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.


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.

5. (pp. 13)
6. Only/News/Local%20News/Manitoba/Homepage/ID/2458516331/

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.


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