Bringing People and Land Together, Picturing Transformation

Picturing Transformation, Nexw-áyantsut Cover

by Jarrah Hodge

“When the Witness project came, it made my heart wake up. To be able to take care of the spirit of the land, we have to take care of the spirit within so that we can venture and bring it out into the world. To care for the feelings, care for the spirit: spirit of the trees; spirit of the animal; spirit of the water; spirit of the unknown creatures in our forest.” – Eugene Harry/Haykwílem, quoted in Picturing Transformation.

Between 1997 and 2007 the Utsám Witness project engaged 10,000 people in witnessing and ultimately, peacefully protecting a 50,000-hectare area of the Squamish Nation from logging. It started from a fortuitous collaboration between Squamish hereditary Chief Bill Williams, telálsemkin siyám, award-winning photographer Nancy Bleck, and the late mountaineer John Clarke. Clarke and Bleck had realized that protecting the area would require leadership from First Nations, and Williams realized the benefit of reconnecting people to the land – even people outside the Squamish Nation – to build a sense of collective responsibility.

According to the Squamish Nation Assertion of Aboriginal Title, “Being called to ‘witness’ in the Coast Salish tradition is a sacred honour.” “Witnesses” are meant to listen and watch and take the message back to their home communities. They also bear responsibility to recount the events if, at any time in their lives, there is concern over what took place.

The new book Picturing Transformation, Nexw-áyantsut helps those of us who were not involved in the original project nonetheless share in it, and Bleck’s photographs of the land, the water, the logging, and the people, are the most significant part of that. I found I couldn’t help feeling drawn in , spoken to, and asked to share in the responsibility to repair our broken relationships with land and First Nations communities. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Books, Can-Con Leave a comment

FFFF: Citizen Dwayne Interviews Redskins Fans About Their Team’s Name

Funny Feminist Friday Film square logoThere’s been some buzz that the Washington Redskins might be looking at changing their, frankly, racist name. Citizen Dwayne Kenndy from Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell headed down to a popular Redskins bar to talk to the fans about the Washington Redskins name debate.

Transcript (after the jump): Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in FFFF, Racism 1 Comment

FFFF: Franchesca Ramsey’s Halloween Costume Fails

Funny Feminist Friday Film square logoIt’s almost that time of year again – Halloween! Don’t mark it by wearing a racist Halloween costume.

Franchesca Ramsey suggests some costumes to avoid (and see her list of supplementary posts here).

Transcript (after the jump)

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in FFFF, Racism Leave a comment

New Passport Design Leaves out Canada’s Diversity

Image from 2013 Canadian passport redesign of "The Fathers of Confederation"

Image from 2013 Canadian passport redesign of “The Fathers of Confederation”

by Librarian Karen

In July 2013, Passport Canada introduced a re-designed passport containing new security features and watermarks, which Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird claims “tells the world who we are: a nation built on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

While I also have some concerns about the security features, I’d like to share some of my observations about the watermarks, which certainly offer a fair depiction of Canada’s history, geography and industrial growth. But they depict a historical Canada, not a modern, diverse country rich in culture. There are no pictures of modern cities (was Toronto, Canada’s largest city, intentionally omitted?).

Even more concerning, there is a lack of representation of the people of Canada. Specifically, the new passport lacks images containing indigenous people, visible minorities and women. Out of the twenty-five individual images (on sixteen pages), only one clearly contains a woman, (which is not even a photograph of a person, it’s a photograph of a statue.)

Passport Canada paid $53,290 on a focus group to collect feedback on the images and the conclusion was: “Participants routinely suggested that the set of images should be more representative of Canada, with emphasis on including more women and better reflecting Canada’s multicultural character and heritage.”

If any changes were made to the line-up of images after the focus group, I wonder what the original selection was, because the final set of images is not reflective of the Canada I know.

For example:

Pier 21, Halifax, historic gateway to Canada, “was one of the most significant ports of entry for newly arrived immigrants,” and yet there are no images anywhere in the passport representing these immigrants, many of which worked on building the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Last Spike 1885, is a photograph depicting a group of men on the train tracks, most of which appear to be Caucasian; why not include some of the workers? (To note, the contributions of Chinese workers is mentioned in the description of this image on Passport Canada’s website.)

Another image I find questionable is the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, France, a Canadian war memorial which is in a different country. I understand the significance of this particular memorial, but why not use a picture of a war memorial in Canada, of which there are plenty to choose from? (Veterans Affairs has a list of Canadian war memorials located in Canada).

Nellie McClung page in new passport

Nellie McClung page in new passport

Most disappointingly however, is that there is only one image containing a woman: Nellie McClung, from the statue of the Famous Five is a photograph of the statue of Nellie McClung, in front of a print of the Famous Five (Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby). Where’s Laura Secord? Emily Carr? Pauline Johnson? And why use a picture of a statue rather than an actual photograph?

Considering Canada has more women than men, there is no reason not to have better representation in the passport. The omission suggests that females are not valued, haven’t contributed to the growth of Canada, and have no place in Canadian society. It’s a missed opportunity to promote gender equality.

Overall, I’m disappointed in the choice of images. I’ve done a bit of travelling, and some of the people I’ve met I’ve kept in touch with, so I asked them for their feedback on the new passport. I also asked for feedback from some of my Canadian ex-pat friends who are now living elsewhere. The consensus seems to be that it doesn’t accurately reflect their image of Canada, there is a lack of connection with the images, a lack of relevancy.

When comparing passports with other travelers, there is an opportunity for us to share the story of our country. If John Baird is suggesting that the images in the new passport are a way to tell the world who we are, how do we explain the lack of diversity in the people represented?

Posted on by Librarian Karen in Can-Con, Feminism Leave a comment

Being an Ally Starts with Speaking Up

by Kirsten Barkved

Sometime in my early twenties, in between my first year of post-secondary education and a part-time job that got me little to no savings, a grim appreciation for the general public and a strong, uncontrollable addition to coffee, I discovered that the world is not as happy and shiny as I had previously chose to believe it.

My manager, a young woman with blonde hair, a pretty diamond engagement ring and a fiancé with a shiny black SUV, upon discovering I lived in Fort Nelson for a stint, and that, in my words, it was a “whole entire universe up there” said:

“Well, what do you expect, it’s all Indians up there, right?”

Well, actually, what the twenty-year-old version of me had been referring to was the snow, the cold and the partying. Shiny bubble popped, I sat in my chair, mouth agape, eyebrows hiding somewhere in my hairline. And while I’d like to say I marched right out of my job, angry at the blatant racism, frustrated at the ignorance and lack of understanding that flooded her words, I sat there. In silence.

And the silence is just as bad as her eleven-word sentence

It’s not that I had been walking around with wide-eyed innocence akin to Cindy Loo Hoo. I just chose to believe that in every person, act or event, there are linings made of silver sweetness that could outweigh the negative. And sometimes this translated into a naïveté that walked dangerously close to white privilege.

As a white woman, residing somewhere in the grey area of lower/middle class, I experience a privilege that others do not. It means that while I can’t really leave my house without receiving some form of sexual objectification based on my gender, I am, however, able to walk out my house without feeling oppressed, discriminated or violently and systematically excluded by my skin colour.

And if you think that racism in Canada is something that is rare, a phenomenon that you excuse once in a blue moon when your Bible thumping grandma comes to visit, you are sadly mistaken.

Racism is abundant. It’s in everything. We live in a patriarchal society that culturally values certain qualities (i.e. white, male, upper class, able-bodied) and trivializes, indeed, marginalizes those who do not possess said social constructions. Having all of these qualities makes you king of the preverbal castle. Having little to none leaves you under a glass ceiling: always seeing what you could possibly have, never actually being able to reach it. We saw this in the housing crisis that First Nations people in Attawapiskat experienced in 2011.

Maybe it’s true that, as a nation, we’ve come a long way from our founding upon assimilationist policies. And peaceful, grassroots movements like Idle no More, with it’s national and international attention, have raised awareness in the last year for Indigenous Sovereignty and Indigenous ways of knowing. Awareness is growing about the ways in which bills, treaties, laws and other Eurocentric ways of knowing have historically and systematically failed a group of people whose way of living has been altered, lost and forgotten along the path of cultural genocide.

Enter the internet: a great, vast “untamed wilderness” for stories like the state of emergency for the Attawapiskat people to be read, shared and commented on. The beauty of the 21st century is that we live in an information age in which stories can be spread faster than melting butter. And that’s a marvelous thing. That we can access people, their lives and their plights across miles, lines on maps and be informed about the happenings of a nation that supposedly prides itself on being a mosaic, a beacon for diversity.

It seems nothing is more readily shared than the suffering of others. Whether as a form of maintaining empathy or recognizing the pain in others as pain we may feel ourselves one day, or have felt once; tragedies are stories in the news that we latch onto because they are reminders to be kind, to be compassionate, helpful, considerate, and above all else, be humane.

I think back to the recent flooding in Alberta, and the status updates that overwhelmed my Facebook news feed for days. A whole city came together to help their neighbors, people they didn’t even know. People from neighboring provinces, even just those caught up in the media, left comments on news articles: messages for hope, support and sympathy for those affected by the natural disaster that left an entire city in a state of emergency.

And then I think to the housing crisis in Attawapiskat. October 11, 2011. The Attawapiskat First Nations leader, Chief Theresa Spence, whose hunger strike drew public attention to the crisis faced by many First Nations, declared a state of emergency, her third in three years. Cold temperatures, inadequate housing conditions, overcrowded shacks and tents, no running water or running electricity, families with little food or supplies, some living just feet away from a poorly cleaned up sewage spill (resulting from a massive flood that in 2009 had the entire reservation evacuated); these were some of the issues that made their way into public media releases.

Responses to the mass flooding and states of emergency in the Attawapiskat region?  Charlie Angus, author of the brilliantly poignant article “Taking on the Trolls: Why the Online Race-Hatred Against First Nations?”  found these gems:

“Just give them some firewater and they will go away until they need their next hit. Has worked for hundreds of years.” Read more

Posted on by Kirsten Barkved in Can-Con, Feminism, Racism 1 Comment

Alberta’s Oil Sands are a Project of Colonial Violence


by Arij Riahi

In early July I traveled to Fort McMurray, Alberta. The booming oil town– sometimes renamed Fort McMoney– is located 400 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. It is also the very centre of the country’s largest industrial project.

As we drive deep into tar sands territory the trees on each side of Highway 63 get dark and flimsy. Only their skinny trunks are visible; their boreal foliage is blackened. Whatever the cause of their sickliness, the sight was an apt prelude.

I traveled to participate in the Healing Walk, a yearly event organized by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Keepers of the Athabasca, a group of First Nations, Metis, Inuit, and settler allies working for the protection of land, water, and air along the Athabasca River, which flows through the tar sands. The walk, based in ceremony and led by elders, lasted over six hours. Participants circled the petrochemical facilities of the Canadian oil producer Syncrude and witnessed the destructive impact of tar sands development.

The visuals are overwhelming. The landscape’s desolation scrolls as the environmental destruction speeds up. During the 14 kilometres of the Healing Walk, we must wear masks. Less than an hour after we begin marching, several people complain of headaches. At one moment, I took off my mask to lick my lips. A sulfurous taste greeted my tongue. I felt like I was soaking in the fumes of hydrocarbons. In the distance, a vertical tower spits into the sky smoke so thick and white that it mixes with the clouds to the point where it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.

The sight is undeniably shocking. However, the fact that indigenous nations are directly bearing the burden of this environmental destruction is downright offensive. Oil sands development has a disproportionate negative impact on First Nations, which are usually located in the vicinity of polluting facilities.

With the movement against tar sands growing and raising concerns about our oil dependence, it is time to open a frank conversation about environmental racism. It is time to talk about how environmental policy in Canada might be resting on colonial premises. Read more

Posted on by Arij Riahi in Can-Con, Racism 1 Comment

Reflecting on Cultural Appropriation

Selena Gomez wearing a bindi at the MTV Movie Awards

Selena Gomez wearing a bindi at the MTV Movie Awards

by Akta Sehgal

When I was first taught about cultural appropriation, I learned about the examples of individuals adopting certain practices of Indigenous peoples while not fully understanding the implications. For example, people wearing Native American headdresses as a form of fashion accessory, or putting dream catchers in places not appropriate to Native American culture.

Examples of this are demonstrated through artists, musicians, models and incidents such as the Victoria’s Secret fashion show last year where model Karlie Kloss donned a Native American headpiece as a fashion statement. Another example would be musicians such as Ke$ha, Lana Del Ray or Nevershoutnever donning Indigenous headpieces and clothing.

These types of practices contribute to negative or at least inaccurate stereotypes about Native American culture and beliefs and the use of the symbols is not taken seriously even though they might have a serious meaning to Indigenous people.

For me, the issue of cultural appropriation popped up when I was sitting with my brother and watching the 2013 MTV Movie Awards (don’t judge, I was really bored). I came across Selena Gomez’s performance of her new song “Come and Get It”. She performs while wearing an Indian religious symbol, a bindi.

This affected me more personally, because as an Indian woman I felt it to be disrespectful for someone to wear the bindi just as an accessory with no understanding of the symbol.

When I was growing up, my mother would always attempt to get me to wear the bindi. She used to tell me to be proud to wear a bindi because it was beautiful and that it signified the third eye, which is important to the Indian culture.

So it confused me to see a pop singer like Selena Gomez wearing the bindi, having no idea why she was wearing it. To give her the benefit of the doubt, I did search up one of her interviews about the song and was astonished to see her talk about her new song having a “tribal, Middle Eastern feel to it”. This offended me even more because I can’t understand her ignorance of grouping people and cultures together. Middle Eastern culture and Indian culture are different from one another and for her to wear a bindi and claim that she wears it because her music has a “Middle Eastern” feel to it is just inappropriate. Read more

Posted on by Akta Sehgal in Feminism, Racism 1 Comment