Today’s Winnipeg Free Press carried this video from 2006 1. The topic of the city’s division is again in the headlines with recent Maclean’s article and the surge of discussion it has provoked 2. The song poses a stark dichotomy – “who would argue” that the division “is anywhere else” but between the North End and the rest of the city. “Who would argue” that it’s anything but the division between indigenous and non-indigenous people? The song and video implies a binary that . Can these divisions be seen in less dichotomous terms than race and space? How do emotional divisions fit into these racialized? What role could affect – an emotionally engaged public – have in re-defining how this apparent antagonism is framed?
In a recent piece featured in Rabble.ca 1, activist, author and founder of Vancouver’s migrant justice organization, No One is Illegal 2 Harsha Wallia interviews indigenous scholar Glen Coulthard, whose recent book “Red Skins, White Masks” is getting much buzz these days 3. This interview – and indeed the ongoing conversation between immigrants and indigenous peoples – represents a growing movement based on new relationships that challenge the dominant discourse of colonial Canada. For Coulthard, these relationships are inextricably tied to the land: “Land is a relationship based on the obligations we have to other people and the other-than-human relations that constitute the land itself.”
Coulthard discusses the powerful role of emotions in the current indigenous resurgence. While he recognizes the harmful impacts of internalized anger within communities, he suggests that this “anger and resentment [can be] a critical, even cathartic, antidote to the current infatuation with “reconciliation” and ‘forgiveness,'” and that “There is another story to be told about these emotions.” In particular, Coulthard stresses that “these emotions can also serve as a catalyst for change. They’re explosive and prompt people to act, to take matters into their own hands, individually and collectively.”
These emotional dynamics raise a number of important questions about what causes these powerful emotions to be expressed in harmful ways and what it takes for them to drive transformation? Are their particular issues that serve as affective edges which, once crossed, have a determinant impact on whether emotional expressions have a productive or destructive outcome? Unfortunately this is not a discussion that Wallia and Coulthard address directly in the interview. Coulthard does, however, indicate that at the core of relationships with the land as well as relations with other people, the issue of sovereignty is always in play. This has led Coulthard to have “…concerns regarding how some non-Native movements express their support for Indigenous sovereignty movements because they may see similar interests aligning around, say, environmental protections but have little interest in supporting Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination. This seems overly instrumental, not based on an ethical obligation to support Indigenous land and treaty rights.”
New relationships need to involve new modes of relating to state sovereignty that reflect and respond to the emotions and experiences of different groups of people within Canada. This need for new relationships between Canadian state-sovereignty and the people is also a fundamental issue for groups like No One is Illegal. Colonial dispossession in other regions is a major reason why many of the most precarious migrants in Canada have been forced to take part in the global pool of migrant labour. Many immigrants and migrant workers continue to be forced into positions where they are treated as less-than-human, because of their marginal position in relation to Canadian sovereignty. Going forward, these legal and emotional divisions provide a common terrain on which upon which alliances between indigenous peoples and immigrants is emerging. The full extent to which these relationships will be able to manifest in concrete actions and alliance building that are able to re-constitute Canadian sovereignty remains to be seen.
Former political advertising consultant Bruce Anderson on how the Harper government is using media campaigns such as the war of 1812 commemoration and the threat of marijuana to shape Canadians’ emotional perceptions of the current state of affairs.
“…these days the government seems addicted to spending our money to shape our mood. They want voters to feel good about the way things are. And worried about how they would be if another party was running things.”
When it comes to relations between the federal government and First Nations communities, it comes as no surprise that there is a baseline of mistrust. Although there are numerous historical reasons why Indigenous people have a good reason to mistrust colonial government policy – from broken treaties to forced residential schooling – the current positioning around pipeline developments have done a great deal to heighten this mistrust.
For instance, in BC the Gitga’at First Nation have launched a constitutional challenge against the government’s failure to consult indigenous communities concerning the impact of Enbridge’s Northern Gateways Pipeline. The BC province decided not to conduct its own environmental assessment of the proposed pipeline, waving its duty to consult with the First Nations by entering into an ‘equivalency agreement’ to accept the less stringent policy of the federal National Energy Board. 1
For many, the lack of consultation underscores the close relationship between the Harper government and the oil industry. What is also evident is that no pipelines or tar sands development will ever be safe and that the environmental damage that is being done directly impacts the ability for ecosystems to survive. Speaking about Enbridge’s community consultation process, one member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia Ontario puts the relationship succinctly: “They [Enbridge] say they want to be good neighbours, but you’re not being good neighbours by emitting these toxins. It’s like a bully punching you in the face.”2
The Harper government has failed to take steps towards building trust with first nations – or any communities concerned about the implications of pipelines. Instead, the Harper government has drastically cut back the environmental legislation most responsible for protecting against the likely harm of pipelines and removed public funding from scientific research into potential consequences.3 While simultaneously de-funding scientific research, the government has dramatically increased funding for surveillance of first nations and environmental groups that may be involved in taking direct action to stop these harmful developments.4
Over four years ago, it was revealed that the Conservative government was taking steps to micro-manage and streamline the government’s messaging at all levels of bureaucracy. By using what are called “message event proposals” or MEPs, the government has been able to influence what topics are covered by the press. MEPs also give the government the advantage of staging performances, carefully planned spectacles, that are sympathetic to particular political positioning within announcements. This extends all the way from high-profile events to local level government officials appearing at community events. All events require an MEP and requests are run through the Privy Council Office to be vetted.1 Although not all events are heavily staged, others are. Like in a theatre piece, the MEPs allow for extensive intervention so that events are designed in ways that elicit particular emotional responses and prepares the audience to receive a particular message – both intellectually and emotionally. Perception management is built into the very delivery of the information content itself, and this is achieved through exercising meticulous control. For instance, “An MEP template typically includes the following subtitles: Event, Event type, Desired headline, Key messages, Media lines, Strategic objectives, Desired soundbite, Ideal speaking backdrop, Ideal event photograph, Tone, Attire, Rollout materials, Background, and Strategic considerations”2. The intentional use of such tactics go far beyond managing straightforward information. The fact that these strategies attend to very subtle aspects of messaging (backdrop, tone etc) speaks to how carefully considered emotional portrayals are taken in this process. The use of such strategies provides a window in to the level of emotional manipulation involved in governmental narratives, and the techniques that are deployed in political messaging campaigns. Examples of MEP forms for a number of issues are included in the CBC article here 3.
In the wake of recent the shootings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Stephen Harper has announced that “We are looking at additional powers to make sure that our security agencies have the range of tools available to them to identify potential terror threats and to …[undertake] detentions and arrests and other actions where necessary.”1 This use of highly-emotional discourses centred on terrorism is being used to justify increased exceptional powers to the state – a trend that has been extremely evident in the West since the events of September 11th 2001. The tenor of the global media coverage and the emotional outpourings related to the recent incidents in Paris have contributed to an emotional climate where laws aimed at “preventing such atrocities in the future” are accepted with very little scrutiny. The timing of such political moves relies largely on the work done by public emotions to fuse a perceived need for such laws with the threat of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. It is more likely, however, that these laws will be used to criminalize and suppress domestic dissent among indigenous Peoples and Canadians opposed to clandestine trade pacts (http://canadians.org/tpp) that will increase Tar Sands production and lead to more and more pipeline expansions and other dangerous forms of transporting bitumen. The government’s desire to align the opponents of its domestic policies with terrorism is evidenced by the 2012 “Canadian Terrorism Strategy” that focuses on “eco-terrorist” threats (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawas-new-anti-terrorism-strategy-lists-eco-extremists-as-threats/article533522/) and the RCMP’s belief that environmentalists are more of a threat than religious-based fundamentalism (http://www.vancouverobserver.com/news/canada-more-risk-environmentalists-religiously-inspired-terrorists-rcmp).
The variants of “emergency law” that Harper is proposing will make it easier for any persons or groups determined to be associated with the (vaguely defined) threat of terrorism to be immediately detained and deprived of rights under the law. This same legal logic, at its extreme conclusion, has been and continues to be used to create numerous US “black sites” where detainees with no formal charges are tortured and in some cases killed (http://ccrjustice.org/learn-more/faqs/faqs%3A-what-are-ghost-detentions-and-black-sites).
It is unsurprising to see Harper’s media team deploying the well-worn rhetoric of security to justify the progressive deterioration of individual rights. “We want to make sure that we get a balance – that we protect the rights of Canadians and also the security of Canadians. We must protect both,” he said. “I anticipate that we will be moving forward very early in the new sessions with additional legislative proposals.” Among the legislation proposed is lowering the threshold for preventive arrests. This degradation of rights goes hand-in-hand with the Canadian government’s increased involvement in spying on its own citizens through the Canadian Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC) in collaboration with their American counterpart the National Security Agency (NSA) (http://www.globalresearch.ca/csec-and-harper-government-assert-right-to-spy-on-canadians/5367380) and other members of the Five-Eyes security alliance (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/02/history-of-5-eyes-explainer).
The combination of increasingly broad and invasive surveillance technologies with laws that enable the criminalization in a country increasingly catering to corporate interests, gives me a very a dystopian feeling. They call to mind Orwell’s concept of thoughtcrime and Phillip K. Dyck’s portrayal of pre-crime policing as portrayed in his novel and Ridley Scott’s film adaptation in Bladerunner. A question that is seldom involved in the mainstream discourses regarding terrorism is why is the active role played by the Canadian government in creating the conditions that make violent acts not being challenged? This is a question I will discuss further in my next post.
January 11th marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of John A. Macdonald. On the eve of a federal election, the ambiguous legacy of the country’s first Prime Minister speaks to ongoing issues that actively shape the emotional landscapes of the nation. Macdonald is revered by many as one of the nation’s founders, a symbol of the hardiness of Canadian settlers and the source of Canadian values. However, the historical evidence gives clear indication that underlying Macdonald’s politics were racist ideas and crass political expediency, and that these features characterized the nation’s earliest relations with both indigenous peoples as well as non-white migrants. For instance, “while debating the 1885 Electoral Franchise Act in the House of Commons, legislation he later called “my greatest triumph,” Macdonald proposed that “Chinamen” should not have the right to vote on the grounds that they were “foreigners” and that “the Chinese has no British instincts or British feelings or aspirations.” He then claimed that the Chinese and Europeans were separate species: “the Aryan races will not wholesomely amalgamate with the Africans or the Asiatics” and that “the cross of those races, like the cross of the dog and the fox, is not successful; it cannot be, and never will be.”
Macdonald also demonstrated a consistent disdain for indigenous peoples, writing that it would be “extremely inexpedient to deal with the Indian bands in the Dominion as being in any way separate nations,” despite the original nation-to-nation nature of the treaties signed by indigenous peoples. He also was responsible for the creation of the residential school system – now widely recognized as genocidal in both its intent and its practices.
As the election nears, to what extent does the appeal to “British instincts” and “British feelings and aspirations” that MacDonald referred to continue to influence the popular narratives that flourish in different areas of contemporary Canadian society?