Friday, March 5, 2021

Sunny Days and Warm(er) Temperatures

We're starting into a run of days that promise some sunshine, and then more days that promise temperatures well above freezing.  Today is brilliantly sunny, though still  cold, but next Tuesday and Wednesday the forecast says 10°C!  I can hardly wait!

I've taken some 'before' pictures so I can share them with you after our first few days of spring melt.  

And I've been watching two Red Squirrels chase each other around the trees this morning, madly spiralling their way around the tree trunks.  I thought it was a chipmunk that lived under the neighbour's shed, but I watched it disappear there today and it's a Red Squirrel.  So we have two of these bossy little creatures, living opposite sides of the yard, who obviously don't like the other trespassing on their territory.  I do find it amusing the way they spiral around the tree trunks, almost touching, as they touch each other, going so fast I can hardly follow them.

Here's one of them, hanging upside down on a branch to investigate some (presumably) tasty morsel.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Indian Act

To pick up on my post of Saturday, starting way back with the Royal Proclamation of 1763, today I'll try to give you my short simple unauthorized understanding of the Indian Act and what it's accomplished.  To put it simply, it seems to me that it has destroyed the native populations in Canada, a piece of not just deliberate racism but deliberate cultural genocide.

During the early 1800s treaties were signed, but paternalistic attitudes grew, built on the crown's understanding that they had 'purchased' the native lands under the negotiated treaties.  Specifically the idea grew that the Indian population should be assimilated into modern western Christian and British society.  Since our ways reflected the most advanced civilization in the world, and they were just 'savages' (I'm being a little brutal here), we should help them change to join modern society.

This is reflected in both the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857 and the Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869.  These acts encouraged Indians to give up their native status in return for the right to vote.  It encouraged them to buy into a life based on private property ownership and it, importantly, referred to "being of good moral character".  Indian Agents had widespread leeway to determine what was 'good moral character'.  The native peoples didn't buy it.  

Along the way the first major treaty in this area was concluded, the Saugeen Tract Agreement.  It gave the crown free reign over 1.5 million acres, virtually the entire Saugeen watershed, in return for an (unkept) promise by the government to protect those Indians who would move up into the Bruce (Saugeen) Peninsula.

The light green here is the Saugeen watershed surrendered in Treaty 45.5.  The dark green is the peninsula, where the government failed to keep settlers from moving in and taking up land.  The dark red are the 4 reserves the community is left with today.  Meaford is the left of the three communities on Georgian Bay.

A core part of the Indian Act is the issue of Indian 'status', which was seen as flowing through the men, as you'd expect in such a paternalistic society.  If men married white women, the women gained Indian 'status'; if women married white men, they lost their status.  It was not until 2019 that the last remnants of this gender discrimination were dealt with, but only through the continued efforts of native women who went to court to fight for their rights.

The Indian Act dismissed bands' traditional inherited system of chiefs, replacing it with an elected council overseen by the Indian Agent.  The Indian Act also did not allow women to vote or run in band elections; this was also lifted in 1951.  You now find female chiefs on many reserves.  To fit with the Canadian Bill of Rights Indians were given the right to vote in 1960.

The Indian Act had banned such religious ceremonies as the Potlatch. the Sun Dance and powwows.  In 1925 dancing was banned completely.  This ban was only lifted in the 1951 amendments.  (If you ask me the Potlatch was more effective charity for redistributing wealth than anything you can find in western society today). 

There were other major problems with the Indian Act too.  For example, after WWI when native groups were agitating politically, the government made it illegal to hire lawyers or submit land claims.    It reached the point where almost any native gathering was prohibited.  These prohibitions were also lifted in the 1951 amendments.

During the past 70 years, international policies and Canadian human rights issues have helped spur the various improvements to the act, which has therefore been amended several times.  A U.N. ruling against Canada in 1981, as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms brought about a group of 1985 amendments related to the gender discrimination described above.

Once they started hiring lawyers to pursue land claims, native communities went all the way back to that Royal Proclamation of 1763 to establish the legal foundation for their claims.  That's why it's so important.  Remember. that proclamation also referred to the Indians as "tribes or nations".  That's why Indian Reserves have in recent decades chosen known as First Nations.

But the worst features of the Indian Act, from my reading were the residential school system and the 'Sixties Scoop' that followed.  It is simply hard to describe the horrors these schools imposed on native children.

The Indian Act had given the federal government responsibility for education of native people, so beginning in the 1880s residential schools were established across Canada, deliberately a long way from reserves.  The objective was to remove children from all family and community influences and 'civilize' them. Native languages and dress were banned and children were forcibly removed from families when necessary after the Indian Act in 1894 made attendance compulsory.

The abandoned St. Joseph's School for Girls in northern Ontario.

The schools were run primarily by the churches and the education provided was limited, focusing on manual labour and rarely going beyond grade 5.  Diseases killed many and abuse and isolation from their families led many children to try to escape.  Sexual abuse was frequent enough that a B.,C. Supreme Court Judge in 2005 called the schools "nothing more than institutionalized pedophilia".

Without going to that extreme, the emotional and physical abuse was constant.  Children were beaten for speaking their own language.  Sanitation, food and health care were all inadequate, leading to a high death rate.  Children were sometimes buried in unmarked graves and parents were not even notified.  The purpose has been described as 'killing the Indian in the child' in the hopes that the next generation would be able to assimilate smoothly into Canadian society.

But the impact was just the opposite.  Being ripped from the love of their family and the native culture they grew up in left many traumatized for life.  And this went on for several generations; the last residential school was not closed until 1996.  The big question of course was how much the churches and the government knew of the conditions in schools and deliberately chose to continue, or at least ignore, what was going on.  Courts have concluded that they did know.

The long term impact has been devastating.  After only experiencing abuse during childhood, many adults abuse their children and wives.  Broken families become the norm and young adults describe not fitting in either world and not knowing basic parenting skills.  We now have an epidemic of alcoholism, substance abuse and suicide along with the abuse that gets perpetuated generation after generation.

I remember when William was going to flight school in Thunder Bay and working at his first job in Kenora, both towns with high native populations, he'd recount stories of the 'drunken Indians'.  But when I first learned about the residential school system in the last few years it was as if the blinders fell off and it all fitted into place.  No wonder the native adults had difficulty fitting in.  William later worked with several native communities and developed some good relationships, which is one reason I'm personally interested in this entire topic.

By the late 1980s natives were beginning to use the courts to successfully sue the churches and the government for the abuse they suffered.  The lawsuits came together in the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) which allocated nearly $2 billion for payments to survivors.  

This finally also led to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established in 2008.  Under the guidance of its Chair, Murray Sinclair, a lawyer from Manitoba and himself a member of the Peguis First Nation, it reported in 2015, submitting 94 'Calls to Action'.  It remains to be seen how many get acted upon.

In the meantime the residential school system had evolved into the 'sixties scoop' as the actual schools were closed starting in the 1960s.  Child welfare laws enabled social workers to scoop children from native families without notifying either the family or the band.  Native children came to be vastly over-represented in the child welfare system, bounced from foster home to foster home, deprived of their own identify, another attempt at cultural genocide.

The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society filed a lawsuit on behalf of recent children caught in the child welfare system.  The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the federal government had discriminated against on-reserve child welfare compared to funds provided to other child welfare systems.  It recommended another huge settlement with survivors, a settlement which the current federal government is arguing against!  The government says eventual costs of the settlement could reach $15 billion.  

It's hard to say where we go from here.  

There are numerous specific issues that need attention, from health and education to employment and incarceration rates, all more understandable if you understand the multi-generational impact of the residential schools.  The Indian Act is hotly debated; some say it should go, but many native groups say it has to stay until the issues get sorted out.  It appears to be an intractable 'Gordian Knot' of challenges, and of course money is usually the answer - either we need more money to do it, or budgets don't allow for it.

With enormous lawsuit payments pending, the courts seem to have recognized that the original Indian Act was a mistake.  International opinion has reinforced native attempts to seek recognition of their rights.  It seems to me that we need the rest of Canadian society to catch up!

Personal Note - although I have a personal interest in this topic, which I think is terribly important for Canadians, I have no known family indigenous history, and no right whatsoever to speak on behalf of any indigenous people.  Still, we who represent 'white Canada' have to start someplace, and the first step for me is understanding.  I hope these two posts have helped slightly with your own understanding of native issues in Canada today, as they've helped mine.  Corrections and advice is welcomed.

I have drawn heavily on articles in The Canadian Encyclopedia and from the First Nations and Indigenous Studies program at UBC in preparing this post.  My thanks for helping me learn.

Needless to say, I never learned a single thing about all of this in school!

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Spring Melt Has Begun!

Sunday the temperature hit 6°C and stayed there for several hours!  When I woke up yesterday I was astonished to see how much snow was gone, especially off the planters.  We're in a brief colder snap this week again, but the forecast for next week with several days hitting 8 or 9°C, is looking really good!

This was the view out back yesterday morning.  There are several clues showing how much snow has gone, though when an unbroken sheet of white declines 4" or more you can't really see any difference.  But look closely at the snow around the chairs, in front of the shed, and on the planter.

I really thought someone must have been out there to knock most of the snow off the planters, but know this is just melting.

This is the planter just two weeks ago.

You can see the same comparison when you look at the chairs.

I think last week was the peak of our winter snow; this is right across the street.

Monday, March 1, 2021


The more recent history of institutional discrimination against indigenous people through the Indian Act in Canada is proving much more complicated to sort out than I expected, so I'm going to postpone part 2 of that.  In the meantime here's a very nice sunset we saw last week, arriving home from Owen Sound late in the afternoon.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 - Promise and Threat

I started this as an attempt to show the racism toward Canada's native peoples as well as our black population, but there are so many ideas and snippets of history roaming around in my head it's all a big jumble.  So this is my first attempt to sort it out.  I'll be interested in your comments.  And if it's just too much information for you, I won't know if you just skip it!

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was issued by King George III after the first Treaty of Paris in 1763 that ended the French Indian War, the North American theatre of the Seven Years War between Britain and France.  If you're like me until a few weeks ago, you've never heard of it.  Yet it set up the foundation for the betrayal of native peoples on the continent ever since.

The French and Indian War was far more significant for Canada than for the U.S., though it started when a young 22-year old George Washington, then a commander in the British army, led a force to capture Fort Duquesne at the junction of the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers, where modern Pittsburgh stands.  

On the Canadian side, British forces from Massachsets under General Wolfe captured Quebec City (above) and thereby took over New France.  Montreal fell the following year and a vast chunk of territory north and west of the 13 American colonies became British North America.  Along the way the British kicked the Acadians out of Nova Scotia and some of those ended up in New Orleans, bringing their 'Cajun' culture with them.

The French had had far more Indian allies than the British and after the war some of those feared loss of their lands to the British, a fear that spurred Pontiac's Rebellion during the summer of 1763.  In response King George III issued the Royal Proclamation to try and assure the natives of British protection and to draw a line between the natives and increasingly hostile would-be American settlers.  In it the natives were promised all the lands west of the Appalachians, all the way to the Mississippi, a promise that would quickly be impossible to keep of course.

The west portion of the Mississippi watershed, west of the river itself, that the British theoretically gained from the French, was given to Spain to compensate them for the loss of Florida.  This is the land that would later become the Louisiana Purchase.  The map of North America was totally redrawn!

A bigger impact of the war in the long term was to massively increase both the French and British debt.  In France this was a grievance leading to the French Revolution, and in the Thirteen Colonies the tax burden to pay it off contributed to the American Revolution.  The Boston Tea Party was the most obvious protest of Americans against those British taxes.

But I'm getting off-track.  To get back to the Royal Proclamation, the actual wording is important.  As quoted in the Canadian Encyclopedia:

".... whereas it is just and reasonable, and essential to our Interest and the Security of our Colonies, that the several Nations or Tribes of Indians, with whom We are connected, and who live under our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of Our Dominions and Territories as, not having been ceded to, or purchased by Us, are reserved to them,..."

On the American side of the border of course this went completely out the window 20 years later when the second Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution.  The west was thrown open to settlers and a policy of Indian Removal was implemented, moving the natives further west to allow for settlement.  Specific forced removals remembered as the Cherokee Trail of Tears and the Potawatomi Trail of Death illustrate this policy.  

The latter is of particular interest here in Ontario because the Potawatomi were members of the Council of Three Fires with the Ojibwe, who now live near here.  Some members of the Potawatomi were able to escape the march west from Indiana and joined the Ojibwe here, descendants of whom live on reserves west of Owen Sound.

On the Canadian side of the border the royal Proclamation was both a promise and a threat.  On the positive side it recognized that the native tribes or 'nations' (remember that word, it will be important later) had possession of their lands and associated rights like hunting and fishing.  It forced the British crown to negotiate treaties with each nation before settlement could occur.  This meant that settlers would only get their land from the government, not by simply displacing natives.

On the threat side, though perhaps unrecognized at the time, it set up a process through which the British crown could acquire all that native land for settlement.  The natives interpreted those treaties as promising to 'share' their land, like the peace and friendship treaties they had been negotiating between tribes for hundreds of years.  The British saw the treaties as purchasing the native lands, to be used as the purchaser, the crown, deemed appropriate.  Eventually those treaties would push Canada's indigenous peoples onto 'reserves', relatively tiny parcels of land where they were left to struggle for survival.

After Confederation and Sir John A. MacDonald's promise to build a railway to the Pacific, there was an enormous push to sign treaties across the prairies.  Settlers were pushing west in Canada and south of the 49th parallel Americans were pushing across the continent.  Eleven numbered treaties were signed (below) that pushed native tribes all across the prairies onto small reserves.  

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were introduced, in part to ensure the clearance of the prairies for settlement and the railroad.  They used a variety of threats and policies stemming from these treaties to force natives onto reserves in these areas.

But I think this has got too long and information dense already, so I will return tomorrow.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Owen Sound's Black History Memorial

 As I've shared before there's an Emancipation Festival in Owen Sound that's been going on for 158 years!  It happens on Aug. 1st, celebrating Emancipation Day, originally the abolishing of slavery in the British Empire on Aug. 1, 1834.  The success of the annual festival led to establishing a Black History Cairn that sits in Harrison Park beside the Sydenham River.

The cairn is symbolic in several ways.  The church windows model those of the old 'Little Zion' church, the first black church in Owen Sound.  The quilt patterns on several tiles on the ground represent the Underground Railway, where quilts were used as secret messages leading slaves north.  You can see the river in the background.

As you can see, some rocks have tiny plaques attached.  These come from a number of U.S. states, reflecting the previous homelands of slaves.

The cairn is approached from the entrance to Harrison Park along the Freedom Trail, a beautiful path through the woods.  Naturally the BLM protest in Owen Sound last summer was held here.

Last year the festival was virtual of course, and we happened to be there on the day they were filming the role of the Town Crier with his scroll.  And he did a good job of 'crying the welcome'!

The Underground Railroad existed primarily during the 28 year gap between the year slaves in Canada became free, and the day when American slaves were freed by Abraham Lincoln on Apr. 1, 1862, although American slavery didn't really end until the Civil War was over in 1865.  Owen Sound's picnic began in 1862 however.  

The Canadian Emancipation Day is celebrated on Aug. 1, the date slavery was abolished here in 1834, but American celebrations are more varied.  From my limited reading 'Emancipation Day' is celebrated in April mostly in Washington D.C., but there's an effort now to get 'Juneteenth' recognized as the national celebration.  It was on June 19th, 1865 that the Union General Granger finally reached Texas, the last state to hear, to proclaim that slaves were now free.  All but 3 U.S. sates now recognize Juneteenth as an official ceremonial or state holiday.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Black History Month

February is Black History Month, and our national broadcaster, CBC, has been full of articles about interesting and famous Black Canadians.  I sometimes get frustrated that it's easier to celebrate those public individuals who have established a reputation than it is to tackle the difficult issues of systemic racism, but still, these people deserve more recognition.

Here are a few of the people I've read about recently:

Emery Barnes was a gifted athlete from Oregon who almost made it into the NFL (and into the Olympics as a high jumper).  He moved to B.C. and played 3 years for the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League, while also getting a degree from UBC.  He was elected to the provincial Legislature in 1972, and served 24 years through 5 elections.  He was the first black speaker of the house in a Canadian province.

Carrie Best became a civil rights activist in Nova Scotia after experiencing racism growing up.  After being arrested and forcibly removed from the 'whites only' section of the Roseland Theatre in 1941 she established The Clarion newspaper and began her campaign against racism.  It was one of the first newspapers in Nova Scotia owned and published by Blacks.

I wanted to pull the $10 bill out of my wallet and share the picture of Viola Desmond (below), but I thought I might get arrested for publishing an image of money, so Carrie Best's picture on a Canadian stamp seemed safer.

Viola Desmond followed Carrie into a theatre in Nova Scotia in 1946.  She too was arrested and charged with trespassing in the 'whites only' seats, so sued the theatre.  The Supreme Court ruled against her, but she was eventually pardoned in 2010, 45 years after her death.  She is the one whose picture is currently on our $10.00 bill.

Albert Jax was Toronto's first black postal carrier, also recently featured on a Canadian postage stamp.

Michaelle Jean was the 27th Canadian Governor General, serving from 2005-2010.  She came to Canada as a refugee from Haiti in 1968, and worked for years as a journalist and in charity, mostly directed at assisting youth living in poverty.  Her term as Governor-General was well received; she has received numerous honours and awards including 17 honourary degrees.  

Harry Jerome was one of the world's fastest men through 3 Olympic games. Though he never won the gold, he set the world record for the 100 yard dash 3 times, the last time at 9.0 seconds!  Born in Saskatchewan he had actually been a gifted athlete in several sports.  Harry was named the B.C. Athlete of the Century and a statue was erected in Stanley Park in Vancouver.

Ira Johnson was an Oakville man who was threatened by the Ku Klux Klan (yes, here in Ontario) when he and a white woman planned to marry in 1930.  A cross was burned in the street by 75 members of the KKK who then kidnapped the woman and further threatened Johnson personally.  However public opinion quickly turned against the Klan, who included several prominent businessmen, and the pair ended up getting married a month later.

Kay Livingstone worked as a radio host and actress starting in the late 1940s.  She helped establish the Canadian Negro Women's Association (CANEWA), a group which started the famous Toronto Caribana Festival.  These efforts led eventually to the Congress of Black Women in Canada.

Elijah McCoy was born in 1844 to fugitive slave parents who had come to Canada via the Underground Railroad.  He studied as a mechanical engineer in Scotland and returned to the family, then in Michigan.  McCoy became an inventor whose practical inventions focused on improved lubrication systems for railways.  Because his system was seen as better than others, it was sometimes referred to as "the real McCoy".

Annamie Paul is a lawyer and politician who was elected as the Green Party leader last October, the first black Canadian to lead a federal party in Canada.  She was born in Toronto in 1972 and has been active in politics all her life.  

Willie O'Ree was the first black hockey player to make it to the NHL, breaking that colour barrier and therefore referred to as 'the Jackie Robinson of ice hockey'  He only played one season and a few games in another with the Boston Bruins, but he won two scoring titles in the Western Hockey League.   He received numerous awards after retiring for his lasting impact on the game of hockey.

Lincoln Alexander is the one among all these famous black Canadians who I knew personally.  Alexander was the first black Canadian elected to Parliament, the first to be a federal Cabinet member, and the first Lieutenant-Governor, here in Ontario.  

I got to know him when he served as the Chancellor at the University of Guelph for 16 years where I taught.  For three of those years I was on the University's Board of Governors where I interacted with him personally, and I also sat among the 'dignitaries' on the platform (he was one, I certainly wasn't!) at convocation.  It was there I heard him say some different kind words to every single student who crossed the platform to graduate.  He was simply one of the most humble, dignified, thoughtful men I have known.