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