Posts tagged ‘Indigenous’

An Attitude Adjustment Needed for Truth & Reconciliation

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(Warning:  This article contains harsh words about the truth of residential schools and abuse.)

Over the next week, social media, the press and the airwaves are going to be inundated with opinions about the state of indigenous society in Canada. To their credit, many people will be open and willing to accept the truth about the state’s official policy of assimilation, systemic racism and cultural genocide that has marked Canada’s historic treatment of indigenous peoples.

There will be many others, however, that will continue to deny the truth about Canadian history, provide their contrary opinions and continue to justify the need for further assimilation as a solution to Canada’s indigenous woes.

Many Canadians don’t realize that it was Canada’s founding father and first Prime Minister John A. McDonald that advocated a government policy of eliminating “the Indian problem”. His words, not mine. It was under his watch and these early days of Canada’s fiduciary duty, that the Indian Residential School policy began.

A fiduciary duty that was meant to protect Indian people, deal with us fairly, and look after our best interests.

Instead, it was the most vulnerable people that were targeted. It was the children that bore the brunt of Canada’s surreptitious and sadistic approach to eliminating Indian people.

Despite continuous evidence of deplorable conditions, malnutrition, health concerns and physical abuse and even deaths, Prime Minister MacDonald remained resolute in their approach to “killing the Indian in the child”. Again, his words, not mine.

That’s right, Sir John A. MacDonald.

Yet Canadians continue to revere the man. His portrait graces the halls of many a Canadian school. We are reminded of his face every time we break a $10 note.

It’s time for all Canadians to take steps to learn about their true history, not some romantic and noble account of glorious leaders past. We all need to learn more about the sad history of how Canada has treated indigenous people.

Canada’s history has a deep dark secret rooted in racist, ignorant and genocidal attitudes. Sadly, they were the prevalent attitudes of the day.

It was these attitudes that made it acceptable to forcibly remove First Nations children – young, innocent, little boys and girls taken from their parents, homes and families sometimes without notice or explanation.

It was these attitudes that led to their beautiful, long hair and braids being cut, being punished severely for speaking their only language or simply comforting their younger siblings.

It was these attitudes that led to having their meals taken away, privileges, belongings and gifts to be withheld or to simply go without.

It was these attitudes that required boys and girls as young as 6 years-old to do hard labour and endless domestic work in almost every residential school across Canada.

It was these attitudes that led young boys and girls to flee their captors, only to be lost or frozen in the snow, or punished severely after they were returned to Residential School.

It was these attitudes that led to young boys and girls having to line up to be molested, sodomized and violated in unspeakable ways. To line up for their turn at the trough of an insatiable clergy.

The sad reality is that a glimmer of these attitudes continues to exist in Canada.

It is these same attitudes that have led to a belittling of our legal rights, including Aboriginal Rights, Treaty Rights and Aboriginal Title to the land and resources.

It is these same attitudes that have led to an inexplicable plague of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, who continue to be preyed upon and ignored by an insensitive government refusing to lift a finger to address this crisis.

Want to see a good cross section of anti-Aboriginal sentiment? Just take a look at the comments section in any news or opinion article related to Aboriginal issues. Things that most Canadians wouldn’t dare say aloud if it applied to our Black, Muslim, Jewish or Asian brothers and sisters, stills seems to be fair game in criticism of Aboriginal people.

People comfortably advocate the taking away of indigenous legal rights, removal of First Nations people from their home communities, assimilation into Canadian society, or that somehow our Aboriginal and Treaty Rights are maligned and subservient to the common-law rights of all Canadians.

But truth is one thing. Reconciliation is something else entirely.

In a very comprehensive and transformative way, there needs to be a fundamental re-education and indoctrination of all Canadians about indigenous people and society, the history and impact of Indian Residential Schools and the concepts of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights. Such a step is essential to the survival of indigenous nations, our cultures, rights and our importance in Canadian society.

Canadians have to want to see a vast improvement of social conditions in indigenous communities. Substantial steps need to be taken to addressing poverty and ensuring the safety of our families, women and children. This requires the empathy and leadership of all levels of government and all Canadians to work in partnership with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.

First Nations are beautiful, proud, self-governing nations, and have been so since long before the establishment of Canada. This must be set right. The sacred wampum tells us that our nations were to ride along in two canoes, flowing down a great river together, supporting one another through the trials, tribulations and challenges that arise along the way.

Only through a significant attitude adjustment, the recognition of truth, empathy and reparations, will true reconciliation be achieved. There is a lot of work ahead for all of us. It’s not just the role of indigenous governments and the Crown. There is a role of all of us, as Treaty partners, partners in reconciliation, and partners in Canada.

Are you Indigenous? Do you live in the York Region?

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Harry Palmer Photo

It’s always good to see our fellow indigenous brothers and sisters walking around the local mall, eating at our favorite restaurants, or browsing the drug store.  It’s so interesting to know that we live so close to each other sometimes, but we rarely get together except at a pow-wow a hundred kilometres away.

If you are First Nation, Metis or Inuit, and you live in the York Region, please reach out.  Whether you reside from A to W (Aurora to Whitchurch-Stouffville) and all the lovely communities in between.  You can inbox me on Facebook, private message me in Twitter or LinkedIn.  Or e-mail me directly: info@bobgoulais.com.

There are so many things going on and to get involved in.  Never hurts to meet a fellow Nish!  Or Onkwehonwe, Mi’gmaq or Métis for that matter.

This is all unofficial, between friends.  Of course, it’s entirely voluntary.  But I do promise not to share any information without your consent.

Perhaps with such information, we can plan a potluck feast or just a simple little get together.  Who knows?

Thank you.  Miigwetch.  Nia:weh. Wela’alin.

 

An Exciting, New Opportunity

It is my pleasure to announce that I have moved to a new, exciting employment opportunity with Ishkonigan, Inc., a consulting firm owned and operated by former National Chief Phil Fontaine.  I’ll have the opportunity to support collaboration between First Nations and corporate Canada that will enable economic development that respects the unique culture, perspective and values of indigenous nations.  I am quite excited about this opportunity to work closely with Phil, his managing partner Scott Patles-Richardson and the whole Ishkonigan team.

Further, I have taken a two-year leave of absence from the Ontario Public Service to accommodate this opportunity.  It also allows my family to better look after the personal and health needs of our children by providing the flexibility to work from my home office and reduce my travel burden.

Usually, I’d leave the announcement to my Assistant Deputy Minister’s office to address my departure from MTO.  However, with such a quick move over the winter holidays, a few gossipy-type individuals have taken it upon themselves to fill in the information gaps.

To be clear:

  • I have requested the two-year leave for personal, family health reasons.  Because of this leave, I am required to fill out a mandatory Conflict of Interest form for the Deputy Minister to sign off.
  • This doesn’t mean that I’ve been “let go” because the ministry is doing an investigation into a conflict of interest involving a family situation.
  • The Deputy Minister and my ADMs were all completely supportive and there is nothing untoward about the request or circumstances.  I’ve been deemed to be fully-effective in my role with MTO.
  • I did not leave as a form of protest to coincide with Idle No More.  That’s just silly.

And I thought the Moccasin Telegraph was bad.  Sheesh.

I wish I could have given my appropriate goodbyes to my colleagues at MTO as well as the community leaders and officials I had been working with.  However, the powers-that-be are still figuring out the transition plan and how the news will come out at the MTO.

On that subject, I do want to comment about working for the Government of Ontario.

As an Anishinaabe man, it is indeed kind of strange working for the Crown.  But I thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of it.  I feel that more indigenous people should consider working for the government.  There are so many good and diverse opportunities in the public service once you have your foot in the door.  Believe you me, if there were more of us working for the Crown, making policy recommendations and making decisions, the Crown-First Peoples relationship would be a whole lot different.

I recall receiving some criticism from one or two people who thought that I was just a “token Indian” hired as a brown face to deal with all the Indian problems.  In fact, I was hired as a Director, a senior position within the government structure and competed successfully against many qualified non-natives who wanted the job.  I wasn’t hired because I was Anishinaabe, I was hired to take MTO into a different direction:  “A New Way of Doing Business” with indigenous people.

My underlying philosophy in establishing this brand new MTO Aboriginal Relations Branch was to change the culture of the organization.  I wanted to foster a new relationship based on respect, meeting our legal obligations and upholding the Honour of the Crown.  This was to be done by creating a heightened awareness and bringing First Nations perspective to MTO, not the other way around.

We used the medicine wheel as the basis of our strategic framework.  We started our meetings with ceremonies and sought the guidance of our Elders.  This is something that has rarely been done by government.

I was encouraged to use my abilities as a speaker, motivator and traditional teacher.  We created new and innovative ways of providing indigenous awareness training, with messages and curriculum that includes the perspectives of Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Mushkegowuk, Lene Lenape and Métis people.  I was always pleased to receive messages of thanks and personal stories about how I was able to touch people.

Over the course of the last couple of years, I’ve seen people change.  I’ve seen the start of a transformation.  We’ve celebrated relationships, culture and people.  We became more than just a ministry that required to consult – we became partners in engagement.

I’d like to truly thank all those who supported my time in the OPS including ADM John Lieou, ADM Gerry Chaput, Deputy Minister Carol Layton, Deputy Minister Scott Thompson, former Deputy Minister Lori Sterling, retired ADM Brian Gaston, and Greg Coleman.

I’d especially like to thank my team at the Aboriginal Relations Branch.  It was an honour to work with you all:  Vera Gevikoglu, Donna Bigelow, Megan Chochla, Jasmina Konopek, Jeff Kerr, Real Bouchard, Dwayne Pamajewon, Joe De Laronde, Meghan MacMillan, Katherine Jin, Matthew Rosenfeld, and Giles Benaway.

Chi-miigwetch.

Execution 150 Years Ago Spurs Calls for Pardon

By Robert K. Elder
New York Times

MANKATO, Minn. — On Dec. 26, 1862, thirty-eight doomed Dakota Indians wailed and danced atop the gallows, waiting for the trapdoors to drop beneath them. The square scaffold, built here to accommodate the largest mass execution in United States history, swayed under their weight.

“It seemed that the purpose of the singing and dancing was only to sustain each other in their last ordeal,” a witness observed. “As the last moment rapidly approached, they each called out their name and shouted in their native language: ‘I’m here! I’m here!’ ”

Thirty-seven of the men were among the “most ferocious” followers of the Dakota leader Little Crow, according to the federal government. They stood accused of killing approximately 490 settlers, including women and children, in raids along the Minnesota frontier.

But one man, historians say, did not belong there. A captured Dakota named We-Chank-Wash-ta-don-pee, often called Chaska, had had his sentence commuted by President Abraham Lincoln days earlier. Yet on the day after Christmas 1862, Chaska died with the others.

It was a case of wrongful execution, Gary C. Anderson, a history professor at the University of Oklahoma and Little Crow biographer, said last week in an interview. “These soldiers just grabbed the wrong guy,” he said.

Although the story of the mass execution in Mankato is well-known locally, scholars say the case of Chaska — spared by Lincoln, then wrongfully executed — has been long overlooked by the federal government and all but forgotten even by the Dakota.

Now, an effort to keep the story alive is taking root on campuses and even on Capitol Hill as the 150th anniversary of the execution, in 2012, approaches. Commemorative events will include symposiums, museum exhibits, monument re-dedications, book publications and an original symphony and choral production.

“It’s time to talk about it and time for people to know about it,” said Gwen Westerman, a professor of English at Minnesota State University at Mankato and a member of the Dakota who is planning to investigate Chaska’s case and the cultural context of the conflict with a class. She says she is hoping her students can “put together some more pieces of the puzzle.”

“Because there is a historical record” for Chaska’s commutation, Ms. Westerman said, “that’s a good place to start.”

A move to award Chaska (pronounced chas-KAY) a posthumous pardon has drawn some initial support. Before his defeat in November, Representative James L. Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota, said a federal pardon would be “a grand gesture and one I think our Congressional delegation should support.”

“A wrong should be righted,” he added.

Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat who sits on Committee on Indian Affairs, issued a statement last week signaling that he might move the issue forward.

“Senator Franken recognizes that this is a tragic period in history,” said his press secretary, Ed Shelleby. “The senator will continue to look into this incident in the next Congress.”

Tension between the Dakota, historically called the Sioux, and the influx of settlers had been mounting for years before the Civil War, which further strained United States resources, disrupting food and supplies promised to the Dakota in a series of broken peace treaties. One local trader, Andrew Myrick, said of the Indians’ plight, “If they are hungry, let them eat grass.”

Enraged and starving, the tribe attacked and plundered the new state’s settlements. Of the 400-plus Dakota and “mixed blood” men detained by Brig. Gen. Henry Hastings Sibley, 303 were sentenced by a military court to death. But Lincoln found a lack of evidence at most of the tribunals, and he reduced the number of the condemned to 38.

We-Chank-Wash-ta-don-pee’s case was No. 3 and not listed in the execution order handwritten by Lincoln, but his fate may have been the result of mistaken identity. The man he died for was No. 121, identified by Lincoln as Chaskey-don or Chaskey-etay, who had been condemned for murdering a pregnant woman.

But historians say something far more complex may have been responsible for Chaska’s death: rumor. During the raids, Chaska took a white woman, Sarah Wakefield, and her children prisoner — not an uncommon occurrence during the Dakota War.

What was uncommon, however, was Wakefield’s defense of her captor at him military tribunal.  Chaska defended her and her children, she said, and kept them from certain death and abuse at the hands of his fellow tribesmen. “If it had not been for Chaska,” Wakefield said, “my bones would now be bleaching on the prairie, and my children with Little Crow.”

One prison chaplain wrote to her after the hanging: “Dear Madam: In regard to the mistake by which Chaska was hung instead of another, I doubt whether I can satisfactorily explain it.”

Wakefield firmly believed that Chaska was executed on purpose, in retaliation for her testimony and in reaction to rumors that she and Chaska were lovers. General Sibley, who appointed the tribunal that convicted Chaska, privately referred to him as Wakefield’s “dusky paramour.”

Wakefield denied any sexual relationship in the booklet she wrote the year after his death, titled “Six Weeks in the Sioux Teepees.” She wrote, “I loved not the man, but his kindly acts.”

Some details of the conflict have been willfully buried or forgotten, by both sides of the war. The Dakota conflict came in 1862, which historians have described as Lincoln’s “darkest year” during the Civil War. It was the year the president lost his 11-year-old son, Willie, to typhoid fever. Thousands died on the battlefields at the Battle of Bull Run and at Fredericksburg, as Lincoln fought with his own generals. In large part, the narrative of mass execution in Mankato was lost in the United States’ struggle to preserve the union.

Lincoln himself was distressed at the speed of the military tribunals that condemned 303 men, and his decision to commute most of the sentences was politically dangerous. But he said, “I could not afford to hang men for votes.” The 265 Dakota Indians Lincoln spared from the gallows were either fully pardoned or died in prison.

Modern Mankato, once a prairie outpost, is now a city of 37,000, where a modest downtown struggles for survival, competing against outlying strip malls and chain stores.

The only reminders that 38 Indians died here is a Dakota warrior statue and plaque outside the local library. The location of the actual scaffold is now called Reconciliation Park.

Glenn Wasicunna, a Dakota language teacher and husband of Ms. Westerman, said that for decades, his people would not even drive through Mankato during the day. The place carried too many memories, too much cultural trauma, he said.

“These were our family,” Ms. Westerman added. “These were people my great-grandparents knew. They have a direct effect on who we are.”

Each year on Dec. 26, the annual Mankato memorial run acknowledges those who died in the mass execution. But Wayne Wells, a Dakota language teacher on the nearby Prairie Island reservation, said there would be a range of response to a pardon just for Chaska. Many Dakota, he said, “consider all of them to be innocent martyrs — people who stood up and died for us.”

However, Leonard Wabasha, a local Dakota leader, said a federal pardon for Chaska would “shine a light.”

“It would cause people to read and research into it a little deeper,” Mr. Wabasha said. “It would be a step in the right direction.”

Anishinaabe Teachings are within reach

What are “teachings”?

It’s a simple enough question that has a vast array of answers.

Some Anishinaabeg people think a teaching is a form of unsolicited, mystic wisdom. You sign up for a weekend event or conference, someone will no doubt provide you with some teachings.

Some think teachings are what a knowledgeable speaker says at a pow-wow. Some think it is anything that is said in a ceremony. If you go to enough ceremonies – you’ll have your share of teachings. While many others think it is history or individual knowledge given in the “oral tradition”.

Some will go so far as saying that teachings are anything that an Elder says. Well, there are just as many definitions of “Elder” as there are for “teachings”. Some think The Elder is KISS’ worst studio album.

The teachings that I’m speaking of don’t come from any unsolicited, mystic wisdom. The teachings that I’m writing about don’t come from individual knowledge or someone’s life stories.

The teachings that I’m speaking of are a specific set of indigenous knowledge. In this case, Anishinaabe indigenous knowledge.

These teachings have specific wording in the Anishinaabemowin language. These teachings don’t change. Sure, words can evolve over time and can be translated – but their meaning is always the same when they are given. These teachings have an origin and a specific story of their own. They also have corresponding traditional songs. Beautiful songs. Each teachings has a specific place among a multitude of places. They also have innumerable specific purposes. The teachings that I’m speaking of don’t come at random.

Believed me, these are quite different from the teachings you receive from your local Elder around the pow-wow campfire.

I’ll draw a parallel from Christianity.

Jesus Christ has teachings. Those teachings come from the Holy Bible – which is the source of Christian wisdom and contain a specific set of teachings from the Christian Lord.

But if I were to say that: Jesus came to me in a dream last night – and said that we must all wear yellow socks in honour of the crucifixion. In that dream, Jesus himself lifted his golden robe and showed me his yellow socks – which were soothing his sacred wounds. He said: “Wearing these yellow socks should be part of your ritual stigmata.” He spoke to me in ancient Arimaic, which I fully understand and speak in my dreams.

Most Christians would say “B*llsh*t!” – no matter how believable I am while I testify with my arms to the sky. And rightly so.

But when an “Elder” comes forward, honourarium paid for by the band office, and provides our communities with “teachings” – we gather in droves, like he or she is distributing loaves and fishes.

No matter how many “Elders”, “teachers”, “shamans”, “mystics”, “traditional people” and “consultants” you consult – there is only one true source of our original, Anishinaabeg teachings. The Midewiwin Lodge.

The Midewiwin, the “way of the heart”, is a society that was given the role to teach, practice and preserve the traditional knowledge and original spiritual way of the Anishinaabe people.  The Midewiwin is the source of our Creation Story, the story of Waynaboozhoo, our Clan System and the Seven Grandfather Teachings.  The Midewiwin hold these teachings in trust for all Anishinaabe people. In fact, our teachings tell us that the Spirit of this Lodge, Mide-mnidoo, was provided to the Anishinaabeg by the Creator to look after us and provide us with a sense of closeness and kinship to G’zhemnidoo.

We have something else in common with Christians. Anishinaabe teachings are indeed written down – contrary to the many people out there that think everything Indian people are taught comes down in the so-called oral tradition.

The wigwaas (birchbark) scrolls are an incredible record of Anishinaabe indigenous knowledge. I’ve seen these scrolls with my own eyes, and held them with my own hands. They are an incredible record of our Creation story, our history as well as our vibrant, Spiritual past and sacred teachings. Some scrolls, corresponding teachings and songs are a record of our original instructions given to us directly from the Creator. We may lack a Moses but we have our very own Anishinaabe ten commandments! Well actually, a great deal more than ten.

The Anishinaabe are no different that any other indigenous nation. Many other nations have traditional societies that look after their traditional knowledge and teachings. The best example is the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) people. The source of their knowledge is the Longhouse. No one can purport to provide Mohawk teachings or Oneida wisdom without being a sanctioned member of the Longhouse. If they did, they’d be quickly called on it: “B*llsh*t!”

Unfortunately, for the Anishinaabe, our traditional knowledge is very old and is long lost in almost every single one of our communities. Our history and prophesies tell us that the Midewiwin foreseen what would happen to our people and our ancestors chose to hide our ways and keep them secret. Unfortunately, that also worked against us. Our ways and knowledge were simply were forgotten. Our indigenous knowledge and traditional societies have long since been taken away from us and labeled as devil-worship. The Midewiwin have been replaced by more civilized values and Christianity.

However, as more and more Anishinaabe people are regaining their identity – they are seeking to learn more about their traditional ways. Some are choosing to return to those ways entirely. Sadly, a great many people – confused by the melting pot of “Aboriginal” knowledge – are swept up by new age and pow-wow spirituality. Other Anishinaabe people choose to live a hybrid life attending a plethora of ceremonies, fasting, sweat lodges, sun dances, rain dances, and round dances belonging to other nations. However, this makes them quite healthy and happy and it provides many people with fulfillment in their lives. Many are oblivious to the fact that their practices are borrowed from other nations.

However, within reach – and right under their noses – is true, Anishinaabe knowledge.

Still, many people simply don’t want to put in the work it requires to earn this knowledge. Many feel the Midewiwin are a secret society, or a selfish, protective cult holding this knowledge for themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth.

All Anishinaabe people are entitled to this knowledge and are welcome to study all the Spirit will offer. However, it requires time, effort, a commitment to the society and a commitment to living a good and just life. As our Grand Chief Bawdwaywidun has always said – if you want to know: “Come to the Lodge.”

European Cannibalism Proof of True Savagery

Evidence of early-European savagery may have been a pre-historic sign of things to come.

Archaeologists from the University of Bordeaux have unearthed evidence that may point to ritualistic human mutilation of unborn babies, infants and adults including proof of cannibalism by Euro-Caucasian people.

The archaeologists told the BBC that they had found evidence that human bones were deliberately cut and broken – a tell-tale indication of cannibalism.

“We see patterns on the bones of animals indicating that they have been spit-roasted,” said a lead archaeologist with the project. “We have seen some of these same patterns on the human bones.”

This is likely the largest site of mass cannibalism ever found in human history. Up to 500 human remains unearthed near the village of Herxheim in southwest Germany may have been cannibalised.

Contrary to conventional history, Europeans actually have an extensive history of grim, foreboding violence. This evidence may point to the earliest known example of European atrocities and savagery.

Such proof of brutal Eurocentric violence may explain a pre-supposition to violent tendencies. This would later take the form of barbarism, colonialist violence, historic episodes of genocide and forms of violence used in the family and against those most vulnerable parts of society.

Other pervasive examples include the Crusades, the Inquisition, imperialism, genocide and the Holocaust. The greatest hostilities known to mankind include the American Civil War, the World Wars, the development of modern warfare, biological and chemical warfare and nuclear weapons. Indigenous specific examples of European violence includes the Trail of Tears, the forced removal of First Nations children, widespread physical and sexual abuse in residential schools and the assimilation of Aboriginal people. All of these were first perpetrated by European societies.

But such brutal, Eurocentric violence may also explain the roots of such wide-spread concepts as sexual abuse, corporal punishment, gender inequality, violence against women and the elderly. These were all concepts introduced by Europeans and mostly foreign to First Nations people.

Such Eurocentric savagery, although certainly wrong and abnormal, may have been seen as acceptable at the time, just like violence forced upon European adversaries had been seen as acceptable throughout the course of history.

It is well known that Europeans who first arrived to North America called First Nations people “savages”. Early explorers reported unfounded myths of ritualistic human sacrifices and cannibalism.

But this was in stark contrast to archaeological and anthropological evidence. The realities point to early aboriginal people as generous, humble and spiritual people.

However, such negative myths have perpetuated into the present-day, and ironically, is a prime example of lateral violence. Many people continue to believe such unfounded stories of North American aboriginal people today. This perpetuates stereotypes of First Nations people as savages.

Given the savagery of early Europe, the history books may need to be re-written.

Europeans also brought forward the concept of “evil” as well as the embodiment of evil: Satan and a place called “hell”. These were strictly Christian themes. Satan and hell were not aboriginal concepts, and were not a part of our communities until brought in my Europeans.

The Herxheim site is the greatest evidence ever unearthed pointing to a European-based, “hell on Earth”.