Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When a Suicide Pact is Uncovered

A suicide pact was uncovered in Vancouver in September involving upwards of thirty young people (between the ages of 12-15). It is reported that about 24 of them had to be hospitalized for their protection. Most of these young ones are Aboriginal, and while that is significant, it is also not the most important aspect of this issue.

Thirty 12-15 year olds in Vancouver have reached a point in their lives that they see no other choice but to consider ending those lives.

The media coverage I have been able to find on this has been scant. Not surprising, I guess. It's not glamorous or exciting: no one has actually died. No one has reached out and captured our imagination. No one but Aboriginal advocates have called for action (at least in the minuscule media this has attracted). I don't think I will get into a commentary about the media attention versus race/ethnicity of the young people today, but the fact that it is a pact of thirty that see no future for themselves is terrifying.

I have been touched by suicide. Too often. I know too many people who have been touched by suicide. It kills not just the victim, it kills everyone around them. It kills a part of the soul of everyone left behind. It kills a part of the survival of the Nation. It's not just thirty young people, it's thirty families, their friends, their friends' families, teachers, and all the people related to all of them, their Nations. It's the random person who talked to the kid who seemed sad and wondered afterwards if he said the right thing or the wrong thing.

I understand how clues can be missed. I understand being miserable a lot of the time but saying things are fine when asked. I understand what it's like to feel the choices are dwindling. I understand that loneliness. I don't understand how a group, together, could decide, together, that they are out of choices, but that only means I have more I need to learn. What must be going on that a twelve year old can't still look at the world with wonder?

It is not time, Canada, British Columbia, Vancouver, and countless Aboriginal organizations to be fighting over who is responsible for helping these youth. It is not time to fight over who is to blame for this situation. The scant media attention I have seen says these youth are still seriously at risk, as are countless, countless others. Stop blaming each other, make a plan and do something. Please.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Please Challenge, Please Disrupt: Calling out Racism is NOT PC policing

No Doubt turned itself into the PC police

The latest in the ongoing "dialogue" between those that defend racism and stereotyping by calling those that call it out as overly sensitive or a PC bully( politically correct).  It is not PC bullying to be challenging racism or other stereotyping. Crying foul and invoking free speech when challenged, in defending your racist comments or imagery is not a nice way to play. I am not opposed to the principle of free speech, but you need to understanding the impact of what you are saying. 

 These are not small matters but symptoms of the larger ones we don't address properly. In the last month, the No Doubt "Looking Hot" video, another by Lana Del Ray, Rikki Lake, Victoria's Secret lingerie show and several other clothing lines have launched campaigns that sexualize and/or infantilize Aboriginal women, forgetting the annual Hallowe'en extravaganza of sexy NDN hotties. These contribute to the larger challenges of the murdered & missing women, and the continued marginalization of and risks incurred by Aboriginal women. So, challenging and disrupting these kinds of things are necessary to disrupt the larger, more dangerous issues.

The challenge is that they are misusing the cultural tropes to create a romanticized image in much the same way they have done for centuries that promote that it is okay to view women this way, or to view Native men as drunks for example. To fight those larger misperceptions, we need to address these ones to show that it is not okay. I don't have an issue about appropriation per se, except when it is done at an expense to those that are appropriated from.  You can link this type of video to the stereotyping that allows Ezra Levant and his ilk to make barely disguised hate speech about Natives and other minorities and blame the victims for their circumstances (a recent Winnipeg Sun article argued against an inquiry into the Missing & murdered women tragedy because it was their fault and the faults of their Bands. It's on my blog somewhere). 

The author of the above article invoked "Pokahotass" and Native American pornstar Hyapathia Lee when describing Gwen's costume. He seemed to indicate that Native women should feel honoured (my inference).  Dear teachers, I know Aboriginal women who have been assaulted. I can assure you they were not feeling honoured that it was happening. Please explore this aspect of colonialism. Please assess critically. Please challenge. Please disrupt.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It Means 'The Fighting has Ended': Aboriginal Veterans' Day

"Sadly, it took more than fifty years for the government to recognize the wartime contributions of the Aboriginal Peoples, on the home front and battlefront alike. Overseas, Aboriginal soldiers fought proudly alongside Canadian men of many other races, fuelled by a shared purpose and pride.  Upon their return to Canadian soil, however, many First Nations, Inuit, and M├ętis soldiers found that this equality no longer held. They received no warm welcome. In fact, many came back to find that their land had been taken away or divvied up among non-Aboriginal farmers to increase wartime crop production, never to be theirs again. They also found that they would not share in the same benefits that other members of the Canadian forces enjoyed, including educational and vocational training, employment offers, and housing." 

It saddens me that I need to post this again. Without our stories, we are invisible; without our histories, we lose ourselves. If we don't make the effort to share with you that which we know, so that you might, in turn, share with others what you have learned... I posted the following words last year here on the blog:

Every November 8, I have sent out an email to the staff at whichever school I have worked at, sharing with them that this day is Aboriginal Veterans Day in Canada. This is the day which has been set aside to honour the sacrifices of First Nations, Metis and Inuit men and women who volunteered to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces over the course of the various wars and military actions this country has involved itself in. I have encouraged the staffs to learn about the day and share it with their students. I have no idea if anybody ever has, beyond me.November 8 was not set aside because Aboriginal Veterans wanted their own, separate day. I would like to clear that up now. Aboriginal Veterans fought in Canada's wars, lost their lives in Canada's wars, stood shoulder to shoulder with Canadian men and women. When they returned home, they were barred from receiving the same benefits that other soldiers received, saw their Aboriginal rights extinguished, which meant that they could not even return home to their communities. In some cases, those homes, their reserves, were carved up and sold to non-Native veterans who had earned the right to affordable land by fighting in Canada's name.
Aboriginal Veterans started their own associations to lobby for their rights. I remember hearing a story once that they could not really get help from the Royal Canadian Legion because there was a long while that Aboriginal people were not allowed to go into places that served alcohol. Places like legion halls. I cannot verify the truth of this. Whether it is true or not, it is true to the people that shared it with me, which tells me that there was an understanding of that.
My understanding of 
November 8 is an understanding of exclusion. Aboriginal Veterans were not permitted to take part in official Remembrance Day ceremonies, so they set aside a day of their own. A day to remember the sacrifices our Elders made in the name of the Canadian nation. Not just the sacrifices they made on the battlefield, but the ones they were forced to make when they returned home.
To date, Manitoba is the only province that officially recognizes Aboriginal Veterans Day, but if you do a search on Google, you will see videos and references to ceremonies all around the country.
In all the areas you won't find reference to it, one is particularly notable.
You won't see any references to Aboriginal Veterans Day in our public schools. At least I haven't found any yet. 
I was later asked why we don't teach this, or acknowledge it. I had no answer beyond no one cares, and the truth is that is the truth. My understanding of it anyway. Non-Aboriginal people AND Aboriginal people have that narrow, colonial view of Aboriginal people. No one cares because no one challenges it. No one is teaching our stories, our histories.
As I have stated, this is my understanding. 
Go look up Aboriginal Veterans Day. Learn it, please.
Teach it

Our stories, our truths are not just the stories of Aboriginal people, they are stories of how Canada came to its current state of being. Our veterans and their history, the good and the bad, is a reflection of Canada and needs to be known so that all of our students have a full, complete understanding of this country, its current reality and what it could be. I shared it last year. I will likely share it again next year. 
"In Cree we say 'Kahgee pohn noten took' on Remembrance Day. It means, 'the fighting has ended'." 
-IrenePlante, veteran's widow