Monday, August 3, 2015

My Log 483 August 3 2015: Article in today’s Guardian of London highlights continuing theft of indigenous British Columbia lands through crooked government deals

In 1906, Joe Capilano traveled with Cowichan C...
In 1906, Joe Capilano traveled with Cowichan Chief Charley Isipaymilt and Secwepemc Chief Basil David to London to seek an audience with King Edward VII. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sun Peaks, British Columbia
Sun Peaks, British Columbia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I see today that the grievances of the Secwepemc people of British Columbia, known to non-natives as the Shushwap, have been brought to the notice of an international audience by means of an article published in The Guardian newspaper and online web site Guardian Unlimited.
The article is written by someone with the unlikely sounding name of Julian Brave Noise Cat. But though his name may sound bizarre, the burden of his article is deadly serious, and reveals details of the behaviour of Canadian governments that should be, but I fear is not, known to every Canadian.
The article says that “there are 64 First Nations in the midst of a treaty process aimed at extinguishing all present and future Native claims to land. I’m a member of the Tsq’escenemc, or People of Broken Rock, one of 17 bands of the 10,000-strong Secwepemc Nation, and one of four Northern Secwepemc bands currently negotiating our own treaty with the federal government.”
The negotiation the writer speaks of covers a relatively small area of land, 170,000 acres that is part of the vast Secwepemc territory of 180,000 square kilos in the interior of British Columbia, almost a fifth of the province, against which no treaties have ever been recorded.
Julian Brave Noise Cat says they have been offered $37.5 million US in exchange for an end to all claims covering nearly 14 million acres of their traditional territories. “To put this into perspective,’ he writes, “ the treaty returns just a hair over 1% of our land and pays $2.74 per acres for the rest. This is a deal sadly reminiscent of the 47 cents an acre offered to California Indians in 1963.”
But it is being offered at a time when British Columbia farmland costs $448,510 an acre, down to about $777 an acre for bare land in the north of the province. “There is no corner of British Columbia where land sells for $2.74 an acre,” he writes.
These are not new facts, of course. A few years ago I followed with intense interest the effort of a band in this area to oppose the expansion of a Japanese-owned tourist and ski resort called Sun Peaks.  Members of this band repeatedly put themselves on the line, were repeatedly arrested, their hastily-built shacks by which they tried to impose their presence destroyed by police, and were jailed and prosecuted for trespassing on their own land. So far, British Columbia government has stuck to its position that the land is Crown land which they are free to lease to whomsoever they may wish, a rather strange situation in which a Canadian government becomes the spokesperson and supporter of a Japanese company in an argument with indigenous Canadians who have lived in the area for 10,000 years.
A vote by the four Sepwepemc bands involved in the negotiation described in the Guardian is to be held in October. But the writer of the article has retained a kicker with which he ends his melancholy story: and that is that in the very process of negotiating this “deal” his people have undertaken  debts estimated at $16.9 million that will come out of their final settlement.
This is justice?
Well, it is the way Canadian governments have been picking off indigenous people across the country, paying them sums of money in return for control of miniscule parcels of land, against which they have to extinguish all the rights that are promised to them in the Canadian Constitution, negotiated in 1982.
It is not that these people are poorly educated in matters relating to their land, or unaware of the wider world.  In fact, they have been fighting against the European/Canadian invasion of their lands since the first settlers arrived among them. I went to a brilliant Web site (http://www.firstnations.de/development/secwepemc.htm), entitled First Nations and Environmentalism in British Columbia, in which it is recalled that in 1906 one of their chiefs “made the arduous journey” to London to assert their land rights before King Edward; how in 1914 another chief Louis (in their own language XlExlexkEn) testified before the McKenna McBride Commission of inquiry in Ottawa, and yet another in 1916 jojned a delegation to Ottawa to protest against the punitive policies of the government. But that wasn’t all: the protests continued and gave rise to one of the most significant indigenous leaders of modern times, George Manuel, Chief of the Neskonlith band, who became president of the Union of BC Chiefs, President of the Indian Brotherhood and founder of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples.  I remember hearing George Manuel tell a group of native people from the Northwest Territories that they were a majority in their part of the country, and they should act like one, something that represented for them a new opening into a more promising future.
All I can suggest to any readers whose interest might have been caught by this article is that they go to that essential lesson In Canadian history represented in the aforementioned web site. I am sure they will find a lot of stuff that is new to most of them.
I leave you with some quotes I have copied from that web site which suggest a history of Canada that seems to be more or less unknown to your average Canadian:
From Art Manuel’s document, Sun Peaks --- Indian land for sale: "We are poor not because our land is poor but because we have been dispossessed of our land and because Canada and the provinces have assumed 100% power over making laws over our land ... All revenue generated in Canada is earned from using our natural wealth and resources. We have never benefitted from this. All we have been given is the crumbs from the table of the federal and provincial governments." 

Chief  Francoise Selphagen of the Little Shushwap band in 1912: "Our tribal territories which we have held from time immemorial, often at cost of blood, are ours no longer ... We are all beggars, and landless in our own country ... What promises made to us when the first whites came to this country have been broken. Many of us were driven off our places where we had lived and camped because these spots were desirable for agriculture, and the Government wanted them for white settlers. This was done without agreement with us, and we received no compensation." 
Chief Selpaghen called for the government of Canada "to do what is right" and "to stand up for us" when he testified in 1914 to the McKenna McBride Commission: "We all want to work our land to good advantage, and we are short as to our means and knowledge of working the land."

From the web site: “For over a century the Bonaparte people saw their lands invaded and plundered by a raft of miners, ranchers, loggers and settlers. None of the huge profits were shared with the communities of the Band which became increasingly impoverished as the people were progressively disinherited of their land and natural resources. The reserve system imposed on First Nations did not improve living conditions. Homes on the Bonaparte reserve had no heating, electricity, running water, plumbing or insulation until the late 1950s. When the 86-year-old elder Jimmy Morgan lost his house to fire in 1973 it triggered a blockade during which armed indigenous activists stopped commercial traffic on Highway 92 through the Bonaparte reserve for six weeks and demanded a $5 toll from all vehicle drivers as a compensation for the appalling housing conditions on the reserve.”


Just a little lesson in Canadian history, today exposed to international readers, through The Guardian of London.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

My Log 482 August 2 2015: Four films remind me of the superior realism and humanity of the best French films: I use Netflix for my entertainment needs

Fran├žais : Isabelle Huppert au festival de Cannes.
Isabelle Huppert au festival de Cannes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Coup de Torchon
Coup de Torchon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Marion Cotillard during the Paris pre...
Marion Cotillard during the Paris premiere of Public Enemies at the cinema (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I read the other day that the quidnuncs are expecting people to give up their cable systems in the next few decades, and one commentator put much of the blame for this on Netflix, and similar outfits. In other words, so many people are now streaming their information and entertainment directly through their computers or mobile devices, that our entrenched fascination with the television is already coming under challenge.
I am not competent to judge the validity of this argument: but I do know that with Netflix I have at my disposal thousands, even tens of thousands, of movies, any one of which is available at the flick of a switch.
This might be described as nirvana for a movie buff. My son Thom, who I consider to be an encyclopedia of knowledge about movies, says he has almost stopped going to movies in cinemas, but that doesn’t mean he has stopped watching movies: he seems to see more than ever, and he doesn’t even have a television.
Well, recently, having had my mobility reduced by an accident to my heel, I have been watching a good number of movies myself, thanks to Netflix, and what this article is about is that it deals with my respect for, my admiration of, French-language movies. I have always thought that at their best, by and large, they are far and away better than even the best American movies, and my recent watching has confirmed me in that prejudice.
Let me describe four examples. Of the four at least two are delightful portraits of everyday life, unmediated by any of the absurd calculations that go into movie-making American style. In other words, they are slices of life as it is lived, and richly suggestive to any person  who feels for the immensity of human experience.
I think of the four movies the one I liked best was called Two Days, One Night (in French Deux Jours, Une nuit), an extremely simple story about working class life in a French industrial town, made by two hyper-realistic filmmakers in their sixties, the brothers Dardenne, Jean-Pierre and Luc, Belgians, actually, who since the 1970s have been producing highly praised, gritty films that have often been compared so some of Britain’s left-leaning cineasts of the Lindsay Anderson, Ken Loach school.
This particular film was elevated by a superb acting performance by Marion Cotillard, a woman who seems to elevate everything she appears in. The story here is about a rather neurotic, depressive, nervous young mother of two who returns to the factory line after a time off to deal with a depression. Her boss announces that he can afford either to give a 1000 Euro bonus to each of her sixteen co-workers, or to take her back on staff, and he has arranged a vote of the workers which, not unexpectedly, turns out solidly for accepting the bonus. Cotillard’s character, Sandra, is devastated, especially when it is reported to her by one of her fellow-workers that the foreman had stacked the vote against her by telling them that if they voted to keep her, one of them would be laid off.
She and her husband need her job, they couldn’t manage wihout it. With her sympathetic fellow-worker she persuades the boss to hold a re-run of the vote on the following Monday, which gives her the weekend to follow her husband’s suggestion that she should visit each of her co-workers at their homes to try to persuade them to support her return to work.
That is the entire story of this film, plot-wise. But of course it is about much more than that. At one level it is a superb portrait of a sensitive, sympathetic, retiring young woman to whom this series of visits is humiliating (this acting performance won Cotillard plaudits around the world). At another level it gives an understated but convincing portrait of the French working class, certainly not among the lowest in the world, that’s for sure, but like most other working classes in the Western world, full of people who are just barely able to make their way in life on what they can earn. This touches on the essential cruelty of capitalism in that it has so arranged its economy that two salaries are needed to keep every home afloat, while simultaneously demanding of the working woman that most of the proceeds of her work are spent on finding someone to look her kids.  Not everything in the film is harsh: many of her co-workers are immigrants, who seem to have had a strong sense of solidarity with her predicament. Even the boss shows a modicum of feeling in his proposed final solution, although his gesture has to make way for the greater strength of working class solidarity felt by the heroine.
This is a deeply satisfying, hugely involving film.
Another somewhat less heralded film, also a Belgian-French-Italian coproduction, is Paris Follies (in French  La Ritournelle), which stars the tiny, 5ft 2 in veteran of French films Isabelle Huppert, in the unexpected role of a more or less contented wife of a successful Normandy farmer,  a somewhat older man, also expertly played by Jean-Pierre Daroussin. Between them these two actors have appeared in almost 200 movies, so they give off an  air of effortless achievement.  Dasroussin’s face seemed familiar to me, although I could not recall where I had seen him before until a search of his filmography revealed that he played, beautifully, one might add,  Panisse in the recent re-make of the Marcel Pagnol trilogy about Marseilles waterfront life, Marius, Fanny and Cesar. As for Isabelle Huppert, her career began in 1971, but I didn’t pick up on her until 1981 when she played an unforgettably sexy blonde temptress in Bernard Tavernier’s West African epic, Coup de Torchon.  Since then, Ms Huppert seems to have worked with every great director in Western Europe.
This film, a slice of French life shown unexcitably by director Marc Fitoussi, has Ms Huppert as the distaff side of a happy countryside marriage, who, attracted during a party to a young Parisian who shows an interest in her, seizes an opportunity to visit Paris, with the intention, only half revealed even to herself, of running into this young man again, and seeing what might develop. Actually, she hasn’t really got the courage of her convictions, and runs away from the proposed assignation, but a visiting Danish dentist who is staying at the same hotel is more skilled in his approach, and  this is the man her husband sees when he turns up unexpectedly to check on his wife’s movements, she having been revealed to him by a neighbour as having made an appointment with a doctor who was no longer in business.  This is all worked out in what we have come to recognize as a typically civilized French approach. The movie is not exciting, but it is, because so beautifully acted, written and directed, very satisfying and enjoyable.
The Dardenne brothers also made the well-regarded film, The Kid with A Bike (French, Le Gamin au Velo). This is about a 12-year-old boy who has lost his mother and grandmother, and has been abandoned by his father, who, in the first part of this film, he continues to try to find with a blinding ferocity that excludes him from normal human contacts.  I found the kid, played by Thomas Doret to be so objectionable that it kind of destroyed the film for me, until an actress called Cecile de France appeared unexpectedly, to take an interest in the kid. Apparently the directors intended this to have the qualities of a fairy story, and she played the role of the good fairy, impetuously offering to look after the boy at the weekends, and putting up with his rudeness and compulsive behaviour no matter how off-putting he may have been his.  Apparently this actress, another with long experience in French films, was cast because the directors believed she could express her sympathy just through her looks and body language. That in fact worked out famously, and from the moment she appeared I was fascinated by this actress’s performance. True to the wishes of the directors, it was unemphatic, almost off-hand, but it managed to lend a real humanity to this unlikely story: the kid began to take her seriously, to respond to her unquenchable kindness. The film ends with the kid cycling around a corner out of sight as he makes his way back to his benefactor.
The fourth film, The Blue Room (French La Chambre Bleue) is based on a famous novel by Georges Simenon that has apparently driven previous filmmakers to distraction as they have unsuccessfully attempted to bring it to the screen. Director and star in the movie Mathieu Amalric has adopted a non-linear approach that enlivens the story, which is about an illicit love affair between two married people. When the man eventually tires of it and tries to withdraw, the woman, played by Stephanie Cleau, hangs in there, keeps enticing the man to continue through infrequent assignations, and is the main actor in murders that eventually remove their two innocent spouses. The story is told largely through a long-drawn out legal procedure of questioning by the examining magistrate which leads to the inevitable result.  The film maintains its interest from first to last and lifts a veil on a part of the French legal system that is always interesting.

Each of these films has its virtues: together they advance our knowledge of French attitudes, behaviour and feeling.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

My Log 481 August 1 2015: Oh, yes, I remember Hubert Ogunde, a man known to everyone in Nigeria from his Ogunde travelling theatre group

Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When you have been following social and political events as long as I have --- I date my beginning from the day I entered journalism in 1945, that is, 70 years ago --- you are always running across events that provide you with  flavourful memories.
One such came in an AlJazeera programme this week about the Nigerian film industry. As part of the show, a gentleman called Ogunde recalled that even before the beginning of Nigerian films, a travelling entertainment owned, operated and performed by his father, Hubert Ogunde, was popular all over the country, but especially in the southern parts.
It took me back to the year 1966, memorable in the history of Nigeria, for sure, when a group of young army officers from the Northern Region, headed by Major Chikwuma Nzeogwu, conducted a half-successful rebellion in which they killed the first (and much-admired) President of the country, Sir Abubaker Tafewa Balewa, as well as Chief Festus Okotie Ebo, the federal finance minister,  the head of the western region government Chief Samuel Akintola, as well as several other leading Nigerian politicians.
On the following morning, a Saturday, I was scheduled to be taken by a federal information officer to the University for an interview with the playwright Wole Soyinka, years later a Nobel Prize winner. When the information officer did not turn up I took a taxi, and at the University I discovered that the heads of the Nigerian state had, as it were, been chopped off, and all was confusion as to who was running the country. Later in the day in an effort to discover what had happened, I was directed to visit Hubert Ogunde, who, I was told would almost certainly know what had happened. I didn’t know his address, but simply asked a taxi driver to take me to him, which he did unhesitatingly.
My informants were right. This remarkable man, a richly comic and at the same time impressive character, who knew everybody in Nigeria and was known to everybody, naturally had all the details about what these army officers had done, how they invaded the President’s home and shot him down, and so on.  I felt I could not have had a more reputable informant, and, in the absence of any other information,  hurried off a dispatch to my newspaper in Montreal. Unfortunately, cable communications between Nigeria and the outside world had been suspended, so Patrick Keatley, the Guardian’s Commonwealth correspondent (and, incidentally, a Canadian), who was known to all the Nigerian politicians and officials,  and myself gathered together all the dispatches that foreign correspondents had written and flew with them to neighbouring Ghana, a country in those days already sinking into a sort of paranoid authoritarianism that was not to be trifled with.
At the Accra airport on arrival we were placed to one side and told to wait. We waited and waited, and eventually realized that the room we were in gave directly on to a taxi rank. So we slipped out, took a taxi into town to the Cable and Wireless office and phoned the Canadian high commission asking them to make our excuses for us with the airport authorities.
The Cable  and Wireless office had only a Sunday staff. Our dispatches would have to wait for the censor, they told us. Where was he? The censor was a Mr Newman, who was at the beach. We would just have to wait until he returned home and could be advised of the pile of news dispatches that he would be required to either veto or rubberstamp.  We left the pile, with our own dispatches on top, and Mr Newman, when he  appeared, was a good-looking, pleasantly spoken fellow, who hurried through the dispatches and sent them through without a word changed, no doubt taking advantage of the government’s confusion before the events in neighbouring Nigeria.  We took a plane back to Nigeria at the first opportunity.
When I had met Soyinka at the university he was rather nervous as to which side had come out on top. The western region had recently re-elected Akintola, but Soyinka, an intensely political guy in those days, had marched into a radio station and broadcast an alternative version  of the results from those issued officially.  When I went with him the following Wednesday on a tour of the ju-ju clubs, Soyinka was greeted as a hero as we entered each club, and our table quickly was crowded with contributed bottles of beer gifted by his many admirers.
It turned out that the head of the army, Major-General Johnson Ironsi, had been warned of the coup by a phone call from a subordinate who had been killed not long after making the call. He took command of the country, suspended the constitution, thus ending the federal republic, and was himself killed by dissatisfied Northern officers six months later. Until this year, 49 years later, Nigeria has been ruled in an almost unbroken line by the military.


Friday, July 24, 2015

My Log 480 July 24 2015 : Back in harness after an accident-caused interregnum: watching games on the field and in the political rooms

I returned to Montreal on May 19 after spending three months in Europe, and about a week later, while getting on to my bicycle for the first time this year, I fractured the Achilles tendon on my right leg. Fitted with one of those monstrous moonboots, care of this damaged leg, and work towards it healing, immediately became almost a full-time job, with physiotherapy, acupuncture, hot baths up to three times a day, and 15 minutes a day on the exercycle, all playing their part.
Meantime I filled  my time mostly by watching sporting events, a habit of mine since, as a child, playing sports was my consuming interest in life, making me a sports fanatic right up to the present day. In the nearly two months since my accident I have loved watching the two cricket  tests for the Ashes between England and Australia; the Wimbledon tennis championships, which I have not missed since at least 1960, when I first got a TV (and I was physically present in the year before the tournament was finally declared open to professionals, when I saw Laver demolish Rosewall in a superb finals match, and watched as Pancho Gonzales, at the age of 40, finished the tournament by serving four aces in the final game --- something unheard of in those days, although it is more common now; the international Rugby matches by the superpower teams of the southern Hemisphere, including the seldom-beaten All Blacks from my native New Zealand; and more recently the Tour de France (which I always follow for the magnificent glimpses it provides of the glorious French countryside, of which I have been a major aficionado since I first experienced it on a tandem bicycle in the summer of 1952; and lastly, the recent PanAm Games in Toronto, where Canada, for almost the first time, it seems to me, has finally laid claim to be a nation with the sort of sporting culture that embraces many sports in addition to the unfortunately brutal game of ice hockey, which, I have to admit, is a superb game when played without its customary violence, and is certainly the fastest game on earth.
So much for all this trivia: accompanying all of this I have been a fascinated watcher of the Greek financial crisis, which, after examining the arguments from all sides, I have had to conclude was about only one thing:  that being the determination of the wealth-owners and the banks they own and the governments they dominate, to make good and sure that no left-wing party of dissent be allowed to function effectively within their European Union, set up, as is now so clear, to be a citadel of unreconstructed capitalism.
How else could one explain how all these European experts, politicians, economists and functionaries, having witnessed the abysmal failure of the measures they took since 2010 to direct the economy of Greece, whose citizens have been reduced to near-penury by their works, how else could these people fail to learn anything from their experience, but insist on re-imposing the same measures even though they must know they are doomed to repeat their failures. And all this in face of a magnificent referendum result in which 61 per cent of Greek voters rejected the terms offered them?
This has been a drama, a Greek drama, if you like, such as we have seldom witnessed in recent times. Certainly we did not witness it in 1953 when the nations of Europe forgave the Germans their debts (even in face of the fact that it was the Germans who imposed on them all a war in which 57 million people were killed!) One of the unforgettable images from these recent events has been the set, determined unimaginative expression on the face of German chancellor Angela Merkel as she simply ignored all arguments except her own insistence that the banks have to be saved, come what may.
Oh, dear! What a world this is.