Category Archives: Travel

Was it really an Inferior Tour of Lake Superior?

 

Was it really an inferior trip to Lake Superior? No!  It was short, but it was excellent. I loved it. I got some great images. My friends have never complemented me as much on my photos as they did on these. That felt good. I learned a lot about colonialism Canadian style—i.e. colonialism that our Prime Minister Stephen Harper denied ever happened. This showed his profound ignorance on the subject.

 

Thanks to my friend Rudy, I listened to some great music, particularly the many albums of Steve Earle and Jerry Jeffrey Walker. I could not get enough of these two artists.

It was a great trip. Nothing inferior about it all. I can hard wait for the next one!

The Road to Fort Frances

 

 

 

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 Vanguard for settler Colonialism and dispossession and erasure

 

 

As historian Adam Hough said in the documentary Colonization Road, “consciously or unconsciously these settlers were the vanguard. Their names are on our streets. We revere and honour these people for their hardships.” At the same time we ignore the indigenous people who were originally the inhabitants of the land.

 

Kenora was located at an important intersection.  There was an important road that ran through it and of course, in time, the Canadian railway and the Trans-Canada highway.  Many residential schools were located in this area. The newcomers, guided by a white elite down east, wanted to exploit the timber and mineral resources nearby. As Cuyler Cotton, historian and policy analyst said, “Within a 5-mile corridor from the north end of Lake of the Woods, you find the entire infrastructure that ties this country together.”  Today within that narrow belt are the infrastructure, roads, railways, gas lines, Trans-Canada highway, electric power lines, and fibre optic cables. It is an interesting intersection, and as Cotton said, “So much can happen at an intersection, collision is what happened here in Kenora.”

I spent most of my first day on this inferior jaunt driving through that corridor.

According to Cotton,

“the greatest number of residential schools are found within this area. In the region there were policies of cultural genocide that were going on. All of this happened here in force. And very, very quickly.”

 

Teika Newton, a researcher said,

“There was a colonial agenda that was behind all of that industrial activity, and there still was a power elite that existed in the eastern parts of the country, and they saw the west as their resource bank. Colonization road is a really powerful and it’s a really powerful physical force that was very, very deliberate and very, very strategic. They wanted the land. We were on the land, and so dispossession and then erasure became the primary way over and over again, through policy, through informal relationship, through violence every mechanism possible, really”

 

This was the Canadian system of dominance and extraction that now goes by the name of settler colonialism.

Do deny that it existed as Stephen Harper and Brian Pallister did, is just plain wrong.

 

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.

 

Through Quetico Region and Rainy River

 

Larch or Tamarack

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.

Through Quetico Region and Rainy River

 

 

I wanted to post photos of Kakabeka Falls in Ontario, but sadly I have left home on my way to Arizona and left those photos behind. I will have to do that when I get back in the spring.

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.

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 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.”

 

The Canadian government saw these roads as a way to open up the west. The indigenous people saw them as the imposition of colonialism without their consent. Who was right?

We arm the Reasonable

 

in the documentary film Spirt to Soar, Tanya Talaga’s mother asked her to stop at a place where she had lived. It was devastating to see the clear cut there. The loss of forest was visceral.

Jody Porter spent a lot of time in Thunder Bay. She knew it intimately. She knew its secrets. Even the dirty ones.  She described it there as follows:

 

“We don’t know how to put into context what we are doing here. And again if you want to talk about how Thunder Bay is unique it’s because we are at the raw edge of that existential angst of what it is to be a Canadian. When your presence is deadly to the people whose land you live on.”

 Tanya Talaga drove by the same place I drove by on my home from Thunder Bay, namely, the place where the watersheds split. Some water flows north from their to the Arctic ocean. Other waterways flow south to the Great Lakes from where it flows to the cities of North  America and ultimately to the Atlantic ocean. Talaga said, “the water makes a choice.”

Talaga went on a trip into the forest organized by the elders. The purpose was to take the youth on a hunting trip. And to learn about the land. Talaga said, “I didn’t realize why I was going back to the land. that took me a long time and all the pieces of my life came into focus…I began to understand my deep feelings of dispossession, of the pain of separation from the land, and what it means to reclaim and what it means to belong.”  Non-indigenous people often do not understand the deep attachment indigenous people feel to the land and how it pains them to see it desecrated.

 

Jody Porter said this:

“We need to sit with who we are and what we’ve done here. And in that space there could be room to flip that narrative. To hear stories and to tell stories that belong here. And are from people who belong here. And tell us a story of what’s possible. The kinds of relationships that would make us all healthy.”

 

Senator Murray Sinclair said this,

“My success would be on whether I can be the best human I can be based on my teachings. That’s my success and that will be our successes as well, because if we try to create structures today that are simply copies of what Canada’s governing structures are, then we will fail.”

 

Talaga also said the 7 fallen feathers–the 7 indigenous youth who lost their lives:

 “they are now part of us. They are part of the land. And the water. And our existence. They are part of creation. We need to listen to the voices of our ancestors to tell us which way to turn, which way to flow with river. By telling our stories, the stories of who we are, how we live and how we die, we arm the reasonable. Once our voices are heard, once our truths are spoken, Canada you can’t say you didn’t know. You can no longer look away.  You see all my relations. We have fought to overcome the realities of our past and now we must turn to the possibilities of our future. We were always here. We are not going anywhere. This is where we belong.”

 

That is what it means to live on Turtle Island–together. Where we are one.

Unworthy Victims

 

There is a lot to like about the Thunder Bay Area.

Driving through the city of Thunder Bay it looked like a fine community. On the surface it was a fine community. I have been there many times and never saw anything to disturb me. I wasn’t looking closely enough. When you dug a little deeper you saw more.

Everyone from Thunder Bay was convinced there was no racism in the Thunder Bay police force. Independent evaluators were convinced of the opposite. It is always difficult to see your own bias.

The Thunder Bay police were investigated by the Office of the Independent Police Review Directorate, who concluded “Overall I found that systemic racism exists in Thunder Bay police service at an institutional level.”  The Ontario police watch dog found the problem runs right through the ranks. Directly after that, Senator Murray Sinclair released his investigation into the Thunder Bay police board and found they were also guilty of systemic racism.

9 cases were re-opened as a result of the investigations and 4 of those were of the 7 fallen feathers. Justice Sinclair said he did not have faith in that system however:

“that is because the resistance level is so unspoken and so present. The impetus to blame the indigenous victim was huge. It still is. I would be surprised if it changed so quickly. I’m sure that they say it’s changed but I would be surprised if there had been any significant change in that attitude because that is an ingrained attitude. And that attitude was allowed to permeate the system within the Thunder Bay police force and the board was primarily responsible for trying to change it and doing something about it and they didn’t. They didn’t even see it as a problem.”

 

That is like racism itself.  Over and over again I have heard non-indigenous people decline to accept that systemic racism exists, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Resistance to uncomfortable truths runs deep in Canada, just as it does in the United States. People don’t want to accept the fact that our societies are deeply racist. That is exactly how institutional or systemic racism works and why it is so difficult to uproot.

Lawyer Julian Falconer put it well:

“what racism is about is less than worthy victims. Their deaths were not worthwhile enough to make it worthy of a competent professional investigation. That is the message. Its what they do when the investigate another dead drunk Indian!”

 

Jody Porter also put it well: “How many times do you have to rediscover the same problems, the same racism within the institutions that are supposed to be helping before you say, ‘It’s not them; it’s us?

The fundamental problem is indifference. As Porter added,

Indifference can kill people especially when it is young people asking for help. Seeking a better life. If you are indifferent to that as a community, then death seems like a natural consequence.”

Too many of us are indifferent to what happened there. It is not our business. We are busy with our own business. I am no better than anyone else about this. I wish I was.

 

Gruelling Inquest and the Quest for Truth

 

Sometimes truth does not come in clear images.  The impressionist painters of the late 19th century realized that and I found their images mesmerizing.  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 image is clear and in focus, but over exposed. So it is very light. Then I take a second image of the same subject and blur it deliberately. Why would I do that? When combined the images sometimes are stunning. Sometimes you have no idea what the result will be when the images are combined. When combined it sometimes seems magical what comes together in the computer.

 

A few years ago, I was at photographer workshop in Saskatchewan, 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? Sometimes, an ambiguous image can bring its own clarity.

 

Julian Falconer, in the film Spirit to Soar,  together with the Grand Chief Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Alvin Fiddler fought for years 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.