The drive to Fort Frances from Thunder Bay was excellent. There is little traffic on this road compared to the Trans-Canada. The region has many first nations. A large number of them were compelled by the federal government to amalgamate. The landscape was lovely with many small lakes and ponds. It is particularly beautiful in autumn. That is why I was here.
The trip to Fort Frances from Thunder Bay was a delight. I made many stops along the way to photograph the autumn leaves. Some people say there is nothing to see here other than rocks and trees. Well, if that is true, I love the rocks and trees particularly in the fall. The colours were sensational. They should declare a national holiday for us to see them. The journey through Quetico Park was inspiring. I also listened to a brilliant podcast by the historian Timothy Snyder. I even got to see a few more of the little islands I like so much. Life was good.
The road from Thunder Bay to Fort Frances was an absolute delight. There was very little traffic and I could stop to photograph the countryside as often as I wanted. this is a photograph of one of the grandest sights of autumn–the larch or tamarack. This is a coniferous tree that does not stay green. I think it is the only tree in Canada that does that. There were plenty of them in the Thunder bay area.
“There used to be 7 Anishinaabe First Nation communities along the Rainy River. In the early 1900s, after the Metis resistance, the province of Ontario forced the amalgamation of some of them to form Manitou Rapids First Nation. According to the Ryan McMahon of the Couchiching First Nation in north-west Ontario, this was an illegal amalgamation, by the province of Ontario because they wanted the land for settlers and then they gave them our land for free.”
Here was an ad produced by the Canadian government:
By order of Parliament: Land Grants are to be given for the purpose of settlement in Somerville Township.
The governments (federal and provincial) spread such posters far and wide in many countries. They offered irrigated land with lots of nearby lumber with lots of potential farm land with access to markets and roads. They did not tell too many people about the winters in Canada. But people did get land with documents on plans that showed road allowances. The Ontario government in 1853 invited “Capitalists, Tenant farmers, agricultural labourers, mechanics, Day labourers, and all parties desirous of improving their circumstances to immigrate to a new country.” Earlier people had been given parcels of land in the middle of nowhere. They had road allowances but often no road. So, the governments started a road system to attract settlers and facilitate enterprise.
Of course, the governments that did this never asked their partners—those nations that entered into treaties with the federal government—what they thought about what they were doing. The first nations never thought they were ceding the land to the European newcomers. They thought they made deals to share the land with the newcomers. But that is not how it worked out. The newcomers took over—everything.
Pam Palmater, an indigenous Canadian lawyer and professor of law, had an entirely different view of these enterprises. As she said,
To me these roads, railways, they’re like an infection. Not just metaphorically, but actually. It was a way of invading our territories, without legal authority, without consent. And what are roads used for now? They literally bleed our territories dry of people, of resources, of everything that matters and they pose a hazard.
This was how colonialism started in Canada, with a fundamental disagreement about what the parties had agreed to.
Sometimes truth does not come in clear images. The impressionist painters of the late 19th century realized that, and I found their images captivating. Some of you may have noticed that some of my photos are not clear either. That is not an accident. I have been using a technique called “the Orton effect” after the man who invented it. The technique involves combining 2 identical images into one. The first one is clear, but over exposed. So it is very light. Then I take a second image of the same subject and blur it deliberately. When combined the images sometimes are stunning. Sometimes you have no idea what the result will be when the images are combined. Sometimes the results are duds. When combined however, sometimes the images seem magical what you see the two images coming together in the computer.
A few years ago I was at photographic workshop with a photographer by the name of Andre Gallant who produced a book called Dream Scapes. He is a master of the technique. I am a poor elementary student. His images were deeply compelling to me, but he admitted, as must I, that the technique is not for everyone. After all, why would one deliberately blur a sharp image? That is a good question? Why did the impressionists do that?
Julian Falconer, in the film Spirit to Soar, together with the Grand Chief Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Alvin Fiddler fought for an inquest into the deaths of the 7 young indigenous people in Thunder Bay for years. Finally, one was announced in 2008, but only for one of the 7 students. The inquest was for Reggie Bushie and it was finally called in 2015. According to CBC reporter Jodi Porter,
“there was a roomful of lawyers there and their only job was to protect and cover-up and they were the ones who got to call [witnesses]…There wasn’t healing in it. It was traumatizing. It was awful to sit there every day. And no one from Thunder Bay bothered to show up.”
While the Inquest was being held another indigenous body was pulled from the river. “The gruelling inquest”, according to Talaga, “lasted for 9 months and came up with 145 recommendations including building high schools for every community that needs one. And improving safety for Thunder Bay rivers.
I wonder if anyone cared about that. The film did not say. It left a lot of questions unanswered.
In the same way, combining images can leave a lot of questions unanswered. But aren’t questions more important than answers? I don’t want to give up on truth, but sometimes I want to experience it from a fresh perspective.
I love maple leaves just before they die. Maple Leafs of Toronto not so much. Maple leaves, attain a stunning beauty just before death consumes them. The tree doesn’t die; the leaves die and fall to the ground. On the ground we see their last grasp at beauty. I am always amazed by their shape and colours. Even from behind they look wonderful.
A number of deaths in and around Thunder Bay have brought back painful memories of Indian Residential Schools to the people of the region. This has sparked fear among many indigenous youth. Particularly, when it appears that the deaths have been normalized. When nobody cares it’s time to be scared. And when there is nothing special about the deaths, you know it’s dangerous out there. It’s the same thing the indigenous women have felt in Canada for decades.
Yet at the same time, the land is incredibly beautiful. Reminds me of what W.B. Yeats once referred to as “beauty like a bended bow.” As Julian Falconer, a lawyer acting for indigenous people said in the film Spirit to Soar, as he was flying over the region I was travelling by in my car:
“We are flying where Jordan Wabasse was found. Nobody needs reminding of how tragic these losses, these deaths, are to indigenous communities. But I also think that you can’t talk about Thunder Bay without appreciating how special the land is. That creates the ultimate irony. Easily some of the most beautiful landmarks in the world are here with some of the ugliest dynamics in the form of racism. All of that is part of the story. And the whole story needs to be told.”
Wisdom from a lawyer. How rare. Go figure.
The land is special, the people are special, and things get complicated. We have to appreciate that. There are no simple answers here, because there are no simple truths. Truth is usually complex.
I love autumn and in particular the maple leaves of autumn. What is more beautiful?
The Canadian federal government in 1876 introduced the Indian Act. It has been amended a number of times since then, but is still on the books. That statute gave the federal government authority over indigenous people. Indigenous people were shocked by the introduction of that statute, since many of them had recently entered into treaties which they thought guaranteed them sovereignty over their own lands and peoples while agreeing to share (but not cede) the land with non-indigenous Canadians. That law actually gave the federal government the authority to completely control the lives of indigenous people in Canada. That statute gave the federal government the power to take away indigenous children from their homes and send them to church run government funded Indian Residential Schools. There were eventually more than 140 residential schools across Canada. 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and sent to these schools often at considerable distance from their home communities and far away from their families. The last school closed in 1996. Again, this is not ancient history. This is yesterday. And the ill-effects of those schools live on in the lives of descendants of the survivors.
The Indian Act is a piece of legislation that amounts to the extreme use of colonial power and paved the way for exploitation of indigenous people. It is based on the false notion that whites were superior to indigenous people. I will have more to say about that legislation in future posts.
Children are still leaving their homes and families and communities just to get an education. Now they do it by “choice.” Many go to places like Thunder Bay where they are the objects of powerful and deep racism. Of course, indigenous people are compelled to go there by economic circumstances. Many of these modern students report that they feel unsafe in places like Thunder Bay. One said, “I feel like I have to look over my shoulder every second, or I’m going to, you know, get hurt.” Many are scared because they know of others who have gone missing.
Of course, the 7 deaths of indigenous students in the Thunder Bay area brought painful recollections of Indian Residential Schools where often young children were sent to schools far away and never came home. Was this not comparable to that? Were we living through another heinous event like that?
When European settlers came to Canada, they brought with them a lot of lies. They packed lies you might say. One of the big ones was the doctrine of discovery.
As Tanya Talaga said on the CBC documentary Spirt to Soar,
“When the settlers came to our lands they brought with them many stories of falsehoods. The most harmful being the doctrine of discovery-–terra nullius. With lands belonging to no one, this justified the theft and discover of our homelands. But the land belonged to someone. We were here. We are still here.”
This reminded me of a recent television series I watched called The English. In that series the villains included a group of Mennonites who had come to settle Kansa in 1800s. The English woman in the series asked the Mennonites why they were there? “Do you not realized people live here”, she asked. The Mennonites were shocked. How could their good intentions be questioned? The replied, “God sent us.” That was all they said. They never considered that they might be trespassing on land of others. Such an idea never entered their minds.
I actually think there was another doctrine–at least as harmful as the Doctrine of Discovery and closely related to it. That was the doctrine of white supremacy. It held that whites were superior to all other races. All other races are inferior. This reminded me, obliquely, of my inferior tour. It was inferior not just in the sense of being puny, but also in the sense of any lingering sense of superiority I might have. I have been trying to oust this pernicious doctrine from my soul. It is not easy. The doctrine of white supremacy is entirely irrational, but that does not make it any less real. Anyone who benefits from doctrine must renounce it. Justice, fairness, and reason all demand it.
Both doctrines were lies—very big lies.
According to Jody Porter, CBC reporter in the film, Spirit to Soar, “there is a sense in this town [Thunder Bay] that you don’t have to account for these things.” That is what privilege is all about. That is what makes Thunder Bay the Hate capital of Canada. Those who have white supremacy deep in their souls often do not recognize that it is there. They are blind to it. They accept the benefits of privilege and look down on its victims, if they notice them at all. That is the spirit that does not soar. That is the spirit that leads to hate.
Driving back from Rainbow Falls on the way to Thunder Bay, I stopped at Ozone Creek to take a photograph of another lovely stream and bridge surrounded by autumn leaves. I really can’t get enough of such lovely scenes.
I wonder why it is called Ozone Creek? Is there where the pieces of the hole in the ozone layer have landed? Where has all the ozone gone?
I guess I am also a sucker for bridges. I love covered bridges and those modern ones with an array of reinforced wiring to hold it up.
This bridge was pretty plain. But plain is sometimes good. To my mind today was good.
I returned to Thunder Bay weary and hungry. It was a great day along the north shore of Lake Superior. A fine day on a modest inferior tour.
After grabbing a few photographs of the lovely little island in very dull light, I decided to try Rainbow Falls Provincial Park as the ranger had recommended. He was not mistaken about this little place of wonder. The Falls were lovely. The hike out to the falls was a bit treacherous because the wet and slippery trail went very close to a fast-flowing river, but it was worth the trip. The rapids and falls were lovely, the air was fresh, and I was able to make up for what was really a dull gray day. Not great for photographing scenics but fine for close-up images. So, I concentrated on close-up shots and shots of the falls. Frankly, I felt like I was in heaven.
My drive along the north shore of Lake Superior was stunning. It was a cloudy day. Not good for scenic vistas, but great for the fantastic colours of autumn foliage. I was in heaven. At least so it felt. I made many stops to photograph what I saw. And it was never enough. The land was beautiful. As John Denver said, “It’s almost heaven.”
In the film Colonization Road, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, a writer and academic says we are not having the right conversations in Canada because even when we talk about reconciliation we don’t talk about land. According to indigenous people and the European settlers and their political representatives, the treaties were about land. Land was the foundation of it all. How would the land be shared? That was the nub and too many people have forgotten this. As she said,
“We are talking about reconciliation, but we are not talking about land. We are talking about murdered and missing indigenous women and girls but we are not talking about the land. Where the root cause of every issue that indigenous people are facing right now in Canada right now comes from dispossession and erasure and it comes from the system of settler colonialism that keeps us in an occupied state.”
As Hayden King said in the film,
” Y’know the land is the basis of the Canadian economy. Indigenous peoples have been kicked off the land, dispossessed of it, to make way for the Canadian economy…The objective is to get rid of the Indian. And traditionally the method has been very overt. ‘We’re going to eradicate your culture, we’re going to eradicate your language, we’re going to get you off the land. We’re going to separate you from your family and your communities. We have today a different form of trying to kill the Indian. Canada has been very sneaky with the institutional and legal tools it’s used to kind of push the native people out of the way.”
Teika Newton made a very another important point. She said,
“The creation of Canada is something that has been very violent. It’s been violent consistently towards indigenous women and it’s been very violent consistently towards the land. They didn’t see the poetry in our language. They didn’t see our children and our old people as being valuable. They saw resources. They saw money.”
As the Eagles said in that magnificent song, aptly titled ‘The Last Resort,”
Some rich men came and raped the land
Nobody caught ’em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes
And Jesus people bought ’em
They called it paradise
The place to be.
They watched the hazy sun
Sinking in the sea.
Many indigenous people, like Chief Al Hunter, believe the Canadian extractive economy has mined the natural resources with few long-term benefits, particularly to indigenous people. It is a boom and bust economy. As he said, reversing an old cliché, “It’s short-term gain for long term pain.”