Nobody told us…

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“Nobody told us we have to study our lives, make of our lives a study.”“Nobody told us…”Language links us through time illustrating the then of that time and the now of…well you know that old phrase of hope in the powers of presentism to obliterate the distracting melancholy of regret.Then and now. What a poem means in 1977 or 1981 and what now in 2014?

“…we have to study our lives…”

But this recent interview reminds me of this Adrienne Rich quote from her 1978 poem “Transcendental Etude” from her collection The Dream of a Common Language: “Nobody told us we have to study our lives, make of our lives a study.” I might have read this two years after I left a very sad and bad marriage and three years after my father died by suicide. My own sense of myself had collapsed. It was a hard time. Of course.

“…make of our lives a study…”

I worked at various jobs and returned to university part-time to study. Reading and writing and my friends and the Women’s Liberation Movement saved my life. I might have read this Rich poem in 1978 but I think it was later when I saw Adrienne Rich and Nicole Brossard give a talk in Toronto on my birthday in 1981. Then I was reading Adrienne Rich and Nicole Brossard in earnest. And writing a dissertation about feminist poetics was my translation of the phrase by Adrienne Rich. There was nothing academic about it.

It’s worth repeating: “Nobody told us we have to study our lives, make of our lives a study.”

Recently this line emerges in an interview discussion of anti-racist pedagogy and it reminds me of a way to upend the kinds of tensions that can emerge in classrooms where diversity informs the writing and lives of students. Peggy MacIntosh wrote about white privilege and male privilege in a famous 1988 essay. And I’m reminded how white privilege, the women’s movement and hard work helped me get a university job. Peggy MacIntosh is still at work at 79 years developing the anti-racist work she wrote about decades ago. In this interview, she reminds us how compassion and probing the limits of our understanding can be key to our work in the classroom. It is difficult to live up to the ideal but try try again is a teacher’s thematic.

Q: “You seem to relate to the idea of privilege in a very compassionate way. But isn’t that hard, since the effects of privilege are so unjust? Isn’t it natural for privilege to make people angry, rather than openhearted? I imagine Tal Fortgang in a college seminar, and the rancor that must accompany conversations about privilege in the classroom. How do you defeat that?

Peggy MacIntosh: The key thing is to let people testify to their own experience. Then they’ll stop fighting with each other. One of my colleagues at SEED says, “Unless you let the students testify to what they know, which schools usually don’t let them do, they will continue to do just what the dominant society wants them to do, which is to tear each other apart.” The students who are sitting there fighting with one another aren’t allowed to have their lives become the source for their own growth and development. Adrienne Rich wrote, at the beginning of women’s studies, “Nobody told us we have to study our lives, make of our lives a study.”

The full interview is here

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2014/05/the-woman-who-coined-the-term-white-privilege.html

  – Janice Williamson

“the fracked university” and other necessary nonfictions: notes on a talk by Len Findlay

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image from Gasland, the movie

About fifty AAS:UA members (Association of Academic Staff  University of Alberta) attended Dr. Len Findlay’s “piss and vinegar” talk (his words) on a recent May afternoon. This fraction of the four thousand plus membership didn’t fill the large theatre, but my appeal to attendance is no more than an ironic pause to reflect not only on our frantic disciplined pace but on our collective demoralization, topics investigated by our speaker.  Findlay, Professor at the University of Saskatchewan and Chair of the Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee at the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT),  ended his talk by inviting us to consider the contributions of the indigenous Idle No More and Quebec student’s Red Square free-tuition movements.

“The anxious academy means the death of pleasure,” announced Findlay reminding us about the changing university and the tendency to encounter bitter competition over collegial well-being in a new world of academic stars and scarce resources. He voiced the collective “metastatic self-loathing and performance anxiety across the faculty” and the extraordinary demands for increased productivity where nothing is ever enough. He spoke of the discourse of marketplace. And today’s model of student consumer shopping for grades and credentials came to mind. He also advised the faculty members vulnerable to corporate expectations to not confuse filling out the ever-changing SSHRC electronic cv with living a life. “We need a life as well as a cv,” he urged us.”Recover your swagger.”

When Findlay tracked the growth of the neoliberal university and Canadian state,  I became a time traveller reflecting on how dystopian the academy would appear to my earlier academic self who remembers Findlay’s talks from thirty years ago, experienced first as a graduate student and then as a faculty member always uplifted by his eloquent hilarity, piercing wit, and spirited critiques. Upon reflection, I feel most distressed that my junior colleagues, the diminishing numbers on tenure-track and the increasing contingent of limited-term and temporary intellectual labourers, will never experience a university workplace that, while not ideal, offered possibilities of genuine collaboration and collective engagement beyond today’s idealized and individualized competitive trajectories in our increasingly corporatized education machine. The “fracked university”

The violence and resource economy of Findlay’s image of  “the fracked university” seemed especially fitting here in Petrostate Alberta where the government sucked post-secondary funds out of twenty-six institutions across the province only to reinject money on their terms under the homogenizing umbrella of a master narrative called “Campus Alberta” that intentionally confused varieties of education from technical training to liberal studies. Findlay described “The Lukaszuk” as a magic sleight of hand that makes theft look like a gift. Remember that long winter, spring, and summer of our discontent when the government eviscerated post-secondary education of $147 million – almost a third of it from the University of Alberta – only to advocate skills training and cherry pick where to reinsert the money: first $42 million was allocated for a new University of Calgary Engineering building along with other targeted reinvestment that challenged the autonomy of post-secondary institutions. Shortly thereafter, UofA’s fundraising began for a Leadership Institute named after a PC Premier, an initiative that has become the mysterious legacy of our university President.

Recent conversations by the Provost about the possibility of creating American-style autonomous colleges (Read: the Leadership Institute) point to how corporate funding can be funnelled into specialized areas in lieu of generalized operating grants, once again leaving many key areas of the university like the Faculty of Arts struggling in our educational work. Note here also how corporate rather than public interest shapes our educational priorities.

It is no small irony that this high-flying North Saskatchewan River-side Leadership Institute residence results in the destruction of the charming shabby heritage home that housed the Faculty of Arts Parkland Institute, the productive critical space inspired by engaged political economy and the Alberta-wide research network that “exists because of wide-spread concern about rapid changes within Alberta’s and Canada’s political and economic culture…. The language and assumptions of the marketplace have expanded corporate power and challenged the role and ethos of the public sector and the commons.” Director Trevor Harrison explores”Who Controls Knowledge” here. The Parkland Institute, long known to have been a thorn in the side of our President, lost a home and gained two sub-first floor rooms in the Humanities Centre next door.

Our Dream Queen President has for some time been one of the most highly paid university administrators in Canada, moonlighting for years on the board of a Canadian bank and recently appointed to the board of the Canadian corporation Magna International Inc. No matter, the higher she flies, the more money she costs, the more advantageous her reflected glory as we hang onto her gilt coattails. Oxygen thins up here.

The appeal of high salaries in the neoliberal scheme of things was underscored by Findlay. And later while writing this, I looked up Canadian university president salaries. In 2011, the Canadian university administrator with the highest base salary at $1,041,88 went to David Johnson who would be plucked from the University of Western Ontario by the Harper government to the ether heights of the Governor General of Canada. Aside from GG Johnson’s many other excellent qualities, was his top-dog extraordinary salary a decisive prestige factor in the eyes of our federal Prime Minister who operates our country like a CEO managing consumers not citizens?

Drawing on comparative data from the long course of his career, the now retiring CAUT head James Turk concludes that the collective abilities of the Canadian university presidents at this moment of inflated financial compensation add up to less talent.  And in this era of corporatized market inflation, Findlay provides an accounting of the exorbitant costs of internal university senior administrators and the parallel sky-rocketing costs for their external consultants. Reading from one of the consultant publications – a small thin $75 booklet – Findlay illustrated the expensive transformation of snake oil  into banal bullet-points of Canadian-Tire-like “tools” and how-to lists for university improvement. The account reminded me of the way the neoliberal project infects institutions on many continents. Last year Tarak Barkawi wrote a short Al Jazeera article that outlined some effects:

The upshot is to soften the resistance of faculty to change, in part by making people fear for their jobs but mostly by creating a generalised sense of crisis. It becomes all the easier for some academic “leaders” to be drawn up into the recurrent task of “reinventing” the university.

Here is the intersection with neoliberal management culture. Neoliberal managers thrive not by bringing in new resources – since austerity is always the order of the day – but by constantly rearranging the deck chairs. Each manager seeks to reorganise and restructure in order to leave his or her mark. They depart for the next lucrative job before the ship goes under.

One consequence is the mania for mergers of departments and faculties in the US and the UK. In both the university and corporate world, mergers are not only demoralising for staff, but they also break up solidarities and destroy traditions and make staff much more amenable to control from above.

Such projects have little to do with academic excellence or even purposes, and often are self-defeating as the managers and the quislings among the professoriate who assist them have little idea what they are doing.

When I posted an earlier version of this article, news broke about the scandalous firing of the University of Saskatchewan Dean Robert Buckingham  Executive Director of the School of Public Health for criticizing the academic plans of senior administrators. Frustrated by months of fruitless internal debate and muzzled Dean Buckingham dared to write a letter to the government “The Silence of the Deans” to protest his muzzling: “Her [the University of Saskatchewan President’s] remarks were to the point: she expected her senior leaders to not ’publicly disagree with the process or findings of TransformUS’; she added that if we did our ‘tenure would be short’.” His concern was the University of Saskatchewan’s new administrative shuffling that reorganized his highly regarded and accredited programme into an administrative area without accreditation. Buckingham’s critiques make good sense and point to Turk’s point that more money poured into costly and expanding senior administration along with their expensive external consultants isn’t reflected in superior decision makers.

But Findlay’s address to the AAS:UA before the Buckingham affair occurred identified some of the problems: “the sad coercions of strategic planning; the venality of internationalization; and imminent intellectual desertification…in non-compliant and/or unprofitable places.” He pointed to the limits of recommendations by the Univeristy of Saskatchewan consultant Robert Dickeson “and his ilk”: “Academic economism and “program prioritization…eat academic value hitherto preserved and producesd as diverse, independent inquiry, distinctive teaching, dissemination and outreach.” And he ended this part of his commentary with the University of Alberta biblical motto  Quaecumque vera “Whatsoever things are true.”

Suffocation. When we ask our administrators how to reallocate funds to support our programs that don’t have Petrostate street cred, our corporate overseers respond with the arrogance of late night TV hucksters. Findlay outlines how university collegial governance has been replaced by presidential declarations that “emanate by fiat.” Here at UofA, we were invited to drift on for a few years into the fantasy world our President where our sacrifices in the pursuit of “excellence” would be worthwhile when we assumed our rightful position as a top-twenty world university by 2020. Sloganeering like “Top 20 in 20/20” endlessly proliferates, in Findlay’s words, “mediating hype and cosmic aspirations.” Nowadays interchangeable publicity brands “insult our intelligence.” Rather than “punching above our weight” as the remarkably strong Canadian prairie public university we have been, the rhetoric of hubris steered us into the shoals of international ranking and we plummeted on some scales.

Though for what it is worth, my Department of English & Film Studies is one of two University of Alberta departments to score very high on some international rankings: #22 of the best of all international university English departments as determined by our peers in one influential ranking system. And we are the second or third top English department in Canada. But even if you succeed as top dog, you may fall prey to the limits of this competitive model of academic ranking, and substitute “culture” in the illusory road race of excellence, a strategy condemned by the late Université de Montréal comparative literature professor Bill Readings in his posthumously published The University in Ruins that published almost two decades ago.

A few months ago, at a sparsely attended public address by the UofA President, the incoming chair of our department Peter Sinnema reminded her that while EFS had done what the UofA proposed and edged towards that 20/20 cosmic height in ranking, we have been decimated in the recent budget cuts that especially harmed the Arts Faculty that includes humanities, social sciences, and fine arts. Peter asked how she accounted for the shifting fate of our department. According to the script of competitive excellence we should be on a winning streak. But paradoxically in the recent round of endless cuts, we lost the most faculty of any department in the improvised shock doctrine of Voluntary Severance retirements last year. In response, the cash-strapped Faculty of Arts promised us one new replacement appointment leaving significant holes.

In response to the incoming EFS chair’s question,the UofA President raised her hand, flicked her wrist, and gestured to the Provost to respond about the mechanics of education. The UofA Provost described his last year of travel to three continents investigating how to reply to just such a query. Then he said with a flourish more or less the following: Dream on. Find the funds yourself.

Always ready to take up an imaginative challenge, I conjure up fundraising plots and plans. Imagine Coleridge’s Cave in the fourth floor Humanities Lounge in our English and Film Studies department – once a rare and ideal classroom for informal educational seminars and writing workshops – now redeployed as a meeting room for administrators in their ever-expanding need for space. After-hours after-class Coleridge Cave absinthe could be sold to visitors so stoned that while reclining on repurposed Value Village floor cushions they won’t notice we’ve sold the desks and chairs. Or we might float the idea of a William Burrough’s shooting gallery to appeal to gun-champion Albertan hunters. Or a new “Day and Night” in-house factory commemorating the great almost-forgotten Canadian poet Dorothy Livesay. From midnight to eight in the morning cultural labour could be supplanted by the made-in-Canada manufacture of loot suits for the carefully appointed university president to enhance the 1% status of University of Calgary President recently given a raise. Or why not transform our faculty and departmental offices and those spaces vacated by the budget-cut evacuation of key support staff? Or we might design a literary puppy mill, naming the poodles, the beagles, and mutts we raise after lost authors. Every pooch purchase arrives with a rare first edition or popular bestseller according to your cultural inclinations.

Why not multi-faceted representations and mappings of the indigenous sites and stories that lie buried beneath our institutional cellars as a response to the Truth and Reconciliation meetings held in Edmonton last month? This is a collaborative multi-media teaching project I’ve just begun with a colleague. But unfortunately for my department’s economy, my entrepreneurial imagination specializes in educational engagement best constructed beyond simple market terms. We are a public institution.

Over and over we are told how our universities vacillate between market forces and corporate models and metaphors.  On the promise of high-paying international student as funding sources, Findlay notes that universities promote and students target only certain disciplines and professional programs making recruitment “a homogenizing revenue stream used to remake priorities, redistribute resources.” All business and no time to play with social science, humanities, and arts ideas. “Consumer sovereignty and market logic as the new chronotype in the global present where institutional memory and collegial governance used to be,” says Findlay.

And what is more important to our future than an educated youth? Our students, impoverished by tuition costs in a rich country, should be supported by the state. Findlay points to the way Danish left and right political parties see their country’s free university tuition as sacred. Elsewhere University of Saskatchewan anthropologist (Sandy) M. Ervin also makes an eloquent argument about student debt and, “the elephant in the room….Solidarity with the young is needed more than ever. We have unloaded enough on them with climate change and toxic wastes without adding debt feudalism that only benefits the banks further restraining our young people.” 

And Findlay reminds us we’re watching the reinvention of a public university as the site of bifurcation: privileged spaces for corporate funding and other thinking spaces as expendable dumping sites. Findlay spoke of a recent University of Saskatchewan event where corporate donors from a mining company shunned an indigenous woman who queried the ethics of their mining practices. How do we insist on genuine philanthropy beyond the corporate strings that demand too much of public institutions?

Findlay reminded us of UofA’s first motto Lux and Lex – light and law – and the centrality of knowledge and its shaping. He might also have addressed the University of Alberta’s most recent university “promise,” a phrase lifted from a speech by the university’s first president Henry Marshall Tory. “Uplifting the whole people” is abbreviated from the sentence: “The people demand the uplifting of the whole people.” Note the change trajectory in the truncated slogan: the phrase transforms the public agency of “the people demand” to an act of charity in the “uplifting” university. The university website insists this “promise” “is not a temporary marketing slogan but an enduring expression of who we were are, and aspire to become” but its origins might be just that. In searching for the institutional promise, one stumbles across the work of former Procter and Gamble “top brand builders” Edward Burghard whose goal is to be the “spark that reignites the passion in the global business community for Brand America.” He goes: “In simplest terms, a brand is a promise, it sets an expectation of a benefit. The dynamics of the brand promise are charted by the promise gap: Brands with positive promise gaps exceed their customers’ expectations, while those with negative promise gaps let customers down.” The UofA promise gap may be negative as the impulse to “uplift the whole people” – an appeal to Albertans – occured around the intensification of the rhetoric of internationalization that tended to undervalue domestic international students. 

Nowadays “the people” – the public citizens who fund us find little reflection of themselves here at the University of Alberta. Canadian Studies erased. Canadian historians disappeared – 3 or 4 of them gone. Canadian literary scholars in my department decimated over the years and more recently by the mismanagement caused by voluntary retirements, a program that pretends ravaging the curriculum at the university stands in for management and planning. And almost no hirings in sight. Nowadays our department doesn’t define  all-American Studies symposiums as “American Studies” – the specification seems redundant in the absence of much curricular or faculty exploration of our Canadian  location.

At this AAS:UA gathering, we ate together, we listened, we laughed, we talked. Then I went to my office to finish some thinking work on a presentation about women public intellectuals in Canada. I wanted to scream for more public rabble rousing among faculty. Findlay insists on the importance of the “non-binarism” at the heart of activism and excellence and reminds us that if the university can be an object of study, the work we perform about the university in our professional associations and elsewhere also constitutes intellectual work that matters.

A collective of sometimes competing interests, the AAS:UA represents a university transformed into tenured academic faculty, academic librarians, contract teaching-focused staff, sessionals and other temporary employees, research academic officers, and faculty service officers – seven groups in total.  Findlay exhorted all of us to “intergenerational politics” wherein we “make allies of our students” and find common cause to make change. The bifurcation of the university into competing interests – exploited consumer students, expensive indulged faculty and the exploited untenured – eliminates the contribution  of intellectual labour to the university, the , the critical engagement of students, and the centrality of education to the mission of the university. Look how infrequently “education” appears in the public documents produced by universities, Findlay advises.

I could expand these notes by recounting how the speaker linked the university to the values of the neoliberal Harper government, but my note-taking stopped at this point as details of this sorry revelation are too familiar. So I conclude by reading a poem that begins: “Hurled his roadster straight through the great books / of his country….” right through to its end…”He was no bean-shooter, no dope fiend, / no bindle-punk. Just a hep cat with healthy hungers. Regular citizen with dreams of berries and bim.”

Thank you Len Findlay for your insightful rabble-rousing. Thank you for your poem Jeannette Lynes. And thank you Carolyn Sale for engineering this talk.

 – Janice Williamson

 

“Why I Support Idle No More” by Linda Goyette

Editor’s note: This Facebook post is republished with the author Linda Goyette’s permission.  

I am no longer a journalist, and I do not seek a bully pulpit on any topic, but tonight I want to explain to my family and friends why I give my unqualified support to the Idle No More movement as a Canadian citizen.

canada love idle no more

I am becoming more and more concerned about the harsh backlash among non-aboriginal Canadians against this peaceful protest movement. I’m not talking exclusively about virulent racial bigotry and hate speech, although it exists in dark places, but more about the willful denial of reality, the blindness to injustice, among many decent people.

These are the people I address tonight. I respect their right to a different opinion, but I hope they will hear me out.

Four Saskatchewan women—Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean and Jessica Gordon—and Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario found the courage to say that a change is going to come. Thousands of indigenous people across Canada are demonstrating in peaceful ways to tell the country that they will wait no longer for that change. When I see round dances in shopping malls, peaceful road blockades, or a chief on a hunger strike, I see an opportunity to learn more about the deep frustration of my neighbours. I see no threat at all.

The protesters are asking for the country I want for myself, and for my family.

Millions of Canadians do respect First Nations, Metis and Inuit legal rights because these rights are guaranteed in our modern Constitution, frequently upheld by our highest courts, entrenched in our historic treaties, and valued in our intermingled family connections, our friendships, our minds and our hearts.

Many of us badly want the Canadian government to respect Indigenous land, resources, cultural ways, and most of all their right to self-determination.

I feel hopeful—wildly hopeful—that a core demand of the Idle No More movement for stronger protection of our shared natural environment will spread to Canadians of all racial backgrounds and political allegiances. I also hope that the Harper government will think twice in future before it passes omnibus legislation with minimal parliamentary debate or national consultation on the contents.

If the Idle No More movement has allies, and it does, we need to be more outspoken. Our silence in 2013 will be interpreted as complicity, and polite agreement, with everything that is wrong with the relationship between Canada and the founding peoples. Firm support for Idle No More could push the whole nation forward in a new and more positive direction.

We need to stand beside indigenous peoples when they confront an obtuse federal government that consistently undermines their success while it scolds them about local governance. In our homes and communities, we need to challenge the mockery, the simplistic assumptions, the casual and devastating bigotry that diminish Canada and make it a smaller, narrower place than it deserves to be.

As some of you know, I have worked for most of my adult life as a reporter, writer and oral history transcriber with enduring connections to many First Nations and Metis people and their communities in different parts of Canada, primarily in the West. That doesn’t make me an expert in anything, but I have had a rare opportunity to learn from the true experts – the people themselves, their life experiences, their values, their hopes. I have witnessed with my own eyes hardships and injustices that took my breath away, not only in Attawapiskat in 2010, but in almost every province and territory over three decades.

To those comfortable Canadians who complain that their hard-earned tax dollars disappear down a huge funnel to places like Attawapiskat, I say: Visit the place yourself, or any other isolated, northern Aboriginal community, and you might notice that most inhabitants, primarily children and old people, endure substandard public services beyond the imagination of southern, urban Canadians.

They can’t count on clean drinking water, warm housing, decent elementary schools, safe roads, good fire protection or sewage systems—all services that white Canadians in neighbouring towns and cities take for granted. Other Canadians can rely on fairly capable local and provincial governments while First Nations have to contend with the inept budgeting practices of the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, not to mention the restrictive nature of our hideous national antique, the Indian Act. Read it some time. It will change your view of your country.

To those Canadians who allege that all chiefs and band councils are robber barons who “make more than the prime minister,” and run a vast northern kleptocracy, I say: I have never heard an Idle No More activist or an Aboriginal person in any community defend overpayment of band officials, padding of expense accounts, or local corruption. Just as I have never heard any Canadian, anywhere, justify the overpayment of local, provincial or federal elected and public employees, although this also happens with depressing regularity.

Overpayment happens because we allow it to happen. That can change, too. I would like to hear Canadians ask why the president of the University of Alberta, Indira Samarasekera, received $627,000 in the 2007-2008 fiscal year, which includes house and car allowances, performance bonuses and deferred compensation. Her salary had increased 6 per cent compared to the year before.

Folks, she earned more that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. president Barack Obama that year while Alberta students contended with steady tuition increases. She earned more than any First Nation chief I’ve ever heard of. Yet do we hear waves of public indignation about the continuing high salaries of university and college presidents across Canada? Even a murmur? We do not.

We swallow similar bad news about other elected and public officials who receive sky-high salaries, benefits, and sometimes, huge severance payments after dismissal for poor performance. That’s our tax money, too. We could at least apply our indignation evenly across the country, and we might question the national preoccupation with compensation to chiefs, and how and why that obsession came to be.

Long ago, when I was reporting for the Edmonton Journal in 1980 or 1981, I received a brown envelope from a Department of Indian Affairs finance officer containing documents on the salary and benefits of an outspoken Cree leader Harold Cardinal who was working at the time to assist the northern Dene Tha’ with poor conditions on their reserve. I was in my early twenties at the time, and inexperienced, and yes, I supplied the news story that brought a good man’s hard work into disrepute, fortunately temporarily. I was a little pawn on a chessboard, pushed forward, to do the government’s bidding. Shut him up. Shut it down.

I learned a hard lesson from that experience. I began to watch the situation more carefully. In the following three decades I noticed that each time First Nations and Metis leaders, or activists in the community, demanded their legal rights or a fair share of Canada’s abundant resources, similar official brown envelopes would whiz in the direction of good, bad or indifferent reporters and media commentators. These journalists would dutifully report the news of overpayments–as they should, it is indefensible–but without any context or understanding of how they were being used to silence, ignore and marginalize Aboriginal people in great need.

Does the federal government release similar figures to the media about the plump expense accounts of its own senior deputy ministers? No, it does not. The Harper government encourages significant overpayments to a favoured few, on the one hand, and then spins this information to discredit the legitimate claims of an entire group of people. This is not good governance. This is dysfunctional manipulation.

I don’t blame many southern Canadians for their singular focus on chiefs’ salaries—that’s just about all they’ve heard from the shills in the conservative media for two decades—but I don’t think people understand that federal transfers to First Nations are often significantly lower than provincial transfers to non-aboriginal communities for the same services. The Auditor General and Parliamentary Budget Officer have confirmed this fact again and again, and conscientious people in provincial and local governments and in the media have complained about it.

Try to calculate how much public money your town or city receives for every school and hospital, for all salaries of local public employees, for road and bridge construction, for police and fire departments, for sewer lines, garbage disposal, recycling, public transit and so on. That amounts to many millions of dollars a year, too, even for small communities. Canadians interpret these financial transfers as a right of citizenship, the cost of a civil society.

More than one million people in Canada describe themselves as Aboriginal, and more than 700,000 have First Nations status. The Government of Canada will spent about $8 billion this year for the budget of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, including all transfers to more than 600 communities. About twenty per cent of the total goes to departmental administration expenses, but look at the $8 billion. That’s the same amount that New Brunswick will spend this year on public services for its 751,000 people.

To those Canadians who say, “But I pay taxes, and they don’t, so I have earned these services, and they haven’t,” I say in reply: A large majority of First Nations people and all Metis people, now live off-reserve, work for a living, and do pay taxes. It is the Canadian way to provide public services for all citizens, even those without paid employment, such as the elderly, parents caring for children at home, people with disabilities, and people who earn too little in their jobs to pay significant taxes. Some people on reserves, and in neighbouring non-aboriginal communities too, fall into these categories. Why should we resent them? Their gifts to us are beyond the measure of money.

More important, this country is affluent and comfortable by international standards because of the rich natural resources it extracts from its northern and western regions, the traditional territory of many First Nations and Metis people. They have paid and paid the rest of Canada—in lost revenue, over generations—for the miserable level of public services they have received through much of the last century. They have received no fair share of the benefits of a rich nation, and it is time they did.

To the Canadians who say, “But Idle No More leaders should be more specific, they should define their terms, I don’t know what they want,” I say: Where have you been hiding throughout your lifetime? If you don’t know what they want, you haven’t been listening.

The parents and grandparents of Idle No More activists lined up at the microphones at the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry after 1974, patiently explaining to the country why their land and sovereignty needed to be respected. Decade after decade, others spoke to parliamentary committee hearings, First Ministers conferences, and every MP and reporter who would listen to them.

Year after year, they testified at hearings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and at hearings of the United Nations human rights bodies. In case after case, they took the federal government to the Supreme Court of Canada to press for legitimate recognition of their land claims and treaty and Aboriginal rights. They negotiated the Kelowna Accord with the former prime minister, and then saw the deal collapse.

Their frustrations found expression at Oka and Burnt Church and Ipperwash, Ont., in the protest marches through the streets of Edmonton and Winnipeg, in the railway blockades in B.C. They celebrated many victories and land claims settlements along the way, and found allies, and achieved significant improvements on their own initiative.

If you don’t know about this yet, it is not too late to learn. Rather than demand that other people define their terms immediately in language you are ready to accept, just listen, and remember what you have heard.

It shouldn’t be necessary to say that diverse Aboriginal communities have different definitions of sovereignty, and different interpretations of their relationship with the Canadian state. People are different. Communities are different. No single answer is the total or final answer on any public issue.

The very least Canadians can do is pay attention with some level of respect and gratitude for a largely peaceful protest movement. Other countries would envy us for Idle No More, and its non-violent core values. Their patience is a great gift to this country.

When the percentage of Aboriginal people in schools, colleges, universities, hospitals and jails matches their percentage of the Canadian population, some equality will have been achieved. Equality does not exist now.

I think this is a defining moment in Canadian history, a time when each citizen is asked to make a choice. Where do you stand? Where will your children and grandchildren want you to stand? I have made my decision. I leave your decision to you.

Thank you for listening.

To learn more about. . .

The Idle No More movement:


About Attawapiskat:

http://www.nfb.ca/film/people_of_kattawapiskak_river/An NFB documentary by award-winning Alanis Obamsawin “Still waiting in Attawapiskat,” Canadian Geographic magazine, Linda Goyette with photography by Liam Sharp

Attawapiskat finances:

The issues at the heart of this debate:

“Close encounters of the urban Aboriginal and multicultural kind” by Meenal Shrivastava

One of the first things I noticed on my earliest trip to Canada in 1998 was the presence of remarkable Aboriginal art in so many public places. For years after that I admired and bought gifts of Canadian Aboriginal art as the most appropriate Canadian souvenir. As a tourist to Canada, I knew about the historical and contemporary injustices that the Aboriginal people have been subjected to, but my first real life brush with the harsh urban reality of the Aboriginal experience came a week after I officially became an Indo-South African-Canadian.

I live next door to an Aboriginal family with fourteen children, and several grandchildren. They are renting in this very middle class neighbourhood in the eastern part of Edmonton, where the houses are owned by a huge variety of people ranging from professionals to tradesmen.

I moved into my house in the Fall nearly two years ago and for months never saw or made acquaintance with any of my neighbours. Ironically, it was not until my dogs arrived from South Africa that I felt ’visible’ in the neighbourhood with people smiling or stopping to chat to my oversized pups.

Shortly after, the Aboriginal family moved next door and this led to even more neighbourly interactions for me. People began making complaints against the Aboriginal family next door to the police, the bylaw offices, social services, among other places. They complained about noisy trucks, unsupervised children, and delays in cleaning snow off the side walk. The tenants before them did the same things but were Caucasians and nobody came to me to ask me to file complaints against the former tenants.

I was beginning to resent the pressure that I felt to file complaints against the family next door. Not only did it feel hypocritical and clearly discriminatory, it also made me feel that it prevented me from having a normal sociable relationship with my next door neighbours. For instance, if the kids were noisy or broke something in my yard, I felt awkward to approach them fearing that it would seem like I had joined the vocal minority that clearly wanted this family out of the neighbourhood. Living alone and working from home only made this situation worse for me and I was seriously considering moving elsewhere.

Out of an innocuous Friday morning breakfast get together with colleagues, came a suggestion that was extremely useful. I learnt about the Mediation and Restorative Justice Centre (MRJC), which provides assistance for conflict management for individuals and groups. The very helpful staff told me that I need to get all the parties to agree to come to the table for it to be an effective process. So I wrote the letter below to my neighbours and distributed it door to door.

“Dear Neighbour,

In the past little while we have experienced some disagreements regarding our expectations of peace and propriety in our neighbourhood. I am concerned that these disagreements should not lead to a situation of conflict in our peaceful neighbourhood. Our houses are very close to each other and we all have a stake in making sure that we live as a harmonious community of people.

We have had several formal and informal complaints going back and forth in the past few months. However, the outcome has been unsatisfactory for all involved. It is my humble opinion that we have not had an open channel of communication to resolve our problems.

I am no expert in mediating or negotiating but following the advice of my colleague, who is a law professor, I contacted the Mediation and Restorative Justice Centre for help. This centre can provide professional facilitators to help us resolve our problem as amicably as possible.

I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to phone the Mediation and Restorative Justice Centre at 780-423-0896 (Extn. 200) to speak freely about the problems you are encountering in the neighbourhood. Please quote the reference number xyz for the sake of continuity in our conversations. Once they have heard from some of us, they will decide about how best to facilitate mediation.

Their hours of operation are:

9 – 4.30 (Mon, Wed, Fri)

9 – 7.30 (Tue, Thu)

In the best case scenario, we will be able to resolve our differences and continue to live in our quiet and harmonious space. In the worst case scenario, we would have at least tried to resolve our differences in the most civilized way possible.”

Before I handed out the letter, I approached my next door neighbour to find out if he would be willing to participate in such an intervention. We had often exchanged pleasantries and once I had reluctantly told him about some broken solar lights in my yard, but this was the first time we had a proper conversation.

I told him that the mediation will only be effective if both sides can have their say and thus he should not hesitate to state his complaints too. He told me that the reason he has chosen to bring his family to live in this neighbourhood is so that they can see that another life is possible. He was determined to give his children a fighting chance in a place where check-out clerks can choose not to serve him and get away without any censure; where he gets shadowed and watched suspiciously as soon as he enters a store; where people pull their children indoors if they see them playing with his grand kids; where the police surrounds his house in the middle of the night because some neighbours complained about loud music but the party was happening in the house across his back alley. I was struck by this man’s humility and generosity when he said that he will be happy to talk to the MRJC staff but that he had nothing to complain about from his side.

The timing of this conversation was very significant for me since it had been exactly one week since I had taken my oath of Canadian citizenship in what proved to be an emotionally wrenching experience for me. I found the ceremony my most intense first-hand experience of the power of symbols, identity, and boundaries. My grandparents had fought for the independence of India, which made this a very poignant moment for me.  Although I know the difference between identity and citizenship and have struck deep friendships and relationships in my new home, at that moment I could not shake off the feelings of betrayal, loneliness, and the loss of generations of belonging.

During the ceremony, I was sitting next to a woman from Sierra Leone who was brimming with joy since now she can try to bring her five children who were still trapped in a conflict zone to Canada. It was a profound and timely reminder of the value of this country called Canada that jolted me out of my personal angst. The incidence in my neighbourhood similarly revealed the juxtaposition of the inherent good and bad in all our experiences.

When the issues started to emerge in my neighbourhood, I was struck by the verbal and emotional aggression in the conversations I witnessed. People denied equally vehemently that they had any racial prejudices, while at least one person suggested that I must have a higher tolerance for such nuisance because of where I come from. There was clearly a class dimension too, adding to the ’othering’ of the Aboriginal family, since they were renting in this street of home-owners. I suspected that I was relatively more acceptable to my neighbours because of what I do, despite ‘what’ I am. To put it mildly, this was an awkward situation where I found myself warding off the pressure to complain on one hand, and on the other hand feeling indignant for myself and the Aboriginal family next door.

I was sceptical about the impact of external mediation, but I was wrong. Very few of my neighbours phoned the MRJC staff and the most vocal voices actually chose not to engage with MRJC. According to the MRJC staff, the ideal scenario would have been to get everyone to talk face-to-face in a session facilitated by a professional mediator. Despite their best efforts, only one person was willing for such a session and another was willing to talk to the neighbour directly.

However, there were a number of indirect benefits of the involvement of the MRJC. I heard back from some of the neighbours who spoke to the MRJC staff and it was clear that they were seeing their perceived problems in a very different light. Aside from the conflict management tips provided by the excellent staff at the MRJC, I believe that the very idea of external mediation gave them a reason to pause and reconsider the source of their annoyance. The failure of the more aggressive people to engage with the process exposed their unwillingness for any solution other than the removal of the Aboriginal family. This clearly separated the majority of the neighbours who were now willing to reconsider their previous position on how bad the situation was and prepared to take their issues directly to the Aboriginal family, as opposed to the small minority whose prejudices have been exposed and who have retreated into a sulky silence, for now.

This may not be a dramatic victory of multiculturalism in a tiny suburb of Edmonton, but there are a number of lessons that are worth sharing. Firstly, we need to admit in this so called post-industrial society that there are many tools of ’othering’ which are used to essentialize difference, and serve to create and maintain hierarchies of humanity. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ is constantly being redefined through real or perceived ethnic, socio-economic, and other differences. However, this is not just happening in North America, but also in European countries, South Africa, India, China, nay all over the world. Secondly, being a disengaged bystander is not a choice and does not absolve us from the responsibility we bear as members of a community to stand up and speak out against an injustice. Most importantly, it is vital to remember that we are not alone when we do choose to wade into such a battle. There are wonderful people – friends, colleagues, neighbours – and institutions like the MRJC within the system that can offer help and guidance.

Finally, perhaps the person was right in noting that my country of origin had something to do with how I handled this situation. I was born in India whose images of grinding poverty and dense population are well known. What is not so well known to the outside world is the fact that it is also home to all the major religions of the world; it has more than two thousand ethnic groups; it is a country that is more diverse than Europe in terms of linguistic, genetic and cultural diversity; it is also home to the world’s largest middle class, which has learnt to survive and thrive despite the murky politics, archaic institutions, and corruption that permeates everyday life. South Africa, my second home, has also taught us that it is possible to confront the truths of our histories and policies and move on to become a Rainbow Nation.

Multiculturalism is not an essentially North American phenomenon; there is a much longer history of nations managing their deeply vibrant and significantly multiple ethnic demographics all over the world. None of these experiments are perfect, but the long histories and unfolding stories of places like India and South Africa can only enrich our understanding of multiculturalism in North America.

For now, our little suburb is quiet again. I have no illusions of permanent peace or battles won, but the incidences of the past several months were a catalyst for revealing significant aspects of the people and the place I have chose as my new home. It also got me closer to understanding what I try to learn and teach as I traverse the fledgling field of Global Studies. Right now I feel cautiously optimistic.

Meenal Shrivastava is an associate professor and the Academic Coordinator of Global Studies and Political Economy in the Centre for Global and Social Analysis at Athabasca University in Alberta. This was originally posted in the FedCan blog as part of the Equity Issues series on  ‘interculturalism and pluralism’.


“Everyone’s Baby” by Katherine Barrett

Lizzie arrived at our house the week we moved to Cape Town. Our twins had just turned two, Thomas was three, and our furniture, to the best of our knowledge, was still at sea. Lizzie came as our housekeeper, and within minutes of introducing herself she pulled an apron from her purse and got down to scrubbing our empty home.For the past three years, several days a week, Lizzie has left her own house in a nearby township and come to work at ours. She has told me of her childhood in South Africa’s Eastern Cape where she carried her own slate and chair to school each day — on her head. She has tried to explain her culture, Xhosa, and teach me its language. We’ve discussed politics from Zuma to Obama, and compared our styles of cooking cornmeal, or as it’s called here, “mealie meal.”

Mostly though, Lizzie and I have talked about motherhood. Lizzie has four children, now grown adults, but her tiny house is far from empty. Lizzie, now a grandmother, also cares for ten adopted children under the age of sixteen. Our conversations are usually spontaneous, informal. But one morning we sat down with coffee to discuss being a mother in a city as violent as Cape Town.

Continue reading ““Everyone’s Baby” by Katherine Barrett”

“Scandal: Sex and politics don’t mix when you’re a dame” by Samantha Power

/ Mike Siek


If we had a choice, our sexual histories would remain our own, the mistakes and that adventurous, experimental phase. Sexual partners would keep to themselves those private moments of exposed vulnerability. Unfortunately we sometimes don’t have a choice, especially if you happen to become a public figure. Your history is a matter of debate, another forum to learn of your moral choices and perhaps predict how you’ll lead society, based on your wardrobe choice in college.

Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia, Krystal Ball (who admits her father made an ill-advised choice in naming her) had to confront that past when Republican opponents pulled from her Internet-documented history a few photos of Ball in a scantily clad situation. Dressed as a sexy Santa with her husband, a dildo-adorned reindeer, Ball knew what she was dealing with. “They wanted to make me feel like a whore,” Ball would write later, as a response to her accusers. In Ball’s case there was no instance of infidelity, as her husband was a full participant, no indiscretions involving young pages or interns, simply a photo at a party in her youth.

At the age of 28 Ball was one of the younger candidates, but also one of the more promising. She was listed in Forbes magazine as one of the top 25 most powerful women in the midterm elections and was endorsed by the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee. But qualifications could not save her from overt photos of her sexual history. After losing the election to Republican Rob Wittman, Ball wrote a response published in the Huffington Post, stating, “Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are going to leak into the public sphere.”

Continue reading ““Scandal: Sex and politics don’t mix when you’re a dame” by Samantha Power”

Did He Lie, Mom? by Fiona Tinwei Lam

Talking to my son about the scandal over Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea” TheTyee.ca

Greg Mortenson, author

Like the four million others who had purchased Three Cups of Tea, I was moved by Greg Mortenson’s story of how he came to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Back in 2007, the book’s focus on cross-cultural understanding and forging strong grassroots relationships with local communities seemed to provide a much-needed counterweight to news stories about the Taliban, suicide bombers, and realpolitik manoeuvring by western states in the Middle East and central Asia. In view of increasing troop deployments to Afghanistan, and mounting combat and civilian mortalities with no end in sight, Mortenson seemed to offer a higher-minded, peaceful and effective strategy to address the roots of terrorism.

I read the kids’ version of the book, Listen to the Wind, to my son several times while he was in kindergarten. The picture book version depicts Mortenson’s journey to the impoverished community of Korphe, where he is nursed back to health after a failed mountain-climbing venture, and where he decides to build his first school. My son had heard about the war in Afghanistan and had asked about the reasons behind the conflict and the casualties. I wanted him to have a more balanced, complex view of the situation that would go beyond media stereotypes of intolerant hostile religious fanatics or passive, hapless victims. The book showed him that there were children just like him living in that part of the world, who had parents and leaders that deeply valued what education could bring to their communities.

Continue reading “Did He Lie, Mom? by Fiona Tinwei Lam”

“Connecting the Canadian women’s human rights legacy to budgets”

Isabella Bakker, York University

Over the last few decades, Canada has been a signatory to a number of United Nations commitments to women’s equality and more inclusive economic development, such as theInternational Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action (BPA), and more recently, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The signatory countries, including Canada, made commitments to integrate the stated goals of these international agreements into their policy plans. This included mobilizing resources to realize these commitments as well as the monitoring of progress toward these goals on the basis of the documented links between women’s equality and broader economic and social progress.

Despite these stated commitments in both international obligations as well as within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there remain significant gender inequalities in the life experiences and distribution of opportunities among women and men, and between women, in Canada.  For example, in 2007 the average earnings of women working full-time, full year were 71.4 percent of those of men; women accounted for 60 percent  of all minimum wage earners in Canada in 2008; even after transfers and tax credits, 24 percent  of Canadian single parent women were poor as were 19 percent  of unattached senior women (compared to 14.7 percent of men); only 39 percent of unemployed women received EI benefits compared to 45 percent of men; and, regulated child care spaces existed for 18.6 percent  of children 0 to 12 in Canada in 2008.

While women in all social groups face inequalities compared to men, there are also significant differences among women. The erosion of social rights is particularly pronounced among racialized women (29 percent live in poverty), aboriginal women (36 percent live in poverty) and women with disabilities (26 percent live in poverty).

Isabella C. Bakker, FRSC, is a professor of political science at York University and a Trudeau Fellow.

This is published in the Fedcan “Equity Matters” blog. Continue reading at: Connecting the canadian women’s human rights legacy to budgets « Fedcan Blog.

“Witnessing the Alberta Tar Sands Dead Zone and Asserting the Need to Heal” by Aidee Velasco Arenas, Choo-kien Kua, Christine Leclerc, and Rita Wong

with photos by Choo-kien Kua

In the face of the enormous devastation that is destroying forests across northern Alberta, a peaceful group of people are steadfastly asserting the need to heal the land and waters.  On June 25, 2011, the second annual Healing Walk for the Tar Sands occurred, bringing together Indigenous people, Keepers of the Athabasca, elders, children, and supporters, who walked 13 km through the heart of where Syncrude and Suncor extract bitumen on a massive scale.

Bitumen, a tar-like substance that holds petroleum, sits below what the industry, in an Orwellian turn, calls “overburden” – not forest. The destruction we saw is so vast it goes far beyond the visible horizon. The urgent need for healing is evident to anyone who visits this barren expanse. People from many places came to support and join in–including a few activists who participated with Zapatista Indigenous communities and the movement in Oaxaca, Mexico–together they chanted: “Zapata Vive! La Lucha Sigue!”

The Tar Sands Healing Walk was led by elders such as Lillian, a Cree woman, and Violet, an 83-year-old elder and the oldest woman in the community of Fort McMurray First Nation. These elder women possess a wonderful sense of humor and sharp minds, and with other elders, guided the traditional prayers, smudge and ceremonies. This walk faced the enormity of the land stolen from Indigenous peoples that is now destroyed, lifeless, and empty save for ugly scarecrows called “bit-u-men” to keep out the birds from its poisoned soil.  Horrid continuous booms from sound cannons scare the birds from landing in the enormous reservoirs of toxic waste.  We marched beside the machinery of destruction, the surreal gigantic Tonka trucks, cranes and pipes. The air pollution, a putrid stench, gave a headache to many of the people who participated in the healing walk.

Continue reading ““Witnessing the Alberta Tar Sands Dead Zone and Asserting the Need to Heal” by Aidee Velasco Arenas, Choo-kien Kua, Christine Leclerc, and Rita Wong”

Janine Brodie “On courage, social justice and policymaking” & a short doc about her work

Political scientist Janine Brodie,  FRSC, is a University of Alberta Distinguished University Professor, Canada Research Chair in Political Economy and Social Governance, and a Trudeau Fellow This excerpt from a panel presentation delivered at the Trudeau Foundation’s 2011 Summer Institute in Whistler, British Columbia, is republished here with the author’s permission. It was originally posted on the FedCan Equity Matters blog, an excellent resource for insightful discussions of equity and an initiative developed by Malinda Smith, Equity Issues board member of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Science.
 

The spring of 2011 opens an instructive window to reflect on the question of courage in policymaking. For some months now we have witnessed “the Arab Spring” when millions of people filled streets across the Middle East in defiance of oppressive regimes and in the face of violent state repression. Paradoxically, the blurred YouTube images of the multitudes are actually variegated composites of profound acts of individual courage, ordinary people willing to risk all for the promise of democracy, human rights, and a more equitable future.

These images resonate with familiar lexicons of courage as a quality that enables a person to confront difficulty, danger, or pain instead of withdrawing from it. All of us at one point in our lives or another are challenged to confront threatening obstacles, but these private and daily acts of courage, by definition, defy a common yardstick. How then are we to think about courage in the collective enterprise of policymaking? How does the personal capacity to stand up in the face of threatening obstacles intersect with the negotiations and compromise, the institutional constraints, and the gradations of power that together shape public policy?

Continue reading “Janine Brodie “On courage, social justice and policymaking” & a short doc about her work”