Complacency No More

25 Mar

Is now the time that Canada’s First Nations civil rights movement has genuinely begun? Initiated by women? The black civil rights movement in the US resulted in extraordinary historical progress. Although aboriginals fight for their inherent rights and title their battle has not met the same progressive result. Caplan (2013) in “There is still time for #idlenomore to learn the lessons of Occupy” says the reason the back civil rights movement was unprecedented was due to the loyalty of white supporters which dramatically augmented their cause. Will Idle No More become the civil rights movement for First Nations he ponders? Too soon to tell but Canadians need to replace complacency with initiative and support for social causes that affect their land and environment.

Historically in First Nations culture the women were paramount in the decision making process. Around the circle of fire, the women sit in the inner circle and the men encircle them. Prior to the Indian Act women were politically involved as chiefs, in women’s councils and sat on advisory councils. Upon enactment of the Indian Act women lost these rights along with the right to speak publicly. “What would the world look like if it were run by women?” asks author Anderson (2005). In 2005 15% of the600 chiefs were women. During a political meeting with all white men a Cherokee chief asks, “Where are your women?” (Anderson, 2000, p1). During these treaty negotiations no white women were present around the table. He sees this as an imbalance and worries about the intentions of the white delegates around the table.

A European cultural model is used as a foundation when researchers examine the socially constructed ways in which we see masculinity and femininity. Walkerdine (2006) points out that girls have various set of attributes to maneuver around while still maintaining a level of femininity. Although they are performing masculine traits while playing video games they must still maintain a feminine balance. Being masculine and feminine is work in itself, but for girls the balancing of both these attributes requires a lot or work. I wonder if it is different for aboriginal women and girls because they originated in a different culture in different socially constructed ways. Or has the assimilation of aboriginal people forever changed the revering of the women? Maybe it has changed forever in some aspects but there is plenty of evidence to indicate that aboriginal women are important figures within their culture and communities. Perhaps they now have to maneuver and balance more of the masculine attributes today as Walkerdine (2006) alludes to. This intricate dance mirrors European culture. For example, the stereotypical metaphor, it’s a man’s world, permeates throughout postmodern times. I cannot help but think of a simpler time devoid of interpreting our social practices. It was imperialism and European racial superiority that changed the history of our indigenous people (Said in Voygeur, 2011). Prior to contact, aboriginal women were seen as important assets within the community, well respected and revered. Women held important roles in determining chieftainships, they negotiated treaties and their opinions were asked for at council and during meetings. Therefore it would seem obvious and natural from an aboriginal perspective that the Idle No More movement was initiated and reinforced by four aboriginal women lawyers.

Both Walkerdine and Foucault talk about jockeying for power and knowledge, knowledge leads to power.  Foucault says that power is compromised because it is regulating us within our socially constructed confines of masculinity and femininity to act the way we do. Putting this into the context of the Idle No More Movement and Occupy Canada how will this type of structure play out? With aboriginal women at the helm of the movement and support of the men and communities the position of power would appear to be in the hands of the women. I wonder if they have to balance the feminine and masculine attributes that women of European descent have to, or is it to a lesser degree? I think inherently aboriginal women still have the sense of power within them that they once had as leaders of their communities.

Anderson, K. (2000). The Powerful History of Native Women. Herizons, 14(1), 15.

Anderson, K. (2005). Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief. Herizons, 19(1), 25-45.

Caplan, G. (2013). There is still time for #Idlenomore to learn the lessons of occupy. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/there-is-still-time-for-idlenomore-to-learn-the-lessons-of-occupy/article7220995/

Walkerdine, V (2006). Playing the game. In S. Thornham & C. Bassett & P. Marris (Eds.) Media studies: a reader (pp 362-372). London: Panther Books

Voyageur, C. J. (2011). Female First Nations Chiefs and the Colonial Legacy in Canada. American Indian Culture & Research Journal, 35(3), 59-78

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Engaging Citizens: A civil rights movement for all Canadians

25 Mar

A white girl is born on reserve and is not able to revisit the horrific memories she has of growing up. She witnesses children being beaten, humiliated and shamed at the hands of teachers. She thought that they were orphans as she sees they are living in dormitories. She doesn’t realize, at that time, that the parents of those children loved them and hated that they were sent away to be abused.

Today this girl is now a reporter for the Star and speaks out against the atrocities that are still happening to aboriginals in present day. It is terrible times for aboriginals as they still face many obstacles: racism, formidable government, marginalization, oppression and isolation. Many Canadians don’t know how terrible the living conditions First Nations are dealing with on reserve. Poverty runs rampant on reserves; there is a shortage of housing and meeting basic needs almost non-existent. Many do not see the conditions First Nations are living under because reserves are often situated away from cities and located in isolated areas. More specifically, people put blinders on and won’t look at what they don’t want to see; it is ignored because it does not affect people directly.

When we sit down to watch the evening news we may be impacted by what is happening to our land and resources. We may be so upset by it but not really sure what to do about it. We are still thinking about it as the Big Bang Theory comes on but Sheldon is so funny we are soon laughing along. Not necessarily are we forgetting about the serious issues but our thoughts have flowed onto easier things to enjoy. Maybe we are forgetting, but as Williams (1974) points out we are more interested in the medium rather than the content while watching TV as the above example alludes to. We do not critically engage in the context as the constant flow on TV doesn’t enable us to. The Idle No More movement stayed in the news briefly, prolonged slightly by Chief Spence’s hunger strike, albeit for her own cause. It has maintained a stronger presence on the internet.

When the omnibus bills came to light to the citizens of Canada, the Idle No More Movement was born by 4 professional aboriginal women. It brought the omnibus legislation to the forefront of the news. Initially, the Idle No More was everywhere in the news and it become more difficult for citizens to ignore the omnibus legislation bills that the Harper government is trying to push through. It becomes difficult to ignore when roadblocks puts folks behind schedule or audits are conveniently leaked. It is much easier to ignore when the choice of watching a special edition newscast on the object or “Highway to Hell” is about to come on TV too (Williams, 1974).

This movement created fervor of extreme racist comments as news stories were published online. However, what I find perplexing is, this is not just a First Nations issues it affects all Canadians. The federal government’s apparent disregard for the natural resources of our country requires scrutiny. Come on people – stand up and share your voice to challenge the omnibus bills as Canadians rather than as separate cultural groups.

We may lose our critical thinking skills while watching TV but new media we are able to stop, think about, reread and discuss the information presented to us. Media convergence alters the relationships between existing technologies and audiences and we use these new media to relate to each other says Jenkins (2004) in “The cultural logic of media convergence.” The Idle No More movement would not have had the same impact 20 years ago as it does today for a variety of reasons but particularly the internet and blogs. The INM message has proliferated through various new sources. For example, blogging took off when the Vietnam War was being reported on through the antiwar movement. Although it was slow to build up during that time, now, in the digital era social cause movements such as Idle No More occur instantaneously. It is that horizontal spread of power that enables individuals or groups to share and comment in empowering media forms. Mainstream reporters also use blogs to cull for content for stories to report on which in turn may move up the media ladder to end up on the evening news.

The time and place is now to reconnect or reengage people as Jenkins attests to in his 9 points of consideration for media convergence. Kalle Lasn of Adbusters says it is ‘hit and miss’ of what gets snatched up as important. His buy nothing at Christmas campaign was a wash but the Occupy Wall Street initiative gained surprisingly immediate support. The Idle No More movement is more than consumerism it is about constitutional rights. It is not going anywhere anytime soon, and it too might initiate cultural changes.

Jenkins, H (1974). The cultural logic of media convergence. Retrieved from http://ics.sagepub.com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/content/7/1/33

Mallick, H (2013). Mallick: Finally, native Canadians defend themselves at every level. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/after-adbusters-and-occupy-kalle-lasn-is-spoiling-for-brand-new-fights/article8384486/

Williams, R (1974). Programming as sequence or flow. In S. Thornham & C. Bassett & P. Marris (Eds.) Media studies: A reader (pp 192-198). London: Panther Books.

 

Will social networking help write the story of the Idle No More Movement

25 Mar

The Idle No More Movement held the attention for much of Canada in January and February of 2013. For many Canadians, it caused us to look at our identities as Canadians both collectively and individually. Although I am the age that in no way gave me any control or influence on the policies and actions of the government, I have been, none-the-less, a spectator in this drama. And drama it is. It’s a story of countless heartaches and not as many successes. But it is a story.

 

How the movement started and grew is arguably attributed to the use of social media. As an individual I followed blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook posts and watched YouTube videos showing peaceful demonstrations. As an individual I felt saddened, ashamed and, angry whenever some of the hurtful past was discussed. Collectively, as a Canadian I felt disempowered to do anything to “right the wrongs” or to stop some of the initiatives (such as Omnibus Bills) that are propelling this movement. Collectively, as a citizen of this planet, I feel like I’m watching media convergence (as Henry Jenkins would describe it) happening around this movement.  Jenkins suggests that, “In the Vietnam War era, it took years to build up the network of underground newspapers, alternative comics and people’s radio stations that supported the antiwar movement.”  (Jenkins p. 36) Although most Canadians would not call the Idle No More Movement a war, many First Nations people in this country feel like they are in a war. It is a war to retain their rights and title. It is a war to retain their children and culture.

 

Who wins that war might be the one who best looks at how the use of social networking has affected change and what processes need to happen at the same time. Shirky suggests that, “Opinions are first transmitted by the media, and then they get echoed by friends, family members, and colleagues. It is in this second, social step that political opinions are formed. This is the step in which the Internet in general, and social media in particular, can make a difference. As with the printing press, the Internet spreads not just media consumption but media production as well — it allows people to privately and publicly articulate and debate a welter of conflicting views.”

 
First Nations in Canada need to continue spreading the media production and consumption. This will allow the debate to happen and may eventually shape political opinion and hopefully, policy. I’d like to see a different ending for this story than the one I’ve been told; then the one I see everyday.

 
Shirky, C. (2011). The political power of social media. Journal of Foreign Affairs, 90(1), 28-41. Retrieved March 14, 2013  from: http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/ehost/detail?sid=b3e18286-93cb-4f20-8fc0-                                     e261bad2deda%40sessionmgr110&vid=2&hid=103&bdata=#db=buh&AN=56624549
Jenkins, H. (2004). The cultural logic of media convergence. Journal of Cultural Studies, 7(1), 33–43. Retrieved March      16, 2013 from: http://ics.sagepub.com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/content/7/1/33.full.pdf+html

Is Canada suffering from “Indianism”, a misplaced version of orientalism?

18 Mar

Is Canada suffering from “Indianism”, a misplaced version of orientalism?

Edward Said, a great scholar and expert on post-colonial literature wrote a book in 1978 called Orientalism.  This literary work was a critical analysis on the study of eastern culture as interpreted by the dominant western culture and known as orientalism.

When I look at the Idle No More Movement in Canada, I see some striking similarities.  Said suggests that the west has built stories rather than discovering stories about the Orient.  In Canada, our entire history is predicated on stories that were built and not necessarily discovered.  Canadians, especially political and church leaders have looked at the Indigenous peoples of Canada with the same veiled opinion that so skewed the way we saw the East.  Aboriginal people were considered childlike, lawless, godless, and therefore required not only our oversight but required us to consider them wards of the state:  lock, stock and barrel.

 Canadians have been educated both formally and informally to reinforce the theory that First Nations needed to be looked after by the church and the state.  In the community where I live relationships between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples have been studied as a microcosm of what is happening in Canada.  One of our local leaders who was questioned about the impact of Residential schools stated that these institutions provided some good to the First Nations people because the children had “no proper shoes” and lived off “fish and berries”.  She was certain that residential schools were a good thing for a few reasons:  history had been built that way and it was a way of coming to terms in the same way that Orientalism was used by Western Europeans.

The same binary opposite, us and them, goodness and darkness, that Said discusses in his book could be applied to some of the arguments we hear when we hear stories of the Idle No More Movement.  For many Canadians the movement is about First Nations rights as almost a nuisance.  For First Nations it appears to be more about us (the people who care) vs. us (the people who don’t care).  Said suggests that the built stories were different for Westerners as their interest was differently vested in various parts of the East.  As a resident of BC who arguably has a lot to lose from any environmental issues surrounding pipeline breaches or marine accidents, I arguably am in the “us who care” camp.  If I live in the middle of large urban centre in Ontario, I may be part of the “us who don’t care” camp.

Is it Indianism?

References:

Said, E. (2009) Introduction to Orientalism.   In.  S. Thornham, C. Bassett  & P. Marris (Eds.), Media Studies – A                             Reader (pp.111-123).  New York:  New York University Press

Where is the humanism in the Idle No More movement?

4 Mar

Neil Postman’s keynote address delivered to the inaugural Media Ecology Association Convention in New York in 2000 reveals some considerations when looking at the Idle No More movement (INM) in Canada.  At the core, Postman suggests that the term media ecology refers to a culture trying to maintain a symbolic balance.  If we look at the Idle No More Movement and the root of the movement as one founded on the maintenance and preservation of the natural environment, it may provide a different perspective.

Media ecology espouses the notion that two environments impact how we function as a species:  our natural environment – air, water, animals – and the media environment – language, symbols and technologies.  For First Nations people in Canada, their culture was able to balance these two environments with a very gentle touch since time immemorial.  Contact upset that balance and one might argue that this has undermined the ecos of First Nations people.

As Postman aptly describes the birth of the Gutenberg press as one of the most important advances in the field of communication, he also allows us to consider that this technological advance was detrimental to certain cultures – particularly the Holy Roman Church.  If you consider the impact of the written word, introduced by European contact with the Indigenous peoples of Canada, could we not say that it negated the rich oral history that guided First Nations for years and was just as detrimental to their culture?  Would it not be logical then to follow Socrates argument in the Phaedrus that First Nations were schooled by their stories and legends to follow arguments rather than participate in them?  Was the introduction of written laws and words beneficial to the history of First Nations peoples?

It has been said that history is written by victors and certainly the history of Canada was not written by First Nations people.  The study of communication history and theory suggests that the evolution to humanism has been in the best interest of most citizens:  better access to information; democracy; rational thought; enhanced capacity to goodness, etc. etc.  As a study of communication theory in relation to the Idle No More Movement in Canada, is interesting to look at the role of media and technology and ask if humanism has been beneficial to First Nations and how will this story be remembered and told?

Postman, N (2000).  The Humanism of Media Ecology.  Keynote Address Delivered at the Inaugural Media Ecology Association Convention at Fordham University, New York, NY.  Retrieved from:  http://media-ecology.org/publications/MEA_proceedings/v1/humanism_of_media_ecology.html

Omnibus bills do not protect our land and water nor our future

2 Mar

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project (ENGP) has been a thorn in many British Columbians since its proposal in the mid 2000’s. The project was announced in 2006. It has been stalled several times since then and the Energy Board’s joint review panel has been established to assess the application. Further information is requested on structure and risk assessment. First Nations, environmentalists and concerned BC citizens have strongly opposed the Enbridge pipeline project from the onset. In 2010, 66 First Nations signed the Save the Fraser Declaration and 40 more have signed since then. Council of Canadians formed a Kelowna Chapter to raise awareness and build solidarity to stop further expansion of pipelines in BC.

What is worrisome is the Joint Review Panel that is formed through the National Energy Board, to review the ENGP proposal, is an arm of the federal government. This same federal government has included environmental laws, to be encompassed into the omnibus legislation which potentially weakens these laws. This gives final approval of this project to this federal cabinet.

As with the Idle No More movement, I got hopeful that this was not just a First Nations movement but one where all of British Columbians could work in partnership towards a sustainable environment and the greater good of their home and province. It could also be about more, about building relationships, empathy and understanding of varying perspectives sharing a common goal. It is far from just First Nations issue, it is a concern for all Canadians; it is the future of our lands, water and resources. McCombs article “The Agenda-Setting Role of the Mass Media in Shaping the Public Opinion” says that agenda setting does not just influence people on what to focus on it also influences our perspectives and understanding of issues in the news. “What we know about the world is largely based on what the media decides to tell us”. Now, think of ENGP and the media that covers this issue. Media is supposed to be objective, they are always touting they are. We tend to have a level of trust with media; however, people are critical thinkers and can dissect what they hear in the news. Now, add in a wealthy BC business man who happens to be a news media mogul, David Black. He owns several BC community papers and I am sure they have the devotion of Enbridge at its feet. After all he is a supporter of ENGP but he would never cross that line of ethics to plug his own bias to a province or nations of loyal readership, would he? You don’t think that his support of this project would take this view and flavour the coverage of this issue and share it as truth with its readership? On the other hand, Halloran in his article, “On the Social Effects of Television,” says that the audience sees and hears what it wants and filters out the rest. The results: the intended message gets lost. When newspapers have vested interests and support projects such as ENGP, how do we interpret the distributed knowledge or information imparted to the public? Do you research, educate yourself on issues of importance to you. We all have a voice, let’s use it.

Gordon, J (2013). Retrieved from http://idlenomore.ca/index.php/articles/latest-news/british-columbia-news/item/96-the-people%E2%80%99s-summit-on-enbridge-northern-gateway-project

Halloran, J.D. (1970). On the social effects of television. In S. Thornham & C. Bassett & P. Marris (Eds.), Media studies: a reader (pp 384-388). London: Panther Books.

McCombs, M (2003). Retrieved from http://www.infoamerica.org/documentos_pdf/mccombs01.pdf

Why the Idle No More Movement is missing from the public agenda.

11 Feb

1n 1972, Maxwell McComb and his colleague Donald Shaw developed the agenda-setting hypothesis and used Watergate as an example of how this phenomenon happens (Griffin, E.).  Their premise:  if you keep plunking something on the front page of the news, it will eventually become the news.  Fast forward to 2012 and politics in Canada.  The Conservative Party, with a majority government and an attitude that conveys arrogance and power, is focused on streamlining the law-making process in Canada by introducing omnibus bills (a single bill that covers many diverse areas of law) as part of their modus operandi.  Bill C-45 which amends the Environmental Act, Navigable Waterways and the Indian Act pushed First Nations too far. 

The push back from First Nations and their diverse supporters gave birth to the movement known as Idle No More.  And like any birth, it has been painful and life-changing.  From the first gasp of air in December the story was the darling of the media.  You could search all of the major news outlets in Canada and follow the plight of Chief Theresa Spence (who used this movement to stage a hunger strike as a platform to bring awareness to the socio-economic plight of First Nations communities across Canada) as well as strikingly peaceful and artistic protests that incorporated the rich First Nations culture.  And the people of Canada were enthralled.  Who doesn’t love a story about a hunger strike?  It’s dramatic.  It can be deadly.  But quickly the rhetoric turned to a raw visitation of the history of colonialization in Canada.  It’s not something to be terribly proud of.  It’s not something we want to chat about at birthday parties.  It’s not even something that all citizens in Canada fully understand.  It’s one of those nasty little family secrets that we quickly grow tired of hearing about.   

Why is it so hard to listen to this story?  It’s hard to listen because noise from the power brokers that control the political and economic agenda is growing.  They want us to listen to their noise and move off of the Idle No More issue onto other distractions (such as the audit of Chief Spence).  David Eaves wrote a great blog post on January 13 categorizing the Idle No More Movement as an “existential threat” to Canada because it makes us have to talk about things like equality and fairness in meaningful ways and that is a difficult conversation.   The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples published a lengthy tomb in 1996 – almost twenty years ago – that laid out some key deficiencies in the relationship between the Government of Canada and First Nations.   Those issues haven’t changed.  They are the same issues that Chief Spence is arguing for fairness and equality now:

  • ·         Life expectancy is lower.
  • ·          Illness is more common.
  • ·          Human problems, from family violence to alcohol abuse, are more common too.
  • ·          Fewer children graduate from high school.
  • ·          Far fewer go on to colleges and universities.
  • ·          The homes of Aboriginal people are more often flimsy, leaky and overcrowded.
  • ·         Water and sanitation systems in Aboriginal communities are more often inadequate.
  • ·          Fewer Aboriginal people have jobs.
  • ·          More spend time in jails and prisons.

These points come directly from that report yet almost twenty years later they could be the dire message from the wounded spirits of any First Nations Chief in Canada.  How does or should the Government of Canada defend its position?

They say that the best offense is a good defense.  And so – agenda setting is happening in the mainstream media in Canada.  Fewer and fewer stories are being told in the main stream media that paint a sympathetic or empathetic voice to the movement.  Instead we have media coverage of the now-disgraced Senator who has publicly ridiculed Chief Spence in her hunger movement and in fact, dismissed the entire Idle No More Movement.  It’s a distraction – and not a pleasant one.  We have a well-placed; well-timed story of the accounting irregularities in Attawapiskat; and we have the Finance Minister purporting how the protests and roadblocks are devastating the economy of Canada…. Really?  Pretty sure our economy was in the tank long before Idle No More started.

So although there are fabulous stories and coverage of the Idle No More movement out there, we aren’t seeing them on the news.  Take for example this respectful piece by Santbir Singh in the LangarHall who clearly understands that this is not just about the rights of First Nations and Aboriginal peoples in Canada.  It’s a struggle for human rights, something that is guaranteed in our Constitution.  It’s a right that is at risk of being undermined in support of government that is dominated ideologically by power and economics.  Our need for orientation as a society draws us to the media.  This need for orientation is growing as our society becomes more and more uncertain.  Recessions and downturns create instability.  Historically, this makes us less tolerant and some might argue that governments understand this well.  Sweeping changes can happen with little consultation and discussion.  Sound familiar?

The Idle No More movement is not going away.  It will grow in strength and resolve and this will be supported by social media and the use of digital communications.  It will not rely on mass media because that agenda is being drafted by the people who feel most threatened.

References:

http://www.infoamerica.org/documentos_pdf/mccombs01.pdf

http://eaves.ca/2013/01/31/idlenomore-as-an-existential-threat/

http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100014597/1100100014637

http://thelangarhall.com/canada/silent-no-more-a-sikh-response-to-the-idle-no-more-movement/