Why I’m Idle No More

First in a series of posts.


What is THE most important issue of our times? For me, there is no doubt. The treaty obligations of settler Canadians just have to come first and they have to come first now. Those of us who are not indigenous to this country have ignored those obligations since we entered into them. This has resulted in First Nations and Inuit people becoming the most harshly treated people in this country, across the board, on all indicators. Their access to adequate housing on reserves is appallingly inadequate and movement into urban areas often leads to urban poverty – mental illness, addiction, prostitution and subjection to state violence and street violence of all kinds. Both on reserves and in urban areas, far too many are without access to decent medical care, standard education options and community supports. The state is more likely to “help” First Nations people by stealing their children, as it did in the past. First Nations land is robbed and stripped of resources and polluted while communities are poisoned. Yes, we should worry that the poisons and pollutants run downstream. Why wouldn’t we worry first that they attack the land and people to whom we have legal and ethical obligations?

My life’s work outside my family has been a commitment to the liberation of women. In that regard, First Nations women are the most legally subjugated people in Canada, subject to the most violence, the fastest growing rates of incarceration in the country and systematic, historical and ongoing action to relieve them of those most precious to them … their children.

I’ve always believed in grassroots action, even though I was an academic. I’ve always believed in working from the bottom up because if we resolve the problems of those who suffer the worst exploitation, oppression and repression, we cannot but resolve those problems for all. Trickle UP actually works. It only makes sense. That, I suppose, is the more selfish reason for supporting Idle No More, Sisters In Spirit, the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, Chief Theresa Spence, the National Aboriginal Women’s Association and many other FN organizational and community actions. For my own children and grandchildren, and yours. I think that’s ok. Doing the right thing has those kinds of benefits.

We must also listen to those many Indigenous people who live on unceded land in Canada – those with whom the state has never negotiated treaties and whose attempts to claim their land through legal processes are backed up in the courts and dealt with unjustly.
As a white settler woman, I still have a lot to learn. I’ve made mistakes in the ways I’ve tried to be an ally and a supporter and I’m sure to make them again. But as a friend said last night, “Better to risk a flawed activism than to maintain a perfect inactivism.” I’m doing my best and that’s what we all have to do. If we want a future in this country, in relationship with those nations who lived here first, on Turtle Island, we have to do it now. That’s what I think.



Uh, hello Dick Pound?  Is there an operational brain working in your head?  I missed Pound’s comment during the Beijing Olympics in which he compared China’s 5,000 year old civilization to Canada’s nation of “savages” a mere 400 years ago.  I missed it because it seems it received coverage only in Montreal’s francophone La Presse and there doesn’t seem to have been any follow-up till now.

Mr. Pound has held posts at the IOC on the international stage for a good many years and is now the Chancellor of McGill University.  He should know better.  And it pisses me off no end that he thinks the problem is simply a matter of political correctness.  No Mr. Pound, it’s an issue of human decency; of extending to Aboriginal Canadians the respect they are due.  A man who has missed the moments in our history when some Canadians have begun to understand the gross indecency, genocide, ethnic cleansing and resulting discrimination and desecration of First Nations perpetrated by white Europeans ought not to hold his position.  I can’t imagine a context in which his comments either make any sense at all, or are acceptable.

Apologize publicly, Mr. Pound, and resign as Chancellor.  Take your brainless head and bury it back in he sand.

Here’s the story from The Globe and Mail:

An aboriginal rights group has reported former International Olympic Committee vice-president Dick Pound to the IOC’s ethics committee, accusing him of making racist and intolerant comments about Canada’s native peoples and demanding that he be denounced ahead of the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

André Dudemaine, director of LandInSights, a Quebec-based aboriginal advocacy group, said Mr. Pound made comments in an interview with Montreal’s La Presse newspaper in August, in which he called 17th-century Canada “a land of savages.” The comments were discriminatory and contrary to the IOC code of ethics, Mr. Dudemaine said.

Mr. Pound, speaking in French in a story about the Olympics published Aug. 9, was responding to a question about the potential embarrassment of holding the Games in China, where dissidents had been jailed and a Tibetan uprising crushed.

“We must not forget that 400 years ago, Canada was a land of savages, with scarcely 10,000 inhabitants of European descent, while in China, we’re talking about a 5,000-year-old civilization. We must be prudent about our great experience of three or four centuries before telling the Chinese how to manage China,” Mr. Pound told journalist Agnès Gruda.

Yesterday, Mr. Pound said he had no intention of making a racist remark, and that it could be clarified by a better understanding of the context.

“I was defending the IOC [and] its choice of Beijing against assertions by the North American media,” he said. “Yes, I’m sure that there’s probably a more politically correct way of expressing it in this day and age. But I was saying think back to what it was like 200 or 300 years ago before you start lecturing a 5,000-year-old society. It wasn’t a comment on the government of whatever the aboriginal peoples might have been. It was a comment about the U.S. in its current incarnation having a solution to everybody’s problems.”

Mr. Dudemaine said the use of the word “savages” is troubling, and that Mr. Pound’s words suggest aboriginal people had no culture or civilization, a myth thoroughly discredited by historians.

“He just hit the nail in the middle of very old prejudices that somehow are still present in Canadian society,” he said. “It is exactly this kind of statement by a very respected person that damages all of the progress we wish to make in Canada.”

Mr. Pound said a fair reading would indicate this is a manufactured controversy. He said his use of the word “savages” was a historical reference.

“That was the word used at the time in all the literature by the Jesuits who were here. They were just generally les sauvages,” he said.

Ghislain Picard, chief of the assembly of First Nations of Quebec, said he was outraged by Mr. Pound’s comments, and called on him to resign as Chancellor of McGill University.

“Mr. Pound should himself understand the immense discourtesy of his remarks and offer to resign,” the chief said.

Historical reference my ass.  Mr. Pound said nothing to indicate that he disagreed with the Jesuit assessment of First Nations.  Mr. Pound’s comments are not only racist, they’re also inaccurate.  What a Dick!

From the Globe and Mail:

Quebec is no more a racist society than other jurisdictions in the Western world, but it faces problems integrating immigrants which it will need to tackle immediately, says a report on the reasonable accommodation of the province’s minorities.

The report by sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor says there is no chaos in Quebec but rather a serious problem of perception. The academics insist that both the francophone and immigrant communities must come together in a moral contract where both have a responsibility in ensuring social harmony.

Jacob Levy on reasonable accomodation, also at The Globe:

Identity questions in Quebec are more sensitive than in other provinces, for two separate reasons. One is the language question. The other is the Quiet Revolution, and ongoing tensions between secular and Catholic Quebeckers about the place of religion in the public sphere.

“Multiculturalism” in particular is a dirty word in Quebec, because it’s associated with Trudeau-era views that seemed to reduce French Quebec (and First Nations, too) to the status of just another cultural group like any recent immigrant group. So there’s also a hostility to anything called multiculturalism, but that’s about words, not policies.

The commission report basically sidesteps questions of language. It says, rightly, that French isn’t endangered in Quebec anymore, that whatever happens with immigrant accommodation and religious accommodation is going to happen against the background of a French public language and public culture. But it also stresses, rightly, that questions of bilingualism and the status of the English minority in the province are quite distinct questions from those of immigrant communities and religious minorities. I think it accepts as a background assumption that French will receive its special status and special protection in Quebec.

Poverty and (ill)Health

PBS recently aired a documentary by Larry Adelman, Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick:

What connections exist between healthy bodies, healthy bank accounts, and skin color? Four individuals from different walks of life demonstrate how one’s position in society – shaped by social policies and public priorities – affects health. 

“In Sickness and In Wealth” travels to Louisville, Kentucky, not to examine health care but to discover what makes us sick in the first place. The lives of a CEO, lab supervisor, janitor and unemployed mother illustrate how social class shapes access to power, resources and opportunity, resulting in a health-wealth gradient. On average, people at the top live longer, healthier lives. Those at the bottom are more disempowered, get sicker more often and die sooner. Most of us fall somewhere in between. 

Louisville Metro maps reveal 5- and 10-year gaps in life expectancy between the city’s rich, middle- and working-class neighborhoods. Experiments with monkeys and humans shed light on chronic stress as one culprit. 

We also see how racial inequality imposes an additional risk burden on people of color. Solutions being pursued in Louisville and elsewhere focus not on more pills but on more equitable social policies.

unnatural causes.org sells the DVD as well as running a series of events in the US and offering companion tools to the series/DVD

Gary Bloch, a Canadian physician:

It is time to open a new front in the war on poverty.

The Canadian health-care system has devoted sizable energy and resources to reducing risks to our health over the past couple of decades. This effort has included large campaigns targeted at smoking, obesity and exercise.

Amazingly, we have largely ignored the one risk that surpasses all of these in its potential to cause ill health and its cost to our health system – poverty.

As a family physician, I see the health effects of poverty on a daily basis. One of my patients, “Sally,” is a 37-year-old single woman working at a full-time minimum wage job in Toronto that provides her with $1,280 a month (and no benefits), $450 below the Statistics Canada poverty line.

She is currently healthy, but studies have shown that her poverty places her at a 300 per cent higher risk of developing diabetes and a 200 per cent higher risk of having a major episode of depression. Her risk of developing heart disease is about the same as if she had high blood pressure or was a smoker (both conditions into which we have pumped millions of health-care dollars for prevention). Her life expectancy is 1  1/2 years shorter, and her risk of dying from a chronic disease is 16 per cent higher per year than the average Canadian.

These are the kinds of numbers that usually make doctors, nurses, public health planners and health ministers jump into action. But we typically see poverty as a moral and political issue, not as a health risk.

While moral and political issues are easily dismissed as partisan and only of benefit to “special interest groups,” health is seen as a universal right and a fundamental social responsibility, worthy of significant social expenditure. The shift from a moral to a health perspective has taken place with smoking and is in the process with obesity. The next great preventive health frontier needs to be poverty.  TheStar.com

See also CIHR:

Life expectancy and the burden of disease for Aboriginal Canadians differs from other Canadians. From the data that are available we know the following:

  • In 2000, First Nations males had a life expectancy of 68.9 years compared to 76.6 years for females. In comparison, non-Aboriginal Canadians’ life expectancies in 2001 were longer by 8.1 years for males and 5.5 years for females.*
  • The infant mortality rate among First Nations in 2000 was 6.4 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to the Canadian infant mortality rate of 5.5.*
  • The tuberculosis rate among First Nations people is 6.2 times higher than in the general population. *
  • Diabetes is 2.7 times more prevalent among First Nations than in the general population.*
  • First Nations peoples on reserves have reported rates of heart diseases 16% higher than the general population.