Category Archives: Indigenous Issues

Evolving Economies on the Plains

The Eastern woodlands of North America was home to Indigenous people for at least 10,000 years and maybe more. Although the first North Americans, eastern Paleo-Indians, who lived there used stone tools  they were not by and large hunters of big game.  They stuck close to the “river roads,” by which was meant the amazing rivers of North America.  They were nomadic, but usually travelled along those major rivers and systematically took advantage of the seasonal availability of grasses, fruits, nuts, fish, and game. Meandering you might say. This was wise. As Hurst Thomas said, “Their broad spectrum adaptation spread out the risk and buffered people against the failure of any particular plant or animal species. This generalized ecological adaptation was to gain them a head start toward the more intensive gathering economies evident in later periods. As their population increased, Eastern Woodland people became more efficient, intensifying their economic exchanges with others, and improving their ability to store food for the future. They learned to protect themselves against year-to-year fluctuations in resources.”

Unlike European farmers, they knew enough to avoid monocultures like they avoided plagues, at least until they came across a plague they could not stop.

According to David Hurst Thomas, “The earliest true pottery in North America appears about 2500 B.C. in coastal and riverine Georgia, unassociated with any archaeologically visible trace of agriculture.”

As always happens, some people are better at producing food in their environments than others. When this happened, inevitably, as if following the rules of Adam Smith, trade followed. With time it was noticed that in some North American indigenous societies that were often very egalitarian moved away from that to more rigid and unequal societies. Archaeologists have discovered this from examining graves. Status was reflected in the disparity of the goods kept in graves. Perfection is as hard to maintain as it is to achieve.

There was one famous archaeological site which I would love to visit. This is Poverty Point in northeastern Louisiana. I think I drove past it a couple of years ago without knowing what I was missing. As I keep saying, life is hard when you are stupid.

Around about 1300 B.C. Indigenous people there began to construct some spectacular earthworks. One in particular was very large and bird-shaped. It was about 75 feet high. Nearby were 6 huge concentric ridges that were likely used as dwelling sites. The outer perimeter extended about 2/3 of a mile. It was necessary for the people to move millions of cubic feet of earth to build the structures.

The people who lived there participated in far flung exchanges that were used to trade copper and other stones. Even though they lacked the stones that Indigenous people in California could use to heat up and drop into baskets for heating up the water,  they cleverly  “manufactured” artificial stones out of clay balls.

Although the people there probably cultivated small gardens, the site was eventually abandoned, like so many other sites in North America, and it took another 1,000 years before North America would again see such elaborate ceremonial spaces.

We have a lot to learn from Indigenous people.  It is very unfair to call them savages, as Canadians at one time routinely did.

The Bread Basket of the World is not quite what you think

After decades of working with famers there is one thing I have learned: farmers are smart.  There is no denying that. On our way home from British Columbia this past summer, we naturally had to cross the Great Plains. This of course is my home. I’m a prairie guy. And the prairies now are the home of farming. The breadbasket of the world they like to say. And, of course, Canadian and American farmers take the credit for this and they certainly deserve some of the credit (and blame) for this. But this history of farming on the plains is not as simple as I was always thought. This is what David Hurst Thomas said in the book The Native Americans,

 

“Pick up any traditional textbook on “Western Civilization,” and it will tell you that agriculture originated independently in three places: wheat farming in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East, rice cultivation in Southeast Asia, and domestication of maize in highland Mexico. It would be remarkable, indeed, if farming had been invented independently at three different times, in three different places.

However, the textbooks have it wrong. Archaeologists have just discovered a fourth localized centre of plant domestication, entirely separate from the others. It is in northeastern America.  Although early explorers recorded extensive maize agriculture through the Eastern Woodlands, full-blown maize agriculture developed there only five centuries before the Europeans arrived.

The agricultural roots of native American society runs much deeper. We now understand that over the past four thousand years, the transition from foraging to farming along the rivers of the Eastern woodlands involved three key steps. First came the domestication of native North American seed plants about 2,000 B.C. Then, between 250 B.C. and A.D. 100, food production economies emerged based on these local crops. Finally, maize was introduced, and, between about A.D. 800 and 1,100, the role of maize changed from minor to major crop.

This still-unfolding story is yet another example of Native American ingenuity and enterprise.”

 

We have a lot to learn from Indigenous people of North America. Its time we started to appreciate that.

Gitxsan

In the year 2001 our son Patrick was involved in the Katimavik program. As a result he spent about 3 to 4  months in 3 different parts of Canada. One was Newfoundland, one was Quebec, and the last was British Columbia. The way it operated was that he was part of a group of young people who worked usually for a non-profit company of some sort living together in a house where they lived communally with minimal adult supervision, but strict rules, and then a couple of weeks or so with a local family. This was repeated in each of the 3 towns. Specifically, he stayed in St. John’s Newfoundland, a small town in Quebec not far from Montreal, and New Hazelton in northern British Columbia.

One day Pat phoned up Chris and I and said we should come up to see him and beautiful northern B.C. I had never thought about going to northern BC, but it did not take long for us to agree. Being travel sluts we were soon eager to go. This trip opened us up to experiences we had never had before.

 

One of the first places we saw was Kispiox where they had some fine totem poles.

I must admit that one    One of the things I had never considered or thought about before to any significant extent was indigenous people. It seems unbelievable now, but after 7 years of university, I had never really thought much about Canada’s indigenous people, until, in Hazelton, we visited Ksan an historical village and museum just outside of the town at the confluence of the Skeena and Bulkley rivers

 

‘Ksan Historical Village and Museum (‘Ksan) is located near the ancient village of Gitanmaax,  at the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena Rivers in the community of Hazelton, British Columbia.

As a replicated ancient village, ‘Ksan illustrates many features of a Gitxsan village from the distant past. For example, like its predecessors, ‘Ksan’s houses form a single line with each building facing the river. From this position, the large decorated house fronts and totem poles of the village are visible from the water. In conjunction with other features, such as the smoke house and food cache, ‘Ksan illustrates characteristics typical of a past Gitxsan village.

Found within Gitxsan Territory, Ksan Historical Village stands where the village of Gitanmaax has existed for centuries. It is the desire of Ksan to preserve and truthfully portray the lifestyle of the people who have always lived here.

This is not a great photo but there is an Indigenous fisherman fishing it the traditional manner on the rock to the left. For centuries and possibly millennia, Gitxsan’s have maintained communities at important canyons and junctions on the Skeena River. This location was an important fishing site and transportation hub.

 

 

On the way we saw some lovely mountains. Pat had convinced us to come here by telling us it was as beautiful as Banff and Jasper without all the people. He was not lying.

 

We also drove from Hazelton to Alaska only about 3 hours away. Near Hyder in Alaska we saw a glacier from above it. I will never forget that day.

Many years later when I actually started to read a little about our Indigenous people in Canada, I was surprised, very surprised to read in the history book I was reading, that this First Nation was mentioned on the very first page of their book, A Concise History of Canada’s First Nations.  According to Olive Patricia Dickason and William Newbigging, “The west coast Gitksan people maintain that the Upper Skeena River Valley, in the northwest part of the land that came to be called the Americas, is their Garden of Eden.” From my experience of this area nearly 20 years ago I can’t say that they exaggerated.

Years later I also realized that this area we visited with our son was the location of some historic cases on Aboriginal rights and titles and a modern treaty that has been a landmark precedent for relations between the Crown and Indigenous people, that I want to comment about in this blog at a later date. First I want to set the background for first contact with Europeans.

It is easy to see why Indigenous people loved the land and maintained a strong connection to it. This glacier was right beside the highway. I have Pat to thank for opening my eyes. I am grateful.

A New Treaty

 

I heard Pamela Palmater speak at the recent Climate First Tour. Like Anthony Hall, one of my favorite writers on Indigenous issues, Palmater has connected ecocide with genocide. In my view, they both have the same source—in European settlers’ original sin of disrespecting non-whites, non-men, and non-humans. As Palmater said, “We can no longer deny the ecocide of life on the planet than we can deny the genocide of Indigenous people. Ecocide and genocide go hand in hand.” They are both the poison fruit of the same contaminated source.

Palmater also pointed out, “Chemical valley is always on Indigenous Land.” This happens for the same reason that in the US toxic chemical plants are usually found near or on land belonging to African-Americans, Indians, or poor people. Poor people everywhere have little power, so frequently get shafted. The connection between injustice and pollution is perversely intimate. According to Palmater, “Indigenous people are the first to feel the dysfunctionality of the land.” Indigenous People are the canary in the mine. And to paraphrase that great but unheeded Canadian philosopher, Al Boily from Labroquerie Manitoba, my former boss when I had a summer job at Manitoba Hydro during my first two summers of University: “What’s bad for Indigenous People is bad for the rest of us too.”

Many of us now realize that Indigenous people the world over, are at the forefront of the fight against environmental contamination and destruction. You can see this at Standing Rock, you can see this in B.C. in the fight against the Trans-mountain pipeline, you can see this in the South American Rainforest, you can see it at the UN, and you can see it in many other places. We have to learn the truth of what Palmater said, “the planet cannot survive without Indigenous People.”

I thought Palmater said many very interesting things, but none more interesting than her statement “What we need is a new Treaty relationship. We need a treaty relationship for our mutual protection. We must revitalize it by including all living beings, not just humans.  We have to ban ecocide along with genocide. This would be a true modern treaty—a real coming together. This treaty should combine social justice with earth justice. This will require a revolution—that would change everything! It would require a massive transfer of wealth, power, and decision making.” It sounds radical, but frankly, we need radical. Our climate crisis has progressed too far for modest solutions. We have wasted too much time.

Palmater is a student and teacher of the treaty making between Canada and its First Nations people. She knows a lot about it. But she wants to go farther than that. As she said, “the original treaty vision was that we would work together. Such an attitude can protect the ecosystems on Turtle Island too, as long as the sun shines and the rivers flow.”

Palmater urged us to consider “The Indigenous People survived genocide: Take that strength and resilience and allow it to transform you. We can come together to rise up and change the world so that this generation can lead us back to balance. We can unite under a New Treaty.” These were powerful words and the group gave her a standing ovation. I stood up too.

Before Pamela Palmater talked I did not know her at all. Now I think I Now a little about her.

Hard Truths: Climate Change and Indigenous People

 

The second speaker at the Climate First Tour rally in Winnipeg was new to me. Apparently she is a frequent commentator on TV. I guess I either don’t watch enough or watch the wrong programs. She was Dr. Dr. Pamela D. Palmater a Mi’kmaw citizen and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick.

Today I learned that she was a passionate speaker and ardent advocate for those urging us to do something significant about climate change. She said that she was pleased to be sharing the stage today with 2 of Canada’s Warrior Grandfathers,” as she called David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis  Well, that might be true, but she fit right except that she is obviously much younger than her partners today. Later when I did a little research about her, I saw a picture of her with a shirt that read, “She Warrior.”

Today she told us, “I need to talk about hard truth.” The truth she wanted to convey was this: “Canada is killing its own people and the planet and we must do something to stop it.” I think she meant to refer to the conclusions of the recent Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. That report concluded that there were reasonable grounds for concluding that Canada was guilty of genocide against Indigenous women and girls (it did not actually say Canada was guilty because such a statement is legally significant and ought only to be made, it is thought, by a court of law). That is a hard truth. Many Canadians, including many of my friends resist that conclusion. It is hard for me to accept. Secondly, her comment refers to the fact that Canada is participating in the active destruction of human life and many other species on the planet by permitting greenhouse gas emissions to rise unchecked. This is another hard truth though not as difficult for many of us to accept. It is still a harsh indictment of Canadians, though we are far from the only ones facing such indictments.

Palmater also said that these are “the only two issues we should be talking about in this election are ecocide and genocide!” Everything else pales into insignificance. I accept that too.

Palmater also argued, “the pain of climate change is felt first in the north and first there, to indigenous people.” I think that is difficult to dispute as well. Even though indigenous people are the first and perhaps worst affected, this is rarely discussed when climate change is discussed. Just like the unfortunate fact that the people first affected by climate change, around the world, are often the ones who have done the least to cause climate change, it is true this climate injustice is seldom faced with any rigour or sincerity. Our attitude really can be summed up by the expression, ‘It sucks to be you.’ Hardly the most rational response.

According to Palmater, it is time we also faced the ugly truth that “We can’t live without the planet, but the planet can easily live without us.” As a consequence of this uncomfortable truth, we must face the fact that if we are facing a climate emergency, we must change our ways to save not just our descendants, but our species. If we think our species is worth saving.

To really face up to this challenge we have change our system of exploitation of the natural resources of the planet, and convert to working with nature, rather than against it. The colonizing system of which we are an integral part shapes transforms all human systems, and all human interactions with others. That system is so totalitarian it cannot be escaped.

We have to realize, Palmater said, “the planet is crying too.” I always think that if the planet could talk it would speak like the broadcaster in the film Network, “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” This really should be the motto for the earth rather than the populists.

According to Palmater, we also have to realize that the issues of genocide and ecocide are closely. This is the same position taken by others such as Anthony Hall in his magisterial  2 volume history of the relationship between European invaders, Native Americans (in the broad sense) and the natural world in the western hemisphere. I will return to this subject later. As Palmater succinctly put it, “Damage to Indigenous Women and Girls is damage to the planet too.”

All of the three speakers tonight agreed that we are much past the time when we need to debate policies.” It is too late for that. We have to act and we have to act with speed. We can’t allow debate to slow us down though we have to think critically about what we are doing. We can’t plunge ahead blindly. I wish we had more time to debate policies, but we have been dithering around for two many decades. Partly those delays were caused by the energy sector’s very successful decades long policy of spreading doubt about the science. Now we have to live with the consequences of that delay. It sucks to be us!

The problem with emergencies is that they often require a quick action. They leave little time for reflection. You can’t mull your way through an emergency. Or as Palmater said, “Best intentions don’t matter anymore—only action.” At this stage I was beginning to feel uncomfortable with her hard truths. But she wasn’t finished delivering them. She was just starting. This is precisely what Greta Thunberg has been saying. We need action. We have to treat an emergency like it is an emergency. Canada has said this is an emergency but it has not acted like it. If it did it wouldn’t spend $4.5 billion on a pipeline. It would spend $4.5 billion or even more, on transitioning away from fossil fuels. As Palmater bluntly put it, “In the end we either do or we die.”

People who know how to live sustainably

 

 

Last week Chris and I attended the Climate First Tour at the University of Winnipeg. David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis, 2 elder statesmen were travelling across the country trying to fire up the country about the pressing issue of the times—climate change. They were joined by Pamela Palmater an indigenous spokeswoman. They wanted to make this the critical issue of this election, because it was the critical issue of our time.

The first speaker was David Suzuki. I have heard him many times and read many of his books, but he is always worth listening to.   Suzuki made one very important statement at the beginning of his talk. He said that we should always think about Indigenous People who flourished on this continent for millennia. They did not just survive; they flourished.  They are the only example that we have of sustainability over a long period of time. We should learn from them. We should not do what we always did before, namely, ignore their advice. Who is more qualified to give us advice than Indigenous People?

Like each of the other speakers that came after him, Suzuki started with the assumption that we are in fact in a climate emergency. The Canadian Parliament acknowledged it and we should proceed on that assumption. I agree.

He also agreed with the other 2 speakers that this issue is not partisan and we all must address it accordingly. Too many people, and too many political leaders are avoiding the uncomfortable fact that we must dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Nothing less than that is acceptable. It is too late for puny measures.

Suzuki also said that he and Stephen Lewis were elders who had both made many mistakes and a few successes. Elders are required to speak the truth. Elders have a responsibility to share what they have learned. Elders have no need to suck up to power; they are in a unique position to tell it like it is, for they have nothing to lose.

Suzuki said, “We are at a critical in the history of human life on the planet. We need unity like we had when the Toronto Raptors were winning the NBA championship.”

Suzuki was very critical of media coverage of the issue of climate change. I know many people are sick of hearing about it, but it is the critical question of our time. They should be devoting a lot of time to climate change or they would not be doing their job.  Suzuki had one glaring and shocking example of their failure. He said that the recent United Nations report on species extinction was completely swamped by the media attention given to the report of Harry and Meghan’s baby. I think that baby is 6th in line to the throne. Is that important?

Suzuki pointed out that “for 95% of our existence as humans on this planet, we have been hunter-gatherers deeply embedded in and dependent on the natural world for everything and during all this time we had an ecocentric way of seeing the world.” In other words we did not have an anthropocentric view of the world, in which we see everything as if its purpose was to fulfill our needs. Being ecocentric means that humans are part of the natural world like all other creatures.

The first European explorers of the Western Hemisphere had a very different attitude. They were looking for resources and saw them everywhere. According to Suzuki,  “the European explorers saw Indigenous people as an impediment. As a result they did not appreciate the priceless knowledge the Indigenous people had that enabled them to flourish in this hemisphere.  From then on, starting in about 1750, we shifted to an anthropocentric way of seeing the world.”

         Suzuki added, “Ever since about 1750 our legal, political, and economic systems have been based on this anthropocentric way of seeing the world.” It undergirds everything. This reminded Suzuki of what Greta Thunberg said to the world leaders at the UN, “How dare you?”  In other words, “How dare one species arrogantly usurp all rights for itself?” Where is the right of the river to flow? Where is the right of the birds to fly? Where is the right of the forests to grow?

According to the anthropocentric ideology and that is really what it is, we are the superior species entitled to dominate the earth. But that is precisely the attitude that has got us into our current predicament.

The key question of our time, he said, is to shift from the anthropocentric to the ecocentric. I agree with this completely. We need a new attitude to nature. Or rather, we need an old attitude to nature. There are people who already have this worldview. They are all around us.

Many Indigenous people already have this worldview. We should listen to Indigenous people. They have known for thousands of years, how to flourish here. The anthropocentric view has only been on this hemisphere for about 500 years. We have to respect their knowledge. As Suzuki said, “the indigenous point of view that is shared by many Indigenous people is deeply ecocentric in origin, and remarkably, they still seem willing to share it.”

The famous Brundtland Report published by the United Nations in 1987 taught us the word “sustainability”. It really was based on this Indigenous attitude. That report said we should take advantage of that vast source of knowledge from Indigenous People. As Suzuki said, “We have been destroying the only human culture that has managed to thrive on our continent.” It’s time to change direction.

Coping with Abundance

 

As anyone who has ever been there knows, the western part of North America is a very special place. It was also special to the original inhabitants.  This summer we drove through a small part of it. In 2001 we visited the more northerly part of British Columbia. Both are beautiful and interesting.

The shoreline that extends from Alaska in the north to northern California is actually slowly sinking into the ocean and this has created thousands of islands, channels, and fiords. It is warmed by the Japanese current that flows southward from Alaska, making the climate much more temperate than its location would suggest. This also helps to assure plentiful rainfall. And rainfall brings abundance.

One way that this area was special to Indigenous people was the abundance of food that could be obtained and the mild climate that made living relatively easy. This allowed for more permanent sites than were often found on the plains or elsewhere. That was how they coped with abundance.

Through millennia a distinctive Northwest Coast culture has developed and much of that has a direct relationship in which the Indigenous People there grew and flourished.

I was surprised to learn that the archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest people who lived there were very similar to the people in the interior. A hunting tradition developed at least 10,000 years ago. Many Indigenous People say they have been there for longer than that. They enjoyed elk, deer, antelope, beavers, rabbits, and rodents as prey. Gradually they learned to hunt river mussels and most importantly salmon.

Ass David Hurst Thomas explained,

“Northwest Coast people considered salmon to be a race of eternal beings who lived in underwater houses during the winter.  In the spring they took on their fish form and swam up the rivers in huge numbers, bestowing themselves upon humans for food. The first salmon caught each year was placed on an altar, facing upstream, and prayers were said. After each villager sampled the roasted flesh, the intact skeleton was returned to the river, and it swam back to the underwater world of the salmon people. One day, this skeleton would return as a whole fish.”

Major villages were often located at the shoreline on beaches that were convenient for landing large canoes. They also had some smaller encampments. In the north the houses were square. In the south, such as near Whistler, the houses were long and narrow and occupied by several families. As Hurst Thomas said, “Large wooden houses like these have been constructed here for more than three thousand years, suggesting the development of an extended family organization.”

The more I learn about Indigenous people, the more I realize they were amazing.

Appropriation

 

Recently someone very dear to me and the grand mother of 2 of my grandchildren, and she is not Christiane, made a very kind remark about me. She is my son’s mother-in-law Shirley Grindey. Shirley is proudly Indigenous and one of the most amazing women I have ever met. Some day I will blog about those important women—my mother, my mother-in-law, and this is hard to admit—my wife Christiane. But that is for another day. Today I want to reply to Shirley.

Shirley is indigenous and said she enjoyed my stories about indigenous people, which pleased me very much, but then she said I knew more about native people than she did. That is nowhere close to the truth and it has forced me to reply at length.

I have learned a little bit about Indigenous people by reading books, but I know I have much more to learn. I am trying to learn more. I have also learned a lot by observing Shirley.  She is an amazing woman. She is filled with abounding love. She has lived the truth; I have just learned a tiny amount and hope to learn more. Watching her relate to her family (including 2 of my grand children) is an inspiration to me. I could never hope to measure up.

Today Shirley woke me up. I have wanted for quite some time to express a fear that Indigenous people would think I was appropriating their culture. I am not sure what it means, but I don’t think it is a good thing. I think “appropriation” means to take something without permission. I do not want to take anything without consent. I want to learn from Indigenous people and want to acknowledge the obvious—that they know a lot more about the subject than I do.

For a few years now I have been reading about Indigenous people and have learned just a little bit from the numerous books I have read. But I want to speak my mind on the subject—with respect. I want to share what I think I have learned and would welcome any criticisms. That way I can learn more.

I think this is very important because many people I know and love don’t understand our ( by that I mean white people) relationship to Indigenous people. Many of them mean well, but are held back by misconceptions. Some of them unconsciously repeat hurtful memes. It is all too easy to wrap ourselves in the protection of layers of privilege, misunderstanding, and bias.  I myself did it for years and hope I can stamp that out in myself. We all need to learn. Recently our Prime Minster, Justin Trudeau had to admit that he was influenced by bias and privilege when he wore black face as a young man. We all have to learn to understand our own biases. That certainly includes me. People like Shirley have helped explode those biases. And she did that without preaching to me. She did that by example.

Only by learning can we begin the vital process of reconciliation. Chris and I have signed up for a 3-session course on reconciliation at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights that starts next week. We want to learn more. I will blog later about what I have learned.

So I hope no one thinks that I am appropriating Indigenous cultures by sharing what I have learned. The purpose of blogging is to share what I have meager knowledge I have gained, and to learn more from others who know much more than I do.

Sometimes the Law is not an Ass—it is much worse than that

Recently Manitoba has been the location of an incident that I should catch international attention for its idiocy.  If it hasn’t  happened yet, I suspect it will. The international media just hasn’t caught on to how stupid we can be.

The incident happened at our esteemed Law Courts in Winnipeg. A Winnipeg lawyer represented an  indigenous person from Ontario who had been arrested and placed in the Winnipeg Remand Centre as a result of breaching a court order that he abstain from alcohol. He had to pay a $20 cash deposit on his bail, which had been granted by the court, in order to get released from the Remand Centre.  He had agreed to the $20 payment thinking that was how much money he had. Unfortunately, the mantas 5¢ short. Since he was from Ontario and had only intermittent access to a phone, he cold not call anyone for help and spent the weekend in jail because he was unable to pay the full amount. No one would let him even though he only owed 5¢.

On Monday morning his lawyer discovered what had happened and returned to court to pay the outstanding amount. In fact, a sympathetic, and reasonable Magistrate, gave his defence lawyer a nickel to pay the outstanding amount. The lawyer got a receipt for the $20. The lawyer thought that this was the end of it. The entire cash required had been paid. Unfortunately, the lawyer did not understand the astounding ignorance of the law.

The following morning the defence lawyer learned that there had been a mistake. It turned out that his client had been 35¢ short. Much more than 5¢! So the hapless client had to stay in jail for the entire night because he could not pay the extra 30¢. So the client was transferred to Milner Ridge Correctional Facility, about 100 km away, because the space in the Remand Centre was needed for incoming prisoners. The defence lawyer had asked that his client remain until the bail was paid., but his request went unheeded—perhaps because the client was indigenous. Its  funny (not) how such incidents happen to them, rather than fine white people. As well the client had no one in the city that he could call for a tiny bit of cash to rectify the mistake.

When the client reached Milner Ridge the lawyer thought he would be released. Unfortunately, Milner Ridge had no facility to electronically access the client’s cash deposit which had been paid in Winnipeg. It was paid but he still could not get out of jail! After all his bail had been paid, so he thought. When the lawyer learned of this he returned to the courthouse and paid the client’s cash deposit himself. The client was returned to Winnipeg and was  released from jail a full week after he had been taken into custody. He stayed in jail for a week because the authorities thought he had not paid the outstanding 35¢ that actually had been paid.

While he was in jail he missed taking his prescription medication, which he needed because of a prior condition related to his addiction to OcyContin and his heart was alternately racing or slowing down. He was in serious jeopardy.

The Winnipeg Free Press reported, “According to Statistics Canada figures for 2016-2017 the average cost to house a prisoner in a provincial institution was $213 a day.” So taxpayers paid more than $1,400 to house this indigenous prisoner  even though he had paid all of his bail after being 35¢ short initially.

The Crown later stayed the charges. This means that the client was an innocent man! Innocent until proven guilty remember.

Charles Dickens said that the law was an ass.  Sometimes, Charles Dickens should have said it was much worse than that.

Blackfeet: Spirit of the Plains

 

On our recent trip back from B.C., as we drove through the prairies,  we drove through the territory of the Blackfeet First Nation. The iniskim or “buffalo stone” played an important role in the spiritual life of Plains People. They use stones that often contained fossils with a spiral shell for thousands of years. According to legend, a woman was trying to find food for her family and band during a time of famine when an iniskim talked to her about to use prayers and ceremonies to find buffalo and bring them to the people to hunt. As a result Blackfoot children wore iniskim necklaces, warriors wore them woven into their hair, and shamans carried them in bundles. Often the dead were buried with them to provide sustenance after death.

Another important spiritual instrument was the medicine wheel. I have seen at least one in Saskatchewan. For millennia they have been a part of Indigenous spiritual life among people of the plains. These stone structures were usually centred on a pile of rocks (cairn) often on a prominent hill. Spokes of the wheel radiated outwards.

A famous one was built at Majorville about 5,000 years ago. 40 tonnes of rock were used and it was used when Europeans first made contact with the Indigenous People on the plains.  At the centre of that wheel was soil 9 metres in diameter and 1.6 metres high. It was surrounded by an oval ring of stones about 29 metres by 26 metres. It contained 26 to 28 spokes.

The main spiritual ceremony of Plains people was the Sun Dance. I found it interesting that it was usually led by a woman. Unlike most Christian religions women were allowed to be leaders on the Plains. Who thinks the Europeans were the civilized ones? A woman usually decides when the dance was to be held. Often it was held in order to allow a woman who had a male relative or husband in danger. She vowed publicly that if this person were spared she would sponsor a Sun Dance.

The Sun Dance was later outlawed by Canadians who did not appreciate any competition from native spirituality for the religion they wanted to impose instead. That of course was Christianity.

Peter Nabokov in his book Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the Present 1492-1992, reported an anonymous Blackfoot response:

 

“We know that there is nothing injurious to our people in the Sun-dance…It has been our custom, during many years, to assemble once every summer for this festival…We fast and pray, that we may be able to lead good lives and to act more kindly to each other.

I do not understand why the white men desire to put an end to our religious ceremonials. What harm can they do to our people? If they deprive us of our religion, we will have nothing left, for we know of no other that can take its place.”

 

The abolition was finally removed from the Indian Act in 1951 when I was 3 years old.  It took Canada that long to become civilized!