Friday, January 04, 2013 10:47 AM
Idle No More flash mob and stick game/bone game at Park Royal in West Vancouver on December 23, photo by Mique’l Icesis Dangeli.
This article originally appeared on the
During last summer's heat wave, a big delivery truck pulled up in front of the construction site across the street from my house. It stood idling for at least 15 minutes before I ventured outside and headed over to the cab where the driver and his friend were playing their music very loud. “Can you please turn off your engine?” I asked politely when they finally rolled down the window. “There’s a law against idling in Vancouver.” The driver’s anger shot up. “There’s a law against everything in Vancouver!” he retorted. Obviously, he had to drive a long way to deliver his load and it hadn’t been a good day. I chose my words carefully. “They’ve decided to ask people not to idle because of climate change. You know, leaving a better world for our grandchildren.” The look on his face could have sunk a ship. No one had spoken to this guy about his grandchildren, at least not recently. He turned off his motor. I said thank you and walked away.
Celia Brauer is a writer and
visual artist working in Vancouver and the cofounder of the False Creek Watershed Society.
Photos by Mique’l Icesis Dangeli, who is from the Tsimshian First Nations and a
PhD candidate at UBC.
The First Nations concept of seven generations—of leaving the world as good, or better, than you found it for the children to come—is an old one. It was well entrenched in their society when Frenchman Jacques Cartier landed in what is now Quebec in 1535. It’s been almost five centuries since then and now over 30 million people live in Kanata—a Huron-Iroquois word for “village”. While on the surface Canada looks like a successful First World nation, underneath this veneer there are many inconvenient truths. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin didn’t mince words when he said, “We have never admitted to ourselves that we were, and still are, a colonial power.” In a recent interview, Martin also made the point that, as Postmedia News puts it, “Canada is starving its First Nations of the funding they need for proper health care and education and, even today, is fixated on assimilating aboriginals into a culture that is not theirs.” He also argued that the “Harper government is making serious mistakes by scaling back environmental protection,” according to that article.
The colonial world view that landed on Canada’s shore centuries ago has been highly destructive for both the natural environment and the resident First Nations, who had lived in a remarkably sustainable fashion up to that time. The predominant view that “man is the center of the world”, which replaced this, has since then recklessly clear-cut much of the natural capital endowment—forests, coal, oil and gas, minerals, fish, and countless other animal species. It has fouled air, water, and soil, and these destructive forces show no signs of slowing down. After the First Nations offered knowledge to the original settlers so they could survive on the land, the dominant classes in the new settler society, who profited from the exploitation of these resources, proceeded to marginalize and assimilate these indigenous people and blot out their rich and valuable culture. And, as Cree singer Buffy Sainte-Marie says, “it’s still going on here today”. The recent passing of Bill C-45 by the Conservative government of Canada, which is seen as further eroding First Nations rights, is just the latest insult in a long line of ill-considered and unconscionable enactments.
The label “Idle No More” describes a grassroots movement which has risen up in the past few weeks. It has been supported by thousands of First Nations people, along with many of their fellow Canadians, to protest present-day government policies. They will no longer stand idly by as everything that they believe in is once again threatened. Enough is enough! At the same time, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has been on a hunger strike since December 11 to call attention to her people’s issues, and mainstream media has taken a long time to respond positively to her actions.
Idle No More protesters are also very concerned with the recent, outrageous gutting of environmental protection. First, the omnibus Bill C-38 passed in June and, among other things, weakened the power of the Canadian Fisheries Act, a 144-year-old piece of legislation designed to protect fish habitat. This bill also vastly diminished the powers of environmental protection and assessment which have been slowly building since Confederation. The federal government then cut staff at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. With the passing of Bill C-45 in December, the 130-year-old Navigable Waters Protection Act that protects the majority of Canada’s water systems has been shrunk to a shadow of its former self. And at the same time Canada now has the dubious honour of being the first country in the world to withdraw from the 1997 Kyoto Accord on climate change.
After Bills C-38 and C-45 passed in Parliament, many Canadians continued on with their regular lives. But others, especially First Nations people, took notice that these bills intend on further degrading the foundation of environmental stewardship and indigenous rights in this country. The present-day government of Canada is acting as if the existing laws which provide protection for the rights of fish, water, and First Nations are completely expendable. That is because these safeguards get in the way of their obsession with continued “economic” growth—essentially the further destruction of more of our natural capital endowment for the sake of short-term, present-day financial gains.
The Harper government’s official response to Idle No More and Chief Spence’s hunger strike has been that they are already working to address aboriginal concerns. Julie Vaux, a spokesperson for Harper, cited the “historic gathering of the Crown and First Nations this past January”. She added, “Since then, the government has been working with First Nations leadership to make progress in several areas, most notably education and infrastructure on reserve.”
But what kind of “progress” have they achieved if Bill C-45 is universally seen by First Nations as further degrading their rights? This strongly suggests that the underlying intention of this government is to continue as a “colonial power”. It appears they want to keep pacifying and marginalizing aboriginal people so they will not get in the way of continued resource development. But not all Canadians support this “industrial economic growth at all costs” objective. Watch these protests grow bigger and stronger as more people recognize the unfairness and absurdity of what the government is attempting to achieve.
The word “idle” is a fitting label for the outrage that spawned this movement. In “fossil fuel-speak”, idling represents everything that is obscene about humankind’s historically voracious and presently expanding fossil fuel consumption. Idling is sitting in a vehicle running your engine because you need your air conditioning in summer, heat in winter, or you’re just too lazy to turn it off regardless of how much it poisons the air. Too many people still drive their cars thoughtlessly and consume as if they are modern day “emperors”—as Andrew Nikiforuk describes them in his new book about the tragedy of excess fossil fuel consumption, The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. We are using up as much energy to support our shopping addictions or getting in our car and fetching takeout for dinner as historical monarchs did with the muscle power of a host of slaves.
The Conservative government’s continued undying support for fossil fuel production and the expansion of its gargantuan and intrusive infrastructure is killing our beautiful planet and ruining it for future generations. But this is the primary force that drives them—their belief in an outdated model for a human economy which they think Canadians need and want. Paul Martin envisions an alternate route. He says: “The first thing that we have to do is put a price on carbon. Because that’s a real cost and it has to be involved in every aspect of public policy, certainly every decision a government or the private sector takes.”
Thank you, First Nations of Canada for gathering to rise up against evil forces of relentless industrial expansion. Thank you for inviting us to your peaceful protests where there are friendly people singing, drumming, and dancing and sharing wise words. Thank you for showing us, as you have so many times in the past, what community and environmental stewardship looks like. We’re supporting you all the way!
Friday, November 02, 2012 11:15 AM
Every day, new books arrive in the offices of Utne Reader. It would be impossible to review all of them, but a shame to leave many hidden on the shelves. In "Bookmarked," we link to excerpts from some of our favorites, hoping they'll inspire a trip to your local library or bookstore. Enjoy!
Arctic Alaska has quickly become the most contested land in recent U.S. history. It’s home to vast natural resources and a precariously balanced—and highly threatened—ecosystem. In this excerpt from the collection Arctic Voices (Seven Stories Press, 2012), writer Nancy Lord gives an account of a gathering of Yup’ik Elders facing the troubles of thinning ice in the Bering Sea.
In the late 1970s, the residents of St. Louis, Michigan, found their community in the middle of a Superfund site—an area of land and water deeply contaminated by Velsicol (formerly Michigan) Chemical. Years later, with the cleanup largely failing, a citizen taskforce took on responsibilities of rebuilding. In Civic Empowerment in an Age of Corporate Greed (Michigan State University Press, 2012), professor Edward C. Lorenz evaluates several case studies in community development—perhaps the solution to rising, damaging corporate irresponsibility. In this excerpt from the book's introduction, Lorenz begins the argument that communities are the agents of civic reform.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 5:07 PM
Wouldn’t you be offended if your cultural heritage was immortalized in underwear? This fall, the Navajo Nation sent retailer Urban Outfitters a cease and desist letter, forcing them to rename more than 20 products the tribe found objectionable, including the “Navajo Hipster Panty” and “Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask,” reports Lisa Hix in Collectors Weekly.
The Navajo Nation holds trademarks for the name “Navajo,” preventing it being used to sell things like mass-produced hoodies and knee socks. And, the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 makes it illegal to falsely market a product as Native American–made. Even so, more and more Native American–inspired fashions are gracing metropolitan runways and glossy magazine pages. From hipster cardigans to luxe handbags to leather bracelets, designs cribbed from America’s indigenous people are making the rounds.
Hix spoke with Jessica R. Metcalfe, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa and professor at Arizona State University who blogs at Beyond Buckskin about non–Native Americans producing “native” fashions:
The problem is that they’re putting it out there as “This is the native,” or “This is native-inspired.” So now you have non-native people representing us in mainstream culture. That, of course, gets tiring, because this has been happening since the good old days of the Hollywood Western in the 1930s and ’40s, where they hired non-native actors and dressed them up essentially in redface. The issue now is not only who gets to represent Native Americans, but also who gets to profit.
For some, the biggest offender is Pendleton Woolen Mill, a company founded on producing Indian trade blankets and robes in 1863 and who is famously pro–Native American. Recently the company expanded to produce high-end coats, bags, and other products. While the designs used on Pendleton products are original to the company and not traditional tribal motifs, the fact that they are profiting from sales of $500 sweaters featuring native-inspired designs can feel like a betrayal.
“Seeing hipsters march down the street in Pendleton clothes, seeing these bloggers ooh and ahh over how ‘cute’ these designs are, and seeing non-Native models all wrapped up in Pendleton blankets makes me upset,” Cherokee writer and Ph.D. candidate Adrienne K., who blogs at Native Appropriations, tells Hix.
It’s a complicated feeling, because I feel ownership over these designs as a Native person, but on a rational level I realize that they aren’t necessarily ours to claim. To me, it just feels like one more thing non-Natives can take from us—like our land, our moccasins, our headdresses, our beading, our religions, our names, our cultures weren’t enough? You gotta go and take Pendleton designs, too?
Read the full article “Why the ‘Native’ Fashion Trend Is Pissing Off Real Native Americans” online and see more striking examples of Native Americans’ fashion influence, past and present.
Source: Collectors Weekly
Images: Detail from Pendleton nine-element robe, first introduced as an Indian trade blanket in the 1920s, from Language of the Robe by Rain Parrish (top); Urban Outfitters “Navajo Hipster Panty” (middle); Pendleton Toboggan fashion shot (bottom).
Friday, October 29, 2010 1:45 PM
Poll-based predictions are flying as Election Day approaches, Mark Trahant writes at the rural-news blog the Daily Yonder:
But here is one prediction you won’t read in the press: Not a single poll will capture what’s going on with Indian Country voters during this election cycle. The science of polling doesn’t work very well with small population groups living in rural or isolated locations.
That’s too bad because it would be interesting and useful to know what’s in the mind of American Indian and Alaska Native voters this cycle.
Trahant zeroes in on two places where the Indian and Native vote is newsworthy.
In Alaska’s Senate race, he writes, “The only way that Lisa Murkowski returns to that office is if Alaska Native voters turn out in large numbers and write her name on the ballot.”
And in South Dakota, Democratic-sponsored reservation voter rallies that feature food have attracted suggestions from some Republicans that they are a food-for-votes scheme. Write Trahant:
I can’t tell you how much food I’ve eaten at voter events over the years—sponsored by both parties. This is a silly issue.
But I know the real fear: It’s fry bread power. A piece of bread in the hands of a voter could make a real difference.
Native blogger Ajijaakwe goes into much greater detail about the South Dakota food-and-voting controversy at Daily Kos.
Source: Daily Yonder, Daily Kos
Image by James Durkee, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:42 PM
Many American Indian tribes across the nation hold powwows that are basically megaconcerts, with tickets sold to the nontribal general public. Visitors often come away from these events thinking that they’ve gotten an authentic glimpse into Indian traditions and spirituality, a perception fueled by some tribes’ marketing. “It is truly an honor to attend a powwow,” states the web page of the Northern Colorado Intertribal Pow-wow Association Inc.—an honor, incidentally, that’s available to anyone with ticket money.
But what exactly is a powwow, and what are its ties to Indian tradition? Ojibwe historian Anton Treuer sets the record straight in the book Ojibwe in Minnesota, which was recently published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press:
Powwow itself is new. It did not exist seventy years ago. It is a pan-Indian combination of Omaha grass dance ceremonies, Dakota war dances, Ojibwe dreams about the jingle dress, and rodeo customs, where dancers who used to parade into army forts in tribal war regalia now parade into the powwow arena in dance regalia for grand entry. There are many types of powwows. But [many powwows] involve singers and dancers competing for money. Participants’ abilities to sing and dance are highly valued, supplanting older cultural ideals of community cohesion, inclusiveness, and respectful generosity. The modern powwow is a welcome, healthy gathering of people from many communities. It is a joyous social event and source of community pride. But it is not a substitute for traditional Ojibwe religion or ways of life.
Treuer points out that powwows have become big business. Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota spends more than $100,000 for prize money on its Labor Day powwow alone, not to mention the many smaller powwows it presents:
The powwow budget for Leech Lake completely eclipses tribal expenditures on traditional culture and Ojibwe language revitalization. Tribes and tribal people are agents of their own cultural change.
So remember that if you attend a large commercial powwow, you are more likely watching a sort of American Indian Idol than a sacred and ancient ceremony. It may be fun, and entertaining, and spectacular, but it’s probably no more traditional than the fry bread they’re selling at the food stands.
Because Minnesota has been at the epicenter of many Indian sovereignty, treaty rights, and social justice issues, Treuer’s book is essential reading for anyone interested in Indian history. From the fur trade and Ojibwe-Dakota relations right up through ugly public skirmishes over spearfishing and casinos, Ojibwe in Minnesota is a clear, candid, and authoritative overview of a people whose epic history is still unfolding.
Source: Ojibwe in Minnesota
Image by Nic's events, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009 4:25 PM
What does the American Indian community have to say about the deaths of three spiritual seekers at a sweat-lodge ceremony in Arizona? That’s a ridiculous question to ask, of course: There is no central “Indian community,” nor is there a great chief who speaks for everyone with indigenous blood. With that in mind, we hit the web to survey reactions to the tragedy from various voices across the native world. Here are some of them:
Lakota spiritual leader Chief Arvol Looking Horse in News from Indian Country:
My prayers go out for [the victims’] families and loved ones for their loss. . . . I would like to clarify that this lodge and many others, are not our ceremonial way of life, because of the way they are being conducted. . . . We deal with the pure sincere energy to create healing that comes from everyone in that circle of ceremony. The heart and mind must be connected. When you involve money, it changes the energy of healing.
Tim Giago in Native American Times:
I am not going to dance around the consequences of [lodge organizer] James Arthur Ray’s stupidity because he was blatantly using a religious ceremony of the Native Americans to enrich himself, and what is worse, he didn’t know any of the sacred rites that accompany the inipi nor did he know the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota language, an intricate part of the ceremony.
Many Lakota are concerned about the deaths attributable to a botched sweat lodge ceremony. They have a lot more than this to worry about.
I look around Indian Country and I see the devastation and degradation, the hopelessness, the alcoholism, the drug addiction, the lack of respect for the elders, the many suicides among the young, the criminal acts of the gangs that now roam our reservations . . . the domestic violence, the abuse of children and spouses, and the total renunciation of any spirituality, and I am deeply concerned. . . .
Arvol, why are the sacred rites you represent not being used to bring our own people back from the brink? Why aren’t they being used to bring back the good health our people once enjoyed?
Valerie Taliman in Indian Country Today:
Selling the sacred has been around for a long time, and Ray is just the latest to capitalize on it. Native healers and spiritual leaders have been speaking out for decades about the abuse of sacred ceremonies, and continue to oppose the appropriation and exploitation of sacred ceremonies.
Back in 1992, Indian author Sherman Alexie criticized the appropriation of native ceremonies by new-age white men in a witty, sharp-tongued New York Times Magazine essay, “White Men Can’t Drum.” Given this history, and Alexie’s general eagerness to make fun of white guys playing Indian, I wondered if Alexie had weighed in on the sweat-lodge hubbub—and while it doesn’t appear that he has, a 2000 interview with Iowa Review makes me think that he’ll probably go against his nature and hold his tongue on this one. It seems that some things are too sacred to share, even for Alexie:
You often say during readings and talks that you want to honor your culture's privacy, and yet your work is so public. It seems like you protect it and expose it at the same time. There’s a tension created.
Yes, of course there is. One of the ways I’ve dealt with it is that I don’t write about anything sacred. I don’t write about any ceremonies; I don’t use any Indian songs.
How do you draw the line as to what is off limits?
My tribe drew that line for me a long time ago. It’s not written down, but I know it. If you’re Catholic you wouldn’t tell anybody about the confessional. I feel a heavy personal responsibility, and I accept it, and I honor it. It’s part of the beauty of my culture. . . . I’ve censored myself. I’ve written things that I have since known to be wrong. . . . I’ve written about cultural events inappropriately.
How did you know?
The people involved told me. . . . There are Indian writers who write about things they aren’t supposed to. They know. They’ll pay for it. I’m a firm believer in what people call ‘karma.’ Even some of the writing I really admire, like Leslie Silko’s Ceremony, steps on all sorts of sacred toes. I wouldn’t go near that kind of writing. I’d be afraid of the repercussions. I write about a drunk in a bar, or a guy who plays basketball.
Sources: News from Indian Country, Native American Times, Indian Country Today, Iowa Review
Image by Smoobs, licensed under Creative Commons.
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