Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is Kenora willing to gamble?

On April 7th, 2014 the Council of Canadians began a series of tours designed to exemplify the implications of what the Energy East Pipeline (EEP) entails not only to Ontarians-but for all Canadians. The meeting within the Knox United Church brought about eighty or so citizens of Kenora interested in hearing related concerns and issues this project might present to the area; in some as of yet undetermined future.
   The newly formed association-Transition Initiative Kenora (TIK) under the leadership of Teika Newton is earnestly looking at ways to reconcile much of Kenora’s residents’ attachment to its own biosphere and natural habitat; with that of its economic need to diversity and welcome industrial opportunities via long-term employment strategies.
   Newton cites this paradox as the definitive issue,“…How do we remain stewards and champions of a healthy environment (the thing that we most treasure about the place where we live) and at the same time ensure economic diversity and prosperity? Those are the evaluative things we have to ask ourselves when speaking of the energy east project.”
Maude Barlow Chairperson of the Council of Canadians opined that the emphasis taken by TransCanada is unsustainable and presents a real environmental disaster, “In Ontario, TransCanada wants to use a converted 40-year-old natural gas pipeline to transport diluted bitumen from the tar sands over some of the provinces most important waterways.”
   In addition, the tar sand production within the traditional territory of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) and Mikisew Cree First Nation is projected to increase. ACFN Communications Coordinator Eriel Deranger explained her people’s position, We’ve challenged Shell Canada’s recent application of the Jack pine mine extension and this project even though it stated that the panel found that there was (a) significant adverse effect that justified these effects and granted the approval under the oils sands conservation act. We intervened and challenged the project.”
   Deranger went on to say, “…they (Shell Canada) admitted that it would cause irreversible impacts on the environment, and they admitted that it would impact treaty and aboriginal land use, rights, and culture. However they said it still was in the public’s (best) interest.”
Shell Canada is poised to exploit twenty-one kilometers via an important watershed within ACFN territory for the purpose of additional tar sand extraction production, “What does our community get from this? We get something called impact benefit agreements. We are literally getting the pocket change from these companies,” stated Deranger.

Eriel Deranger
   The EEP pipeline proposal is looking to build access points at vital watershed crossings in the Kenora Rainy River District; destined for the transport of bitumen oil upwards to eastern Canada. Deranger harbors no illusion as to the potential destruction this product can cause, “Not only do the tar sands put my communities’ culture and traditional way of life at risk for future generations, diluted bitumen shipped near Kenora puts your land and water at risk.”

As the oil debate rages on; greater mobilization efforts in reducing if not completely haltering the increased transport of oil is on the rise. What Newton mentioned during the Kenora meeting has been stated on numerous occasions, "We need much stronger rules on moving oil, and we also need to start making those investments in getting off of oil. We need to do that for climate change reasons, but it will also reduce all kinds of risks we've seen that are inevitable when you are moving a hazardous product."-Keith Stewart, Greenpeace.
   Barlow indicated that initial conversations at the municipal level were not as positive as she would have liked it to be.  However, Treaty 3 Grand Chief Warren White has acknowledged the importance of uniting with TIK and the Council of Canadians, in presenting a stronger opposition to EEP’s planned oil export routes through Ontario.
Whether Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford will take TIK’s concerns seriously; no one knows at this point. What is known is that he seems to favour dialogue. When speaking to the issue of the Northern Gateway project opined in the Globe and Mail on March 20th, Rickford stated the following, “…You don’t show up with a project and then try to build a relationship just to get the project through. That’s not the way it works.”
Rickford’s assertions that due process will be followed is in stark contrast to Prime Minister Harper’s vision as Canada’s role as a primary supply of natural resources for the purpose of global export markets, "Governments are looking to this for revenues, what's happened more recently is that the globe and the world economy has looked to Canada. -Gary Stringham, Canadian Assoc of Petroleum Producers.
Adam Scott
   Adam Scott is the Program Manager on Climate and Energy at Environmental Defense. As one of the guest speakers during the Council of Canadians tour in Ontario, Scott emphasised that creating EEP is to create greater profit margins, “fattening a company’s bottom line while facilitating the oil industry’s reckless plans to triple tar sands production.” With multiple independent sources available, Scott presented Environmental Defense’s arguments as to why EEP is creating more harm than good.
   Newton and local Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) activist Peter Kirby, among others believe that there needs to be a priority shift in our lifestyles; and gravitate as a country, away from extreme fossil energy practices. There is no duplicity in her affirmation that pipeline projects such as EEP presents too high of an environmental risk. It is a recurring theme that is being reiterated by more than one environmental groups such as TIK. Professor Stephen Larter, of the University of Calgary equates the issue by stating, "What do I do? Do I try to get rich while increasing carbon pollution into the atmosphere? Or do I try to stop it.”
   TIK does not imply that societal models can operate and sustain themselves exclusively without standard forms of energy which oil and gas offers-presently. The Council of Canadians and the Environmental Defense believe that Canada is lagging behind in matters of transitioning to alternative forms of viable energy. In addition, the panel is stressing that the Harper government alongside major oil conglomerates; have of yet to find responsible ways to collect and safely dispose of oil petroleum by products. Professor Miriam Diamond, of the University of Toronto commented on this very issue, “…this is a really expensive problem, that's still waiting to be solved.” Meanwhile efforts to increase tar sand oil production continue.
   In her closing remarks Barlow reaffirmed that all is not lost, 
Maude Barlow

“We need to build a movement right across this country to say that we know that we can build alternatives that we have a very, very different dream of what our water means to us, what our air means to us,  what our future means to us. We have to ask the questions...Who benefits? Who pays?. This is our risk and their reward. This is only and forever about the rights of big corporations. We're going to have to say no to EEP."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"You don’t wake up and say I want to be in the circus and buy a circus tent…"

When speaking of the circus; depending on your age, it evokes different images of wonder, delight, and amazement.  During a busking performance at the Forks, in Winnipeg, Manitoba on April 6, 2014 Daniel and Kimberly Craig spoke of the nature of being circus performers and what it entails,   “In 1993 at the Fringe Festival I saw a group performing a similar style of show and I got to be the kid volunteer… I had the most fun, and the only logical course of action was to make your own show and do it next year…that’s why it’s never stopped being fun and here we are," said Daniel.

Commonly known as Dan and Kim; these longtime performers enjoy the interactions between themselves and live audiences. Both have been introduced to the medium at a very young age. Albeit Kim is American by birth (Chicago) and has come to appreciate Canada’s distinctive attributes. Meeting for the first time in Brockville, Ontario in 2005, the pair quickly realized that their affinity towards each other transcended past the area of professionalism, “We were hanging in group settings a lot and what ended up happening is I was booking my shows and Kim was working with another group and we ran into each other for almost six weeks,” grinned Dan. 
 Recently, the pair have coalesced their talents and entrepreneurial skills to form a business entity called The Street Circus, from which they can continue to live (are soon to be married) and work within their field of choice. Isaac Girardin, Co-Director of the Central Canadian Circus Arts Club (CCAC) is a fellow craftsman and friend of Dan and Kim, “I always admired how polished it (their act) was. The talent displayed is incredible. It was clear that they rehearsed it many times.”
 Other Winnipeg based artists such as Samantha Halas took notice of Dan and Kim’s natural skill set and energy they bring onto the stage, Kim and Dan have a fun energetic show…for example Kim does aerial hoop and figure skating combined; I don't know who came up with that…but it's fabulous! They are always working to become better and better which, I believe, is the sign of true artists. Dan has been busking for a long time; you can tell by how well he works with the audiences, I think a lot of buskers in Winnipeg look up to him.”
When describing how one decides to become a contortion, acrobat, and juggler artist, among other circus-like disciplines; both Dan and Kim did not have a concise answer. Both are of the view that being initiated into the ‘family of circus acts’ so to speak comes with a natural curiosity, a desire to create, and perform in front of an audience.

“...You don’t wake up and say I want to be in the circus and buy a circus tent… You wake up and say maybe I want to start juggling, and then you buy three juggling balls and then you work on that for a year,” commented Kim.
Girardin gave a similar synopsis; and added that since establishing practice seminars in Winnipeg, more and more people are exploring what they can pursue within various disciplines. “Members of the public still don’t take the craft seriously. When you tell someone that you are a juggler, contortionist, etc…the first thing they think of and reply is, ‘Oh you’re a clown’.”  In a lot of ways it continues to be a perception that they have... At the end of the day we are here to entertain people.”
Halas believes that the degree of dedication and success is dependent on the individual, “Some may not be as serious as others... Many however live and breathe what they do.”
In matters of business, they acknowledge that in the end if one is to succeed professionally; there needs to be a proven track record, “We apply for hundreds and hundreds of things a year…No one gets everything they apply for….at most I would say one in five that we apply for…so you just have to know going in you can’t let it (rejection letters) affect you personally. Now we are touring eight…nine months of the year,” said Dan.

all smiles in the background
Kim also made an important distinction, “Unless you have been an artist for a long time and you never worked…maybe you should rethink your position.”

As performers what carries Dan and Kim Craig through their training rituals, travel, and bookings are the emotional charge given and received from a live audience. It is the wonder in children's eyes and expressions from adults who; for a fleeting moment rediscover what it meant to be inspired. 
Thank goodness, the art of circus acts are not soon to be forgotten, and in large part due to people like the Craig's who make it their purpose to entertain, amaze, and demonstrate to others that dreams are possible.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Justice delayed is justice denied.....

The current explosion relating to indigenous issues in Canada these past two years; is a culmination of lost words made 250 years ago by a British crown and those First Nations living in what is now Canada and the United States. Today, Canadian citizens find themselves confronted by a federal government who firmly believes that economic prosperity entails the end of indigenous inherent treaty rights; and curtailing the right of First Nations’ to protest, advocate and indicate to those who are willing to listen; that the means does not justify the end.
  Broadcasts and media publishing companies are at the forefront of the issue; either for or against proposals by the Conservatives to pursue their agenda with respect to the “Indian problem.”  Why this ‘problem’ continues to exist is an affirmation of First Nations’ resiliency in the face of oppression. None believed the Indian Act to survive much more than a generation. In fact it was created not to; and to this end we might say that the resiliency of a people to raise their fist and keep up the ‘good fight’ is the only reason why Canadians continue to struggle with what to do about First Nations. 
  Much is made in reference to the type of governance of reserves; yet hardly any Canadian is made aware that Chief and Councils on reserves were instruments in which to control and assimilate indigenous peoples. These pesky realities are major annoyances; they get in the way of progress. Media reports of mismanagement of funds elicit feelings of anger, among Canadians; they expect First Nations to assimilate; or make of it on their own.
  Disinterest in politics is not difficult to ascertain from a First Nation’s point of view, and it is incredibly taxing for the average Canadian. Few if any tangible changes are made by federal elections, and for good reason: they represent less than one percent of the population. As a point of reference, First Nations peoples had the right to vote and retain their inherent treat rights, only since July, 1960.
"That's what the whole exercise was about. It was to make us Canadians, and we never had a discussion about that… I think people want to participate in Canadian society, but they need to participate on conditions (nation to nation) that they entered into with the Crown..." - Bill Erasmus, national chief of the Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories."
  There are many who make light of the 1969 ‘white paper’. The question of extinguishing inherent and delegated treaty rights tabled by Pierre Elliot Trudeau-Leader of the Liberal Party drew many First Nations to mobilize and reaffirm what was negotiated by their forefathers. The white paper was to, “Transfer responsibility for Indian Affairs from the federal government to the provinces…” explained preeminent Kahnawake Mohawk, aboriginal policy analyst, Russell Diablo. Successive Minister Conferences attempting to identify, and define Sections 35 of the Canadian Constitution (’83,’84, ‘85,’87) were inconclusive. Constitutional amendments (Meech Lake 1987 and Charlottetown 1992) ended in failure. 
  Harper is proving his mettle in regards to indigenous issues; claiming to be in favor for positive change. Conservative legislation and policies towards First Nations have been far from being favorable. What is both astounding and alarming is his ability to control and manipulate an outcome that best reflect his agenda.
 “…They don’t want us to get out of that box (Indian Act) and that’s what these policies are about…getting our leaders to sign off on it and getting us as people to ratify what our leaders are signing off on. That’s how it works.”-Russell Diablo.
Under the terms of Canada’s Comprehensive Claims and Self-Government policies; First Nations funding agreements will be dependent on indigenous peoples agreeing to terminate their inherent aboriginal and treaty rights for the promise of future funding. The Conservatives are opting to severely restrict the ability for First Nations to review, analyze and challenge legislative bills. And this is in addition to legislation introduced in 2012 (Bill-C45 Bill-C27, Bill S-2…among others) that further diminishes First Nations’ ability to protect their lands, waterways and environment. It reiterates the importance of how dysfunctional Canadians remain in terms of acknowledging inherent treaty rights. 
  An article published by the CBC on March 24, 2014 describes Bob Hennebury (fisherman) challenging the legitimacy of treaty rights altogether. This is a ‘one…two’ punch approach in which the Conservative agenda under the leadership of its Prime Minister; is to create the right set of rules that would revert reservations land into ‘simple’ lands.
Of the 35 million inhabitants in Canada; one million are comprised of First Nations people. At fact which is not lost on those who advocate on their behalf, “I think that we have to do is re-structure Canada, because they’re not going anywhere. So we need some allies that agree with us that we can change the country to be just and fair.”-Russell Diablo.
  First Nations are taking their concerns and fight on the international stage; trying to stop the development and exploitation of Canada’s natural resources within the countries of origin. The tactics employed by First Nation advocacy groups and individuals are making other countries aware that Canada is faltering and in fact oppressing its indigenous population. Are the measures enough to shame Canada into action? One could surmise that maintaining a continued pressure by INM and international communities is forcing the Conservative government to pay attention. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) has been accepted in 2010; but its interpretation is being challenged by the Conservative government. 
  As a band member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (Pukatawagan) in Northern Manitoba, Clayton Thomas-Muller 

Clayton Thomas-Muller
has advocated on behalf of First Nations for many years. Thomas-Muller presently is focusing his energies highlighting the unsustainable rate of natural resources extraction in Canada and the United States. Sitting on multiple boards (Global Justice Ecology Project, Canadian based Raven Trust, and Navajo Nation based Black Mesa Water Coalition) Thomas-Muller is passionate about First Nations issues, and the environment.
“Just yesterday a major cobalt mining company pulled out of their intention to mine in the Ring of Fire (northern Ontario); and they cited the fact that they pulled out because they felt that there was too much risk and uncertainty because of the government’s failure to mitigate aboriginal title claims in that region.”
Decisions made by international natural resource companies’ signify that they have heard Thomas-Muller’s message. As president of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)-Scott Vaughn spoke to the issue hosted by the McGill University on February 7, 2014. “…First Nation peoples have a veto-like say over major resource development projects. This veto is not from an operational legal process, as is reflected in the above Supreme Court decision. Instead, it suggests that if First Nations oppose a major project, then it is almost impossible that that project will be built: I think this will have tremendous implications for the next steps in the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project… Real gains in conservation in Canada in the past decade have come almost exclusively when First Nations have been involved, and conservation initiatives that have excluded First Nations-have collapsed.”

Large segments of mainstream Canadians are either ambivalent or do not feel it necessary to protest, and actively participate in civil disobedience rallies across the country. Those who choose to align themselves and promote indigenous causes are portrayed as anti-Canadians. Within INM there has been some controversy as to identifying Canadians who support their cause. Settler allies seem to be the most popular term in describing those who are not of indigenous descent. Ironically; the term has also alienated the very people First Nations so desperately need to join them within a much larger social context.
   Battles are raging over social internet sites such as Facebook; and the rhetoric as to the legitimacy over one term versus the other is creating a real divide. Canadians unjustly view First Nations as lazy, replete with elements of crime, and higher rates of substance abuse. The notion that indigenous peoples; especially (young women) would rather ‘pop out babies after babies’ in order to receive greater welfare cheques continue to foster feelings of resentment and disdain. There is a growing sentiment among non-indigenous Canadians that continuously supporting First Nations (via their tax base) to be unsustainable.
Aboriginal Affairs spending on Aboriginal matters rose to $7.9-billion in 2012 from $79-million in 1947), or relative to total government program spending, or relative to health benefits provided exclusively to First Nations and Inuit people, taxpayers have been increasingly generous to Canada's Aboriginal peoples.”-Marc Milke, Senior Fellow, the Fraser Institute.
Concentrating on who pays for First Nations is the ‘wedging’ factor the Conservative government has continued to portray in the media. Its systematic omissions, outright denials pertaining to historical acts (residential schools) made under assimilation programs within the Indian Act-have been successful. Settling class action suits made on behalf of school survivors and their families; furthered the Conservative agenda. Many non-indigenous Canadians deny the degree, frequency and duration of abuses suffered by First Nations by members of the clergy…and loathes the fact that they had to pay First Nations at all. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, more than 4000 indigenous children perished in residential schools. It is estimated that 150 000 children were taken between the 1870’s until 1996. The Conservative government continues to resist restitution documents which can fully illustrate the gravity and scope of First Nations children who perished under Residential Schools administrations in Canada.

“I think people can make it OK in their minds when they tell themselves it happened a really long time ago. I think it makes it easier for them to accept. But that’s not the reality.”- Kimberly Murray, Truth and Reconciliation Executive Director.
  During the INM protests in late 2012, and early 2013; blockades and spontaneous ‘round dances’ in malls, in downtown cores of Canadian cities, in the streets and highways provoked and inspired Canadians, “The problem with the barricades, marches, protests and all the other trappings of the militancy associated with the growing INM movement is that it encourages one dangerous idea while discouraging another more productive one.”-David Akin, National Bureau Chief.
  A greater level of organization is the only option left for those who feel strongly about raising the level of consciousness with regard to First Nations issues. Thomas-Muller carries this message throughout his speech engagements in Canada and the United States. Indigenous social activism has long been present before INM; and Thomas-Muller explains INM as a manifestation with a greater purpose.
"INM was never about people that are already hard core rocking and rolling in the movement…for whatever reason INM struck right into the heart of the indifference and  the apathy that has been so prevalent in the native community in our country. The energies (of INM) must be harnessed and directed appropriately and must bring together the right mix of vision, strategy and demographic organizing that the convergence of different movements putting forward a clear vision for radical transformation."
The branding of INM is done; and it is evolving, albeit not in unison. A recent article written by Zig Zag for Warrior Publications on January 17th, 2013 stated that other groups among First Nations are affiliated with big oil. “…chiefs (are) using the (INM) mobilization to achieve their political & economic agenda, an agenda that includes partnering with corporations seeking to exploit oil and gas resources on reserve lands.” Those who choose to participate and prosper under capitalist model economies (such as Chief Fox) are labelled as, “Neo-colonial indigenous elites or more commonly known as ‘Oily Chiefs’. 
  The article written by Zig Zag, maintains that those who collaborate to extract natural resources on treaty lands and form partnerships with foreign nations-to be disingenuous to the movement. It has been remarked that band members sitting on Chief and Councils within their respective reserves-to be self-serving. Other media publications have presented their own views on the issue.
 “…individual communities without the capacity or the inclination to pursue responsible government (Chief and Council) have been allowed to falter without aid from other First Nation leaders. The political umbrella organizations that should be intervening, and thereby reinforcing the legitimacy of aboriginal self-rule, have instead remained silent bystanders. This has prevented these groups from evolving into something more than unwieldy lobbies.”-Dan Lett, Winnipeg Free Press.
  That is to say what Lett and others speak of; is what indigenous people refer to as the ‘ethics of non-interference’. It contrasts remarkably with precepts existing in non-indigenous cultures, “It promotes positive interpersonal relationships by discouraging coercion of any kind, be it physical, verbal or psychological. It stems from a high degree of respect for every individual’s independence and regards interference or restriction of a person’s personal freedom as undesirable behaviour.”
  INM is at the moment perceived in the media, by political pundits, and some activists as-stagnating. In response, multi-partnerships are being coordinated. INM is quite the organization. It boast 300 000 members distributed among 700 chapters. What kind of future lies for First Nations?
  Diablo himself concludes that the major resolve before indigenous peoples is before them, “Can our people get organized enough, disciplined enough to back on this… (Pushing) indigenous self-determination as the remedy for this…-Internationally, as well as nationally.”  
  Thomas-Muller acknowledges that INM has to expand its political base of resistance. He envisions like-minded non-indigenous Canadians to join and participate, “To move us forward a real movement for climate and energy justice.”
It is clear that whatever desired outcome may be for INM it will not manifest itself without contributions, organization and increased activism on the part of non-indigenous Canadians.

"We don't care about the score, we care about who wins."

Jazz Comegan
The three-day event (Treaty 3 Territory Mixed Native Curling Bonspiel) assembled twenty-four teams from neighboring reserves and non-indigenous residents from Kenora. Ken Kakeeway’s team lost the A-side finals to the Miroslav Medicine team by a score of 9-5. The Tom Ricard team won the B-side finals, and Monique Medicine team won the C-side finals.
Co-coordinators of the bonspiel Donna Indian, Larry Morrison, Guy Henry and Delores Medicine explained that events such as these have a purpose, “It’s the feeling of participating in an event that’s First Nations organized and where the majority of players are indigenous persons,” said Indian.
First Nation Communities in Northwestern Ontario do not have curling facilities in which to promote the sport. Some indigenous curlers have admitted during this weekend’s bonspiel; that this is an issue. Indian spoke of this and perhaps other social barriers that make sports oriented activities such as this latest bonspiel…so vital.
 “We know there are lots of curlers out there, and they don’t curl on a regular basis, but we make sure that we get them to participate during this bonspiel….All the ‘nish (First Nations) curlers," added Indian smiling. Indian and Morrison are of the view that distance and the lack of curling rinks inhibit those within the communities of Whitefish, Sabaskong, and others from participating, “…they either can’t travel or have the necessary funds ($200 entry fee) and none of the First Nations have a curling rink,” commented Indian.

(L-R) Loranda Tom, Miroslav Tom,
Dolores Medicine, Gary Tom
Roland White from the Whitefish First Nation community agreed, “When Sioux Narrows did have a curling rink, (condemned due to age) it was just a 10 minute drive. Now we have many people who curl but not on a league basis. Getting a rink back in Sioux Narrows is something that we really want to see happen.  We have a lot of players who enjoy curling.” Morrison explained that efforts were made to organize some sort of league, but lacked the support of communities outside the Kenora area, “It’s the cost….we would need to raise or come up with $5000.00.”
Nevertheless, for the past ten years members of the curling community have steadily labored to attract the necessary corporate sponsorship and private donations to make the annual Treaty Territory Three bonspiel event a reality. “Ever since we've been involved with this, it’s become more and more popular,” commented Morrison. “It has a lot to do with socializing, everyone has fun. We try to fund-raise as much as we can so that we can put almost a 100% of the cost towards prizes.”
Of course, when we speak of curling, the question of ice quality is paramount, “The advantage we have here in Kenora is the ice…its quality and the way if performs for curlers. It makes a big difference and a major motivator for people to participate in our bonspiel,” confirmed Indian. Morrison, Indian, and their co-coordinators also appreciate the contributions they have received, “…they donate monetarily or in the form of door prizes. We wouldn't be able to offer the range and quality of prizes had it not been for many corporate local contributors, (i.e. Copperfin and JM Plumbing) and individual donors,” commented Indian. 
Of course, winning is always a part of the game and Morrison makes no bones about it, "We don't care about the score, we care about who wins," he said grinning. While that may be true, most of the participants have said that what really makes this bonspiel so special is that they are one big family.