Black History Month: The Wandata Trial

This year for Black History Month I will be examining Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 by Constance Backhouse. Please read the preamble post if you haven’t already. Part 1 of this series is here.

It is either appalling ignorance on my part (if you wish to blame me) or abysmal historical instruction from our public school system (if you want to blame society) or both (if you want to be accurate) that made me completely unaware that, for the better part of a century, Canada outlawed aboriginal dance. I suppose it should come as no surprise that a country that would make a language illegal wouldn’t restrict that chauvinism to only one method of cultural expression, but for whatever reason I didn’t connect those two dots.

Backhouse invites us to acknowledge that dance is not simply a cultural quirk or an exotic way for aboriginal people to show off aspects of their heritage – they are an intrinsic part of how aboriginal people live their lives, participate in their history, and express their existential relationship to the land and their beliefs. Beyond that, the Grass Dance of the Dakota people was also a vital component of their economic and familial tradition and practices. Far from being an ancillary (but still important) method of artistic expression as is the European tradition, dance occupies a much more central niche in many aboriginal communities.

It is with this in the background that we turn our attention to the town of Rapid City, Manitoba in 1902, and the arrest of Wanduta, a Dakota elder (“Heyoka” is the title they used) for participating in a Grass Dance (also known as a Give-Away dance, due to the profligate exchange of gifts that occurs as part of the ceremony). The Dakota had been invited to perform their dance as part of hte Rapid City July Fair – a practice that was common. White settlers enjoyed the spectacle and exotic flavour of aboriginal dance, and paid handsomely to see it. While most dances were performed on reserves in cultural context, the Dakota outside of Rapid City were not averse to being part of the spectacle of the Fair. [Read more...]

Bravo to Canadian skeptics: Jenny is Dropped

About a week ago, I read that Jenny McCarthy, the celebrity face of the anti-vaccine movement, was going to be headlining an event called “Bust a Move” at the Ottawa Cancer centre. I was horrified, and spelled out my objections in a letter to their CEO:

Hello Ms. Eagan,

I am writing this letter to you to express my shock, disappointment, and outrage at Ottawa Cancer’s decision to host noted anti-vaccination activist and celebrity provocateur Jenny McCarthy as the face of its “Bust a Move” campaign. Ms. McCarthy’s actions over the past decade have revealed her to be deeply antipathetic to the process and institution of science – a process and institution that cancer patients and practitioners rely on for their lives and livelihoods. By inviting Ms. McCarthy, Ottawa Cancer is signaling that it either does not care about Ms. McCarthy’s anti-scientific views, or that it shares them.

One of the largest barriers cancer researchers face is the unjustified suspicion of not only cancer survivors but the general public in accepting the scientific facts about the disease. I am overjoyed that people are not simply adopting the asserted axioms of the scientific establishment without doing some research, but what Ms. McCarthy has been doing is something else entirely. She has, using her pulpit as a celebrity, been deliberately spreading misinformation to people who are vulnerable to the predations of opportunistic hucksters. Is it Ottawa Cancer’s position that this kind of fraud-by-proxy is acceptable simply because she has name recognition?

I strongly suggest you do not allow the reputation of Ottawa Cancer suffer as the result of what I can only assume to be poor staff work. Beyond the simple fact of public perception, you have a duty to ensure that patients are receiving a message that is grounded in evidence and best practices, not the pseudoscientific hunch-based beliefs of a woman who has been actively campaigning for years to undermine children’s public health programs. You should immediately announce that you have personally looked into Ms. McCarthy’s background and have made the executive decision not to associate the good name of Ottawa Cancer with her anti-science advocacy.

Do the thing that is not only right for your organization, but for the cancer survivors and families who rely on Ottawa Cancer for sound information and advice.

Skeptics across the country, buoyed by editorial pieces in MacLean’s and the Ottawa Citizen, lobbied Ottawa Cancer to drop Ms. McCarthy from the event (coining the hashtag #dropjenny).

And it worked: [Read more...]

What it means to be represented

Following up on our discussion this morning of the Canadian legal system and whether it has improved in its ability to represent the best interests of aboriginal people. I think that, considering where we have come from, the courts are doing a better job than they were. However, I have time and again railed against the false comfort of downward comparisons, and I do not wish to come across as trying to make the point that we have ‘fixed’ the problem. A multi-generational history of white supremacy doesn’t get canceled out by a few court cases washed down with the tears of angst-ridden liberal settlers.

The problem isn’t that judges were white supremacists, and now they’re not, so we can stop worrying. The issue undergirding all of these problems, be they about race or gender or culture or ethnicity, is one of representation. Any supremacist system is one in which a single group of people is empowered to make decisions that affect all other groups. In Re: Eskimos, we saw an overt ‘classical’ case of white supremacy, in which aboriginal people were not even notified let alone consulted before their ethnicity was made into law. In the cases this morning, it was still up to a white judicial system* to recognize the rights** of aboriginal peoples.

No, we can’t really call a system ‘fixed’ until the people who are subject to the machinations of power are able to fairly and proportionately participate in the exercise of power. And, as I mentioned this morning, we have some cause to think that may start happening: [Read more...]

Re: Aboriginal people in Canada and the courts

Jamie and I had, in the not-too-distant past, a disagreement over whether or not the Supreme Court of Canada (in its contemporary form) is an ally of justice when it comes to aboriginal people in Canada. Indeed, based on Monday’s post, it would be hard to make the case that Canada’s court systems are anything other than the most hypocritical arms of a white supremacist system, garbed as they are in the clothing (both figurative and literal) of justice. Any court that doesn’t recognize Canada’s current system of legislated inequality and discrimination when it comes to aboriginal sovereignty and the recognition of Treaty rights cannot really lay much claim to the title of ‘Supreme’.

That being said, I understand (perhaps better than Jamie, perhaps only differently from him) the Constitutional limitations of the court. It is the duty of Parliament, and not the courts, to create legislation, and most judges are quite loath to overturn the will of the elected government* unless there is an extremely compelling reason to do so – i.e., the law violates the Charter rights of Canadians. Judges are also bound to interpret the law according to the way it was interpreted by previous courts, making it a dispositionally conservative entity.

All that being said, as I pointed out before, the Court has made some recent decisions that I support. Decisions that I believe reflect a progressive sense of justice, and a decision-making process that prioritizes harm reduction over tradition, and attempts to balance maximum freedom with the greater good. Of course if I’m happy, that means that there are a lot of people on the political right who probably hate every single Justice, but that’s rather beside the point.

What was the point again? Oh right… Canada’s courts aren’t completely awful: [Read more...]

A truffle rooted out from the heap of… bad news

There was one more bit from one of this morning’s stories that I thought was an interesting development, and deserved its own post:

The proportion of women among the ranks of Canada’s wealthy elite has almost doubled over the past 30 years, new data released by Statistics Canada Monday shows. The data agency published its analysis of the richest one per cent of Canadian tax filers between the years 1982 and 2010 on Monday. From the total number of all Canadian tax filers, Statistics Canada narrowed its list down to 254,700 people at the top, who make up Canada’s “one per cent.”

Among numerous findings, the proportion of women in that group nearly doubled over the time period, from 11 per cent in 1982, to 21 per cent by 2010. That’s 53,200 individuals. The women in that group were slightly less likely to be married or partnered than the men were. Some 68 per cent of women were married or in a common law relationship, compared with 87 per cent of men.

So the sort of ‘broad brush’ good news aspect is that there’s something in the Canadian economy that makes the elite-level wealth professions not quite as gendered, or at least less gendered than it was in 1982. Whatever structural adjustments that have been at the levels of education and training, and more than likely an accompanying cultural shift in attitudes toward women, has resulted in the closure of a gender gap in this particular echelon. This news fits well with shifts we’re seeing in political representation at the highest levels of government. So while we’re not seeing proportional gender representation in all walks of life, we’re at least seeing things moving in that direction.

Awesome. [Read more...]

Driving us apart

Long-time cromrades may remember that I took part (mostly as a spectator) in Occupy Vancouver last year. The general theme of the Occupy movement was an invitation to examine the state of inequalities and inequities in our supposedly fair and meritocratic capitalist system. The thesis advanced by Occupy is that this system was not in fact fair, and that regardless of party affiliation, the political system was set up to benefit the elite at the expense of the majority.

Of course, one of the major criticisms of Occupy was that it was almost entirely caught up with examining the problems from a purely political standpoint, and showed little interest in examining the other root causes of social inequality – racism, sexism, classism, and various other prejudices that have put the fairness of the system to the lie for generations. It was only when those problems began to visit themselves on the people who didn’t ‘deserve it’ that is was suddenly an issue in need of a national response.

That being said, Occupy did push income inequality to the forefront of political consciousness. Which is why a story like this gets reported now: [Read more...]

Black History Month: Re Eskimos (1939)

This year for Black History Month I will be examining Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 by Constance Backhouse. Please read the preamble post if you haven’t already.

The first case that Backhouse examines is a Supreme Court decision regarding whether or not to classify “Eskimos” (now properly known as Inuit) as Indians under the Indian Act.

The case concerned a conflict between the province of Quebec and the government of Canada, regarding the status of Inuit people living in northern Quebec. The disruption of their way of life (subsistence hunting and fur trading having been made all but impossible by the encroachment of European settlers and the disruption of the migratory patterns of carbiou) had created a dire situation for the Inuit, and there was some dispute over who had to foot the bill: the federal government or the province. The relationship between the British Crown (i.e., the Canadian government as a representative of the British Crown) and aboriginal people was codified by a legislative act, meaning that the Crown had certain fiduciary duties toward ‘Indians’, but not to non-’Indians’. [Read more...]

Good news for UBC professors

I got notification about this story a couple of days ago:

All University of British Columbia all full-time, female-identified tenure and tenure-track professors are getting a raise to counteract gendered pay inequity.

The two per cent salary increase, retroactive to July 1, 2010, is part of a three-year process between the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the UBC Faculty Association (UBCFA) to solve pay inequity among full-time tenure-track faculty. The study did not look at pay inequity among UBC academic or administrative support staff.

Inspired by pay equity reports in 2007 and 2009 from UBC’s Equity Office, the University and UBCFA created two separate working groups: the DATA Working Group for collecting data on pay equity and the SMART Working Group to devise solutions.

According to a joint message from UBCFA and UBC’s two provosts sent to faculty today, the DATA Working Group’s “analyses indicated that after accounting for the factors of under representation of females at the full professor level, experience, and differences in the gender balance across departments, a pay differential of 2% remained, that could only be explained by gender. This unexplained female pay disadvantage is considered a systemic discrimination issue.”

This is a ‘win’ story for not only female-identified faculty at UBC, but for the university at large. They identified an issue (eventually), took it seriously enough to collect and analyze the data, and then committed to make restitution for an arbitrarily unfair system. What is most interesting is that, while there was a strong financial and psychological incentive for them to attempt to explain away this difference as “assertiveness” or “different time commitments” or any of the other ‘just-so stories’ that are used to justify administrative inaction, they were sensible and aware enough to treat it as an issue that warranted a system-wide response.

I say that this is good news for the university because they will likely gain a great deal of (justified) goodwill for taking the issue of gender equality seriously. UBC is a large, wealthy, and old institution. Groups like that don’t often make changes like this, even in the face of data like this. It will be interesting to see if Canada’s other venerable institutions follow suit (or, indeed, if UBC is actually the last to do this – it’s certainly possible).

So thumbs up for that!

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Colonialism is the corruption

Unfortunately, events have conspired to rob me of my blogging juice for today, but all is not lost. There is a great article by historian Tony Kaye that looks to debunk one of the central claims of the opposition to the #IdleNoMore movement, and I think instead of reading what I would say about it, you should read this:

Canada belongs to a significant group of countries whose modern nationality is a result of British expansion overseas. The colonial history of Canada and the West African country of Ghana, for example, have their beginnings with the British Crown. British agents used treaty making in each region as legal justifications to themselves and their competitors that specific native leaders would “Cede and Surrender” their traditional rights over land in exchange for the Protection of the English Monarch. In both colonies, the altruism of “protection” in the treaties hid the British plan to gain control over the region without the expense of projecting its full military force.

(snip)

Years after colonial rule in Ghana ended in 1957, generations of scholars, politicians and activists from throughout the world examined the accusations of wrongdoing among chiefs under British rule. Not a single voice concluded that chiefs were the only cause of the scandals. Nor did they advocate that increased accountability would have protected people from injustice. Instead, scholars contextualized abuses of power among chiefs within the more important discussion about the effect of colonial rule in Ghana.

The take-home message here is that what Canada is doing to its chiefs – focussing on ‘wrongdoing’ by chiefs (which is, more often than not, ludicrously hypocritical), is precisely the behaviour that has been modeled by other colonial states. Examination after the fact reveals that it is colonialism, not ‘corruption’, that best explains the issues facing colonized people.

Read the rest of the article. It’s really good.

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