Cultural Divides? Thunderbird House and Youth For Christ

Today I attended a community meeting at the Indigenous cultural and spiritual centre “Circle of Life, Thunderbird House” located on Main St. and Higgins St., downtown Winnipeg. The purpose of the open-invitation community gathering was to discuss a plan forward as the Thunderbird house, built in 2000, has had its federal funding cut, leaving it with a looming mortgage and no core funding. After receiving initial funding for the building, Thunderbird house has operated via piece-meal grants that have been implemented on 4-year cycles, which have demanded a primary focus on specific funding objectives – homelessness reduction for instance. At it’s core, however,  the Thunderbird house is, and has always been meant to be, a spiritual and cultural centre for indigenous peoples. It was built on consecrated ground, offers sweat lodges, smudging ceremonies and access to elders. According to the Thunderbird house website, “We offer a Traditional house. Many of our clientele are people that follow or want to follow an Indigenous Traditional path. It is the foundation of Traditional Teachings we want to adhere to.”1

I was struck upon arriving to the Thunderbird house by its proximity to an enormous building directly kitty-corner to it. The big new building is the “Youth For Christ (YFC)” recreation centre built in 2011. It was striking to be in a meeting discussing the fate of an architecturally beautiful building, offering culturally specific programming in a neighbourhood with a high indigenous population that going broke, all the while staring across the street at such a obviously high-end facility. To be honest, I was not entirely surprised. I recalled that a number of acquaintances and friends had mentioned that there had been significant controversy over the large-scale federal and city funding YFC centre. Being in the Thunderbird house this morning, to say the least, grounded this controversy for me.

Without knowing much about the specific history of the YFC centre, it still seemed intuitively strange to me that, in the city with Canada’s largest urban-indigenous community, one heavily impacted by the legacy of the church-run residential schools, for there to be a brand new Christian based centre in such prominent place on North Main Street. The attempted genocide of indigenous peoples operated by destroying culture, spirituality and language – and one of the primary agents of this process were the churches (as was acknowledged, first by the united church in 1998).2

As I have learned, the YFC centre has been some what of a debacle since its abrupt inception sometime around 2010. At that time, federal MP Pat Martin (NDP) harshly criticized both Ottawa and Winnipeg for giving money to what he described as a “fundamentalist Christian organization that’s trying to convert impressionable youths.”3

Looking at the YFC website, I can see Martin’s point. The stated mission and vision of YFC is,

“To participate in the body of Christ in the responsible evangelism of youth presenting them with the person, work and teaching of Jesus Christ, discipling them and leading them into the local church…To establish culturally relevant outreach programs for teenagers…that will model the love of God and communicate the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.”4

While these principles in and of themselves may not be colonizing and violent, taken in the context of Winnipeg’s north Main Street neighbourhoods they are, at the very least, out of touch. Out of touch, that is, not only with the community, but with the work and teaching of Jesus Christ. How programmatic were Christ’s teachings? How often did they align with positions of status, power and state approval?

Why are these developments in the “post-federal-apology” era, still so thickly laden with the euro-christian trappings that have obviously been major sources of exactly the opposite types of actions as those demonstrated in the gospel of Jesus Christ?  A conception that takes as central the relationship between people and the land – seen from an indigenous, or at least a decolonized perspective – offers a vision that seems much more relevant (not to mention authentic) than the too often regurgitated formulaic renderings of Christian faiths. As Dene Scholar Glen Coulthard suggests, “land” should be thought of not only “in the material sense, but also as a system of reciprocal relations and obligations can teach us about living our lives in relation to one another and the natural world in nondominating and nonexploititative terms.” 5

Accordingly, the Thunderbird house hasn’t positioned itself in opposition to it’s next door neighbours, stating that, “There are very good organizations in the immediate and surrounding area of the House. The foundation of care from those entities is primarily Christianity.” Isn’t the fact that Thunderbird is again on the brink of financial collapse – with only one permanent staff member – seem in many ways more “christ-like” than the comparatively opulent building next door with over 20 staff on their registry?

There has also be recent criticism of YFC emerging from a general perception that, despite all the financial resources allocated to the YFC facility, it has not successfully reached out to the indigenous community. Rather, the fancy climbing wall, skate park and dance studios have drawn in youth from around the city – far more so than those youth from the very neighbourhood it was meant to serve. 6

For the time being, Thunderbird house is optimistic about it’s future and the role it can play as a spiritual and cultural hub in the downtown area. The current financial challenges are difficult, but perhaps they will allow for a truly grassroots movement that is not trapped in the catchments of federal funding. To donate to the Thunderbird houses self-funding campaign, please go here 7.

1.http://thunderbirdhouse.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Letter-To-The-Community.pdf
2.http://www.united-church.ca/beliefs/policies/1998/a623
3. http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/youth-centre-sparks-dispute-84764682.html
4. http://yfcwinnipeg.com/who-we-are.html
5. https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/red-skin-white-masks (pp. 13)
6.http://www.cbc.ca/player/Embedded Only/News/Local%20News/Manitoba/Homepage/ID/2458516331/
7. http://www.gofundme.com/ThunderbirdHouse

Advertisements

Winnipeg Tim Horton’s – Exploitation and Intimidation of Employees

A Winnipeg-based owner of four Tim Horton’s franchise stores, Kamta Singh, has been exposed for intimidating and terminating workers after local unions had contacted some of the employees.1 Singh and the manager of one of the stores involved, Joseph Marrast, held a closed-meeting with employees to discuss this matter, singling out one employee at the end of the meeting who was fired for apparently having contact with union organizers. Many of the workers at these Tim Horton’s locations are new comers to Canada and have faced precarious labour conditions under the government’s exploitative system, making these additional work-place violations all the more shameful. One of the employees recorded the entire meeting and the transcript has been made public.2 In this transcript Singh tells employees that they have been reviewing video tapes from all four stores and that they have been able to identify employees who have been approached by union organizers. He also (falsely) states that talking to the union members violates Tim Hortons chain-of-command policy, and that   “…this is a policy [so] then we have all rights to dismiss those employees without cause.”

The incident was met by solidarity from the University of Winnipeg Students Union as well as the Workers United Union. Gathering potions as well as exposing the claims made by Singh and Marrast to be false, the terminated employee was re-instated.

1. http://rankandfile.ca/2015/03/19/roll-up-the-boss-to-win/
2.http://workersunitedunion.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Audio-Transcript-of-Tim-Hortons-Meeting.pdf

Blockade

In her 1993 documentary film “Blockade,” Vancouver film maker Nettie Wild chronicles a 15 months period in 1992 when members of the Gitxsan Eagle Clan staged two blockades against clearcut logging operations on their traditional territory in so-called Northern British Columbia. (The full documentary is available on Youtube here 1). Wild provides intriguing insights into the unfolding interpersonal dynamics around the blockades in a small BC town whose primary industry is logging. She documents disputes between two Gitxsan clans – Frog and Eagle – over rights to certain areas. A dispute that is settled as the Gitxsan focus on preventing the local timber company from logging a relatively small tract of land as they push the government of BC to acknowledge their traditional rights on the land. The first blockade stopped the roadway to the logging site, creating tension with local towns folk who rely on the forest industry. There is an altercation when some local non-indigenous youth get drunk and make a half-hearted attempted to burn the blockade. Despite this outburst of aggression, Wild’s interviews also reveal that many settler residents express at least some degree of understanding that what the Gitxsan are doing is related to the very foundation of colonialism and they are right to oppose it. These settlers seemed trapped in a feeling of being helpless to rectify this historic reality, while being economically dependent of an industry and way of life they inherited from their parents. In a few telling interviews resident-loggers describe the destabilizing feeling that comes from having Gitxsan friends whom they hold in very high esteem taking part in the blockade. In Wild’s narrative, it seems that the treacherous emotional landscape finally gives way to a right understanding in which Gitxsan ways of life are recognized. The local logging company capitulates to the Gitxsan demands and puts a halt to their operations, accepting the Eagle clans conditions. There is even a celebration with drumming and celebration as the towns people and the Gitxsan take down the blockade together. And they all lived happily…

The second blockade happens after the local logging company with a heart is bought out by a bigger soulless corporation and logging proceeds. This time, the Gitxsan blockade the CN railway. There are no particularly intimate encounters, the viewer is only shown a frustrated chief on the phone with a deputy minister explaining the situation as the blockade unfolds. Eventually a court injunction is ordered and the RCMP move in and clear the blockade, arresting a number of Gitxsan people. The most compelling emotional interaction caught during this incident, is the somber but respectful exchange between one of the arrested Eagle Clan members and an officer. The men being arrested are not handcuffed and the escorting officer asks the man how long his people have been on this land, “Thirty thousand years” he says. As they walk along the railway track to the awaiting cruisers, the Gitxsan man points out where an ancient burial site is, the office acknowledges the rights of Gitxsan and expresses his hope that things are “moving in the right direction.” As Wild films the men walking down the track, I had an eery sense of where that track was heading, as though each tie was a contingent moment, a necessity pushing into the present.

Watching “Blockade” I was surprised to find myself feeling nostalgic for a time when resistance to obvious wrongs seemed like was still struggle between people who were also human, who could be swayed and could see things differently, who could feel things differently. Twenty three years after the blockades of the logging industry on Gitxsan territory, this tactic is again becoming prominent around the country, only this time the target is not the loggers, but the Petroleum industry driven by the mega extraction projects of the Tar Sands. As production continues to increase, and Harper signs onto long-term free trade agreements in attempt to ensure tar sands exportation for generations to come, Wild’s “Blockade” seems almost quaint. The two Clans resolve their dispute, a logging company voluntarily accept the will of the Gitxsan and stop logging, even the police arresting members of the blockade openly endorse the rights of the Gitxsan to their land. In 2015, the Harper government’s proposed Bill C-51 legislation would qualify many of the actions depicted in Wild’s documentary terrorism 2.

These new times have given rise to new tactics and new strategies. For instance, some important legal gains have been made in regards to recognizing indigenous traditional right to unneeded territory 3. In 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously recognized the Tsilhqot’in peoples traditional right to a 1700 square kilometre area not far from Gitxsan territory. Still, these legal wins are not nearly enough, and so land defenders are again making stands to protect not only indigenous rights to traditional territories, but the survival of vast ecosystems near and far, threatened by fracking, oil spills and ever more cataclysmic climate events caused by global warming.4 For instance, the Unis’ot’en (Frog) clan of the Wet’suwet’en peoples of so-called BC have successfully blockaded lands against the tar sands pipelines by setting up various camps and traditional pit houses on their territories 5. Whereas many of the towns people in Wild’s documentary eventually came around to the reality of the situation, today, millions of Canadians are again finding themselves on the wrong side of history because of the governments actions, and many are beginning to find practical ways to express sustained solidarity with indigenous people in prefiguring a new way of relating both to the land and to one another.

In Wild’s “Blockade” provides examples of how emotional edges can separate people – the different clans, the local loggers. These affective distances can be navigated and common ground can be achieved. It was not until the mega corporations were involved that the force of Canadian sovereignty was deployed through the police, drawing stark legal lines that seemed to leave no room for maneuvering – even though this process was depicted as somewhat genial and non-conflictual (the massive Gustafsen Lake stand-off between the RCMP and Ts’peten land defenders in 1995 reminds us that sovereign violence was never far away) 6. The separation of emotional relatedness and the use of “legitimate” force to securitize corporate agendas is a worrisome progression.

As more new blockades go up and tensions are again mounting, it is clear this isn’t 1992. However, Wild’s depiction of the capacity for people to change their self-interested positions. The capacity of people to change their stance in the face of obvious violations of justice indigenous rights and grotesque violence against the land provides a timely reminder that neither truth nor force are an exclusive property of the corporate-state interests. The guiding and sustaining power of human emotions can help people find new ways of being beyond the dehumanizing rhetoric of fear and the ecocidal greed whose only purpose is to ceaselessly fill the already bloody corporate coffers of colonial capitalism’s cronies.

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0X08WDmnr9o
2.http://www.ipolitics.ca/2015/02/19/everythings-harper-c-51-the-charter-and-the-unmaking-of-canada/
3.http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/supreme-court-s-tsilhqot-in-first-nation-ruling-a-game-changer-for-all-1.2689140
4.http://www.defendersoftheland.org
5.http://unistotencamp.com
6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustafsen_Lake_Standoff

UPDATED: Train Carrying Crude Oil Derails Near Mattagami First Nation (Video)

RED POWER MEDIA

By Black Powder | Red Power Media

A Canadian National Railway (CN) train carrying crude oil has derailed near Mattagami First Nation in Northern Ontario.

Ontario Provincial Police and the Fire Department from the town of Gogama, were called to the scene at approximately 2:45 a.m., Saturday.

The Transportation Safety Board said 30 to 40 cars derailed, and there were no initial reports of injuries.

The cause of the derailment is still under investigation and the Ministry of Environment has been notified.

Several cars have caught fire, and others entered the Mattagami river system, prompting officials to advise members of the Mattagami First Nation, not to consume water from the community source for the time being.

Residents from the town of Gogama and Mattagami First Nation are being asked to stay inside until further notice due to possible smoke inhalation.

mattagami-first-nation-highway-sign

Chief Walter Naveau from Mattagami First Nation says he is concerned for the welfare of…

View original post 991 more words

Perception and Emotion

A new public art project is launching in Winnipeg as a way of countering negative stereotypes about indigenous people. The public exhibition entitled “Perception” involves two photos of a persons head and face.1  On image includes a negative a word or phrase with the person making a negative facial expression. The other image has includes information about the person, highlighting their accomplishments (contradicting the stereotype), and making happy facial expressions.

In an article with Maclean’s magazine author Nancy MacDonald (author of the notorious expose on Winnipeg’s racism) the Winnipeg artist KC Adams describes her method for taking the pictures.2 First she would tell the models, all of whom were prominent Winnipeg indigenous residents, “I want you to look right into the lens. I’m going to say something. I don’t want you to react. I just want you to think of the words.” She would then lead them on a sort of guided reflection on some moment when they had been subjected to racism and take their picture. She would also have the subjects reflect on positive moments or situations, also followed by a photo. Following this exercise, Adams had the models choose a word to go with the first (negative) emotional expression.

These images will be shown around Winnipeg and represent an artistic intervention aimed at destabilizing racism.

 1.http://www.kcadams.com
 2.http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/winnipegs-new-art-project-stares-down-racism-in-the-face/

The Deceptive Charade of Social License

Article in the Star today has a discussion about the extent to which “social license” should be obtained from government and industry before going ahead with major projects that affect the environment. The chair of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Michael Binnion recently remarked that the Harper government has done a terrible job at getting social license.(1) I personally was not familiar with the term social license, although the gist seems straightforward – companies need popular support to go ahead with projects that may impact a broader group. The first result of a Google search turned up an internet site dedicated to social license defines it similarly “Social License has been defined as existing when a project has the ongoing approval within the local community and other stakeholders, ongoing approval or broad social acceptance and, most frequently, as ongoing acceptance.”(2) Upon looking a little further, this site is run by a Oil Industry consultancy in Vancouver that offers “socially enhancement” strategies for the energy industry.(3) They specialize in putting a socially responsible face on inherently violent and exploitative activities. What they do is a charade – doing in order to pretend something is true when it is not really true.(4)

Social license seems like a way to put greater onus on industry and government (frequent bedfellows) to seek out and take into consideration public opinion, but it starts from the premise that everything is on the table so long as enough people endorse it. Who is consulted? Why should people be forced to do violence to other people, to the land, to themselves? Also, the disproportionate amount of funding from the oil and mining industry for propaganda and bribery make claims of having obtained social license extremely dubious at best. Social license and other similar concepts rely on the language of informed consent and community consultation, using these terms they seek to validate the underlying processes of mass resource extraction, militarism and disregard for indigenous rights. Where does social license get it’s legitimacy? The people? The concept is a public relations tactic of groups such as the Harperite-Oil Industry alliance and is being used to carve out some kind of positive social narrative in which to cloak despicable deeds.

This strategy is on display in the Star article linked to here, in which Joe Oliver – former Minister of Natural Resources, and current Finance minister (obviously Canadian resource and finances go hand in hand) – announces to a bunch of people at the (Preston) Manning Institute that Canada should be less concerned with obtaining social license. Of course, Oliver sounds like the cold hearted industrialist that he is, and an immediate response (at least my immediate reaction) is to reject his callous greedy position. So then, do I endorse the position of the need for more social license? That would seem to be the alternative to Oliver’s position the article presents. Making this social license seem like the progressive alternative to crass extractionism is the dangerous move that is made by the social license discourse. It stays with in the bounds of the logic of colonial capitalism, in which the tar sands and the pipelines must and inevitably will go ahead. I reject this position and social license is a sham way of trying to get people to play by these rigged rules.

1. http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/03/06/oliver-ups-ante-in-conflict-with-environmental-movement.html
2. http://socialicense.com
3. http://oncommonground.ca/?page_id=1503
4. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/charade.

Game Changers and Tipping Points

This past week a campaign to encourage young people to vote in the upcoming federal election kicked off in Winnipeg. The “Game Changers” tour is part of a Council of Canadians effort led by Brigette DePape that is responding to the fact that in the 2011 federal election, youth turn out was extremely low. This is particularly significant because the election results in many ridings were determined by very few votes. Point being, young people can swing things substantially if they mobilize.1 By numbers, in the last election only 38.8% of people aged 18–24 voted compared to 75.1% of those aged 65–74 and 60.3% of those 75 and older.2 The logic behind getting young folks to vote seems pretty sound, but the emotions and motivations that underlie political engagements are as complex as human behaviour.3 Currently there is widespread unrest in Canada because of the Harper governments flagrant environmental destruction in the tar sands, increased militarism abroad, ongoing colonial violence at home, exploitation of migrant labour, a general disdain for a working class that doesn’t fit with its extreme neoliberal vision and the criminalization of political dissent. This unrest exists within the context of broader geopolitical events such as Obama’s recent veto of the Keystone Excel pipeline, the election of an exemplary, anti-austerity government in Greece, and the general realignment of global power structures in Latin America, Russia, China and the Middle East.4 The point is, that Game Changers is tapping into what could actually be a tipping point in Canadian society and the everyday practice of politics. In a recent interview in Winnipeg, Depape recounted how her own cynical feelings about Canada’s failing democracy have led her to come to think of the vote itself as a critical and strategic step toward emergent and much broader systemic change. 5 In the super successful pop-psychology book “The Tipping Point” (2000) Malcolm Gladwell distills a great deal of social-cognitive psychology along with analyses of fashion and marketing trends to demonstrate how “little things can make big difference.”6 When the conditions are right, or in the case of Canada, when they are so bad that everyone can tell they can’t be sustained and must change, it only takes a seemingly slight umph to push things over an edge. Once the threshold of public opinion and popular feeling has been breached, cascading events follow and can change every aspect of day-to-day life, like ice beginning to thaw once the spring has finally come. Such is the threshold that Canadian politics is teetering upon and DePape and the “get out the youth vote tour” are actively pushing the weight of public opinion toward key pivot points and the promise of overturning the much-too-long era of Canadian political apathy. The need for such a decisive shift is glaring in light of the current historical context in which hyper-capitalist production is literally sacrificing everything along its path of endless growth. Death and life become endlessly interchangeable according to the dictates of an economic calculus. Equally important to this shift in momentum toward a tipping point is the vibrant indigenous resurgence and diverse social movements that have long been planting the seeds, laying the ground work and prefiguring the networks needed for different forms of politics and communities to find fuller expression and more positive relations. Whereas Harper relies on fear of change and fear of the ‘other’ to harness public opinion, Game Changers engages the broad based sentiment that transcends particular movement identities and mobilizes around the hope for a state of affairs in which the strangle hold of colonial capitalism is broken. 1. (http://www.canadians.org/iwillvote) 2.http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=rec/part/estim/41ge&document=report41&lang=e#p1 3.(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ml8KDumTO0) 4.(http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/crude-awakening-how-the-keystone-veto-dashes-canadas-superpower-dreams-20150224) 5.(http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/Stop-Harper-activist-now-working-to-boost-the-youth-vote-293925571.html). 6.http://gladwell.com/the-tipping-point/