Monday, July 30, 2018

My Log 634 July 30, 2018 Chronicles from the Tenth Decade: 70; Joe Fafard’s beautiful Wolf disappears from the McGill campus, leaving us defenceless before those who would destroy the planet

I notice my ambition to produce Chronicles from the tenth decade of my life  has been suspended for almost a month, which is to say only 19 weeks after my tenth decade actually began when I turned 90 on March 21, suspended while I have been dealing with various health issues.  A feeble excuse, but mine own.
 Instead of keeping my nose pressed to the keyboard grindstone, as any real writer would have done, I have been submitting to repeated tests designed to discover what has caused that pain on the right side of my chest: a totally fruitless exercise, all these tests, because, as I told the doctors in mid-flight, if you keep testing a 90-year-old body, testing it and testing it, each time you will find something new that is not functioning as it should. So these tests, with their dramatic results,  are endless.
Meantime, while I have been so preoccupied, the world has been going crazy around my head, all sorts of highly significant events piling up around my almost lifeless body.
One of the most important of these events has been the unforgivable disappearance from the McGill University campus of something I had come to accept as a permanent fixture, the wonderful bigger-than-lifesize, completely naturalistic statue in painted bronze, of a wolf by the great Saskatchewan artist Joe Fafard, who, until I saw this giant and impressive wolf, I had always associated with tiny works. 
The statue was one of several that were installed in the McGill campus last summer, as part of the celebration of the foundation of Montreal 375 years ago, almost all of them except this one being either monstrously ugly or impressionistic or abstract in nature.  I remember a heavy, heavy stone statue that was said to represent tai-chi, that lighter than air Chinese physical exercise for the aged.  And, queen of the uglies was a huge, multi-coloured caricature of a woman that cast its baleful presence over Sherbrooke street during the summer. Apart from Joe’s wolf, the most striking installation was the presence of eight squatting Chinese men in a circle, called “the meeting”, a work that had been already exhibited in Europe and elsewhere, and whose disappearance I regretted as the autumn descended upon us.
Only one other statue survived to accompany Joe’s Wolf into the winter. It was a comfort every day I walked through the campus among the throngs of students and their teachers thoughout the bleakest days of winter to look over and be re-asssured that the Wolf was still there, looking after us, guarding us all, making sure that nothing could go wrong for us.

Until the day I looked over as the winter morphed into spring, to discover the Wolf had disappeared.  If only I knew who to write to in the vast corporation that is McGill University, I would have written indignantly to inquire what they mean by letting their protector go in this way. Where has it gone, and why? Could it possibly be that the hugely wealthy university could not afford to buy such an important and (eventually) indispensible part of their landscape, one that would guarantee the institution’s safety far into the future? Or was it just that they had a lease on it that ran out? Or that some idiot within their decision-making corpus decided that the beautiful animal was too fine, too straight-forward, too easily understandable, to grace the increasingly complex values of a great modern university?
Well, that’s my number one global catastrophe that has occurred during my days of pre-occupation. Of course, of more prominence has been the clown-show happening every day in Washington D.C. which would be very amusing were it not so serious. And then the invasion of a similar scenario into Ontario, whose citizens, a notably capricious bunch, have decided to elevate a member of the semi-literate majority into a position of power, from which no good can possibly emerge.
And then, one final thing, I have noted an extraordinary phenomenon that I never expected to see, which is that our political, media, and corporate elites appear to have coalesced around the idea that  the potentially planet-destroying Tar Sands of Alberta, which have already laid waste vast tracts of beautiful wilderness in the greedy search for oil, should be extended and increased, an action that will make nonsense of our national promise to work towards the reduction of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, which are already galloping along towards  a disastrous increase in the heat of the planet that could conceivably have the effect of either wiping out the human race, or very much reducing its size, leaving only a fraction of what exists now in the way of civilization and its achievements, to be presided over by a confused remnant of  homo sapiens, stumbling around in desperation as we try, finally, but too late, to adjust to the new reality of an Earth whose fundamental building blocks we would have destroyed.
And for what? So that we can sell this cancerous oil at a higher price to Asians than we can get for it now from the United States. In fufilment of which purpose our befuddled government has already spent $7.4 billion (of an expected $15 billion total price), that could have been better spent to bring clean water to First Nations reserves, or build affordable houses for lower-income or homeless people, or to clean up our polluted waters, damaged soils and choking air, the fundaments of all life.
What are Canadians thinking about their government that has persisted in arguing that this is all simply a matter of jurisdiction, of federal against provincial powers, leaving aside completely the essential question as to the future of the Tar Sands  and the drastic impact of their oil on all life, as if it were a matter of no consequence?
 I wonder if Joe Fafard’s Wolf, in its infinite wisdom, could have saved us from this folly. The inscription that accompanied it read:
“This monumental sculpture is more kind than threatening. The  Wolf, or mahihkan  in Cree, is an animal known for its subservience to hierarchy and its solidarity with its brethren. In fact, when hunting, wolves never feed on their prey until they are able to share it with their pack. This lesson, central to the First Nations values, who view the mahihkan as a symbol of empathy towards others, also carries a universal message.”

We need that universal message now more than ever before.

Monday, July 2, 2018

My Log 633 July 2 2018: Chronicles from the Tenth Decade: 69 ; Gushy tributes on Parliament Hill to Canada’s glowing qualities sound ludicrous when measured against the facts: First Nations, Inuit and Metis have little, if anything, to celebrate

Here is a paragraph about Canadian history, written by somebody else, every word of which I agree with:
It is impossible to disentangle the making of the Canadian state from the history of European – and particularly French and British – imperialism and colonialism. In acts of incredible hubris and chauvinism, the territories of the Americas were claimed by Europeans – mediated by the great European churches – and pillaged, conquered, and divided, with the Indigenous peoples subjected to genocide, enslavement, subordination and marginalization. In the consolidation of the space of the contemporary Canadian state, that came with Confederation on July 1, 1867 and the subsequent nation-building project of the National Policy, the decisive act(s) was the suppression of the First Nations peoples of Canada.

This was written, this week, by an anonymous author of the Socialist Project, an online source that over the years has  contributed a lot of sense to the political discourse in Canada, and I admit I was thinking along the same lines as the above-quoted author as I watched the fatuous celebration of Canada Day yesterday on Parliament Hill. It was impossible to believe that any of the speakers extolling the diversity of this great country could actually have believed a word they said, certainly not if any of them had made even a cursory study of Canadian history. 
I had a general impression that the celebration was not so much of Canada, as of Canadian women. Some of the speakers betrayed a faint note of hysteria: which I guess was understandable, since they were confronted by the need to emit a string of meaningless clichés, never an easy task at the best of times. I was surprised to discover that one of the most eager cliché-mongers was the wife of the Prime Minister, who, when he was dredged up by televisual link from Leamington, Ontario, which he described as Canada’s tomato capital, outdid them all in clichés. He gave us a full-bore Happy Times exegsis. He should try it on the Trump.
As an aside I could observe that the mention of Canadian tomato-growers reminded me of an NFB film I worked on in 1975 in which a Canadian farmer complained bitterly to a minister in the Liberal government of our present Prime Minister’s father, that their permission for American tomatoes to enter the Canadian market was making it virtually impossible for him, on his Canadian farm,  to make a living.  The minister acknowledged their problem, but his advice was, “Don’t hold your breath,” in the hope of any relief. Later in the interview he coolly admitted that anyone with any money to invest would be better to put it into Canada Savings Bonds than into a farm. No work; no trouble, and a better financial return.  With leadership like that, is it any wonder we are now serving as hand-maidens to the powerful American capitalists?
As it happens, for the last few weeks, as I have  been observing the apparent collapse of decency and imagination in the politics of North America, I have been ruminating along the same lines as our above-quoted author,  hoping that I might have an opportunity to  recall to people’s minds that the so-called rule of law of which we boast so frequently, is, after all,  based on the ignorance, arrogance and implacable greed of the colonists who came here from Europe, intent on taking over the land from its occupiers, whose existence, in the strictly formal sense,  they denied from the get-go, using the imaginary legal concept of terra nullius to argue that the land was empty of people, and therefore ripe for their plucking, a concept enthusiastically backed by the European religious authorities, who regarded the colonists as God’s warriors.
My above-quoted anonymous writer added that in setting up the Canadian state, the first thing was to seize the land from the Aboriginal peoples:
The intent of the Canadian state and emerging capitalist ruling classes was quite explicit – appropriation of the Aboriginal lands, extinguishment of Aboriginal title (actually written into the Manitoba Act, and found, in assorted ways in the various treaties), marginalization of the First Nations to tiny and divided reserve territories, and settlement and commodification of the dispossessed lands by Europeans to build Canadian capitalism as an extension of the European political-economic space. 
Of course, one could hardly expect that all those experts bloviating on Parliament Hill on Sunday in their desperate attempt to whip up Canadian nationalism would actually have any idea of the foundations of Canada as a nation. In fact, we didn’t get off to too bad a start when George III signed the Royal Proclamation by which the French-English battle for North America was concluded. In there he undertook that Indian land should not be settled or developed without the agreement of the “several Nations or Tribes of Indians with whom we are connected, and who live under our Protection,” and that such agreement could be arranged only “at some Publick meeting or Assembly” of the Indians with the colonial authorities, and that no private persons should be permitted to buy Indian lands. This was a measure designed, says the Proclamation, to avoid repetition of “the great frauds and abuses” that had already occurred in the purchasing of Indian lands.
The problem came with the application of this noble ideal. Many treaties were signed, it is true, mostly covering the best agricultural lands across southern Ontario, where various native tribes accepted to surrender their rights to millions of acres of land for derisory sums. .The Indians (I am using the term, no longer in much use, but the one by which the indigenous people were normally described throughout these fateful years),  never initiated these treaties, and did not much influence their terms.  Once they had alienated their title, it was simply assumed they would simply retreat from the advancing settlement by Europeans into more remote hunting territories. The pattern henceforth, right up to the present day, has been that such treaties were and still are negotiated, only when the land on which the Indians are living has become useful for European settlement.
The view taken of the Indians by the colonial authorities was a contemptuous one, used  by  the Colonial Secretary in 1830 when he said that they were “in a state of barbarism”, and that efforts made to provide them with the “industrious and peaceful habits of civilized life” had failed.  Therefore he believed they should be gathered together in one place, so as to be out of the way of the industrious settlers, in some preferably remote  place where they could be encouraged in religious knowledge and education.
When the infamous residential schools were established some decades later, they were actually established in the written intention to detach Indian children from the barbarous lives of their parents. When one thinks for a moment about this purpose, its cruel inhumanity, its assumption of infinite superiority by Us over Them, one cannot surely be anything but convinced that the framers of such purposes were both arrogant and ignorant. The laws they began to write through the 1820s to the 1870s, when they were cohered into the Indian Act that is still to this day the instrument of control over the First Nations, were and are redolent with this sense of superiority.  The Indian Act purported to, and actually did, exert control over every aspect of Indian life, even including such things as who could be, and who could not be, regarded as an Indian.  This was taken so far at one time that any Indian who passed through a university with a degree was automatically stricken from the rolls, and no longer regarded as an Indian.
This is a  diabolical system, with twists and turns that are scarcely believable, such as the disbarring from Indian status of any woman who marries outside her race, and the acceptance into full status of any white woman who might have married a status Indian man.  This particular idiocy is being slowly corrected, bit by bit, but the process towards its full  abolition is slow and tortured.
I have to add one thing more: an admirable, persistent, unquenchable resistance to the future laid out for them by the Euro-Canadian lawmakers, should be one of the glorious chapters of Canadian history, if only it were known more widely.  I have travelled widely across the country to many indigenous communities, and I know the story has been the same everywhere; deprived for many generations of an equal education --- still the same thing today, in fact --- they nevertheless threw up their own leaders who stuck to their guns against government schemes designed, ultimately, to abolish them as a race of people.
Unfortunately, this is a history --- and the full story, in all its glory, is fifty times worse than I have described --- about which most Canadians have a very hazy notion, if that. And it is one which would give me serious pause before standing on Parliament Hill to extol the virtues of our law-abiding society.