A paper for those of us a little older…
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Different Paths – Common Ground by Beverly Sabourin & Peter Globensky

Beverly Sabourin

Peter Andre Globensky

 

Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, live in Thunder Bay.

The Water Walkers
To someone who did not know her well, she might appear shy, even reticent. Her quiet and kindly demeanour, slightly dishevelled hair, gentle and reflective eyes and soft spoken manner is everything you would want and expect in a grandmother. But this is no ordinary Aboriginal Elder. Beneath that calm and calming exterior is a passion and commitment to bring attention to how we must respect and protect water – a life-sustaining resource she is convinced we take for granted. Wise well beyond her 74 years, Josephine Mandamin is a Water Walker. In the past 13 years, walking staff and trademark copper water bucket in hand, she and her fellow nature-keepers have walked around all five of the Great Lakes, which would be no mean feat for someone half her age! A resident of Thunder Bay, she moved here with her family from Wikwemikong First Nation in northeastern Ontario and has spent a lifetime contributing to the well-being of First Nations peoples. She is currently president of Beendigen, a crisis home for Aboriginal women and a family healing agency in Thunder Bay.
peterg1When we spoke with her, she was about to depart on yet another water trek, this time to Wisconsin to bring attention to the plight of the Menomonee River and it was clear that while she may be slowing down in a few other areas of her life, issues relating to water have her moving full steam ahead. “Another Anishinabe quay grandmother and I started Mother Earth Water Walkers about thirteen years ago,” she told us. “I was attending a Sun Dance ceremony in Pipestone and a message came to me loud and clear that we had to educate our own people and society at large on the vital importance of water and the need to respect its life-sustaining spirit. After all, as Aboriginal women or Anishinabe quay, we are the water carriers.” Mandamin decided that circling the lakes with her own spirit and those of other water walkers, meeting with as many community leaders, officials and with as many citizens groups as possible, would be a very personal way of drawing attention to both the state of our lakes and waterways and what we must do to protect them. She has participated in over 17,000 kilometers of water walks, organized and attended numerous conferences and symposia on water quality issues and reminded countless thousands of “the spirits living next door and providing us with what sustains our lives.”
Mandamin and her fellow water walkers supported by a crew of logistics personnel began with Gichigami – Lake Superior, “the most majestic of the Great Lakes – a lake that is at once powerful, treacherous, gentle and clear. A lake that has not yet been destroyed or polluted with chemicals and other toxic materials, a lake that reminds us how our water needs to be kept pristine.”
It is somewhat ironic that around the same time period when the idea of Mother Earth Water Walkers began to germinate, the Canadian Council of Environment Ministers was confronted with a challenge from a Malaysian tanker applying for a permit to extract bulk water from Lake Superior for sale abroad. Alarmed by the potential ecosystem impacts of the removal of such large quantities of water for sale abroad, the Canadian government eventually passed legislation prohibiting such exports. Great Lakes provinces and states have adopted similar measures.
Nearly 35 million people, a number equal to the population of Canada, live around the five great freshwater lakes. This number, coupled with the thousands of industries and agricultural enterprises which rely on the these water bodies for everything from adequate drinking water to sewage and chemical effluent treatment beg the question of how much is enough and where are the limits of ecosystem tolerance.
In February of this year, Josephine Mandamin was presented with the Ontario Heritage Trust award for Excellence in Conservation. A tribute to a remarkable, humble and powerful woman and Elder who, more than most, has walked her talk.
Beverly Sabourin is a member of the Pic Mobert First Nation and the recently retired Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. They invite your comments at basa1@shaw.ca

At the Corner of Grief and Misery
Where the Present has No Future

How much grief and misery mixed into the stew of destitution and poverty can a community endure and still survive? For Cross Lake, Pikangikum and Attawapiskat First Nations a springtime of renewal has become the season of death. The statistics are soul-numbing: scores of children and youth in these communities and others across Canada dying by their own hand – lifeless bodies hanging at the end of a rope. Hundreds more adolescents have attempted suicide and hundreds more than that have been on a “suicide watch.” In many cases, that is all we have been able to do: watch, while this tragic epidemic of death continues! In 2011, Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner produced enough data to affirm Pikangikum as the suicide capital of the world. In Attawapiskat, in our collective headlights only a few years ago due to a housing and water calamity, young people have created suicide pacts in what has astonishingly become a suicide contagion, a dis-ease caused by a present that has no future. And some elders, colonized by their Christianity will not permit these children to be buried in a cemetery. Shunned even in death!
The abbreviated lives of these children of hopelessness have run their short course and play out in communities where the legacy of residential schools and colonialism have fragmented the culture and created a mindset of dependency. Where economic opportunities are non-existent, gainful employment but wishful thinking and operating capacity minimal. Where a child’s education and social development are severely truncated by mouldy schools if any, absent or crumbling infrastructure, sub-standard housing, boil-water advisories, pit privies, intermittent electricity and woefully inadequate health and social services and, often, a contaminated environment. But thanks to sporadic internet and television, the world out there and its conspicuous consumption and opulent lifestyles – the chi-chi fashion and food channels, the models bespangled with diamonds from De Beers, multi-million dollar mansions and fast and furious cars – is splayed out and serves to remind these kids of their crushing poverty.
Against this disintegrating backdrop are the experiences of the kids themselves. Drugs and gas-sniffing become recreational outlets because recreational facilities are non-existent. Boredom is interminable and constant accompanied by an overwhelming sense of loss when one of their friends chooses the only escape. Kids are having babies and many parents, hobbled by their own demons, struggle to provide but a semblance of guidance and protection. And we wonder why these kids succumb to the alternate, numbing reality induced by drugs, alcohol or ultimately, perpetual darkness.
Following the outrage in Attawapiskat, the government of Ontario kicked in $2 million and provided additional health care workers for a 30-day band-aid period in the hope of stemming the tide of children killing themselves. Ministers and MPs visit. Bureaucrats quickly come and go. They all promise better times and solutions. That should moderate things for a while and get this horrible embarrassment off the front pages! The crisis passes, the media widely known for their Attention Deficit Disorder move on to the next controversy or spectacle and we go back to filling our bird-feeders. But these are very quickly becoming intractable problems. If the pages of all the studies, reports and recommendations examining the horror of young people killing themselves were placed end-to-end, there would be enough to wallpaper Canada!
The too-few among us all who pay attention to these issues have heard it all before – especially when a crisis of this terrible magnitude occurs: “The government needs to establish a national suicide prevention strategy,” or “we need to improve the lives and prospects of Aboriginal Canadians living in third world conditions in one of the richest countries in the world,” followed by even more beaucoup de blah blah. Until the powers that be – the innumerable federal and provincial politicians and bureaucrats, departments and agencies, the tribal councils, the local health and education authorities and networks, the First Nations representative organizations, the Chiefs and their Councils – in short, all those silos with few-to-no connecting bridges, all with their own oars in the water protecting their very vested moats – until they are able to establish a centre of control with decision-making authority to enforce a coordinated effort to priorize and implement the scores of expert recommendations and finally effectively address the abject poverty in First Nations, the hand-wringing and impotence will continue. We know we can do better – we just don’t demand it. Until enough of us do, more children are going to die by the hopelessness of their own hand and Canada will continue to remain a contradiction.
Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.

Immigrants – It must be tough!
Travelling through the United States, we have been hard-pressed to find any news on any media that does not blare out “DONALD TRUMP” in their headlines. In a land where spectacle trumps (no pun intended) substance and celebrities guarantee an audience, this “unique” (and we are being kind) US presidential candidate is a media dream. They follow his every outrageous remark, his every slur. From his horrid, sexist comment to a female news reporter (“you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever”) to his avalanche of false and trumped-up claims (pun intended), the bombast from this Clown Prince of Politics is a media dream because it is spectacle. But perhaps his most fear-mongering diatribe to date, was his call to both ban Muslims from entering the country and expel 11 million alien residents. Among Trump’s many problems as a political sociopath, immigrants and immigration seem to be near the top of his list.
A few weeks ago, we came across this marvelous and thought-provoking poster. We sent the poster to all we knew and put it up on Facebook. Most were able to make the connection between Trump’s racism on immigration and the message in the poster. Some were not. We want to share an exchange with one of our friends whose response to the poster was not atypical of the general sentiment one would likely find among the Canadian public. The exchange began with our friend: “When do we stop being immigrants Bev and Peter? I mean, after multiple generations of our family born in Canada, am I really supposed to relate to this poster? Seems to me that an immigrant is someone who chooses or is forced to go to another country to live. But if you are born here, you have not made that choice. Its really a false distinction now, for all of us who are native (sic) born.” He had obviously missed the point of the poster.
Tongue-in-cheek we responded by saying: “I think you suffer from MAD Syndrome (Majority Auto Defense Syndrome) acquired by a significant number of Canadians who are angry and tired of feeling beat upon by all manner of minority and disadvantaged groups who blame “mainstream Canadians” for all their ills. This is particularly the case when Aboriginal Canadians (who are often thought of as free-riders, blah, blah, blah) point fingers at the larger society and say “you are mostly the cause of this and it started when you were the immigrants!”
“Friend,” we continued, “Look at it this way for once. Let’s suppose you and your family work a 20,000 acreage ranch on the high, rolling plains of southern Alberta. It has been in your family for generations. The original 160 acres was acquired by your great grandparents in the 1860’s. Through an entrepreneurial spirit and the sweat of their brows, your great grandparents expanded their initial land acquisition and ranching operations. The ranch has grown with each successive generation. Their son and then your parents brought significant improvements and acquisitions – to the point that you inherited, as is your right, a multi-million dollar business located on some of the most valuable land in Alberta. You and your partner have improved that value by modernizing equipment and selling agricultural products. Yours is a material success story by any measure!”
“What is little known however, as the initial records were deliberately destroyed for reasons which will become obvious, is how the original land was acquired. Through the use of threats, bribes and legal wranglings, a corrupt government Indian agent sold parcels of lands which had been set aside for exclusive Indian use in order to line his own pockets and accommodate land speculators. Indians were evicted or relocated. Knowingly or unknowingly your great grandparents and all their descendents including you, benefitted from this transaction. Are you personally responsible for this? No. Did that removal indirectly contribute to your success – absolutely!”
The poster is an intentional mockery of Trump’s fear-mongering remarks while reminding people at the same time that when his ancestors to America as immigrants in the 1880s, Aboriginal peoples were having a rough time of it, to put it mildly!
Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. They invite your comments at basa1@shaw.ca

First Nations and Addictions
When it Hits Close to Home

We have all heard the stories. Most of us have been touched by them – if not in our hearts then in our guts. Heart-wrenching narratives of substance abuse and addictions in First Nations communities which have destroyed lives and torn apart the families who loved those lives. Tragic stories that have been recounted through tears of pain and sorrow. Endings or outcomes that could have been different if only, if only, if only. If only the parents had not suffered the legacy of residential schools, the hopelessness of youth suicides, the life-limiting prospects of welfare and no work, the scourge of alcohol, the too-easy availability of drugs and the illusion of easy money, the systemic and institutional racism and the marginalization of Aboriginal peoples by successive governments. Why would anyone not want to escape this whirlpool into that black hole of peaceful oblivion?
A bleak picture you may say? More doom and gloom from the Indigenous side of town? If this were a tract from a dispassionate observer, we could agree. But it isn’t. It is the emotional reaction we had had upon hearing that a member of our extended family had quietly descended into that black hole reaching for that blurred and tarnished brass ring of escape on that dizzying carousel of drug addiction. It was the magical combination of love, luck and good fortune that she was stopped before she took that final step over the precipice. She is now in treatment.
By any proportionate demographic or statistic, and for the reasons cited above, our Aboriginal brothers and sisters are far more likely to fall victim to the siren songs of alcohol and drug addiction. The numerous, varied and fully subscribed treatment programs primarily oriented to Aboriginal Canadians are a visible testament to this scourge. They serve as a beacon back to reality no matter how harsh that reality may be. While confronting the demons and filling the emptiness is an essential part of recovery, as in all matters of health care, prevention should be given as much prominence as treatment. And that obligation cannot be placed upon over-worked and underfunded Aboriginal police forces. That the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Services Drug Unit were able to seize Percs and other drugs headed for Eabametoong First Nation earlier this month was as much a result of luck as it was hard-work.
While acknowledging the importance of implementing broad-stroke policies such as those outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, there are “boots on the ground” actions that do not require protracted periods of consultation and negotiation. Part of the responsibility for controlling the in-flow of narcotics into remote First Nations communities, particularly those where access is controlled or restricted, can and should be placed directly at the feet of these same First Nations. Even communities adjacent to urban centres, like the Fort William First Nation can exercise a far greater degree of substance control. Who among the leadership of these communities is completely ignorant of those in the community who traffic in despair? Are vehicle or baggage spot-checks out of the question? If this is indeed sovereign territory, why isn’t the traditional practice of banishment not brought back into use for local traffickers.
But the lion’s share of responsibility for controlling the distribution and re-distribution of narcotics must be placed squarely on the padded shoulders of our health care system. In dispensing 30 tablets of percs to control pain, why is Dr. Smith prohibited from knowing that Dr. Jones prescribed double that amount to the same patient yesterday? The government cites “privacy concerns” which is a ruse at best. We trust our medical professionals with our lives. So why is it that we cannot trust them with our fully disclosed medical records? Surely that would be a much needed first step in controlling the trafficking in narcotics. One does not kill the noxious plant by removing the leaf – you go directly to the root! Then again, we have to see the dots before we connect them!

MOTHER EARTH – FIRST NATIONS – LAST CHANCES!
When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.
… attributed to Alanis Obomsawin – Abenaki

One of the most valuable lessons we were taught as kids was that our actions produced consequences. This learning exercise was particularly helpful when it came to harmful activities. If we read under the covers until we finished that book, we would be drag-butt tired the next day. If we put our hand on a hot wood stove, we quickly and painfully learned not to repeat that practice. In every case it was the immediacy of the consequence that taught us the lesson. Maybe that is why we have a hard time believing that there will be any negative consequences to our actions in the way we harm Mother Earth.
At the top of that rather long list of harmful actions – from polluting the water and air which sustain our lives to the depletion of our natural resources, is our dependence on fossil fuels. They produce the greenhouse gases which are now, without doubt, warming our planet. That evidence is now substantial and we are already witness to the effects of Mother Earth’s lessons on consequence. Extreme weather events are now and will be more frequent and intense. Ice cover in the Canadian north is thinning and decreasing in area, and the length and stability of winter roads will be a “convenience” of the past. The impact on northern and isolated indigenous communities in Canada will become more pronounced due to a rapidly warming climate. The northern boreal forest will recede, eventually replaced by aspen grasslands. The tundra will diminish and the permafrost will begin to melt and heave. All of this will result in the displacement of flora and fauna. The polar bear will struggle, migration routes of both animals and birds will change, altered by changing weather. New, very different ecosystems will emerge. Aboriginal people will be stewards of a very different landscape and will be forced, if they are able, to adapt to a very different environment.
There is a terrible irony in all of this. Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) is now so highly regarded that it is a required, fundamental part of any environmental assessment process where the traditional rights and lands of indigenous people may be impacted. ATK to quote the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, “is a body of knowledge built up by a group of people through generations of living in close contact with nature. ATK is cumulative and dynamic. It builds upon the historic experiences of a people and adapts to social, economic, environmental, spiritual and political change.” The irony here is that the changes wrought by global warming will be so fundamentally broad and widespread that the knowledge of previous generations will carry little meaning in the new landscape. The migration and calving habits of caribou known by communities for generations will be of little use, if there are no longer any caribou!
Sometime back Peter was among a group of Canadians trained by Al Gore to make presentations on the dangers a warming climate could bring to Mother Earth. After a number of such presentations he concluded that no amount of education on the subject would be sufficient to confront the well-financed interests from the oil cartels. They have had the resources to buy off some willing “scientists” leading to the publication of junk science whose sole purpose is to cast doubt on the role of fossil fuels in warming the earth. Of course, they were aided and abetted by the Stephen Harper government whose commitment to making Canada an energy-superpower left them both blind and dumb (in every sense of that word) to the rapidly mounting evidence of a warming planet that they were and are consistently ignoring. Why do Conservatives not know how to conserve?
Should the Paris talks on Climate Change not produce a realistic, binding and necessarily ambitious agreement to significantly reduce carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels; if we continue to blunder along with our business-as-usual approach to ignoring the consequences of our actions, then Mother Earth will produce consequences and have the last words – the ones we will all hear before the cries of First Nations and Inuit communities across Canada lamenting the loss of their culture so dependent on an ancient landscape drastically altered by global warming.

BEAR WITH US!
Those of you who may be deeply enamoured with hunting – the only “sport” where the competition does not know they are in the game, may wish to turn the page. This article addresses the disgraceful practice of bear-baiting and offers a view of the animal and this appalling “hunting” practice from both an Ojibwe and Western science perspective. In many traditional and intact Aboriginal cultures, human beings are but another species of creation equally entitled, like all other species, to share in the bounty of Mother Earth. The Spirit of that creation abides in all that is upon the Earth – from the restless waves of Gichi-Gamiing to the wind-swayed plants, from your neighbour in your community, to the animal spirits who may act as both guardians and messengers. That is why when sustenance was taken from that bounty be it plants or animals, a prayer of thanksgiving was offered. Like the eagle, the bear in Ojibwe culture has enjoyed a special distinction. Beverly’s grandfather who was considered a traditional medicine man and healer in his community always considered the bear to be a returning relation who had gone on to the spirit world. If the bear was encountered in nature, for instance during berry-picking forays, it was left undisturbed in its corner of the berry patch and while a wary eye was always maintained, both bear and berry-pickers carried on their harvesting each to their own pursuits.
This is not to romanticize the animal into the realm of New Age mysticism. Without question, the bear was often hunted for both its medicinal and sustenance properties. Thanks was offered and all or most parts of the animal from its claws symbolizing spiritual power to the grease it could produce were fully utilized. The connection to the bear was both spiritual and practical.
Now contrast this conceptual approach to the bear with that of the proponents of bear-baiting. To them the bear is a but a titillating and dangerous nuisance that should be eliminated – nothing more, nothing less. But it does beg the question: Why do they call it a spring “bear hunt” when these so-called “hunters” decked out in camos and fortified with Twinkies and hand-warmers sit in a tree blind baiting the unsuspecting animal to a slop pail of donuts, leftovers and other human food that they have so generously laid out for it? And we wonder why bears raid our garbage cans and become the nuisance animals we have trained them to be! And this is a sport? If it is, it is akin to shooting trout in a barrel. This is not hunting – it is lethargic entrapment and should be named and banned for what it is! It is a lazy cull not a “hunt”
When the Government of Ontario initially outlawed the spring bear hunt, the Ministry of Natural Resources had prepared a report confirming that over 250 cubs had been orphaned because of this archaic practice. When bears emerge from hibernation in mid-spring, lethargic, hungry and an easy target for “bear-baiters”, the cubs born to the mothers are barely 3 or 4 months old. Starving to death for lack of mother’s milk is an “externality” or collateral damage that organizations like the Northwest Ontario Sportsmen’s (sic) Alliance either do not take into account or don’t care about. And I doubt very much that these bear-baiters, in anticipation of killing the baited animal are going to stop long enough to determine if their “sport” prize is a male or a lactating female! Checking that out may result in a somewhat painful if not well-deserved smack! What is worse is fewer than 50 of every 100 of these “hunters”, when given the required license tag failed to fulfill the requirement of reporting on their entrapped catch! Conservation at its best indeed.
Perhaps if we stopped encroaching on their habitat, encouraging their taste for human food and garbage with slop pails, and continuously destroying their food sources, we would not have the dreaded bear encounters that these “baiters” and their lobbying organizations appear to fear so much.
How about bear meat for Christmas dinner Minister Mauro? Humbug!
Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. They invite your comments at basa1@shaw.ca

Nov. 2015

Fire Song: A Great Film – but an Opportunity Missed.
Sometime back we had the pleasure of creating an innovative literacy project in Thunder Bay involving the numerous talents of the Cree playwright and author Tomson Highway (The Rez Sisters, Kiss of the Fur Queen). The project examined Aboriginal literature in Canada and how those stories influenced the evolution of the many Aboriginal identities in our shared country. Part of the project involved a cataloguing of the works of Aboriginal authors in Canada. To accomplish this task, we interviewed a dozen applicants for the position of research associate. Every applicant except one was Aboriginal and all were undertaking graduate work at a post-secondary institution. Had these interviews been conducted 25 years ago we would have been fortunate to have had one Aboriginal candidate – let alone candidates working on their graduate degrees. To us this was proof positive that Aboriginal youth continue to move beyond the circles of dependency and creating futures for themselves.
The very same trajectory of success can be charted for the growth of Aboriginal films and media produced and directed by Aboriginal artists in Canada. From very modest beginnings, often fuelled by a vibrant National Film Board, to an award-winning mini-industry, a report recently commissioned by ImagiNATIVE concluded that “. . . .Canada is considered to be one of the “pillars” of Indigenous cinema.
Recently, the North of Superior Film Association, a reel innovative cinema group premiered Fire Song to a Thunder Bay audience. And for good reason! Filmed in the Fort William and Wabigoon First Nations the film was co-produced by Thunderstone Productions whose award-winning President, Michelle Derosiers calls Thunder Bay home. Directed by Adam Garnet Jones, the film features a vibrant cast of young and talented Aboriginal actors. It tells the story of a young man (Shane) seeking to define his own sexual identify and his constantly interrupted commitment to pursue an education which will take him away from his own community. His story and his dream both unfold and unravel against a backdrop of tragedy and the “business-as-usual” social issues which plague so many Aboriginal communities. Shane has just lost his sister to suicide. His mother appears unable to emerge from an abiding grief over the suicide loss of her daughter. The film then careens through other tragedies and challenges. Obviously angry and conflicted Shane wants out, all the while holding tight to the Holy Grail of pursuing a university degree in Toronto, yet lacking the financial means to do so. You would think “uplifting” could never apply to this tightly-woven, initially despairing film! But the ending does uplift – and it was worth waiting for it. But there was one disquieting aspect to the film.
At the recent world premiere at TIFF, the intro suggested “With sensitivity and intelligence, Fire Song confronts some of the most pressing questions facing First Nations communities.” Confront would not be the word we would use. Even the word examine would not do. The film missed an opportunity to do so. The only explicit reference to an issue came from the traditional Elder when she was forced through love and family loyalty to alter her view of two-spirited people. Not that the film avoided the “new normal” in so many First Nations communities. Fire Song played out in front of a backdrop of inadequate housing, alcoholism, sexual abuse and incest, drug addictions and even a “corner store” for bootlegging booze and peddling soul-killing narcotics owned by a gun-tottin’ mama! But the film served this up as a backdrop which perhaps made the assumption that this is the way things were with no one railing against it. Even the ending of the film suggested that escape was the preferred option.
With many, when a vista is spread out before them full of large swatches of leafless trees as far as the eye can see, it may help to point out that it is a damaging blight, and not just the changing of the seasons. Still, it is a film very much worth seeing – if only the dots viewers are expected to connect were amplified as being unacceptable.
Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. They invite your comments at basa1@shaw.ca

Oct. 2015

What Reconciliation Might Look Like
In June of this year, Justice Murray Sinclair submitted a preliminary report of the findings and recommendations of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The mandate of the TRC was to complete a comprehensive examination of the legacy of the residential school system in Canada through the collection of testimony from survivors and others impacted by this misguided policy. Over 150,000 Aboriginal children were taken from their parents, placed in boarding schools and systematically strapped and stripped of their language and cultural heritage. The 94 recommendations offers a blueprint for action to restore justice and fundamentally alter the prevailing narratives between the descendants of Canada’s First Peoples and our larger Canadian society. Implementing these recommendations begins to address the horrid third-world conditions which define the lives of so many Aboriginal Canadians and represent the most damnable of the intergenerational legacies of the soul-sapping residential schools era.
Through the tears of painful stories and the scars of memory, the Truth has been gathered and meticulously documented. But that agonizing testimony will be for naught if the recommendations for Reconciliation fall prey to the dust of archival shelves corroding in the dingy basements of government buildings across the land.
But in the context of the results of the Commission’s work what does it mean to reconcile? The common dictionary definition of “reconcile” suggests it is an active verb the purpose of which is “to restore friendly relations between people and/or to make seemingly incompatible things able to exit together without problems or conflict.” So whose turn is it now to do the heavy lifting? Implementing most of the recommendations of the TRC has been placed squarely in the uncomfortable laps of the federal and provincial governments. But is that sufficient? Are governments in Canada solely responsible for undertaking acts of reconciliation in the name of all Canadians? Or is there more to be done?
Without question, governments in Canada must take the lead in righting current legacy grievances. The recommendations are an appropriate and excellent place to start. Additionally, the Accords (Kelona comes to mind), and Memoranda of Agreements such as those signed by the Chiefs of Ontario and British Columbia and their respective premiers are signs of a renewing social partnership. So long as committed and engaged Canadians of all cultural stripes keep their governments’ feet to the fire with respect to these commitments, there is a real chance that positive change can occur. However, it is not only in the realm of changed policies and government practises where reconciliation can take place. We all have a burden to bear and survivors have already done their share. Nor is it up to the Aboriginal leadership in Canada to keep these issues alive.
Information and reflection are both pre-requisites to action. Compassionate Canadians can become familiar with the tragic history of Indian residential schools, the work of the TRC, and its recommendations. An excellent place to start is at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba (http://umanitoba.ca/nctr). Suitably armed and depending on one’s talents and passions, there are numerous channels open to further action – the media, school boards, Councils of Clergy and churches are but a few. Penetrating the density of hoary mainstream curricula in educational institutions and introducing the Aboriginal reality into them and training educators about how to address that reality would prove of exceptional value. From where we write in Thunder Bay, St. Paul’s United Church has organized a community forum of information and suggestions for action on the Reconciliation side of the agenda. As for the visionaries and “big-picture” people out there, why not raise funds to organize a Canada-wide tour of two or three representatives of other Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in the world that have undertaken or completed their work. With over 31 of them, might we not learn from their experiences in the art and act of Reconciliation? Any takers?
All Canadians are responsible for examining attitudes towards and changing the narrative with Aboriginal Canadians. Are they generally positive or negative and if the latter, why is that – where does that come from?
Seventy years ago award-wining Canadian author Hugh MacLennan published Two Solitudes. Although it focused on the relationships between English and French Canadians, the novel could equally apply to the relationships between these two “found peoples” and the founding peoples – Aboriginal Canadians. We hope our concluding quote from him is not prophetic. “(We)….have discovered a great social secret in Canada. We have contrived to solve problems which would ruin other countries merely by ignoring their existence.”
Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. They invite your comments at basa1@shaw.ca

Sept 2015

Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages Them!
About election time we chide ourselves for not following through with an idea we once had of mass producing and distributing a neon-coloured bumper sticker declaring “Don’t Vote: It just encourages them.” But as cynical as we have become about our electoral and political process we just can’t ignore the ballot box. Perhaps it is something hard-wired into our brains suggesting that as arrogant as our governments are prone to become, voting is one of the few tools at our disposal which lets them know what we think about them! But who can blame the increasing number of politically alienated young people and the thousands upon thousands of Aboriginal citizens in Canada who chose not to vote in national elections? A somewhat dated but nevertheless insightful study undertaken by Elections Canada concluded that “participation of Aboriginal people at federal elections is usually lower than that of the general population. Aboriginal turnout is affected by the context of each election, including whether there are Aboriginal candidates, and the presence or absence of debate about issues that are important to Aboriginal people”.
For Aboriginal peoples it is a question of relevance and trust. Why vote for politicians who have formed governments in Canada and used their power to dispossess First Nations peoples of their lands in any number of ways – from outright fraud and theft to conniving trickery? Or watched helplessly as these same governments ripped their children away from their families, placed them in distant residential schools only to have their language and culture beaten (often literally) out of them. Or to watch in despair as government study upon government commission are undertaken only to have the final results collect dust in some forgotten archive? Scores of Aboriginal Canadians decide to disenfranchise themselves from helping to elect our national governments. They believe that doing so is like appointing weasels to come up with the best way of protecting the hen house. They have concluded as James Bovard once said that “democracy must be more than two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner”!
Like so many other Canadians, Aboriginal voters in Canada have watched with increasing disdain if not disgust as our politicians engage in character assassination and attack ads, robo calls and election fraud, the appointments of party hacks and bagmen and women to very well paying plum patronage positions, and most recently and perhaps worst of all, the cover-ups and corruption that surround our embarrassing and unelected pork barrel of a Senate and the over-entitled occupants who dine and drink there at our enormous expense.
As well, many Aboriginal Canadians would argue that they participate in the election of their own Chiefs and Councils and, if only very indirectly and vicariously in the election of their leaders in various regional, provincial and national organizations like the Assembly of First Nations or the Union of Ontario Indians . But we would argue that the most effective of these leaders and the organizations they represent can be, at best, leaders of the other “Official Opposition” in Canada – and that is not enough!
Despite it being a monumental challenge, is it not time to begin mobilizing the kind of electoral power that Aboriginal citizens can exercise through the ballot box? No, we’re not just talking about nominating and electing Aboriginal candidates for public office. More importantly and particularly in those many ridings and constituencies across the country where Aboriginal citizens make up a sizable voting block, Aboriginal voters can considerably influence and may often decide who will best represent and best advance their interests in Parliament. This is not to suggest that Aboriginal Canadians would or can vote in a block for the same candidate or the same political party. However, with the guidance of their provincial and national leaders who could provide assessments of how the various political parties might serve the rights and interests of First Nations, Aboriginal voters could ultimately influence who forms a government!
Recent research indicates that in a handful of ridings across the country, the aggregate number of votes in all ridings separating the first place Conservative Party candidate from the second place finisher was 65,000. If that same handful of ridings had gone to the other political parties, we would have a minority government and not the arrogant one we currently have had to endure. There is power in numbers and in those ridings where there is a sizeable Aboriginal population, that power can be exercized. The challenge is convincing Aboriginal voters that our broken political system is worth participating in, that the ballot box can be a way to protect and advance Aboriginal rights and interests and defend both against the loud chorus of crows who would deny them.
Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. They invite your comments at basa1@shaw.ca

June 2015

Divergence: Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality and Mother Earth
As we enter this time of renewal on the cusp of another summer season we wanted to leave you with a few thoughts on traditional Aboriginal beliefs and the relationship between my (Beverly’s) ancestors and Mother Earth. In short, an Anishinaabe World View – our way of relating to the world and to all who live upon it. To the Anishinaabe, Mother Earth is both the physical manifestation and embodiment of creation, and the Great Spirit Manitou who created it.
Walking in harmony with the world is extremely important to the Anishinaabe culture and explains, in part, why there are so many Aboriginal people in constant distress these days. Whether we choose to embrace all parts of it, or reject significant chunks of it – we are all products of our culture. We are infused with its attributes, its history, its dominant beliefs. We are a product of the stories we tell and the myths we create to sustain ourselves. In Aboriginal culture, our worldview is inextricably fused to our spiritual beliefs about it. In our worldview we are all spiritual beings – humans, animals, trees, plants, rocks, water, along with other co-habitants of the earth. The worldview of intact Aboriginal societies is fundamentally and profoundly different from all who those who have subsequently come to settle here. From a spiritual perspective we see things differently. There is spiritual divergence between Indigenous and Western cultural views and relationships to Mother Earth.
The land is at once the sanctuary and the shrine of our spirituality. Yet, it is not a place we visit from time to time. Traditionals are intrinsically connected to the earth and we can no more separate ourselves from it than can the waterfowl, the cedar trees and the sage. We are a part of, not apart from, and that connectedness, that relationship, nourishes and sustains our spirituality. The land has fed and nourished us. The land has given us our clothing and our shelter, our means of travel and our warmth. The land has been a place of refuge, of community and solitude. Our spirituality is inextricably bound to our connection with Mother Earth.
If we are connected to the land which creates and sustains our lives and livelihoods, then – by extension, we are also connected to all that exist upon it – to the bees which pollinate our flowers, to the animals and plants who give their lives so that we may live, to the waters, the trees, clouds, rock formations and sunsets that move our souls, encourage our gratitude and inspire our spirit to soar. As such, all things are equally endowed with spirit. We believe that the separation between animate and inanimate is a false opposition.
At the core of our spiritual beings we make no artificial distinction between the sacred and the profane. Unlike Western culture, we have not suffered through that artificial separation. That is but one reason why the circle is vital to our understanding of relationship. A proper circle encompasses an understanding of all and is not exclusive. Using very different words, my grandfather told us, we are to the land as the leaf is to the tree. We are all part of the complex and intricate web of life, we are all part of the circle. . . and, as Western culture should be more fond of saying, “We all live downstream.” The relatively new environmental movement of today would find much to agree with in the words of Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux holy man who was born 150 years ago and who learned to walk in both worlds:
“Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing.”
As in a circle, reciprocity is an important part of our spirituality and relationship to the land. We have a responsibility to care for the land in return for what the land provides for us. A lack of so doing creates disharmony and imbalance. This ultimately leads to a dis-connection which is often painful to endure. To use an all-too-human analogy, in destroying so much of Mother Earth, we have divorced ourselves from this life-partner and that too is reciprocal. In this divorce, we do not know what is happening to our former partner, nor do we seem to care. But Gaia knows that within its slow and lingering death, so too comes our own. What goes around comes around!
Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. They invite your comments at basa1@shaw.ca

May 2015
The viability of remote First Nations communities – Parting Thoughts
This series of articles on the future viability of remote First Nations communities began with our article on the importance of education to the future of First Nations in Canada. We celebrated the fact that First Nations youth are graduating in ever-increasing numbers. This, despite a troubling paradox: the newly educated, “the brightest and best,”  rarely return to their communities of origin as there are so few employment prospects for them. We further suggested that First Nations communities located within an urban ambit or adjacent to major transportation arteries are more likely to provide a future for its members when compared to remote communities accessible only by air or winter roads, and lacking few viable prospects for economic development.
We then named the elephant in the room. There is a creeping reality which has become extremely difficult for most remote First Nations communities to accept. A reality that their traditional subsistence economies have migrated from foundational livelihood to cultural artifact. While central to the Aboriginal worldview and sense of self, traditional survival activities have been supplanted by an ad hoc, impermanent wage-based economy and/or social assistance. Nevertheless, to First Nations peoples these homelands serve to connect “the extremities to the heart,” and home is where the heart is. But what are the prospects for these communities? What are the chances that remote First Nations will be able to support a vibrant, culturally rich homeland while providing sustainable opportunities for economic growth and development? Development consistent with the Aboriginal respect for the intrinsic value of the land upon which their ancestors thrived and their spiritual connection to it?
There are a number of critical ingredients which have hallmarked the success stories of remote communities that have successfully balanced economic development with the preservation of their cultural heritage. Above all other indicators, lest a culture of dependency continues to dominate community life, is the presence of a resource/economic base which, when sustainably exploited, may provide for community income and long-term employment. This must be grounded in the strength, honesty and community commitment of the leadership – dedicated leaders who place the common good over family compacts, allegiances and cronyism. Leaders who are not there to feather their own pockets or purses but to lead by serving. Another factor is the commitment and ability of those leaders to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to guide the development of their resource/economic base within their traditional territories. And further, to establish working partnerships with resource developers and to advocate for both impact benefit agreements and resource revenue sharing agreements including long term job creation. Such agreements can be wide-ranging in the scope and include commitments to environmental protection, employment training and capacity-building and infrastructure development. Too many First Nation communities have come to rely on the fastest growth industry in Canada – the gaggle of southern law firms and consulting companies only too willing to supplant the possibility that First Nation communities themselves can acquire the negotiation skills, the environmental know-how, the monitoring ability, the professional capacity to fully chart their own course.  Finally, from a structural perspective First Nation communities would be well-served by the creation of an arms-length, community-based economic development councils/corporations reporting to the community at large and independent of Chief and Council and the propensity of politicians to meddle for their benefit.
Resource development opportunities abound in northern Ontario and most of such can benefit remote First Nations communities. Governments and the private sector must start with recognizing the constitutional, treaty and legal rights now accorded to First Nations to be a part of (and not apart from) the sustainable exploitation of natural resources throughout their traditional territories. This can only happen when both the federal and Ontario governments harness the skills and talents of Aboriginal professionals, and allocate substantial dollars to developing the capacity of Aboriginal communities to fully participate in and benefit from the use of natural resources that may benefit all Ontarians. To do less is to continue to commit to a status quo, a Latin phrase which in this instance means “failed process”.
The only constant in life is change. There is no prescription that will guarantee the future social and economic viability of any community – remote or not, but First Nations people deserve a chance to escape legacy issues. Issues which have threatened to compromise the survival of their culture and a movement away from a culture of dependency. All they need is a level playing field, rules that do not discriminate, players trained to play the game and goal posts that are within reach..

April 2015
The viability of remote First Nations communities. Third in a series.
This series of articles on the future viability of remote First Nations communities began with our piece on the importance of education as a key to the future of First Nations in Canada. We celebrated the fact that First Nations youth are graduating in ever-increasing numbers. We were quick to point out however, that this success produced a troubling paradox. A Catch-22 proposition resulting in the newly educated, “the brightest and best,”  rarely if ever returning to their communities of origin in order to continue their lives and build their families. We concluded that these newly-minted graduates voted with their feet due to the overwhelming absence of opportunity in their remote communities.  The opportunity to seek and hold meaningful employment, to have access to a range of quality medical and social services. In short, to be able to exercise choice. We further argued that First Nations communities located within an urban ambit or adjacent to major transportation arteries are far more likely to provide a brighter future for its members when compared to remote communities accessible only by air or a couple of months of winter roads (which global warming will likely eliminate) and lacking any viable prospects for economic development.
In a recent NetNewsLedger article by Rick Millette of the Northern Policy Institute promoting the potential benefits of The Ring of Fire, he correctly laments the exorbitant costs of food and fuel in remote First Nations communities – where a liter of sugar-rich cola is more affordable than an equivalent amount of milk (enter diabetes – epidemic in many First Nations communities). His oft’ echoed solution is to build all-weather roads to these remote communities providing access to increased mobility and much cheaper goods and services. But if there are still no lasting jobs to go home to, does that really address the fundamental issue at play?
We think not.
The reality which has become extremely difficult for most remote First Nation communities to accept is that their traditional economies of subsistence and bartering, of hunting and gathering have migrated from foundational livelihood to cultural artifact. While central to the Aboriginal worldview and sense of self, traditional survival activities have been supplanted by an ad hoc, impermanent wage-based economy or social assistance. As someone who has negotiated many an agreement with remote First Nations recently commented after reading our last piece, “Family and cultural loyalty keep people on reserves. And yet, it is nearly impossible to build a viable economy in a remote community with only a few hundred residents. The availability of resources to sustain a healthy subsistence lifestyle is being threatened, and particularly among Aboriginal youth, the motivation for such a lifestyle is being eroded by all pervasive media images of the opulent and attractive urban lifestyles. Unfortunately, success may imply embracing the economic values of a wage economy. But can that be done while maintaining the cultural and social values that are so critical for the Aboriginal psyche and community?”
A mere two hundred years ago all of North America comprised the traditional territory of its first inhabitants. Through violent conquest, sleight-of-hand, rapacious greed, religious opportunism and treaties justifying most of the former, those traditional territories, these homelands, have been reduced to but a shadow of what once was. To First Nations peoples, educated and uneducated alike who have migrated to urban centres in search of better prospects, these homelands serve to connect “the extremities to the heart,” and home is where the heart is. These are their cities on a hill.
From time to time we have paddled our way down the White River to the summer camp where Beverly spent many of her youthful, carefree days. Now forlorn with weathered ‘wigwam’ sticks all returning to the earth, it is but a remnant of what once was. Memories of the heart last so much longer than memories of the mind. Long ago, that marvelous chanteuse Peggy Lee in her grand lament on life sang, “Is that all there is?  if that’s all there is my friend – then let’s keep dancing.” In the case of remote northern communities lacking the means of economic opportunity and monetary injections other than social assistance, the music is fading and the dance may be dying. But it does not have to be that way.
So where can we look for answers? Solutions that will support a vibrant, culturally rich homeland while providing sustainable opportunities for economic growth consistent with the Aboriginal respect for the intrinsic value of the land upon which their ancestors thrived.
Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment live in Thunder Bay.

The Viability of Remote First Nations Communities – Part One

In our last article we addressed the critical role of education in fostering conditions which create greater opportunities, freedom from want and expanded personal and social horizons. While not a guarantor of equality in our “corporate democracy,” an educated and involved citizenry is the best defence against the erosion of those equalities and rights. We wrote of the significant increase in the number of Aboriginal Canadians who, despite considerable cultural and social obstacles, have obtained post-secondary degrees and diplomas. They have pursued careers which have enriched the social and economic fabric of our country.

We went on to suggest however that the success of these Aboriginal graduates, the Catch 22 in all of this, often came at great cost to the very communities which had nurtured these graduates to begin with. We pointed out that more often than not, First Nations’ students who escaped the limiting confines of rural and remote reserves in pursuit of a degree would rarely return to their home communities to seek employment as trained professionals or skilled workers due to the almost complete absence of opportunity. The opportunity to seek and hold meaningful employment, to have access to a range of quality medical and social services. In short, to be able to exercise choice. This absence of opportunity is particularly germane to remote First Nations communities which have not created an economic base through which diverse and meaningful long-term employment opportunities can be generated. Unpleasant as it may be to confront, we cannot escape the harsh reality that two-thirds of the working age population in some rural and remote Aboriginal communities in Ontario is unemployed. Unless substantial investments are made in social capital, there is little prospect of reversing the trend. The out-migration from reserve lands and influx of Aboriginal people to urban centres in Ontario is staggering. Over 85% of Aboriginal people in Ontario now live in non-reserve urban centres (2011 – Moazzami).

We concluded our piece by asking if the “brightest and the best” students were being drained away from these communities leading us to beg the question if there is a future for remote First Nations communities and their ability to offer their citizens a secure, socially vibrant, healthy and economically viable future.

Sometime ago Lakehead University sponsored a presentation by Clarence Louie, Chief of the Osoyoos First Nation in BC’s southern Okanagan. A darling of the mainstream media, Chief Louie has been described as a “hard-ass-take-no-prisoners” leader who has cajoled, negotiated and led his community of some 500 out of the socially engineered tethers of Indian Act poverty to become one of the wealthiest reserves in Canada. Unemployment is virtually non-existent and economic opportunity – from vineyards to pipeline leases to small businesses, abounds. He has been quoted as saying that there is no Indian way to run businesses – there is only a business way to run business. Osoyoos is a constellation of opportunities: a savvy, educated political and business elite – prime agricultural and industrial land, a nearby major urban centre and most critically, access to relatively inexpensive transportation and transportation corridors – reinforcing the adage, “if you can’t get your goods to market, what good are your goods?.

From the perspective of mainstream North American economics, controlling the source of potential wealth and getting your goods to market is part of the sine qua non for economic success. Those living on reserves located adjacent to major urban centres or near a major transportation thoroughfare like the Fort William First Nation offer Aboriginal professionals and skilled workers the desirable combination of living “at home” and being able able to put their degree to work in a field of their choosing. This is not the case for distant, remote First Nation communities many of which are currently devoid of economic opportunity. Are they condemned to become little more than aging and impoverished backwater remnants of what they once were, where social assistance comprises the lion’s share of the communities’ Gross Domestic Product?

Fingers can point in all directions – the confining, colonialist attitude pervasive throughout the Indian Act, the soul-killing and multi-generational legacy of residential schools, a colonial system of dependency creation, the pervasive influence of Western TV-dinner “culture”. All of which leads to scarcity and scarcity of spirit or opportunity, as scholars have shown “create a distinct psychology for everyone struggling to manage with less than they need.”

As we are beginning to realize, arguably far too late for mitigating the worst of what climate change will offer us, inconvenient truths when too often ignored can produce disastrous consequences.

In our next piece, we will explore terrains of hope for the future of what Desmond Tutu and others have referred to as Canada’s own Third World.

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”
Victor Hugo – novelist and human rights activist.
Conventional wisdom is in constant battle with ignorance acquired by default
or design. When combined with experience and evidence, wisdom suggests
that acquring an education creates opportunities well beyond inate ability
and talent alone. Imagine the possibilities when talent, ability and education
combine – even in this contemporary “economy of persuasion” as Alvesson
calls it, “where firms and other institutions increasingly assign talent, energy,
and resources to rhetoric, image, branding, reputation, and visibility.”
The 2014 Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to Malala Yousafzai of
Pakistan. Owing to the paleolithic ignorance of Taliban terrorists, the young
Pakastani teenager was gun shot for daring to go to school. In awarding the
Peace Prize, the Nobel committee Chairman said that education, especially
for young girls, terrifies the Taliban because knowledge is a condition for
freedom. There is little wonder why Nelson Mandala cited education as the
most powerful weapon which one can use to change the world.
Although involved in a broad number of national and local social advocacy
activities (the Friendship Centre movement, Beendigen, the Quebec and Ontario
Native Women’s Associations, etc.) during her lengthy professional career,
Beverly has spent the better part of it as an educational counsellor and senior
educational administrator in post-secondary institutions. Despite an initial
struggle in high school with Caucasian school curricula, she went on to acquire
her GED and three university degrees, the most recent from one of the most
prestigious universities in the country – all the while raising and nurturing a
family. Her belief in the importance and power of education to create conditions
where personal freedom can flourish – freedom from want and dependency
and the steely bonds of poverty, have hallmarked her work.
Her dedication and the work of hundreds of other Aboriginal educators across
the country have created a new generation of young professionals many of
whom are dedicating their careers to bettering the often sorry lot of Aboriginal
Canadians squalloring in Third World conditions in one of the richest countries
in the world.
The proof is in the educational pudding. We recently had the exciting
opportunity of coordinating a national Aboriginal literature and literacy project
with noted Aboriginal author and playwrite Tomson Highway. In interviewing
for a project research assistant, we noted that 11 of the 12 candidates were
Aboriginal post-secondary students in Thunder Bay and half of those were
pursuing graduate degrees. Twenty years ago, we would have been lucky to
have one candiate to interview.
At Lakehead University where Bev was the Vice Provost of Aboriginal
Initiaitves, she and her staff worked diligently to create the conditons necessary
to attract, retain and graduate Aboriginal students. Foremost among these
conditions are the creation of choices permitting students to follow culturallyappropriate
curricula and the provision of necessary support systems to assist
Aboriginal students to adapt to what is essentially an alien culture, despite the
homongenizing affects of the media and X-Box! She retired from the university
having established a $5,000 bursary in her name to encourage Aboriginal
women to pursue a post-secondary degree.
Of course, there is a Catch-22 in all of this, an ultimate paradox which
pits the survival of community against the argument for higher education.
More often than not, First Nations’ students who wish to escape the limiting
economic confines of the reserve and chase a post-secondary degree will rarely
return to the reserve to seek employment due to the almost complete absence
of opportunity. This is particularly the case with remote communities. Those
living on reserves located adjacent to a major urban centre or near a major
transportation thoroughfare like the Fort William First Nation or the much
touted Chief Louie’s Osoyoos Band offer the desirable combination of living
“at home” and being able able to put their degree to work in a field of their
choosing. Not so, for distant, remote First Nation communities. This then
begs the question: Are remote First Nations communities being drained of the
brightest and the best? In more ways than one, the answer forces one to explore
the future viability of these communities. This is uncomfortable territory indeed.
If you are denied an education, or choose not to acquire one, you are
condemned to learn only from the hindsight of experience rather than the
foresight of dreams and expectation. The wisdom eventually gained from
experience does break the bonds of ignorance. Regrettably, it usually takes a
life time to acquire it!
Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives
at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky
is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime
Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the
Environment, live in Thunder Bay.

Stolen Sisters – Silent Screams? – Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women:

The Story Continues

A good friend of ours responded to our last article on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women – The Tragedy Continues. His intercession was as thoughtful as it was provocative and his questions line-drive unhindered to one of the central causes underlying this malignant issue. Our friend wrote “Are these women missing or killed because they are Aboriginal, or because they were in dangerous circumstances? I mean, maybe they were in dangerous circumstances because they were Aboriginal, but that’s not the question I’m asking. If white women, or black women, for example, found themselves in exactly the same circumstances, would they be just as likely to turn up missing or murdered? Are Aboriginal women actually being targeted, or are they targets of opportunity?”

In crafting our response to these questions, it reminded Bev of an event that had happened to her when, as an Aboriginal teenager, she was a student at one of the local Thunder Bay high-schools. In one of her classes she had the misfortune of sitting in front of two testosterone jocks who, knowing that Bev was Aboriginal, taunted her by not so quietly boasting about their sexual escapades with a “squaw” (as derisive a name as the “N” word is to African-Canadians) they had connived into their car the evening before. Then one of the dimmer bulbs had the misplaced temerity to ask Bev since she was a squaw herself, if she would like to come out that evening and mess around. Very uncharacteristically Bev immediately turned around, swore, telling them where they could shove their car, and then with a closed fist, clocked the aggressor sitting closest to her!

So how does this story respond our friend’s questions? It goes directly to the heart of the matter and the heart of his questions: “If white women, or black women, for example, found themselves in exactly the same circumstances, would they be just as likely to turn up missing or murdered?” Most likely they would – especially if the sexual aggressions and assaults were based on prevalent preconceptions and stereotypes among males at the shallow end of the gene pool that these women, as a group – be they Aboriginal, or of any colour were seen as easy targets because they are destitute, alone, prone to alcohol abuse, drug- addled and more than willing to sell their bodies for a few dollars. These attitudes are the constructs of racism and sexism both of which always exude and manifest themselves in the assumption of superiority. And superiority dominates! What would have happened to Beverly if her own circumstances were considerably different, and cowed by these bullies, “this quiet little squaw just went along for the ride”?

Rather than attempting to understand why Aboriginal women as a group may be more prone to the social ills which plague any impoverished people, they are targeted because they are impoverished and Aboriginal.

Some have questioned the wisdom of engaging in the process of a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women. After all, it is suggested, look at what happened to the recommendations emanating from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Many of them still languish under a moldering shroud of dust and mouse-droppings. Perhaps this is exactly why we need another expose into the rampant poverty and neglect which produces so many female Aboriginal “targets.” Others like the Harper government continues to parrot these “cases” as purely criminal matters exclusively within the purview of police departments, displaying its trademark lack of compassion towards complex social issues it chooses not to understand, and growing increasingly stale from a famine of imagination and curiosity.

This is precisely why we need a national inquiry – to expose the extent and complexity of the web of connected and interrelated social issues which underlie the missing and murdered and to then develop a comprehensive series of measurable and accountable objectives to begin to rectify this ongoing disgrace – this national tragedy that continues to diminish us all as Canadians.

Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, live in Thunder Bay.

Stolen Sisters – Silent Screams?

When controversial issues begin to get legs and confront governing politicians with uncomfortable facts and choices, their instinctive reaction is almost always immediate and twofold: 1. Guestimate how long it will take before the issue “blows-over,” and 2. What “actions” can be taken to at least create the illusion that something is being done. The Harper government, responding to repeated cries for a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women have become past masters of these tactics. What they have so amateurishly underestimated is the resilience of those demanding such an inquiry and the almost monthly “fresh disasters” that continue to haunt our national psyche.

Some eight months ago in these pages we addressed the heart-rending story of 18 year old Sandra Kaye Johnson of Thunder Bay whose brutalized and naked body was found on a frozen February floodway in our own intercity area. Twenty two years later her murderer remains at large, the crime unsolved. Many residents of Thunder Bay are now familiar with the tireless work of her sister Sharon who organizes the annual Full Moon Memory Walk to inform us all that Sandra Kaye is alive in spirit. That spirit reminds us that she is among 1,800 Aboriginal women whose murders and disappearances are cold cases – their humanity reduced to two dimensional reports sitting in dusty file cabinets.

Requests for a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women – demands from the likes of the Assembly of First Nations, The Native Womens Association of Canada, Canadian Premiers, Amnesty International, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples fall on deaf ears. We ask now as we did then, why does Stephen Harper continue to be stuck on “no,” parroting the same tired response that these missing and murdered Aboriginal women are matters for criminal investigation and resolution?

We made the mistake of proposing that the primary reasons for our corporate amnesia on this tragic situation are deeply rooted in the rot of systemic racism deeply ingrained in the consciousness of our culture. We suggested these corrosive attitudes explain why we have come to know so little about these women and their suffering.

Our mistake was in not going far enough with our analysis. That realization came to us, from of all places, Stephan Harper himself. In stating categorically that these 1,800 cases were a matter for the police (not the government) to solve, another compelling reason emerged explaining why “no” has become their default response to a National Inquiry. Moving from the many leaves to the branches to the trunk, to the roots, any inquiry worth its salt would connect dots the Harper government in their ineptitude would much rather not have to confront: missing and murdered. . . . poverty. . . . abuse. . . .homelessness. . . . unemployment. . . . addictions. . . . child welfare . . . . failed social policies, to name but a few. Turning over more than a few rocks reveals the murky swamp beneath.

Granted, since our article last March the Harper government did create a Special Parliamentary Committee to “investigate” the matter (see illusion of action in paragraph one above). As we suggested then, we now know that the year-long parliamentary committee under the rigid orchestral baton of PMO voted against a National Inquiry in its year-long pursuit of milquetoast and pabulum. And the Premiers, sensing that their own pleas were falling on tone-deaf Tory ears, capitulated and agreed to support some sort of national committee of illuminaries charged with “shedding light on the matter”.

And then they found the murdered body of 15 year-old Tina Fontaine stuffed in a bag and dumped into the Red River. And then they found 16 year-old Rinelle Harper beaten and sexually assaulted.

And then, . . . well who else, how many more and and what is next Mr. Harper?

Beverly Anne Sabourin an Anishinabequay from Pic Mobert recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University and her husband, Peter Globensky, a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, live in Thunder Bay.

CANDLE OR CURSE?

Beverly (who does much of the research for these articles) and I were recently in Washington, DC and we made a point of visiting the National Museum of the American Indian. Being in this city of eternal gridlock, a renowned centre of excellence in political spin my preconceptions on entering the building were preparing me for a “white-wash” – so to speak. I was as surprised as I was disturbed by what I encountered there and how wrong my stereotype turned out to be.

Through audio-visual presentations, story-boards and tableaux, the museum contains a stunning representation of the cultures and contributions of the first inhabitants of the Americas. But, as a reminder of what once was and in many respects still is, one of the floors in this massive museum was devoted exclusively to the sad and sorry history between American Indian nations and the US government ? the broken promises and treaties, the forced re-locations, the massacres, the deliberate ? some would say genocidal ? policies bent on “civilizing the savage,” (Does any of this sound familiar?). In short the systemic racism that had so long been a hallmark of North American Indian or Aboriginal policy.

Perhaps the most symbolic representation of this sensory overload of sadness was a copy of a poster published and distributed in the early 1900s stating

“Indian Land For Sale ? Cheap”

As we left the museum and strolled through the Washington Mall with its magnificent public architecture, our collective experience in the museum was enough for a three-hour discussion as to the most effective way to combat racists in Thunder Bay or anywhere else racism raises its repugnant head. This remains as current and prevalent a topic today as it has been throughout the last two centuries.

The Oxford dictionary of record suggested a good point of departure for our exchange: Racism is “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one??s own race is superior.” So what is the most effective way to deal with racists? Now there are many reasons why I love my wife foremost among them her compassion for all life, her boundless patience and her innate optimism about an individual??s ability to learn. Bev has worked as a professional educator at the post-secondary level for all of her career. She has organized and presented numerous cross-cultural workshops, the intent of which has been to sensitize “mainstream?? Canadians to the cultures of and challenges facing Canada??s first peoples. While her patience has sometimes worn thin her fundamental belief is education will open eyes and hearts and create better understanding, thereby reducing racist beliefs and actions. This approach, she argued, also has the possibility of creating allies in the fight!

My retort was instantaneous suggesting that racists beliefs are “inherited” and too many simply don??t want to learn. Bev persisted. “If you start early enough ? at the primary school level, kids will eventually challenge the stereotypes foisted upon them, even by their uninformed parents. When knowledge can inform beliefs, hope springs eternal!”

I realized as the discussion continued that I have a substantially different approach. Essentially it boils down to going after racists tooth and claw. When someone spews racist comments I deliberately and with malice aforethought smack ??em down (figuratively of course, although the alternative is tempting) exposing their ignorance and ridiculing their assumed superiority. Believing that very old dogs, like very old beliefs among adults can rarely be taught new tricks, a tactic of measured humiliation will, at the very least, make them think twice about the appropriateness of further divulging their wilful ignorance. Let them fester in solitude.

The aura of reverence surrounding the Lincoln memorial concluded our discussion ? both of us lost in our different reflections on this great man, slavery, the war that ended most of it and the Cherokee ??Trail of Tears?? brutally enforced by one of his predecessors in office.

I can see and concede Bev??s point. Education ? lighting a candle so that it will shine in the dark is the nobler route. I just find it so much more emotionally fulfilling to curse the darkness.

Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.

Transparency for Whom?

Urged on by the right-wing Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the equally ???ber-conservative National Citizens?? Coalition, once led by none other than the current Prime Minister, the Harper government recently passed legislation entitled The First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA). The Act requires First Nations to render their audited financial statements including all remunerations and expenses and the auditor??s written report available to their members electronically or in written form. Leaving no stone unturned, Harper has also instructed his Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to publish the information on an annual basis on the departmental website ?in other words, to make it available to all Canadians including those dimmer bulbs who love to remind Aboriginal people that “It is we, the Canadian taxpayer who ??supports?? them.”

While transparency and the resulting accountability it encourages are laudable goals – particularly coming from a secretive government notorious for its spinmeisters, comb-overs and cover-ups, the Harper government has no business meddling in and forcibly publishing to the Canadian public the financial affairs of First Nations. This is not to say that First Nations community members do not have the right to this information. Unquestionably, they must have and be able to easily exercise this right.

However, under its fiduciary obligations the Crown, acting through its Canadian government, should have limited itself to enacting legislation that would require First Nations to divulge all of this information to band members only. And only after the government fulfilled its legal requirement to consult and accommodate ? neither of which was done in this instance.

Transfers of tax-raised monies or relief from taxes between governments and between governments and corporations, organizations and individuals in Canada happen all the time. Aside from the myriad social programs sustaining our citizens, these tax-raised transfers can come in the form of outright grants, contribution agreements, perverse subsidies (like the multi-million dollar tax write-offs provided to the fossil fuel industry) and equalization payments provided from the federal government to certain provinces and the territories. Without question, a legal case can be mounted to argue that monies provided by our federal government to constitutionally recognized First Nation governments fall into the latter category. They are transfer or equalization payments between governments: in this instance between the government of Canada and First Nations governments. According to the Department of Finance website, “The Equalization and Territorial Formula Financing programs provide unconditional transfers to the provinces and territories. Equalization enables less prosperous provincial governments to provide their residents with public services that are reasonably comparable to those in other provinces. . . .” Note the word unconditional!

First Nations members must have the unconditional right to insist upon full disclosure of financial records and expenditures from their elected or traditional leaders. Transparency and accountability are the fundamental cornerstones and hallmarks not only of a democratic community but, as importantly, of good leadership. The question is: transparent and accountable to whom? We would argue that non-aboriginal Canadians do not have the right to meddle into that arena of transparency and accountability, so long as we can all be assured that there are protocols and mechanisms in place to guarantee that First Nation members have access to that information. All else is typical colonialism.

While corruption is not necessarily endemic to any society or culture, it is one of the least desirable traits of the human species. It is most likely to take root and thrive in dark, unsavory and seamy places, flourishing in the luxuriant soil of greed and self-interest. For corruption to prosper, darkness is essential. If you don??t let the light in, all kinds of parasites can move about in the murk undetected. Ultimately, if there is the expectation that no light will ever shine on their movements, these same parasites become more confident and comfortable in their arrogance and they can move about in fearless and luxurious abandon while sucking their hosts dry to the bone ? with none the wiser.

Mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability ensure that the lights will shine brightly. Let First Nations community members decide how to deal with secretive double-dippers and corrupt leaders chiefly concerned with ripping-off their own people. Fortunately the vast majority of First Nations leaders are committed advocates for their communities whose modest salaries are in line with their very challenging responsibilities.

Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. They invite your comments at basa1@shaw.ca

Crazy Horse ? A Forgotten Indigenous Hero

“The made us many promises, more than I can remember ? They never kept but one; they promised to take our land and they took it!” Lakota Chief Red Cloud ? 1891.

The fact that the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword” has been attributed to so many authors over the centuries speaks to its long lasting truth. Words have power. They can inflict, incite, empower, enslave or inspire. And has been witnessed by so many unfulfilled treaties, words can be broken. Words have worth. They have value. They have currency. We sometimes debase the value of that currency when we overuse the word (aren??t you tired of hearing anyone say “absolutely”), or when we grossly inflate the meaning of a word so that it can be used to describe almost any action or person.

Take the word ??hero?? for example. The dictionary defines hero as one who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. Yet today, we can “over-describe” many actions as being heroic as in “he climbed up to the second branch and saved my cat”. And of course, every returning soldier from our wars of misadventure in Iraq or Afghanistan is a hero, each and every one. We were reminded of this over usage when, in search of sun and solace from the cold grip of this past winter, we decided to head south via two historic sites that we had not visited for years ? The Little Big Horn Battlefield where Custer met his timely demise and the Crazy Horse Memorial in the southern and sacred Black Hills of the Lakota, a destination often visited by the First Nations peoples of northwestern Ontario.

The winds and snows of winter prevented us from going any further west than the Dakotas so we spent that extra time visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial (www. http://crazyhorsememorial.org/) which we had last seen 33 years ago. The memorial has been under active construction for 65 years and it will not be finished in our lifetimes. Etched and carved out of the granite of the Black Hills, the sculpture when completed will be one of the largest naturally hewn monuments in the world ? all devoted to immortalizing the courage, outstanding achievements, and noble qualities of Crazy Horse ? a true Native American hero. The memorial, meant to characterize the spirit of this young war chief shows Crazy Horse astride his stallion, hair blowing in the wind, with his arm and hand extended pointing to “the lands where my people lie buried,” his beloved Black Hills where he was born in the early 1840??s. His warrior path began soon after the government unilaterally tore up the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) in which the US President had, in effect, promised “as long as the rivers run and grass grows and trees bear leaves, the Paha Sapa ? the Black Hills of Dakota will forever be the sacred land of the Sioux Indians.”

Apparently the word “gold” had more worth than wordly promises!

Until his commanding role in the annihilation of the US 7th Calvary in the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, Crazy Horse had witnessed and experienced one humiliation after another, from the murder of his own chief, Conquering Bear by US soldiers through to the persistent failure of the government to fulfill treaty guarantees and provide the promised bare necessities of life for his people. He defended his people in the only way he knew how. Under a flag of truce, he was bayoneted in the back and killed by a US soldier in 1877. Perhaps author Chris Hedges said it best, “there are few resistance figures in American history as noble as Crazy Horse. . . his ferocity of spirit remains a guiding light for all who seek lives of defiance.”

Words sometimes come cheap, but in this particular instance the word “hero” is, as they say, priceless.

Beverly Anne Sabourin from Pic Mobert First Nation recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University and her husband, Peter Globensky, is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. They live on the north shores of Lake Superior.

Residential Schools: The Pain that keeps on Giving
The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission recently completed four years of public hearings recording story after story of appalling physical and sexual abuse, neglect and selective cultural genocide. But there are some narratives coming out of this colonialist and racist residential school period that will never be heard. Stories from those who escaped the clutches of Indian agents and religious orders hell bent on saving their charges from it, but who were, nevertheless sideswiped by this terribly misguided policy.
Margaret Alice Agnes (not her real name) an 84 year-old Anishinabequay (Aboriginal Woman) from the north shore of Lake Superior is one of these stories. Born in 1930 in a north-of-Superior reserve community, Margaret, her parents and many siblings lived the hardscrabble but satisfactory life of the early 20th century Anishinabe ? blending the best of Aboriginal culture with some of the material accoutrements of white society. In addition to reaping the resources of the land he so much honoured, Margaret??s father worked as a woodcutter and prospector. Margaret??s mother often worked alongside her father while working in the home tending to the growing family. ??We didn??t have a lot of things, but we were rich and happy in many other ways?? Margaret Alice recalls of her childhood. ??We had what we needed and what we didn??t have, we didn??t miss!??
Margaret Alice was able to attend the local community elementary school and was about to complete Grade 3 when her life changed dramatically. Her father Edward had witnessed Indian agents relocating community children to a residential school in Thunder Bay ??for their own good and for a long time,?? as Margaret Alice tells it. Knowing of the anguish this would cause both the children and he and his wife Alice, he knew instinctively this was wrong. ??I remember him coming home and telling my mom to pack up the kids and whatever we could carry. We were going into the bush and we would leave the very next day. I didn??t know what was going on and I was afraid,?? Margaret Alice recollects.
She was to spend the next eight years of her life in the bush in a one room trapper??s cabin with her parents, siblings and nature as her only teachers, away from the clutches of the priests and ministers and government agents who would wish to civilize her by destroying her cultural identify and the language she used to express it.. ??I remember my dad telling my mom that if anybody came around when he was not there that she should not sign any papers for anything and that the kids were not going anywhere.??
We may be too quick to conclude that Margaret Alice escaped the worst of the residential school debacle. Perhaps she did, but when she came out of the bush at 17 and went directly to work in the lumber bush camps, she did so with but a 3rd grade education. ??I taught myself how to read, to write and to count ? I was too old to go back to school?? she says. Who would argue that she too is not a victim of the residential school policy? As a single-parent, she struggled all her life with low paying jobs and often had to rely, reluctantly, on social assistance to raise her children. Even though she ??survived?? the residential school period, she was still denied a birthright enjoyed by every other Canadian ? the right to a basic education in her own community.
Beverly Sabourin, recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University, is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. They live in Thunder Bay and invite your comments at basa1@shaw.ca

Mitch’s Chair
The Thunder Bay Indian Youth Friendship Centre is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year . Currently led by Bernice Dubec an experienced and dedicated executive director, the celebrations will not only commemorate the beginnings of the Centre but, as well, it will honour the first executive director, Xavier ??Mitch?? Michon who created the Centre and, in its wake, a national movement that has grown to become one of the more important Aboriginal institutions in Canada.
Mobilized by Mitch, a number of young Aboriginal teenagers including one half of this partnership, Beverly Sabourin comprised the Friendship Centre??s first youth group becoming its most effective ambassadors to the broader community. This engagement with the Centre coupled with Mitch??s leadership and mentoring were important and formative parts of Beverly??s personal and professional life. That all of those young people went on to become compelling advocates and assume prominent positions in organizations that promoted Aboriginal rights is no accident.? He was a leader who inspired. As the northwestern Ontario district director for the Secretary of State, the federal department responsible for funding the Friendship Centre Program at that time, Peter had the privilege of working closely with Xavier Michon in both developing and expanding the Centre??s reach and influence. Although he died too young, I still remember him as one of the strongest advocates for the needs and rights of urban Aboriginal people.
Mitch was one of the founding members of the Friendship Centre movement, seminal in establishing both the National Association of Friendship Centres (who refer to him with honour as the Grandfather of the movement), and the Ontario Federation of Friendship Centres. His lasting contribution and legacy to the Aboriginal people of northwestern Ontario and to the community of Thunder Bay was as a barrier-breaker and bridge-builder par excellence, while relentlessly promoting a fuller participation of Aboriginal people in the mainstream of community life. His contribution to the City of Thunder Bay and to its social evolution has always been held in esteem and high regard. While he left us far too soon in life, he will always be remembered by those whose lives he touched and for his remarkable contribution to the concepts and practices of fairness and equity.
From the early days of the Thunder Bay Indian Youth Friendship Centre and its major preoccupation with providing support to students and their families travelling into Thunder Bay from rural and remote areas to the myriad number of social programs now offered to adolescents, students, families and elders, the movement has blossomed into one of the most important social supports available to Aboriginal people in an urban environment.
It should surprise no one that the Friendship Centre and its programs in its current location are bursting at the seams. What has surprised me almost beyond belief is that there are still blinkered and narrow-minded NIMBYs (not-in-my-back-yard types) in Thunder Bay who do not want the Friendship Centre relocated in their neighbourhood. So much for friendship. So much for neighbourliness!
Earlier this year, we decided to spend part of our winter in the American southwest. By ??coincidence?? and totally unbeknownst to us, our little home happened to be located on the same street in the little Arizona town of Casa Grande as Joyce Fikis (nee Michon), Mitch??s daughter. You can imagine our astonishment in coming across Joyce and her husband some 3,500 kilometers from home! Beverly began to share her many memories of Mitch after which, in an act of extreme generosity, Joyce gifted us with Mitch??s old reclining chair which now graces our living room and is an ever-present reminder of a great man and our happy memories of being associated with him.
Beverly Anne Sabourin one of the Thunder Bay Friendship??s Centres original youth ambassadors and recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University and her husband Peter Globensky, a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, live in Thunder Bay. They invite your comments at basa1@shaw.ca