A long and important history precedes Confederation

Re: “‘150 for Whom?’ tackles anti-racism on Canada’s sesquicentennial”

A long and important history precedes Confederation

Even months after Canada’s 150th birthday, it is vital for us, as Canadians, to ask ourselves what exactly we celebrated and whom we silenced in the process. The symposium held at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education earlier this month, titled “150 for Whom, Canada? Colonialism and Indigeneity across Lands,” shone a light on the stories of the Indigenous peoples that have occupied land in Canada for thousands of years, stories that are far too often left unheard.

For me, Canada 150 brings mixed emotions. As the child of immigrants, I am thankful to have been brought up in a country that allows me to pursue many more opportunities than I would otherwise have been able to access. But I am also acutely aware of the fact that I am living an incredibly privileged life on land that was violently stolen from others. Canada has been built upon the bodies of Indigenous people, and this is something that should never be forgotten.

There is not enough being done to educate students about the Indigenous history of this country, especially in Ontario. I grew up in Manitoba, which has a much larger Indigenous population, and there was more of an emphasis in schools to teach students about the atrocities of colonialism and the legacy of residential schools — albeit still not to the extent that these lessons should be taught. In the era of missing and murdered Indigenous women, more work is needed to educate Canadians about ongoing colonial violence affecting Indigenous people today, and to urge us not to misconstrue Canadian history as something that started a mere 150 years ago.

 

Yasaman Mohaddes is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science and Sociology.

Op-ed: Reconciliation at Massey College

An Indigenous Junior Fellow shares her story

Op-ed: Reconciliation at Massey College

A few years ago I was approached by a lovely, incredibly talented graduate student through my role on the Native Students Association (NSA) here at the University of Toronto. We were walking through Queen’s Park on a brisk fall afternoon after a class we shared that combined undergrads and grads. I was the infectiously optimistic undergrad who had big dreams and a million projects on the go to work towards positive changes for First Nations in Canada — notably, our youth. As a mature student, I was elated at the countless possibilities for collaborations, projects, student groups, and jobs available within the university community. My plan was to try to advocate my cause in as many forums as possible.

As we swayed through the park with no urgency or regard for time, the student told me about the Walter Gordon Symposium being organized at Massey College. The theme was reconciliation through policy with respect to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action. The committee wanted to consult with Indigenous student groups on campus and have members join them in their work. Though I had never been to Massey College, I agreed to go meet the committee and hear more about the project.

Once I got past the gatekeeper, I was mesmerized by the land and space hidden behind the outer walls. A quaint water bed lay still collecting Mother Nature’s brightly hued leaves, benches lined the courtyard yearning for company, and best of all, I was warmly greeted by the few faces I saw. ‘Not bad at all,’ I thought to myself when I approached this tiny doorway in the left corner that led me into what they called the round room. The room was impressive. The walls echoed with secrets that whispered softly. I could feel the presence of some very interesting stories being told here. I looked around and found the smiling face of my friend, who eagerly invited me to sit next to her.

It was here in this fateful moment that I was introduced to Massey College. From that day, I have built meaningful relationships with some of the kindest, smartest, and warmest group of students — Junior Fellows — I have met so far. Through my collaboration on the symposium, I learned more about this community.

The committee, and notably, their fiercely organized and extremely dedicated Chair, delivered a great symposium filled with meaningful and engaging topics, which gave birth to new ideas and the urgency for change and action on this idea of reconciliation. This word has been used loosely since the TRC, but here, I felt it was dissected and given context; more importantly, feasible steps and actions were discussed in order to begin the process.

The best part of this process was the ability to work with a man that I highly respect due to the outstanding changes he is a part of within our First Nations in Ontario: the Regional Chief Isadore Day. The symposium began with an address from Day that took place in the upper library at Massey College, and was loaded with facts about the Treaties with First Nations and its very complex history, along with some contemporary examples of where we are today. The room was filled to the brim, every chair was occupied, and the walls were lined with an attentive audience. At the end of the symposium, I left feeling very hopeful that the audience was inspired to take action and gained a greater understanding of the complex issues facing First Nations in Canada.

After some time had passed, my new friends had approached me to apply to become a Junior Fellow. I was invited to meet the Dean and Head of Massey Hugh Segal for lunch. During lunch, they warmly welcomed me to join the community, approaching me with humility and honesty. These attributes deeply affect me as an Indigenous woman because they are embodied in the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers and a foundation for the governance of the NSA. That lunch was key to my engagement in the college’s community.

I have witnessed and participated in the diversity of Massey College through orientation events, high tables, low tables, lunches, and of course meaningful conversations. I am now a second-year Junior Fellow, and though my experience at Massey has been very pleasant, this is only one story — a story from a student who has faced tremendous adversity at an institution that has caused my family great pain.

My mother is a residential school survivor. When we speak of her experience, she always tells that the Creator has a plan for us all: through the dark times there is always light and a purpose. I am still avidly working on my purpose, and I face challenges and barriers daily. When I feel lost, my mother tells me a story and my Elders tell me stories; through that gift, I wanted to share mine with you.

What happened to the Junior Fellow who experienced racism at the College recently is terribly sad and incredibly painful. I still bear the scars of inappropriate remarks and outright hateful speech. I know how damaging it can be. We are a community, and that community has the responsibility to create safe and inviting spaces for all. Moving forward, I hope that my story is mirrored by new faces and of course encouraged by the Senior Fellows. Miigwech — until next time.

 

Audrey Rochette is a second-year Junior Fellow at Massey College. She is the Crane and Governance Leader of the Native Students Association.

Why is Students in Support of Free Speech defending the Proud Boys?

While the group purports to be in favour of protecting free speech for all, recent events demonstrate they are only concerned with doing so for certain people

Why is Students in Support of Free Speech defending the Proud Boys?

Picture this: a group of people have come together to organize a demonstration. They are interrupted by a second group of people, who try to stop them because they feel that the demonstration is offensive to their beliefs. In this situation, you’d think that a group like Students in Support of Free Speech (SSFS) — who claim, according to their website, to support “every person’s right to free speech” — would jump to the defence of the individuals whose right to protest was being threatened.

SSFS is a “non-partisan” group that wishes to uphold “personal freedom of expression, conscience, and belief,” and “political freedom in expressing beliefs, opinions, and viewpoints.” Their mantra was put to the test when SSFS found themselves in a controversy relating to an incident in Halifax that occurred earlier this month.

On July 1, a group of Indigenous activists held a mourning ceremony in front of a statue of Edward Cornwallis, the founder of the city of Halifax. The Indigenous group staged a protest in reference to Cornwallis’ unrestrained violence and persecution of the Mi’kmaq people. During one part of the ceremony, dozens of people gathered around the statue to watch Chief Grizzly Mamma shave her head in an act of mourning — an especially symbolic act as Cornwallis infamously issued a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps.

As this happened, however, a group of five men approached the group with the intention to disrupt or interrupt the ceremony. The so-called “Halifax Five” identified themselves as members of the Maritime Chapter of the Proud Boys, a far-right group founded by Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice Media. The group identifies themselves as a “pro-Western fraternal organization” for men who “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” They hold that “The West is the Best” and oppose feminism.

McInnes himself is no role model; one of his claims to fame is an extremely offensive video rant published in March of 2017, in which he stated he was “becoming anti-Semitic.” This video was praised by white supremacists like David Duke and Richard Spencer.

Not only was the Halifax Five incident horribly disappointing in light of Canada’s colonial past, it also meant drawing a great deal of attention away from what the activists were actually trying to say. Canadians need to learn how to acknowledge the violent colonial actions of well-respected figures like Cornwallis, but instead of opening up a dialogue about Halifax’s past and Cornwallis’ actions, media attention on the Proud Boys and the fallout from the incident drew the public’s eyes away from the purpose of the ceremony itself.

The exact nature of what the Halifax Five did and said isn’t precisely clear. Some reports characterized their actions as a disruption of the Indigenous protest, while others, including SSFS, seemed to say that the news reports were skewed with left-leaning bias. Perhaps the Proud Boys perceive criticism of Cornwallis and the actions undertaken against Indigenous people under colonial rule to be offensive to their belief that “The West is the Best.” Had the Halifax Five held some type of pro-Cornwallis demonstration the next day, or even restricted their disagreement to the internet or to a different place away from the ceremony, this would be a different conversation. It is clear, however, that the Proud Boys sought to at the very least interrupt the ceremony by singing, waving a flag, and ultimately making a scene that disrupted the proceedings.  

In light of this, one could argue that the actions of the Proud Boys ought to at least trigger conversations about the rights of the Indigenous group to protest peacefully and express their views freely. Accordingly, you might expect that SSFS would decry the attempt of the Proud Boys to try to suppress the free expression of the Indigenous protesters — but the exact opposite happened. On July 15, SSFS took the side of the Halifax Five and organized a rally in their support at Queen’s Park.  

SSFS might argue that they only intended to express support for the right of the Proud Boys and the Halifax Five to organize peacefully. This is indeed what the rally itself seemed to be about, and would certainly align with SSFS’s stated philosophy. According to SSFS member and rally organizer Simon Capobianco, “The major purpose [of the rally] was… to defend the Constitutional rights of the Halifax five… One of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the charter is the right to freedom of assembly, and… [the military members] were in a public space, they were assembling peacefully.”

However, this seemingly noble purpose is misguided, and potentially reveals the true motivations behind the actions the group has taken in favour of free speech. Capobianco’s statement is somewhat confusing, considering that you could very easily say the same of the Indigenous activists — they were also assembling peacefully, and were well within their right to do so. In the past, SSFS has even decried interruptions of their own proceedings, such as when the Toronto Action Forum, an event co-hosted on campus by SSFS and Generation Screwed on February 4, was interrupted and ultimately halted by protestsWhy would they jump to defend the disruption posed by the Proud Boys, but condemn the protests in response to their own events?

It should also be noted that while there was thankfully no violence as a result of the confrontation between the Halifax Five and the Indigenous activists, back in April, the Proud Boys announced the formation of a “military division” to be headed by Kyle Chapman, who had been released from jail the previous month on suspicion of a felony assault with a deadly weapon.

What makes things worse is the fact that much of the focus of this rally has been on the presence of white supremacist Paul Fromm and SSFS’s ever-shifting explanations and apologies for his presence. Though SSFS’s claim to fame is supporting free expression regardless of the content of the messages, in this case, they appeared to waver in their stance. First, they made a statement on Facebook claiming that they did not know what Fromm looked like and hadn’t been aware that he was attending the rally. The statement was later deleted from their Facebook page, and replaced with a YouTube apology, after receiving numerous negative comments from skeptics.  

Let’s give SSFS the benefit of the doubt and say that they really didn’t know Fromm was there, or at least that they did not intend for him to be there and do not in any way endorse his views. At the least, the fact that SSFS jumped to backtrack when faced with a real-life white supremacist demonstrates some serious inconsistencies in their logic. In their initial post, SSFS stated that “if we had been aware of Paul Fromm’s identity and affiliations at the time of the rally… we would have prevented him from using our megaphone.”

This particular statement seems at odds with the group’s alleged commitment to the importance of free and unbridled speech, regardless of the nature of the messages — does this mean that SSFS is recognizing the danger of giving a platform to white supremacists and other hateful people and groups?

If you’re keeping score, here’s the deal: Indigenous activists chose to exercise their freedom of speech and assembly to protest a statue of a man who ordered many acts of violence to be committed against the Mi’kmaq people after founding a city on territory that hadn’t been ceded. They held a protest and a mourning ceremony for Indigenous people who had been hurt or killed. The activists were interrupted by five men connected to a “pro-Western” chauvinist group with a paramilitary branch founded by a far-right, possible anti-Semite. Finally, SSFS, a “non-partisan” student group, decided to hold a rally supporting those five men in their brave quest to interrupt an Indigenous ceremony — and a notorious white supremacist just happened to show up and speak. SSFS then apologized for his presence.

What’s perhaps most ironic about this whole thing was that, in the apology video, SSFS president Marilyn Jang also apologized for holding the rally at the 48th Highlanders of Canada Regimental Memorial, saying it was “an extremely unthoughtful choice of venue for any rally… Memorials should solely be seen as a symbol of remembrance and a way to honour the fallen.” I agree: it seems like memorials and memorial ceremonies are inappropriate places to espouse political ideologies. Surely this logic should also apply to the activists memorializing fallen Indigenous folks as well?

SSFS has always argued that their only goal is to support freedom of speech, regardless of political affiliation. But this incident seems to prove that the group is cherry-picking whose rights to support — and that everyone else needs to step back and, well, be quiet.

Adina Heisler is an incoming third-year student at University College, studying Women and Gender Studies and English.

An “appropriation prize” is an insult to Indigenous writers

What happened with Write magazine should prompt media outlets to prioritize Indigenous peoples in their coverage

An “appropriation prize” is an insult to Indigenous writers

The spring issue of Write, a literary magazine published by the Writer’s Union of Canada, was supposed to celebrate works by Indigenous writers. However, as is often the case when Indigenous writing is published, a media firestorm quickly redirected the public’s attention elsewhere.

Editor-in-Chief Hal Niedzviecki came under fire for his editorial in the magazine, where he wrote that he does not believe in cultural appropriation and that “anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities.” Consequently, Indigenous writers featured in the magazine expressed their deep disappointment that such a piece was featured in an issue intended to celebrate their communities’ works. Niedzviecki has since apologized and resigned from his post, calling his lack of foresight “tone-deaf.”

The negative attention Niedzviecki received then prompted some of the biggest names in Canada to jump to his defence. Prominent editors and writers at the largest media organizations in Canada eagerly voiced their support for the hypothetical “appropriation prize” that Niedzviecki suggested be awarded to authors who write about peoples with whom they have nothing in common. A pot of money jokingly pledged to the cause even emerged on Twitter.

The Niedzviecki case and the subsequent media support in his favour are telling reminders that there is sore disregard for Indigenous perspectives in Canadian media, and that the industry must make more room for Indigenous peoples to tell their own stories.

Niedzviecki apparently intended to argue that Indigenous peoples, continually suffering the effects of cultural genocide, are rediscovering their voice by writing narratives outside their own cultures. Statements in his piece seem to align with this position: Niedzviecki mentions the importance of finding the “right measures of respect, learning, and true telling,” and that “if we steal stories or phone in a bunch of stereotypes, readers will know.”

Yet opening a magazine issue devoted to Indigenous writing with the line “I don’t believe in cultural appropriation” penned by its Editor-in-Chief hardly approaches the bounds of appropriate editorial decision-making.

Clarification is in order, because Niedzviecki seems to imply that protecting writers from cultural appropriation presents an obstacle to creativity within the Canadian literary community by limiting the scope of what one can write about. However, appropriation is not ‘writing what you don’t know’ — it’s taking the customs of another culture and denying their origins, profiting off them as if they were your own.

We also cannot ignore the topicality with which cultural appropriation is frequently approached in popular discussion; however nearsighted Niedzviecki was, framing his piece in terms of appropriation was unmistakably meant to stir the pot.

Niedzviecki ought to have known better. The fact that he did not is unsurprising.

In a piece for Global News, Anishinaabe artist Aylan Couchie writes of “a persistent notion that continuing to exploit Indigenous people is an inherent right.” Gimmicky replicas of traditional artefacts and tasteless Halloween costumes demonstrate the world continuing to distort Indigenous culture for profit and entertainment. And this instance is hardly the first time Indigenous perspectives have taken a back seat to provocative writing by powerful people.

[pullquote-default]An Indigenous Elder once told Anishinaabe journalist Duncan McCue that the only way an Indigenous person would be featured on the news is if they were “one of the 4Ds: drumming, dancing, drunk, or dead.”[/pullquote-default]

The Canadian media has time and time again been complicit in this process. An Indigenous Elder once told Anishinaabe journalist Duncan McCue that the only way an Indigenous person would be featured on the news is if they were “one of the 4Ds: drumming, dancing, drunk, or dead.” When Indigenous people do make headlines, writers often play on stereotypes about criminality and alcoholism, never mind that scholars have repeatedly confirmed the connection between social issues within Indigenous communities and Canada’s colonial past.

The role of culture in this process cannot be understated. For First Nations people, preserving culture can be virtually analogous with preserving Indigenous knowledge, identity, and self-determination. Social and cultural dislocation has in fact been cited as one of the causes of higher rates of self-harm and suicide among Indigenous peoples compared to the non-Indigenous population.

The media, in turn, has a vital role to play in shaping public opinion and choosing what stories are told. Wilful blindness to the potential consequences of what is published, in a context where too few Canadians know enough about our country’s colonial history, can be toxic to Indigenous communities.

Editorials like Niedzviecki’s are important to take seriously because of their potential reach. A Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) project on Ontarian media coverage of Indigenous issues revealed that editorials and opinion columns made up a substantial portion of the heightened negative coverage that occurred in response to ‘Idle No More’ protests. McCue believes that senior opinion writers in city newsrooms are influential in setting the tone when Indigenous communities are covered.

It consequently becomes difficult to stomach the idea of an “appropriation prize,” to turn a blind eye to white and well-paid media executives placing bids on what is essentially a continuation of Canada’s colonial legacy. Calling out the Canadian media on its lack of diversity is hardly an overreaction, yet few in the industry seem willing to confront the problem head-on.

Only two extensive surveys on diversity in Canadian newspapers have ever been conducted. The most recent one, in 2006, found that minorities were vastly underrepresented in newsrooms at all levels of circulation. Smaller-scale studies have since confirmed these findings, yet news outlets have not budged. In 2016, CANADALAND attempted to collect data about diversity in Canadian newspapers and was met with radio silence; with only three papers willing to contribute, the prospect of publishing systematic data was deemed a lost cause.

[pullquote-features]It is Indigenous writers who are in optimal positions to tell deeply authentic and compassionate stories about marginalization and resistance.[/pullquote-features]

Indigenous narratives in particular continue to be sorely underrepresented in Canadian media. JHR surveyed over two million stories across 171 Canadian publications from 2010–2013, finding that Indigenous stories made up a cumulative average of only 0.28 per cent.

Part of the reason for this, it appears, is that many journalists do not attempt to seek out Indigenous sources to contribute to their stories. Others, not understanding Indigenous issues, avoid the topic entirely. In turn, media executives in charge of daily news agendas hesitate to cover Indigenous issues due to a reluctance to raise the “same old stories.” That would be well and good if enough were being done to try and change the status quo — which hasn’t happened since the first European ship landed on Canadian soil.

The Canadian Journalism Project’s J-Source has also investigated this issue. Of the 125 columnists they surveyed in 2016, only 5 regional columnists were Indigenous, and there were no Indigenous columnists at the national level.  This is compared to 50 regional and 14 national columnists who identified under no equity criteria — none of whom were Indigenous people, visible minorities, women, LGBTQ persons, or persons with a disability.

Supporting Indigenous writing — as Write tried and Niedzviecki dismally failed to do — is one step toward progress. Indigenous communities have much to contribute to the Canadian media landscape, and given their lived experiences, it is Indigenous writers who are in optimal positions to tell deeply authentic and compassionate stories about marginalization and resistance.

This is not to say that white columnists can’t write about colonialism, and certainly not that Indigenous writers should be pigeonholed into doing so. But considering the scarcity of Indigenous perspectives in the mainstream media and the pressing need to cover communities’ stories in a timely and respectful manner, newspapers should try harder to make room.

Fortunately, some have got the right idea. JHR has launched a mentorship program for Indigenous journalists in Northern Ontario, as well as a scholarship and internship program to help interested Indigenous students break into the field. In 2015, the Canadian Association of Journalists awarded the Don McGillivray Award, a prestigious journalistic honour, to McCue and the rest of his team at the CBC for their coverage of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Simultaneously, progress on media diversity is painfully slow, and the appropriation prize debacle is a notable setback. Respecting Indigenous narratives, publishing Indigenous authors, and collaborating with Indigenous organizations should be top priorities, both in the broader media community and locally at The VarsityMedia outlets must make concrete commitments if they seriously intend to confront this issue. Unfortunately, it is not clear that all of them do.

U of T Truth and Reconciliation steering committee releases interim report

No formal recommendations made yet on how to implement "Calls to Action"

U of T Truth and Reconciliation steering committee releases interim report

The Steering Committee for the U of T Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its interim report on July 7.

The report states the primary work of the Committee is to “make recommendations regarding how the University community can implement the TRC Calls to Action, in alignment with the University of Toronto’s mandate and mission.”

No formal recommendations have been made yet; the report describes the committee’s work thus far, including the creation of working groups and “Indigenous-themed programs and initiatives across the University of Toronto.” These university-wide initiatives include scholarships, bursaries, and awards specifically given to Indigenous students, and bolstering the Transitional Year Programme, which aids Indigenous students in gaining access to resources at the university.

The report includes an analysis of each faculty of the university. It outlines the resources and initiatives offered in relation to Indigenous presence and understanding, specifically in the areas of recruitment and admissions, curriculum, and community outreach.

In January, the committee was tasked to deliver recommendations on how to implement the Truth and Conciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action. The committee’s mandate includes reviewing how to build a stronger Indigenous presence on all three campuses. This can be accomplished through: further admission of Indigenous students and the provision of aid for those students; the active hiring of more Indigenous employees, staff, and faculty; or the inclusion of Indigenous content in all university programs and the “enhancement of existing Indigenous-focused courses and academic programs.”

The committee’s final report is expected to provide a more specific outline of the university’s mandate in working with Indigenous partners — such as First Nations House and the Indigenous Studies program — to ensure that the university does its part in implementing recommendations that reflect the intention of the Truth and Reconciliation commission’s final report.