Category Archives: Exploitation

Women Talking (the Movie)



I have already blogged about the book. I loved the book. Now I want to blog about the film. I loved the film too. I know this sounds like I am a homer. But I like Cactus Jack Wells a Winnipeg Blue Bomber football announcer always said, “this is a true and unbiased report.” This is like that. Biased in other words.

I admit it, I am proud that woman from Steinbach, who I know a little bit, wrote a novel that was the basis of a movie nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. As I would have said in my lawyerly days, “I am not in a conflict of interest.”

We also must remember that the film is not the book. It doesn’t have to be. It is an independent nation.  But, of course, they are closely related. They are different interpretations of the same thing. This time I will just talk about the film.

The film is about oppression and what to do about it. If that is not a universal theme there are no universal themes. And it is a big and important theme.  It is worth our attention. Not because it deals with Mennonites.  That is irrelevant. It could have dealt with the Taliban. Or Roman Catholics. Or your place of employment. Or your home.

The film involves discussion among the Mennonite women in a South America where they have discovered that they have been sexually assaulted by the men of the colony. the men accomplish this by drugging the women so they don’t realized what was happening. After it is discovered the women must decided if they should leave the colony, stay and submit, or leave. Each choice involves terrible risks.

One of the women in the film says:

“Boys have learned from their father how to oppress.

And women have learned from their mother how to submit.

Both have learned well.”



There is another element I can’t resist talking about. The religious element. After all the central characters are Mennonites in a strict conservative Mennonite colony. As a result, here is a conversation between Ona and Scarface:

ONA Are we asking ourselves what our priority is? To protect our children or to enter the kingdom of heaven?

SCARFACE JANZ  Does entering the kingdom of heaven mean nothing to any of you? After all we have suffered? ANNA Are you really willing to give up what we have always lived for?

ONA Surely there is something in this life worth living for, not only in the next.


That is an issue worth wrestling. Is it more important to save your child’s life than it is to save your immortal soul?

The women are told by the men of the colony that they are mistaken about their allegations of sexual abuse. The allegations are the product of the wild imaginations of women or of Satan. They can’t be true.

Later there is another interesting conversation (there are many):

SALOME … The only certainty we’ll know is uncertainty, no matter where we are.

ONA Other than the certainty of the power of love.

Yup, but is that enough to save the conundrum at the heart of the film?


Ona also asks an incredible question: “How would you feel if in your entire lifetime it had never mattered what you thought?”  This is the ultimate question. The women want to think! And that is not permitted.  

The women have been taught that they have a religious duty to always forgive. So they must forgive the men, they think, or risk going to hell. But as Agata said, “Perhaps forgiveness can, in some instances, be confused with permission…”

There is much worth talking about in this film. Watch and participate in the conversation. That’s what we all should do.

I am giving a true and unbiased report here. Therefore I say, this is the best film of the year and it will win the Academy Award for Best Picture because the academy will do the right think. But perhaps like the women in the film, I am just a dreamer. But sometimes a dream is all you get.

Deep Freedom


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a book about freedom.  It is about the freedom of young boys who are smothered by demands that they conform to narrow constraints of maiden aunts and Sunday schools. And that is important. Revolting from such constraints is the freedom Huck seeks. That is the freedom that Huck seeks and is willing to pay the ultimate price when he lights out for the territory. He wants it even if means hell.


But it also about freedom that a large portion of Americans didn’t enjoy, namely the indigenous and black people of America. The freedom extolled by Americans since the time of the Puritans that for some reason was not for them. Some of them in fact were enslaved—i.e., as unfree as they possibly could be in this land lauded as being the land of the free.  It was free only for some. Most them were white and most of them were men.

The novel is also about freeing humans like Huck from the ideas that enslave him. These are the ideas—like making humans into property—that Huck must learn to renounce. And it is hard to renounce ideas with which we have grown up.

How can anyone who believes in and relishes freedom as so many Americans and Canadians do, ever think that slavery is acceptable? Canadians have to remember that slavery was also prevalent in Canadian society. Canada was much more than the underground railway inviting in slaves to sanctuary.

When charlatans, murderers, and thieves join the “God-fearing” white folks of the community to chase down en mass Jim the runaway slave, Huck says, aptly, “It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race.”

Mark Twain once said, “Lincoln’s proclamation…not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also.” I believe that is profoundly true.

This is beautifully materialized in the character of Jim the black slave. Jim frees Huck. In pursuing freedom for Jim, Huck is also freed from the chains of the Sunday school marms.

Ousting Inhabitants




The newcomers to Canada had a different attitude to the land than the indigenous people they met had.

As Doug Williams, elder and former Chief of Kitiga Migisi, saidimn the documentary Spirit to Soar, “I think the early, early settlers had a real difficult time  with what they called the wilderness. Of course, we did not have a wilderness. We had a home.” The newcomers needed the Indigenous people to survive. Doug Williams put it this way in the film Colonization Road:


“When the land grants were starting to happen, they were giving away our old camps, and our shorelines, and our islands, and the river mouths, and all of this. We had to move. In fact, we were being shot at. It’s a history which started with conflict, so we had to move.”


Premier Brian Pallister of Manitoba was wrong. The settlers were not only builders. They built alright, but first they also  pushed out the inhabitants. Sometimes not directly, but through the governments that represented them and did not represent the indigenous people, the indigenous people were ousted. Settlers accepted this. They did not question their privilege. They saw it as natural. They thought they were entitled to this privilege.  That is the way privilege works. It sees anything that undermines that privilege as irrational.

I recently watched a limited television series call The English. It is well worth seeing.  It dealt with the settlement of North America by Europeans.  In it I was struck by a group of Mennonites who had come to Kansas to settle the land. The English woman in the series came up to the Mennonites and challenged them. “What are you doing here,” she asked. “Why are you here? Don’t you know people live here? Why don’t you go home?”  The Mennonites were dumb struck by these perplexing questions.  They seemed to never have thought of this. After all, the reason they were there, they said, was that God had called them to come. How could they possibly question that?  In a sense, the Mennonites were villains of the series [along with a wide assortment of other villains].  I had never before seen Mennonites painted as villains. Is this an unfair portraiture? I wonder what my friends think?

Recently, a friend of mine, told me about a Canadian farmer who is a descendant of settlers. He felt the injustice of this ouster so keenly, that he met with his family and together they decided to give the land back to indigenous people! Just like that after a few generations of farming the land they gave it back while acknowledging the injustice of the original displacement of the indigenous people.  That is an impressive expression of conscience and, I dare say, in this case, true Christian spirit.

That settler demonstrated a new attitude to the land and its inhabitants.


Fear and Trembling


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?





I really like to photograph churches. I loved the little St. Jerome Church nestled in colourful trees beside the Pays Platt River in northwest Ontario on the land of the Plays Platt First Nation. I also loved the little river nearby and I stopped to photograph the church and the river.

The beauty of the church and the scene though belies some uncomfortable truths. Religion among First Nations peoples has been fraught, at least ever since they had contact with Europeans who believed that Indigenous religions were heathenish and unworthy of serious consideration. The newcomers were quick to try to convert them to the “superior” religions of the western nations. It was all part of the colonial attitudes. In many cases conversions were very “successful” in that the First Nations people in many cases because staunch members of the new faith. Many of the indigenous people were always willing to try something new when it came to spirituality. For some members of First Nations peoples however they never lost their indigenous religion.  In my view there was much in the Indigenous religion that was very worthy of respect, notwithstanding the lack of respect from many Christians.

Jay Miller in that wonderful book edited by Betty Ballantine and Ian Ballantine, The Native Americans an Illustrated History, described the relationship between the Jesuits and indigenous people of the northeast of North America this way:

“At the same time that the growth of the fur trade was making its inroads into native lifeways, the Christian religion, with the Jesuits at the forefront, was making its self-righteous, moral attack on the Indians. Indeed, of all the events transpired to affect the natives of Canada, none was more climactic than the Jesuit mission. Although natives responded genuinely and openly to this religious Jesuit message, they did so from an innate respect for each person’s religious beliefs. Yet they were utterly baffled by the initial insensitivity with which it was conveyed.”


In time the Jesuits got smarter. After all they were often intelligent and well-educated men. They did their best to learn from their mistakes. They even tried, to some extent,  to learn from the people they were trying to convert. It is unfortunate that more Christians were not able to realize that there was a lot to be learned from the indigenous people of Canada. The history of Canada might have been very different than it was.

Pays Plat 51 Reserve: Where the water is shallow

Pays Plat River Northwest Ontario

There are an amazing number of First Nations in this region of Northwest Ontario through which I traveled. One I had never heard of before was the Pays Plat First Nation. It is a small first nation near Rossport, my final destination on this trip. According to the First Nation’s website, The Pays Plat 51 reserve is in the boundary of the territory described in Robinson Superior Treaty of 1850. The community is now found alongside the Trans-Canada highway.  I stopped because it had a lovely little river with a church beside it. How could I resist photographing it?

The ancestors of the current first nation survived by hunting, fishing, and trapping. It was deeply involved in the fur trade. The name “Pays Plat”  comes from the French and means flat land. It is between 2 mountains. Modest sized mountains of course, as befits Ontario.

In the Anishinaabemowin language, the community is known as Baagwaashiing which means “Where the water is shallow.” To me the little village was a delight.

The Robinson Treaties, of 1850 also known as the Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior Treaties saw Canada secure almost all of northwest Ontario for settlement and resource development. New in these agreements were provisions made for reserves based on sites chosen by Indigenous leaders. These Robinson Treaties  are credited with laying the foundation for what later became known as Western Canada’s Numbered Treaties. Treaty making during this period was not just confined to the eastern and central areas of what would become Canada.



A treaty is a legally binding agreement outlining the rights and duties of its signatories and is protected by international law. Negotiated and agreed to by two or more sovereign nations, treaties are formal agreements used to reinforce and protect relations between those parties.

In North America, Indigenous societies and colonial powers often held divergent traditions and understandings on the composition and structure of these agreements. These understandings were informed by their own social, political and economic norms. Far from homogenous, pre-colonial laws, customs, and practices informed Indigenous treaty agreements, like that in Gusweñta. Many of these principles were shared among Indigenous nations, ensuring that all parties upheld their obligations. Many Indigenous nations recognize this treaty legacy and continue to advocate that the original intent of these agreements with the Crown, and then Canada, be honoured.


Conflict between competing empires often made its way to North America, and almost always involved Indigenous peoples. The French and British each had their supporting allies among the indigenous people. The Great Peace of Montreal serves as but one example of an agreement that brought to a close prolonged periods of conflict. Signed in 1701 between New France and forty (40) Indigenous groups of Central and Eastern North America. This treaty ushered in several years of peace. Treaties such as this lay the groundwork for peace and cooperation between colonial powers and the areas Indigenous populations, and were tested and fractured time and again when European rivals clashed overseas and brought their conflict to the Americas.

Key differences in treaty making during each of these phases is a direct result of the economic, political, and social dynamics that emerged as colonial and later state powers competed for control of the continent. As trade relations, wartime diplomacy, increasing land settlement pressures, and resource development increased, so too did the need for officials to deal with the question of Indigenous land title. As Leanne Betasamosake Simpson said, treaties were always about land.


And what struck me most on this jaunt through God’s country was that the land was beautiful. Unbelievably beautiful. Worth cherishing. I am not always sure that Canada appreciated how the land should be cherished. Canadians by and large wanted to exploit the land, not cherish it. I am not sure that was always the right approach. Often I think we need a new attitude to nature. I have blogged about that. I want to blog a lot more about that. I think it is a crucial concept.


The Hate Capital of Canada

I love Thunder Bay, where I spent my first night on my inferior jaunt. It is beautiful.  Some call it God’s country.  I liked that. I was meandering through God’s Country.  But it has a dark side. It is a region of the country that has been deeply affected by racism.  Perhaps it is god-forsaken country for how could God countenance racism?

As I traveled through this beautiful country I listened to a podcast about the Thunder Bay region  on CBC radio.  Tanya Talaga was the host and one of the producers of the show. The podcast referred to Thunder Bay as the “hate capital of Canada.”    No doubt this is in part a reflection of the abundance of first nations people in the region.  As a result of deep racism in the area many people—too many people—hate the local indigenous people.  Hate of course breeds hate in the other side.  So both sides end up hating each other. What a pity. What a poor way to treat this beautiful country.

The CBC podcast referred to 7 high school students who had been attacked and murdered in the area in the recent past. Tanya Talaga the producers of the podcast also wrote a book on the subject called 7 Fallen Feathers referring to those 7 students. Thunder Bay has attracted so many indigenous youth because many of them have no choice but to go there for high school. The government in the treaties promised free education to youth of the First Nations, but often that means they must travel a considerable  distance from their home to the schools in Thunder Bay, the largest city by far in the region. Many of their communities, it is thought, are too small to support a high school. In cities like Thunder Bay many of those students have been subjected to deep racism so far from home. Many of them live alone, often torn apart by desperate loneliness. Often the students must go without the support of their families who remain back home.  As a result many of them are vulnerable and predators like nothing better than vulnerable people. Some of those students, like the 7 fallen feathers, were victimized by violence that sometimes turned lethal.

The last part of my drive into Thunder Bay was stressful. It was dark and there was a lot of traffic that moved fast.  Big trucks were rushing by. To keep going and arrive in Thunder Bay I had to push it. It started to rain and this reduced visibility on the road and made things a little a slippery. This was a mistake caused by my lack of a navigator. I missed Chris. She would normally arrange for hotel reservations as we drove and would make sure we pulled in before it was too late. I don’t like driving in the dark and the rain on holidays. It just is not necessary.

As a result, I was looking for a hotel room after 10 p.m. and of course, ended up paying too much at the Days Inn for a modest hotel room. The motel clerk just told me, “That’s Thunder Bay.” She added that the only reason that room was available was that someone had just cancelled, or they would not have even had one room.  So, under pressure, I took the room. It was high time to pack it in and I didn’t want to go room hunting at night.  Thunder Bay is on the Trans-Canada highway and the major town in the region. I really wanted to pack it in and go for dinner. It was all Chris’s fault!

I had a fine meal in a local restaurant filled with indigenous people.  Right beside me were to men with 2 lovely children with sparkling eyes.  I speculated that the younger man was the father and the elder the grandfather.  I wondered who could hate these people? How as that possible? Racism is a sword that cuts both ways, hurting the people who inflict it on others as much as the recipients. Racism diminishes all. It is an ugly scourge.

Dropped from the Sky


This is reconciliation week in Canada. Christiane and I are participating in a number of events as part of this week. We want to learn more.

The Pat Porter Active Living Centre (‘the Centre’), in Steinbach  of which Christiane and I are members, hosted an afternoon of learning the history of Indian Residential Schools on Tuesday.  The Centre is geared to seniors over 55 years old. Old people like us. That day we also enjoyed an authentic indigenous cuisine lunch of bison stew, Bannock, wild rice, and summer berries with ice cream. That lunch was  followed by a ceremony and cultural teachings, drumming and dance.

Frankly, Christiane and I were surprised that the Centre had sponsored such an event.  We had never heard of them doing such a thing before.  There was pretty good attendance too.

During the day we learned that Jennifer Wood the Indigenous leader the Centre invited to bring to us a couple of hours of entertainment and knowledge was also very pleasantly surprised that the Centre had done this. She  said she was  very impressed that Steinbach’s seniors would be interested in that. Added to that, she was surprised by how many of us wore orange shirts to identify support for the cause of indigenous children under the banner of ‘All Children Matter.’ Frankly ,I was proud that we were a part of this event. Wood said that 25 years ago this would never have happened. I am not sure it would have happened 5 years ago.  Wood said, “The era of change is what you represent here today.”She also said that “by inviting us to speak we were participating in reconciliation.” People like her are accustomed to non-indigenous Canadians showing little interest in such matters.


After the opening water ceremony, we heard from Jennifer Wood, an Ojibway woman from Neyaashiinigmiing First Nation, Ontario. She was the Coordinator of the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement for nearly a decade for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. She has organized some of the largest and most important Indigenous conferences in Canada. We were lucky to have her come to Steinbach to tell us old folks her perspective on indigenous issues, particularly reconciliation.


Here she was a third-generation survivor of Residential Schools, yet she thanked us profusely for inviting her. She was clearly excited about seeing such interest in Steinbach. Who would have believed it?


Added to that, Wood said to those of us wearing the orange shirts that alluded to our support for the Every Child Matters movement, “When you wear an orange shirt you are wearing a bit of justice.” I liked that. That made Christiane and I who were wearing our orange shirts very proud. Wood appreciated our little gesture. I don’t think she was expecting to see a lot of orange shirts in Steinbach.


She opened by saying, she was not there to blame or make people feel guilty. She just wanted us to learn the truth.  That was why we were there. For generations the indigenous perspective has been ignored. As she said, “It is a heavy subject, but I want everybody to know the truth.”  Without truth there can be no reconciliation.


She told us about how her and her 4 siblings including her sister Vivian who was sitting with Christiane and I, had been seized by government officials and taken away from her loving home without her consent when she was a very young girl. 5 family members were swept up in one day. Imagine the terror!

She knew no one there and could not see her siblings. She was deliberately separated from them and, of course, her parents.

It reminded me of what we had seen in the short video presentation we saw earlier. A residential school survivor told us about her first day at the school. She said,

“When I arrived at the school, far from home, I felt like I had been dropped from the sky. Strangers around me. I don’t know them; they don’t know me. I didn’t know how to socialize. I don’t even know how to love.



As I have learned, there was a reason for this. It is a harsh Canadian truth.  Separating children form parents and siblings was done on purpose It was done deliberately to destroy the Indigenous Family. They wanted to do that. And this is one thing they were very good at.


Every Child Matters: A Common Foe


It was members of the black community that came up with the expression “Black Lives Matter” to define their group. It was a brilliant motto. And of course, immediately other groups wanted to latch onto it.  There was the group of supporters of the police forces who used the handle, “Blue Lives Matter.”  That was like the enemy adopting your own motto. That was not cool. The supporters of police forces for a while had also wanted to use it as well.   Some claimed, rightly but inappropriately that “All lives Matter.”  After that, I noticed indigenous groups using the expression “Every Child Matters .”   Really, indigenous groups should admit it—this was an “appropriation” of a name. That is something indigenous groups are very quick to complain about when others do it to them.  With some justification I might add.


Much more importantly than a name however, I want oppressed groups to remember who their enemy is. Their enemy is white supremacy. It is not the other oppressed groups. No oppressed group should waste valuable moral capital attacking another oppressed group, particularly when they have a powerful common enemy such as white supremacy that demands all their attention. That is enough of an enemy. They don’t need to make enemies of their common oppressed people.


Give it up. Join forces to unite against the powerful oppressor—i.e., white supremacy. They should not waste arrows on each other.

All lives do matter and all of us who are opposed to oppression should unite against the common foe. That really is the point!

Then, hopefully reconciliation can begin.


Genocide Repudiated


The Indian Residential Schools established by the Canadian government under the provisions of the Indian Act were instruments it used, often through its church partners,  to ensure dominance over indigenous people. Even if the Popes had disavowed the Doctrine of Discovery, the basis of these notions were also the foundation of that doctrine, which I have called vile.

Here is what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’)  said in its report to the Canada in 2015,

“For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide.””


Since that report was delivered many critics have said the TRC was too gentle with Canada. They suggested the word “cultural” should be dropped from that destruction. They say, Canada was guilty of genocide. Pope Francis on his recent visit to Canada said he thought it “genocide.” The subsequent report of the 2019 Inquiry into Missing and Murdered  Women and Girls, said the actions reported on in that report amount to “genocide.” There was no qualification. It may be that the reticence of the TRC was a consequence of it not being authorized to accuse people of crimes, and genocide is a crime.

The TRC said this about genocide:

“Physical genocide is the mass killing of the members of a targeted group, and biological genocide is the destruction of the group’s reproductive capacity. Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.”



And then the TRC added, “In its dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things.” If Canada did all 3 things necessary to be classified as genocide, then the TRC is saying, Canada committed genocide in its dealings with its Indian Residential Schools. According to the TRS, and was amply justified by the evidence revealed in its report,


As if that was not enough the TRC also said this,

“Canada denied the right to participate fully in Canadian political, economic, and social life to those Aboriginal people who refused to abandon their Aboriginal identity. Canada outlawed Aboriginal spiritual practices, jailed Aboriginal spiritual leaders, and confiscated sacred objects. And, Canada separated children from their parents, sending them to residential schools. This was done not to educate them, but primarily to break their link to their culture and identity.   In justifying the government’s residential school policy, Canada’s First prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, told the House of Commons in 1883:

When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits, and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly pressed on myself, as the head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”


But as if that was not enough the TRC added,

“These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will.”


Who can possibly deny that taking children away from their parents for such a vile policy is not genocide? I think the conclusion is clear and unassailable.

In my opinion these genocidal policies are incompatible with the statements made by Pope Francis in Canada. He spoke plainly and clearly. This was a most welcome message from a Pope.