It’s not just the Indigenous people

15 Mar 2013

Courtesy of

A forum on Aboriginal issues was held late February at Douglas College, in support of Idle No More. Flavoured on the sidelines by bannock and cheese slices, the forum featured old and new activists involved in the Indigenous movement. The unchanging Aboriginal issues were discussed on the forum. They included infringements on First Nations concerns brought by the federal government’s omnibus bills, the past-and-present colonial relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian government, and current issues faced by Aboriginal individuals and families. Moderated group conversations after the panel talk discussed each attendee’s own feelings and opinions about the stories and issues said by the panel. By the end of the event, it seemed that most of the individuals present agreed on the necessity of solving the Aboriginal problem, and that this won’t come through government or settler paternalism but through self-made actions by Aboriginal peoples themselves. Self-determination, in their own words. It was a triumphant and jubilant night for those involved.

Since I failed to ask everybody on that auditorium whether they shared my opinions, once can only speak for oneself. In divergence from the wide agreement among the auditorium population, unanswered questions held me back from joining the euphoria. While the issues discussed were important, the nature of those issues in relation to the larger, outside context prevented me from fully accepting their cause.

The group discussion I joined involved each of us saying two words we took from what the panel said. Most of those “two words” were sympathetic and supportive of the Indigenous movement. My two words were “understanding” and “distance.” “Understanding” in that many of the issues discussed were reasonable and the injustices done against Aboriginal peoples really unjust, and “distance” in that certain questions made me skeptical from full support. It’s doubtless that injustices were done against Indigenous peoples in this country. Musqueam elder Larry Grant talked about his family’s expulsion from present-day Sapperton to make way for a military base. The youngest panellist mentioned a sister’s death in the hands of Indo-Canadian youths at night due to wearing Idle No More apparel. Stories of the colonial relationship between First Nations and European settlers and governments were told: displacement of First Nations from their traditional lands, attempts at destruction of their identity through assimilation, and the consequence of all these tragedies in everyday Indigenous life. Threats of the omnibus bills on traditional life and the environment were also said by the panel. But it didn’t end with sighs of passive hopelessness. Idle No More was bannered as a historical moment of Indigenous peoples rising up to fight for their rights. All the guests displayed confidence, insisting that now is the time Indigenous peoples take back what was stolen from them.

Yet some of the things said and shown during the event bothered me. The emphasis on “colonialism” and the dominated situation of Indigenous peoples, despite proclamations of triumph, made me think of this as solely an Indigenous matter, concerning First Nations alone. Why does it matter and how does this relate to us non-Indigenous persons? Does the emphasis on Aboriginal self-determination mean the original inhabitants will kick the settlers out of the land someday? One of the panellists who appeared at the group discussion talked of Indigenous history as a way to prevent a myopic view of Indigenous people, and putting ourselves in their shoes to better understand their situation – the answers weren’t satisfying. The question here is how does this Aboriginal movement fit in the bigger Canadian situation. Being an Indigenous-centred affair runs the risk of neglecting the other parts of the national population. It could be that this movement forms one part of the wider Canadian movement against erosion of public welfare by moneyed interests, but that has yet to be seen.

Perhaps there is nothing bad with an Aboriginal-centred movement. They have taken the extra mile to accommodate non-Indigenous peoples and help them understand what the movement is about. The event itself was targeted at newer immigrant communities in BC. The important question here is its relation to the wider Canadian movement for the national good.

The dilemma with Stalin

15 Mar 2013

Stalin looks at you…and smiles. Wonder what he could be thinking. Photo courtesy of

During this year’s 70th anniversary celebration of the pivotal Battle of Stalingrad, regional legislators voted to revert the city’s name, now Volgograd, to its wartime name a few times each year for war-related commemorations. In addition, the speaker of the Russian upper house promoted the idea of a city referendum on returning the name permanently. A very small personal observation on the Internet showed that most residents would prefer the money involved in such a name change be spent preferably on road repair. National opinions on this proposal are split along political lines, with Communists and pro-government forces supporting the reversion while liberals and human-rights advocates opposing it. This divided response to the idea shows Stalin’s equally divided legacy on the landscape he once ruled, the man remembered as either saviour of the motherland or cruel tyrant. It also makes us reflect on the phenomenon of people who left both good and bad in their historical legacies, and the complex and painful process of dealing with them.

Examples of mixed legacies abound around us, especially with political leaders. They range from Park Chung-hee’s responsibility for both South Korea’s political repression and economic prosperity to Castro’s guarantee of Cuban independence and social equality as well as its authoritarianism. Non-political examples are also present, like Wagner’s and Heidegger’s important contributions to music and philosophy, respectively, and their connection to Nazism. Even Hitler can be seen as a divisive figure if one is to account his contributions to Germany’s economic recovery before the war, which historians have given all sorts of explanations in an effort to dampen the importance of those contributions. This is one way this dilemma’s resolved – lessen the importance and give various explanations for the person’s positive achievements. This includes something basic as dismissing the positive contribution completely, saying “he did bring internal order, but his mistakes were greater,” or more elaborate as stating those reasons why that contribution is negligible, such as attributing the good events to external forces. The proponents of this view cannot believe or accept that a villain can contribute a good thing to the surrounding society, therefore the evil aspects of the person must be strongly emphasised and any contrary evidence to that characterisation must be either suppressed or clarified to the detriment of the person.

The other way to deal with the mixed legacy is naturally to emphasise the good part. This differs little from the character-bashing mentioned earlier. In this case, the historical figure’s positive contribution is highlighted while the negative aspect is mostly forgotten. In the Cuban case, Castro’s reputation of anti-US resistance has been acclaimed by progressives here in North America, Western Europe and elsewhere – without mention how this same resistance is responsible for the current state of Cuban democracy. Here in Canada, Trudeau’s legacy of civil rights and constitutional patriation are widely praised, without thinking how his ideas differed from the majority of Quebecois he claimed to represent. While such forgetful celebration of positive legacies is common for popularly-elected politicians, this is more dangerous for those otherwise seen as dictators. The risk of “whitewashing” the person’s image to the detriment of forgetting the darker aspect, thus endangering future generations, must be remembered when depicting the dictator as nice guy.

In fact, none of these approaches fully deal with the complexity brought by mixed historical legacies. They tend to emphasise one side while conveniently neglecting the other, and this happens even among experts careful in their objectivity. Complete disinterest in the legacy is no better, as it only lets the problem fester further. Perhaps one method in dealing with this dilemma is one based on three concepts: general moral principles, the role of the people, and human complexity. Does the legacy conform to principles widely recognised as morally good? What are the people’s contributions in dealing with their condition? How much of human nature is seen in that legacy? An approach that doesn’t seek balance but the complexity, morality and dignity of human life can be a way to deal with these confused legacies around us.

When foreign eyes are smiling

15 Mar 2013

Courtesy of Sun News Network

When you open the computer and visit the Web, has it crossed your mind that someone with hostile intentions is looking at every action you make and accessing every important data you enter there? Is your regular talk mate at work, school or the coffee house a foreign agent? Does every word you carelessly blurt out in conversation a valuable gem of information worth recording?

Given how significant we average, normal folks are in the spying order of things, it’s most likely all of these things haven’t happened to you. Nevertheless, the awareness that someone out there is gathering secret information for the employer’s gain and the target’s loss has never been more important. In Brian Stewart’s February 1 report for the CBC, in the aftermath of Canadian naval officer Jeffrey Delisle’s arrest for selling intelligence to Russia, he states that espionage has vastly increased since the end of the Cold War. More countries are now involved, technological advances have greatly aided intelligence-gathering, and economic as well as military intelligence is the most sought-after treasure. The primary beneficiaries of these are Putin and the Chinese Communist Party, and Western governments and businesses are in a worried, costly scramble over securing their precious secrets against this aggressive, cyber-aided spying campaign.

Through all this, Canada has been at the receiving end of the outcries and sobs by Western intelligence, especially in the aftermath of the Delisle affair. The country is now the “soft underbelly,” the weakest link in the otherwise strong security fence against enemies of the Western capitalist world – never mind that the US and our other so-called allies have also suffered intelligence leaks. What this article concerns itself, however, aren’t the problems Canada and its allies face regarding this threat and the solutions in dealing with the latter, but rather a contemplation of it in connection to Canadian security and sovereignty. In short, this espionage threat in relation to Canada alone.

Canada has lived in a dependent relationship with other countries, specifically from the east and south of us, for most of its history. The French and British empires were replaced by the U.S. Empire. Uncle Sam has replaced Louis XIV and Queen Victoria as our objects of deference and genuflection. We now export more natural resources southward than eastward. When before the fashionable things in London are the fashionable things here, now the coolest stuff from New York is the coolest stuff here. We’re now apparently facing a threat from our west. Such a deferential history must be taken to account regarding grumbles and disapprovals from our security partners about our intelligence capabilities. The most important thing here is how this threat affects us solely. If our so-called partners tell us that a national approach to our security is narrow-minded and threatens to split the alliance, we must tell them back on how they expect Canada to perform well in the alliance when it’s treated as a subordinate member there. An effective alliance can only happen when all of its members and their opinions are treated equally, and right now this isn’t happening especially in regards to Canada.

In fact Canada can’t be too trusting of its allies, given that they’re also spying on this country. If we believe the argument that in this world, countries are only here for themselves, that acts of generosity to other nations are only for the country’s benefit, then Canada must be too wary in joining alliances that might not be beneficial to it. The autonomy and sovereignty of this country must be the basic pillars of Canadian security policy. The protection of national interests, namely the defence of domestic development and the promotion of a more independent position globally, must be its guiding principles. If this would involve leaving the Western alliance and going alone, so be it. One of the documentary’s interviewees was right when he said that the popular belief of being Canadian equals no outside threats is “wrong” and dangerous. Anyone interested in ensuring our independence must be prepared to do what’s needed to keep it as such.


EDIT: Added links to the web article and video of Mr Stewart’s report (07-12-2013).

A couple (relatively) new articles from your favourite college newspaper

03 Mar 2013

Two articles from The Other Press can be accessed here and here, originally titled “In defence of poutine” and “Why nationalism is necessary for internationalism” respectively. Hope you get amused.