Damariscotta, Maine, is a village about forty percent of the way to Canada along the Atlantic coast, with about 2500 people living in it, and at least that many gawping at it at any given time. It’s cuter than a baby trying to eat an apple.
Damariscotta is an Indian name that means something in Indian, I suppose. I don’t speak Abenaki, and neither do Abenakis, so there’s no use askin’, but I think it means: “Place we’ll burn down during King Philip’s War, and again a few times whenever we’re bored and the sheriff’s drunk during the French And Indian Wars.” The colonists got jealous of the Indians getting to burn the place down fortnightly, and burned the place down themselves so the British couldn’t occupy it during the Revolutionary War, or maybe so the bank couldn’t repossess it, I can’t remember, I was very young back then.
The restaurant was identified to me as haunted, anyway. I was likewise informed that there’s a tour that points out all the local haunted houses, which includes most every building in town but the Rexall. No one ever wants to die and haunt a Rexall. It ain’t dignified. I believe to a certainty that I was supposed to be interested in the fact that the building I was in was haunted by someone besides a man with a liquor license, but I have a defective nature and I wasn’t; but I was fascinated to learn that out-of-plumb doorframes, squirrels in the attic, and a hint of cupidity is enough to get you a paying job lying to people “from away.” And to think I’ve been lying to strangers for free all these years, and on more diverse topics.
There’s an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed in small cities in the East. The really nice looking cities are made of brick, and all the buildings look like one another, because everything that was there before burned down eleven or four or nine times, until the residents all decided brick buildings were cheaper than a fire department, and built everything at the same time under a regime of architectural and intellectual coherence that is not abroad in the land just now. Damariscotta’s like that; Providence, Rhode Island, parts of Boston, and Portland, Maine are too.
One likewise cannot help but notice that in Damariscotta, the rhythm of the lovely brick buildings, with the occasional gawjus neoclassical residence smattered in, is broken only by the public library, which is fairly new, and built in the Prairie/International/Cow Barn/Reform School style, because reasons. There’s a plaque on the sidewalk that declares the entire downtown a member of the National Register of Historic Places, so you have to check with someone official about the color of the mortar you’re using to fix a brick on your haunted ice cream parlor or haunted Kinko’s or whatever you’ve got, but the town can hire Frank Lloyd Wrong to design the library and place it there like a dead cat at a picnic.
October 17, 2013
June 12, 2013
David Akin in the Toronto Sun:
The Canadian government announced new measures Tuesday that will force oil, gas, and mining companies to publicly disclose every penny they pay to any government at home or around the world.
The move is seen as an anti-corruption measure and one that many activists groups that work in the developing world, such as Oxfam, have been demanding for years, particularly since Canada is home to a majority of the world’s mining companies.
The European Union and the United States have already moved towards mandatory reporting requirements for their mining companies.
There have been cases in some developing countries where multinationals pay a host government substantial sums for the rights to oil, gas or minerals, but the local population complains that they do not know how much their governments are getting and, as a result, cannot demand their governments spend some of that wealth on them.
It’s not just in developing countries, either, as some First Nations activists have complained that they can’t get information on what their band councils receive in various resource development deals here in Canada. Of course, some (many?) deals get done with a bit of bribery to sweeten the attraction, but not every country will have (or enforce) rules like this.
February 11, 2013
Over the weekend, Colby Cosh posted this depressing box-and-whisker plot (aka “boxplot”) from statistical data on First Nations communities:
Why did I want to look at this information this way? Because Canada actually performed an inadvertent natural experiment with residential schools: in New Brunswick (and in Prince Edward Island) they did not exist. If the schools had major negative effects on social welfare flowing forward into the future we now inhabit, New Brunswick’s Indians would be expected to do better than those in other provinces. And that does turn out to be the case. You can see that the top three-quarters of New Brunswick Indian communities would all be above the median even in neighbouring Nova Scotia, whose FN communities might otherwise be expected to be quite comparable. (Remember that each community, however large, is just one point in these data. Toronto’s one point, with an index value of 84. So is Kasabonika Lake, estimated 2006 population 680, index value 47.)
On the other hand, and this is exactly the kind of thing boxplots are meant to help one notice, the big between-provinces difference between First Nations communities isn’t the difference between New Brunswick and everybody else. It’s the difference between the Prairie Provinces and everybody else including New Brunswick — to such a degree, in fact, that Canada probably should not be conceptually broken down into “settler” and “aboriginal” tiers, but into three tiers, with prairie Indians enjoying a distinct species of misery. (This shows up in other, less obvious ways in the boxplot diagram. You notice how many lower-side outliers there are in Saskatchewan? That dangling trail of dots turns out to consist of Indian and Métis towns in the province’s north — communities that are significantly or even mostly aboriginal, but that aren’t coded as “FN” in the dataset.)
I fear that the First Nations data for Alberta are of particular note here: on the right half of the diagram we can see that Alberta’s resource wealth (in 2006, remember) helped nudge the province ahead of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in overall social-development measures, but it doesn’t seem to have paid off very well for Indians. This isn’t a surprising outcome, mind you, if you live in Alberta; we have rich Indian bands and plenty of highly visible band-owned businesses, but the universities are not yet full of high-achieving members of those bands, and the downtown shelters in Edmonton, sad to say, still are.
January 25, 2013
In the Globe and Mail, Tom Flanagan explains why the Idle No More protestors insisted on negotiating with the Governor-General:
Actually, native leaders’ focus on the governor-general as the representative of the Crown is based not on a lack of information about the Constitution but on a different understanding of it. They know perfectly well that the prime minister and government of the day are installed by the political process of the nation of Canada, but they don’t see themselves as part of that process and that nation. They see themselves as separate nations, dealing with Canada on a “nation to nation” basis. They see the Crown as a governmental structure above Canada – and therefore the authority with whom they should deal.
Sovereign nations do not legislate for each other; they voluntarily agree to sign treaties after negotiations. The radical conclusion from this premise is that Parliament has no right to legislate for aboriginal people without first getting their consent. Hence the hue and cry about consultation and the demand to repeal those parts of the government’s Budget Implementation acts that allegedly impinge on aboriginal and treaty rights. Today’s claim is that Parliament had no right to amend the Indian Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act before consulting with (read: getting the approval of) first nations. But the same claim could be made regarding any legislation, for all laws made by Parliament affect native people. Enforcement of the Criminal Code arguably affects aboriginal rights by putting large numbers of aboriginal people in jail, and so on.
This indigenist ideology is not new. It started to appear in the 1970s, as a reaction to Jean Chrétien’s 1969 White Paper, which proposed repealing treaties and abolishing the special legal status of Indians. In its usual well-meaning but sometimes witless way, the Canadian political class thought it could deal with the reaffirmation of indigenism through word magic. Adopt the vocabulary of the radicals. Start calling Indian bands “first nations.” Pretend to recognize their “inherent right of self-government” or even “sovereignty.”
January 19, 2013
In the Toronto Star, Tim Harper recounts the behind-the-scenes battles currently going in the Assembly of First Nations:
As he rode to a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper last Friday, Shawn Atleo’s Blackberry buzzed.
“Since you have decided to betray me, all I ask of you now is to help carry my cold dead body off this island,” the text message said.
It was sent in the name of Chief Theresa Spence, but those who saw the text believe it came from someone else in her circle on Victoria Island.
But they were certain about one thing — the timing, moments before he went into one of the most important meetings of his life, was meant to destabilize the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and undermine his efforts at a meeting which many in his organization fiercely opposed.
The missive distilled two vicious strains coursing through the internal fighting at the AFN — the threats and intimidation under which its leadership is functioning, and the growing sense from some that the Attawapiskat chief, now entering day 38 of a liquid diet with the temperature dipping to -27C here, is being used as a pawn in an internal political struggle.
To attend last week’s meeting Atleo already had to leave his Ottawa office from a back door to get out of a building with angry chiefs trying to blockade him inside.
He would have to enter the Langevin Block for the meeting through a back door for the same reason.
There have been no shortage of charges, countercharges and denials within the organization over the past weeks and the truth in this saga is often elusive.
January 17, 2013
In the Globe and Mail John Ibbitson lays out the possible and impossible goals and explains why it’s crucial for First Nations to work on the possible goals while there’s still momentum:
In that sense, it might be helpful to look at the disparate demands of the various factions claiming to represent native Canadians living on reserve, in an effort to separate the “deliverables” from the “non-deliverables.”
One key demand is that the Harper government withdraw a raft of legislation, including budget bills that have been passed, that native leaders claim weaken environmental protections and otherwise impair the lives and rights of their people.
Rescinding the budget bills, C-45 and C-38, is 100-per-cent non-deliverable. The Harper government is not going to repeal its budget. No government of any stripe ever would.
But other bills have not been passed. The First Nations Transparency Act, which would require band leaders to publicly report their income, is before the Senate. Native leaders consider its provision onerous and unfair. The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act aims to improve drinking water safety on reserves, but lacks sufficient funding in the eyes for first nations leaders. It’s still before the Commons. And there are other bills as well.
First Nations leaders would be wise to identify which legislation the Harper government might be convinced to amend, and press for those amendments.
The Assembly of First Nations, in its lists of demands, emphasizes the need for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. This is eminently deliverable; native leaders should push hard for it.
Mr. Harper has agreed to take personal charge of negotiations around treaty and land claims. He is known to be personally frustrated with what he sees as an obstructionist bureaucracy at Aboriginal and Northern Affairs. A new and expedited process for resolving claims is deliverable, provided first nations leaders agree in return that resource development is vital to Canada’s and first nations’ economic future.
Any agenda item that requires amending the constitution is completely non-deliverable: after Charlottetown and Meech Lake, Canadians are highly averse to any constitutional tinkering. This limits some aspects of First Nations’ concern, but other areas can and should be addressed. (As pointed out in the article above, revenue sharing from natural resources is a provincial matter, so beating up the feds on that topic is a waste of time and effort.)
Another major factor holding back any chances of meaningful change are the divisions within the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and opposition to the AFN’s leadership from outside the AFN itself. For details, see Terry Glavin’s most recent article in the Ottawa Citizen.
January 12, 2013
In the Ottawa Citizen, Terry Glavin explains why you need to be on Team Idle or Team Devil:
It all sounds so wonderfully simple. On the one side, we have Canada, a genocidal, racist, colonial settler state that just wants to rape the land and poison the water. On the other, we have sacred indigenous nations that just want to protect Turtle Island and be spiritual about everything. Now, pick a side.
Thank you, Idle No More. Joining a “revolution” has never been so easy, and already, the ramparts are being breached. Prime Minister Stephen Harper hosts a delegation from the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations on Friday. It’s actually a meeting the AFN was supposed to have had with Harper some time ago, but never mind that.
Don’t spoil the excitement.
This is not to say that there’s been nothing worthwhile about the impromptu flash-mobbing and the aboriginal-themed block parties that have been breaking out randomly all over the place in recent weeks.
Nobody’s in charge. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. Wow!
What will happen next? Besides, it’s been almost wholly peaceful and lawful and fun.
But to imagine this as a progressive “movement” requires a certain suspension of disbelief. There are just too many bothersome little contradictions that have to be kept off camera or the whole thing falls apart.
Andrew Coyne on Friday’s comic opera performance by the Prime Minister and the Assembly of First Nations:
It’s not yet clear precisely what the Prime Minister and Assembly of First Nations chiefs accomplished at their meeting Friday, but the fact that they met at all, after the tumult and confusion of the preceding 24 hours, must be counted as achievement enough.
Rarely has the penchant of native leaders for what a former prime minister’s chief of staff, Derek Burney, has called “theology” been on such open display. The whole future of the country seemed to hang on whether ministers and chiefs met in a hotel or in a government building, or whether the Prime Minister and the Governor-General attended at the same time or in sequence.
In the process, it became more evident than ever just how divided the AFN has become: among the other unresolved matters as I write are the future of AFN chief Shawn Atleo and, one has to think, the AFN itself, with much of the organization now in open revolt against his leadership. The proxy issue may have been whether to attend the meeting, but the broader conflict is foundational.
By their decision to participate, Atleo and his supporters were not just staring down the demands of what I’ve called the fundamentalists, many of whom have taken up the flag of the Idle No More movement. They were casting their lot with a more pragmatic, forward-looking vision of natives’ future. By no means were they signing onto the whole of the present government’s reform agenda, but they were signalling a willingness to work with it. That took enormous courage, and it is vitally important that the government respond in kind.
January 9, 2013
If you’re confused by the current debate over First Nations people and their relationship with the Crown, you’ll probably want to read âpihtawikosisân‘s explanation of “status” and other terms-of-law that are used in these discussions:
It has been my experience that many Canadians do not understand the difference between Status and membership, or why so many different terms are used to refer to native peoples. The confusion is understandable; this is a complex issue and the terms used in any given context can vary greatly. Many people agree that the term ‘Indian’ is a somewhat outdated and inappropriate descriptor and have adopted the presently more common ‘First Nations’. It can seem strange then when the term ‘Indian’ continues to be used, in particular by the government, or in media publications. The fact that ‘Indian’ is a legislative term is not often explained.
As a Métis, I find myself often answering questions about whether or not I have Status, which invariably turns into an explanation about what Status means in the Canadian context. The nice thing is, as time passes, fewer people ask me this because it does seem that the information is slowly getting out there into the Canadian consciousness.
To help that process along, I figured I’d give you the quick and dirty explanation of the different categories out there. Well…quick is subjective, I am after all notoriously long-winded.
H/T to Andrew Coyne, who retweeted the link from @romeoinottawa.
January 7, 2013
Christie Blatchford on the inability of Canadian police to shut down protests by First Nations groups that violated the law:
Saying “I do not get it,” an Ontario Superior Court judge Monday bemoaned the passivity of Ontario police forces on illegal native barricades and issued a lament for the state of law-and-order in the nation.
“…no person in Canada stands above or outside of the law,” Judge David Brown said in a decision that was alternately bewildered and plaintive.
“Although that principle of the rule of law is simple, at the same time it is fragile. Without Canadians sharing a public expectation of obeying the law, the rule of law will shatter.”
Judge Brown was formally giving his reasons for having granted CN Rail an emergency injunction last Saturday night, when the railway rushed to court when Idle No More protesters blocked the Wymans Road crossing on the main line between Toronto and Montreal.
January 5, 2013
I didn’t expect to read this in the Globe and Mail which is usually an institution that discusses First Nations issues very carefully indeed:
Large elements of aboriginal Canada live intellectually in a dream palace, a more comfortable place than where they actually reside.
Inside the dream palace, there are self-reliant, self-sustaining communities — “nations,” indeed — with the full panoply of sovereign capacities and the “rights” that go with sovereignty. These “nations” are the descendants of proud ancestors who, centuries ago, spread across certain territories before and, for some period, after the “settlers” arrived.
Today’s reality, however, is so far removed in actual day-to-day terms from the memories inside the dream palace as to be almost unbearable. The obvious conflict between reality and dream pulls some aboriginals to warrior societies; others to a rejection of dealing with the “Crown” at all; others to fights for the restoration of “rights” that, even if defined, would make little tangible difference in the lives of aboriginal people; and still others, such as Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, to go on a hunger strike.
Chief Spence, leading a group or “nation” of about 1,500 people on the shores of James Bay, demanded at the beginning of her strike a series of meetings with the Governor-General and the Prime Minister. This demand reflected a very old and very wrong idea (part of dream-palace thinking) that the “Crown” is somehow an independent agency with which aboriginal “nations” have a direct relationship, whereas the “Crown” is nothing of the sort.
The “Crown” is the Government of Canada, a matter of clearly established constitutional law, which is why Chief Spence made her demand to meet the Prime Minister, too. Stephen Harper was correct in refusing a face-to-face meeting, since a prime minister should not be blackmailed into doing what any group or individual wants.
December 28, 2012
In Maclean’s, Colby Cosh explains how hunger strikes should be run and why there are some serious concerns about the ongoing hunger strike in Ottawa:
For a hunger striker to appeal for personal funds — in this case, for contributions to a bank account that has her boyfriend’s name on it — distorts the perceived integrity of the enterprise and throws its basis into doubt. Supporters of the hunger strike are placed in the position of mere financial promoters, no matter how intensely they leer at the striking individual. To make matters worse, we’ve been confronted with a visible disagreement between two spokesmen for Chief Spence. The only source of personal statements from the chief is her Twitter feed, and she does not even appear to have complete control of that. Does she have a single designated spokesperson to exercise authority in the event she falls unconscious or becomes otherwise unable to communicate? Who is it? Is she taking the advice of a physician and having her health monitored? This is an important issue if she intends to forestall permanent physical harm in the hope that her demands will actually be met at some point.
Of course, if the demands aren’t in earnest and the whole thing is no more than a publicity ploy, there is no danger to the Chief and we can ignore the theatrics. In the meantime, give till it hurts, I guess?
October 17, 2012
A pair of former First Nations chiefs have been on Iran’s Press TV to denounce Canada and Canadian treatment of natives:
Friends, I have a double dose of bad news for you. There’s no easy way to say it. So here it is. Not only is Canada set on exterminating a whole segment of its population. That would be bad enough. It also turns out that we frankly aren’t very good at it.
These painful revelations come to us from Tehran courtesy of Terry Nelson, formerly chief of the Roseau River Anishinabe nation south of Winnipeg, and Dennis Pashe, of the Dakota Tipi nation. Both men have plenty of time to travel these days, having both lost their jobs as chiefs. Nelson lost his after his own band council gave him the boot, for the third time, last fall. Pashe was fired by Ottawa in 2003, after the federal government sent in a third-party manager in the face of corruption allegations and violence on his reserve, compounded by Pashe’s refusal to call elections.
[. . .]
But ignore Tehran’s pathetic attempts to portray Canada as worse than Iran (or ask some of the protesters gunned down, raped or tortured during the post-2009 election protests what they think about the two nations’ comparative human rights records). The truly sad thing about Nelson and Pashe’s trip is that there are, indeed, systemic issues facing Canada’s native population, and Nelson and Pashe have made a mockery of them.
Nelson isn’t wrong to point out that many native women are missing. Or that natives are overrepresented in the prison population. Or even to point out that many resource extraction projects, including petroleum sites, are on or near native reserves. And many Canadians, native and otherwise, agree that many reserves are essentially designed to fail, and that the living conditions for natives there are unacceptable. These are all fair things to say.
August 23, 2012
Jonathan Kay wonders why the English language media in the “rest of Canada” are being so careful to avoid calling out PQ leader Pauline Marois for far greater sins than any Alberta politician committed during the recent Alberta election:
Given the close scrutiny that surrounded the recent Alberta election, it is somewhat surprising that more attention is not being paid to the genuinely alarming things coming out of the mouth of Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois.
During the Alberta campaign, every gaffe committed by a member of the right-wing Wildrose Party became a national news item. The Toronto media, in particular, lapped it up — because it played to our outdated stereotype of Alberta as a land of rural hicks. Yet nothing that was said in the Alberta campaign can compare to the declarations of Ms. Marois, who has easily established herself as the most xenophobic major-party leader in all of Canada.
So why has there been comparatively little uproar over Ms. Marois? It is as if Canadians in the rest of the country have become so accustomed to watching Quebec nationalists bottom-feed for votes that we no longer are shocked by it. But Quebec is, after all, part of Canada. And Ms. Marois might become the province’s next premier on Sept. 4. Surely, it is worth rousing ourselves to pay attention to the fact that this woman is proposing policies that are unconstitutional and even bigoted.
August 9, 2012
Canada’s treatment of First Nations people has been a disgrace for decades. After locating them (for the most part) on out-of-the-way reserves, they are mostly forgotten by the media and the politicians until something truly awful happens (like the situation on the Attawapiskat reserve) and then TV crews are dispatched, speeches are made and … usually the amnesia kicks in and all is forgotten.
In the National Post, Tasha Kheiriddin suggests that the time is finally ripe to address one of the root causes of poverty among First Nations people on Canadian reserves: their inability to own property. Band councils hold the land “in trust” for their people, which means there are lots of opportunities for those close to the band council to benefit from the administration of the shared resources. Not all bands suffer from this kind of corruption, but many do. Allocating the land to private ownership by individuals would have many beneficial effects:
This week, the federal government confirmed that it is working on legislation to allow the ownership of private property on First Nations reserves. Some aboriginal leaders, such as former chief Manny Jules, who heads the First Nations Tax Commission, applauded the move. But others see ulterior, sinister motivations at work, as Dr. Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaw professor in the Indigenous Studies department at Ryerson University in Toronto, told Postmedia News’ Teresa Smith. “The quickest way to get that Enbridge pipeline through our territory would be to divide up those lands into individual parcels because it would be a lot quicker to pick off individuals — especially the impoverished ones. And then, if one neighbour sees that an individual gets $100,000 for his property, then what’s someone else, a single mom, with three kids, living on welfare gonna do?”
It’s easy to imagine situations on reserves that are currently governed by band councils that are less than scrupulous where the best land will somehow end up in the hands of the very people who currently benefit from the council’s favour. That is certainly one of the challenges that any such legislation will have to attempt to curtail (even assuming they can get enough support from existing First Nations representatives and groups to move forward with any privatization laws at all).
There is also no doubt that granting First Nations people full property rights – the right to buy, sell, mortgage, use and develop land – is a worthy cause. It would create an ownership culture, instead of the current system (in which reserve land is owned by the federal government, in trust for its Indian residents), which fosters dependency. It would free individual aboriginals from the too-often self-serving grip of band councils. At the same time, it would create responsible government, should those bands seek to tax property, by making them accountable to the property taxpayers they would then serve.