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

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

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/

Got Bannock? Rebuilding the Village

Althea Guiboche has gained widespread recognition throughout Winnipeg for her work with “Got Bannock” – a campaign she started nearly two years ago to deliver food to some of the city’s poorest every Sunday.1 As Guiboche explained in a recent TEDx Manitoba talk, the idea behind “Got Bannock” is the need to re-establish the community supports that are represented by the notion of the indigenous village.2 Bannock has long been a food staple for many indigenous people and carries a nostalgia for a feeling of home and belonging. Guiboche describes how the project took off after her own period of crisis which started when she and her family were displaced during the Manitoba floods of 2011. The idea came to fruition after she offered tobacco to the Grandmothers and Grandfathers at the Petroforms at “Bannock Point” a spiritual site located the nearby Whiteshell area. Thus the symbol of bannock addresses an immediate physical need while engaging deeply into culture, community and spirituality.

1.https://www.facebook.com/GotBannock
2.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDuPuk7_OzE

Inverted Canadian Flag Day?

February 15th marked the 50th anniversary of Canada’s adoption of the maple leaf flag, an occasion that was made a national holiday in 1996.1 While I never knew about “flag day” before, it struck me this year because I had attended a number of events just prior to “flag day” in which the “red and white” featured prominently. At the national #Shutdowncanada protests on February 13th as well as the 8th annual Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women on February 14th inverted Canadian flags were prominent symbols.

I should say, only indigenous people who were flying inverted flags, which, seemed like a much more appropriate symbolic gesture than if I – as a white settler – were to fly an inverted flag. As it was, the presence of inverted flags (there were both Canadian and US flags) were poignant symbols that alluded to the underlying issues of colonialism and the ongoing legacy of unilateral use of sovereign violence. In addition to the direct impact that the Canadian flag turned upside down likely has for many people, those flying them had added additional messages. For instance, one flag read “Out of Order since 1763” referring to the (broken) nation-to-nation agreement between the Crown and Indigenous groups in the Royal Proclamation of 1763.2  Another inverted flag, featured in the image above and carried at the Winnipeg March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), pointed to the relationship between colonial and gendered forms of violence. An elderly Indigenous man and women held the sign through out the march, in this photo they happen to be standing across the street from “Colony Square” – a shopping centre on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg’s downtown.

Canada’s flag day celebrations received $250 000 in government funding, while the Memorial Marches continue to be organized on shoestring budgets in some of Canada’s poorest neighbourhoods. Still, some CBC commentators lamented the fact that, “the government has poured money into ad campaigns about the War of 1812 and the 200th birthday of Sir John A. Macdonald. The 1812 campaign cost more than $5 million; the Sir John A. ads cost more than $4 million. For the celebrations of the flag’s 50th, there’s a much more modest $50,000, plus another $200,000 for provincial celebrations.”1

While Harper may not be sponsoring inverted flag day anytime soon, this symbol has made it into the growing cultural and artistic resurgence surrounding indigenous and ally resistance across Turtle Island. For instance the US based Indigenous hip-hop group “Savage Family”3 prominently features inverted American flags in their music videos, and the Toronto based group “Test Their Logik” often performs their song “Turtle Island” at rallies and marches across Canada, which criticizes the colonial symbolics of Canadian nationalism.4

1. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-s-flag-debate-flaps-on-50-years-later-1.2957192
2. http://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/home/government-policy/royal-proclamation-1763.html
3.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cVt_KeoyQg
4.. http://testtheirlogik.bandcamp.com/track/turtle-island

Obstructing Colonial Capitalism (part 1)

The #Shutdowncanada event took place at significant transportation routes on February 13th 2015. The facebook page called for “communities across Canada to blockade their local railway, port or highway… Don’t buy, don’t fly, no work and keep the kids home from school… The goal is to significantly impact the Canadian economy for a day and demand there be an independent inquiry into the 2000+ cases of missing or murdered indigenous women.” 1 The event was planned in coordination with annual cross-Canada memorial marches for “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” (MMIW) that take place on February 14th. The facebook page dedicated to this event indicated nearly 7000 people were “attending.” Although, by all accounts, the numbers in attendance were much lower.

I won’t wade into the task of picking apart the reasons for the lower turn out, other than to say that the disparity between online support and real-life engagement is an issue activism is constantly grappling with. I think it is important to acknowledge that these events involved the clear naming and symbolic targeting of colonial-capitalism as the primary underlying reality that makes violence against indigenous women acceptable and profitable. That these events have made their way into public discourse, is a powerful indication that this broad antagonism has started to be pinned down, and that people are finding ways of acting against it. Beyond blockading the economic flow that undergirds the colonial-capitalist state, these events also call for greater self-reliance through building community capacity and forming new and healthy alliances. For instance, while calls for a national inquiry have been ignored by the government, families impacted by this violence have started a grass-roots website “It Starts With Us” which includes a community data base that honours women and girls who have been subjected to violence and facilitates community organization.2

This efficacy of grassroots mobilization was clearly on display during the February 14th as memorial marches around Canada which succeeded in bringing attention to the issue of MMIW. Unlike the #Shutdown Canada actions, the memorial marches had broad public support and were in many cases (such as in Winnipeg) facilitated by the local police force.3 As one of the organizers from the Winnipeg event said in her closing address, “this event is not supposed to be a platform” for politics, rather “it is about the families [of MMIW].” This was a powerful reminder that when such events get brought into the mainstream, there is a danger of awkwardly politicizing, and then progressively depoliticizing the lived realities of indigenous people who continue to be directly and violently affected. This was perhaps the significant difference between the #shutdowncanada event and the memorial marches.

By aiming to disrupt the transportation routes needed to support the smooth flow of capitalism, #shutdowncanada events drew attention to the interlinking processes of colonialism and capitalism – an interwoven system of violences that continues evolve and be enacted in new forms. The need to maintain the focus on murdered and missing indigenous women while also confronting the status quo politics of colinal capitalism has generated debated both within indgenous communities and more broadly. For instance, many commentators question whether increased policing or a national inquiry into missing and murdered woman can actually address the actual nature of the ongoing violence. This point was made by Zhaawanongnoodin (Coleen Cardinal) during a recent roundtable of indigenous women leaders published in Rabble.ca,

“The state responding to violence against Indigenous women by ramping up police presence and building more jails perpetuates the cycle of violence. The RCMP already has been identified as being perpetrators of violence towards Indigenous women. Prisons are institutionalizing Indigenous people and have become the new residential school system. The government is going to war on Indigenous people using the police as their enforcers to serve and protect their oil, land, and resource assets. I have only had bad experiences with the police when I need protection. I would hold out on calling the police for help because I feel I am more likely to be subject to racial profiling, assault, or being criminalized or shot by them than being helped.”4

On the other hand, it is because of these persistent grassroots campaigns that MMIW has gradually become an issue that a relatively broad segment of Canada’s population is aware of. This has forced the government to at least acknowledge the issue, although Harper still shrugs it off as something that is not high on his priority list.5 One way in which this issue has forced its way into federal politics is through its influence upon the upcoming roundtable involving the Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt as well the Minister of Labour and the Status of Womenas Kellie Leitch. In the lead up to the February 27th meeting Leitch will have her hands full as she seeks to deal with another social force that is targeting the Canadian economy through stopping the transport of goods. In this case it is the Canadian Pacific Railway Strike. See more on this in the following post.6

1.https://www.facebook.com/events/452509068236441/.
2.http://www.itstartswithus-mmiw.com
3.http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/March-raises-awareness-of-missing-and-murdered-women-291976781.html
4. http://rabble.ca/columnists/2015/02/roundtable-on-gendered-colonial-violence-part-two
5.http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/stephen-harper-s-comments-on-missing-murdered-aboriginal-women-show-lack-of-respect-1.2879154
6.http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/02/15/cp-rail-workers-on-strike-after-talks-fail.html

Gendered Violence, Colonial Capitalist Systems

Later this week #Shutdown Canada (Feb.13) and numerous marches and events (Feb. 14) are planned to put pressure on the federal government to call an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Woman. The lead-up to these events has also been an occasion for a number of high profile roundtable discussions about the nature of the problem as well as the type of action needed to meaningfully intervene. Mostly clearly present in these discussions is the fact that in the past 30 years over 1200 Indigenous women have been murdered or disappeared, a rate of direct violence drastically higher than exists in other Canadian demographics. This issue has garnered international attention including Amnesty’s International’s 2004, “Stolen Sisters” report which denounced the government’s inaction and official indifference – which has stubbornly persisted.1 A recent roundtable discussion of Indigenous women in Vancouver highlights the ongoing connection between colonial and capitalist exploitation that contribute to the devaluation and destruction of indigenous women and communities. As Anishnawbe film maker Audrey Huntley describes, “Violence against Indigenous women that enabled land theft and displacement of the Indigenous population is an inherent part of the settler-colonial project. That’s how Canada was built and continues to exist. Indigenous communities, in particular Indigenous women and children who are the centres of those communities, stand in the way of ongoing colonization of land and resources. Racism is the fuel that feeds the fire and it is at the heart of the societal indifference that is so hard for our community, and in particular for the family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, to bear. While the last year has finally brought unprecedented media and public attention to the issue, the violence has not stopped and, in fact, may be increasing. This makes sense given the extractivist and austerity-focused agenda of the Harper government and the impacts that violence on the land has on Indigenous women particularly, and our community and society as a whole.” 2 Later this month (Feb.27)  Perry Bellegarde, the newly elected Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations will meet with two Conservative ministers –  Kellie Leitch, (Minister of Labour and the Status of Women) and  Bernard Valcourt (Minister of Aboriginal Affairs) – to discuss the issue of violence against indigenous women. “We welcome their support. We welcome their attendance,” Bellegarde said, expressing hope the ministers will act on what they hear at the meeting. “That’s what we’re all trying to address: a co-ordinated strategy, a co-ordinated approach, an implementation plan to deal with this,” he said. “The feds are there; the provinces are there; indigenous peoples are there; families are there. Let’s map this out.” 3 However, few see this terrain as very favourable to seriously redrawing the map of ongoing colonial oppression and cultural violence underlying the epidemic of missing and murdered aboriginal women. The fact that two former Grand Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations, Sean Atleo and Ovide Mercredi have become high-paid consultants for the Oil Industry, raises severe doubts that such elite politicking intends to address the fundamental linkages between colonial and capitalist violence.4 Many indigenous people feel that an federal inquiry isn’t enough, or even the right way to address the problem. Such an inquiry would require a great deal of money which some feel would “only tell us what we already know” without changing systems of oppression. At a recent meeting in Winnipeg the director of Ka Na Kanichihk, Leslie Spillet, said, “We’re losing people not just to murders, our kids are killing themselves for Godsakes. Our men are killing our women. Not just non-indigenous men are killing our women. Our kids are committing suicide. We’re in a crisis here.”5 The call is for action now and for the sustained dismantling of the social and psychological violence that is an ongoing part of colonial capitalism. 1. http://www.amnesty.ca/sites/default/files/amr200032004enstolensisters.pdf. 2.http://rabble.ca/columnists/2015/02/this-system-hasnt-killed-me-yet-roundtable-on-gendered-colonial-violence 3. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/afn-s-perry-bellegarde-hopeful-ahead-of-meeting-on-murdered-missing-aboriginal-women-1.2952780 4.http://business.financialpost.com/2014/12/10/b-c-heavy-oil-refinery-project-names-aboriginal-leaders-as-advisors/?__lsa=eb36-b249 5.http://aptn.ca/news/2015/02/10/families-missing-murdered-indigenous-women-want-action-instead-inquiry/.

#SHUTDOWNCANADA – Flows and Interruptions

Next Friday February 13th, a coalition of groups associated with the Idle No More movement is calling for a country-wide action to #ShutdownCanada 1. The online description calls for “communities across Canada to blockade their local railway, port or highway on February 13th. Don’t buy, don’t fly, no work and keep the kids home from school… The goal is to significantly impact the Canadian economy for a day and demand there be an independent inquiry into the 2000+ cases of missing or murdered indigenous women.” At a number of levels #Shutdowncanada is about the importance of, and control over flows in our contemporary society – the flow of capital through infrastructure (roads, pipelines), the flow of information through mainstream and social media and the ability of bodies to flow through different spaces. Since #Shutdown Canada is about disrupting and changing the day-to-day flow of Canadian society, it can also be read in relation to the issues at stake within the Harper government’s proposed anti-terror legislation – Bill C-51. Under this legislation, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) will be given the power to, not only monitor, but also proactively disrupt any “Activity that undermines the security of Canada.” This includes making lists of any persons who may “engage in an act that poses a threat to transportation security” or promotes “interference with critical infrastructure.” (For the full draft legislation see here 2.) Although Harper has relied on a rhetoric that emphasizes the threat of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, many feel that the true targets in this legislation are first nations and environmental groups who present a challenge to the conservatives’ right wing, oil-fueled agenda 3. Here are a few examples of how the #Shutdowncanada and Bill C-51 intersect: 1) Flows of Capital: The #Shutdown Canada action is calling for broad and strategic interruption and blockade of road and rail in order to put economic pressure on the government. A number of key provisions within the anti-terrorism act are aimed at identifying these acts as terroristic and proactively interrupting them and criminalizing those involved through amendments to the Criminal Code (section 83.01 pertaining to terrorism 4.) 2) Flows of Information: There are currently more than seven thousand people who have indicated on Facebook that they will be or may be going to this event. The event has also been publicized in a number of mainstream and alternative new sources. Under the new anti-terrorism act, CSIS would be allowed to proactively seize “propaganda” related to such events, and disrupt any websites or social media platforms which actively promote these types events. This means that organizing platform like Facebook will be monitored and possibly interrupted. It also means that discussions on these forums may be used as evidence of “promoting terrorism” which carries up to a five-year jail sentence under the new legislation 5. 3) Flows of Bodies: The participation of thousands of people in such massive, Canada-wide events is an extremely powerful force that has the capacity to significantly impact the smooth flow of everyday life for millions and force a recognition of demands. Under Bill C-51, individuals will be able to be detained without charges for up to seven days. This capacity to detain particular bodies is also aimed at stopping organizers as well as deterring people from putting their bodies on the line for such issues 6. This is particularly true for immigrants, and under this new legislation provisions have been changed in the “Immigrant and Refugee Safety Act” which further jeopardize their legal status for participating in such events. All of these different type of flows involve highly emotional material – missing and murdered aboriginal women, terrorism, environmental destruction, detention – and these affective flows are of a great deal of importance in determining the success of such events. What narratives these emotions get stuck to is an ongoing struggle over the emotional landscape and legal terrain of the country. 1.https://www.facebook.com/events/452509068236441/ 2.http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/anti-terrorism-powers-what-s-in-the-legislation-1.2937964 3.http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/karl-nerenberg/2015/02/four-reasons-harpers-new-anti-terrorist-legislation-will-alarm 4.http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/page-28.html#docCont 5.http://aptn.ca/news/2015/02/02/first-nation-activists-fear-potential-sting-new-anti-terror-law/ 6.https://www.tworowtimes.com/news/national/will-new-anti-terror-bill-affect-shutdowncanada-first-nations/

Growing Indigenous Mobilization for the 2015 Federal Elections

A number of youth-led, grass-roots campaigns are encouraging aboriginal peoples to vote in the upcoming federal elections. A Facebook page entitled, “Winnipeg Indigenous Rock The Vote In The 42nd Federal Election Oct 19 2015” already has around 800 members 1. The “Indigenous Rock the Vote” movement is building on a successful “Rock the Vote” campaign during the recent Mayoral Elections that saw the election of Winnipeg’s first Metis Mayor, Brian Bowman. While young people are taking the lead in mobilizing indigenous voters, this should not be read as an implicit endorsement of the Canadian system of governance. Rather, it is one part of a broader strategy to fend off continuing colonial dispossession as it manifests in particular areas. This includes ensuring that people who do decide to vote have the proper documentation to cast their ballot, including proof of residence. This is a particular issue on some reserves where there are no formal street addresses. In the past, this did not pose such a problem since there was an accepted process that allowed community members to “vouch” for the residency of other members of the community. This practice is no longer considered valid by Elections Canada. An indigenous youth organizer from Saskatchewan described the consequences of such procedural shifts as both depressing and confusing. “The most heartbreaking stories that I hear are the elders who found a ride, go where they needed to go to make a vote and then they get turned away and they don’t understand why,” she says. “They’re crushed because they made it out and then they get turned away and it’s a hard thing to explain to them” 2.

1. https://www.facebook.com/groups/377942925701349/.
2. http://www.eaglefeathernews.com/news/index.php?detail=1030

‘Land is Relationship’ – Legality and Emotion

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.

1.http://nooneisillegal.orghttp://rabble.ca/columnists/2015/01/land-relationship-conversation-glen-coulthard-on-indigenous-nationhood
2.http://nooneisillegal.org
3.http://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/red-skin-white-masks