England.  Ms. Gregory will fill in those gaps for you as well as bringing to life the monarchs they married or mothered.

A bibliography is always appended to Ms Gregory’s books.  I read it thoroughly and make a list of the books I want to Amazon link for The Other Boleyn Girl dvdfind.  She also writes a note explaining what is historical fact and what is speculation or fiction.  After finishing one of her novels, I always spend an evening googling the people and the era.  She makes me want to know more about them and what I find matches pretty well with what I’ve read in her books.

A while ago, I listened to a CBC radio interview with a writer about his novel set in the American West (sorry, can’t find the details online).  He said he doesn’t worry about historical accuracy because readers want a good story, not to learn about an era so he just creates his own world.  I guess that applies for some readers but not me.  If I’m going to invest my time reading an era-specific book, I want it to accurately tell me about that era and I want to know where Amazon link for The Last Templar by Michael Jecks
it deviates from history.  Philippa Gregory does that, as does Michael Jecks in his medieval England mysteries.  I would think that if you are going to research and travel in order to get the flavour of a historical era and the people living in it, as the writer I heard interviewed said he does, you might as well present your fictional story in a historically accurate setting.  As my father always said, if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Recorded Campaigning

This election I don’t know who I’m going to vote for.  When the electioneering machine hand cutting phone connection on election callsstarted cranking up, so did the recorded messages.  You know, the taped messages that lazy and/or cheap telemarketers seem to like.  Saves them paying real people in India or Moncton to annoy householders at dinnertime.  This election, it seems to me, there’s been more of these recorded calls coming from candidates and pollsters.

“Hi, I’m blahblah for the blahblah party and I want your vote October 6th.”  Not bloody likely, I say to the recording and hang up.  I’ve waited through the spiel for the option to press a key to get taken off the calling list.  It isn’t there.  So I made a vow:  I will not vote for any party that phones me with a recorded message.  The Liberals were first out of the gate, no problem.  I wouldn’t vote for Dalton McGuinty if he came to my house and made my dinner.  Second was the Conservatives, a recording for Tim Hudak at 5:45 pm.  No danger I was going to vote Conservative anyway, but what are they thinking?  What are most people doing at that time?  Either making dinner or eating it.

So I thought it was clear sailing.  Whether because they don’t have sufficient resources or that they have the sense to know how alienating such calls are, I hadn’t had a recorded message from the NDP.  Hadn’t had any live NDP calls either.  Then, last Friday evening, 6:30, making dinner – phone rings.  “Hi, I’m Kathy Cornish … NDP candidate…”  No, it wasn’t really her.  I’d have talked to the real Kathy Cornish.  Wouldn’t have been thrilled with her timing, but was even less thrilled with it being a recording.

Telephone booth art installation by Mark Jenkins, photo wikicommons storker 2005The only actual human who has called campaigning was a lady on behalf of our Conservative candidate Jeff Yurek.  I told her I wouldn’t be voting for his party under any circumstances, but I appreciated having a real person doing the calling.  She said many people prefer the recorded calls.  I asked why and she said she didn’t know.  I cannot imagine.  Maybe easier to hang up on?

And pollsters – I don’t mind them usually.  They have a job to do and I’m usually willing to help them.  But not an automated one.  For pollsters and candidates alike, if you can’t be bothered actually having a human call me, I can’t believe my opinion or vote would have much sway with you.

So I’m voting with my phone.  Right now, the choices left to me in my riding are the Freedom Party or the Greens.  They are the only ones who have not bothered me with phone calls, either recorded or live.

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
Jim John and Dorothy, Gander River 1979Act.  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.

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.

Rwanda

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.