Moccasin- Flower

 

 

 

After leaving the bogs of the Brokenhead and Stead area I ventured into the much dryer Belair Forest in search of  another lovely Manitoba Orchid the Moccasin- Flower, or sometimes called Pink lady’s-slipper and scientifically called Cypripedium acaule Aiton. These orchids prefer dry pine forests of Manitoba, though I have seen them in a bog.

 

It is also sometimes called stemless lady’s-slipper since there is not aerial stem, but it has a stem under the ground. What appears to be a stem is actually a scape or flowering stalk. I have never liked the name Pink Lady’s-slipper since it is rarely pink and much less pink than the Showy Lady’s-slipper. People knew to orchids often get confused as a result.

Thanks to my friend MaryLou Driedger I have recently learned a much more interesting story of its naming. According to her, it is an ancient Ojibwe (or Ojibway) story and it goes like this:

Long ago in the depth of winter the people in an Ojibwe village were suffering from a terrible illness. Only one girl remained healthy and she said she would travel to a neighbouring village where the healers had herbs that could cure the others. The girl walked through a blizzard and got the needed medicine. On the way home she found herself in deep snowdrifts. Walking through them she lost her moccasins but her worry for her friends and family made her stumble

through the icy snow crystals barefoot. She left a bloodstained trail of footprints behind her. She made it home and the medicine healed everyone. The next spring her brother went looking for her lost moccasins and found that all along the trail of bloody footsteps where the girl had walked there were beautiful pink flowers growing that looked like the moccasins the girl had worn. The flower was the lady slipper known by the Ojibwe as the moccasin flower. They remind us of the courage and strength of the young girl who brought healing to her village.

I like that story much better.  But by any other name an orchid is still just as sweet.

Searching for Orchids

 

 

Recently I  went on what might be my last botany trip for a while, as Chris went to  the hospital  for hip replacement surgery and after she is released I became her manservant. So I chose to go to one of my favourite places, The Brokenhead Ecological Reserve just north of the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation with whom Native Orchid Conservation Inc. partnered with as well as the government of Manitoba and the Manitoba Model Forest to establish a wonderful place for the protection of native plants. Not just orchids.

Every time I got there I learn something. Today I stopped to think about a posted sign created by the First Nation. This is what it said,

Our elders teach us that all nature people and people are all part of the balance of life. When something is lost or taken, the balance is changed. When we lose one part of an ecosystem we put the entire ecosystem jeopardy. There must be a balance for Mother Earth to remain healthy.

Those are wise words. Well worthy thinking about.

 

I

It was a beautiful day for a visit.  I had spotted Dragon’s Mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa).  It is one of the gems of the reserve.

I also  went to the nearby Stead bog where I was easier to get closer to the Dragon’s Mouth.In the Ecological Reserve we have to stick to the board walk.

I also saw  a little rabbit that was chewing on the leaves of a young seedling. Thank goodness he ignore the orchid right beside it. The rabbit also had something around its neck that I  thought it might be mounds of ticks. I hope not, because I was sure that many ticks would not be good for the rabbit. In any event the rabbit graciously allowed us to take some portraits of it.

 

 

Is Racism in our DNA?

 

President Obama in 2015, the last full year of his presidency, finally started to buck up the courage to speak about racism. He pointed out how the United States had ““the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination” was “still part of our DNA” as Americans.” Remember I am not pointing my finger at Americans from the perspective of us here in Canada being clean. We have the same problem here. Both countries have the same original sin namely racism and male supremacy. This is what Condoleezza  Rice called “a birth defect”.

Martin Luther King and W.E.B. Dubois both understood this as well. As Todd and May explained in their New York Times article,

Both men emphasized how the word is part of the institutional fabric of black oppression, that individual racist acts are not aberrations but the products of a larger systemic set of practices that, as the feminist scholar Barbara Applebaum argues, “hold structural injustice in place.” Central to those practices is policing, and the “bad apple” framing fails to confront its role in structural injustice.

If you just look at bad apples you fail to see or do anything about the tree, the structure, that holds them in place. People who are part of an unjust system may be good people, they may not appear to be exploiters or bad, but if they are part of a system that oppresses they are part of the problem.

The philosopher Iris Marion Young wrote this:

“Structural injustice occurs as a consequence of many individual and institutions acting in pursuit of their particular goals and interests, within given institutional rules and accepted norms. All the persons who participated by their actions in the ongoing schemes of cooperation that constitute these structures are responsible for them, in the sense that they are part of the process that causes them. They are not responsible, however, in the sense of having directed the process or intended its outcomes.”

Everyone who is part of an unjust system—including me and you—have an obligation to dissent. We must voice our objections to that system or   we are part of the oppression. There is no way around this uncomfortable fact. The least we can do—we should do more—is to voice our objections. If we don’t do at least that, we are complicit—we are aiding and abetting—and in law that makes us just as guilty as the perpetrator. 

In 1987 in the Stanford Law Review, Charles Lawrence wrote this way about the bad-apple metaphor: “the bad-apple metaphor suggests a “perpetrator” model that fails to give an account of just how systemic racism is “transmitted by tacit understandings” and “collective unconscious.

 The philosopher Charles Mills argued, “the perpetrator [of racist actions or beliefs] perspective presupposes a world composed of atomic individuals whose actions are outside of and apart from the social fabric and without historical continuity.”

The police—just like all of us—are part of a system for which we are partly responsible. We know that system harms a lot of people. Let’s face it for once. We all know that system harms a lot of people. It is time for all of us to object to that system or we are culpable too.

Michael Eric Dyson, in his influential book, The Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America,” explained it well:

“That metaphor of a few bad apples doesn’t begin to get at the root of the problem. Police violence may be more like a poisoned water stream that pollutes the entire system. To argue that only a few bad cops cause police terror is like relegating racism to a few bigots. Bigots are surely a problem, but they are sustained by systems of belief and perception, by widely held stereotypes and social practice.”

So what do we do about it? It is important for all of us to understand this. As Todd and May said,

 

To truly confront problems of racist violence in our society, let’s not once again begin with the question of how to reform the police. Let’s instead start with the question of how to build healthy and safe communities of mutual respect and see which institutions we need to reach that goal. If anything that is to be called policing emerges from that inquiry, it should be at its end rather than assumed at the outset.

Only such an approach can possibly lead to deep reform. That is the reform we need.

 

Bad Apples or a Rotten Tree?

 

A lot people—particularly white people—believe that the problem with policing in Canada and the United States is a few bad apples. Others think it is a lot of bad apples. Both of these beliefs miss the point. It is not just that some police are bad apples; the point it that the tree is rotten. The system is rotten. And from a rotten tree you get poisonous fruit.

Most people believe that most police officers are doing a good job of protecting people. Todd May and George Yancy have argued in a powerful New York Times piece that this is too simple. They put it this way:

It is a mistake not because it underestimates the number of police officers who are racist and violent, but because the problem of racist policing is not one of individual actors. It is a mistake because the role of the police in society must be understood, not individually but structurally.

 

Like an organ in a human body, a Police Department is part of a structural whole. It functions to perform a certain task in the body politic; it is an organ in that body. Seen this way, each police officer is then like a cell in that organ. Before we can identify any problem in that organ, we must first understand the job that organ performs.

 

In the case of the police, the answer might seem obvious. Their function is to protect the citizenry from crime. At least that’s what we’re told. But as any good student of biology or politics knows, it won’t help to ask what an organ is said to do. It is better to observe what it actually does.

 

To merely accept the claim that police forces, since their inception, have protected law-abiding citizens from crime involves the neglect of several crucial factors. It neglects the long history of police abuse and the specific intentional abuse of people of color; it neglects the role that the police have played in breaking strikes, in silencing dissent and in keeping the social order safe from resistance or change. It also neglects the early history of policing in the United States that took the form of slave patrols in the 1700s and the enforcement of Black Codes and Jim Crow laws in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Since police forces were created, they have been the instruments whereby those in power have inflicted their will on the less powerful. And in countries, like Canada and the United States, where race has been, and continues to be, such a powerful force, that power has often been imposed on people who are not white.

Remember everything here applies to Canada too. The early history of the vaunted RCMP was to put down indigenous people in the west. which they did–brutally.

The philosopher and historian Michel Foucault said most of us look at the problem in the wrong way. He said we should not ask why the criminal justice system fails so often, but rather we should ask at what does it succeed? If it succeeded at nothing it would have been defunded a long time ago.

May and Yancy answered that question this way:

Once we ask that question, the answer is entirely clear. They succeed in keeping people in their place. They succeed in keeping middle-class and especially upper-class white people safe, so long as they don’t get out of line. They succeed in keeping people of color in their place so that they don’t challenge the social order that privileges middle- and upper-class white people. And, as we have recently witnessed in many violent police responses at protests, they succeed in suppressing those who would question the social order.

This brings me back to the point I tried to make about racism. The deadliest racism is not the obvious racism; it is the invisible system of racism. It is relatively easy to tackle the overt racists. The invisible racism is much harder to root out. So too with police. We must look at the police system. Or as May and Todd explained,

If we look at individual police officers divorced from the structure in which they operate — if we simply look for the “bad apples”— we fail to see the role of the police as a whole. Whether individual police officers are racist is not the fundamental issue. The fundamental issue is whether the police — the institution of policing as it exists in the United States — is racist. And once we look at this clearly, we understand that the answer must be yes.

 

So let’s not focus on the  Minneapolis cop who put his knee on the neck of George Floyd. Or the cops in Winnipeg who held down Finn Nolan Dorian near the Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall. As long as we concentrate on bad apples we will miss out on the more serious problem—the system. In Canada and the United States that system is fused with white supremacism.

It’s really a lot worse than a some bad apples.

Defund the Police?

The issue of race in both Canada and the United States is intimately connected to policing. Racism has been at the centre of the relationship between people of colour and the police in both countries. In a society in which race has played such an important role for centuries that would be unavoidable. That is particularly true when for so long the dominant group has denied that racism is real and has a profound effect.

Some things are obvious. There are good cops and bad cops. The bad cops must be eliminated. The good cops should be encouraged. The underlying system of racism in both countries must be attacked because it has poisoned both countries. I think most people now agree with that statement.

As a result of incidents that have happened recently there is now a strong movement, that some consider insane, to “Defund the Police,” but what exactly that means is less clear. It is clear that even whites are beginning to doubt that the police are blameless. Until recently, most whites took it for granted that the people of colour were at fault. Not any more. There is no longer such an assumption. So far, that is a good thing. But where does that leave us? We must not leave reason out of the picture. This is a time when we need critical thinking, not just emotion. Most of us believe that we need a police force to keep the peace. Are we wrong?

Andrew Sullivan a columnist for New York Magazine delivered a powerful rant on this topic on Real Times with Bill Maher. He was reacting to an incident that happened in Berkeley University in California—Liberal Land if there ever was any. The College of Music there apologized for allowing police officers to use their washrooms during a protest. That does sound pretty crazy. OK, it is pretty crazy.

This is more or less what he said (though) I have left out parts:

There are very practical things we can do to help police reform and we can get bi-partisan support for many of those things, but what has happened with the debate over the last couple of weeks is that fervour and moral panic has taken over and has helped people to lose their reason. This is all emotion. This is mob frenzy. This is precluding any kind of nuance, any kind of practical point. When I hear the cops in general, without any kind of distinguishing between the good and the bad cops, being described as “all cops are bastards,” when I hear the kind of rhetoric you are getting from people on the left about defunding the police, treating the police constantly as the enemy this is not how most Americans feel about them. (Or Canadians I would add.) They want reform. They don’t want to hear this kind of rhetoric of real hatred of the cops. The cops are doing a really hard job and in the past 25 years there has been an extraordinary decrease in crime. The most successful period of crime reduction ever and no one gives them any credit for that. It seems sometimes they just can’t win. I’m not excusing bad behavior in any way nor the misconduct of the few. But the left has gone nuts over the last couple of weeks and they need to calm down and stop demonizing the cops and stop running a campaign on defunding the police and stop this excessive rhetoric about how we all live in white supremacy and all white people have to confess their guilt. This kind of moral panic and orthodoxy that is taking place is unhealthy for democracy. We need to have open debate. We need to respect one another and there is a real McCarthyist feeling in the air right now in which dissenting opinions are not respected.

This is wise. Well at least some of it is wise. We need reason; not name-calling. We have to call out wicked cops. And there are many of them. More than most of us whites now realize. But we need rational debate or any change we achieve will not be good. It is clearly time for the attitude of cops not to change when they go from an all white neighbourhood to an African-American or Indigenous neighbourhood. Clearly that has not been happening. As Malcolm Nance, another guest on the show, said, “They can’t go into these neighbourhoods and treat it like Fallujah.”

According to Sullivan at this time there are a bunch of Woke activists who are holding the media by the throat and we have to sever that grip. This is not good for the left or the right. It will alienate the citizenry. It will destroy the noble cause. In the United States this could help elect Trump. Sullivan worries that the current left will lead people to abandon their current just cause and then, America can have a repeat of what happened in 1968. Anti-Vietnam War Protesters got so extreme that they helped get Richard Nixon elected. That would be unfortunate just when there seems to be a growing consensus for reform. Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.

America and Canada both have done some wonderful things. They have brought in the vote for women and blacks and indigenous people, though with horrible deficiencies. The rights of the LGBTQ community have progressed astonishingly in the past 30 years. Both countries need deep reform but they are not hopeless.

Malcolm Nance said it well, “Forget the extreme voices on both sides. We don’t need militia men and we don’t need to defund the police.” But—and this important—the police need to treat African Americans and Canadians  and Indigenous people like they treat white people. And that is pretty extreme too. It’s clear people of colour and their allies won’t put up with anything else much longer. The time for change has arrived. And it must be real change. Deep change.

Orchids in the News Again

 

It is hard to believe but orchids are in the news again. Last year it was the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid. A farmer in Southeastern Manitoba was charged with an offence because he was allegedly harming this rare orchid that is on the Endangered Species List. He said he was not aware of that. He had bought land from the Rural Municipality of Stuartburn and these orchids were found on it and he was farming the land. I could not comment on this case because our firm was involved in it.

Recently, I heard a Brandon member of Native Orchid Conservation Inc. (‘NOCI’) of which I am a member, interviewed on CBC radio on account of NOCI’s concern about a residential development in the city of Brandon. Apparently a private development firm owns land in Brandon on which Northern Small White Lady’s-slippers (Cypripedium candidum) are found. These flowers are considered threatened on the Endangered Species List. In fact this may seem strange but this location is considered the third best location for these orchids in Manitoba and it is right inside the city!

The developers hired a slick professional who made a strong case that the developers and owners acknowledged they had a legal responsibility to protect the orchids under Federal legislation and had no intention of shirking that responsibility. He kept repeating that they understood their “fiduciary duties.” Such an acknowledgement was bound to please environmentalists and politicians. That was a smart approach. He clearly painted a picture of the developers as good guys who would do their duty diligently. He suggested the owners would carve out a parcel of the land being developed and protect it, though he was vague about how that would be done. As so often happens in such cases, the devil is in the details.

NOCI is sceptical that it is possible to carve off a part of the land. Orchids belong in their habitat. That is exactly why the name of the Manitoba Endangered Species Act was changed to the Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act. It is not possible to sever orchids from their habitat and protect them. The habit must be protected to protect the orchids.

According to a hydrologist I know, the protection of drainage is critically important for orchids. You take away the water flow and you kill the orchids. How could the developers avoid that? We don’t know how. This could get interesting.

I was not able to drive to Brandon to look at the site due to my manservant responsibilities so I visited Kleefeld where I know the Small White Lady’s-slippers can be also be  found in ditch near town.

I wanted to show my faithful readers what these flowers look like.

They were difficult to see in the grass of the ditch even though they are such a brilliant white colour. No doubt that is what saves these flowers from people wanting to fill their homes briefly with beauty at the expense of removing them from nature where we can see them year after year. I made sure I did not groom the area around the flowers were to make them more presentable, as I figured that might also attract people who want to pick them for their mothers or wives.

I thought people should see what all the fuss is about.

The racial System

 

Some racism is worse than others. At least, I think that is true. We shudder at the racism of a white cop holding a hand-cuffed black man on the ground by placing his knee on the man’s neck. Or as happened in Winnipeg a few years ago an indigenous man left in an emergency waiting room for more than 24 hours before he died without being attended to. If the cop does that because the man is black that is racism. Or the hospital staff neglect the man in the waiting room because he is indigenous that is also racism. In both cases, it is bad. It’s wickedness is easy to see. Because it is easy to see it is easier to address. Subtle racism is harder to see and therefore its effects can be more pernicious. That is why I think it is much more dangerous.

 

When a group in a position of power holds prejudicial views of another race and those views are supported by the power of legal authority and institutional control, that racism can easily be transformed into a system of racism that might be difficult to discern exactly because it is so common and so pervasive. The reason it is so powerful is that such racism does not require an intentional act on the part of the racist. It just happens. In such a system racial prejudice functions implicitly without anyone consciously deciding to act on the basis of the prejudice. People function independently of their intentions or their own self-image. They don’t realize they are acting out racism. When that stage is reached it is incredibly dangerous. That is the stage that we are at in Canada and the Americans in the U.S..

That is why J. Kēhaulani Kauanui said, “Racism is a structure not an event.” Institutional power by people of influence can transform prejudice and discrimination into what Robin DiAngelo calls “structures of oppression.” Such structures are so important because they can inflict harm without anyone doing it intentionally. None of us look like we are racists, but we operate inside a racist system.

And then, as if that is not enough, such structures are often invisible for exactly the same reason–one does not see anyone intentionally doing a bad thing. This is what I called invisible racism in an earlier post. It all seems so normal, so natural. What could be wrong with that? The answer, of course, is that everything is wrong with that. As DiAngelo said, “Everyone has prejudice and discriminates, but structures of oppression go well beyond individuals.” That is because institutions have so much capacity to inflict serious harm. Power converts minor havoc into irreparable harm.

An example might help explain this. A good friend of mine constantly and rightly that me reminds me that women are guilty of discrimination too. Not just men. This is obviously true. But it is also a fact, that very few women have the ability to inflict as much harm as the institutional system that is controlled by men. Women cannot match that power. That usually makes discrimination by the system much more effective and hence more heinous than the discrimination by women. Men have been able to deny women their human rights for a long time because men controlled the institutions.

That is why systemic racism is so powerful and leads to so much harm. That is what we have to be on the look-out for.

Own your racism

 

Recently I blogged that I was a racist. At least I had been guilty of racism and was not proud of it. Some friends tried to let me off the hook. They said it was not really racism. I was being too hard on myself. I think they were wrong. I wish they were right. No one wants to be a racist—even me.

However, if we are racist we have to face up to it. Unless and until we fess up we cannot change. The great theologian Martin Buber said, “We can only be redeemed to the extent to which we can see ourselves.” We have to acknowledge our own racism even when that is uncomfortable. As Dan Lett said in a recent opinion piece in the Winnipeg Free Press, “…to get to a better place we’re going to need to own our racism.”

A recent Abaca poll in Canada indicated that most Canadians are actually aware of their own racism. 23% of Canadians surprisingly admitted that they had “a lot” or “some” racist views. Even though it was confidential survey I found that surprising. More than 67% believed racial discrimination was real. 61% acknowledged that racism was built into our institutions. That last one really bothered me. If 61% of Canadians believe the system is racist why are more people not speaking up about it? Where are the complaints? Why do people acquiesce? Why are so many people silent about it? Is it because they are complicit in that system? They benefit from the racism so keep quiet about it? That seems pretty nasty doesn’t it?

Yet as Lett pointed out, “it is highly unlikely only one in four Canadians have racist views. Instead the poll might confirm just how reluctant we are to admit our own racism.” Actually I think it is almost impossible to actually admit that one is a racist. In our society that is to admit that we are really bad except for explicit supremacists who explicitly think their race is superior.

Earlier I blogged about prejudice and discrimination. Lett made the following interesting point:

Racism is defined in most sources as ‘prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.’ That is a broad definition that would catch most of us for something we said or thought.

However to avoid being labelled, many white people set the bar to qualify as a genuine racist much, much higher.

They would argue a true “racist” is a hateful person of almost comic book proportions who is actively seeking the oppression or eradication of an ethnic group. Think of the former apartheid government of South Africa: think the Ku Lux Klan and neo-Nazis. However, limiting the definition of racism to such extreme examples prevents us from seeing the more subtle ways we reinforce it in day-to-day life.

 

Such racists are easy targets. All of us are tempted to raise the bar high to get ourselves off the hook. None of us want to be thought of as racists. Yet, when one looks at Canadian or American society we have to admit there must be a lot of racists out there. And maybe I am one of them. That is a very uncomfortable thought.

Wetland Wonders

 

There is a lot of treasure in the Woodridge Bog. Much more than just orchids. That is why our organization, Native Orchid Conservation Inc. nominated it for ecological reserve status and why the Province of Manitoba accepted that nomination. We are proud of that. It is the second one that we nominated that has been awarded that status.

 

I saw a few other flowers in the bog including Labrador Tea (Ledum groenlandicum) which is a very common plants in Manitoba wetlands. Be careful of the name. I know some have called the tea produced with it “pleasant tasting” while others have called it “God-awful”. As well, taken in large doses it can be toxic. It is easily identified by its leathery leaves that have rusty brown fuzz underneath that makes it distinctive.

Another very common flower that I saw that day was Northern Starflower (Trientalis borealis). This tiny flower (most Manitoba flowers are tiny) really does glow like a star in a dark bog. Even though it is common it is well worth stopping to appreciate. After all, most of us a pretty common too and we don’t often shine like stars.

Another very common Manitoba flower I saw that day was American Vetch (Vicia american). The rich purple to blue colours on this flower are incredibly rich, particularly when soaked with rain. Never each vetches because some of them are poisonous.

 

After spending a couple of hours at this site, I moved down the road to a farmhouse where I spotted Yellow Lady’s-slippers in bloom in the ditch in front of the house.  The owners ignored me when they drove away. They have seen Wild flower geeks in their ditch before. Actually they have seen me in their wonderful ditch before. I  never thought I would call a ditch wonderful. Imagine having orchids like this growing wild in the middle of your ditch. Country living can be pretty grand.

 

The Kick that saved a life?

 

Sometimes truth is murky. Just as I was thinking about these issues involving race that have been so much in the news lately, we had an interesting incident in Winnipeg. A video surfaced—as they always do—that showed an indigenous man lying on the ground with 2 police officers holding him down and a third one kicking him twice for his own good while a fourth officer was also there pointing a gun at him. The officers said the kick might have saved his life. Is that possible? The Winnipeg police seemed proud when they revealed the video. Of course by then multiple videos had already been released by bystanders.

Finn Nolan Dorian is a 33-year old indigenous man who was kicked twice while being kneed repeatedly by a police officer. The police had answered a call that reported an intoxicated man destroying property and brandishing a hand gun near Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall an area in which indigenous people are prominent. The gun turned out to be an airsoft replica. Not a real gun but it looked at least a bit like a real gun.

The Winnipeg Police department takes the position that the kicks were justified in the circumstances because the man had a knife in his waistband and might have been reaching for it. The police department pointed out that if the officers had shot and killed the man it would have been one more case of police shooting an indigenous person. Had the man grabbed the knife the officers suggested they might have shot the man  in which case the situation would have been much worse. As a result of the kicks, they said they were able to get the situation under control without lethal force. So the man was lucky he got kicked rather than killed!

This makes some sense. The police department says it strives for exactly this result—i.e. non-lethal force that subdues a potentially dangerous man. Had he been killed, people would have asked why didn’t the police just subdue him?

Yet the situation is still disturbing. Is it really necessary to kick him while he is on the ground when there are 4 police officers present, he is intoxicated, and lying face down on the ground with two burly officers holding him face down? Does this meet the smell test?

Yes sometimes truth is murky, but sometimes we have to make the best judgement we can.