Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Olympic Flame...Government Shame?

Seems as the 2010 Olympic flame criss-crosses Aboriginal communities, issues such as environmental, social conditions, and past experiences are exposed. The latest headline read, “The flame arrives, but Inuit still await an apology,” outlined in the Nov. 10, 2009 issue of the GLOBE AND MAIL.

In recent years, the federal government has been mired in a caseload of claims regarding students who have experienced the former residential school system and are living the legacy of physical and sexual abuses by the various churches. After some pressure from former students and politically bodies, Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally apologized on national television in June, 2008 to all Aboriginal people for its 130 years of institutional ill-fated attempt to assimilate and integrate the First Nation, Inuit, and M├ętis people. Apology accepted.

Seems another apology is warranted, This time, in the historic relocation of Northern Quebec Inuit to what is now the community of Resolute and, may I add, the community of Grise Fiord both located in desolate locations in what is now Nunavut. In 1953, “families (were) dumped and abandoned by Ottawa…” According to Inuit Survivors still living today, the federal government promised to return a year later to bring them back south to their former homes in Northern Quebec. They’re still there. One of them was George Eckalooh who as 11 years old at the time said, “My parents tried to get back to Quebec but the government never gave them an opportunity.” Apparently, this government initiative was to address the sovereignty issue during the beginnings of the Cold War.

While there has been financial compensation offered to the dislocated Inuit, they want “to get the one thing the people of Resolute Bay want most: an apology from Ottawa.” Still, the Inuit of Resolute have taken part in the celebration of the 2010 Olympic flame as George Eckalooh says, “If the torch makes them (youth) happy, or better still inspires them to do great things, then its presence here will have been worth it.”

In the end, the dislocated Inuit would like the federal government to do one great thing….apologize.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Olympic Torch...Olympic Torture?

I must commend the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) in being all-inclusive in the sharing of the Olympic torch in the relay as it has already criss-crossed a number of Aboriginal communities. The latest story was outlined in the Nov. 05, 2009 edition of the GLOBE AND MAIL with the headline of, “In a changing North, the torch recalls tradition.”

The image of the torch being carried by Old Crow Gwitchin member, Martha Benjamin, a former national x-country ski champion, being pulled on sled by a dog team had given me a sense of pride on who we are first as Aboriginal people and secondly as Canadian. The torch is and will continue to draw attention to climate change and how it is affecting Canada’s Indigenous people in the North. Climate change affects the land and sea and, in turn, affects the people who depend on that land and sea for subsistence and their identity. In the Old Crow Gwitchin case, the article focused on how much they have and still depend on the Porcupine caribou herd migration through their area. I know. I visited and seen it and do have a number of friends who live in Old Crow including the Chief, Joe Linklater. Joe had said, “Our identity has always been tied up with the caribou, our heritage, our cultural identity. Now there is a real question of whether there will be caribou to hunt and salmon to fish.” The caribou numbers are down and their migration routes have become less predictable.

Like all Aboriginal communities, the Gwitchin of Old Crow are a sharing people and are certainly willing to share the Olympic flame with other Canadians. An Old Crow member named, Kyikavichik had said, “The relay was founded on the notion of sharing, and had its own share of hurdles to confront as well.”

The biggest hurdle for the Old Crow Gwitchin though could be climate change and its effect on their identity with the loss of their caribou. The caribou are bigger than the Olympic torch…by now the Olympic torch is gone and will not return to Old Crow…for the Gwitchin they expect the caribou to return every year…if not, it could be torture.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Northwest Passage is already Canadian

So read the headline in the October 27, 2009 edition of the NATIONAL POST.

By and large, I agree with the writer, Michael Byers, especially when there were motions within the federal government to change the name to “Canadian Northwest Passage” and “ the Canadian Internal Waters.”  As most know this was to try and settle the on-going sovereignty issue from external challenges. The article went on to read that any new name would (should) “reflect the history of Inuit use and occupation of the waters in question for thousands of years, and the reality of continuing Inuit use and occupation.” I’ll second that.

The Arctic is a huge part of Canada’s image, i.e. the inukshuk, the polar bear, northern lights, igloos, icebergs, the people and their art; yet, very few people including ordinary Canadians have experienced its allure. Myself, being Inuvialuit (Inuit) from the Western Arctic have traveled throughout the Arctic including a voyage of the “Northwest Passage” in 1995. Those memories are still very vivid. My account of that trip includes Inuit still occupying the land, hunting, fishing, and gathering according to the rhythm of the seasons. They will continue to do so for as long as the rivers flow. Thanks to the Inuit across the Arctic, the Northwest Passage will always be Canadian.

Regarding any name change, it is a requirement in the Nunavut Land Claim agreement, “to consult the Inuit before changing the name of any geographic feature in the territory.” After all, the Inuit too are already Canadian given their allocation of social insurance numbers, health care numbers, and passport numbers...and whatever other numbers that denotes them already Canadian.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ten Years After

Ten Years After; those of you who were into rock music in the 70s, like me, would remember the band, Ten Years After, who rocked their way into fame back then. But let me put that phrase into today’s context, more accurately in the Oct. 20, 2009 edition of the GLOBE AND MAIL. The headline read, “Ten years after its creation, Nunavut gets failing grade.”

It should read, “….federal government gets a failing grade.”

Some of you may remember the creation of and celebration of Nunavut, a land-claim agreement between the federal government and the Inuit of the central and eastern Arctic. Ten years after, a report card outlines, “…territory plagued by same problems – insufficient education, grinding poverty, overcrowding – faced at inception.”

Some of you may also remember the pictorial book entitled, “The Inuit, Life As It Was” authored by a Richard Harrington. As a photographer, it is one of my favorite books as “a picture speaks a thousand words.” It depicts a people who had their language and culture intact; were healthy beings hunting, fishing, gathering, singing, dancing but also faced hardships such as hunger and frostbite. If I had the choice I would have preferred to live “life as it was.” No bills, no mortgage, no insecurity, no insignificant, lots of respect, able to speak the language and practice my culture.

The federal government too should have left “life as it was.” Instead, they saw all Aboriginal people including the Inuit as “ a problem.” In an effort to solve the problem, they established the residential school system and funded the churches to operate them. In doing so, they created more problems. All across Canada, Aboriginal people live in poverty, have insufficient education, live in over-crowded housing, high unemployment, lack significance and security, and lack mental health treatment and rehabilitation facilities. The Premier of Nunavut, Eva Aariak, says, “For the most part, these problems aren’t getting better.”

The path to the future is uncertain for the people of Nunavut but the past should have been maintained for the present. The federal government should have respected our language and culture and left us alone. Instead they chose to interfere and they are the ones who should get the failing grade…120 years after.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Celibacy or Celebrity?

“Sweat was beading down my forehead, my collar was too tight, and my knees were hurting. The priest was speaking in a foreign language they called Latin. It was time for the longest hour of the week: Catholic Mass. I looked over at my buddy; he too, seemed to have had the same aura of confusion. Why were we here, why did we have to stand, kneel, stand up, kneel, stand up, kneel down, sit down, and be quiet?”

These are the words of a story and inspired by a memory of an eight-year-old boy: myself. It was 1964 and I had already endured three years of the dreaded regimented lifestyle of the Catholic-run Aboriginal residential school of Grollier Hall in Inuvik, NT. I was to endure another ten years especially the longest hour of the week; Catholic Mass. I escaped that system finally in 1975; still confused but extremely relieved. It is now 2009 and I still have not and will not step into another Catholic church again.

The Catholic church is fundamentally flawed in its doctrine of instilling guilt, repetitive teachings and prayers, lack of compassion, aloofness, and full of hypocrites who are mighty in words but not in deeds.

In recent years the Catholic Church has been under fire for its physical, sexual, and mental abuses it had afflicted on to the former Aboriginal students. One could surmise these abuses have been going on since the 1860s when the residential school system was established by the federal government. Now, in 2009, we see and read the story of Father Raymond Lahey. The church would do well to abolish its idea of celibacy. It has not and will not be in the best interests of the clergy and especially potential victims in the years to come.

Priests, Nuns, Bishops, and even the Pope are held too high as Celebrities and can not and will not live up to their titles of, Your Holiness, Your Excellency, and Your Eminence.......and will not live up to Celibacy.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Aboriginal Healing Foundation; its days are numbered?

Aboriginal Healing Foundation; its days are numbered?

As a former Board member of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF), I read with great interest the article entitled, “Chiefs, survivors want healing fund extended” published in the GLOBE AND MAIL, Oct. 2, 2009.

Do Chiefs and Survivors need more money or a change of attitude?

As a Survivor myself of 13 years of residential school, namely the Grollier Hall experience in Inuvik, NT, the money issue to individuals was somewhat addressed with the common experience compensation package which allotted 10,000 dollars for one’s first year of residential school and another 3,000 dollars for each subsequent year attended. You do the math. I say “somewhat addressed” because I am still appalled that the immigrant Canadian Maher Arar received 10,000,000 dollars for alleged abuses in a Syrian jail during a period of ten months. And he still has his language and his culture. Something most Survivors like me lost and will never have.

Has the money issue for the AHF been addressed? It received 350,000,000 dollars plus another 125,000,000 as additional money to carry on its mandate to allocate money to eligible recipients for eligible projects. While on the AHF Board, I argued and deliberated over the funding agreement on a number of issues. For example, I advocated the need for all members of the Board be Survivors as I felt passionate the AHF should be first and foremost for Survivors by Survivors.  To this day, the initial President of the AHF who is a non-Survivor is still at the helm and has somewhat assured himself to take the AHF to its end. Regarding his compensation, he stands to receive close to 2,000,000 dollars; should I be appalled again when the average Survivor through the common experience package received 18,000 dollars?

Should the AHF receive more funding or should Survivors/Communities have a change of attitude? It can be argued and hopefully through its final evaluation, money distributed to communities has had some value and Survivors along with the communities are well into their respective healing journeys. Another thing I advocated while on the AHF was the need to acknowledge the Survivors with a Life-time Achievement Award from the organization that operates and showcases the yearly Aboriginal Achievement Awards.  As Mr. Custer has said, “I think I’m going (to) heal for the rest of my life.”

Regarding a change of attitude? I remember reminding the AHF Board members of the story of the Akali Lake First Nation in BC. As some may know, the Band members in that community had quite an alcohol problem a number of years ago and was well documented in the film, “The Honour of All.” It was a moving story as it had an effect on others and me throughout the country. The interesting thing was their healing journey started with one woman having a change of attitude; an attitude to change her abuse of alcohol. In turn, her attitude affected the whole community. The change did not take any money.

Do we need more money? Perhaps, or just a change of attitude?

(Young 8 year old Angus Cockney pictured; already 3 years of Residential School with no knowledge of his language and culture.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Olympic Inukshuk; Iconic or Ironic

Is the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Inukshuk logo iconic or ironic; I guess you can say both.

Yes, you could say iconic.
Found throughout Canada's Arctic in various configurations, the inukshuk has become an icon. Through marketing it has become an image of perceived friendship and togetherness. No wonder VANOC accepted the design and it also helped that an existing inukshuk has been planted on English Bay since the 1986 World fair.

A few years ago, I wrote an article on the different meanings of the various types of Inukshuit (plural) based on an Aboriginal (Inuit) Elders knowledge. Basically, there were Inukshuit built to give direction and for hunting purposes. For the purpose of hunting, mainly caribou, the Inuit built Inukshuit that resembled a person, thus the two arms and two legs. These would have been built in strategic areas such as significant migratory routes. When the caribou would see these Inukshuit that looked like people, they would be frightened and steered in the direction of awaiting hunters. In the end, the Inuit would harvest (kill) the rushing caribou and skin and store its meat for the up-coming winter.

Yes, you could say ironic.
Given the style and meaning of the inukshuk VANOC had chosen, it is ironic to think that they think that image is of friendship and togetherness. I guess marketing goes a long way even if it is misleading and misinterpreted.
All the best to VANOC and a successful 2010 games. GO CANADA! (not just for the hockey team but especially our x-country skiers....who knows, my son, Jess, may be there.)

Inukshuk sculpture by Angus Kaanerk Cockney

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Fit Farewell For Fontaine!

“Hey Angus, how are ya? Got your message to call but been quite busy with all what Chiefs do” Charlie said.
“Hey, Charlie, brother, thanks for calling back.” I said.
“Just wondering about what you think of my idea of perhaps doing a small sculpture of some kind for any significant ones at the upcoming National Assembly.”

Charles (Charlie) Weaselhead is the Grand Chief of Treaty Seven in Alberta and is a very close friend of mine. He and I first met in 1999 when we were Board members on the Aboriginal Healing Foundation; the foundation mandated to address the legacy of physical and sexual abuses in the former residential school system. I was an appointed Inuit member while Charlie was one of the 12 First Nation members of the 17 member Board. Anyway, we both resigned in 2004 for different reasons. Charlie moved on to become Chief of the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta and now was to host the 30th Annual General Assembly of First Nations to be held in Calgary, July 20th – 23rd, 2009. An event that included the need to vote for a new National Chief.
As an artist, I saw this as an opportunity to perhaps make a gift or two for a dignitary or two as is custom with this kind of event. And why not use my contact and good friend, Charlie.

            “Angus, I’ve informed Ryan Robb, our Executive Director of the Treaty Seven Management Corporation, of your idea and let him know you will contact him very soon.
            “Ok, brother, I’ll do that tomorrow first thing as I have his phone number and email address. Will be good to see you again soon. Take care.” I then hung up the phone.

Next day, I walked into the office of the Treaty Seven Management Corporation. A dark-haired man was sitting in the foyer; looked at me and seemed to know who I was.
            “You must be Angus!”
            “Yipe.” I conferred and smiled as I shook hands with Ryan Robb.
            “Let’s go upstairs to my office. Charlie said you may have something to show me.”
            “As a matter of fact, yes,” I said as we both walked up the stairs.
            “I thought since the buffalo is one of the symbols of First Nations, why not make a small buffalo to have presented to someone at the upcoming General Assembly.”

I pulled out the small buffalo made out of white stone from southern British Columbia. Ryan liked it and we chit-chatted for a few minutes when Chief Reg Crowshoe of the Piikani First Nation in southern Alberta walked into the office. Chief Reg recognized me from previous meetings and we shook hands. Out of respect, Ryan wanted Reg’s take on the white buffalo and its appropriateness as a gift to Blackfoot First Nation members or any other First Nations for that matter. In my ignorance, I thought a white buffalo was sacred to all First Nations but Chief Reg described otherwise and in the end he said,
            “The white buffalo may be more symbolic to the Stoney Indians just west of Calgary.”

Ryan and I looked at each other and nodded, both glad, of course, to have the issue clarified. Ryan went on to say,
            “Ok, why not make a buffalo out of a darker stone and include some text to commemorate the years of service to our out-going National Chief Phil Fontaine. Chief Charles Weaselhead can present that to him at the opening night ceremonies July 20th. Let’s settle on the price and go from there.”
After a few minutes discussion, I said,
            “Excellent, I’ll get right on the project and have it ready in time to have Chief Charles Weaselhead present it to Phil Fontaine.”

Sculpture made of soapstone presented to outgoing National Chief Phil Fontaine
at the 30th Annual General Assembly of First Nations in Calgary, July, 2009.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Able, Agile, Athletic Aboriginals!!

CANADA's OLYMPIC TEAM - All Aboriginal?


Throughout Canada's history, there have been a number of experiments done on aboriginal people. For example, in the early 1970's, a group of Inuit boys from Northern Quebec were sent to Ottawa to see how they would cope in an urban setting. Another experiment took place in BC where a group of First Nations children were given candy to simply see how their teeth would react without brushing. Guess how that one resulted?


While most experiments turned out negative, a much more positive experiment took place in the late sixties in the Western Arctic. A Catholic priest in Inuvik, NT had noticed how strong and agile the aboriginal people were when they were hunting and gathering on the land. As a former cross-country ski racer, the priest had proposed a program called, "Territorial Experimental Ski Training" (TEST) program and secured funding from the government. Furthermore,  the perfect venue to develop talented kids was there in the former residential school where 400 Inuit, Metis, and First Nations students were residing. A Norwegian coach was then hired. Like they say, "the rest is history."


Fred Kelly, "the Kelly Express."

The boys and girls picked to train and race quickly made an impact nationally and internationally. Fred Kelly, known as the "Kelly Express" won the men's 1968 national junior championships and the likes of a Roger Allen, Rex Cockney, Ernie Lennie, Bert Bullock combined to win individual and relay races across North America. The team also toured Europe where they not only made an impact racing against skiing nations but were somewhat of an attraction being referred to as "Indians and Eskimos on skis."


Their success resulted in six of the nine members representing Canada at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics were aboriginal. Not bad for skiing just a few years. Likely the most famous of that team were the Firth Twins, Sharon and Shirley. For two decades they dominated the Canadian women's cross-country skiing scene. From 1972 to 1984 they represented Canada in four consecutive Winter Olympics; a streak only equaled by speed skating legend Gaetan Boucher. To accomplish that remarkable feat, they overcame prejudice, sickness, despair and rejection.  For Shirley the 1972 Olympic dream almost didn't become a reality. Just before Sapporo, she came down with hepatitis. The disease almost took her life. Shirley overcame the disease and made it to Sapporo. But she was just too weak to be competitive. Sharon finished a Canadian-best 24th overall. It was a solid result for a team that had only been skiing for a few years.


TEST Skiers with former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau

Although the experiment with those aboriginal athletes was deemed a success, the funding was cut, just when a second generation of hopefuls were beginning to show promise. Just goes to show that Aboriginal people do have ability....too bad given their current social and political situation, they lack opportunity.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

About Stone Sculpture

Inuit (Eskimo) sculpture has a perception of being made out of soapstone. While that is true for earlier sculptures that were marketed, artists today use other stones to create artworks.. Certainly I do. While it was great to learn on soapstone with its softness, I’ve graduated to using harder stones such as marble and limestone.

Living in the south, I now obtain my stone from what I see in the ditches. That is, when I see nice stone when driving, I pick it up and make something out of it. You could say, I see creative opportunities in the ditches. Still, at times, I need to buy stone especially for major commissions where there is a need to ensure quality and detail. That said, my favorite stone is Carrere marble from Italy; the same stone Michaelangelo used. Its quality is unsurpassed for carving. Need I say more?