Time to kill the black dog before the black dog kills us

“I think this man might be useful to me – if my black dog returns. He seems quite away from me now – it is such a relief. All the colours come back into the picture.”  
―Former Canadian Prime Minister Winston Churchill

 

Anxiety and depression have plagued me for as long as I can remember.

Even now in my late twenties, I still wrestle with irrational fear and paralyzing sadness on a somewhat regular basis. I’ve lost track of the days and hours spent in bed, incapable of leaving my apartment – paralyzed by hopelessness and frozen by indescribable fear of nothing.

Mental illness has cost me grades, jobs, relationships, friendships – and it’s taken years off my young life (and probably that of my parents). With only intermittent and insufficient health coverage, scrounging up money for effective psychotherapy and prescription medication has been difficult and sometimes impossible.

Accessing help – especially waiting for professional help – can be a living hell.

Struggles aside, though, I’m been lucky. I’ve had help from good doctors, great therapists, and a network of family and friends who’ve stepped in to support me when things got desperate. All this has meant that I’ve been able to live to tell my story. Many will never be so fortunate.

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It is truly heartbreaking that as another Mental Health Week has come to pass, far too many Canadians – including children, seniors and marginal demographics – are struggling psychologically. Even more unsettling is the fact that in a country as “caring” and “generous” as Canada, each day struggling minds are falling through our institutional cracks. They’re alone.

Around 450 million people worldwide live with a mental illness, and a whopping 20% of Canadians are expected to develop a diagnosis at some point in their lifetime. The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world. And yet, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mental health care is drastically underfunded compared to other parts of the Canadian healthcare system. That’s just unacceptable.

Winston Churchill had depression (or so many suspected) and famously described his plight as akin to living with a big ‘black dog’ beside him. In 2012, the World Health Organization sought to destigmatize mental illness by sharing the I Had a Black Dog story – a vivid and palpable depiction of life with depression online (don’t even try to keep a dry eye watching that video, if you haven’t seen it).

Few in the generations preceding ours would dare disclose a psychological diagnosis willingly or publically for fear of scrutiny, or worse. Today the stigmatic weight borne by those with mental illness has lifted somewhat, but too many cultural norms and public institutions – like our overwhelmed and understaffed public healthcare system – still seem to be failing us.

According to the Mood Disorder Society of Canada’s 2015 pan-Canadian survey of the country’s mental health community, the Canadian healthcare system is critically underperforming for individuals with mental illness. Our system is so insufficient and inaccessible that few Canadians will ever even discover they have a treatable mental illness. Without access to affordable medication or treatment, there are countless people who live out their entire lives under the influence of more accessible ‘medicines’ like drugs and alcohol just to cope.

If you’re young and you’ve fallen ill, you might find some solace in knowing there’s literally thousands more falling alongside you. Postsecondary campuses are exploding with anxious and miserable students. Just last year the Ontario University and College Health Association published a survey of more than 25,000 students that found 13 per cent of those surveyed had attempted suicide and 65 percent had experienced overwhelming anxiety.

Before writing this, I toiled for hours over whether I should out myself as someone who has struggled psychologically – or to disclose that more than once in my life I’ve found myself hospitalized when I was at my worst, and that I’ve thought many times, somewhat seriously, about ending my own life.

Literally everyone I’ve ever opened up to about my ‘black dog’ over the years has told me that they knew or loved someone in the same boat, or one similar.

In February of this year, the Ontario Liberals earmarked $140 million over three years for mental health and addictions services. Federally, the Canada Health Accord is said to focus targeted funding investments into better mental healthcare infrastructure. The Health Accord negotiations nearly fell through last year after several provinces refused to sign on – but Ontario, Quebec and Alberta eventually managed to reach an agreement with Ottawa.

Here’s hoping that turns the tide.

 

 

 

Mainstream media’s uninformed infatuation with the Indigenous

I first tuned in to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada when the Native Women’s Association of Canada (or “NWAC”) shared their ‘faceless dolls’ craftivism project in an undergraduate class I took on feminist activism.

As the years have passed, I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself working in Indigenous advocacy for several non-profit organizations; including NWAC. Coincidentally around the same time I began my contract at NWAC as their communications lead prior to the National Inquiry being announced, I discovered my own Anishinaabeg (Indigenous/First Nation) heritage that flows through my maternal bloodline.

I did not grow up on a reserve or with any connection to Indigenous cultures on Turtle Island. All my life until that point, I knew absolutely nothing of my First Nation heritage until an aunt informed me late into my twenties.

The majority of my blood is of European/Caucasian descent, but by a twist of genetic fate my cheekbones grew high and my hair long and straight – which I’m regularly told makes me “look Native” (which is weird and racist and doesn’t makes me any more or less Indigenous, for the record).

In journalism, media and communications, there has always been a fine line to be drawn between raising public awareness on an important issue, and capitalizing on a story because it feels opportunistic and profitable to do so.

Having worked both in media relations and as a writer with a specific focus on Indigenous affairs (the plight of Indigenous women and girls being of particular interest to me) I’ve been fortunate enough to learn a great deal about the problematic nature of how media relates to Indigenous peoples.

Often, I have found reporters to be adversarial, probing, and even exploitive in their association with Indigenous peoples. Countless times I have had to explain to reporters and producers why it is inappropriate for me to provide them direct contact information to a family member or to a community whose beloved daughter, sister, mother, auntie or grandmother has gone missing or been murdered.

Those of us who did not grow up on an isolated reserve lacking drinkable tap water, nutritious food or secure housing to live in, and those of us who were never been born under the paternalistic and patriarchal laws and policies stemming from the Indian Act (First Nations are still to this day considered “property” of the Government of Canada by the way), cannot possibly comprehend their reality.

And what I’ve learned is that without that lived experience, without that pain and intergenerational trauma, you simply cannot tell the Indigenous story to the full extent it warrants. It’s just impossible.

What we can do as media professionals is immerse ourselves and educate ourselves; striving each day to empathize and understand the weight of injustice facing Indigenous peoples. We can build relationships with communities who give us the permission to do so. We can ask respectfully and professionally, and at appropriate times and in appropriate places, for community members to share with us.

What we cannot do is show up unannounced. We cannot demand someone bare their soul because an editor pressures us to. Especially when so many of these communities are suffering and especially when so many families are utterly desperate for someone to hear them out. That’s called taking advantage.

The horrific reality surrounding missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is a perfect example of what happens when a story gets hot, media are drawn in, but very few reporters have the knowledge or sensitivity to approach the issue or give it justice. Some of the best positioned people to cover Indigenous affairs are, quite obviously, Indigenous peoples working in media themselves – like Connie Walker, Sheila North Wilson, Waub Rice, or Angela Sterritt, to name a few.

When they aren’t being ignored by government and media, families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (and two-spirit peoples) have been bastardized, politicized, and traumatized by politicians and journalists alike. This is unacceptable.

On the day the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls began, my heart sank when I read some of the columns and stories and photographs that surfaced from the day’s events. I question how many of those media took the time to meet with any of the families and really learn what they’re going through.

Indigenous peoples are not property, or one-dimensional social collateral to be photographed or fawned over or exposed without consent. Their stories and identities are sacred, and they are theirs and theirs alone.

Indigenous peoples are the traditional rights and title holders of this land we now call Canada. Treaty rights, inherent rights and international human rights as set by the United Nations dictate this – even if our public schools taught us different. These are the facts. We need to learn them.

It is incumbent on every reporter and every news organization who seeks to cover Indigenous affairs (particularly the most sensitive ones, where precious lives are in the balance like right now during the National Inquiry) to have the courage and respect to unlearn colonial histories and relearn Indigenous realities. Only then can these stories be told respectfully.

We owe this to ourselves and to each other – and someday, we’ll all be better for it.

Brief interview with AFN on First Nations water crisis

The following interview was conducted for my forthcoming article for the National Observer on the crisis concerning First Nations access to clean drinking water in reserve communities in Canada. Answers were provided by Kerry Black, a senior policy advisor with the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa:
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  1. Do you expect the current government to fulfill their promise to end all boil water advisories on reserves by 2020?

 

The current commitment is to end all long-term drinking water advisories – this is an important distinction. There is conflicting dialogue on this, with the government sometimes saying boil-water versus drinking water advisories.  Boil water advisories are a type of drinking water advisory. INAC uses boil water and drinking water interchangeably at times, and that is likely because the communities currently listed as having a Do Not Consume advisory (which is also a type of drinking water advisory) is not infrastructure that is funded by INAC (so one question there is: what happens to them?).  However, there is the example of Northwest Angle 33 that has been on a DNC since February 2016. This is considered a long-term drinking water advisory, so this should be included in the commitment.  This year’s budget said “long-term drinking water advisories”, so that is the terminology we will go with.

 

While the Government clearly intends to focus on this commitment – because they have been so vocal about it and because the metrics are so clear – there will be pressure to deliver.  However meeting the commitment requires significant funding, requires projects that are currently slated to finish by 2020 to stay on time, and doesn’t necessarily include those communities that will roll-over into a long-term advisory between now and the commitment date.  In addition, this doesn’t include those communities that have been on long-term advisories, but have been on and off the advisory for decades.  These are important communities with systemic issues in their drinking water treatment, but they won’t be included in the commitment.
It is clear, based on how proactive the Government has been on this commitment, that they will make substantial progress towards this commitment. We believe the government will greatly benefit from working with First Nations to meet this commitment as First Nations are best-placed to understand the issues and priorities in their communities. First Nations-driven, community-based solutions are key. We are hopeful that long-term DWAs will be significantly reduced.

 

 

  1. What causes most boil water advisories on First Nations?

 

Drinking water advisories in communities are most often caused by equipment-related malfunctions (e.g. power outages, broken treatment processes, etc), microbiological concerns (e.g. e.coli) and chlorination issues (insufficient or no chlorination in place, as well as insufficient chlorine residuals in the distribution system).  These are the primary causes for DWAs in First Nations communities.

 

 

  1. Have you had a chance to review the new report on water accessibility from the Council for Canadians and David Suzuki Foundation? What were your thoughts on it? Did this raise any new concerns for you? (You can access the report here: Canadians.org/blog/1-4-people-living-first-nations-reserve-may-not-have-clean-water)

 

The AFN provided some guidance on DWAs in First Nation communities to the Council and the Suzuki Foundation on policies and programs to date, funding to date, and how DWAs have been approached.  The report highlights the need for long-term sustainable solutions to water treatment, not just focusing on removing DWAs – which is something the AFN has been pushing for quite some time. First-Nations-driven and community-based solutions are needed to ensure the provision of safe drinking water to First Nations.

 

 

  1. Where would you say are the most urgent water crises? In what ways does a lack of clean water impact a First Nations community’s quality of life?

 

It is dangerous to try and say where and what constitute the most urgent water crises.  Access to safe, clean drinking water is a United Nations human right and anything that impacts this should be considered urgent.  Our focus should be closing the gap in the quality of life between First Nations and the rest of Canada, and clean, safe water is a right many Canadians take for granted. Lack of clean water impacts has far-reaching socio-economic impacts including increased conflict at home. Water is part of the physical environment and is a social determinant of health impacting health inequalities for First Nations.

Impacts can include:

  • Mothers and their ability to provide adequate nutrition to their children (breastfeeding necessitates mothers to be well-hydrated and formula requires clean water); to clean and bathe their children;
  • Impacts at school, and ability for children to succeed in school;
  • Ability to obtain and retain employment;
  • Conflict in the home, heightened pressures;
  • Other health-related issues (heart disease, diabetes, etc.).

 

 

  1. Can you confirm how many boil water advisories exist today on First Nations?

 

Health Canada only monitors drinking water south of the 60th parallel. Health Canada doesn’t report on individual wells or wells with fewer than 5 connections.  They report 127 DWAs as of December 31st, with BC reporting an additional 16 Boil Water Advisories and 4 Do Not Consume advisories for a total of 20 Drinking Water Advisories in effect in 18 First Nation communities in British Columbia as of February 2017. These numbers don’t include systems monitored by the Saskatoon Tribal Council.  Therefore the 127 DWAs is just the starting point in terms of the number of advisories in First Nations communities.

 

 

  1. What solutions would you recommend for this issue?

 

Long-term sustainable solutions are needed that tackle the systemic issues affecting the provision of safe drinking water including:

  • First Nations-driven approaches;
  • Holistic funding models that take into account unique context of different FN communities, and include long-term operation and maintenance (Capital can be on the order of 20% of the project cost, with the funding for operation and maintenance representing a huge amount of funding needed for operation of a treatment plant);
  • Skills training and capacity building with adequate funding for water operators who are paid at competitive rates;

It necessitates working with First Nations in collaborative processes, and doing away with top-down approaches that are imposed on First Nations, such as the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act.

Some women risk their lives to put their name on a ballot

Suffice to say, things have never been easy for women in politics. Some of us weren’t even considered ‘persons’ under Canadian law until the late 1960s.

Widespread challenges present themselves for every elected official; compounded by race, sex, religion, class and whether someone lives with a disability. But women – all women – have long borne the brunt of some of the most targeted and monstrous attacks, specifically due to their gender. In fact, many women in politics (like Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley for example) are despised by voters for one reason and one reason only: they don’t have a penis.

According to a 2015 report by the United Nations Broadband Commission, more than three quarters of women and girls online have experienced some form of cyberviolence. Millions are affected by this trend globally, but most countries including Canada are still stubbornly failing to address the problem.

Despite these apparent risks, both opposition parties in the Canadian House of Commons are undergoing leadership contests and both have attracted impressive women to the contests.

The wildly charismatic Lisa Raitt of Halifax, a scientist, Harper-era Cabinet Minister and current Shadow Cabinet Minister, is running to replace Rona Ambrose as Official Opposition Leader. Raitt’s caucus colleague, Dr. Kellie Leitch of Simcoe North is another former Cabinet Minister who held dual portfolios and famously moonlit as an orthopedic surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Her politics aren’t exactly favorable to women, but there’s no denying she’s a powerhouse. Niki Ashton of Manitoba recently launched her campaign to replace Tom Mulcair as leader of the New Democratic Party and is the only woman out of four candidates running to lead her party.

The governing Liberals have never elected a woman to lead them in their party’s history, but their party is certainly no stranger to exceptionally strong women. Recently, I had the honour of joining MP Karen McCrimmon, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defense, on a panel at Carleton University. There, I discovered that long before her time in politics, she led a distinguished career in the armed forces – another male-dominated profession where women are perpetually discriminated against and undervalued.

Political women hail from diverse backgrounds and ideologies. But they all have one thing in common: every day of their political lives, they face gender-based violence both on and offline.

Niki Ashton was first elected in 2008 just two years after Twitter was born. During her nine years in Federal politics, she has lost track of the bombardment of harassment, insults, threats and sexually explicit messages she’s received. She says the worst thing she’s experienced are rape threats over Facebook, and a man actually texting her an unsolicited photograph of his genitals.

Michelle Rempel, Conservative MP from Calgary Nose Hill, has first-hand experience with online harassment turning into an offline reality. Rempel received Twitter messages that she could not simply brush off as lewd comments. The tweets were life-threatening, and she went to the police.  At the time Rempel received the tweets, she was travelling for work and grew concerned that the perpetrator was following her and would physically harm her. An attractive and charismatic young woman whose savvy social media presence has been lauded by many, she regularly attracts trolls and sexists on Twitter.

With the advent of social media and the anonymity it provides, violence against women in politics has grown increasingly commonplace, and increasingly violent. It seems the floodgates have opened, welcoming some of the least enlightened and most dangerous voices into our public discourse.

No matter how controversial your view, you’re likely to find an audience somewhere on social. Case-in-point: Many have said that Donald Trump, a prolific voice on social and one of the kings of this twisted new frontier, essentially hate-tweeted his way into the Whitehouse.

There are times when these violent words have actually precipitated violent actions: like in the case of last year’s femicide of British MP, Jox Cox. Cox reportedly received three months’ worth of hate-mail before arriving to her local office in West Yorkshire one morning in 2016, when she was wrestled to the ground, kicked, shot then repeatedly stabbed to death by a man who hated her.

While there is no obvious solution to this problem, organizations like Equal Voice have put forward a number of possible remedies to the culture. On International Women’s Day this year, Equal Voice organized an historic event invited 338 diverse young women from across Canada to come to Ottawa and “take their seat” (literally) in the House of Commons.

The initiative, appropriated titled Daughters of the Vote, was said to be born out of the desire to build a better understanding “of the struggles of women to join the Canadian political fabric” and to empower more young women to consider a run at public office.

The event generated widespread national and international attention – particularly given that the wisdom and tenacity of many of these girls far exceeded their ages. I was lucky enough to catch some of their powerful speeches before the House and direct questions to Prime Minister Trudeau and cannot deny that I had tears in my eyes, as I’m sure many others did. These girls are not afraid of anything.

So what to make of this hostile political environment, where women, regardless how talented, are often rendered casualties to a system designed for them to fail? Is this any hope for the future? Why would any women ever dare to put her name on a ballot, if she risks her life in the process?

Niki Ashton’s words at her recent NDP Leadership campaign launch may provide a possible answer. She stated that while she’s proud to be a woman in politics, she is far more than just her gender. Not unlike every woman who’s ever dared to run for public office, she’s just a person who wants to change things.

 

 

Trudeau’s latest ministerial working group on Indigenous law and policy is doomed to fail

Last year, opposition parties fought hard to open up the Liberal-dominated committee tasked with informing Canada’s work on reforming our electoral system. Initially the Trudeau Liberals were resistant (naturally) – but eventually caved under significant public pressure and evened up the committee with a more balanced and cross-partisan division of members.

 

But yet again last week, the Trudeau Liberals sought out to dominate yet another file with no outside influences. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that his government has assembled a “Working Group of Ministers” to review all federal laws and policies as they relate to Indigenous peoples.

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This initiative is indeed a long time coming. National Indigenous Organizations like the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, and Pauktutit have long been calling for the paternalistic Indian Act, first adopted in 1876, to be repealed.

 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report spelled out many problems with this racist piece of legislation: like the fact that it was designed with the deliberate goal of assimilating all Indigenous peoples – not unlike the Indian Residential School system. As the TRC report states: “The Indian Act was a piece of colonial legislation by which, in the name of ‘protection,’ one group of people ruled and controlled another.”

 

It goes without saying that this work is reputable, well-warranted and long-awaited in Canada. The fact that it will be led by an Indigenous woman, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, the process as it’s been outlined thus far sets off a number of alarm bells. And that’s not just because the entire working group is Liberal. Here are a few of those concerns:

 

  • In 16 months, the Trudeau government has broken even some of their simplest promises to Indigenous peoples. And some really big ones.
    Ending racial discrimination of First Nations children by repairing the broken child welfare system, addressing at least a few of the 150+ boil water advisories on First Nations reserves across the country, and consulting Indigenous peoples before announcing major development projects like pipelines: is just a handful of the long list of promises the Trudeau Liberals have broken to Indigenous peoples since 2015. With a track record no better than the Harper government that preceded them, it makes it pretty tough to put any faith in this government to deliver something substantive.

 

  • There was no evidence of any formal consultation with Indigenous peoples prior to the formation of this working group.
    Exactly how, pray tell, does one examine and review a litany of discriminatory laws and policies and how they negatively impact numerous races of people without consulting those people? The only organization who has allegedly been ‘consulted’ up until this point is the Assembly of First Nations: an advocacy group that lobbies government on behalf of on-reserve First Nations (and from which Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould belonged prior to her being elected in 2015). Perhaps the Prime Minister has an explanation for this he’s yet to reveal to us, but so far, Indigenous peoples (and the rest of Canada) are in the dark.

 

  • Just one of the six ministers on this committee is Indigenous.
    The Prime Minister’s working group will be chaired by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Jody Wilson-Raybound – a trailblazer, a brilliant litigator and a highly capable Indigenous woman. Wilson-Raybound has fought all her life for the rights of her people. She’s the first Indigenous woman ever to hold the Justice portfolio for Canada, and takes every possible opportunity to remind her colleagues of her Kwakwaka’wakw heritage.Unfortunately, Wilson-Raybould will be the only Indigenous person on this working group. Here’s who will be joining her: Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs; Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard; Jane Philpott, Minister of Health; Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development; and James Gordon Carr, Minister of Natural Resources.You’d think, in the same way the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women were designed to be led for Indigenous peoples by Indigenous peoples, that more people with the lived experience of Indigeneity would be leading this working group. Apparently Trudeau didn’t feel that to be necessary.

 

  • Everyone on this committee is a biased, card-carrying Liberal.
    The Conservative government has a pretty terrible track record in their Indigenous advocacy. Liberals haven’t had the greatest history either. The New Democratic Party, however, has an Indian Residential School survivor and lifelong advocate for Indigenous equality in their shadow cabinet (Romeo Saganash) and an MP who has used every possible opportunity during his time as an MP to fight for Indigenous peoples (Charlie Angus). Excluding these Members of Parliament from this working group purely for partisan purposes does a disservice to the cause.

 

  • Reviewing multiple archaic laws and policies designed to assimilate an entire race is an extremely complex undertaking, and calls for the best of the best in Indigenous and/or Western law.
    Only one of the six ministers on this committee has any legal background whatsoever. Would you hire 5 plumbers and one mechanic to fix your car?
  • Indigenous activists, academics, Chiefs and experts are already predicting this to be yet another paternalistic government-to-Indian approach doomed to fail.
    The last thing Indigenous communities need is more wasted time and wasted money that could otherwise be spent on more urgent matters – like ending boil water advisories or building shelters for the tens of thousands of Indigenous victims of domestic violence.Pondering big questions like whether or not to scrap the Indian Act is a behemoth of a task best served by an independent advisory committee of experts (primarily Indigenous if not entirely Indigenous). Not by six partisans (5 white and one First Nations) who’s time is already stretched thin between their constituency duties and Ministerial portfolios. There’s not a chance in hell any of the MPs on this working group will have an adequate amount of time to do this work justice.

 

 

 

 

There’s no such thing as “the middle-class.”

Michael Moore’s 1989 film, Roger and Me, which documented the socio-economic fallout of General Motors’ decision to close its factory in Moore’s hometown, really spoke to me.

51gapx0wtvlWhen I was in high school in the early 2000s, the Smiths Falls Hershey Chocolate factory that employed half the town I lived in was closed and sold for cheap labour to Mexico.

The entire working class in Smiths Falls felt the repercussions of this decision. Many small business owners, like my dad, eventually went bankrupt as their customers became poorer and poorer and many people moved away to greener pastures.

Up until that point my family had always been poor, but this was the first time both of my parents found themselves unemployed at the same time. Simple things like buying groceries to feed my brother and I became challenging financial burdens for my parents.

I recall one morning when my dad fell down the stairs on his way to his failing job as a tool salesman, just before he gave up and quit.

My younger brother and I both laid in our beds that morning, listening to him sob uncontrollably in my mother’s arms before we would both catch the bus to school and pretend everything was fine. It was a time in my life I will never forget; one that has shaped a great deal of who I am today – in the same way Michael Moore’s childhood growing up in Flint shaped him.

The Trudeau Liberals’ have a number of weak talking point defenses for their political decisions and austerity measures. Since the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau has been selling himself as a savior of the middle-class in Canada. Oddly though, as economists and historians will be happy to inform you, the middle-class in Canada doesn’t really exist – and it hasn’t existed for a very long time. Not for about 30 years, in fact.

Here’s a handy explanation for this from one of my heroes, the former leader for the New Democratic Party of Canada, Ed Broadbent:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDWOm9eGVpU

 

#IndigenousLivesMatter

For years, Indigenous communities have begged for adequate social infrastructure (ie. health care, education and clean water) to foster healthier living conditions on and off reserve for youth.

Yet despite a meeting with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief (whose communities have seen the unnecessary suicide of multiple First Nations youth in recent weeks) no concrete action or commitments have been provided by the Trudeau government to curb the youth Indigenous suicide pandemic.

The 2016 Liberal budget that promised $8.4-billion toward Indigenous peoples was called a “historic” breakthrough and even “activist” by pundits and Indigenous leaders alike. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by new documents shared with CBC News, very little of these promised funds have made it to the communities which need them.

For a Prime Minister who regularly touts his commitment to building a “renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples” Trudeau raised a number of eyebrows at his recent cross-country ‘Listening Tour’ that came to a close on Treaty 1 Territory  in Winnipeg (AKA. the  “most racist” city in Canada).

Perplexingly, it seems Prime Minister Trudeau has come to the enlightened conclusion that all Indigenous youth need to conquer their suicidal thoughts is somewhere to “store their canoes.”

Now over a year into their mandate, the Trudeau government has already broken a number of promises to Indigenous peoples from green-lighting major development projects said to “bulldoze [Indigenous] rights,” to refusing transparency around the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, to straight up lying about how many boil water advisories still exist on First Nations reserves. Justifiably, Indigenous communities are pissed.

Undoubtedly the worst failure that’s become impossible to ignore is the Indigenous youth suicide pandemic; a crisis so urgent it’s even captured the attention of International human rights bodies and the Assembly of First Nations. Just last month in Wapekaka, both Chantell Fox, 12, and Jolynn Winter, 10, were the latest in a long line of suicides happening in Indigenous communities across the country.

Despite all the reconciliation rhetoric, yet another generation of First Nations children is being born into abject third-world poverty. Here in one of the richest G8 countries in the world in the last few months alone, dozens of innocent children have tragically ended their lives.

In many of the communities facing disturbingly high youth suicide rates (ie. Nunavut, Attawapiskat and La Ronge), abject poverty and poor living conditions are commonplace. And frankly, poverty is enough to drive anyone toward thoughts of self-harm, no matter what their age or ethnicity. No wonder so many Indigenous youth run away from home to tragically wind up missing or murdered.

When you think about it, what choice do these kids have? Without clean running water to drink, without a reliable doctor, without so much as a warm bed to sleep in at night, who the hell would want to live?

To add insult to injury, the many desperate parents and Chiefs fighting bureaucrats tooth and nail in court on their youths’ behalves are being ignored, patted on the head and brushed aside by the powers that be. Or threatened, apparently, like what we saw in Winnipeg.

Trudeau seems to relish the opportunity to take on his opponents in public spaces by swooping in, looking handsome, snapping selfies and pretending to save the day. Even before he was Prime Minister, he’d awkwardly wade into crowds of protestors to argue with them.

But times are changing. Those once timid opposition voices are getting angrier and smarter and they’re growing in size and purpose. And if there’s one issue that’s enough to mobilize even the most apathetic progressive, it’s kids killing themselves.

Of thrones, elitists & electoral reform

Canada is not a monarchy. And therefore, there should not be an heir to the throne.

Through history, the privileged sons of elected leaders who’ve then become elected leaders themselves have failed their countries miserably (the best contemporary example, of course, being George W. Bush).

No matter how elitist, good looking or wealthy the son of Pierre Trudeau may be, he is not and never will be entitled to lead a country that did not elect him.

Due to our undemocratic voting system (FPTP) that saw the Liberals capture a false majority, Trudeau is now Prime Minister. And come hell or high water, he and his Liberals (the self-proclaimed ‘Natural Governing Party’) are determined to keep it that way.

Rather than respecting a year’s worth of research, testimony and fulsome debate which ultimately demonstrated Canadians’ desire to reform our broken electoral system, Justin Trudeau has now decided that he knows better than everybody, has cast their efforts aside, and broken his own promise on electoral reform.

So much for real change®.

#MuslimBan shit is about to hit the fan

 

Before the breaking news banner had even slipped off our Canadian news tickers, the 45th President of the United States picked up the phone on Sunday night to call the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada.

Trump took it upon himself to offer his personal ‘condolences’ to Canada, following a fatal shooting at a Muslim mosque in Quebec City. The shooting sent instant shockwaves across the country and, apparently, into the United States.

That call would be one of the first ever interactions by these two world leaders who will inevitably be required to work together – or at least work around each other – for the next several years. We may never know precisely what words were exchanged, but what we can gather by the tweets and public commentary that have followed, it was a cordial, diplomatic and professional interaction. If you value your way of life the way it is, this should worry you.

Not unlike Richard Nixon, or Vladimir Putin, or Adolf Hitler, Donald Trump is an impulsive instigator. He likes to push buttons, he likes to cause drama, and he likes to start fires at every possible opportunity.

Whether Trump considers the consequences of his beliefs or his actions is debatable. What is becoming increasingly clear, though, is that Trump’s campaign promises were neither fiction nor whimsy as many of us foolishly assumed them to be. They were real, they were planned, and now they’re happening. And what took place here in Canada on Sunday night – a horrific hate crime that saw six innocent human beings people murdered in the midst of prayer – is just the beginning of what Trump has in store for us.

We Canadians should brace ourselves. The shit is about to hit the fan.

Spirituality versus religion

I’m on my knees
I’m beckoning a cloud of smoking sage

I’m yearning, searching, fighting, seeking

Religion does not feed my soul
Spirituality fills me, feeds me, fulfills me

When He hears my prayer, when my prayer is answered
Tears stream down my face
My fears and angers and self-doubts are lifted

I know I am loved
I know I am safe
I know I exist for a reason