Friday, April 7, 2023

AFN...Winning can be losing at the same time.

       Perry Bellegarde won the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) leadership on the second ballot. What does that mean? It means that the regional Chiefs and their proxies are comfortable with the gains they have made with the Liberal government in these last three years. The 2018 AFN elections in British Columbia were hailed as trend setting-destined to shape the future course of Indigenous relationships with the federal government of Canada. It also offered hope that as an organization, the AFN could finally reverse course and become more in-line with grassroots objectives and decision making-in regard to the issues that directly affect their quality of life on and off reserves. Among the five candidates, Russ Diabo held that grassroots hope, 
“…there will be consequences,” he said during his closing remarks. 
Described as a master tactician on Indigenous issues, the AFN under his leadership would have forced a different outcome for the Liberal government heading into a general election in the fall of 2019. 

Indigenous activist Kanahus Manuel from the Secwepemc and Neskonlith peoples of British Columbia is one of the most recognizable faces of opposition to what the AFN represents. Having been on the front lines resisting urban developments such as the Sun Peak Resort, including natural resource extraction agreements such as Imperial Metals-and more recently the Kinder Morgan (KM) project pipeline, Manuel finds organizations like the AFN to be facilitating the path of assimilation of FNs people. Manuel is also a spokesperson for Tiny Houses Warriors (THW) which is predominantly led by Indigenous women who have reclaimed land along the proposed KM route.  Being in ‘bed’ with the federal government of the day, is a constant refrain. One that Bellegarde dismisses as nonsense.
“As National Chief we have to bring about policy and legislative change…. As First Nations Peoples we’re all about setting the agenda. Through strong advocacy we’ve influenced the Liberal Party platform,” explained Bellegarde as he was interviewed by APTN reporter Jorge Barrera. (Facebook live streaming) July 26, 2018. Bellegarde continued, 
“We’re not responding to them, they are responding to us! We have to have access to the decision makers, and we have good access now and that’s all that represents. I have good relationships with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and all the Ministers in Cabinet, that’s a positive thing. I’m opening doors for (national) Chiefs to come in. I hear that continuously across Canada.”  

Chief and Councils (C&C) across reserves have little choice in the matter. The only source of revenue continues to be the federal government, and it so doing are expected to follow instruction. Access to more funding via the AFN has benefited Chiefs who are looking for results that can be ‘pointed to’ on their reserves as providing relief-Additional housing, a new treatment water plant, a road linking a community to the rest of the world, make a difference. The betterment of reserve communities have transformed under the Trudeau Liberal government. The easement of long time suffering, and inconveniences experienced by ‘grassroots members’ daily lives are triggering volatile responses. Some will recognize (C&C) efforts, and some will argue that it is far too little and want more.  
The AFN is often accused as being absent and not supporting grassroots initiatives on the ground. Mohawk activist Shawn Brant recalls the failed attempt to block Hwy 401 and the CN Rail line back in 2006.
“We lost an opportunity, because the AFN didn’t step forward and use its leadership role. We could have stood people across the country in areas of economic importance and brought the economy to a grinding halt, we could have negotiated our place in society.”-APTN July 23, 2018.
Venessa Watts and Hayden King’s opinion piece surmises the issue by stating, “…The AFN now seems to run interference for the state (Canada). This is the impossible reconciliation First Nations citizens are forced to make every time the AFN holds an election”-The Globe and Mail July 26th, 2018. (

With respect to sovereignty, self-determination, unceded, inherent treaty title and rights-these word definitions vary depending on who you talk to. Claiming ‘sovereignty’ means that an ‘entity’ can muster an army, its own currency, and able to generate wealth. The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘sovereignty’ as “the power of a country to control its own government.”  And describes, ‘Self-government’ as “…the ability or power to make decisions for yourself, especially the power of a nation to decide how it will be governed.”

As a collective-FNs no longer agree on the type of governance they wish to accept, “…While attempts are made to draw upon a range of examples and to address diversity, it is next to impossible to write about Indigenous governance in a manner which speaks to the histories and experiences of all Indigenous nations and First Nations communities. The complexities of history, the divergent experiences with colonialism, and the fact that all nations have different political traditions and political systems makes any conversation about Indigenous government-past, present, and future-extremely difficult and extremely complex.”-Kiera L. Ladner, 2006 -(

Wealth generation within FNs are limited.  Equity-ownership partnerships in the oil and gas sector are lucrative-they provide a constant source of revenue. Ladner continued to write, 
“…Poverty and revenue sharing arrangements will need to be addressed because without the wealth or resources and development opportunities provided by their traditional territories, most First Nations cannot cope with the financial requirements of government…As such new treaties will have to be negotiated-especially where no treaties exist.” 

Her research paper made determinations based on equal representation. Meaning the 3rd level of governance which is being proposed by the federal government-is not feasible. Instead Ladner alludes to ‘Indigenous constitutions’.

“The first step is to make a decision. To do so, nations must gather, engage themselves in a discussion of, and educate themselves about, their constitutional order. They must address their options for the future collectively and decide as a community how they want to govern themselves...Indigenous governments have the ability to exist as a parallel to federal and provincial governments, exercising those jurisdictions afforded by their constitutional order and treaty relationship and as recognized and affirmed with section 35 of the Canadian constitution while federal and provincial governments exercise those jurisdictions afforded by their constitutional order under section 91, 92 and 93.” Ladner, 2006.

To date, there is no consensus among the AFN or anywhere else for that matter-which can articulate how such a process can work within Sec. 35 of the Constitution. Ladner proposes that the process must be championed by someone. Kanahus Manuel could be that champion. And there are others who like Manuel will not wait until federal or provincial governments decide to engage. Bellegarde’s nomination and victory was a clear message for grassroots activists who continue to resist. and claim-the AFN has to be dissolved. In order to do this, they have to look for other streams of revenue-which is not yet resolved.  The national chiefs who elected Bellegarde are of the view that increasing revenue streams from the federal government is the only way to better the daily lives of their members and communities. And in the middle of all of this you have the rest of the Canadian population that is scratching their heads and wonder when will this end. What can be done?

Jeffrey Ansloos wrote an op-ed piece in MacLean’s describing one possibility,
 “…it will require Indigenous-Canadian political imagination. It creates a future where multiple sovereignties exist in the same geographic space without exploitation; where self-determined Indigenous governments are engaged as constitutional partners; where there are material redistributions of power that give force to Indigenous rights.”
What Ansloos suggests is impossible. Canadians will refute the concept of “nations within nations”. What would that look like? Arthur Manuel posited that in order for reserves to become self-sufficient they needed a certain radius of land (square miles) to be governed under their own laws. This would create chaos in municipal, provincial and federal jurisdictions. It certainly would mean a steep decrease in revenue streams which all systems of governance depend on to administer goods and services to its population. Is there enough revenue sharing for 632 Indigenous reserves across Canada? John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia acknowledges its contradictory message as he and his government continues to circumvent Indigenous rights concerning the Site C injunction hearing.
“Despite all this, the government’s submission to the injunction hearing asserts that the First Nations should have taken on the enormous burden of launching a legal action even while the province was ostensibly still making up its mind whether the project would proceed. The government’s submission actually states that “political speeches” or that nature are not “legally enforceable promises.”-Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada.

The Angus Reid Institute revealed greater divisions within Canada as it relates to Indigenous issues. While this survey does not have anything to do with the AFN, it proves the escalating degree of resistance from Canadians and Indigenous activists alike-for distinct reasons. At a glance, the survey reveals that 66% of Canadians believe that Indigenous communities “should be governed by the same systems and rules as other Canadians.”  The survey may not be 100% accurate, and in this case, it doesn’t matter. The significance lies in the distribution. 

 What can we expect? KM opposition will not disappear. As per the Liberal government’s intent to follow through concrete timetables have been put in play according to a CBC report.

                “The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project took a symbolic step forward Friday morning with a Cree blessing and groundbreaking ceremony at one of the project’s equipment stockpile sites located on First Nation land near Stony Plains, Alta.”

Claims of violence resulting in deaths have been predicted over this issue. Not surprising considering the positions taken by all involved. What will that look like and what the consequences might be is anyone’s guess. One thing for sure, casualties will be felt on both sides.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The cynical, the self-interested…and the anarchical.

    As the chaos continues in the United States, I continue to ponder if Abraham Lincoln’s Address at Gettysburg still carries some relevance in American politics. 

Allen C. Guelzo dedicated the concluding chapter of his book, The Last Invasion discussing what very question. The Declaration of Independence until 1861 had not weathered such a cataclysmic strain which could have rendered that glorious experiment into an epithet denouncing its supposed superiority to that of a monarchial system of rule. Lincoln had his own misgivings until the combined victories of Vicksburg and Gettysburg convinced him that democracy must prevail. 

The United States continues to struggle in that endeavor. It has pursued its domestic and foreign policies amid the screams of its past-never really coming to terms…or acknowledging its consequence, “Of course, that depended on how one defined success. The cynical and the self- interested sneered that this success was only temporary, only waiting for the first real test, at which point all of those ordinary people with their equal say in government would begin quarrelling obscenely with one another, and on the basis of possessing their precious rights would walk out of the chambers of government and proceed to do whatever they wanted.”-Guelzo
The cynical, the self-interested…and the anarchical.

I am not very interested in revisionism, that is to say in omitting what is factually proven from a historical accounting. Doing away with civil war memorials in the southern states of the United States is-complicit in that pursuance of effacing the anecdotal deeds of its past. Most objectify and argue that such statutes, plaques, et al… should be placed in museums, away from public view. After all secessionist sentiment now lies completely within those organisms that have been identified as being Neo-Nazi, Ultra Nationalist, and members of the KKK.  Monuments of this sort should remain in full view of its citizenry.

The lost noble cause... “…the destruction of slavery was actually a subset of the larger contest over democracy. If democracy failed, and the South triumphed, there would be no point in talking about emancipation; if democracy did survive and the republic was reunited, then slavery was doomed just by the fact of that successful reuniting. Emancipation, however great a righting of a historic wrong, would be meaningless unless it was set within a larger question of a democracy’s survival.” -Guelzo

Charlottetown is the latest epicenter of that struggle.  Witnessing Americans marching and singing Nazi propaganda of the 1930’s into the streets is eerie, unwelcome, depressing and proving that fascism is a viable political schism in the United States.  For those who fought in the Second World War it must be a wound that goes deeper still.

We are met on a great battle field of that war, which is a reminder that those very ordinary people who the cultured despisers of democracy hold in such contempt have been willing to mount some very extraordinary efforts to preserve it. Especially, we have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place of those who died here, that the nation might live. Live, and be reminded that those who died here did so because they saw in democracy something that spoke to the fundamental nature of human beings itself, something which arched like a comet in the political sky…It is altogher fitting and proper that we should do this…”-Guelzo

 Ever more poignant, and salient in today’s political debacle.

The reconstruction period (1865-1877) under Andrew Jackson’s presidency did away with much of the initial steps undertaken by Lincoln to ease the south out of its slave state mindset. Jackson remained steadfast in pursuing legislative measures in which the southern states could and should retain control of its African-American population. It took eighteen succeeding presidential administrations to enact legislation addressing the inequality of African-Americans in the South, and reverse the status quo since the civil war; including the domestic policies advancing visible minority civil rights in the United States.

The glass ceiling was broken with Barak Obama’s administration. The thing is… the United States wasn’t prepared for it. Not because it ushered in the first African-American president, but rather because it had not dealt with its cultural ‘White America’ ideological political identity.  The business of electing a non-white president remained a conceptional experiment.

Since the GOP primaries of 20o1, the democratic institutions that preserve the United States were becoming increasingly vulnerable, including the issue of branding the republican and democratic parties as championing ideologies that proved to be insoluble, unpalpable, incoherent to one another.  Members of the House and Congress ceased to cooperate across the floor. Legislation became harder to pass; the states were operating as independent organisms. 

9/11 ushered another dynamic; that of fear, and reprisal. It also re-elevated the American ethos, ‘If you’re not with us you’re against us’. In his book State of Denial part III released in 2006, Bob Woodward stated that he interviewed W. Bush four times, between 2001-2003. On one of these occasions Bush described his rhetoric in keeping faith with what had begun in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the messaging remained firmly focused on ‘stay the course’ Woodward affirms the president’s intent, “With all of Bush’s upbeat talk and optimism, he had not told the American public the truth about what Iraq had become.”

Fast forward to 2015; the residual festering inequalities among race-based issues, the economy, foreign policy, climate change, justice, healthcare and infrastructure including the last eight years of political stalemate in the house and congress-well it boils over in the form of Donald Trump. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Trump-the First Man in Rome.

                The Indiana republican primaries on May 3, 2016 for Donald Trump continues to provide the Republican GOP a problem which they didn’t anticipate. At least not to this degree. Trump is not an enigma; he is however a phenomenon. A product, a reflection of the type of society which rose from the Regan era of the 1980’s.

   American politics, Americans themselves, tend to concentrate their attention to those who can win. Very few rules (legal or otherwise) can dislodge this primary value from the American ethos. With regard to Donald Trump, winning, supersedes all. Throughout the primaries there has been a level of incredulity, of disbelief that a presidential candidate like Trump; could heap such a disdain for the electoral process. That is …all its perfunctory ethics and codes of conduct.  

 The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” -Winston Churchill

The 20-minute exchange between Ted Cruz and Trump supporters in Indiana serves Winston's quote very well. It also exemplifies the raw emotional state of the population at large who now; question the essence of what it is to live and work within a dysfunctional democracy. It speaks to what former Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders refers to as the 1%-what is often described as "the establishment". 

   This exists not only in America's institutions, but also within its political and economic structures at every level of governance. Making promises during elections and forgoing those same promises on the basis of impracticability, national self-interests no longer resonate with its citizens. Americans are realizing that electing representatives at the congressional, and senatorial, levels achieves nothing. Congress has now been made impotent by their own accord or by submitting to the will of special interest groups or powerful conglomerate institutions.
   No American can claim ignorance, or deny having not being made aware of the political changes within their own democratic institutions. This is an ongoing issue, but during this election Trump is the only candidate to have harnessed and labelled it.

 “Making America great again”

    CNN political pundits are bemused. Trump is a frustration, and a manifestation of the unknown in terms of political acumen. There is also an element of legitimacy. Is Trump a legitimate representative of the American voter? Until the primaries began, no one believed that this was in fact the case. Confined to the realm of the entertainment industry; a character such as Donald Trump would be impossible to pass as ‘presidential’ material. Trump’s legitimatization is based in part by his ability to achieve success. His pursuit of the ‘American dream.’
   It is reflected in all facets of his life. His accumulated wealth, his stature, his good looking wife and ex-wives, his children, and existential circle of friends. Peeling back a Trump onion would reveal many layers of the man himself. Having a proper vetting process was not something the Republican GOP deemed important or necessary. After all, 17 other well-known and established Republican candidates shared the path towards the Republican nomination.

   Both Republican and Democratic establishment are circling the wagons. They are bracing themselves against the anger of the American population itself. And they are unsettled. There are no precedents, no operational manual to be had. It doesn’t exist yet. Trump has the opportunity to lead those who have supported his nomination and his eventual run towards the presidency-- as a civil war battle cry. A civil war against the status quo. Americans, at least those who identify with Trump and Bernie Sanders, are a whisper away from employing more physical means to regain control of the country.
   And as with any political entity, the process by which Trump has successfully distanced his detractors and withheld their ability to mobilize their opposition during his rallies is concerning.  A recent BBC documentary explaining the current American climate made corresponding allusions to pre-war Germany when comparatives were used to describe Trump. These arguments have merit.

   Under the leadership of Bernie Sanders, the American electorate would have the capability to elevate a social-democrat. While this doesn’t sit well with true republican ideology, it would offer a viable alternative for Americans of either party and independents to elect a president who has the necessary will to do what must be done. Return the democratic process, ‘…to the people, by the people and for the people’.
Trump does not offer this option. “Making America great again” hinges on his skill set to develop policies that will not be in accordance with democratic principles per say. Rather, Trump policy making--would incorporate what is necessary to re-position Americans as the western super power. Not only from a military, but also from an economic perspective. Trump has more than once railed against NAFTA, TTP, and other international trade agreements which puts American interests at a disadvantage.  Along with his immigration proposals, Americans who identity with his policies and deem them necessary will support new legislation introduced by Trump in order to follow through with his agenda—be damned domestic or international consequences.
Social democrats and independents may cringe at Trump’s means towards the end; but they are not willing to ignore the real possibility of losing gainful employment either. Clinton’s assertions earlier in March of 2016 during a primary debate--that coal mines in Indiana would be effectively shut down under her presidential mandate—cost her the Indiana primary nomination. Sander’s will not carry the democratic nomination, but he can influence the tone and mandate of the Democratic Party election platform. In essence tie Clinton’s hands and force her to win an election based upon a platform that will inflame American anger—not diffuse it.
Is Trump too big a risk?
A scorched earth political battle is already promised by journalist, radio and television analysts in the United States. The Clinton campaign already labelled Trump as being too big a risk. Campaigning against a republican platform is one thing. Campaigning against the will of the electorate is another. Examining past failures made by republican nominees will not serve Clinton well. Save in one aspect. And that is to understand what voters want. Not hope to get, not what they hope to settle for…but what they expect. Ignoring this fact will negate all other strategies.
That is a difficult proposition for any 2016 democratic presidential ticket. Clinton cannot distance herself from Obama’s tenure. Neither can she dissociate herself from her voting record on critical bills passed by Congress. In addition, Sander’s decision to challenge Clinton for the remaining 6 weeks of the democratic nomination primaries will force Clinton between a rock and an impossible place. Disaffected republicans and democrats often describe Trump as a person to be fearful of. Is it because they don’t understand him? Quite possibly. Unlike career politicians Trump is not interested in appealing to everyone.

New York Times journalist Patrick Healy quoted Trump a day after the Indiana primary saying,

“I know everyone won’t like everything I do, but I’m not running to be everyone’s favorite president... Things are seriously wrong in this country. People are hurting, business is hurting. I’m running to move quickly to make big changes.”

Trump is not politically correct. He makes mistakes. He is not above quoting the National Inquirer (or anything else for that matter) if it helps him win. Trump makes no pretense about possessing the necessary knowledge to develop policy. Frankly, he doesn’t care. He can delegate that to someone who does. As long as it follows his requisites. He will change his position, if he sees the logic in it.

As human beings we love familiarity, we understand what is learned. Unfortunately, the capacity to face what is unknown with composure is equally important. There is nothing to fear, but fear itself. Portraying Trump and his policies as “too big a risk” might work for the Clinton campaign. After all, he doesn’t have any real answers yet. At least none that have been shared with the public.  He swears a lot, he has machismo. His facts (or what passes for facts) are often versions of the truth…but no matter if it helps him win.
    He believes in “might is right”. Perhaps not in the same sense in Abraham Lincoln’s 1860’s Cooper Union speech in New York were this famous quote derives from; but Trump has no problem using the military as his foreign policy cornerstone. And no American would argue against that. His immigration policy, brings international ridicule. “Good luck with that,” said President Obama.
   The thing is, it’s not Trump’s idea. The Secure Fence Act goes back to 2006. Hardly something new. For the neighboring towns along the Rio Grande, illegal immigration is not something to be taken lightly. Clinton might wish to tare town walls and build bridges, but as the US-Mexico border is concerned, the American litmus test is way out of whack with those of the establishment that Clinton was a part of for all her adult life.

Trump is not afraid to voice what many Americans feel needs to be done. This is not political theory 101. Violence will occur. It’s impossible to avoid it. The blame game will continue. One thing for sure, the 2016 election is just the beginning, not the end. If the American population does not see a government that works for them, in the very near future—they will destroy it. Maybe it will look like the movie Vendetta. Maybe not. Time will tell.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Elections 2015

I wonder if Canadians will be able to sleep come Monday’s October 19th Elections 2015 results… If at all. Canadians who have been promoting ABC (anything but Conservative) have taken this slogan to new heights. Songs have been written, poems, satires, editorials, you name it it’s been done.  Social media is on fire, everyone has an invested interest in this final electoral outcome. The prospect of electing another Conservative majority government has mobilized Canadians. It even runs contrary to the long standing tradition of not caring about participating in the electoral process. Whatever you political inclinations, or motives, you can thank Mr. Harper for this. 
"He alone has done the unthinkable--forcing Canadians to look past the end of their noses."
According to Statistics Canada, “…approximately 14.8 million of the 24.3 million citizens on the (2011) electoral list cast a ballot, for a turnout rate of 61%.”  Judging by the early advance poll results released by Elections Canada this will not be the case in 2015.
   Brigette DePape who is currently the Council of Canadians' Pacific regional organizing assistant, hopes to influence her peers into action, "My generation has been accused of being glued to our devices, but we are also using them to bring about change. Inspired by Rick Mercer's rant, 140,000 people, including me, have changed our profile pictures to "I will vote on October 19th."

   DePape’s and others of her generation have not sat quietly during this election.  If anything her leadership has shifted long set opinions about the vote. Clearly the level of apathy remains high but in this instance; the Conservative branding upon the Canadian landscape for the past 10 years was significant enough to demand action.  Schools are staging mock elections. Candidates are invited to speak and engage the next generation about politics. Antipathy is no longer acceptable.  Universities are making the task of voting easier for those who cannot vote on site. The word change can mean many things, and in this case during this election none more important than galvanizing, urging, demanding, every registered voter to do just that—vote.

   Mobilizing the indigenous vote among First Nation’s communities and in urban cities has been intense. Many FNs leaders and Idle No More activists are of the opinion that “opting in” the electoral process will do very little to further FNs sovereigntist agenda.  Self-determination remains the focal issue according to the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).  Professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Dr. Taiaiake Alfred remarked in a 2011 interview that, “(FNs participation in Canadian politics) is a sign not only of the failure of our leadership [but] the slow, and gradual and fading away of any real sense of being Native.”

   The idea of nationhood has never been to far from the topic when discussing indigenous issues. While Mulcair promises ‘nation to nation’ relationship building he steers widely from its standard definition-at least from an indigenous perspective.

The Liberals and the NDP acknowledge that FNs have been historically ill served. Both have promised enhanced financial supports in the area of education, training, and infrastructure. Indigenous representation (22) is also significant within the NDP.  As with all parties, promises were made towards indigenous communities.  
“To create a cabinet-level committee chaired by the prime minister, to ensure that all government decisions respect treaty rights, inherent rights and Canada’s international obligations, including the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”-NDP promise platform.
Mulcair’s last campaign stop in Kenora, Ontario reiterates the need for increased federal support were 25 FNs reserves are still living under boil water advisories (17 years for some).  Promises as the one stated above will not solve infrastructure issues. But the NDP platform is far more palpable and clearly identifies indigenous priorities as NDP priorities. Will it be enough to claim all 51 ridings that are within reach of ‘Rocking the Vote’ and give Mulcair and the NDP their long awaited break and form government?

   Judging by the latest polls the Liberals under Trudeau’s leadership seem poised to form a minority government. Many Canadians are of the opinion that minority governments can work. Should the next party win a minority, expectations are high to form government across party lines. Canadian minority governments have poor track records. Since Confederation there are only two minority governments which have lasted more than 360 days. That of Lyon Mackenzie King (1922-25) and Stephen Harper (2006-2008).  

   Somehow this inability, or unwillingness to pursue Canadian interests across party lines runs deeply. The NDP have already stated that should a Conservative minority be successful, it would trigger another election by voting against the Conservative’s first parliamentary budget (automatic non confidence vote). Canadians are engaged and earnestly hoping for the resumption of the status quo or its complete obliteration.  There are no ‘in between’.  

   Monday’s election results will not be the end. It will be the beginning of another messy process where a minority government will be expected to work, or in the event of a clear majority the mandate-- to have the courage to follow through campaign promises. Repealing the first-past-the-post (FPTP) in time for the next election proposed under a Liberal government will drastically alter the way we vote in future elections. And it’s high time.  

   As for the status quo the latest Nanos Poll indicate Conservative national support sits at 30.5%. Appealing enough for some in spite of Harper’s weaknesses as Prime Minister. Is it to protect what is left of the party as a Progressive? Or is it that policies introduced by Harper actually find resonance among the 30.5%? Perhaps a little bit of both?

Touted as the Vote of the Century, the 2015 decision assuredly will indicate in which direction Canada will take. Let us hope that direction is not downwards.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Going through the paces....

Renowned Flamenco dancer and Instructor Carmen De Torres will be hosting series of workshops, in Winnipeg, for the month of September. These workshops were organized by Helena Infante, who determined that studios of this sort filled a need. Lifelong friends, these two enterprising women hope to solidify future expositions of Iberian cultural arts to Winnipeg.

Carmen De Torres
“Having Carmen host a series of workshops in Winnipeg was just pure timing,” explained Infante.  As it were, she had already scheduled to spend some time with her family, “…So I just decided to organize some time tables and ask who would be interested. And here we are.” De Torres currently lives and earns a living teaching flamenco in Sevilla, Spain.
“(De Torres) is my married name. The reason I chose to retain the name was for artistic reasons. As you know, I had of lot of exposure in the press at that time. So when I moved back to Spain in 1989, it was a logical thing to do.”
Culture takes root in dance. And for families of Spanish ancestry such as Carmen Garrido-De Torres it began with the Pabellón de España. The Pabellón’s Artistic Director Carmen Infante, has formed most of today’s flamenco artists based from Winnipeg.  Infante (Helena) is taking her mother’s lead and hopes to further all artistic forms of art of Iberian expression.
 “Arranging flamenco classes is just the beginning. Carmen is just one example of how Iberian culture can be introduced, performed, and taught in Winnipeg.  I have ideas. For me I would like to make available these kinds of workshops to everyone living in this city. I would be a great way to showcase the Iberian Peninsula.” -Helena Infante
Perceptions about what flamenco is or is not seldom worries De Torres.  In her opinion, flamenco is not proprietary and you do not have to be of Spanish origin to perform flamenco, “Andalucía has been invaded by many cultures throughout the centuries and has infused some of their own ethnic markers within flamenco itself. So we can really say that flamenco belongs to the world.”
  During the Spanish Civil War flamenco foundered. De Torres harbors no illusions, "It became a lesser form under Franco. Flamenco was rendered lifeless, cheap, really it just became some sort of venture without any substance."

She went on to describe Lorca's assassination and subsequent efforts of de Falla to rejuvenate the old teachings in Spain. Carol A. Hess writes in her book Manuel de Falla and Modernism in Spain-1898-1936 the influences and cultural aspects of flamenco during that time.
The cante jondo contest grew out of the conviction--shared by Falla, Lorca, and a host of Spanish intellectuals--that flamenco was being overtaken by urban popular song. The organizers' stated desire to hear the " 'admirable sobriety' of the classic cantaores" shows the extent to which the contest was, in effect, a classicizing gesture, in  this case, an effort to return to the "ancient purity" of "Oriental peoples," that is, to the "East."
Francisco Sánchez Gómez (Paco de Lucia) and fellow compatriot José Monge Cruz, (Camerón de la Isla) were most influential during the 1960’s. Today, there are many variances with respect to flamenco. Pedro Aurelio surmises his thoughts philosophically, "You need a proper foundation in order to incorporate other artistic forms of dance." Palos has different meanings and with respect to flamenco; can be metaphorically said to signify a 'category'. There are more than fifty genre of palos which is defined by a rhythmic pattern referred to as a (compàs). Many students remark about its complexity.

Many contemporary schools have flooded the market in order to satisfy the growing demand-and not all of them successful. In this sense, De Torres is fortunate. Averaging forty students during a nine month course gives her the necessary means to earn a living teaching flamenco, “I also have foreign students from all parts of the world who opt to take day classes. In some cases this would extend to a week or a month of classes, it all varies…and that’s not including organized group sessions.”
    According to Infante, the participants are impressed, “Students often share their impressions and most of them didn't realize the skill level needed to just show up and take Carmen’s classes. What is important is that everyone is enjoying themselves. And so far it seems to be working.”  


Advanced - Tarantos
Intermediate /Beginners - Tangos Festeros, Bulerias
Cante - song forms taught in Advanced and Intermediate levels.

1 course 4.5 hours - $120.00

2 courses 9 hours - $210.00
3 courses 13.5 hours - $275.00
4 courses 18 hours - $315.00
8 courses 36 hours - $520.00

September 18, 19, 20 @ 6:00-9:00
Course 5 Tangos Intermediate level
Course 6 Seguiriyas Advanced level

September 25, 26 (2 hours and fifteen minutes each day because we only have 2 days) 
Course 7 Review of Tangos and Bulerias Intermediate level
Course 8 Tarantos Advanced level 

Drop in class $45.00 per hour.
Observing classes $22.00 per hour.
Private classes available per request.
Children's/Youths Alegrias workshop $20.00 per hour at TBA.

Location - St.Philips Norwood Anglican Church @ 240 Tache Avenue; only for September 4th,5th,6th and September 11th,12th,13th.

Cante classes location TBA

For early registration contact: 
Helena Infante 204-990-6135

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Will Sagkeeng find a better way?

There are many adjectives used to describe reserves across Canada. Very few possess the very meaning and derivative such as the word ‘Ishkonigan’. Many Canadians wonder why these
"leftover" reserves continue to exist at all. Author David Treuer, an Ojibway from the Leech Lake reservation in Minnesota speaks of this, “What are these places that kill us every day but that we’d die to protect and are like no place else on earth?”

The same issue can be said about Treaty. Why should they remain? Councillor Marilyn Courchene does not preoccupy herself with trying to make sense of it all. Recently appointed Councillor on the Sagkeeng First Nation Chief and Council; she recognizes the sheer magnitude to bring about positive change in her community.  Reflecting on her own election results, she readily admits the outcome is very un-rez like, “I don’t have a large family, so yes in a sense typical family ‘block style’ voting would have made me a long shot.”

This small victory, is a precursor of what Courchene hopes will become the future for her people. Running against the current is never easy, “You have to prove yourself to the community. People know me and what I've done in the past. Every season there was something happening. I was involved in it or I was at the forefront of it. I think that helped me quite a bit.”

Elections on reserves are not a foregone conclusion.  The Canadian Taxpayers Federation insistence on having Chief and Council salaries divulged under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act had a field day across media outlets in 2014. Everyone clamored change; however, under the Indian Act, reserves do not have the authority to establish alternative systems of governance. They have some ability to develop their own election codes, but is subject to AANDC approval. Needless to say, those that do put their names forward face adversity. Especially women.

Efforts across First Nations (FNs) to alter the outcome of the reservation system is a constant irritant. Canadians do not like to be reminded of its colonial past. It pokes and pries open old wounds. It compounds the level of animosity towards indigenous peoples having resisted and continue resisting the assimilation process into the ‘multicultural’ fabric of Canada.

Courchene believes that the process of changing the mindset of indigenous and non-indigenous people alike; begins with small steps. In particular, for the Sagkeeng First Nation this would be the re-introduction of its two fundamental traditional laws, “Give us two three seasons, and we will be okay to pass these laws. Every law has an amendment component to them, so as we go along and find obstacles, then we make adjustments and go back to the people and ask them if we need to change this? And all they have to say is yes or no.”

Sagkeeng is not the first reserve to re-establish traditional laws. Since Idle No More, there seems to be a real push by grassroots activism to incorporate more of what worked prior to the mass colonial influx into their traditional territories. A natural schism arose from this process, among FNs themselves. Traditionalists (Defenders of the Land) among others feel that their needs a permanent shift towards the attitude and policies concerning the harvest of natural resources. This is not exclusive to natural resources however. It extends to self-governance, and obliterating the Indian Act. Indigenous enterprises that are profiteering alongside non-indigenous corporations are seen as ‘sellouts’.

What some within the indigenous community refer to as the elite, “…an oligarchic social structure of society, acceptance that an elite minority makes decisions on behalf of the majority, and thus (to) legitimate a hierarchical decision-making structure.” (Bertrand &Valois, 1980, p173)

FNs do not have clear alternatives. As such, the use of a Chief and Council endures. But it does have the capacity to change, and lead. Courchene believes that at its core; Sagkeeng’s traditional laws will enable the membership to ‘buy-in’ into their own value based way of life. Distinctly different from their rights within the Canadian Charter; and yet parallel to those rights. Once firmly in place, she is of the opinion that ongoing cyclical destructive behaviours will cease. 

Expectations run high. Careful not to offend, Courchene allows her actions, and decision making process speak for themselves. Like her, there are more and more indigenous women, influential women, who are raising their voices and speaking on issues that are affecting their respective communities.  A great number of them reside in urban centers, occupy senior posts in universities, media, and departments of health, justice, and political parties.

The decision is never made easy. Band members who relocate to larger urban centers are not guaranteed a favorable outcome. Lateral violence by their own band members are forcing them to make an impossible choice.
“I find this type of mentality really destructive. Urban band members are spokespersons for our community. This is where they come from, where their parents come from, and they still have the right to cast a ballot. This type of lateral violence against our own people has to stop,”-Courchene.
The arts are fast becoming the medium of choice for indigenous people such as KC Adams to shed common misconceptions of what ‘Indians’ look like, talk like, and behave like. While Adams artistic platform projects an alternate reality; much still needs to be done.

Housing is a national FNs crisis; a crisis in the making actually, “I may have to hire someone to do a survey of all these homes,” stated Courchene. If Sagkeeng’s traditional laws are to succeed, it must be in conjunction with its ability to build, and repair homes. All reserves have either a housing portfolio or management team who are responsible to review applications. The issues are who are admissible, and who are not.

“There are many that take care of their homes. But then again, there are many that don’t,” she explained. It is a very steep curve to climb. Neglect is corrosive. Willful neglect is something else. And for Sagkeeng's Chief and Council, navigating between the two will prove difficult. People who identify themselves as indigenous or Métis are the largest growing demographic in Canada. If solutions are to be found, it is certainly among this demographic where answers will come forth.

“The young adults are the ones who are coming up with ideas. Some are mentioning a point system. Some want to start a list. Others want housing to go to people who will take care of these units. My personal conviction is that housing be attached to the child. Whichever party assumes guardianship should live in the house with the child.” While not every idea will see the light of day; Courchene suggests that the leadership remain at arm’s length of the process.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation recently reported that, “Manitoba’s Sagkeeng First Nation has the highest number of cases of unsolved missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada.” When including the number of children in the care of Child and Family Services; establishing children at the core of its future housing program, Courchene hopes to considerably decrease those numbers.

While the reservation system brought about unimaginable consequences to FNs; it is their last tangible landmark. On the issue of land most 600 plus Canadian reservations are unanimous. FNs are mandating more land from its traditional territories. This also includes the right and ability to impose its own will as to who, what, when and where can harvest its natural resources.

Crown corporations such as Manitoba Hydro and the Sagkeeng First Nation are experiencing difficulties in reaching a mutual agreement on the matter of compensation. Sagkeeng has numerous dams on its vast territory. Six to be exact. It is an acrimonious piece of business. Unlike other agreements made elsewhere, Sagkeeng band members are not exempt and have to pay the Manitoba Hydro to provide electricity to the community residential and commercial facilities.

This longstanding dispute over utility rates still simmers. Courchene remains steadfast in her opinion that both parties need a resolution, and Manitoba Hydro must come to terms with its past practices concerning the creation of its six dams on Sagkeeng’s traditional territory.  A recent proposal by the crown corporation was nullified by a margin of 260 to 120 in June of 2014.  The $200 million settlement was to operate within a 40 year cycle.

“What I disagreed with was a clause in the agreement where we would lose the ability to make future claims against them. Another consideration was the time-line. On the whole had the membership voted in favour of that agreement, we would have been poorer for it. They (Hydro) have been operating in our territory without a license for the past ten years.  We all know that.”

Using social media such as Facebook is not ideal. But it gives Courchene the opportunity to clearly state developments on the reserve. She explained that using FB as a point of reference to relay information will only be useful if the information given to the people, is not a launching pad to create dissent. 

Time will tell if Courchene’s endeavours bring about the necessary changes needed to make Sagkeeng a place that offer real opportunities for its membership. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Buoyancy is a great equalizer.

Ruth Jacklin is the Pool & Fitness Supervisor for the City of Dryden. She and her dedicated crew will be able to offer in the near future; full access to the big pool for peoples with disabilities and seniors with mobility impairments to enjoy and fully participate in all recreational activities.
“We received a water accessible wheelchair in 2003 as a donation from the Lions Foundation of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario,” explained Jacklin, “At the time, we partnered with and had the support of the Dryden Regional Health Centre’s Occupational Therapy Department.”

Jacklin describes that the permanent wheel chair accessible ramp has been giving people with disabilities and senior’s access to the small therapeutic heated pool since it was built in 1983. And that, right now, they are missing just one step to make the whole facility truly accessible.
“Thadeus Weiss contacted me and asked me about accessibility for people with disabilities and how far we had come towards achieving that goal. I told him (at the time) that the only step we are missing is lift for the main pool that would allow people with disabilities to be lifted into the water.”
Weiss was born and raised in Dryden. A spinal cord injury resulting from a diving accident in 1980 changed the course of his life. As a result; Weiss became a quadriplegic with great challenges, and strives to further the advances of public accessibility for people with disabilities and seniors in Ontario.

Ruth Jacklin pushing staff in chair.
“There is a big focus on accessibility,” said Jacklin, “We (the City of Dryden) have to provide access to a very diverse population and that includes people who have mobility issues. It’s something that we have always been able to do quite successfully. A lift for the main pool would bridge the existing small gap and greatly improve accessibility to the big pool."  

According to the City of Dryden’s multi-year Accessibility Plan, Jacklin believes that obtaining a chair pool lift will become a reality within two years, “It shouldn't take much longer than that, as it was identified and listed in our Multi-Year Accessibility Plan”. Weiss hopes his fund-raising efforts will bring about a faster time table in which residents of Dryden can enjoy a new lift, “…I talked it over with a friend that was behind me all the way on this project and we’re here.”

The City of Dryden’s Human Resources Project Coordinator, Colleen Brosseau believes collaborative efforts such as Weiss, is welcome news, “I am pleased to hear that there is someone from the public who would like to raise money for a pool lift. The City is working hard to look at all of its facilities and services to identify barriers and seek opportunities to eliminate them.”

Weiss wishes that the identity of his supporter to remain anonymous for the time being. Funding efforts would be made in a form a cheque. As well Weiss explained that there will be discussions made between himself and a member of the Dryden council to make all council members aware of what Jacklin and Weiss are trying to actualize. In addition, quotes for the necessary equipment needs to be done prior to identifying proper time-lines for the desired project.

Thunder Bay Community Living is a trust which Weiss hopes can provide long term funding, “It’s specifically designed for the inclusion of all disabled individuals. Not only the physically disabled but the intellectually disabled as well.” Weiss did not deny he misses home. Currently living in Thunder Bay, and serving on the Board of Directors of HAGI; he admits that finding the proper level of care and accessibility in Northwestern Ontario to be dismal. Raising funds for a portable chair lift for the main pool in Dryden would not only assist persons with disabilities living in the Dryden area; it would bring a community together.

“It’s an interesting situation to say the least,” commented Weiss, “This includes all multi-disabled aspects including our aging population with mobility issues, and trying to get everyone more involved within their community activities.”

Jacklin described it succinctly, “Buoyancy is a great equalizer.”