Tag Archives: politics

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.

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.


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.

Hats off (or on) to the past few days!

Princess Beatrice and her hatIt’s been quite a four days – perhaps best summarized with The Hat.  Everybody’s had a go at this new game.  Friday was the birth of The Hat.

Friday was a bank holiday in the UK so that everyone could watch The Royal Wedding.   Millions of us elsewhere also watched.  The Hat made its first appearance.

White House, with hats, from FacebookBut while we were watching the fairy tale wedding, in the White House other events were being watched.  Friday, so we learned, was also the culmination of 10 years of The Hunt for Osama bin Laden.  The Hat was there, helping.

Patrick Chan, doing victory lap at WorldsAlso on Friday, Patrick Chan won gold at the World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow – hurray Patrick, hurray Canada.  (no hat)

Sunday, Celebrity Apprentice was pre-empted in the last few critical moments (would Nene pleasepleaseplease be fired?  No – she Star, Hope and Nene in the boardroomwasn’t, ohno!)  The Hat should have been there – this is its natural habitat.  Some of the outfits worn by these “celebrity” women would fit right in those worn by the Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice.

Donald Trump, with The Hat, from FacebookWhy did President Obama interrupt The Donald?  Osama bin Laden had Osama bin Laden, in The Hat, from Facebookbeen killed by US troops.  Before this news was made public, The Hat had already found its way to bin Laden’s head.

Monday, Canada’s election produced an odd result.  A Conservative majority with (for the first time ever) the NDP as official Opposition.  The Liberals and Michael Ignatieff, with The Hatthe Bloc were pretty much wiped off the political map.  Gilles Duceppe said his goodbyes to his party Monday evening, Michael Ignatieff waited until Tuesday morning.  The Hat talked him into it.

Brilliant Speed, with The HatAnd coming up on Saturday, hats will be big in Louisville.  It’s the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby.  Having done my bit at photoshopping The Hat, I’m definitely rooting for Brilliant Speed who kindly loaned me his head.

The Hat on Princess Beatrice is an AP photo from Friday’s wedding.  The Hat on Michael Ignatieff was done by Jim Stewart.  The others of The Hat are from Facebook.  The photo of Patrick Chan is by AP and the boardroom photo of Team ASAP is from buddytv.

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.

The King and Us

George VI portraitColin First as George VI, in The King's SpeechWallis Simpson makes me think that there may well be a God, and that He is on “our” side.  I cannot imagine what the world would look like had Edward VIII remained on the throne.  And it’s thanks to Wallis Simpson that he didn’t.

He came to the throne in 1936 when the build up to WWII was already taking place.  Hitler had firm control of Germany and was looking to expand that control further in Europe.  Neville Chamberlain, British PM at the time, believed the best way to handle Hitler’s Germany was through “appeasement” – let him have what he wants and he’ll leave us alone.  Edward VIII, it seems, went even further than appeasement.  He and Wallis were pretty close to Nazi-sympathizers.  They enjoyed socializing with high-ranking Nazi officials.

Edward VIII, Duke & Duchess of Windsor, at home with pugsNow, maybe that was Wallis’ choice more than his.  It seems that she did the thinking in that family.  But I believe that if it hadn’t been her, it would have been someone else leading him around by the nose.  The one thing that seems very clear from reading history from that time is that Edward was a fun-loving man who really didn’t want to be bothered with heavy matters of state.  So he may have fallen in love with another woman who was marriage material, but based on assessments of his personality she probably wouldn’t have been any more competent as a war-time Queen than he would be a war-time King.

"We Four" at home, with dogsAs unsuitable as Edward was to inherit his father’s crown, so too seemed Albert, his younger brother the Duke of York.  As second in line, he’d never really had to worry about wearing the crown.  An introspective man, he wanted to pursue his own interests.  As Duke of York, that was just fine.  He married a strong woman, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.  She, a perfect home-grown match for a royal marriage, had been long courted by him and had refused his proposals.  She didn’t want a life anywhere in the Royal Family.  At that time, life as the central Royal didn’t seem a likelihood!

Edward VIII to Duke of Windsor

Poor Bertie stuttered badly, but it didn’t really matter – he wasn’t going to be in a position where public speaking was a major part of the job.  Then the unthinkable happened.  After George V’s death, David became Edward VIII and he refused to give up the American twice-divorced Wallis Simpson.  Parliament refused to waive the rules about divorced persons joining the Royal Family and there was the abdication crisis.  That was a crisis for the country.  Succession to the Throne had to be a familial crisis for Bertie and Elizabeth and the two Princesses.  “We Four”, as the Duke of York called his family, had a good and comfortable life mapped out near the limelight and with benefits, but not in the limelight.

Coronation photo of George VI and familyBut step up he did, and became George VI.  Elizabeth became a stalwart Queen consort.  Britain, still under Chamberlain as PM, engaged in war with Germany and won.  George VI truly lived up to the oath that England’s monarchs take in that being King probably cost him his life.  His daughter Elizabeth has gone on to be one of the two longest-reigning British monarchs ever.  And she has seen the Royal Family through some spectacularly rocky times during those decades.  She’s done it with grace and wisdom, just like her father and mother.

I haven’t yet seen the movie The King’s Speech, but I hope Colin Firth wins the Oscar for Best Actor – for his sake and Queen Elizabeth’s.

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.

SarahPac's Take back the 20 map of US and TargetsIt 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!

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.

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 were looking at it, 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” and flicked the still-beating heart over the side of the boat into the sea. So much for the sanctity of life, I thought.