Saturday, April 9, 2011

A while back...

Come on in and grab a seat.  A while back a terrible thing happened.  Well actually years of terrible things happened and eventually all the shit hit the fan and then the First Nations University of Canada almost died.  The greed, lack of leadership, and outright dishonesty of quite a few people almost cost a lot of students a home, a lot of people a job, and the loss of a great institution of learning.  So we as students headed up to the FSIN General Assembly, and at first I was asked to speak, then I got turfed.  Why, I don't know.  But I wrote a very pretty speech that was edited by the ever caring and wonderful Cenobyte.  And I found it, and thought, it's a pretty nice piece of writing, and something that is still valid.  So I'm going to share it.

My name is Richard Jensen and I come from the Pasqua Reserve. I was named after my grandfather Walter Richard Gordon, and it is with my grandfather’s actions in mind that I speak today. Those actions coupled with the teachings of my elders and the faculty of the First Nations University of Canada are what fill my mind and spirit, and while I would welcome the credit for the words I wish to speak I must give those before me their due. What I wish to address today is the wisdom of those who have a far greater understanding of our ways, of our past, and the strength and courage it gives to all who would follow the path they first laid. And while these words may come from one who may seem out of place, or less than those he would address, I beg for you to consider not the messenger but instead the message, because without that strength and courage I would not be able to speak to you all today.

I have no claim to being an expert on the history of my people but I have had excellent teachers. They have taught me of how the leaders of the past were chosen, of the importance placed on leadership, and how it was both enacted and received. Our leaders were not seen as the final word on any given subject, instead they were the speakers and caretakers of our people. Their main goal was to serve the people who made them their leader. They did this through giving of themselves to the point of poverty and not through threats or deception. These leaders did not ask for trust but earned it with their actions and decisions, knowing that at any time their people could ignore them in favour of another. Communication was vital; they were open to all who would wish to speak to them and saw their leadership not just as an honour but a duty to continually improve the lives of those they led.

What made this work was the understanding that consensus was vital. A leader had to get the approval of everyone they led to put any plan into action. Without that nothing was done. This may have taken longer than more European systems but once consensus was reached the speed with which a plan was enacted was spectacular. When everyone is pulling for the same goal incredible things happen in a very short period of time. This meant that leaders had to listen as well as speak; they had to understand every nuance of the plan to make sure that the entire community was satisfied with the final decision. It also meant they had to know their community better than anyone else. And they had to know how and when to negotiate, when to compromise and the best manner in which to compromise.

These are the points I brought up in our meeting with the board of directors last Friday. My own experience as a student, as well as the things I have heard from other students and faculty, led me to question whether or not these were what our leaders at FNUC had in mind. When I was done asking my question, the entire room burst into applause. I was happy to be able to speak for all those in the room, but more than that I was incredibly saddened that this feeling of failed leadership, of a lack of communication, compassion, and understanding was shared by everyone in the room. Instead of answering my question, each board member stood on their soapbox and spouted their favorite political point about the university, from the right of education held within the Treaties, to an impassioned ‘I love this university’ appeal to emotion. They then proceeded to do what they have done for the past five years. They told us to be patient and trust them, to have faith that they indeed knew the truth of the matter and it would come out in time.

We, the students and the faculty of the FNUC, feel that their window of blind trust has been exhausted. We feel that they have done nothing to honour their roles as leaders and continue to abuse their positions. They know nothing of us as students, or as teachers, and they care little to rectify that. We may be mere students still making our way, but we know enough that we know that is the truth: There has to be a better way.

I understand that as a university there is certain requirements we must fulfill. I know that it is an entirely European modeled institution and as such we must satisfy those things that are expected from a university, but that does not mean we have to do them in the same context. We have to get to the same place but we do not have to follow the same road map. I am not speaking of a radical new way of doing things or even of seeing them, merely a subtle shift in perspective. Rather than seeing the university as something that must be done this way because that is the way it was done in the past, instead approach it as this is the structure we must maintain, how do we do it while being true to who we are as a people. How can the leaders of the students and faculty impart to them the knowledge of both the university system and knowledge of First Nations ideals and principles? Even a change such as complete transparency of board meetings and decisions, as well as an open communication between the upper levels of the administration and the general faculty would be a huge step in this direction, yet even this is not something that we have seen.

I am not here today to tell you what to do. We as students did not come here to demand your attention so we can get our way. What you see before you is an incredible example of consensus. We are all here today to tell you how we feel about the situation at FNUC and to beg you to consider us, people you have sworn to lead, at your mercy. We beg you to listen to us and to our concerns, as well as the beginnings of the solutions we have found and do what you find to be best for us. We pray and wait for your wisdom and judgment.

Kind of wish I had had the chance to say it aloud, but hey, some of you out there can still appreciate it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

It was the best of difference, it was the worst of difference

Come on in and partake of some chips and dip, or perhaps a super nib.  Sorry about only junk food, it's crunch time and things are getting stupid busy.  But I thought you all might enjoy a thoughtful read.

Unprecedented change and acceptance have marked the last thirty years of the relationship between First Nations and the Canadian government. Alongside this is the ever present dance of bureaucracy that has hindered any significant shifts in the perspective of the Canadian Government and public, forcing radical action on the part of First Nations, creating a larger gulf in the desire to mend and continue a self-sustaining and mutually beneficial relationship between the opposing forces. As Fleras puts it, “Instead of a principled approach to addressing the issues, what prevails is the equivalent of a political samba: every step forward is matched by one step back and two steps sideways.” (196) This bureaucratic dance is not one that the Canadian Government is doing alone, First Nations are just as complicit in the lack of resolution as its opposition. The unwillingness of either side to hear one another, to actively engage in the means through which both sides can work together, creates no space for dialogue, instead only a battlefield where victories are counted in cash, concessions and control. Both sides must realize that Canada as a nation, and the First Nations of Canada as a group within that structure, are staring at an unequaled opportunity, one that would restore balance to our country, not just for the First Nations, but all Canadians, and that would right the wrongs of Canada’s history of facilitating other human rights atrocities like South Africa and Australia, who modeled their divisive policies on our own. What it takes is the honest desire to adopt an altered perspective, embrace each other’s goal of inclusion, and demonstrate trust and caring for all members involved.

The most important aspects here are the two narratives, narratives that are in part displayed in two books of radically different intents. On one side, First Nations? Second Thoughts by Tom Flanagan, a book that attempts to dissolve the accepted ideas of nationhood and sovereignty as the First Nations view it, challenging what Flanagan sees as the prevalent orthodoxy of our time using sociological constructs from the 18th century. On the other side is Dale Turner’s This is Not a Peace Pipe, an attempt at a methodology to place First Nations thought and philosophy at the forefront of the discussion as a means through which aboriginality can be accessed and then enforced within Canada, yet he ignores the spirituality, the very foundation of First Nations philosophy, as unnecessary. Both of these books present a very different narrative, each from a generally accepted point of view on each side of the political divide, yet both fall far short of any meaningful change. Instead it is as Fleras points out, employing a brilliant metaphor using tectonic movements, “As perspectives slide into each other, past each other, around each other, and over or under each other, each of the “plates” tends to “talk past the other” by using the same words but speaking a different language.” (202) To expand this metaphor, as the plates move along, around, over, under, past, each other, they build up an intense amount of pressure and force, crushing and obliterating the space between, turning the meeting place from a source of discussion and understanding, to pulverized rock and debris, a barren place of raw open wounds.

Sadly, few have attempted to find a dialogue or language to share in this conflict. Closest is A Fair Country, by John Ralston Saul who takes the time to point out the parts of Canadian tradition and policy that are inherently First Nations or French ideals. His book is an attempt to inform all sides of their shared language, their shared narratives. He does so from the point of scolding the dominant culture for their ignorance of this shared history, by highlighting the places in Canada society, such as laws of common law marriage, the organization and operation of our modern military, and the very language of our constitution, where the Anglo culture has homogenized the ideas of others to lay claim to them, appropriating those things that they admired, but by doing so fundamentally robbed the other founding cultures of Canada.

On the surface, all three books seem to be a neat dialectic: thesis (Flanagan) to antithesis (Turner) forming a synthesis (Saul) yet the dialectic is the exact issue here. The perspective of trying to find a way to mesh the two points of view into a workable approach that will satisfy both sides is the very thing that is causing both sides to become so antagonistic and further separated. In the dialectic the thesis side will always be considered dominant and rather than a synthesis what is created is a devouring of the antithesis. This constant undercutting of the antithesis is easily visible in the official record of Canada’s treatment of First Nations, because even when a form of victory is achieved, such as the non-decision that was the Calder case, that same ruling is then used to shackle further restrictions, such as the traditional use clause, on First Nations activities. Now new approaches have to be made, new strategies on both sides formed, to achieve the progress that was intended. Forward once, backward once, and two steps to the side.

The First Nation demand to be recognized as different is the major sticking point, the one issue that seems to continually cause a complete inability to progress beyond initial talks, or create policy and procedure for future change. Fleras does a good job of summarizing what that issue is grounded in but fails to properly explain the point of view, the perception of that difference. Without this understanding of the point of view, without being able to shift perception, the argument comes across as overly simplistic and childish, “In short, Aboriginal difference is key. Without difference, Aboriginal peoples have no more moral authority than other Canadians to challenge and transform the constitutional order.” (Fleras 185) What this difference flows from is just as important as the difference itself.

Summarizing the First Nation perspective on sovereignty, and in English, is no easy task. But for the sake of the argument I will attempt to explain it. For over 35000 years, the time since the initial Beringian crossings, the First Nations of North America have made this place their home. They fought no wars for it, they claim no dominion over it, and they wish to share it freely with all who wish to come here. For that very reason, for the thirty five millennia that they lived here pre-European contact, they considered themselves just one nation amongst thousands of brothers and sisters, animals, plants, the rocks (Grandfathers), the wind, rain, water, and the air itself. This is their home and no other home will do. Oral histories span this entire time, and will continue to do so as long as even a single First Nations person lives on Turtle Island. Therefore the sovereign right to be considered a Nation is no different than the rights extended to all other creatures, including the visiting Europeans, as was the wish of the Creator, taught to the First Ones, and handed down as the perfect knowledges of achieving a Good Life. To the First Nations, these are not rights that one human can give to another; they are not rights at all, other than in the trappings of European imperialism. They are simply the way things are done. Like no one individual can perfectly know another individual’s thoughts, no other nation can truly know another nation. It is from these differences, understanding and learning them, that differences can be seen to strengthen rather than separate.

Under this point of view, other approaches, other knowings, start to become apparent. Flanagan’s arguments are true, for him and for many Canadians. If this is the case then instead of attacking Flanagan and his supporters for their belief, First Nations must carefully consider how Flanagan’s arguments inform the rest of the resistance met within the Canadian government. If “Sovereignty is an attribute of statehood, and aboriginal peoples in Canada had not arrived at the state level of political organization prior to contact with Europeans,” (Flanagan 6) then how do First Nations present themselves to Canada so they can be recognized as having achieved statehood. While the traditional response to this has been one in line with the colonizers thoughts, it is better if we look to Turner to understand another response that is suggested to this form of thinking. Turner states that First Nations sacred ways of knowing must be kept from European culture, as “history has shown us that at least at this time in the relationship, we must keep to ourselves our sacred knowledge.” (110) This is due in no small part to the naming of his book, knowing that Europeans would be given a pipe, or steal one, and that by presenting it as they travelled through First Nations territories they would be welcomed and go unmolested, abusing and perverting one of the sacred rites of First Nations people. His strategy then is in direct conflict with the dominant force, disallowing them from understanding, instead relying on a class of people called Word Warriors who would be trained along both traditional First Nations ways and in European philosophy and thought, so they might go into the hostile territory of Canadian legal and intellectual battlefields to defend aboriginality.

In this equation we get Saul’s contribution. He eloquently points out where all of the conflicting parties intersect and support one another. In a very clear way he establishes the three pillars of the foundation of Canada and shows the intertwining path that has led us to the nation we know today. So in this we can assume that we now have a means through which discussion can occur, but again, I feel he has missed the mark, particularly from the point of view of the First Nations.

Fleras is important to point out aboriginal difference. It is one of the cornerstones of understanding within the First Nation perspective. To paraphrase D’Arcy Rheault from his work on Mino-Bimaadziwin, understanding is intensely personal, and truth is always going to be a personal interpretation of the reality around the individual, therefore understanding the self, and the difference between the self and others, is the path through which outside understanding can be attained.

To put this concept another way, it is not important to discuss those things that are the same, as they should be self-evident, instead it is far more important to understand and celebrate the differences as those will lead to understanding and further dialogue. This is essential to the ongoing nature of such things as treaties in the First Nation perspective, as these agreements should be living things, a dynamic agreement between equals for the betterment of all.

While these philosophical underpinnings are important to point out, it is the actions that are taken after consideration that are important. Essentially a blueprint for what needs to be done between the Canadian Government and First Nations communities that will allow the true understanding of difference and how those differences can strengthen both sides. Unfortunately one side has already experienced and lived the life of the other and shows a high degree of understanding that difference. It is now time to put that knowledge to use, but not in a confrontational manner.

First Nations, who have attempted various ways to fit into, around, or under the dominant Canadian society must now step back, stop fighting. The fight is not working, nor will it ever, because as history has shown us, the rules can always be changed to disadvantage the First Nations people. Instead, knowing how the system works, a stance of engaged interest and protective action must be taken. When it is necessary fight specific battles to protect important interests, but the overall fight to have the Canadian government recognize the sovereign right of First Nations to be First Nations is not going to be accepted until First Nations act as sovereign nations. Land claims, treaty fulfillments, and systemic racism still needs to be fought for, but the larger battle to be recognized as an independent nation must instead fall to recognition on an international scale. Talks opened with international organizations that will include First Nations representatives into their decision making processes. The end result is not important, instead the process.

A step back to look within is also required. But this inward look should not be insular, or restricted. It must invite others, from other nations, from the Canadian government, to be as much a part of the process as they wish to be. Understanding of First Nations culture will then become less a project of resolution, but instead a part of the overall process, which again, is far more important than the end result. This inward look must rely on the dismantling of organization models that are not inherently First Nations, but still incorporate those things from other cultures that are productive and compatible with First Nations philosophies. Acting independently of the Canadian Government requirements will demonstrate nationhood far greater than trying to emulate or adopt other forms of government.

Financially, First Nations need to start focusing on the creation of community wealth and well-being. Rather than worry about immediate needs, far reaching plans need to be developed on a community by community basis, and these plans need to be shared outward, from neighbours, and further, so they can become interwoven, resources shared where needed, and strategies that focus on the individual’s importance in each community must be the focal point. Once individuals are considered, and how they create and strengthen the community, then action that includes the entire community will be stronger and far more effective.

Once these actions are demonstrated to be effective, through trial and error, and communities start to become self-sustaining and independent, then what choice is there but to recognize difference? There is nothing more telling of difference than to succeed where others have failed, and while great changes have occurred within the landscape of Canadian politics and policy, the changes that matter still need to come from within the First Nations communities. Once those differences assert themselves, and are accepted as a part of the strength of Canada as a nation, then true change, change that will be long lasting, effective, and positive, will allow the overall nation of Canada to attain the multicultural greatness it claims on the international stage.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Maybe it's just me

Come on in, I've got those wonderful Old Dutch Crunchy Nacho flavour cheezie type things.  So tasty.  And I've got a few musings/rantings that I just need to get off my chest.

I think it comes down to a question about myself.  But the framework of how the question comes around is fundamentally formed (ooooo, alliteration of framework fundamentally formed) by the actions of those around me.  Now it's no secret that I have shown I pretty much suck at making a long term relationship work.  I think it might come down to my rage.  I just get so pissed at things that sometimes that intensity is a bit frightening, hell a lot frightening.  So hey, maybe that's the answer.  I dunno.  But let's just say I apparently can't do it.

And the frustration comes from seeing both the good and bad relationships, the ones that have stuck together, the ones that have failed, and the ones in between, that I have observed around myself.  On the one hand I see folks do the same things I have done and while there are consequences, those consequences are not the abandonment of the relationship.  Except in my case.  Which makes me think, maybe there is something fundamentally wrong with me that I cannot be in a relationship.  Of course there is a subtle hope that maybe I just haven't met the right woman yet.  But hey, if there is someone or something that has control of these things and they are reading, WHEN?!  Pretty freakin' old now, my body is doing some interestingly disgusting thing (The hair, where the hell did all this HAIR come from?!) so it's not like I'ma gettin' all that more attractive. 

So anyways, what prompts this is the back and forth that has happened over my life with many different women.  I meet them, we hit it off, we have a great relationship, they, for the most part, cheat on me and dump me, then crawl back.  The exception to the cheating and crawl back is the latest, where I can't see to let this shit go, but lord help me I'm trying. 

And still, years later with these women, I hear their complaints, they call or chat with me about things that might be seen as a bit risque, and I always have to wonder, what do their current husbands have, that in spite of the complaints, keep their mates sticking around.  Can't be the kids.  Have done that, they still leave.  Can't be the romance, I'm pretty damn romantic.  So there is about a million things I could try to figure out but when it comes down to is, perhaps it's just me.  Which is really damn depressing. 

Now don't get me wrong, this isn't a whine or a call for attention, it's an honest question about myself, and I tend to come to some understanding through writing this shit out, but y'know what, this isn't the first I've written about this, nor will it likely be the last, and still no fucking epiphanies!  In fact, it just keeps getting worse as far as trying to figure this shit out. 

And it's not like I honestly want to go back into ANY of these relationships, even the last one, despite my heart deciding it doesn't want to let go, because I'm sick of the pain and suffering they cause me.  So maybe that's it, being around people, in generally, is somewhat difficult for me, because I get easily frustrated by human behavior, so maybe that's it.  Or maybe I'm just too serious about all this, and my level of intensity tends to cause reserve in others.

Honestly, dunno.  What I do know is I could write a fucking book on how often I've been told 'Oh you're great, but I'd rather be with someone else,' or better yet, 'I only wish I had the maturity now that I had then to understand how great you are.'  REALLY?  Fuck you, yeah, that really makes me feel great.  Or my favorite, when they come back right after fucking around, 'I didn't realize how good I had it with you.'  WHAT?!  I'm so glad I was so great you needed to make a comparison first. 

Or maybe it's that I just tend to attract the crazy bitches.  And my own intensity amplifies their craziness, and then they go all bat shit fucked up retard stupid crazy and have to do something that hurt me and themselves.  I dunno.  It's one of those things that I'm sure will continue to escape my understanding.  Hell even when I think I've found a reserved quiet type they either go super slut or Queen of Passive Aggressive and once again, I'm left alone.

Y'know what?  Sheldon's mailman is right.  'Bitches be crazy.'  Perhaps I should reserve myself to a life of solitude and masturbation.  At least then I know I'm going to enjoy myself and not have to deal with any other fucked up individuals issues.  So maybe it is me.  Maybe I've decided I don't deserve a long term relationship so I allow it to get to a point of no return and then shove that bitch right over the edge and BOOM!  All gone. 

So female readers, here is an honest request.  I'd love to know why you're with who you're with.  Or what factors decide if you're going to stay or leave.  I'd really like to know from as many as possible.  Your information may save a life.  Well probably not, but hyperbolic statements encourage activity.  I think.  Whatever.  But yeah, leave a thought or two about that, I'd love to know.