Thursday, August 30, 2018

White noise

Letting your guard down to party loud and proud in the streets is a privilege students of colour don’t often have.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2018 at 4:05 AM

VIA ADOBE STOCK
  • VIA ADOBE STOCK


This summer, I was walking along a street in the south end of Halifax with a few pals. As we walked down the tree-lined streets next to houses I couldn’t fathom of ever owning, they started hollering and causing a ruckus. It was late, they had been drinking, I was DD and I immediately felt nervous, uncomfortable and a little scared. I felt like I shouldn’t be there. Was it because I wasn’t lubricated like my companions? Was it my unrelenting straight-edge personality that was getting challenged? Am I too polite? I was left with this feeling for the rest of the night.

Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate. - HANNAH GRACE
  • Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate.
  • HANNAH GRACE
I messaged one of the friends who I had driven home and they told me they always feel a little animosity towards the wealthy neighborhoods of Halifax given their “uncouth roots” and it struck me. They are white. I am not. They come with an automatic safety net to carry on in public in a way that me, and my fellow POCs cannot.

In a world of stereotypes, the “drunken Indian” is still a major challenge for Indigenous people even though Indigenous people, on average, drink less than the rest of Canadians. The thought of walking around a wealthy, mostly white neighbourhood, drunk with a bunch of fellow Natives feels ridiculous and unsafe.

I don’t have to reach far to find stories from my POC community who talk about being stopped and carded or pulled over for no reason. The countless social media stories back that up and confirm that safety is our number-one priority. Letting our guard down to carry on is a privilege we don’t often have.

With the return of university students in the coming weeks, I feel for the homeowners that will have to endure late-night parties and noise complaints. They will undoubtedly, at one point or another, have to clean up the red Solo cups tossed in their gardens and pick up the abandoned road beers left on the sidewalk in front of their homes. There will be hordes of young people pushing themselves to see how many beers they can shotgun, shooters they can down and pints they can chug. Then once the bars close and parties wind down, they will have to make their way home or to the nearest place to crash.

But think, just for a minute, about your initial gut reaction to seeing a bunch of young, pretty, white university students, arm-in-arm, carrying on a little too loud in the streets of Halifax. You’ll probably shake your head, think it’s too cold to not have a jacket on and maybe chuckle at the future hangover these kids are going to have. Now think about the same scenario, except change the race of the students in your mind. Make them Indigenous, African Nova Scotian, international students from across the world. Do you still have the same reaction, or do you judge them a little more? Do you cross the street when you see them coming? Do you think about calling the police?

All these students are here for a reason. For the most part, it’s to find out who they are and what they want to do for the rest of their lives. But some of those students have had to overcome numerous barriers to get there and will endure even more to stay.

There will be plenty of people and systems making students of colour feel like they don’t belong. You don’t need to be one of them.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, August 2, 2018

The weight

Homophobia, hate crimes and the murder of Gregory Gerald Jodrey.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 2, 2018 at 12:12 PM

Gregory Gerald Jodrey was murdered 25 years ago this week. - LAURA SHEPHERD
  • Gregory Gerald Jodrey was murdered 25 years ago this week.
  • LAURA SHEPHERD

On August 7, 1993, Gregory Gerald Jodrey of Gaspereaux, Nova Scotia was murdered in Wolfville. Gregory was my best friend and I loved him dearly. Twenty-five years later, the hole remains in my heart and the anvil remains in my stomach.

The bare facts are that Gregor was at the tavern in Wolfville, met a man there, left the tavern, had sex with him, then was found beaten to death beside the railroad tracks early the next morning.

The assailant claimed he panicked after being raped and instinctively reacted with violence. The defense portrayed Gregor as an aggressive homosexual predator who, when drunk, would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. The prosecution offered testimony the assailant had engaged in sex with men, possibly for money.

The defense disputed this. Gregor’s assailant was convicted of manslaughter, sentenced to four years. Gregor is memorialized in court records as a sexual predator.

Laura Shepherd is a writer, storyteller, parent and worker who lives in Halifax. - SUBMITTED
  • Laura Shepherd is a writer, storyteller, parent and worker who lives in Halifax.
  • SUBMITTED
In 2006, the person who beat Gregor to death received a nine-month conditional community sentence for sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl. In 2008, they were sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 rape and murder of a 92-year-old woman.

The RCMP officer I spoke at length with during the investigation, upon learning I was an occasional sexual partner of Gregor’s, seemed to regard the entirety of my statement as nothing more than an effort to protect my friend, rather than an earnest effort to tell the truth. He displayed no familiarity with the culture of man-to-man sex in rural Nova Scotia, nor even a recognition that it is a culture. My casual reference to the practice of men buying sex from one another at taverns, for example, was apparently a revelation to him. He kept trying to summarize my nuanced statements with simple truisms—none of which were true, all of which were tropes. He seemed to want evidence that Gregor was a predator. He seemed to need it, like it affirmed his worldview.

Gregor, despite being regularly subjected to physical harassment and violence in his community, was not out to his family. In their shock and grief, and their own deep homophobia, they were too bewildered to question the rape allegation. So far as I know, Gregor’s parents just accepted the story.

In the intervening years, Gregor’s murder has been cited academically as an example of lethal homophobic violence and recited in popular journalism as a hate crime. Candles are lit as his name is read at memorial events.

I will never know what happened that muggy night in Wolfville a quarter-century ago. Given the state of Gregor’s body when it was found, this is a mercy to me.

It’s clear to me that homophobia, inherent in the investigation from the start, distorted the facts and skewed the prosecution. Gregor cowered if you stamped your foot. He was physically incapable of perpetrating rape against anyone who resisted. I can’t account for the violence of Gregor’s assailant, other than to assert that rape was not the cause.

Whatever happened between Greg and his assailant triggered the violence, it didn’t cause it or warrant it. That distinction never saw the light of day in court. I have never argued that manslaughter was an unjust verdict, only that Gregor’s murder was an unjust act, and the conclusions of the court an unjust characterization of the man I knew, and likely, the way he died.

I still think I see him, occasionally. I’ll catch a silhouette of a slender guy in a baggy sweater with wispy hair and oversize glasses and I’ll think, ‘Gregor!’ and my heartbeat will increase before the dead weight of memory squelches the thought, leaving me jangling.

There are many things I could wish for, having lived so long without him. What I wish most of all is for the assumptions of those in authority to change—to abandon the default in which the victim of sexual or gendered violence is always to blame, to embrace a nuanced understanding of human relations and the negotiations they entail.

Murders solved with tropes are the stuff of television drama, never real life. The loss of my friend left a hole in my heart, and the process of justice left an anvil in my stomach. Twenty-five years later, I still can’t say which is heavier to bear.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Coming Out Ministries preys on LGBTQ+ youth through guilt and shame

This is not about godliness, but about power and punishment.

Posted By on Tue, Jul 10, 2018 at 11:20 AM

Photos from the @nsyouthproject at Monday's rally in Grand Parade. - VIA INSTAGRAM
  • Photos from the @nsyouthproject at Monday's rally in Grand Parade.
  • VIA INSTAGRAM

I’m a preacher’s kid and I’m trans. I’m not a believer and I never was but I spent my childhood conscripted into ritual practices, performing a personhood that wasn’t mine, essentially because the family enterprise demanded it. I was expected to be what I was expected to be, not what I am. That I would gravitate toward something else was regarded, in my family, as tantamount to blasphemy. I went on from a childhood steeped in conformity enforced by guilt and shame, to spend over 30 years of my adult life in the closet.

Laura Sheperd is a writer, storyteller, parent and worker who lives in Halifax. - SUBMITTED
  • Laura Sheperd is a writer, storyteller, parent and worker who lives in Halifax.
  • SUBMITTED
Nobody locked me in. They didn’t have to. I adopted chains of guilt and shame as my own and used them to bind myself, like a trans Harry Houdini, except escaping from them wasn’t part of my act. It took me years to learn how. When I finally found my way out, eager to begin living my life, I was already old.

My birth family still doesn’t believe in transgender people. My presence in their midst does nothing to dissuade them. It’s simply ‘against their religion.’

I don’t get how someone can profess faith in a higher deity, then decide for themselves and others exactly what that deity wants. It begs the question, who’s in charge? What if fears and shames of their own lie between the lines in their reading of scripture? What if we’re all traumatized? What if we’re all holy?

I am still learning how to distinguish myself from my trauma. I got so good at being someone I was not that I believed it, myself. When I look closely at the behaviours of the zealous in faith communities, I see those same traumas reflected. I know where they come from. Trauma—like religion—is nothing, if not a family tradition.

Enter Coming Out Ministries, the travelling troupe of “ex-gay” (read: re-closeted) self-described spiritual ‘leaders’ invited by the Seventh Day Adventist Church to provide conversion programming at their annual camp meeting in Pugwash later this month. Conversion programming means shaming and stigmatizing lesbian/gay, bi/pan, non-binary, trans and questioning youth in a concerted effort to change behaviour by, essentially, combining social exclusion and the trauma it induces with religious practice, like prayer. It has the impact of psychological violence. That it is led by people who once identified as gay is no stamp of approval.

Coming Out Ministries maintains that queer people do not deserve condemnation, so long as they themselves condemn their own identities and expressions. Gaslight thy neighbour. Hate thyself.

Monday night’s public protest at the Grand Parade and the month-long online petition effort that preceded it, reflect community rage. This is not about godliness, but about power and punishment. It’s political. It’s also predatory. We’re talking, at least in part, about the youth of this faith community, some of whom can safely be regarded as unwilling conscripts in the faith, nevermind the program. It deserves to be halted.

As the Youth Project's Kate Shewan said Monday night, this program will cause harm. NSRAP's Susanne Litke called for legislation to outlaw conversion therapy in Nova Scotia and the action at-large called on the church to cancel this program.

If we’re all children of God, any and all conversion programs are child abuse.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

UPDATED: False outrage over this past weekend's Marine Band protest

The only people who should apologize for the events at Grand Parade are the reporters who botched the story.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 4, 2018 at 11:56 AM

“U-S Marines Band walking away after protesters shout them down at Grande Parade,” reads Ron Shaw's tweet. “Never played their outdoor concert here.” - VIA TWITTER
  • “U-S Marines Band walking away after protesters shout them down at Grande Parade,” reads Ron Shaw's tweet. “Never played their outdoor concert here.”
  • VIA TWITTER

Update: Since this piece was published Shaw has deleted his tweets and web producer/social media manager Andrea Jerrett has apologized to Masuma Khan. Her emailed message is shared below with Khan's permission.

“While CTV Atlantic always strives to report accurate information, in this case, our reporter did issue a tweet with incorrect information,” Jerrett writes on behalf of the CTV newsroom and news director Dan Appleby. “He quickly corrected that information in a subsequent tweet. Unfortunately, some individuals or groups have chosen not to acknowledge that correction. No matter what, the original tweet did not meet our standards and we unequivocally regret the error in our content.”

———

This past weekend, the United States Marine Band walked into a political protest against the very government they represent.

It was largely uneventful and likely would have passed without much consideration except for a series of inaccurate tweets from CTV.

Reporter Ron Shaw twice made the false assumption that Saturday's protesters caused the military band to cancel a planned outdoor concert at Grande Parade.

The marines were “going to play an outdoor show...but refugee issue protesters chased them away,” Shaw tweets.

This is not true, in several important aspects.

First and foremost, there was no outdoor concert planned. While the marines were in town for the Nova Scotia Tattoo, they were only at Grande Parade looking for a group photo. A cursory glance at the Tattoo’s official schedule shows there was no outdoor performance scheduled.

What was scheduled was the protest. Activists in Halifax were joining together and speaking out on the same day as tens of thousands of other people across North America who are horrified and outraged by the Trump administration’s war on children.

Rebecca Faria’s tweets about the same incident paint a much calmer picture. After confirming the band wasn’t going to perform, she states that some protesters with signs stood next to the marines on the steps. A call-and-response chant about stolen Indigenous land was also led by Masuma Khan.

“And then the marines left,” writes Faria. “We laughed. We cheered. We went on with our afternoon.”

It’s worth noting that the marine corps' official policy says uniforms cannot be worn at any events that further political activity:

“Marines and sailors cannot wear their uniform when participating in public speeches, demonstrations, assemblies, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies or any public demonstration which may imply service sanction for a cause that furthers personal or partisan views on political, social economic or religious issues.”

Meaning that the band probably couldn’t have stayed at the protest even if they wanted to.

Shaw has still not deleted his original tweets, but he did offer a separate, non-threaded “clarification” to confirm the band was never going to play.

“But,” the reporter took great pains to note, “that doesn’t change the issues or the emotions, whatever side people take on these issues.”

But it does change those issues and emotions entirely because the reality of events is so far from the inflammatory false version first presented.

The localized portion of an international protest against the inhuman abuse of children by the United States government is briefly interrupted by polite American military members who just as quickly leave.

Compare and contrast that against the story of screaming protesters disrespecting brave men in uniform who only wanted to share music with the city they’re visiting.

Nevertheless, the damage has been done.

Shaw’s original tweets continue to be shared—provoking outrage and scorn from easily offended local politicians and angry internet commenters. Those aggressive thugs band together in shaming the protesters while begging for civility towards military guests who are visiting Canada from a country currently committing gross and obscene crimes against humanity

It’s something of a minor miracle that the story hasn’t been picked up more by the right-wing media rebels who normally feast on this sort of inaccurate theatre.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Khan—the most visible person at the protest—hasn’t spent the last few days receiving personal threats for her role in the day's events.

“Since you hate Canada so much why not move to a Muslim majority country where your [sic] not allowed to go outside without a make [sic] guardian?” Calgary electrician Chris Holowenczak writes to her on Facebook. “You can practice your evil ideology there. Or are you only here to bleed out [sic] welfare system dry like all the other muzrats?”

The truth of Saturday doesn't matter to people who've already made up their minds, but the framing of the story can do a lot to hold back or provoke more intolerance.

During these times of heightened irrational hatred, a special responsibility and care are needed to ensure accurate information gets out.

Otherwise, we cause very real harm to the people choosing to stand up for the safety of others.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, June 28, 2018

100 different ways to keep a government secret

The broken freedom of information system has dozens of exceptions, loopholes and bureaucratic tricks available to keep public information out of the public's hands.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 4:34 AM

Premier Stephen McNeil on election night. - TED PRITCHARD
  • Premier Stephen McNeil on election night.
  • TED PRITCHARD

Politicians of all stripes love to talk about transparency. They praise it, they throw around buzzwords like “open by default” or, in the direct words of Stephen McNeil, promise to make Nova Scotia “the most open and transparent government in the country.” None of these promises mean much if you don’t read the fine print associated with them. There are nearly always exceptions, loopholes or bureaucratic tricks which ensure that, even where information is technically open, in practical terms it remains off limits to the public.

Michael Karanicolas is a human rights advocate who works to promote freedom of expression, government transparency and digital rights. You can follow him on Twitter at @M_Karanicolas and @NSRighttoKnow. - SUBMITTED
  • Michael Karanicolas is a human rights advocate who works to promote freedom of expression, government transparency and digital rights. You can follow him on Twitter at @M_Karanicolas and @NSRighttoKnow.
  • SUBMITTED
The most recent case to hit the headlines involved Dalhousie University, which faced an information request from the Canadian Union of Public Employees about the number of full-time and part-time faculty at the school over the past decade. Although legally required to respond to the request, the rules around how much they can charge are more difficult to enforce. The university demanded $55,000 for the information, claiming that it would take 1,845 hours to complete the request. While the information commissioner has said this is the biggest estimate she has ever seen, it is by no means an isolated case.

Last year, I was contacted by a journalist from Cape Breton who sought expense information for the mayor and five CBRM employees and was told it would cost $42,804.50 to deliver the information. In both cases, the requesters are technically allowed to access the information, but that right is not worth very much in practical terms.

In addition to exorbitant pricing, another common challenge is delays. Across Canada, our freedom of information systems are notorious for their backlogs. A request for files from an RCMP corruption investigation came back with an estimate that the information would take 80 years to review. Earlier this year, the Canada Border Services Agency 
decided that the best way to deal with ballooning backlogs in their access to information system was to ask requesters who had been waiting years to simply abandon their requests.

Even where information is made available, there are a range of technical or accessibility challenges which can still put it out of people’s reach. A recent study found that Nova Scotia’s public tendering website was riddled with broken links. The province’s FOIPOP portal has been down for months now, after its shoddy security led to an infamous breach earlier this year.

And of course, the ability to get your hands on any information about what the government is up to depends on them leaving a paper trail in the first place. In 2016, Stephen McNeil told reporters that when he has to do sensitive policymaking work, he prefers to use the phone, in order to ensure that there are no records that the public might later request. Nova Scotia’s former finance minister claimed that the use of private email accounts was rampant for the same reason. The premier has brushed aside calls from the information commissioner to institute a duty to document, which would require officials to leave an official record of their deliberations.

All of these are hallmarks of a broken system. Accountability and oversight are never pleasant, and given a choice, many people would rather avoid them. But that’s not how democracy is supposed to work. Transparency systems are a lot like the tax code: You have to design them under the assumption that people will try and cheat, but to make it as difficult as possible to do so. These examples show that there is much more work to do. Nova Scotians need to demand better.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Educating Shawn Cleary about journalism

The Halifax councillor's comments that reporters need formal credentials is elitist, dangerous and counter-productive.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 4:08 AM

Councillor Shawn Cleary speaking to reporters. - THE COAST
  • Councillor Shawn Cleary speaking to reporters.
  • THE COAST

District 9 councillor Shawn Cleary went on one of his ill-advised Twitter rants this past week. What set him off this time was an opinion piece by Stephen Kimber published in Tim Bousquet’s Halifax Examiner. (Disclosure: I have written for the Examiner and I am enrolled in a King’s MFA program in which Kimber teaches.) Kimber was critical of the councillor’s support for the controversial Willow Tree development. He painted Cleary as developer-friendly, but also as someone who has refused money from developers and who favours a municipal lobbyist registry.

“Cleary is clearly a complicated, sometimes contradictory fellow. Like the rest of us,” Kimber said.

Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer and journalist living in Halifax. He does not have a journalism degree. Find him at moscovitch.com and @PhilMoscovitch - SUBMITTED
  • Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer and journalist living in Halifax. He does not have a journalism degree. Find him at moscovitch.com and @PhilMoscovitch
  • SUBMITTED
Well. That was simply too much. Cleary complained that he hadn’t been interviewed (writers do pieces on politicians based on their public record and statements all the time), suggested to Bousquet that “in the interest of actual journalism you might think about checking with the source,” dismissively called the Examiner a blog and asked what journalism school Bousquet went to. When I asked Cleary on Twitter if he was arguing that all journalists should be j-school grads, he replied, “Medical school required for doctors. Engineering school required for engineers. Given potential public impact of news reporting...”

Following the principle that once you’ve said something dumb, you should proceed to say something dumber, Cleary—who has an MBA along with a BA in financial and economic studies—then explained journalism to Bousquet, an award-winning journalist: “Journalists do journalism. Non-journalists do ‘citizen journalism,’ blogs, opinions, et cetera. There are skills of balance, ethics, standards one learns in j-school.”

Insisting that reporters go to journalism school (or have any other kind of formal credentials) is elitist, dangerous and counter-productive. Journalism remains a profession in which it is still possible to make a living without going tens of thousands of dollars into debt. If you can write decently, have a talent for finding good stories and are willing to constantly upgrade your skills, you can do well. Of course, you’re going to need to understand journalistic ethics and standards, but those don’t require a degree.

Like politics, journalism is strengthened by welcoming people from varied backgrounds and a range of life experiences. Carol Off earned a BA and tried to start a career in fiction before falling into journalism. Peter Mansbridge never finished high school. Francine Pelletier has an MA in comparative literature.

Are there problems in journalism? Of course. Is fake news an issue? Sure. Today I saw a fake report saying that under new legislation insulting Islam in the UK can land you a six-year prison sentence. Last year at Peggy’s Cove I met a tourist from Quebec who believed a fake report about police cars replacing French with Arabic. Would ensuring journalists had to get a j-school education do anything about cracking down on this garbage? Of course not. The young Macedonian guys pumping out stories through dozens of faux journalism sites aren’t suddenly going to pack it in.

Who wins when you create requirements for being a journalist? Authoritarian regimes and politicians with something to hide. They get to exclude anyone who asks uncomfortable questions. Last year Justin Brake (now a reporter with APTN) and Amy Goodman (celebrated host of the Democracy Now radio show for more than 20 years) were both arrested for trespassing while reporting on stories. Brake was at the site of Muskrat Falls, while Goodman was in North Dakota, covering protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I have no idea if either of them has a journalism degree or not. I do know their work was inconvenient to people with power and money, and if we lived in a world where journalists had to meet legislated criteria to do their jobs we would all be worse off because of it.

In the follow-up to Cleary’s rant, some compared him to Trump, which I don’t think is fair. But we do live next door to a country in which the president has repeatedly called journalists enemies of the people. Hectoring the publisher of a site who ran a piece about you that you didn’t like doesn’t contribute to improving the climate. Would an education requirement for journalists mitigate the fake news problem by ensuring minimal educational standards? Let’s just say I can’t imagine people who now consider journalists enemies will suddenly embrace them if they all have approved university degrees.

Cleary didn’t point to any actual errors in Kimber’s story. Politicians are always going to take issue with the work of journalists. They may complain stories are unfair, but then fail to point to any actual, you know, inaccuracies. And, like other human beings, journalists will make mistakes and should apologize and correct them. You don’t need a degree to know that.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, June 21, 2018

DNA does not define us

Culture and community is what makes us Indigenous, not faulty genetic testing.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 4:13 AM

A young dancer participates in the Mawio’mi 2011 International Pow wow held on the Halifax Common. - VIA ISTOCK
  • A young dancer participates in the Mawio’mi 2011 International Pow wow held on the Halifax Common.
  • VIA iSTOCK

I’m ambiguously brown. By that I mean I have brown skin and almond-shaped eyes. I get those from my dad who is Mi’kmaq. I also have curly hair, freckles and thin lips from my mom, whose grandparents came from Scotland.

“Where are you from?” is a very common question in my day-to-day as people try to sleuth out my ethnicity. In high school I once had someone tell me that everyone knew I was “not white” but weren’t quite sure what I was. When people find out I’m Mi’kmaq, the inevitable next part in the conversation is the person telling me about their great-great-grandmother who was part native.

Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate. - HANNAH GRACE
  • Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate.
  • Hannah Grace
There has been an explosion of DNA testing that has led people to find tenuous Indigenous genetics in their family tree with the expectation First Nation communities will roll out the buckskin carpet for their arrival to their newfound identity. They use these genetics to undermine Indigenous struggles by turning fights for sovereignty, dignity, basic respect and empathy into indignation because Costco wouldn’t exempt the tax from their TV purchase.

What’s worse is individuals rate what identity is best with a sliding scale to Metis—a gross insult to the Metis who have fought long and hard to be recognized and now have to compete with new “metis” communities that have jumped on the DNA bandwagon. I have had individuals tell me they tried for a status card but were rejected so they got a metis card instead. What. The. Fuck.

Furthermore, what these genetic groupies don’t understand is that identity is earned and shaped by experience. Not by DNA. Whether a person is born and raised on the rez, a fluent language speaker, dealing with generational and residential school traumas, reconnecting after being a victim of the ’60s scoop, growing up in foster care with a white family, an urban aboriginal or thriving as an artist, activist or poet, they are all real Indigenous experiences that build upon a long history of being native in Canada. There is a story thousands of years old that connects us to this land. Our culture defines us and our communities claim us.

Recently, CBC published an article where a man sent in a cheek swab from his dog only to have the results come back saying that it was 20 percent Indigenous; 12 percent Abenaki and eight percent Mohawk. So the legitimacy of these tests should be just a questionable as Mikinak band cards.

If you can trace your family tree back to initial colonization of Turtle Island, of course, you will have an Indigenous ancestor. But that does not an Indian make. When early European explorers came to the shores of Mi’kma’ki, they didn’t bring women with them. The women they had access to for their “entertainment” were the women who were already here—a thought I shudder to think about.

I get it. We’re cool as shit. I can understand why you want to sit at our table. But if you’re going to eat with us, I better see you at the next language class at the Friendship Centre or holding a flippant sign at the next Alton Gas protest. I might get my eyes from my dad and my hair from my mom but I get my band number from an oppressive colonial and racist document called the Indian Act that seeks to arithmetically eliminate Status Indians and our ties and rights to our land. Genetics have nothing to do with it.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Canada needs more space for Indigenous people in academia

If we lived in a world where all things were equal, then yes, white professors could teach Indigenous courses. However, we do not live in an equal world.

Posted By on Thu, May 24, 2018 at 4:34 AM

Mount Saint Vincent University's campus. - VIA WIKIPEDIA
  • Mount Saint Vincent University's campus.
  • VIA WIKIPEDIA


Last week, Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax came under fire for assigning a white professor a course about the residential school system that housed Indigenous children for forced assimilation. The university picked a knowledgeable and well-meaning ally. And I am not here to discredit her.

But I have long been a proponent of Indigenous peoples telling our stories. We’ve always served as background characters in our own history.

Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate. This piece was first published by the Washington Post, and is reprinted with the author’s permission. - HANNAH GRACE
  • Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate. This piece was first published by the Washington Post, and is reprinted with the author’s permission.
  • Hannah Grace
I am l’nu of the Mi’kmaq Nation of Mi’kma’ki. We have the dubious honour of being among the first Indigenous peoples contacted by European colonizers. For 500 years we had to work with, be oppressed by and share land with the British and French. The Peace and Friendship Treaties signed by my ancestors led to precedent-setting landmark decisions for Indigenous rights at the Supreme Court of Canada. However, that doesn’t mean we’ve avoided the pitfalls of colonization.

For more than 100 years, 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend the residential schools where their culture, language and spirit were violently removed from them in an attempt to “save” the child and kill the Indian. Thousands of children died in the system. The schools were active until the last one closed in 1996. My father is the product of this system, which took him away when he was five years old. It took him decades before he was able to talk about what happened to him. The legacy of residential schools has left Indigenous peoples over-represented in the criminal-justice system and the foster-care system. We have higher morbidity and mortality rates than non-Indigenous Canadians, along with suicide rates up to 11 times that of the rest of the population.

I believe that the university course should be taught by an Indigenous person. But we, as Indigenous peoples, cannot be solely responsible for the decolonization of institutions.

I’ve worked in postsecondary institutions for the entirety of my career. I’ve been the sole Indigenous voice at the table far more often than I’ve been surrounded by my peers. I am often the one-stop shop for knowledge on Indigenous history, law, culture, social structure and language.

I try to help faculty members who don’t quite understand why their teaching approach can be exclusionary or isolating for Indigenous students. I’ve spoken with the president about what it’s like being the child of a residential school survivor. I have been asked to be on every diversity and inclusion committee. If there is anything remotely related to Indigenous peoples, I get asked and am expected to take the lead on it. I do so willingly but at a cost.

I am exhausted.

I feel a tremendous obligation to my community. On days when I simply cannot muster the energy to step up, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt that I am letting my people down.

Organizations can’t be allowed to simply throw their hands up and say they tried their best after their token minority member decided not be the mascot for their reconciliation attempts because they were tired or had other interests. After all, we are a part of the people they are trying to reconcile with, a fact often forgotten.

It’s important that you understand that I don’t tell my family’s story to get attention. It’s not fun to bring up painful memories. I tell them so people understand where I and so many other Indigenous people are coming from. They are important stories that give context. But no mistake, they are my stories to tell.

I’m often asked whether I believe only Indigenous peoples can teach Indigenous subjects. I say yes. That often leads to the all-or-nothing argument that if that’s the case, then only women can teach women’s studies and only Black professors can teach African studies.

If we lived in a world where all things were equal, then yes, white professors could teach Indigenous courses. However, we do not live in an equal world. We live in a world where I have to apply for my ethnicity to be validated by the government every 10 years. We live in a world where we have to beg and plead for empathy when our girls and our women go missing. We live in a world where an unarmed 22-year-old Native Canadian man can be shot point-blank in the back of the head and his killer walks free. We live in a world where I have to reopen my scars over and over so individuals and organizations can feel good about giving me bandages.

I do this so those who come after me hopefully won’t be asked to. I take up space, not always because I want to but because I have to.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Halifax cosplaying an accepting community

Transgender cosplayer Rae O'Neil says the local geek community is a welcoming and liberating space.

Posted By on Thu, May 17, 2018 at 4:01 AM

Rae O’Neil in costume at the recent Spring Geequinox. - APRIL BAIRD
  • Rae O’Neil in costume at the recent Spring Geequinox.
  • APRIL BAIRD

Rae O’Neil is dressed in an outfit based off a mash-up of two Final Fantasy characters. The cosplay is a bit out of the ordinary in everyday life, but at local conventions like the recent Spring Geequinox or Hal-Con it’s a perfectly normal—and fun—mode of creative expression.

“I get to build stuff, which I like to do, and show it off in an homage to something I enjoy,” says O’Neil. “It’s also a great way to learn a multitude of new skills.”

The first time O’Neil cosplayed was two years ago at Hal-Con, shortly after she came out as transgender. At first, it was an anxious experience.

“As the con went on I got less scared as I would kind of forget myself,” she says.

Some assumed she was “crossplaying,” which is when someone of one gender cosplays as a character of another.

“But others would gender me correctly, which rarely happened in public at all at that point, which felt pretty neat,” adds O’Neil.

“Here I was presenting female and no one was recoiling like my internalized transphobia and anxiety kept making me think they would. In a way, at the time, this was the most out I’d felt in public. It was super liberating.”

O’Neil says the cosplay community as of late is very body positive, welcoming all newcomers.

“Everyone’s crammed at the same restroom mirror fidgeting with their makeup or making last-minute adjustments, helping each other,” she says. “I rarely feel unwelcome and usually end up participating in those well-worn discussions on how to keep your makeup on, cover something up, squeeze into something, breath inside a constrained costume.”

Cosplay, she says, is a movement that’s often pushed back against misogynistic ideas of body image. So far, O’Neil says she’s had nothing but support from the community.

“I’ve been lucky locally,” she says. “Some bad eggs pop up on the con Facebook page from time to time, but I haven’t run into any overt transphobia at the local cons. Knock on wood.”
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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Smudge for sale

Selling Indigenous medicine and ceremony intends to profit off of another person's pain.

Posted By on Thu, May 10, 2018 at 4:54 AM

Mini white smudge stick value-pack available at Canada’s largest book retailer. - VIA CHAPTERS INDIGO
  • Mini white smudge stick value-pack available at Canada’s largest book retailer.
  • via Chapters Indigo

I learned to pick my medicines from my white, Acadian stepmother. I was around 14 years old when we walked out to the salty marsh grass with a handful of tobacco. As we walked to the spot near her home where sweetgrass still grows, she explained to me the concept of respecting Mother Earth; how it was important to leave behind some plants and never take more than I needed. When we got to where the grass grows, she put tobacco in my hand, we said a prayer and offered some to each of the four directions and to the ground to say thank you for what we were taking.

Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate. - HANNAH GRACE
  • Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate.
  • Hannah Grace
I learned from her because my father wasn’t able to teach me during that time. He was still battling his demons from Residential School. My stepmother had learned from him and the Elders he would bring around when he was sober. When we got home with our bundles of grass, she taught me how to separate the blades and how to tie and braid them. Then over the course of the summer, she gave them all away. She said other people needed them more than her.

As an adult, when I asked my Elders if it was OK for non-Native people to smudge and teach, they said everyone has a right to heal and that sharing our ceremonies honours the intentions of what they are. My father always told me that the only thing I was to ever ask for when I smudged was to think in a good way. Which leads me to the sale of “smudge sticks.”

There has been an uptick in the commercialization of medicines and ceremony by both non-Native and Indigenous peoples. Urban Outfitters pulled their “energy balancing smudge kit” in 2015 after Indigenous peoples called for its removal, but a quick search shows they still sell “sage incense sticks” and other medicine bundles. And it isn’t just large companies like Urban Outfitters that appropriate and exploit our ceremonies. Here in Halifax, you can buy smudging services where you pay per square footage to have your home cleansed of negative energy. Every craft fair has someone selling “smudge sticks.”

I started smudging at a very young age. It was one of the very few parts of my culture that has been present in my life at nearly every stage. The smell of sweetgrass brings me back to my childhood. As an adult, I smudge regularly to stay connected to my culture. I smudge to start meetings. I smudge my students when they need grounding. They don’t have to be Indigenous to do so or to take part. But like 14-year-old Rebecca who was just learning to pick medicines, the intention behind the use of them is what matters. I learned to respect medicines because of the significant role they play in connecting and healing people. Furthermore, given the ban on Indigenous gatherings from 1885 to 1951, the fact that smudging continues to persist only cements my beliefs that medicines should be honoured.

Sometimes, Indigenous peoples might have no choice but to buy their medicines because they lost the knowledge of where to get them. Some people sell medicines because they think it’s their right to do so. My goal is not to shame people for the misuse of medicines, but rather invite them to rethink their intentions. Whether or not they choose to believe it, selling medicines and ceremony intends profit off of another person’s pain. Let me ask you: How is that supposed to help them? How is that supposed to help you to think in a good way?

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, April 26, 2018

A housing-first model will help end homelessness in Nova Scotia

Offering a place to live to anyone who needs it is a cheap and effective alternative to social support networks.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2018 at 4:05 AM

VIA DAVID TREMBLAY, ON FACEBOOK
  • VIA DAVID TREMBLAY, ON FACEBOOK

In 2015, the city of Medicine Hat, Alberta took a compassionate and unprejudiced approach to ending homelessness by using a housing-first model.

Homes are offered to anyone who needs them. Ten days are now the most an individual or family stays in a Medicine Hat shelter. With a roof over their head, people are able to address other challenges; reducing the financial burdens in the health, justice and child welfare systems.

Housing someone in Medicine Hat costs about $20,000 a year. Leaving them on the street works out to around $100,000.

It’s high past time Nova Scotia look into similar programs to fill the gaps in this province’s spotty homeless support network.

Recently, it was found that Cape Breton has more homeless women than men. However, there is no shelter services for women on the island. Ally Centre of Cape Breton provides services during the day but at night the doors close. According to Christine Porter, who runs the centre, many women end up trading favours for a place to stay.

Then there was Lucy MacDonald, who sought help from a women’s shelter for herself and her daughter. Due to MacDonald working full-time, she was declined shelter but her daughter was accepted. Arbitrary red tape separated a mother and daughter during a very traumatic time in their lives.

We have a homelessness epidemic in Nova Scotia and the disingenuous approach is not working—it’s perpetuating it. We have shelters and outreach programs that all do great work, but it is not enough and we need to rethink how we invest in combatting this growing epidemic.

Leaving people in shelters and on the streets to work through the issues that caused them to become homeless is cruel, and we should be ashamed that we are willing to burden our health, justice and social service sectors financially instead of investing directly in the affected.

How can anyone overcome addiction or become mentally healthy living in shelters or sleeping rough? We house people together in shelters who are facing similar issues and expect miracles of them.

The average cost per person to stay in a shelter is $100 per day to the taxpayer. At $3,000 a month, that’s almost four times what a disabled ESIA recipient receives for shelter and personal allowance.

We have been using the same unviable approach for decades to ending homelessness and expecting different results. Our vulnerable need investment, not Band-Aids.

Medicine Hat mayor Ted Clugston had little faith in the housing-first initiative of his city at its outset, but within a year the cost savings motivated him to advocate other governments about using similar community models.

Utah has taken the same approach and reduced its chronic homelessness by 91 percent.

We can end homelessness, but we have to be bold and provide housing along with the means for basic needs to the homeless, without judgment.

It’s time to be compassionate and logical. We spend far too much on shelters and outreach programs. It’s time to rethink how we distribute the funds available to help some of our most vulnerable residents.

Homelessness can end with a community approach that is humane and that addresses the issues by actually investing in those impacted, instead of cumbersome programs with high costs that only patch over the problem.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Being a Jamaican man in Nova Scotia

Regardless of their level of education, Jamaicans can tell you all about Nova Scotia. It's a shame the opposite isn't true.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 2:04 PM

Maroon boys collecting wood in 1908. - H. H. JOHNSTON
  • Maroon boys collecting wood in 1908.
  • H. H. Johnston

Last week, Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin gave me my “told-you-so” moment of the month when she shared her concerns that legalizing marijuana could make Nova Scotians lazy like Jamaicans.

Smith-McCrossin said in a subsequent apology post on Facebook—since deleted—that her comments “were criticized as racist and insensitive.” Of course, they were.

Many quickly came to the defence of Jamaicans including Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil and Halifax’s new poet laureate Afua Cooper. Jamaican Cultural Association of Nova Scotia president Olive Phillips told the CBC Smith-McCrossin’s comments were “really disrespectful” and her generalizations have “no basis in fact.”

And what is even more egregious is that we all know that Jamaicans are some of the hardest working people around. The Netflix series Luke Cage had a character opine, “this brother got more jobs than a Jamaican!”

There were those who defended the MLAs statements as simply being conjecture. Many were shocked by her utterance. Not I.

The problem we have is that many people believe racism needs to be malicious for it to be called racism. We need to change this perception.

Growing up in Jamaica, Nova Scotia was spoken about with ecclesiastical reverence. The 1796 relocation of Maroons to Halifax is a solid part of the local primary school history curriculum.

Participants in the annual Farm Work Programme want their placement to be in Nova Scotia because they know about the historical connection that Jamaica has with the province and wish to experience this amazing land for themselves. 

Regardless of their level of education, Jamaicans can tell you about Nova Scotia welcoming Black Loyalists and escaped slaves from the Underground Railroad.

For many Jamaicans, Canada is Nova Scotia, Toronto and Vancouver—the rest might as well be terra nullius.

After spending over a decade living in Toronto, I was really excited to become Haligonian. Really excited.

“You know Halifax is the Mississippi of Canada, right?” said one friend. “Have you thought this through? Halifax is hella racist!” said another.

I should have known something was up when all the warnings were coming from my woke white friends. But the siren call of beaches, more craft beer than crosswalks and affordable rent outweighed their negativity.

And then I got here. I quickly realized that Nova Scotia’s motto—“One [hand] defends and the other conquers”—should be changed to “Defending micro-aggressions and racist behaviour since the 1600s.”

I love living in Halifax, but being Black, especially being Black with a foreign accent, is just damn hard here.

One night last summer as I was walking down Agricola four white men trailed me, heckling. They were asking why is it that I can say “nigger” (they used the hard R) but they cant.

I’ve never had this happen before, and as a mountain of a man, I immediately felt frail and afraid. I went home and cried.

During the third round of interviews for a local job, for which I was headhunted by a Toronto-based organization, I was told that “you are a great candidate but I am worried that you won’t fit in with the rest of the team because you weren’t born here.” That day I also went home and cried.

Having someone you thought was a friend call your outfit “thuggish” felt like a stab through the heart, and yes, you guessed it, that day I also cried.

I didn’t even cry during the opening scene of Up but there I was regularly feeding the north end my tears.

Saying that we have a race problem here in Nova Scotia sounds trite, especially with the troubled history that the province and the city of Halifax have had with Black and Indigenous peoples. But here we are in the age of easily-accessible information still having to deal with Proud Boys and statues of abominable men and sweeping generalizations about Jamaicans.

Don’t just apologize, do better.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

The FOIPOP breach and the dangers of criminalizing research

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2018 at 4:02 AM

Halifax Regional Police deputy chief Robin McNeil's brother, Stephen. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • Halifax Regional Police deputy chief Robin McNeil's brother, Stephen.
  • VIA FACEBOOK

Last December, two journalists in Myanmar, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were invited to dinner by police officers to discuss their research into war crimes carried out by the military. The officers handed them some documents, then immediately arrested them under the country’s Official Secrets Act for possessing the classified material.

Michael Karanicolas is a human rights advocate who works to promote freedom of expression, government transparency and digital rights. You can follow him on Twitter at @M_Karanicolas and @NSRighttoKnow. - SUBMITTED
  • Michael Karanicolas is a human rights advocate who works to promote freedom of expression, government transparency and digital rights. You can follow him on Twitter at @M_Karanicolas and @NSRighttoKnow.
  • SUBMITTED
As absurd as that case is, it is reminiscent of a story unfolding here in Nova Scotia in connection with the recent breach of the province’s Freedom of Information web portal. Although details of the case are still emerging, it seems as though the province left sensitive documents on publicly accessible URLs, alongside material it had cleared for release. These materials were then downloaded by a researcher using a program which automatically retrieves all available files connected to a website—a practice known as scraping. The researcher has since been charged with unauthorized use of a computer and may face up to 10 years imprisonment.

This was not a hack. Website scraping is a perfectly valid research tool, which is routinely done by journalists and researchers who may find a website’s built-in search and retrieval functions to be cumbersome and inefficient. The alleged perpetrator has since told journalists he thought the material was open to access, since it had been uploaded to the public freedom of information website. This seems like a reasonable assumption. Information which is available via the internet, with no safeguards for access, has for all intents and purposes been published.

Some have suggested that the researcher is being used as a scapegoat, to deflect from embarrassment at the security failures that led the province to distribute sensitive material. Whether or not that’s true, the uncertainty around the legality of what the researcher did is troubling. Unless there is some clear evidence of harmful intent, like for example that the alleged perpetrator was utilizing the information to commit identity theft, it seems difficult to justify charging them. It seems even more difficult to justify the heavy-handedness of the police response, which involved an early morning raid, 15 officers and the accused’s 13-year-old sister being questioned in the back of a police car.

It may not be fair to compare this case to that of the Myanmar journalists, who were deliberately entrapped, but the stories are similar as both relied on the good faith and competence of official sources. When a researcher visits a government website, they should be able to assume that the material which is made available is intended for public consumption and has been adequately vetted. Imagine a police van driving up to your street, dropping a few boxes of classified files onto the sidewalk, and then arresting anyone who stopped to take a look.

We still don’t know all the facts in this case. Maybe it will emerge that the researcher was, in fact, looking to siphon up personal information to facilitate identity theft. But if, as seems more likely, he was motivated by curiosity or legitimate research, the police and province owe him an apology for their rash and indefensible overreaction.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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Free speech warriors fighting a selective battle

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2018 at 4:02 AM

Smiling Goat protesters outside Just Us! two weeks ago. - THE COAST
  • Smiling Goat protesters outside Just Us! two weeks ago.
  • THE COAST

Nova Scotia loves to get on the bandwagon a few months or years after a trend has hit its saturation point everywhere else. It’s a few years late, but we’re still all in on hamburgers, re-opening coal mines and building failing convention centres. The latest cool thing from last year is enlisting to fight in the free speech wars.

Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. He is the co-host of Dog Island, Atlantic Canada’s premier cultural-Marxist podcast. - JALANI MORGAN
  • Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. He is the co-host of Dog Island, Atlantic Canada’s premier cultural-Marxist podcast.
  • JALANI MORGAN
If you’re in search of an off-brand version of Trump, Peterson or Shapiro in Nova Scotia, then you are in luck. This province has no shortage of aspiring public figures who have tried to cast themselves as martyrs telling hard truths, even if those truths are actually just demonstrably false. Rick Mehta and Matt Whitman are the most obvious local examples, following a now-tired script of saying wildly and intentionally offensive things and then acting aggrieved when they get the exact reaction they tried so hard to provoke. Whitman simply revels in the reaction but Mehta and his defenders have tried to frame his provocations as one piece in some bigger debate about fundamental freedoms.

Aside from being boring and largely inconsequential, these very public and very stupid debates often obscure much more about free speech than they elucidate. By concentrating almost exclusively on the rights of students, academics and professional commentators, free speech is cast as the right of an extremely narrow group of people, speaking or writing in very specific venues, often about issues which do not impact their daily lives or material survival.

In contrast, the most egregious assaults on the free expression of Nova Scotians in 2018 haven’t come from angry students, constituents or Twitter users, but instead from bosses. After going public with allegations of racism and indicating that they would be filing human rights complaints, six Black janitors say they were fired. Similarly, months of bouncing paychecks and other workplace issues led workers at six Smiling Goat coffee shops to apply public pressure to a boss who refuses to follow the already inadequate legal requirements of being a boss, including organizing the four previously non-unionized shops, holding rallies and speaking to the media. One worker alleges that after exercising his right to demand that he get paid, the Smiling Goat’s owner fired him.

Working people whose bosses have allegedly refused to follow basic employment and human rights law have—allegedly—been economically punished for talking about it. Threatening low-income workers with sudden unemployment if they speak out is an obvious assault on free speech, so where is the outrage from the national free speech organizations? Why haven’t we been blessed with the opinions of Toronto’s pundit class lamenting a culture of entrepreneurial entitlement? Where is the pearl-clutching from our local political commentators? For too many free speech warriors fighting over who is allowed to say what isn’t about a commitment to any real concept of economic or political liberty, it’s just another front in the culture 
war.

If we’re going to talk about our right to speak openly then we need to acknowledge something right off the bat: The vast majority of people do not study or work on a university campus, write a column or hold elected office. But almost all of us have had a shitty boss, and those shitty bosses already have way too much control over our lives. So if we’re going to have a debate about free speech let’s not make it a debate about whether or not ageing edgelords have the right to trigger the libs without any pushback. Let’s make it a fight about our need to be able to use our right to speak to make our lives and the lives of other people a little bit better. Because at the end of the day, the right to free speech doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have the right to tell a bad boss to fuck off and pay you the money you’re owed.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Five steps for making that dreamcatcher you liked on Pinterest


A Mi’kmaw woman whose culture does not originally include dreamcatchers gives your settler ass a step-by-step process. 


Posted By on Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 4:00 AM

VIA ISTOCK
  • via istock

You're a good person who really cares about diversity, inclusion and the plight of historically oppressed people. You have at least three tattoos from other cultures on your body, you do yoga, you don't wear headdresses to music festivals (we won't talk about that bindi or those white-people dreads) and you really appreciate and respect Indigenous cultural artifacts and artistic expression. So naturally, you want to make a dreamcatcher! Let me, a Mi'kmaw woman whose culture does not originally include dreamcatchers, give you a step-by-step process for making one.

1. Forget everything you learned about the diversity of Indigenous Peoples: That shouldn't be hard because it probably isn't much. With over 600 federally recognized Indigenous communities and over 60 distinct languages broken down into regional dialects, it can be hard to remember who's who and what's what when it comes to cultural appropriation. Furthermore, if we're all Indigenous, why do you need to know the difference between Métis, First Nations and Inuit? It's not like we have vastly different cultures or anything. Just think leathers, feathers, tipis and of course, dreamcatchers. Federally issued ID cards to prove ethnicity is a whole other kettle of fish and OMG, I just can't right now, OK?!

2. Somehow, if at all possible, tie this activity to reconciliation: Reconciliation is trendy AF right now. Sure there's that whole truth part where we, as a collective society, sit in the horrific understanding that Canada was built on genocide and colonization. Millions of people were killed and dispossessed from their land so some dude with a crown could own more. However, that sounds hard and it would really harsh your vibe. So you're going to harness the power of positive thinking and only think about what can assuage those pesky feelings of guilt that might creep in. After all, that would require a lot of learning and you're doing the best you can since your one Native acquaintance hasn't offered to be your personal tutor yet.

3. Prepare speaking points on why you didn't buy from an Indigenous artist: You will face backlash on your homemade dreamcatcher. Haters are gonna hate. Therefore, it's crucial you are prepared to defend your "Native-inspired" craft. I get it! You appreciate the craftsmanship of our traditional wares. But dang, Native art is EXPENSIVE. Why do we jack up the prices on a jumbling of sinew, sticks and feathers? It's not like a set of beaded earrings takes hours of practice to perfect or that each bead is stitched with intention and care. You don't have that kind of cash flow.

4. Actually make the damn thing: You've spent the last few hours prepping yourself to make a traditional Indigenous handicraft that has millennia of meaning, so naturally you go to the best and most authentic place to learn the technique: YouTube. A quick search yielded over 500,000 results so you'll have plenty of options. Connecting with community and building trust with elders takes too much time. There is an empty space on your living room wall where negative energies are creeping in and needs to be filled ASAP.

5. Instagram the shit out of it: If it's not on your story, did it really happen? Be sure to source out the best hashtags and scrutinize the filters. Once you are ready, hit post. Watch the notifications roll in. You're such a good ally and you didn't even have to interact with a single Indigenous person to do it. Pat yourself on the back. You deserve those likes.

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Vol 26, No 16
September 13, 2018

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