My maternal grandmother had 5 children. Then came 12 grandchildren. Now there are 9 great-grandchildren. With the exception of my grandmother, who lived a long and healthy life into her nineties, everyone is alive and well.
On the steps of the Human Rights Monument this Friday night in Ottawa, a Palestinian matriarch, with a cane in one hand and a flag in the other, slowly walked up to position herself in front of the faces of the children that have died in the recent attacks on Gaza. She smiled at the living children who ran up and down the steps around her in preparation for the ceremony. These children – in running shoes, cute sandals, sporty sunglasses and “The Amazing SpiderMan” shorts – are safe and sound in Canada.
This woman is probably in her seventies meaning she was born at a time when Israel had already begun its war on Palestine. Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have only known the story of war and never the story of peace.
I think again of my grandmother. She never had to witness the death of one of her children or grandchildren.
One child walked to the microphone. Stumbling on his words with the cracking voice of an adolescent boy transitioning into a young adult, he shared with the crowd that this week 9 of his extended family were killed in Gaza.
9 members wiped out. I struggle as to how to act in this moment. He can’t be more than 13. He has probably known more deaths in his family then years of his life.
I want children to be able to be just children with grandmothers who watch over them with laughter without wondering if today will be the last time they see their little ones play.
On my way to an Asinabka event on Saturday I saw the woman in this picture. Since I write a lot on the effects of colonization, past and present, I asked if I could take her photograph for an article I will be writing on Palestine. She was on her way to an event in solidarity with Palestinians on Parliament Hill. She felt it was important to show support. She agreed to let me take her picture but asked that she not be identified by name. So I will call her خديجة Khadija, the name of the wife of The Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be Upon Him).
Many people don’t realize the powerful story of how Islam began. The prophet was married to a successful business woman in Mecca. It is said that Khadija was 20 years his senior. When her young husband began to have visions that he didn’t understand and that were unsettling to him she told him to talk to the Jewish and Christian spiritual leaders she knew in order to find answers and solace.
Through the support of a strong female and the spiritual counsel of people who came from different faiths another religion was born.
The woman I met on Sunday shared with me as much as she could of her story before our buses arrived. Her ethnicity is different from the country she was born in because her family left due to a civil war. She has now left that country because of civil unrest there and has applied for refugee status in Canada. This is why she didn’t want to be identified.
She said that when she decided to wear the hijab it stopped short her career back home as a teacher. Although not living in France she was teaching at a French school. They would no longer let her teach if she was going to cover her head. The day she put her daughter into school in Canada she arrived to find the teacher was wearing the hijab. “This is when I knew this country was my country.” And then she broke down.
There were no words she could say at that moment to express the power of what she was feeling. The feeling of elation that comes with knowing you are safe but also knowing you have left a country and others behind, but a country that wasn’t your family’s motherland and your parents, siblings and friends are forever scattered. There is deep sadness that comes with this kind of dislocation and it can run through the generations. She was also anxious because her hearing for her refugee status was coming up.
As she lost her words and the tears started falling down her face I grabbed her and hugged her hard. Two women, don’t know each other from Adam. We stood there hugging on the crazy busy bus platform of Mackenzie King Bridge. We didn’t talk. We stayed silent and then as I got on the bus I hugged her tight one more time and said I would think of her on the first day of Eid, the day of her hearing.
That is how we build peace.
She could have been Jewish or Atheist. She was a professional but she could have been a prostitute. It wouldn’t have mattered. For me she was another woman who is being strong despite also being afraid and she was in need of some Sister Support!
Hugging is how we stay human.
Being present to hear a stranger’s story is how we begin to shift the energy of oppression.
On Canada Day & Independence Day what are we celebrating?
I spent Canada Day around the landscape of Quebec just a short drive from Ottawa. It was in an effort to escape the masses that descend upon the Nation’s Capitol for the July 1st holiday.
Many Canadians, especially Torontonians, are fresh off the high of the successful celebration of #WorldPride14 in Toronto (complete with a rainbow that hugged the skyline after the parade). A massive crowd came out to show support for diversity around sexual orientation and gender. Businesses, banks, church groups and regular folk take a certain amount of ‘pride’ in Pride because it demonstrates that Toronto is a city that isn’t just about tolerating differences but rather it has created an entire bombastic celebration around those differences!
Ottawa is no different. Canada Day on Parliament Hill draws an exuberant multiculti crowd celebrating the fact that everyone can feel safe and thrive here in Canada no matter the cultural background of their parents and ancestors.
That’s the story Canadians love to share on July 1 and in America on July 4 it’s much the same. The legends of Manifest Destiny and the enterprising people who populated the Wild West occupy a lot of historical real estate. As the story goes, both nations were built by the hard work of immigrants so in the spirit of continuing that history most people would agree there is always room for more!
The trouble and the truth is that each wave of immigrants arrived to racism and discrimination – the Chinese, Vietnamese and even the Portuguese communities in Canada, the Japanese during World War II in both countries; the Irish and Jewish communities. The Ukrainians, Italians, and Mexicans; the Pakistanis, Somalis, and Arabs…the list goes on. Everyone at some time has been the outsider and placed into the unfortunate role of the societal scapegoat.
The cult of Multiculturalism, for all its talk of inclusivity, has created its own scapegoat – the First Peoples. In both America and Canada waves of migrants have washed over the detail that North America was not only built on the backs of slaves but on the bones of its Indigenous populations.
You can see it in the comment section of Facebook, the online sections of national newspapers and blogs – the hate speak when there is an article that calls out the fashion (mis)statements made by headdress hipsters or when there is a blockade on occupied land that inconveniences the occupier.
National stories are powerful but destructive if they are, in essence, tale tells.
On July 1 and July 4 when celebrating the creation of two colonizing nations it is important to think about how those stories exclude. Multiculturalism, with all its focus on providing a safe and welcoming space for newcomers, has created a blind spot obscuring how the focus on rights for immigrants can often be at the expense of the rights of the First Peoples of Turtle Island, the original word for the continent of North America.
The Civil Rights movement was about addressing the shame of White America and calling out how the Jim Crow laws and state supported segregation created a culture of scapegoating, one result being the most ugly of human expressions – public lynching.
Scapegoating is a mechanism that allows an individual or a society to deflect shame. There is shame in making another human being your chattel; there is shame in killing off a population of people to make room for your own kind. We are spiritual beings and on some level, even if it’s buried so deep our waking minds can make peace with our justifications, the soul sees the deception.
So on days of celebrating nationalism it’s also a good time to reflect on those stories mythologies about who we are as citizens.
Anishinaabe writer and Ryerson University professor Hayden King writes:
“…thinking about what Canada could become (or, “what is in us to be?”) I think about understanding. Not the same old discourse of peaceful acquisition, armchair policy expertise, or a Norval Morrisseau on the wall, but substantive understanding among Canadians of Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee and Mushkegowuk perspectives (as well as the other 50-odd nations)…Indigenous languages can have official status, but more importantly, be seen and heard on the land and in cities, known by everyone. We can be honest about the birth, life and times of Canada. If all of this is in us to be, we might have something to celebrate.” Read more in his article for the Toronto Star…
Great reasons for national celebrations!
The year 2014 saw the formation of the Cowboys and Indians Alliance created to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. The delegates rode onto the Mall in Washington, DC and called on President Obama to “Reject and Protect” – reject the project and protect the earth.
2014 also saw the formation of the Healing Walks initiative where people came together for the sake of the land, water, and air as well as the people and animals who depend on the area around the tar sands to be returned to health.
Left to right: Actor / Writer Cliff Cardinal, youth worker Rob Chief, co-creator of huff Elizabeth Kantor and Sarah Garton Stanley, Associate Artistic Directory of English Theatre at the NAC.
Bravo to the National Arts Centre / Centre National Des Arts Ottawa for creating safe spaces for tough conversations.
As the Q & A (Talk Back) session wrapped up after NAC’s Tuesday night performance of huff Sarah Garton Stanley (Associate Artistic Directory of English Theatre at the NAC) passionately declared “We are so proud of having this piece and it’s a piece we want everyone to see!”
If you don’t know about huff it’s a play by Cliff Cardinal that explores what he believes is the most taboo subculture existing in Canada – Aboriginal children who are addicted to solvents. And because of the subject matter the play is understandably intense and difficult to watch. Cliff’s strategy of immediately making the audience complicit as witnesses pulls people in so they can’t back out despite the uncomfortableness. It’s the right tactic because now Canadians can no longer say they aren’t aware of issues facing First Nations children. This country’s shame is ever present in the media and as witnesses we have a moral obligation to be part of the process that will lift this intergenerational burden off these children.
Local Métis artist and tour guide Jaime Koebel (www.indigenouswalks.com) was so moved by the play seeing it once wasn’t enough. She has now seen it three times in order to absorb what Cliff accomplished with this piece. She says:
“Cardinal’s ability to take on 16 characters in a one hour time span mirrors the intensity of the content within the show itself and provides a peephole’s view of life on a reserve soaked in destitution. Despite the heaviness of the subject matter, the fact that Cardinal is presenting this play at all is a testament to the resiliency of the fastest growing population in Canada.”
When a gentleman in the audience asked “Is there any way of knowing that we are progressing in the treatment of Aboriginals” panelist Rob Chief, a youth worker, answered “Cliff is here [performing the play] and you are here [watching].” Perhaps for all the steps forward that seem to follow with several steps back, slowly but surely, there is an illumination that leads out of the darkness and artists are leading the way!
A friend who accompanied me was impressed by all the interconnecting issues that were touched on beyond the issue of addiction – the educational system on the reserves, poverty as well as incest. “The parts on incest were hard to watch but these are the things we should be talking about because it is the first step to collectively contribute to the solution.”
She feels that “having these stories on stage is a good starting point to build connections between First Nations people and Canadians around the issues” and she “appreciated that all of the people on the panel mentioned that this is all of our history.” She reflects that “by watching a play like huff and talking about these stories we create the on-going dialogue that needs to happen.”
An experience that leaves you with action steps as to how you can help.
Another strategy Cliff and co-creator Elizabeth Kantor deployed was to have resources on hand for each person in the audience to leave with. These resources give lists of organizations, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, that provide services around these issues. They also gives online links you can visit to read up and become more informed.
This was the most effective part of the performance – the “Talk Back” and provision of educational and support tools. So often we leave a performance (or film or lecture) dealing with heavy topics stunned by what we have just discovered but also lost as to how we can grapple with it. To create an experience that goes beyond just a performance to ensure the audience walks away with action steps as well as support is a strategy I hope to see more of.
I love that the NAC understands the important role they play in fostering these types of safe spaces! Sarah provided the audience with name after name of Aboriginal artists who “shine a path by either entering into the academy [to teach arts education with a different perspective] or not entering but teaching in their own way.” These are the cultural provocateurs who will lead this country to a renewed place.
So the future is hopeful but only if we all reach into our deepest empathetic places. I had some trouble with the play’s ending and final message that the help the main character needed lay just beyond in the spirit world because the help needed in these desperate times lies in the here and now. We need to make intentional decisions around moments when we are intimately faced with another person’s pain to that turn the experience into action.
When asked by an audience member “What do you think can be done?” Cliff addressed us all by saying “In this room you each know people who have influence, perhaps you yourself have influence. Give your time. Write a cheque. I know you can come up with something! I don’t have the answers but I know you have the solution!”
huff runs until Saturday. Performances are as follows:
The Art Gallery of Ontario along with the Michaëlle Jean Foundation are looking for your digital art work.
Sometimes the best ideas are last minute! The AGO & FMJF are looking for artists to submit their digital art work to a contest in support of the LGBTTIQQ communities in Canada.
The countdown is on! The submission deadline is this week on Thursday April 25 at the stroke of midnight. The winner takes home $1000 and gets the chance to work with a street artist to mount their work outside of the AGO on the Solidarity Wall.
DETAILS FOR THE 4th WALL YOUTH SOLIDARITY PROJECT:
You must be between the ages of 14 – 30
The subject matter is ” make the invisible experiences of Canada’s Two-Spirit and LGBTI2Q youth visible”
Winner gets $1000 grant
The selected art work will be part of the World Pride Exhibition at the AGO
The public will vote online for the competition winner
The winner will be announced on June 22, 2014 at the Youth Solidarity Forum
We can feel the seasons changing! We welcome the spring and the Omushkegowuk Walkers from Attawapiskat First Nation to Parliament Hill today. If you missed being part of the welcoming party you can support them by attending the Potluck Farewell Feast at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church (across from the Supreme Court) at 5 pm on Wednesday evening. If you can provide food for this event please visit the Reclaiming our steps, past, present and future – Ottawa Facebook Event Page for contact details.
“A multitalented artist, poet, passionate advocate for the quest for knowledge through literature and music, YAO is comparable to a modern-day troubadour.
Although his music is characterized by a sweet mix of Slam poetry, Jazz and Blues, his eclectic approach and escapades in various musical genre gives it a rich, unique and very pleasant sound.” Read more…
FRIDAY: THE JERRY CANS + SAALI
Friday is The Jerry Cans & Saali at Zaphod Beeblebrox, 27 York Street.
“The Jerry Cans will take you on a stroll through Iqaluit, Nunavut with their unique mix of Inuktitut country swing, throat singing, reggae, and blues, sharing a glimpse of life in Nunavut while challenging misrepresentation of the great white north. Nunavuttitut! Nunavut Style!”
“The Winter Village Storytelling Festival & Meshkwadoon is a celebration of the First Peoples’ winter culture through artistic and oral traditions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis People…Alongside these wonderful presentations will be some of Ottawa’s finest vendors showcasing both Aboriginal and non- aboriginal arts and crafts.”Read more…
Part of Sunday’s lineup is a performance by madeskimo.
Saturday, March 1st, 10am – 5pm & Sunday, March 2nd, 11am – 5pm
Individual Day Pass $5
Family Day Pass $12
Individual Weekend Pass $8
Family Weekend Pass $20
Children under 3 Free
Kids standing in solidarity with First Nations, Inuit and Metis children
The best led crusade may just be a children’s crusade because today on Parliament Hill small but mighty voices were articulate in their demands for Harper to “have a heart” with regards to issues around education improvements for Aboriginal children.
From the voices of babes.
One wee one said “I am just in Grade 3 but I know the difference between right and wrong.” She continued by saying “Mr. Harper, you spend money on silly things like rockets that don’t fly.” Enough said.
And don’t think that these kids are buying it regarding the First Nations Education Act. They get it that a one-size-fits-all education system and dollars handed out with conditions attached doesn’t translate into equitable and culturally based education. They could probably put a lot of MPs to shame with their proper pronunciation of Anishinaabe and knowing that Turtle Island refers to the original name for the continent that the governments of Canada and America now occupy.
“Stephen Harper, we’ve got some homework for you, make our Canada a better place for FN education”
It means nothing if it’s not true.
These kids stood up under the shadow of the Parliament Buildings and spoke to the fact that the National Narrative of an inclusive society that respects human rights falls apart when you look at the Canadian government’s past and present relations with Indigenous Canada.
Kids from all backgrounds – Somali, East Asian, Palestinian, European – showed up and represented.
These kids get it. And on a cold, winter’s day it is what warms your heart!
“The First Nations Child & Family Caring Society stands with First Nations children, youth, and families for equal opportunities to succeed.
Using a reconciliation framework that respectfully engages First Nation and non-Aboriginal peoples, the Caring Society provides high quality resources to support First Nations communities to empower children, youth and families. The award-winning Caring Society is proud to work with our partners in Canada and around the world to promote the rights of Indigenous children, youth and families.” For more information on their services visit their website.
Science meets art and inspires activism for the environment at the ROM!
“In 2001 the artist David Buckland founded Cape Farewell to instigate a cultural response to climate change. Cape Farewell is now an international not-for-profit programme based in the Science Museum’s Dana Centre in London and with a North American foundation based at the MaRS centre in Toronto.”
Now Cape Farewell has partnered with the ROM: Contemporary Culture to produce the exhibit Carbon14: Climate is Culture and ask ” how does landscape change a culture and how does culture change a landscape?” Utilizing photography, film, multi-media and performance this question is explored with the audience.
Because of the mandate of promoting dialogue, the programming for Carbon14 has included public talks, discussions and conferences around the issues of climate change, sustainability and our cultural responses to them.
“Both ancient and modern, Tanya Tagaq’s performances with long-time collaborator Michael Red fuse her highly personalized throat singing style with Red’s electronic sound art. When the two perform, Tagaq’s powerful, fervent vocals enmesh with layered rhythms and melodies built from Red’s collection of natural Arctic sonic elements (wind, ice, birds, etc.). The collaboration yields a fascinating, highly improvised mix of digital effects, dance and dub-inspired beats and bass, and shape shifting soundscapes.”Read more on Tanya…
This Sunday Staging Sustainability, a conference whose aim is to “focus on ways in which performance can positively affect our planet”, begins and runs until Wednesday, February 5.
“Using media from the land — soapstone, bone and ivory — Ishulutaq’s carving explores global warming and its impacts on glaciers, ice, wildlife, and weather, while encouraging the cultures of the North and South to join hands in taking care of the environment and each other.” Read more…
Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change by Zacharias Kunuk + Ian Mauro
“Qapirangajuq is the world’s first Inuktitut language film on climate change and includes the traditional knowledge and experience of Inuit elders and hunters from across Nunavut. Travelling on the land, the viewer sees firsthand the Arctic and its people, and how they are interconnected and affected by a warming world.” Read more…
“Deep Time, a new multi-screen work by Melanie Gilligan and Tom Ackers, blends fiction, animation, and documentary to investigate the complex relationships between systemic phenomena created by humans (such as global warming, ocean chemistry change, and capitalism) and ocean ecosystems, the often-forgotten foundation of life on this planet.”Read more…
Beekeeping for All by Myfanwy MacLeod + Janna Levitt
“In every bee colony, thousands of individuals work in a highly intelligent, co-dependent and hierarchical manner to build hives, and in the act of doing so, provide a fundamental service to all of nature and, almost incidentally, to human survival. Without pollination, there is no agriculture. Without bees transmitting genetic information triggering the creation of new life, new food, new beauty, and growth, we as humans cannot nourish successive generations or ourselves.”Read more…
“A collaborative presentation by Mel Chin, with the people of the Western Sahara, Ahmed Boukhari, Dr. Richard Corkish, Markus A. R. Kayser, Mohamed Sleiman Labat, Jonathan Teo, with thanks to Robin Kahn, Kirby Gookin, and Representative Mohamed Yeslem Beissat.”Read more…
When the curators working with the National Gallery of Canada came together to plan Sakahàn, the largest exhibition of Indigenous work ever held, they couldn’t have known that right before the Spring ’13 opening there would be a political movement that would globally link people in solidarity with Indigenous movements around the world.
And as the Harper Government amped up its campaign of greenbrain-washing this country, a reactionary plan came together quickly because the seeds of change were already being watered and nourished and were ready to bloom.
And blossom they did! The internet was the fertile ground beneath the virtual commons where everyone who wanted to participate could look, listen and learn.
I felt I had a kind of empowerment that I never had before. I could have a say in what was happening in Canada now and play an active part in envisioning what it can become in the future.
I also felt the grounding that hope gives when you know that there are so many people out there who are willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of protecting the land.
Data collection allows for metrics around keywords and hashtags but what cannot be fully quantified are the relationships that have been made because of people coming together around a cause. A system of roots has now spread across cyberspace.
And those roots don’t just exist online. A year after Idle No More started I find that it’s hard to imagine my life without the people I have met due to the divine timing of a political movement, an art exhibit, and computer technologies that allow us to find each other.
Throughout my journey this year I have encountered many who recognize that something important is happening – things have changed, the time is ripe.
The Anishinaabe prophecy of the 7th Fire speaks of an era when people of all races and faiths will unite in an effort to direct the evolution of humanity towards an existence that chooses spirituality over materialism.
I believe that no matter our background we can understand this to be true as well as appreciate the importance of the timing – we have to pick a path.
An organization that works toward facilitation around moving forward with strengthened relations between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Canadians is Niigaan In Conversation. On March of this year, Niigaan held its first event to a packed out house! Sensing a need for constructive dialogue around Treaties as well as a welcoming space for Non-Indigenous people to learn about Canada’s troubled history Niigaan offered a much needed service in the months following the start of Idle No More.
The legacy of their hugely successful inaugural event lives on because of its accessibility online but the great news is if you want to have a chance to experience the energy of Niigaan in person this coming Tuesday December 10 in Ottawa, on unceded Algonquin Territory, Niigaan is offering us all a chance to celebrate a year of change, begin more new relationships and continue building a plan around solidarity.
ImagineNATIVE, Toronto’s Film Festival focusing on film / new media productions by local and international indigenous artists, starts today!
“The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival celebrates the latest works by Indigenous peoples at the forefront of innovation in film, video, radio, and new media. Each fall, imagineNATIVE presents a selection of the most compelling and distinctive Indigenous works from around the globe. The Festival’s programming, cultural & social events, and Industry Series attract and connect filmmakers, media artists, programmers, buyers, and industry professionals. The works accepted reflect the diversity of the world’s Indigenous nations and illustrate the vitality and excellence of our art and culture in contemporary media.”Find out more…
This year’s international spotlight is on the Maori Nationhood.
“This year, we are incredibly pleased to spotlight the works of Maori artists from Aotearoa (New Zealand). The Indigenous film industry in Aotearoa has long been the envy of many Indigenous artists living abroad. Critically and commercially successful feature films are joined by award-winning shorts, ground-breaking new media works and an expansive radio network.
The Maori presence is prominent throughout Aotearoa and their population is roughly 673,500 or 15% of the national total. The Maori diaspora is also quite significant as more Maori reportedly now live in Australia than in Aotearoa. We welcome the Maori delegation to imagineNATIVE, to our shared territory with open arms, and invite you to enjoy and reflect on the Maori-made works.” Read more…
Catch the full line up of industry talks, master classes, art tours and of course screenings here.