Attawapiskat ‘Solution’

In a Sun Media op-ed column this week, Jerry Agar suggests a solution for the people of house interior Attawapiskat 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 Solution

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  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. (Sorry, Sun and CBC articles cited are no longer available online.)

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Dec. 25/11)

Mother of the Year

Becky bashes in Barlow doorAn anonymous call to Child Services, Max taken back into care “while we investigate.” Becky wrung the truth out of Kylie, her first suspect, and believes she didn’t do it.

That leaves Tracy. It is a reasonable assumption. So Becky grabs a sledge hammer from Owen’s truck and proceeds to bash the Barlow door in.

Owen, Jason and Steve watch BeckyMeanwhile, Owen, Jason and Steve stand around with their fingers – well, watching her with their mouths open. They do nothing useful to stop her.

After she finally breaks the door through, she goes after Tracy. Tracy cowers, oh I’m so frightened (she who had no compunction about killing her former lover with a large Ken trying to stop Beckyornament), Steve still stands around, absolutely useless, and Ken is the only man with the wherewithal to try to physically restrain Becky. She manages to bash pretty much all the furniture and most of the ornaments in the Barlow dining room.

glass smashing on Barlow sideboardEventually Steve sees his way clear to tell her it was he who phoned the social workers. Why didn’t he do that in the first place? He had plenty of time to do so. He could have stopped her rampage. But he didn’t. He did absolutely nothing. Afraid of Becky or Tracy? Tracy is my bet.

foster dad taking Max from BeckySo, of course, Becky would be deemed unfit to have custody of a child after that little performance. Oh, I just feel so sorry for Becky. If she were the “real” mother, and if social services weren’t involved, her actions would be seen as the epitome of motherhood – a mother Grizzly protecting her cub. But she’s not, and they are. So instead of Mother of the Year for her, there’s a lot of tut-tutting from them and, well, of course he’ll be better off with someone else.

Poor, poor Becky. She was the best thing ever for Max, and he for her. And Steve? She was the best thing for him too.

Surprise! The Aunties

Sunita's aunties find out Dev's lossesIn the Canadian time-line, we got a lovely Christmas present this week from summertime Weatherfield: the return of Sunita’s Aunties from India. They are just a delight, as long as you are not a family member and they do not choose to visit you!

Merry Solstice

Whatever the name of the event you’re celebrating, Happy It. The one thing that all the festivities happening at the time of the winter solstice solstice Christmas tree with Elsie cathave in common is that they are celebrations of life and giving and sacrifice.

It’s supposed to be a happy time and that is exactly why it often isn’t. One thing I always enjoy, in my jaundiced view of the hype of buying and getting and enforced cheeriness, is giving away. Money, time or stuff – no matter how grinch-like I’ve felt, writing cheques for charity and putting money in the Salvation Army kettles always makes me feel good.

Charities rely on that feeling of goodwill in people. Food banks need the festive season generosity of donors for the bleak months that follow. When people are still paying off December debts and, in our hemisphere, feeling the cold and dark of winter, donations drop. The reserve from December gets them through.

Animal shelters need money and supplies to deal with the numbers of animals dumped on them during and after the Big Day(s). The puppy, so cute with a big red bow, a month later is making a mess in the house that nobody has time to deal with, so out puppy goes. “She needs Charlie under tree opening presentsa home where somebody’s home all day”, they say to shelter staff tired after having heard that 20 times that day.

Food banks, soup kitchens, animal shelters: all staffed by volunteers who also would like some time off for holiday celebrations. They know their work will increase in the coming months. But people and animals still need to eat every day. So if you’re not doing anything – and even if you are – can you spare a few hours? Can you serve at the church basement dinner so that one of the regular workers can put his or her feet up and relax?

Easy Solstice giving

When you’re knocking fellow shoppers over at Wal-Mart to get the last-minute toy for your kid’s gift list, why not grab a second one? Give it to some other kid who won’t be getting it from his parents. When you’re getting a new hair bow for Fifi because it’s so cute, why not pick up a dog brush for your local animal shelter? They always need leashes, collars, bowls and supplies. If you don’t have a birdfeeder, buy one and a bag of seed for your spouse or kid. It’s a long, cold winter for little birds.

When you’re figuring out your holiday meal place settings, add another one for a neighbour who is alone. Or maybe they’d rather not join your family but would appreciate a hot plate of food or a homemade pie.

cats under Christmas treeI spent one Christmas alone in a new apartment. I’d made toys for the cats and was happy to spend the day with them. Then my landlord’s son came to my door, holding a foil-wrapped plate. “Mom thought you might like this,” he said and scurried away. It was the most delicious Christmas meal ever, and not just because she was a good cook. It was that they had thought of me. Have a wonderful Solstice and Season.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Dec. 18/11)

Paradise Lost

Dreams seemingly attained: Paradise found. Awakening to reality: Paradise lost. Three scenes this week showed this, in very different ways with different levels of drama.

Tyrone loses

Tyrone at Webster houseTuesday, Tyrone going to see Kevin, telling him that it was taking too much of a toll to keep fighting him, keep hating him. It was doing more damage to him, Tyrone, than Kevin was worth. Let’s get along as work partners. But I’ll never be your mate. Wise words from Tyrone.

He’d had more than he ever imagined Tyronepossible: a home, wife, child, his own business co-owned with his best mate. That mate, Kevin, destroyed Tyrone’s paradise. Now Tyrone has the guilt of his anger almost causing Kevin’s death. You can be justified in despising someone for their actions, but you will pay just as high a price as they will. The disappointment and rancour hurts you as much as their actions have.

Becky’s children

Then Friday, Becky seeing her dream walk away. Max, taken back into care, while social workers sort out the mess caused by Kylie putting a For Sale sign on a child and Becky says goodbye to MaxBecky and Steve meeting her price. Becky has had to deal with Tracey pretending to be a responsible parent of Steve’s child. She’s had to deal with Steve believing Tracey and being worried about being a good father. She has had to deal with Steve making it clear that Amy is his child, not Becky’s, and that Max, whatever he is to Steve, is Becky’s concern. She’s had Tracey threatening to take Amy away, and is trying to cope with her own grief over that as well as Steve’s. While Steve continued to push her away: ‘like it matters to you’ type statements.

But she’s still got Max, until Steve takes a gamble on getting Child Services involved. Becky packs up toy train setTell the truth, he thinks, then no one can blackmail anyone. Good in theory, but David decides to do the same thing. None of them win, especially not Max. He’s uprooted again and sent to a foster home. I only hope it’s the same one he was in before. Poor little child, poor Becky.

An English teacher

The unraveling of John Stape.  Fiz finding out what he’s been doing and where Ches has been. The rescue after John takes off from the Hoyles’ basement. The camera work was great, showing him Fizz holding Hope in baby roomscurrying down the ginnel to his back door. Maria screams, police arrive. John is gone. Out the back, Maria says.

The final moments when Fiz sends Ches home to Katie and carefully locks and bolts the door. You know then that John is in the house.

But where? I never thought of the attic, and don’t know how he got from the back yard upstairs. But my blood ran cold when the camera moved upward from Fiz Paradise Lost - John in attic reading Miltonsleeping in her bed to John, above in the attic, reading Milton’s Paradise Lost.

All of this happened because he wanted to teach again. All he ever wanted to do was be an English teacher. (Also see my A defence of John Stape.)

Island Dogs

Island Petwear sign, Gateway Village PEIOn our recent trip to PEI, we stopped to get our bearings in Gateway Village at Borden-Carleton, just off the bridge. Walking around, saw a pet store with an open sign.That’s all the dogs and I needed. In we went to Island Petwear.

Proprietor Margaret Wedge and her assistant were unpacking. They Leo wearing PEI tartan scarfhad just returned from a dog show in Charlottetown. But they were happy to show us around their store and make a fuss over the dogs.

If you’re in the market for some winter clothes for your pooch, you’d love Island Petwear. If you live nearby, you can do one-stop Christmas shopping for all the dogs on your list. Coats, beds, leashes, toys and food. If you’re not close, visit their Facebook page.

A clotheshorse dog

Red leather dog coatLeo and Charlie had a great time, sniffing around, looking at the toys and asking for treats. Then I started trying clothes on them. Leo, at least, enjoyed it and I’d have loved to buy this beautiful red leather and faux-fur number for him. But we were traveling light and he didn’t actually need a new coat. Charlie did, so he got a reversible flannel hand-made wrap-around jacket.

reversible dog coatLovely dog coats, made by Margaret with beautiful craftsmanship and design. And if you want your dog to show support for the ‘underdog’, there are Toronto Maple Leaf sweaters (as well as other teams).

If I lived in PEI, I’d be a regular at Island Petwear. Nice store, products and people – what more could you ask for. Our stop made a Margaret Wedge, prop. Island Petwearfun beginning for a very pet-friendly vacation in PEI. Absolutely no problem at any motel about the dogs staying. Also lots of coastline and woods for long walks and runs. The dogs had a great time, and so did we.


Notre Dame du Mont Carmel, Ile St-Jean

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

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

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

Acadien history in a graveyard

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

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

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

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

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

(Click photos for larger views)


Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Dec. 11/11)

Live fast, die old

Elsie and Dennis Tanner 1st episode Coronation StreetI didn’t watch Coronation Street when the Tanners lived there. But you can’t be a Corrie fan without knowing of Elsie Tanner. I’ve seen her and her kids Dennis and Linda in “Classic” episodes on video. So I feel like I know the family. Maybe that’s why I listened, enthralled, as Dennis told Rita about his mother’s life after she moved away.

I know it’s just a story, but I cried picturing Elsie and her new man living in Portugal, running a pub for British ex-pats. I could see her, still glamorous at 81, driving fast in a red sportscar Dennis and Rita toasting Elsie in shelterwith the top down. And I could picture the crash that took the lives of Elsie and her husband Bill on a winding mountainous road. “She used to say the way I carried on, I’d live fast and die young. Trust her to go one further – live fast and die flamin’ ancient,”  Dennis said.

Pat PhoenixI’m glad to know what happened to her, and I’m glad she had a good life. That’s the funny thing about Coronation Street and other long-running serials. You never forget the people from before, even if you never actually saw them and if they haven’t been mentioned for decades. I know that the real Elsie, actress Pat Phoenix, was just as glorious as her character and also died, but unfortunately at a much younger age.

Dennis Tanner Street history

The return of Philip Lowrie as Dennis Tanner has stirred up carving of name Dennis Tanner at No. 11 Coronation Streetmemories of the old Coronation Street. It’s been wonderful. I never knew about the carving on the window frame of Number 11. Apparently, it has always been there and not just created for the scene on Monday when he rubs his finger over it. We only knew then that he was a regular at the homeless shelter who came to Coronation Street with Sophie and Sian. But Rita knew who he was the minute she saw him.

So it’s been a week of warm and cozy reminiscing – in story and reality. How it must Ken Barlow greets Dennis Tanner in Roversfeel for Ken Barlow, and Bill Roache, to have an old friend back after 43 years. Both of them were in the very first episode. For other long-time actors who worked with Mr. Lowrie, it must be a thrill having him back. And the new ones, who weren’t even born when he left the show, are having a chance to step back in Coronation Street history.

1961-1962 Actors’ Strike

Mr. Lowrie left the show during an actors’ strike that crippled Coronation Street and all British television from November 1961 to April 1962. During the strike, the writers had Seals in Walkers' bathtub 1962 Coronation Streetto create stories using only the 14 actors who were on long-term contract. Equity did not cover children and animal actors. So extensive use was made of them during this period. Among the most famous of these were the seals that Dennis Tanner housed in the Walkers’ bathtub at the Rovers. They were part of a show that he tried to stage when an ambitious but not-so-successful young impresario. In real life, the seals were not union members so could provide a storyline without the need of Equity actors. Of course, I thought of the seals this week when Dennis mentioned his life in show business.

Sophie, Mrs. Cropper, Dennis and Sian in Roy's cafeMr. Lowrie’s contract ran out during the strike, so Dennis left the street right after the seal fiasco. He returned a year later and stayed until 1968. Now back again, he’s achieved a Guinness World Record for the longest gap in appearances of a character on a television series. Welcome home, Philip and Dennis.


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

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

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

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

An old problem two decades ago

Amazon link for The Dispossessed
Click for Amazon link

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

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

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

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Dec. 4/11)

Marriages of Convenience

“For generations, the cream of British aristocracy and the crowned heads of Europe have Mary saying the Royal Family burnt their bridges with herintermingled to produce a bloodline like vintage champagne. Then what do they go and do? Pour in a quart of brown ale. I’m surprised they haven’t booked the Rovers for afterwards.” I have not heard such a wonderful summary of the debate over royalty marrying non-royalty as Mary gave about William and Kate’s wedding in Tuesday’s episode.

Coat of Arms of Catherine, Duchess of CambridgeLike many, I have a favourable impression of Miss Kate Middleton, purveyor of party supplies, now Catherine, HRH Princess William of Wales, Duchess of Cambridge, Countess of Strathearn, Baroness Carrickfergus. And future Queen. However, it will be hard to think of her again without picturing a quart of brown ale.

An advantage of being seven months behind the UK broadcast dates is that this week we got to relive the Royal Wedding. It was wonderful. The banner in the Rovers, the commemorative plate in Graeme’s apartment. It took me back to the all night television watching I did last April, and added some lovely twists.

Pontificating on royal and other marriages

It worked nicely into the Graeme and Xin immigration marriage Graeme in Kabin telling Mary she has destroyed livesstory. Mary had pronounced that the primary purpose of Royal marriages is as alliances for purposes of bloodlines and politics. Of course, that flew right in the face of her earlier statement that marriage ought to be for love only. When she had said that, she was justifying her reporting Graeme and Xin’s marriage scam to the immigration office.

When Rita questioned her inconsistency in argument, she backed down gracefully and admitted she Mary watches as Graeme talks to Xin - marriages of conveniencehad done wrong in turning them in. She then, in her home on wheels, rode to their rescue. She helped Graeme find Xin, and singlehandedly changed a flat tire while quizzing them on their knowledge of each other.

Immigration via royalty

But we weren’t done with pontificating on the Royal Wedding. The immigration officer Bob Stephenson in Rovers saying he can't look at those two any longergave a republican view. “I’d line the lot of them up against the – well, I’d favour an elected head of state,” he opined in the Rovers as he pointed along the wall where he could imagine them all lined up. He looked at the royal lineage from the perspective of his position. He made the valid point that his job is to “stop marriages of convenience, marriages that let undesirable foreigners into this country. The Royal Family has been doing that for centuries.”

During the interview in the apartment of “Mr. and Mrs. Proctor”, Graeme quickly realized that hanging the Royal Wedding plate had not worked quite as intended – to show his and Xin’s patriotism. He blamed its presence on a wedding gift giver and smashed it.

Immigration officer and Mary arguingWhat a treat Bob Stephenson from the UK Border Agency was! I do hope he has to return to deal with Mary over the car crash they had – or anything (except Xin’s new visa being taken away). He and Mary together are just wonderful. I wonder if the Queen was amused by the episode.

The real deal, darling!

Audrey with Marcia and friends in barAnd speaking of queens, Audrey meeting “Marcia” and friends Friday was, well, priceless. Please, can we see these ladies again?