“Wanna buy T3s?”

North End MC

Medicine Wheel

I was leaving a meeting at the Thunderbird House recently – smelling of sage and feeling good about the work we had accomplished there. I was walking to my place, heading North down Main Street, passed the Youth For Christ building and under the under pass. I was walking by Sutherland when a middle aged woman on a bike stopped beside me and said

“Wanna buy T3s?”

“No thanks” was my polite response, as I am used to refusing random offers of pills on main street. She then rode away, and I proceeded to walk home. I walked by the bars, the walk in clinics, the pharmacies, the welfare office, the liquor store. Unconscious bodies and the gazeless stares of high zombie like relatives surrounded me. The smell of urine and old beer. The sound of grunting, sighing, crying and breathing heavily.

“Wanna buy T3s?”

The Informal economy that informs…

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An Indigenous Feminist’s take on the Ontological Turn: ‘ontology’ is just another word for colonialism

Urbane Adventurer: Amiskwacî

by Zoe Todd, PhD Candidate, Social Anthropology, University of Aberdeen

[2016 update: Through the kind invitation and the support of Yoke-Sum Wong at the Journal of Historical Sociology, I have now published this blog post in an expanded form. You can download it for free here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/johs.12124/full. I think it’s important to note that while the below blog post is a brief rumination on my thoughts and experiences as a Métis scholar who was entangled in the neocolonialism, imperialism, white supremacy and misogyny which plagues the UK academy, it is incomplete. I wrote it in response to specific and visceral experiences, but it is simply one short narrative and it is very important for those reading this short blog post to root your thinking in the work of the plurality of thinkers writing back to (and beyond) dominant paradigms. I urge folks to read the extended version of this piece…

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Winnipeg’s double standard.

vietneech

There is a double standard that exists in winnipeg when it comes to native people and alcohol consumption. This past Sunday, I was at the Spur Festival watching Michael Champagne on the panel for “steal this idea”. The event was set up so that panelists could steal an idea that works in other cities, and present these ideas in hopes that they will work here in Winnipeg.

One of the panelist’s idea, was to develop Winnipeg’s riverwalks into a tourist attraction. A different panelist, was asking a question and made a remark about having fun and being really drunk by the river.

There is nothing wrong with that. I like to drink beer too. However, The majority of the crowd on Sunday at Manitoba Hydro was white. Right after the remark about being drunk by the river, everyone clapped and laughed. It automatically made me think about the reaction, If…

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The Unstoppable, Viral, Political Change of the People

The recent passing of Bill C-51 is a significant legislative step down a pretty freaky road. That is to say, it opens up the legal space where the Harper government, through CSIS, has increased powers to secretly disrupt, manipulate and detain people based on arbitrary designations of “terrorism” (to view the text of the bill go here 1).

Obviously this bill is not popular with the majority of Canadians, and has been trashed and decried by the legal community, civil society, indigenous groups and just about every half-right thinking group out there. However, as bad as C51 may be, it is part of a larger pattern of of legal, political and financial manipulation used by the Harper government to advance a very particular variety of “the Canadian National Interest.” Fittingly, Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians released a scathing report on May 8th – the day after C51 passed – called “BROKEN COVENANT: HOW STEPHEN HARPER SET OUT TO SILENCE DISSENT AND CURTAIL DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION IN CANADA” chronicling how the Harper government has systematically set about re-engineering the Canadian political landscape (see the report here 2).

Harper and his special interests groups have had to rely on ridiculous legislation, backroom dealing and fascistic policing practices because they are, at a fundamental level, losing their power. I don’t simply mean they’re going to be voted out – which I hope they are – but, rather, that their capacity to harness and work with the social force of the people is increasingly negligible. The fact that bills like C51 are borne out of the fear of the governing WASPs and a handful of Richie Riches  demonstrates their desperation in the face of a global surge that is changing the nature of power relations.

Movements like Idle No More, the fight against pipelines and environmental destruction, new Immigrant Deportation rules, and resistance to a series of totally lopsided free trade agreements is spreading virally. The intersection of all these movements is natural. People are not blind, nor are our feelings totally turned off. We can see that these issues are all benefiting the same select few and that they have absolutely no problem using whatever means necessary to make their money and keep their power, no matter what the consequences. We can feel hope in communities, in the energy of art and music, and in the victories that are happening when people come together and to fight as a diverse but unified movement in touch with itself, connected to each other and responsible to the earth.

A recently published report by APTN indicated that the “Idle No More is like bacteria, it has grown a life of its own all across this nation.” It continues that, “It may be advisable for all to have contingency plans in place, as this is one issue that is not going to go away.” 2 Of course, the report suggested that this could escalate to direct violence – which is the same rhetoric that underscores much of Bill C51 – but in fact what is most telling about this is that it reflects the government and the po-po’s inability to control a natural spread of ideas and actions that not only unite people, they have the capacity to create a very different social and political reality. The viral spread of communities organizing in non-hierarchical ways which are healthy and positive is the greatest threat to a plutocratic system of corporate governance that is both boring and sick.

Whereas the Harperites try to structure things for their own benefit through laws and economic investments, the new politics is fluid and creative, it’s really compelling. Harper’s agenda panders to greedy soulless demons who already have way too much money and power, and continue to do far too much damage. The current political momentum is being spurred on and guided by the people most affected by the colonial-capitalist machine, and they’re creating something at once new, while also remembering and reconnecting with teachings and truths that are very very old. The Harper regime is extractivist, it takes away life and leaves devastation. The new movement is activist, it gives life, cultivates, plants and nurtures seeds.

Of course the powers-that-be have a long history been of labeling internal threats to their power “bacteria,” “germs” and “insects.” Canada’s new laws enable racism and have handed over the state’s “legitimate” power to some of the most violent and unjust people in society. These laws are made in service of corporate finance, they rely on bigger industrial projects, more infrastructure to ship oil, and more jails to keep people locked away. The spread of resistance and creativity is natural and spreads through culture, touching individual hearts and minds and speaking truth to power.

It’s not a fair field of play for those staunch old bastards. They cannot win, and they have less and less real power than ever before. They are fighting a losing battle and they know it. Resistance is fertile.

1.https://openparliament.ca/bills/41-2/C-51/
2.http://canadians.org/media/broken-covenant-blistering-report-9-years-harper-agenda
3.http://aptn.ca/news/2015/05/07/idle-movement-like-bacteria-says-internal-rcmp-document/

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

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