Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Celebration...TooToo Celebration.

Predators’ Jordin TooToo celebrates sobriety

So read the headline published in USA TODAY dated December 27, 2011 and written by a Josh Cooper.

According to my blog archive, written exactly one year ago, December 30, 2010, a headline reads, “TooToo Train…Who’s to Blame?” which was a post in reaction to the headline, “Jordin TooToo’s big step,” a story published in the GLOBE AND MAIL. That article outlined how Jordin had checked himself into a Rehab Centre under the NHL substance abuse program.

Fast-forward one year…how is Jordin doing?

“…one year later he has morphed into a stronger hockey player, a diligent member of the Nashville and hockey communities and a role model for multiple people.”

For those with addictions, it can’t be easy, in fact, it must be a very difficult process. Usually, it has to start from one’s self. For quite some time, the Nashville Predator brass had encouraged him to get help as they had said to him, “You have a problem and you’re not helping our team, you’re not helping our teammates. You have to have trust in what those around you are saying. We all care about you, please do this for us. More importantly, please do this for yourself.”

Back then; he was an insecure person. Nashville’s coach Barry Trotz had said, “He is in a lonely place.”

It’s no secret; the plight of Aboriginal people across Canada includes alcohol abuse. With Jordin in the public eye, he can’t but be held as an example. Today though, he can be held as an example as someone who has overcome.

Jordin returned to playing hockey on February 19, 2010.
Don Cherry, color commentator for CBC Hockey Night in Canada, had mentioned how Jordin was a different man and congratulated him on his contributions in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

How’s his performance so far this year?

“TooToo has continued his rugged style of play with an added offensive flair. He’s on pace to produce 34 points, which would top his previous career best of 18. He has 11 points in his last 14 games.”

Furthermore, the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee established the Team TooToo fund in 2011. Its website says it helps “non-profits addressing suicide awareness and prevention, as well as non-profits supporting children and teens in need.”

Addressing any addiction starts from within. “I had it set in my gut that this was the time to fix things…but I didn’t know what to expect.” Apparently, only good things have happened.

Barry Trotz, Predators’ coach, has said, “He’s not so lonely anymore.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Aboriginal Fighter...or an Aboriginal Fighter?

“First-nations youth inhabit two different spheres.
Students tell panel on native learning that they want to learn cultural traditions as well as receive a good education.”

So read the headline published in the GLOBE AND MAIL dated, November 22, 2011 and written by a Gloria Galloway.

Diversity seems key in the fabric of Canadian society, after all, the Canadian government defines multiculturalism as a government, committed to reaching out to Canadians and newcomers and is developing lasting relationships with ethnic and religious communities in Canada. It encourages these communities to participate fully in society by enhancing their level of economic, social, and cultural integration.”
One notices the issue of “education” is not included in the program of integration of those communities. Seems there is no need.
When downtown in any urban city, one does notice a number of ethic backgrounds seemingly well grounded in two different spheres: their respective cultural background and education.
So, what about Canada’s Aboriginal people?
“Children who live on native reserves often have their feet in two worlds when it comes to education and many are unprepared to sacrifice one for the other.”
And, it is not just native reserves but Inuit communities that face that challenge. So, anyone up for that challenge…perhaps a Kenzie Wilson?
“The 13-year-old who loves racing sled dogs across the ice near her home in Cross Lake in northern Manitoba say she wants to be a fighter pilot when she grows up. That means she has a lot of years of formal education ahead of her.”
A lofty and very achievable goal for a young kid but like most native communities…will there be any support?
Scott Haldane, the panel Chairman looking at proposed solutions for First Nations learning has said, “We’ve had opportunity to meet young people like Kenzie across the country who demonstrate that the resilience of first nations students is remarkable, and who have the potential to achieve whatever they want to achieve but don’t have the supports around them, generally speaking, to allow them to pursue that dream.”
When in most native communities and while most will agree, the lack of support for kids there has resulted in the notion that education is not important. The national dropout rates will attest.
Nevertheless, young Kenzie Wilson must be commended for her attitude, “My goal in life is to become a fighter jet pilot. I will do everything I can to reach my goal and education will help me do this.”
Here’s looking at you kid. We all need to touch base with you in ten years and hope you will be like most immigrants grounded in two spheres: your cultural background with an education.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cost of Residential School...Billions, Cost of a brush-cut...Priceless

Cost of Residential School…Billions, Cost of a brush-cut…priceless.

“Cost of residential school redress rising. Final settlement package likely to be more than $5-billion as 29,000 expected to line up for additional compensation for abuse.”

So read the above headline in the GLOBE AND MAIL published November 19, 2011 and written by a Bill Curry.

A lot of us former Junior boys of Grollier Hall remember well how the former bully Nun, Sister Hebert, had lined us up for our annual brush-cut on that early September arrival; after all, for years prior, lining up like numbered cattle through a corral was a regular process. Today, some forty years later, as the above noted article implies, we’re still lining up like numbered cattle…this time, it’s the corral known as the Independent Assessment Process (IAP).

“…the IAP, which allows former students to tell their story in a private hearing – sometimes with the alleged abuser present. Government-appointed adjudicators listen to the stories of abuse and approve compensation, using a matrix that increase the payment based on the severity of the physical or sexual abuse and the severity of the long-term emotional impact on the former students.”

Little did we know back then while lining up for those “priceless” brush-cuts, the line up would continue some forty years later… this time to “tell your story.” How many stories?

“Twenty nine thousand. That’s Ottawa’s latest estimate of how many people will ultimately come forward with compensation cases for physical and sexual abuse suffered at Canada’s native residential schools.”

The month of September seems quite symbolic too, it is that month of 2012 that represents the deadline to “come forward” for Survivors to ensure some sort of compensation in the IAP process.

Let’s ensure the line up continues…this time not for that “priceless” brush-cut or just an apology…it’s you and your story.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Aboriginal Title?...Easy Answer.

Certainty still a question in land rights and resource development.
Several issues make agreement between first nations and business interests difficult.

So read the headline published in the VANCOUVER SUN, November 12, 2011 and written by a Derrick Penner.

Sub-headlines to the article included, “Treaty gap, New projects, Finding opportunities, Finding a deal.”

Until there are land claim agreements south of 60 like north of 60 where land claim agreements abound, there will always be uncertainty in land rights and resource development including in British Columbia. That is the nature of the situation. You could say it’s a lawyer’s field of paradise where some have started and inevitably retired only to be replaced by up-and-comers.

Anyway, there is no “Treaty gap” north of 60. For example, we, the Inuvialuit (Inuit) of the Western Arctic were a part of the proposed area of Treaty 11. Thanks to our Elders, they figured a “treaty” between us and the government was not a good idea. Thanks to their foresight and patience, our land claim agreement known as the 1984 Inuvialuit Final Agreement outlines certainty in Aboriginal title, i.e. land selection, surface and sub-surface rights, wildlife management, socio-economic agreements, health care issues, consultation, etc, all allowing an aura of certainty.

South of 60?…”companies are still looking for clarity around what areas of the (BC) province are absolutely open, or absolutely closed…” Yes, Aboriginal title is still a question.

Regarding “New projects,” north of 60; no problem. One voice, the people; land claim agreements have sent the lawyers home.
“However, from the (BC) province’s perspective, it is difficult to create any type of template for consultation and accommodation of first nations’ interests, according to Mary Polak, Minister of (BC) Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, because those interests vary so widely between first nations.” Mary goes on to say, “Treaties would be the most comprehensive and final way to addressing recognition.” History has shown though, treaties have been too vague and have resulted in uncertainty. Comprehensive land claim agreements north of 60 have created a lot of certainty. Many new projects there have started or pending and will last for many years to come.

Regarding “Finding opportunities” north of 60; ... no problem. Finding opportunities with oil and gas and the mining sectors abound with the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project and the already established diamond mining projects, let alone the eco-tourism sector that offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for tourists; i.e, northern lights, fishing, expeditions, and big-game hunting.

Mary Polak goes on to say, “Can we find something that meets the requirements and desires of all first nations across the province and (non-aboriginal) communities and business interests across the province? I’m not sure.” I guess one should point Mary north of 60 where finding opportunities with land claim agreements have added a lot of certainty.

Regarding “Finding a deal” north of 60, you guessed it, no problem. However, regarding south of 60, lawyers like Keith Bergner has said, “The duty is to consult, not a duty to agree.” Treaties demand consultation while land claim agreements demand an agreement with consultation…that is certainty. Unity and land claim agreements have done a lot for positive consensus of aboriginal groups in “finding a deal” including the Mackenzie Gas Project.

Perhaps, the above noted headline should read, “Certainty will always be a question in land rights and resource development…south of 60”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pipeline, Politcians...Hollow?

“Enbridge touts support, but others call deals “hollow.”

So read the headline published in the GLOBE AND MAIL, dated Thursday, August 25, 2011 and written by a Nathan Vanderklippe.

Seems the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to the BC west coast from near Edmonton is another headliner. Last blog posted was headlined, “Pipeline to west coast will be tough to stop.” There, the premise then was noted as a metaphor of a “slow train coming.” It’s just a matter of time. Seems too, the above noted article is feeding that premise. This time, it’s “let’s make a deal.”

Deal? who with?

Enbridge Inc. said it has lined up critical industry support for its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to ship Canadian crude to Asia. Like a seasoned politician, Enbridge won’t say whom with. All the National Energy Board (NEB) has received from Enbridge are “Precedent Agreements” from major oil producers. So, what’s the deal?

“Under the agreements, would-be oil shippers are not obligated to send a drop of crude through the pipe.” Surely, based on experience with the NEB, economists there will want assurance rather the speculation before a permit is issued.

Still, Enbridge’s ploy seems to follow that old adage, “if you build it, they will come.” For some, it’s not that simply.  Those “precedent agreements” are non-binding, i.e. if you commit no money, no oil, (you will) receive no financial penalty for backing out.

“That prompted one lawyer who has analyzed the agreements to call Enbridge’s claims of commercial support “hollow.”

Don’t forget too, the proposed project lacks the support of the biggest hurdle in the way: British Columbia as a whole that includes a lot of First Nations.

Yes, there still is a slow-train coming. The NEB still has a job to do to ensure the project makes economic sense and especially make Enbridge disclose bona fide deals. After all,  “hollow” agreements or deals will not fill those pipes.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Slow Train Coming?"

“Pipeline to West Coast will be tough to stop”

So read the headline published in the Calgary Herald, Friday, July 29th, 2011 and written by a Barbara Yaffe.

The legend Bob Dylan wrote and sung his somewhat post born-again song, “Slow Train Coming” which was also the title of that iconic album. With that song: seems Bob had implied the impending return of Jesus as just a matter of time.

In the above noted article: seems the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline is just a matter of time. After all, it is “in the public/national interest.” A motto/slogan adopted by the regulator, the National Energy Board (NEB). It is no secret the proposed pipeline is very contentious with local British Columbia groups such as opposition parties, environmentalists, and importantly, Aboriginal groups.  Nonetheless, “national” reps as high as the federal Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver, and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives gave strong preliminary backing to the Gateway pipeline. Much to the chagrin of the BC groups.

In the history and process of NEB applications, local interests have never foiled national interests, save only one, the Sumas Electrical Project of 2001 between Washington and southern BC. Still, regarding the proposed Gateway pipeline, is there a “slow training coming?”

“New Democrats and Liberals have sponsored a parliamentary motion and a private member’s bill respectively against tankers plying B.C.’s pristine waters.” Will that be enough to foil the project? Those politicians might have to pull out the trump card held by Aboriginal groups, in this case BC First Nations as they depend on river and marine resources for their livelihoods and have expressed a clear no to the proposed pipeline passing through traditional territory.

And, “it’s also worth noting Canadian courts have often bowed to aboriginal concerns in past legal challenges involving land and resources.”

As a former NEB employee, economists there will certainly echo Enbridge’s and the federal government’s argument that the mega-project will result in thousands of jobs as it would transport oilsands crude and span from near Edmonton west to the proposed pristine port of Kitimat, BC.

Aboriginal groups in northern Alberta seemed to have embraced the oilsands with community investment strategies that include well-paid jobs afforded by the big oil companies. Still, will the proposed Gateway pipeline project be different?

“This country has bountiful resources, much needed by fast-developing Asian countries. There really is no stopping this train.” Seems, the BC groups need to embrace Dylan’s metaphor of a “slow train coming.”

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pass some Mackenzie Gas?

“Royal Dutch Shell to sell stake in Mackenzie Delta gas project.”
So read the headline published in the CALGARY HERALD, dated July 16th, 2011 and written by a Dina O’Meara.

The headline implies yet another hurdle in the almost 40 year process of the Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP). Even with a conditional approval from the National Energy Board for the MGP, seems Shell still wants out citing “asset divestiture” in a global portfolio review.

How ‘bout a review to a rescue?

“The most significant step is reaching an agreement with the federal government on a fiscal framework for the project” outlines Pius Rolheiser, Imperial Oil spokesperson whose respective company has a 33 percent interest in the proposed project with ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil left to perhaps take up the slack. Still, will another company step up to the plate?

“It’s not exactly what we were hoping for at this time, but again, we remain very confident that there will be a buyer, and whoever it is will simply replace Shell as one of the shippers, “ says Orland Hansen, spokesperson of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group (APG). The APG includes a number of Aboriginal groups who have negotiated and settled a number of land claims along the proposed pipeline route and have been supported by TransCanada Pipelines.

Most of them must now wonder mildly, “F---" how much longer?”

“The (MGP) project still has long-term merit; however, the structural disruption of shale gas diminishes (its) viability, said Peter Tertzakian, with Arc Financial.

Will another company step up or will Canada extend its stimulus package to the north? In any case, Mackenzie gas will have to wait just a little longer…so what’s new.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Enbridge?...Gateway to the Orient?

“Pipeline plans go toe-to-toe with native land rights.”

So read the headline in the GLOBE AND MAIL dated May 14, 2011 and written by Carrie Tait and Nathan Vanderklippe.

The Northwest Passage was once taunted as the “gateway” to the Orient. Lately though, Enbridge has disclosed plans to develop its own gateway to the Orient. In fact, they have proposed a “Northern Gateway” pipeline from Alberta west to Kitimat, BC, a potential port to ship 525,000 Oilsand barrels of oil per day across the ocean and into the Orient. For Enbridge, it’s going to be a huge challenge with lots of hurdles including and especially the “native rights” issue.

Indian and Northern Affairs Minister, Jim Prentice had said, “those drums pack a powerful beat.” He was referring to a number of First Nations who demonstrated outside the Calgary building where Enbridge was conducting their annual general meeting. Apparently, National Energy Board (NEB) regulations and approval may not be enough to ensure a go-ahead. Even Minister Prentice has said, “they must secure First Nations support for project approvals.” Interesting.

Apparently too, the First Nations aren’t biting the carrot of $1 billion dollars in benefits including a 10% equity in the proposed pipeline.

What does Enbridge think?

“We think we can build it. We think there are huge benefits not only nationally but regionally on this project” says Pat Daniel, CEO of Enbridge.

Still, a sub-headline read, “Absence of treaties gives B.C. first nations more power. How much?

“One of the great public policy failures in Canadian history was the failure to actually execute land claim treaties and, in a sense, titlement, in British Columbia over the course of the last 150 years.” Minister Prentice said. He also added, “And so the reality on the ground is that the constitutional and legal position of the first nations is very strong.” How strong?

One must remember a similar scenario: the proposed Mackenzie Gas Pipeline and the native rights issue way back in the early 1970s. The lack of land claim agreements then with the various Aboriginal people resulted in a 10 year moratorium of development which subsequently lagged on and on for almost 40 years. It was only in 2010 that the NEB had finally approved that project after years of negotiations. Only now, the people there are ready.

Seems, the Northern Gateway to the Orient may pave the path to retirement for some Enbridge staff…thanks to native rights.

Friday, May 13, 2011

"I lied."

“Five feet high, six feet long, three feet wide.
That was the size of the hole in the ground where a CBC journalist was kept after being kidnapped in Afghanistan.”

So read the headline published in the GLOBE AND MAIL dated May 12, 2011 and written by a Sarah Hampson.

The article is about Mellisa Fung, a CBC journalist who was kidnapped by Afghan men while reporting in that country in 2008 and subsequently held for 28 days. Now, she has written a book about that experience in “Under an Afghan Sky.”

“ I lied.”

That phrase by her caught my attention. Perhaps, because she hits on an issue that parallels a lot of us Survivors who had attended residential school. Apparently, Mellisa had disclosed details in her book that she was reluctant to share previously in face-to-face interviews – “that she was sexually assaulted by one of the captors with a knife held to her throat. When she was debriefed in Kabul after her release, she was asked if she had suffered sexual abuse, “I said no,” she says quietly.

“ I lied.”

She didn’t want to be seen as a victim “but as a writer and journalist, it didn’t feel right not to put it in.” Lying was and still is the kind of attitude regarded as the norm of most of us who attended residential school; lying is some cases for 30 – 40 years. Now, for residential school survivors, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission perhaps is a way to share his/her story of the truth. For many then and now, we should perhaps get past that notion of  “I lied.”

Melissa spent 28 days captured in that hole, how much more of a story do we have. For me, it was 13 years captured in residential school, in that bed, three feet high, six feet long, two feet wide.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Redress? justice and common sense?

He listened to residential school victims and helped them achieve redress.
“They wanted to be heard, because in their view nobody heard them for a long, long time. No one listened.”

So read the headline in the Obituaries of the GLOBE AND MAIL dated April 19, 2011 and written by a Rod Mickleburgh.

Redress: “ to set right; reform, correct.”

Donald Brenner, 65, passed away suddenly on March 12, 2011 at his home on the Sunshine Coast in BC. Donald was a commercial pilot and a respected chief justice of the Supreme Court of BC.  How will most prominent Aboriginal leaders remember him? “We have a lot to thank him for.  Donald Brenner was a remarkable human being, as good as they come. He will have a place in our hearts, forever.”
Edward John, Grand Chief of the First Nations Summit.

Donald Brenner had accomplished a lot in his life but came into prominence when he presided over the Blackwater case where he “was instrumental in bringing one of the nations’ searing social sores to public attention – the decades of abuse that took place at native residential schools – and subsequently helping to achieve redress.”

The Blackwater case included a “civil suit by former residents of the Alberni Indian Residential School, hearing native witnesses, often in tears, bare their suffering in unrelenting detail. At the end, he awarded damages against both the United Church and the federal government. His ruling, upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, paved the way for a slew of similar cases across the country and Ottawa’s eventual, multibillion dollar out-of-court settlement.”

Further significant redress was to follow.

Donald Brenner issued a rare, high court call for the government to apologize for the systemic abuse that occurred (across the country).

Enter June 2008,… most of you may remember the nationally televised event when Prime Minister Harper had apologized for all the harms and abuses that Survivors had experienced in the former residential school system.

In an interview after leaving the Supreme Court, Brenner said no case was more difficult or more draining during his 17 years on the bench than Blackwater. “They wanted to be heard, because in their view nobody heard them for a long, long time. No one listened.”

As usual, with any issue, the government needs to be embarrassed first to admit accountability. In this case, it took court action before the government would listen and finally forced into redress in the national apology to Survivors.

R.I.P. Justice Donald Brenner.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nunavut: true North strong and ...?

“The promise and the perils.”

A front-page headline published in the GLOBE AND MAIL, April 5, 2011 and written by a Joe Friesen.

This article was part II in a three part series on The Trials of Nunavut.

 Most of you know, Nunavut in the Inuktitut language means, “our land.” In the quest for autonomy when Nunavut was established in 1999, the Inuit likely didn’t bank on “promises” evolving into “perils.”  Nunavut is now plagued with low high-school-completion rates and high violent-crimes. Not a good equation. Add to it another extreme, Nunavut’s population is extremely young: one third of the Nunavutmiut are under 15. The younger population will only get younger. Lord have mercy, you can bet the majority of those 15 year olds will each have at least two kids by the time they’re twenty. I know…it’s a cultural thing.

“Houston, we have a problem?”

The article goes on to ask, “Can Nunavut’s youth build the North’s growing industries, or are they too alienated?” It’s ironic that alienation is now considered and is seen to perhaps likely to perpetuate the state of affairs. After all, it was the very isolation of the Inuit that once kept them intact as a culture. One can only see the many documentaries both in film and photographs and see how healthy they once were.

Fast forward to today: Nunavut woes are huge, “the homicide rate among young people are 10 times higher than in the rest of Canada. Rates of violent crime, from domestic abuse to sexual assault and robbery, are also disproportionately high. While crime rates in the south have declined, they’ve jumped in Nunavut.” For a fulfilled existence, all human beings including the Inuit require a sense of significance and a sense of security. Something they had intact prior to colonization. Instead, within every Inuit community, you find the majority of its population in a zombie-like trance neither working or in school; feeling unworthy with no confidence.  No wonder crime is high. So, where are the Inuit leaders?

Enter Mary Simon, President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami., the national political organization representing all Inuit within Canada. She asks, “How can we renew confidence and hope in our Inuit youth?"

She says:

“For the next generation of Inuit, hope lies in education.”
So read the headline in the GLOBE AND MAIL, April 6, 2011.

Hope is the feeling of what is wanted can be had.  Since 1999, broken dreams of Nunavut have them still hoping. For many Inuit though, hope was lost and has resulted in the highest rate of suicide in Canada.

Like the Inuit of old, the Inuit need to regain their sense of significance and security. Unlike the old days though, it’s more of a challenge.  Like all Canadians, education is available to all Inuit but hope should lie in changing the “attitude” towards the value of education.

Mary goes on to  say, “ We need confident parents to raise confident children.” True?

With the high number of teen pregnancies in Nunavut, how much confidence does a teenager have in raising a child? Perhaps, Inuit leaders should consider social education as a precedent to academic education. “But that discussion hasn’t taken hold at any senior policy or political level. “ says a Natan Obed, Director of the department of social and cultural development at Nunavut Tunngavik.

I think that kind of discussion needs to occur first, that’s my hope.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Eskimo..."Standing on guard for thee."

“Military to test new Arctic search-and-rescue plan.
Rapid reaction force would focus on airplane crashes, environmental incidents and shipping accidents.”

So read the headline in the GLOBE and MAIL published March 31, 2011 and written by a Bob Weber.

I guess it’s befitting the Eskimo is “standing on guard for thee.”  After all, Canada is our home on Native land.

How ‘bout this for a mouthful…The Rapid Reaction Force North.  A Lt. Colonel Gino Chretien says, “It’s a project to try and get troops up as fast as possible if an incident happens up here in the North.” The Force’s main component is obvious, utilizing local Eskimos who exist in all of Canada’s Arctic communities. It’s no secret too the Arctic throughout history has been used for military purposes. For example, in the mid 1950’s the United States (U.S.) government leased land across the Arctic from Canada and built the then Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line). Even then, utilizing local Eskimos like my late father contributed to the construction of and worked for the U.S. at a number of those radar sites in the western arctic. The DEW Line sites have now been upgraded to what is known as the largely unmanned North Warning System. Today, any Arctic rescues are coordinated out of the Search-and-Rescue Centre in Trenton, Ontario, thousands of kilometers away and any rescues can take days for any kind of initial response.

Enter the Eskimo…now known as Inuit and “Rangers.”  Like Tonto used to say to his buddy, the Lone Ranger, the Eskimo is perhaps the new “Kimosabe” (trusted friend).

Capacity building for the Rangers is an issue though. “It isn’t clear what help the Rangers would be able to provide beyond, “…polar bear security and comfort” says Lt. Colonel Chretien.

The Rapid Reaction Force North, of course, requires further development. For now, the project known as Operation Nunalivut will deploy aircraft from Comox, BC on Vancouver Island and Greenwood, Nova Scotia on the east coast. I guess notifying the local Eskimo – Inuit – Ranger is as “rapid” as you’re going to get.  I guess too, it won’t be just up to God to keep us “glorious and free.”

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Two Days...Two Golds...Two Memories

Two days…Two Golds…Two Memories

It was -36c. The organizers figured it was warm enough to hold the 1975 NWT Canada Winter Games trials. I concurred. After all, I and other Inuvik Ski Club members had spent one month training in Fort Smith, a small town in the southern part of the Northwest Territories. We felt ready no matter what the weather. Our club figured it was best to escape Inuvik, a small town further north, and the winter darkness and relentless -45c daily temperatures typically experienced there during January. I concurred.

The Canada Winter Games (CWG) were to be held in the host city of Lethbridge, in southern Alberta. That year the CWG was not my focus as I began another year of training and competing in cross-country skiing earlier that summer. I ran, hiked, and roller skied as much as I could. I had established myself as a young champion as I had won the 1973 and 1974 Canadian Junior Championships. Therefore, although still a junior, my goal in 1975 was to make the senior national team to compete overseas in Europe. My training had paid off. In early skiing trials, I had shown I was good enough as I had beaten a number of older skiers on the National Team. Still, for some reason, I was rejected but not dejected: in fact, I was a little pissed off and even more motivated.

That cold but sunny January day in Fort Smith, the roster for the 15-kilometer CWG trials race started to line up with mostly Aboriginal kids like me. My older brother Rex, the 1972 Canadian Junior champion, was lined up in front of me. I didn’t care but he seemed a little insecure, as he knew his younger brother was looking very confident. After all, unlike me, he was spending a little more time playing hockey than putting in the training hours I had.

The starter counted down his start time and he left the start-line: 30 seconds later, I pursued his tracks. I knew I could catch him if I wanted to but I stayed relaxed and set a leisurely pace. Still, within one kilometer, I saw him look behind at me and it seemed he wanted me to pass him. In the end, I “let” my older brother win and even after skiing a leisurely pace: I was second. We both made the NWT team along with two others. We were off to Lethbridge: the dreaded opening ceremonies showcased all the respective teams from the provinces and territories; everyone figured that the NWT team was highly favoured to obtain medals. We must have exuded a lot of confidence and certainly had a good track record of winning.

The cross-country and alpine ski athletes were housed in military barracks in Pincher Creek, a small town outside of Lethbridge and near our ski trails close to West Castle Mountain, now known as Castle Mountain. The weather turned on us…a snowstorm came through and blew in over a meter of snow and the temperature dropped to -25c. I guess in our favour. The next couple of days were spent skiing and getting familiar with the trails. Soon followed an epidemic of illness that hit the over-crowded barracks with a lot of athletes succumbing to a virus including one of our athletes. Somehow, three of us stayed healthy including my brother, Rex.
Race day was fast approaching.

The day started as usual: athletes with their respective team jackets jumped on the bus to the race site but we all seemed more focused as the atmosphere was not as jovial as previous days: it was time for the 15-kilometer race, lots of powder snow and cold, around -22c.  I had a good night’s sleep; good breakfast, and felt ready. It was not difficult to figure out the wax in that cold temperature so my skis had good grip and reasonable glide. The start list was confirmed yesterday with around 70 skiers to race. The organizers figured I was one of the favourites to win so I was seeded towards the end. Didn’t matter to me as I warmed up, took off my distinctive NWT parka and stepped on to the start line: not knowing I was to embark on one of my most painful but memorable races.

I started off with confidence and felt comfortable, passing as many skiers as I could with a polite utterance of  “track.” Sometimes, I did not have to utter the word as skiers simply let me pass. I obliged every time. The cold temperature had resulted in very slow snow so I, and others, had to work a lot harder to obtain some glide. My coach let me know I was doing well but it was close between me and an older skier from British Columbia. I wasn’t surprised. His name was Lauri Karjauloto, a fast Finnish immigrant in his mid-twenties. I thought: “son of a bitch” as I was beginning to feel the stress and lactic acid building in my legs. The race was on…with each other and the long hard-climbing hills of the 15-kilometer loop. At times, I was all alone with only the sounds of loud exhalations of freezing carbon dioxide and ski poles squeaking in the cold and the sandpaper like sound of skis fighting to inch forward. By the 10-kilometer mark, the pain was almost unbearable but I kept thinking, “with every f’ing stride, I’m that much closer.” I began to doubt I was in the lead. Around the 11-kilometer mark, I passed someone but he hung on to me like a dirty shirt. He was also stressed as I heard his heavy breathing and cursed him at every stride. To my relief, he dropped off. Soon, I heard noise and cheering up ahead. It was the 14-kilometer mark where my coach was waiting…anxiously too. It was on another damn uphill; more bystanders were around, cheering, yelling, and making too much noise as I was trying to hear my coach give me the low-down on my placing. I looked up and we made eye contact.
Much to my surprise, I heard him say,

“You’re number one!...45 seconds ahead! Go!”

The news was such a relief, I started crying…unbelievable, how could I be first, I was hurting so bad. Near the finish line, there was a downhill; I coasted without pushing off letting my skis take me closer to the finish line finally in sight. In my mind, I had done it. I was the 1975 CWG 15-kilometer champ…50 seconds ahead of Lauri Karjauloto. That evening, on a black and white TV, with the recap of the days CWG events, the host announcer had mentioned a young Eskimo from the NWT had won a cross-country ski race. It was not over though; we still had to compete in the 3 x 10 kilometer relay event in two days. As a team, were we to live up to being the “favorites?” I had my doubts but little did I know then, I was to embark on an even more memorable event.

The day of the 3 x 10 relay started as usual. The pain of winning the 15-kilometer was long forgotten. I felt fully recovered. Thank God too, Rex, Kevin King, and I were still healthy and had not caught the dreaded virus that infected athletes in the barracks. Kevin King was the only white male skier to make the NWT team. He was not as talented as Rex and I but through hard work, he had made it. Our other and better native skier had caught the virus. Through experience, we did not have to discuss strategy as our coach had submitted the order on who would start the first lap, second lap, and final lap.

The ski conditions were still the same: more powder snow and around -20c. The Canadian military had done an excellent job grooming the trails and set up a public address (PA) system with a main announcer at the start-finish area who communicated with a spotter located at every kilometer along the 10-kilometer loop. I could feel the other teams had brought their A-game and it showed very early in the relay.

Rex had started the first-leg mass start. I watched him with uncertain hope and the other 11 teams’ members disappear into the forest. Very quickly, our sense of hearing became acute. The PA announcer reported every kilometer the name of every skier who passed by. Rex started out well but his lack of conditioning caught up to him. He led the group for a while but ended up coming in third behind Nova Scotia and British Columbia. He tagged off Kevin with more skiers following him into the forest. Kevin was skiing very well; in fact, he was having his best race ever. Still, he dropped back to fifth by the nine-kilometer mark. The final leg skiers were being tagged off as I waited calmly at the stadium. The lead pack was being announced. While still waiting at the stadium, Pierre Vezina, the second ranked junior skier in Canada and skiing for Quebec had already passed the one-kilometer mark. Finally, I saw Kevin approaching. A huge deep breath eased a sigh of relief. The race was on… but still with an uncertain hope as it all began.

To my surprise, finally racing felt easy, skis were good and most of all, I felt relaxed. Very quickly, I passed Ontario, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia: all without having to say, “track.” Where and how far ahead was Quebec? Throughout all this, everyone back at the stadium was updated on my progress: liking it or not.

By the 4-kilometer mark, silence ruled, again only broken with sounds of squeaky poles, sand paper-like screeching of skis gliding but I was breathing easy. Suddenly, I couldn’t see anything but I heard cheering up ahead at the six-kilometer mark: was that Quebec? Now the uncertain hope felt more certain.

Like the 15-kilometer course, Clarence Servold, the 1958 Canadian Olympian from Alberta, designed the 10-kilometer course. I guess he knew how to challenge us skiers with long steady climbs especially between the six and seven kilometer mark. Back at the stadium, the PA announcer mentioned Pierre had passed the six-kilometer mark. According to skiers back at the stadium, 15 seconds later, he announced that Angus Cockney of the NWT had passed the six-kilometer mark. Later, Kevin had said his eyes had lit up and wondered, “Was it real?”

Nearing the top of the long climb up to the seven-kilometer mark, I saw Pierre up ahead. At that point, I was beginning to feel the struggle but I sensed and saw that Pierre was hurting even more. At the top of the hill, Pierre slowly stepped aside. Like all day, there was no need to call, “track.” For the first time too, I slipped and fell to one knee and stayed there for one second: just enough time as Pierre and I glanced at each other. Seemed he had acknowledged defeat. Back at the stadium, the announcer revealed that Angus Cockney of NWT had passed the seven-kilometer mark; two seconds later he announced that Pierre Vezina of Quebec had passed the seven-kilometer mark. Later, everyone felt that the race was over and won. Still, I had three kilometers to the finish line.

After the long climb, we headed downhill. Incredibly, after some 30 seconds of relative ease, I recovered quickly and began to sprint the last three kilometers. Later, Pierre said he could not believe how fast I took off after that downhill reprieve and eased passed the eight and nine-kilometer marks. I appeared out of the forest coming down into the stadium, a crowd of various other team members and officials had gathered: waiting. I stood up out of my tuck with both arms up and glided across the finish line: Rex and Kevin were there: hugs of joy ensued. An incredible team effort.

An incredible two days, two golds, two memories.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The "Metis Problem"

“Ottawa tries to calm Métis identity furor.
Government denies consumer safety standards group chosen to decide who is and is not Métis.”

The above noted headline appeared in the THE GLOBE AND MAIL, dated Friday, February 11, 2011 and written by a Joe Friesen.

A while back in Canada’s history, in fact, in the 1860’s, the government realized they had an “Indian problem.” Throughout time the term, “Indian” has evolved from including all of Canada’s indigenous people to what has now been defined in the Constitution Act, Section 35, "…aboriginal peoples of Canada includes the Indian, Inuit, and Métis peoples of Canada.”

Case closed? Apparently not.

Throughout the world, defining whom you belong to is very contentious: the Middle East is a good example and is still on going. Here, in Canada?

 “We will never let anyone outside our home decide who we are.”  David Chratrand, President of the Manitoba Métis Federation had responded to the federal government as it contracted the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) “to rule on whether Métis membership systems are satisfactory.”

“The issue of identity is particularly controversial with the Métis, who are the descendents of fur-trade marriages of Europeans and natives and who struggled for many years to be recognized by Ottawa.”

This fact gives credence to some who say, the white man was here first and then came the Métis: So, are the Metis really indigenous to Canada like the First Nations and Inuit? Nevertheless, according to the Constitution Act, Ottawa has recognized them as Aboriginal.

“Indian Affairs says it never intended to try to define who is Métis. It simply wants to guarantee a high level of consistency and credibility in the process, a spokeswoman said. That includes making sure decisions are well documented and that an appeal system is in place, she said.”

David Chartrand goes on to say, “…you want to have a war with the Métis nation…”

Seems the federal government now has a “Métis problem.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Olive Branch?... gas for cash?

“Enbridge offers billion-dollar olive branch to natives.
Company seeks to win favour with communities along the proposed route of Northern Gateway pipeline with 10-per-cent stake.”

The above noted headline appeared in the GLOBE AND MAIL published February 10, 2011 and written by a Nathan Vanderklippe.

“Olive Branch?...
A symbol of peace, an offering of good will, as in They feuded for years, but finally the Hatfields came over bearing an olive branch. This term is alluded to in the Bible (Genesis 8:11), where the dove comes to Noah after the flood with an olive leaf in its mouth.

Money? olive branch? So, what’s new?

Two centuries ago, Judas accepted some silver in exchange for information on the whereabouts of Jesus; a friend of mine accepted financial compensation from a local school board as she threatened to sue the board for wrongful acts. Mahar Arar accepted 12 million dollars from the federal government after alleged abuse by the Syrian government.  Recently, in 2008, Prime Minister Harper apologized to all former Aboriginal students who attended the residential schools and offered an olive other words?    MONEY!

Now, Enbridge has extended an olive branch in order to build their pipeline…one billion dollars… a symbol of peace?  Seems too, through out time, money does talk, or does it?

“Some first nations say they won’t support the Enbridge pipeline, no matter the financial benefits.”

“au contraire,”

Enbridge says, “We would like to show that there are a lot of first nations that are supportive of this project when we get to the hearings.” “Eight of forty native communities have signed commercial memorandums of understanding with Enbridge, which spell out local construction benefits.”

Based on experience, the National Energy Board will approve Enbridge’s application to build their pipeline. After all, the “olive branch” is nothing new, it’s a sign of peace...especially when it involves money.  Seems, the olive branch will allow gas for cash.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lost in Transaction?

Two aboriginal masks could fetch millions at art fair
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011

(commentary on the above noted article by Angus, your Native Perspective.)

That old adage: “Art will fetch what the market will bear.”  It’s also known too, in the art world, if you’re a dead artist, your art is worth a lot more. Most of us are familiar with artists like Da Vinci, Monet, the Group of Seven, and Michelangelo and their respective artworks and what they command and demand “in the market.” While aboriginal art in any form is a large part of cultural expression around the world, it is two masks from Alaska, this time, garnering a lot of attention. Why?

Photos posted in the GLOBE AND MAIL
“What makes the masks so valuable are their provenance and historic import, their museum-like quality and relative rarity and, oh yes, their beauty.”

The Yup’ik native masks are from Western Alaska. Typically, from an American perspective, the people there are known as Eskimo/Native American while in Canada, they could be considered as Inuit. An Erico Donati had acquired them in 1945 for $325 and $160. Now, the asking price?...2.1 million dollars for one and around 2 million dollars (US) for the other. Mr. Donati won’t be basking in the windfall though. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 99.

“Instead, it’s Donati’s heirs – and the Canadian art dealer working for them – who stand to be showered by a cascade of cash…”

While major artworks are attached with names,... names to these masks are unknown, long lost in transaction by a deceased trader who acquired these masks shortly after 1905 subsequent to witnessing ceremonial dances. Who knows what those aboriginal dancers received in trading those masks in what the 2011 antique show in Manhattan is now considering could be the cream of the crop.

Common practice though, this type of auction is the irony: whoever acquires these masks will want anonymity…names also lost in transaction. What goes around comes around?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Canadian Rangers...Lone Rangers?

“Canadian Rangers tackle native youth suicide
Tragedy that has ravaged isolated northern regions hits too close to home for some members”

So read the headline published in the GLOBE AND MAIL January 04, 2011 and written by a Christie Blatchford.

Canada’s former residential school system has been attributed to a lot of the current social challenges in Aboriginal communities across the country. One of the challenges as noted in the above noted article is the high rate of suicide amongst the youth of today.

As some of you may know, the Canadian Rangers are comprised of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis who, mainly for sovereignty reasons, patrol their respective isolated areas: largely with intentions of reporting any peculiar/suspicious activities by unknown/foreign parties to federal officials.

Scientists say our bodies are wired for self-preservation…a need to survive…be alive. There are many true to life stories of those who persevered through dramatic and traumatic experiences in order to stay alive. No wonder there is a mystery to suicide. Some say it’s very difficult to define and a complex event.

I, as one who did experience 13 years of residential school, know a number of my former friends who did end their life by suicide. Still, I think it’s too simple to attribute the effects of the former residential school experience as the sole cause.

Grand Chief Stan Beardy of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) of northern Ontario says, “we (have) lost one youth every ten days. He said the most obvious culprit (of suicide), is what he called “the greatest evil in all this,  “are the devastating after-effects of the federal government’s residential schools policy, which saw seven successive generations of NAN Aboriginal youngsters removed from their families and communities and institutionalized, the purported goal being their assimilation.”

While not true regarding all residential school Survivors, the Chief goes on to say, “…you never see them showing affection, and you probably know that children need constant reminders that they’re important, that someone cares. I never hear that from residential school survivors.” The Chief is right on with that ethic.

While a Board member on the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, an organization attributed to dispersing funds to Aboriginal communities who wanted to address the legacy of physical and sexual abuses in the former residential schools, I adamantly argued the need to ensure projects fulfilled the inner needs of people especially their sense of significance. In fact, I wanted to amend the criteria for eligible projects to outline how they would fulfill that need. Too bad, that idea was voted down. Apparently, suicide is alive and well.... an oxymoron?

Analysts say a lot more people feel the desire for suicide but very few act upon that feeling. Those who do commit feel expendable and alienated and that on one will care and therefore, the best solution is death. So, who cares?

“The Rangers got involved (with NAN First Nations), Sergeant Peter Moon told The Globe and Mail, because in the past year, instructors recognized that two of their own – they were Junior Canadian Rangers, the group for 12-18 year-olds – were suicidal and we’re able to save them. “We feel we have a duty of care to the Rangers and Junior Rangers and to our communities,” Sgt. Moon said. We’re not social workers…But we want to know how to help…”

Unlike the Aboriginal Healing Foundation who has spent over 400 million dollars trying to address the issue, the Canadian Rangers are affecting Aboriginal youth by merely telling them that they are noteworthy. Good for them.