Who’s laughing?

A little while ago I got into a silly fight with someone who I used to (before this fight) think was a pretty decent person. Ze had posted a comic that poked fun at people who misrepresent themselves on social media. Because it was the internet, a lot of the panels made fun of fat people. I pointed out that while the overall premise of the joke was funny, it could have made the same point equally as effectively without mocking people for their body size/shape. After all, surely they got enough of that just being out in public?

The discussion quickly devolved (with the help of one of her friends) into accusations of me grandstanding for attention because I was a blogger – a charge that even if it were true would be completely orthogonal to whether or not I was right. One of the recurring themes in the conversation – indeed, in any conversation in which a person is asked to consider the harm their comments make – is that I should somehow forgive the comic because it’s “just a joke”, as though the fact that someone finds it funny somehow makes it not harmful. As though nobody has ever been hurt by being the butt of a cruel joke before.

The very premise itself seems silly, but it’s a depressingly common refrain. And it seems there is no level of depravity in which it will not be pressed into service: [Read more...]

Glass ceilings, cliffs, and the wrong side of history

Undoubtedly, the vast majority of you don’t pay attention to Canadian provincial politics. To be quite honest with you, I don’t either (outside of a bit of attention paid to my own province, mostly by accident). However, this past Saturday my non-provincial-politics-watching streak was broken by the occasion of the Ontario Liberal leadership convention coming to a close. Without wanting to go too far into the history, the former premier (a position equivalent to a governor in the United States) resigned quite suddenly in the midst of a number of political crises. The convention on Saturday was the result of a democratic process internal to the party to select his successor, and the presumptive premier of the largest province in the country.

In a move that may have surprised a number of people, the winner of the election, on the third ballot, was Kathleen Wynne, an experienced politician and member of the provincial cabinet. After a second round in which Ms. Wynne was the front-runner alongside Sandra Pupatello. Two other candidates trailed, but with enough delegates to sway the final voting in either direction. They both chose to endorse Wynne, and brought a large percentage of their delegates along with them, cementing Ms. Wynne’s appointment by a final vote split of 57% to 43%.

If you care to do so, you can read some of my initial reactions to the outcome as a Storify log. What I want to do in this piece (and likely in a subsequent one) is to explore a few of the statements I heard in the wake of the announcement. [Read more...]

A Primer On Canada’s Indian Act

A post by Jamie

There seems to be a lot of misinformation and possibly wilful ignorance perpetually circulating around about Canada’s—quite frankly genocidal—140-year-old Indian Act. Internet trolls and eugenicists alike declare that it has so many “benefits” for First Nations. Special emphasis is placed on the two separate events in Canada’s history that a proposal for putting The Indian Act through the shredder was shouted down by a majority of indigenous peoples. This, in turn, is declared as evidence of how beneficial the Act is to the people over whom it legislates. I disagreed that the Act had any benefit to indigenous peoples at all, before actually committing to sitting down and reading the entire length of its current revision on Monday. I even disagreed that it had any utility before finding a handy list of all the revisions that have been made since it was written, because I’ve heard plenty from indigenous peoples, of what a piece of work this thing really is. And I still think it’s the work of a eugenicist scumbag now, after reading its entire length in the current revision (no wonder all the eugenicists agree with each other!), and this post is going to be about every reason why I came to that conclusion years ago.

[Read more...]

Race/Ethnicity Just Isn’t Simple

A post by Jamie

Race is a social construct. It sounds like a pretty easy idea to wrap your head around, once you understand the meaning of what you’re saying. It’s the idea that the very concept of race itself isn’t genetically determined and isn’t quite as linear a relationship as simply contingent upon the colour of one’s skin (although this no doubt plays a significant role in racism and related constructs). Race as a social construct is a sort of discourse we pick up on, both consciously and unconsciously, throughout the course of our lives. Sometimes it’s literally hurled at us, and sometimes it’s very quietly and gradually written into (or out of) our day-to-day experiences. Race isn’t a Thing you can point at, reach out and take a sample of, and examine under a stereoscope. In my life, currently nothing is making this more clear than the public sphere of cyber activism in the Idle No More movement. The battlefields here are social media services like Twitter and YouTube, the comments section on online news articles, and blog posts. The battles being waged include re-education, de-bunking myths and stereotypes (watch for the Twitter hashtag #Ottawapiskat for a brilliant demonstration of de-bunking by inversion), and working towards inspiring others to start the work of decolonization from within. It can be and often is equally as exhausting as standing in the rain for four hours in the flesh, and it is an equally important tool in the greater repertoire of established tactics to counter racism, colonialism, and white supremacy.

And that’s right about where any demarcations you may have previously believed exist very rapidly become ambiguous and murky. Race/ethnicity and (anti-)racism is complicated as all fuck.

[Read more...]

Making their priorities clear

A government, like any organization, has to manage a number of competing interests simultaneously. The economy must be watched and occasionally massaged, health care has to be funded, as does a military, as does scientific research, as does infrastructure like roads and bridges. It’s a massive undertaking, requiring a wide variety of non-overlapping competencies and skills simply to keep going, let alone to improve.

Unfortunately, I live in a country whose government is a quasi-Soviet cult of personality, convened somewhat ironically around a man who has none. Stephen Harper runs what some refer to as a ‘tight ship’, but what is actually a gaggle of completely incompetent buffoons who, if the need was urgent, might be able to muster enough collective brainpower to run an alarm clock (provided the clock was small and it was okay if it lost a little time now and then). As a result, they seem to take not only their marching orders, but indeed their nouns, verbs, and syntax wholesale from the Harper machine.

This works incredibly well for a political party: [Read more...]

Idle No More: Deep Green Resistance Has Red Roots

A post by Jamie

I’ve been following and learning from a number of radical grassroots indigenous activists for quite a while now. I don’t remember when I encountered the first, who has been a source of inspiration and encouragement to me since our first contact on Facebook. But before long, I was getting to know a bunch of people who are proud of their indigineity, the lands their ancestors taught them to protect as though it were their next of kin, and all the life depending on that land — including people like me, by which I mean not related by blood to the First Peoples, and always learning new things about indigenous cultures. So when news of the pipelines and FIPPA deals the Harper government wanted to bury under the streams, rivers, lakes, and homes of many of the blood kin of my indigenous friends first broke, I found out about it through them. Not from the news. Then a whole lot of Occupy Vancouver activists (most of whom are white and apparently haven’t the foggiest clue beyond a very superficial understanding, of exactly what they are actually saying when they declare “unceded Coast Salish territory” at the beginning of their speeches) started their predictable and ambitious surge of hippy speak, wheat-pasting, vegan food, flyers, and public musical jam sessions, to try and raise awareness of the pipelines. Finally, it started to appear in the news, in between reports of Trayvon Martin being murdered while George Zimmerman was allowed to keep all his Nazi regalia company in the privacy of his own home for weeks, Shaima Alawadi’s murder being pegged at first as a hate crime until it was determined she was killed by her husband, and Bei Bei Shuai being sentenced to prison after her late-term pregnancy was interrupted by a suicide attempt (the baby was delivered and died a week later). But the Occupy activists just kept on truckin’ through all this extraordinarily depressing news that mysteriously never seems to be about white people getting put in prison, or even worse, in a coffin.

[Read more...]

The revolving door of white privilege

One of the most fascinating case studies to consider when trying to underline the point that race is socially constructed (rather than an emergent property of biology) is the gradually-shifting definition of ‘whiteness’. ‘White’ was a label that has seen many redefinitions over the years in North America, as people who were previously forcibly excluded (e.g., Italians, Irish, Jews) were gradually and begrudgingly included under that privileged umbrella. It is an open question as to what extent political expediency versus demographics versus socioeconomic power played in this reclassification, but one cannot ignore the fact that it happened.

Canada is not immune from this reclassification pattern either. While the original political power in the nation of Canada was divided between those of English and French descent, the threat of American expansion and the promise of abundant resources forced the government of Canada to open its doors to large numbers of immigrants. As that (mostly and intentionally white) immigration happened, the definition of ‘white’ faced some serious pressures, both political and economical, prompting a shift that matches the one happening in the USA.

It is this history that makes the following story worth a brief comment: [Read more...]

Picking your battles (and picking them stupidly)

If you follow Canadian politics news, you may have noticed that a copy of a third-party forensic audit of Attawapiskat First Nation was leaked to the press yesterday. The news wasn’t exactly good* – a large majority of expenses had no supporting documentation, which is certainly a suspicious state of affairs. The fact that the band has been under co-management and that the number of un-documented expenses dropped after 2010 (when Theresa Spence took over as chief) has not stopped the crowing of the critics of Chief Spence’s attempts to elicit federal assistance from a government that seems more interested in sending accountants than resources. They see this as further evidence of their central thesis: that the problems experienced by First Nations are the result of their own incompetence as opposed to anything that the Government of Canada has to step in and address (because fuck the Auditor General, right?)

To their credit, the only response from the Harper team so far has been to say that they agree with the findings of the audit (they’ve had a copy of it for months now), but their supporters have been bleating their triumph to the skies. Which makes me wonder: is fiscal responsibility really the moral high ground you want to stand on? The whole argument right now is whether or not the incompetence and shady practices of Chief Spence and her clique have resulted in a situation where her people are suffering, and she is to blame by virtue of her lack of fiscal responsibility.

Again I ask you, Harper supporters: is this really the hill you want to die on? [Read more...]

Another #IdleNoMore note to fellow settlers

I often feel the need to point out that when I criticize a group to which I belong, I am not exempting myself from that group. So when I talk about male privilege, that is emphatically not a short-hand for “the male privilege that you all have but I don’t because I’m that feministy”. I am the target audience for this blog, meaning that when I reprimanded my fellow settlers in this morning’s post about hijacking the #IdleNoMore movement, I was talking about my own behaviour as well.

I am, as I have admitted before, woefully ignorant about much of the history that underpins the movement, and have only very recently begun to pay attention. This blog actually serves as a living record of that, because I didn’t really start engaging on these issues before I started writing about them here. As a result, I am acutely aware of the fact that I have been, at least up until now (and in many ways probably am still) playing for the wrong team in the fight for justice.

I used to deride Twitter when I first heard about it. After all, the idea seemed profoundly silly and frivolous to me. It wasn’t until the protests in Iran in 2009 that I started to see its value. And while I had an account in August of 2010, I didn’t really start using it in earnest until the start of the Egypt protests in early 2011. Since then, I have found it an invaluable resource for political analysis, a diversity of analysis, and connection to independent media. And yes, while there is a lot of frivolity on Twitter, it is trivially possible to have a substantive and informative Twitter feed. If you’re not on Twitter, but you’re interested in learning more about what’s happening, now is an excellent time to get an account.

This is a long, roundabout way of me saying that a lot of what I know about #IdleNoMore, and about Indigenous issues generally, I learned by listening to people on Twitter, and reading the things that they thought were important to share. I’ve compiled a list of accounts that I think are particularly helpful, and provide a useful variety of perspectives, experiences, and opinions. If you’re on Twitter, check out this list. It’s not necessarily people who talk specifically about #IdleNoMore, but they do provide me with voices that I would otherwise not hear in my day-to-day life.

I would like also to make special mention of an account called âpihtawikosisân (please don’t ask me to pronounce it), who I have found to be a consistently brilliant and fearless advocacy voice, and who is a recent follow for me. She also blogs here and has a familiarity with the relevant history that I find to be incredibly helpful.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Settler to settler: #IdleNoMore advice

There is an overwhelming and near-undeniable temptation when presented with a social justice movement to see in it an opportunity for you to mobilize the energy and commitment of its members to accomplish one of your own goals. I remember for example, seeing a lot of passionate people during Occupy Vancouver insisting that what we should do is take all of our anger at the current political/economic system and channel it toward stopping pornography, or finding out what ‘really’ happened on September 11th, 2001*.

Now it is very much an open debate whether or not Occupy was a social justice movement per se, or whether its aims were too diffuse to qualify, or whether by largely ignoring the racial components of the system it complained about, it abrogated its claim to social ‘justice’. That’s not the substance of my argument here. What I will note, just in passing, is that Occupy Vancouver was well-attended by social justice groups, including (obviously, if you know the activism scene in Vancouver) a number of Indigenous organizations.

Which brings us around to what I do want to talk about, which is the role that settlers play in the #IdleNoMore movement; or, more specifically, roles that I want to see them (us) stop playing. First, just to establish some terminology, ‘settler’ refers to non-Indigenous inhabitants of North America (or Turtle Island), and speaks specifically to the fact that while we may live here, we are not the original inhabitants of this land. More information can be found here if you find this term troubling.

There are two general patterns of behaviour that I want to comment on, because of how often I see them and how deeply they annoy me. [Read more...]