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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A Review of Calvin Helin's Dances With Spirits: Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World

Disclaimer: My references to the writings of other people--both indigenous and non-indigenous--do not in any way imply that they share my views on this matter.  The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of my family, friends or associates.

Note:  The photos included with this post were taken by me.  The turtle artwork is by my mother, Jay Peterson (1920-1976).  Although none of these images have any direct connection with the material being discussed, Helin stresses, in Dances With Spirits, that "we are inseparable from nature."  My regular walks through my neighbourhood remind me of this.

Calvin Helin is a "member of the Tsimshian Nation," and is originally from the community of Lax Kw'alaams, which is on the Northwest coast of the province of British Columbia, in Canada.  Now he lives in Vancouver, which is a city in the southern part of the same province.  He is "the son of a hereditary chief," and an "entrepreneur, lawyer and best-selling author."

His book, Dances With Spirits: Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World (2014), "guides readers in applying ancient wisdom for a better understanding of today's complex modern world.  Millions crave spiritual fulfillment in a time of broken social relations.  Yet most are confused as to why their deepest yearnings for meaning and a kinder, gentler way of life are becoming more distant. . ."
". . .We live in a skewed society, focused on technology and money.  Through understanding our true nature, a better existence can be created."

Before I start my Dances With Spirits review, I will briefly discuss two of Helin's other books, which I have also read.

View from bridge, London, Ontario, May 25, 2014
A.          Dances With Dependency: Indigenous Success Through Self-Reliance (2006)

In Dances With Dependency, Helin argues that "[t]he current governance system is not only antiquated, but politically disempowers a substantial portion of the indigenous population, concentrates power and financial resources in the hands of a few elites, provides for painfully poor political and financial accountability and transparency, and continues to encourage a culture of dependency" (259-260).  He concludes that "simply throwing money at the problem will never lead to a long-term solution and may actually be exacerbating existing struggles.  Aboriginal people need a new generation of ethical leadership. . .with the courage to take the real action necessary for a brighter future" (265).

When I read this book in 2007, I was happy to learn that an aboriginal person shared my (non-aboriginal) view that the current "system" sometimes does more harm than good.  I was also pleased that he stressed the importance of self-reliance.

I assumed that, because he is an indigenous person, he probably had no trouble getting the book published.  So I was surprised to learn, in 2011, that he got 32 rejection letters for his Dances With Dependency manuscript.  Publishers told him they thought the aboriginal leadership would be offended because he "touched on reserve corruption."  Consequently, he borrowed $100,000 and published it himself.  He said in a 2010 interview that the majority of people who purchased the book were "grassroots" indigenous people.  When asked what the aboriginal leaders thought of his ideas, he responded that some shared his concerns, but others "wished he was at the bottom of a lake."  Regardless, the book is a bestseller seven times over.

In some of the previous posts on this blog, I have spoken about the different ways I became disillusioned with the aboriginal situation, and the fact that, since about the mid-2000s, I have primarily been on the outside looking in.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of aboriginals, like Helin, who are striving to not only improve the situation for their people, but also to help educate the non-aboriginal population about how we can all constructively move forward.  I always enjoy reading the stories of these courageous reformers.  I know from personal experience that it is hard for anyone to question the "elites" and the "system," so I recognize how brave they are.

Naturalized area in London, Ontario, September 19, 2014
B.          The Empowerment Mindset: Success Through Self-Knowledge (2012)

The target audience for Dances With Dependency was the aboriginal population.  But The Empowerment Mindset is addressed to everyone, regardless of race.  Helin's travels through life made him realize that "negative emotions and toxic thoughts" were holding back not only aboriginal, but also non-aboriginal, people.  In this book, he provides recommendations to help people find "constructive and fulfilling ways to attain success and happiness" (15).  He lists 10 "Laws of Empowerment" such as the importance of "hard work and sustained effort," and the need to adhere to a "strategic plan."

This book helped me to counter my own "mental and emotional sabotage" and to become more focussed on fulfilling my goals.

C.          Dances With Spirits: Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World (2014)

Dances With Spirits, like The Empowerment Mindset, is written for everyone.  The book helped me understand better why historically and currently some indigenous people are reluctant to assimilate into mainstream society.  Although Helin acknowledges that many aspects of mainstream thought can be positive, he feels there needs to be more balance and perspective.

The book is divided into three parts, which I will discuss below.  However, I have only included topics from each part that are particularly interesting to me, so it is not an exhaustive compilation.  After each topic, I have included "personal observations" as to how the topic relates to me.

C.1        Part I - When Myths Make a Mess

This part of the book "examines the structure of our current economic model and its economic, social, psychological, and spiritual impacts" (xxv).

C.1.1      Vicious Cycle of Consumption

Helin argues that advertising and marketing make people think "the only route to happiness is to consume ever more stuff" (9).  He says the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) "is deeply flawed because it is based on consumption by the population, rather than a broad range of aspects that reflect national well-being" (10).

Personal observations: My father, Charles T. Peterson (1913-2007), frequently warned me and others that our possessions could kill us.  As my first cousin's partner, Jim McClocklin, said at my father's funeral: "Uncle Chuck knew that life was not about things--life is about developing relationships and making memories."

The older I get, the more I understand what my father meant.  When I see advertising that urges me to hurry up and buy something, I ask myself whether I really need whatever it is.  Often the answer is I do not.

C.1.2      When Debt Leads to Slavery

Helin cites statistics regarding the alarming level of debt in the United States.  He contends we need to "do more with less" (31-34).

Personal observations: The same is true on this side of the border.  According to an analysis by the McKinsey Global Institute, Canada, among other countries, now has a greater household debt load than what existed at the height of the "credit bubble" in the United States and the United Kingdom.  Canadian debt increased to 162.6 per cent in the third quarter of 2014.  The study found that Canada is one of the countries most at risk of foreclosures and bankruptcies.

I have a hard time understanding why so many people take the plunge into debt, just because they want to "keep up with the Joneses." 

C.2        Part II - Veils to Vision

This part "discusses aspects of a vision for a new economic model that better addresses our social and spiritual well-being as well as our economic needs" (xxv-xxvi).

Wildflower, London, Ontario, July 15, 2014
C.2.1     The Technology Trap

Helin provides compelling arguments why technology, if not used wisely, can contribute to a whole host of problems.  For example:

• A study showed that students disconnected from their digital devices, for even a period as short as 24 hours, developed withdrawal symptoms similar to those of substance abusers.

• People are losing touch with the natural world and with each other because they are so immersed in the digital world (71-76).

Personal observations: What I find particularly disturbing about the "technology trap" is it can cause people to risk their own lives and those of others.  More than five years ago, the province of Ontario, in Canada, banned the use of portable device assistants behind the wheel.  And last year, the fine for breaking the law went up to $1,000.  Yet in 2014, police in London, Ontario laid 2,187 charges in this regard--close to double the number from three years ago.

C.2.2      Funnel Vision

Helin uses the phrase "funnel vision" to describe the tendency of Western cultures to "judge technologically poor societies as inferior."  This approach blinds many Westerners from seeing the cultural and spiritual strengths that frequently exist in societies other than their own.  This lack of recognition and support has caused many ways of life, including indigenous, to be eroded and, in some cases, to die off completely (81-84).

Personal observations: My family home was known as the "United Nations" because people of many different backgrounds passed through our doors.  So I grew up learning about the diversity of world views.

My mother, Jay Peterson, initially got involved with aboriginal issues in 1958.  From about 1969 until her passing in 1976, she devoted a large percentage of her time to helping educate people about the indigenous situation.  For instance, she taught a Native Studies course at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario.  Aboriginal people were frequently guest lecturers at this course.

I have some of the materials from her Fanshawe College course, including a one-pager entitled "Ways of Wisdom."  Twenty-one aboriginals from different tribes across the country helped my mother assemble this document.  It includes 11 observations, such as native people "were more interested in BEING than BECOMING."

My mother's relationship with aboriginal people led to my getting connected to the "cause."  From 1975 to 1987, I worked primarily in native organizations in Southern and Northern Ontario and the Northwest Territories.  But, as explained earlier in this post, I have mainly been on the outside looking in for about the past 10 years.

My mother's indigenous experiences spanned an 18-year period, but mine have lasted for more than 55 years.  Although I share her view that non-aboriginal people need to be better informed about the history and heritage of indigenous people, my approach is quite different from hers in other respects.  If you want to know more about my opinion on this, you can check out my other posts on this blog.

Artwork by Jay Peterson, ca. 1964-1974
C.          Part III - Creating Harmony

This final part "explores how we can incorporate the knowledge of past societies into a vision for a new economic model that can lead to a more holistic well-being that includes our social and spiritual dimensions" (xxvi).

C.3.1       A New Definition of Wealth and Progress

Helin contends a new international standard needs to be developed.  This standard would include making adjustments to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) so it takes into account factors such as environmental sustainability and individual and government debts.  Quality of life, education levels, responsible governance and other measures can then be incorporated in (105-110).

Personal observations: Because of reading this book, I have become more aware of how much media commentary revolves around the GDP as a measurement of the country's health.  I agree with Helin that we need to adjust the measurements for this.

C.3.2        Finding Common Ground

It was refreshing to read Helin's arguments for why all people on this planet need to find "common ground."  It was even more refreshing to read his acknowledgement that we all need to move beyond the various intolerances that have emerged in our respective cultures, and try to work together for the best of all.

This is my favourite quote in the book:

As long as the views of one group are not harming another, we should tolerate others in the spirit of respect, cooperation and goodwill, recognizing that we are not diminished by differences as a species, but are ultimately strengthened by them.  Instead of promoting hate and suspicion about each other, we need to promote tolerance and understanding (123).

Personal observations:  These are what I think the implications are for aboriginal policy.  I contend there are three major positions: parallelist, integrationist and assimilationist.

Alan Cairns was the first to use the term parallelism, which he described as "Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities travelling side by side, coexisting but not getting in each other's way."  But Cairns is not a proponent of the term that he coined.  The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People (1996) advocated parallelism, that is, forming a third order of government separate from non-aboriginal society.

Integrationists, on the other hand, believe that a total separation of the cultures is not necessary or warranted.  However, there are many variations of this view.

Assimilationists prefer that aboriginals become part of mainstream society.  About a third of Canadian aboriginals have chosen this route, and do not identify themselves as such in the federal census.

I do not have any problem with aboriginals maintaining their culture and governance models, as long as they are also willing to remain part of the Canadian state.  I also contend that those aspects of aboriginal culture that may be harmful to any race should not be retained.  So I see my views in the integrationist category.

My impression, after reading three of Helin's books, is that his views also fall into the integrationist slot.  I think this approach is the best route forward for all Canadians.

Tree, London, Ontario, September 19, 2014
D.          The "Body, Mind & Spirit" interview with Calvin Helin, October 1, 2014.  Host Patricia Kennedy and co-host Leith Peterson

"Body, Mind & Spirit" is a CHRW 94.9 FM radio show at Western University in London, Ontario.  The show airs three times a month, and the host is registered nurse, Patricia Kennedy.  The show "explores holistic medicine, practitioners, research, health issues and more."  Around late August 2014, Kennedy asked me if I would be willing to appear on the show, to discuss the book I am working on, which is about my two generations of experience with aboriginal issues.  I told her I was declining interviews until my book is hopefully published.  However, I suggested that she consider speaking with Calvin Helin about his book Dances With Spirits.  This is because I thought many of the issues he discusses related well to her show's theme.

Kennedy said my suggestion was good, as long as I agreed to be co-host.  Helin agreed to be interviewed by Kennedy and me on October 1, 2014.  There is a permanent link to the show audio at  Go to "Shows & Events," then "Body, Mind & Spirit," then October 1, 2014.  Or go to "Blog," then October 2, 2014.

There are a number of technical glitches during the first 20 minutes or so, but all the people I have spoken with, who have listened to the approximately 57-minute broadcast, say they were glad they heard it.  Quite a few said they planned to read Dances With Spirits, and some also spoke of checking out some of his other books.

If you decide to listen, I apologize in advance for my poor delivery, particularly during the first part of the show.  Had extensive training at college and university regarding how to properly present myself verbally, but all that accumulated knowledge escaped me the morning the show was recorded.  Will endeavour to do better if I ever have to do anything like this again.


Cairns, Alan C.  Citizens Plus: Aboriginal People and the Canadian State.  Toronto: UBC Press, 2000.

Council of Reference - Ways.  Fanshawe College Canadian Studies Native Peoples I - Ways of Wisdom [course handout, unpublished].  Fanshawe College Native Studies, ca. 1971-1974.

Grant, Tavia.  "New alarm bells over household debt as Canada faces 'downward spiral.'"  Globe and Mail, February 5, 2015.

Helin, Calvin.  Dances With Dependency: Indigenous Success Through Self-Reliance.  Vancouver: Orca Spirit, 2006.

Helin, Calvin.  Dances With Spirits: Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World.  Los Angeles: Premier Digital, 2014.

Helin, Calvin.  The Empowerment Mindset: Success Through Self-Knowledge.  Los Angeles: Premier Digital, 2012.

Jacobs, Mindelle.  "First nations, last place: Chiefs and councils keep bands dependent, says author." Edmonton Sun, November 17, 2010.

McClocklin, Jim.  Charles T. Peterson [eulogy, unpublished].  April 4, 2007.

Peterson, Jay.  Phase Five: Experiencing Equality [seminar, unpublished].  University of Western Ontario, Department of Occupational Therapy, March 1975.

Rollason, Kevin.  "Native lawyer slams aboriginal welfare."  Winnipeg Free Press, January 21, 2011.

Van Brenk, Deborah.  "The number of distracted driving tickets handed out by London police keeps going up - as is the number of collisions in the city."  London Free Press, January 28, 2015.

Vancouver Sun.  "Enormous opportunities seen for first nations entrepreneurs."  April 6, 2011. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Thomas King's "The Inconvenient Indian" - A Sometimes Contradictory, But Occasionally Constructive, Rant

Disclaimer: My references to the writings of other people--both native and non-native--do not in any way imply that they share my views on this matter.   The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my family, friends or associates.

A.        Introduction

I read Thomas King's The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (2012) twice.  This was not because I enjoyed it so much, I just had to read it again.  It was because the terrain that he navigates is all too familiar to me, and I was concerned my initial analysis might be laden too much with personal, rather than objective, reactions.  King and I are from roughly the same era, and I was directly or indirectly connected with quite a few of the people and events that he talks about.  But we come away with remarkably different analyses of the situation.

King chronicles his views on the interactions between native and non-native peoples in North America since contact.  The publisher (Doubleday Canada) describes it as "at once a history and the subversion of history."  However, King acknowledges that it is more an account than a history because he does not follow "the demands of scholarship" (x).  The book has no footnotes or bibliography.  In addition, the index leaves something to be desired; sometimes keywords are listed and other times they are not.

King contends there is no one word that can cover all aboriginals in North America "because there was never a collective to begin with" (xiii).  (The Metis and Inuit get comparatively little attention in the book.)  He decided to use Indian in the title because he considered it "the North American default" (xiii).  I do think The Inconvenient Indian aptly conveys the work's content.

King frequently uses the term "North American," rather than Canadian or American, because he says the border is not as important to aboriginals as it is to whites (xvi).  I cannot find the spot in the book where he provides a definition for what he means by North American, but I am assuming by the context he is referring to a mindset that operates outside of what he considers to be the aboriginal one.

I agree with those commentators who believe some of the book's popularity may be because it came out shortly before the anti-Bill C-45 protests in December 2012 and January 2013.  It remained on the Canadian bestseller lists for 20 weeks after it was released in November 2012, making it to the number one spot for a while.

(Note:  opposition to Bill C-45 has commonly been referred to as the Idle No More (INM) movement.  I prefer, nonetheless, to stay away from this term, since a number of the INM founders stated they did not condone the actions taken by some under this moniker.  In fact, there is still a lot of controversy going on within the native community about INM and what its philosophy should be.)

Although there have been some aboriginal protests since the major activism more than a year ago, they have not been as widespread.  Yet King's book is still attracting readership.  As of February 1, 2014, it was in seventh place out of 10 on the Globe's Canadian Non-Fiction Bestseller List.

I suspect one of the main reasons why the book has remained popular is because King does a very good job of making the reader understand why aboriginal discontent did not just spring up out of nowhere.  He also vividly demonstrates how stereotypes of Indians have led to a lot of misconceptions and ill feelings between the races.  But the downside of the book is that, while he lays out many of the contentious issues (such as the fact that "whites want land"), he offers little in the way of constructive solutions.  In addition, he frequently contradicts himself.  I will elaborate on all these points later in this post.

B.        King - Brief Biography

King was born in 1943 in California.  When he was about five years old, his Cherokee father abandoned his Greek/German mother, brother and him.  He never lived on a reservation, but his mother made sure he kept in touch with his aboriginal relatives.  Outside of a few years in the 1960s working in New Zealand and later Australia, he spent the rest of his early life in the United States.  In 1967, he got involved with native activism when he started attending Chico State University (BA, 1970, MA 1972).  He later taught and did administrative work at Humboldt State University and the University of Utah (PhD 1986).

He has been married twice, having one son by his (presumably non-native) first wife, and a son and daughter with his current, non-native wife, Helen Hoy.  He met Hoy after he moved to Canada in 1980, and started working in the Native Studies Department at the University of Lethbridge.  Hoy and he later taught at the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph, where they both specialized in aboriginal-related courses (they recently retired).

King got into his writing more seriously after moving to Canada.  His works (mainly fiction) explore many facets of aboriginal life, and he often employs humour to get his point across.  Before The Inconvenient Indian's publication, he was best known for his novel Green Grass, Running Water (1993) and for his role on CBC Radio's "Dead Dog Cafe" show (1997-2000).  For further information on his background, please consult the bibliography at the end of this post.

C.        King and I - Similar Terrain But Divergent Paths

My late parents got involved with aboriginal issues in the late 1950s when I was a child, so I grew up with this matter constantly around me.  From 1975 to 1987, I worked primarily in native organizations in Southern and Northern Ontario and the Northwest Territories.  Until around the mid-2000s, I maintained a relatively close connection to the "cause," but since then have been generally keeping my distance, for reasons that I discuss in other posts on this blog.

There are many scenarios in King's book that I am familiar with because of my background.  For instance, in June 1978, I had an article published about a walk by approximately 500 native people from all over North America who were protesting "anti-Indian legislation."  The "longest walk," from Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, to Washington, D.C., took place from February to July 1978.  King describes the 19th century Trail of Tears, which was one of the motivations behind the 1978 "longest walk" in the book (88, 123).

Another anecdote that brought back some memories for me was when King related a harrowing experience he had in 1973.  Some other protesters and he were riding in a van heading for Salt Lake City; they were going there to participate in a rally in support of Wounded Knee.  The police pulled the van over at the Wyoming border, and at one point, a gun was aimed directly at him.

My connection to this border incident is far less dramatic: an aboriginal woman from a Southern Ontario reserve and I took a car trip through the Northern United States in the summer of 1978.  When we got to the North Dakota border (en route to Saskatchewan), the border guard asked us where we were from.  I dutifully said I was from London, Ontario, but she repeatedly said she was a "North American Indian," and refused to clarify the reserve where she lived was in Canada.  The guard told us to get out of the vehicle, and then inspected every part of it, presumably looking for something illegal.  We were finally allowed to proceed after an hour.  I doubt it took him that long to search the car; I think he just wanted to delay us, to hammer the point home that my associate's response was not acceptable.

So when King talks about the unrest that has gone on in the United States, I have some idea what he is talking about.  In terms of the Canadian references, there are no personal examples that stand out for me.  However, there are two that, although I do not have direct experience with, I know a fair bit about: the Caledonia, Ontario crisis and Canadian aboriginals' views of property rights.

I discussed my concerns about King's coverage of the Caledonia crisis in my review of the blog "Six Nations (Haudenosaunee) & the Haldimand Tract: Beliefs Versus Facts," February 2, 2014, which can be found here.

King deals fairly extensively with aboriginals' views of property rights on both sides of the border.  I do not know much about what is going on in the United States, but I have read quite a bit about the Canadian situation.  He contends that "Indians, through inclination or treaty, held land in common" (129).  But C.T. (Manny) Jules, who is the First Nations Property Ownership Initiative (FNPO) chief commissioner, and former chief of the Kamloops Indian band in B.C., says historically bands such as his had "governments that financed themselves" and that allowed for "individual property rights."  He asserts that the Indian Act removed his band from the economy, and this needs to be rectified with a "secure property rights system" that protects "title and underlying jurisdiction."

King claims it is erroneous to think that aboriginal people want "individual freedom to pursue economic growth" like their non-aboriginal counterparts (118).  But Shane Gottfriedson, who is chief of the Kamloops band (same band that Jules is from), does not share this view.  He says his band is a proponent of the FNPO because it will help "to break the dependency culture. . ."

Because of my personal background, and because I have done considerable research into many of the topics he covers, I frequently realize when King's assertions are questionable.  What bothers me is about two-thirds of the online reviews are unflinching in their praise for the book; only around a third recognize the book's failings.  For instance, I could only find one reviewer other than myself who recognized that King's account of the Caledonia crisis was lacking in balance: Bob Tarantino mentioned the beating of non-aboriginal builder, Sam Gualtieri, who has been left with permanent brain damage.

D.        Strengths of The Inconvenient Indian

D.1      "North American" View of Aboriginals Has Been Problematic

King deserves praise for showing how some images have been appropriated in a way that demeans native people.  When he mentioned a butter container, which he contends has a sexually-suggestive picture of an Indian maiden on it, I was transported back to early 1970s London, Ontario.  At the time, my white boyfriend and I shared a townhouse with another couple (he was black; she was white).  We went out for the evening, accompanied by an aboriginal female associate of mine, who was attending Western University in London.

Shortly after we arrived at what was then considered to be a fairly respectable tavern, my aboriginal associate started to get propositioned by a white male stranger in the bar.  She quietly declined, but then another white male stranger did the same thing about 10 minutes later.  Our black comrade asked the men why they were doing this.  They said they assumed she was a prostitute, or words to that effect.  This is one of several examples in my life where I have seen aboriginal women viewed in an exploitative fashion.

Although it is an exaggeration for King to say that the North American view of aboriginals is frozen in time in the 17th or 18th centuries, there is definitely a tendency in that direction.  Some of it is fuelled, as he says, by Hollywood marketing.

D.2        "Whites Want Land"

King believes that asking Indians what they want is not the right question.  It should be asking whites what they want, which is land.  I completely agree that this is the main source of the tension between the races.  In fact, in 1981, I pointed this out in a letter I wrote to some of my former colleagues, after resigning from a native organization:
It has been said that land is the single most important commodity left on this planet, and the fight over land will be the last battlefield.  The government will never, never agree to separate nation status for native people unless they can--directly or indirectly--benefit from the revenue (oil, coal, etc.) under that nation.
At the time I wrote the above, I assumed that "separate nation status for native people" would mean that those nations would remain within the Canadian Constitutional framework.  Since then, the whole nation issue has become much more complex, with some aboriginal reserves wanting to separate totally from Canada.  As I have explained in previous posts on this blog here and here, I am OK with aboriginal communities in this country operating as collectives within the Canadian Constitutional framework, but I disagree with those who advocate operating outside of it.

(There were other points I made in my 1981 letter that I do not feel the same way about now, but I do think the above excerpt still has some validity.)

D.3        North Americans' "Irrational Addiction to Profit"

King believes that an "unexamined confidence in western civilization" is one of the root causes of the tension between non-aboriginals and aboriginals (265).  I believe in maintaining a unifying Canadian culture that respects the rights of the individual and upholds the rule of law.  But I do think there is some validity to his contention that North Americans need to find a way to overcome "their irrational addiction to profit" (220).

E.        Weaknesses of The Inconvenient Indian

E.1       Contradictions

King repeatedly contradicts himself throughout the book.  The most blatant example is when he flip-flops as to whether violence and vandalism are good strategies.  He says the American Indian Movement (AIM)'s 1972 destruction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' files was "stupid," because the folders may have contained material the tribes could have used for land negotiations.  But he admits that, when the media asked for his opinion, he, along with others "mumbled supportive platitudes about Native rights and government deceit. . ." (147-148).

Later, he discusses AIM's growing frustration with the lack of progress they had made in their negotiations with the government, and says that sometimes native concerns have to involve "demonstrations, confrontations, and, on occasion, violence" (157-158).

He proceeds to the Caledonia crisis, where he implies that the "Mohawk" protest was fuelled by the "long-standing Native land claim" (165-166).  It is true that the protest did not just happen, but the validity of the claim involving the south end of Caledonia is under serious dispute.  I go into further detail about this issue in other posts on my blog here and here.

Since I have worked in native organizations involved with land claims negotiations, I have some understanding of the frustration and anger that builds when negotiations do not go as well as the aboriginal side would like.  But I think it is a huge mistake for King to be advocating violence under any circumstances.

E.2       Pre-Contact Aboriginal Society Was Not a Paradise

Although it is true that many post-contact intertribal aboriginal battles were precipitated by European encroachment, the same cannot be said for what happened before Europeans arrived.  King barely touches on this.

When I was working in the native organizations, I regularly heard about how various tribes had fought with each other historically.  So I was pleased to learn that an Inuk fillmmaker and a Cree filmmaker recently released Inuit Cree Reconciliation, a documentary about how the Inuit and Cree are coming to terms with their past and present animosities.

A re-examination of past animosities is also occurring on the other side of the country.  Archaeological research being conducted in B.C.'s Fraser Canyon is confirming what Sto:lo elders have said, that the Coast Salish and Sto:lo peoples fought regularly for thousands of years before contact.

In addition, some aboriginal spokespeople have alleged that all Indian societies traditionally treated their women well.  Yes, some tribes did treat their women with great respect and as equals, but others did not.  For example, polygamy was common in some Athabaskan (Dene) societies.  Chipewyan leader, Matonabbee, had seven wives, and believed women "were meant for labour."

In April 1986, I saw a stage play entitled "Matonabbee" in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (still have the program).  I have a distinct recollection of the actor in the title role (played by a Chipewyan named Francois Paulette) striding across the stage while his wives followed behind, carrying heavy loads strapped to their foreheads.  There was a strong aboriginal component to the cast and crew.  In retrospect, I realize it was quite an enlightened production for the time period.

Because I have concerns about some questionable aspects of native society before contact, it follows that I also take issue with how King depicts aboriginal sovereignty.  He does not adequately convey the fact that sovereignty has various interpretations among aboriginal groups.  In 2003, the Harvard Project on Indian Economic Development released a report that contended sovereignty was the process needed for creating stable Indian government structures.  The authors concluded that letting these communities make their own decisions is a good idea as long as the institutions and policies developed are stable; dispute mechanisms are transparent; politics is separated from business; personnel are competent, and the systems developed take into account each tribe's distinct characteristics.

In the 1980s, I did a considerable amount of research into United States tribal government archival systems for my native organization employer.  It seemed to me that work in this area, at least at the time, exemplified an efficient way of looking after the records.  I have absolutely no idea what the situation is like now, but I think it is important to point out that I saw aboriginal governance in action when it came to archival records, and it made sense to me, at least back then.

As I understand it, tribal sovereignty is different in practice in the United States and Canada.  It appears from the limited research I have done that the Canadian version of sovereignty is a mixed bag of everything from ones modelled on the Harvard project, to those reserves that want to break away entirely from Canada.  As mentioned previously, I have no problem with aboriginal communities operating as collectives, as long as they still want to remain part of the Canadian Constitutional framework.

I am concerned that King's approach to sovereignty could result in the borders between Canada and the United States being eliminated, and thousands of separate "nations" operating independently of each other.  This could lead to anarchy and chaos.  Although there are many similarities between Canada and the United States, there are major differences was well, e.g., our legal systems.  Turning back the clock to satisfy some aboriginal demands for independence from federal oversight could end up backfiring on everyone involved.  Since aboriginal societies historically did not often get along with each other, and since these animosities are only starting to be addressed, I do not see how reverting to a pre-contact scenario would be advantageous.

E.3      Lack of Constructive Solutions

King's observations about how non-aboriginals have failed aboriginals do have some merit.  For instance, he says that instead of trying to assimilate natives into the white educational system, whites could have developed partnerships with the individual nations (119).  The Assembly of First Nations recently agreed to the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, so this could be an example of this type of partnership in action (although some native groups and individuals are opposed to the Act).

I totally agree with King's observation that non-aboriginals could have been more accommodating of aboriginals, rather than trying to change them into something they could never be.  I suspect at the core of the condescension is the "whites want land" issue.

But, considering such factors as the intertribal warfare and the disparaging treatment of women that went on pre-contact, I think it is far too simplistic for King to make it sound like returning to the traditional ways would make everything better.

F.       Conclusion

Although many of King's experiences relating to aboriginal issues have come from working on reserves in the U.S. and Canada, and teaching native-oriented material in academic settings, the fact remains that he did not really get involved with the topic until he was about 25.  In addition, he has never lived on a reserve or in a native community.  Plus non-aboriginals, such as his mother and wife, have played very important roles in his thinking and philosophy.

I feel this is important to point out because of what I consider to be the often sarcastic and almost anarchistic approach he takes towards his subject matter.  Despite the fact that his life has been spent in a multiracial, multi-faceted environment, he portrays the native situation as very much an "us and them" situation, when his own biography does not mirror this reality.

In a February 2013 CBC Radio interview with Shelagh Rogers, he revealed there were many times that he wanted to give up on the book, and return the advance to the publisher.  He said it was Hoy who said he had to finish it.  And, as anyone knows who has read it, Hoy's interjections feature prominently throughout.  This is frequently a good thing, since she helps to curtail some of his rants.

I also felt as if Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, whose endorsement appears on the book jacket, was leaning over his shoulder, along with Hoy.  King really tiptoes around any criticism of Canadian aboriginals, and I think this takes away from the book's effectiveness.  When he finds fault with natives, he either does it in a general way, or limits his barbs to U.S. Indian groups.

So I maintain the book, despite its strengths, seems more the work of a committee than an individual.  King admitted in the CBC Radio interview that he really had trouble revisiting some of the material, and it shows.  I also had trouble revisiting some of the material because of my personal connection to it.  I can understand why he said it took him six years to finish it.  It took me six months to complete this blog post.


Berton, Pierre.  "May we only celebrate history's nice guys?"  Toronto Star, November 16, 1991.

Blatchford, Christie.  Helpless: Caledonia's Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy, and How the Law Failed All of Us.  Doubleday Canada, 2010.

Blatchford, Christie.  "Judge finds Six Nations's claim 'exceedingly weak.'"  Globe and Mail, November 22, 2010.

Busby, Brian John.  "King, Thomas"  Canadian Encyclopedia.  Retrieved June 10, 2013.

Cairns, Alan C.  Citizens Plus: Aboriginal People and the Canadian State.  Toronto: UBC Press, 2000.

CBC Radio: Q.  "Thomas King on The Inconvenient Indian."  November 23, 2012.

CBC Radio: The Next Chapter.  "Shelagh's extended conversation with Thomas King."  February 4, 2013.

Cornell, Stephen, and Joseph P. Kalt.  "Sovereignty and Nation-Building: The Development Challenge in Indian Country Today."  American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 2003 (3).

Everett-Green, Robert.  "Inuit Cree Reconciliation: a documentary built on oral history."  Globe and Mail, December 27, 2013.

Gottfriedson, Shane.  "Chief Shane Gottfriedson responds to the Walrus Magazine essay" [letter].  First Nations Property Ownership Initiative, January 30, 2013.

Gruber, Eva, ed.  Thomas King: Works and Impact.  Rochester, New York: Camden House, 2012.

Helin, Calvin.  Dances With Dependency.  Vancouver: Orca Spirit, 2006.

Jules, C.T. (Manny).  "Give us full rights to our home and native land."  Globe and Mail, February 1, 2012.

Lewis, Brian.  "Matonabbee" [stage play program].  Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, April 1986.

Malloy, Kate.  "Bestselling author of The Inconvenient Indian says feds mounting all-out offensive on native lands."  April 15, 2013.  Democracy Gone Astray.

McMillan, Alan D. and Eldon Yellowhorn.  First peoples in Canada.  Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 2004.

Native American Authors.  "Thomas King: Native American Writer."  June 10, 2013.

O'Brien, Jennifer.  "New deal, to be tabled Tuesday, is applauded by many, but doesn't right past wrongs, one critic says."  London Free Press, February 9, 2014.

Peterson, Leith.  "The Longest Walk - is Canada Next?"  Satellite: London's Community Newsmagazine, June 30, 1978.

Pringle, Heather.  "Raiders from the sea."  Canadian Geographic, July/August 2011.

Tammemagi, Hans.  "Better Dead Than Alive? 'The Inconvenient Indian' Takes a Seriously Funny Look at Native History."  Indian Country Today, October 14, 2013.

Tarantino, Bob.  "The Inconvenient Indian."  C2C Journal, June 7, 2013.

Wikipedia.  "Thomas King (novelist)."  Retrieved June 10, 2013.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

A Review of Some Aspects of the Blog "Six Nations (Haudenosaunee) & The Haldimand Tract: Beliefs Versus Facts"

Disclaimer: My references to the writings of other people--both native and non-native--do not in any way imply that they share my views on this matter.  The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my family, friends or associates.

Background Information Regarding Deyo and His Blog

On October 31, 2013, a resident of Haldimand County in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, started a blog entitled "Six Nations (Haudenosaunee) & the Haldimand Tract: Beliefs Versus Facts" (, that can be found here.

I recently became aware of his blog through some online searching, and have read all of his (as of this writing) 80 posts.  He signs each of his entries with "DeYo," so that is what I will call him.  When I quote from or reference his posts, I will put in a notation at the end that will include a key word or words from the post title, the date of the post and the post number in sequence from 1 to 80.  (The post numbers are not included on the blog itself; I have just added them in for my own reference.)

DeYo's "kinship connections include, among others, the people of Haldimand County, the Delaware of Smoothtown, and the Lower Mohawk of the old Mohawk Village and Tyendinaga."  (Although he has aboriginal ancestry, he does not live in an aboriginal community in Haldimand County.)

From his early life onward, he has been aware of "unresolved land disputes" between the Six Nations (Haudenosaunee) and the Canadian federal government (as successors to the British Crown).  He "tended to focus on what the evidence would clearly show to be true" ("Genesis," October 31, 2013, #1).

For more than 30 years, he has examined not only "specific relevant documents" related to the Six Nations (SN) land claims, but also "related records, and the diaries and letters of Indian Department officials. . ." ("Surrenders. . .1841-1850," November 8, 2013, #30).

His research into the SN claims primarily took place over a 20-year period "between the mid 1970s and mid 1990s."  He reviewed records at Library and Archives Canada, the Archives of Ontario, The Library of the Woodland Cultural Centre, the Brant County Library, and the Haldimand County Museum and Archives.  In addition, he has scrutinized the 29 claims listed on the SN Lands and Resources website ("Examination. . .29 claims," December 21, 2013, #57).

Some of the Main Reasons Why DeYo Started His Blog

1.   The Caledonia, Ontario crisis, which started on February 28, 2006.  He says SN has no legal right to be claiming the land at the "south end of Caledonia," and he has the historical documentation to prove it.  He notes that "2006. . .was to see my world and that of those around me change forever. . .among other things, I realized there was a huge psychological gap between many of the Six Nations residents and the 'townsfolk' in for example nearby Hagersville, Caledonia and Brantford."

2.   Fallout from the Ipperwash "incident."  He observes that because of this "incident," the Ontario Provincial Police [OPP] "went from elite to effete, and their leadership became enablers. . .the rule of law vanished as the area degenerated into anarchy."  He suggests if people want to learn more about the suffering of the local non-aboriginal residents that they read Christie Blatchford's Helpless: Caledonia's Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy, and How the Law Failed All of Us (2010). 

3.   Blockade of Highway 6, by some SN protesters, October 17, 2013.  DeYo got stuck in this blockade, and it became one of two triggers that led to the creation of his blog.

4.   McKenzie Meadows Project article in "local Native paper," October 30, 2013.  After he read this article, he feared the "whole problem (questionable land claims and fallout) would never go away," so this became his second trigger ("Genesis," October 31, 2013, #1).

DeYo and Gary McHale: Six Nations are Not Indigenous to the Haldimand Tract 

The conclusion DeYo has come to is that many of SN's 29 claims are based on "unsupported, unvalidated and patently false" information.  Two key documents that he says prove his assertion are a 2009 report prepared for the City of Brantford (the "Holmes report"), and a 2010 Ontario Supreme Court ruling by Justice Harrison Arrell ('Recent," December 24, 2013, #64; "False," January 18, 2014, #77).

DeYo is not implying in any way that claims put forward by other Canadian aboriginals are lacking in merit; that is beyond the scope of his research.  He says there are problems with the SN claims because the SN are not indigenous to the Haldimand Tract.  He explains how the Crown purchased the land the Six Nations are currently on from the Mississauga:
The Five Nations did exterminate the Huron/Wyandot, Petun, Attiwandaronk, Erie and other peoples of Southwestern Ontario. . .in the mid 1600s.  Thus they removed by conquest all of the former occupants of Southwestern Ontario, leaving it a human desert for a number of years.  However, Mississauga (Ojibway/Chippewa) peoples soon began to move into the area and establish settlements or at least territorial rights. . .By 1696, the Three Fires Confederation had destroyed all but three settlements of the First Nations and they had no presence at all there by 1700.  The Three Fires Confederacy was composed of the Mississauga, Ojibway and Pottawatomi. . .In the end, the land was left to the Mississauga who were the acknowledged "owners" of Southwestern Ontario, and from whom Governor General Sir Frederick Haldimand purchased the Haldimand Tract for Six Nations occupancy in 1784.
Hence when the Nanfan Treaty of 1701 was signed by 20 representatives of the Five Nations (the Sixth Nation, the Tuscarora, were not incorporated until about 1714), they were yielding their "beaver hunting grounds" in Southwestern Ontario to the British - however, they had no claim to Southwestern Ontario because they had been totally defeated by the Mississauga and their allies ("Treaty," January 17, 2014, #75).
He explains that the Six Nations:
. . .were dispossessed Loyalist refugees looking for a suitable place to settle.  When Captain Joseph Brant chose the Grand River lands, it was necessary for the Crown to purchase the lands from the rightful owners - the Mississauga.  It was widely known that the only claimants to these lands at that time were the Mississauga. . .

. . .When Governor Haldimand was faced with the task of accommodating the thousands of Six Nations and other Native peoples who had fought for the Crown, and whose aboriginal properties in NY had been utterly destroyed by the depredations of the American General Sullivan, he obtained a deed of sale from the Mississauga who owned the entire region by right of conquest dating to the closing years of the 1600s. . .

. . .The Six Nations are aboriginal to the area between the mouth of the Mohawk River to the Finger Lakes and beyond towards Lake Erie.  However, these lands do not belong to the Crown any longer, and so the Six Nations are no more aboriginal to the Haldimand Tract than their fellow Loyalists and military comrades. . .("Six Nations are NOT Aboriginal," November 2, 2013, #6).
Caledonia activist, Gary McHale, covers some of the same ground as DeYo in his book Victory in the No-Go Zone: Winning the Fight Against Two-Tier Policing (2013; 186-187).  For instance, he says ". . .despite the impression given by the OPP, government and media, Six Nations are not First Nations.  They have no signed treaties with the Canadian government, and no basis under which to make a property claim" (187).

Thomas King's Questionable Comments on the Caledonia Crisis in The Inconvenient Indian

The information provided by DeYo, McHale and Blatchford makes me question even more some statements made by Cherokee/Greek author, Thomas King, in his book The Inconvenient Indian (2012).  King describes Blatchford's Helpless as a "sloughing off of history. . .style of scholarship."  He also contends that the Canadian and Ontario governments have "ignored and dismissed. . .the long-standing native land claims dating back to the 1700s," and implies this contributed to the Caledonia crisis (165-166).

In addition, King takes aim at the Ontario government for settling a $20 million lawsuit with some non-aboriginal Caledonia residents in 2011.  He implies this compensation may have been politically motivated, since a provincial Liberal election occurred a few months after the settlement.  There is ample justification for concluding that it was indeed politically motivated.  But I am shocked that he then claims this settlement shows that "[t]he concerns of the Mohawk and the land claim itself were shoved into a closet. . ." (175-176).

It seems to me that, since historical evidence demonstrates that SN have no right to be claiming certain areas, including land at the south end of Caledonia, then Ottawa and the Ontario government would be in a difficult position to resolve the matter.  It also seems to me that, if anything, the Ontario government, in particular, has gone overboard to appease SN regarding certain claims.


DeYo summarizes his concerns as follows:
To expect meaningful change to happen without resistance is unrealistic.  What I do hope is that those with the power to act, will show some respect for the data and the facts - and respond accordingly with some backbone.  My greatest trust is in the Courts.  It is here where we can find true justice in Ontario, free of the taint of politics ("Recent," December 24, 2013, #64).
If DeYo is wrong in his assertions, then the parties in question need to provide the necessary data to prove this is the case.


I agree with many of the statements DeYo makes in his 80 blog posts, but I feel he sometimes generalizes too much.  I believe this is because most of his interactions with aboriginals have involved Six Nations, and have ended up being negative.

I have also had some negative interactions with aboriginals, as explained in some of my previous posts on this blog.  However, I have also had some positive experiences, and am optimistic that things are getting better in certain areas.

For instance, I have been heartened by many of the aboriginal success stories that have been presented on the Sun News Network by commentators such as Ezra Levant.  Although Levant is one of the aboriginal communities' biggest critics (and has a tendency to exaggerate), I hope he continues to provide coverage of when aboriginals do well. 

A growing number of native reserves thrive as collectives because they have shaken off the cloak of dependency on government funding, have taken personal responsibility for their actions, and have moved forward with viable and self-sustaining action plans.

As I explained in my "Canadian Aboriginal Integration. . ." post, "I remain firmly on the side of those aboriginals who agree that maintaining their Canadian citizenship is a good thing."  I do not have a problem with aboriginal rights that have resulted from Canadian Constitutional provisions, as long as these rights do not harm aboriginals or non-aboriginals, e.g., traditional practices among some tribes that condoned violence and disparaged women.  I favour an aboriginal governance model that allows for integration with the Canadian government system.  In other words, I do not agree with natives creating separate nation states outside of the Canadian Constitution.

(In addition, I totally support those aboriginals who do not want to remain as part of collectives on reserves or in urban areas, and who wish to become part of mainstream Canada.  There are thousands who have chosen this route.)

I believe the Six Nations are lagging behind other communities in terms of effective governance because of their complex history and community dynamics.  As DeYo has pointed out, and as I have read elsewhere, there are some Six Nations members who realize the reserve situation could use some improvement.  For those who feel this way, I highly recommend Tsimshian author/entrepreneur/lawyer, Calvin Helin's, The Empowerment Mindset (2012).  The sub-section of Chapter 2, entitled "Community- and Group-Conditioned Negativity" (38-41), is particularly relevant.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Chippewas of the Thames First Nation (COTTFN) Proposed Urban Reserve for London, Ontario, Canada - Some Points for Discussion

Disclaimer: My references to the writings of other people--both aboriginal and non-aboriginal--do not in any way imply that they share my views on this matter.  The opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my family, friends or associates.

I readily admit I am far from an expert on the establishment of urban reserves.  Have learned from my research that this is a very complicated topic, and I have no first-hand knowledge of the subject.  Many of the approximately 120 urban reserves that currently exist throughout Canada are reportedly functioning very well, so this could end up being a good news story for all involved.

But I feel, as a citizen of London, Ontario, and as someone with two generations of experience with aboriginal issues, including with former and current residents of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation (COTTFN), that I would like to add my point of view to the discussion.

A Reminder of Happier Times Regarding COTTFN

As I was working on this post, I became quite despondent, thinking about how things had not worked out as I had hoped regarding my relationship with some people from COTTFN and their associates.  To cheer me up, I went through an old album and found some photos I took while visiting a resident of COTTFN during happier times.  As I recall (and my 11 photos bear this out), she invited me for Thanksgiving dinner at her home in 1980.  She also took me to the Longwoods Conservation Area and Ska-Nah-Doht Village, which are located not far from the reserve.  I believe I took the photo below at the conservation area.

I probably took this at Longwoods, ca. 1980


At the end of January 2013, it was announced in the London Free Press that the COTTFN (, which is about 20 km southwest of London, Ontario, Canada, was in preliminary talks with the City of London (CoL) about possibly establishing an urban reserve in the city.  This development is the result of COTTFN settling a land claim that dates back to the 19th century.

History of the COTTFN Claim and Settlement

From 1818 to 1822, the COTTFN established both a reserve on the Thames and one at Big Bear Creek.  The band never surrendered Big Bear Creek (located near Florence, Ontario), but the government sold it anyway in the 1830s.  The last resident was forced to move to the Thames site about 100 years ago.

Colonel J.B. Clench, who was an Indian Affairs superintendent from 1830 to 1854, misappropriated funds that rightfully belonged to the COTTFN, as well as other bands.  From 1847 to 1854, there was an investigation into this, called the Clench Defalcation Claim, but nothing ended up getting resolved.  Lawyer A.J. Chisholm was hired by the COTTFN in 1906 to try and resolve the matter, but he negotiated a settlement that was less than the band thought was fair.

In 1974, lawyer and former COTTFN chief, Delbert Riley, guided the band through a legal challenge of the 1906 payment, but the government rejected it.  An inquiry into the Clench Defalcation Claim commenced in 1997, which led to the reopening of negotiations in 1999.

Finally, in June 2005, a settlement was reached.  Some of the financial compensation was earmarked for land claims research to pursue other claims that would involve compensation for lost land with land, instead of money.

In September 2012, the federal government offered COTTFN a chance to expand their land base by 60 per cent.  But the matter had to be voted on by the reserve's more than 2,600 residents, 941 of whom lived on reserve as of August 2012.

On March 23, 2013, the Chippewas voted 1,200 to 101 in favour of the settlement.

Details of the Settlement

I congratulate the COTTFN for having negotiated their claim to a final settlement, after many years of lobbying and persistence.  It is precedent setting because:

• The band can potentially set up reserves in four places in Southwestern Ontario, other than their current location; these four additional locations do not have to all be in one place.  The band can also expand the boundaries of their current reserve.  The total amount of the increase is 2,017 hectares
• The band has an unlimited time frame for establishing these reserves
• This would be Ontario's first urban reserve

Further details:

• The federal government is providing $120 million
• $30 million has been earmarked to purchase land.  Plus the band has an additional $15 million from a pension fund that can be used towards this purpose.  Economic development projects resulting from these investments could increase the band's economic self-sufficiency
• One of the projects COTTFN is considering is an industrial park on the 400 series highways.  They plan to use as their model the Chippewas of Sarnia Industrial Park, which started in 1991
• $30 million for seniors, $20 million for community members and $10 million for post-secondary bursaries

Controversial areas:

• Because the band can offer a lower tax rate, it could weaken London's economic and industrial base
• Ray Deleary, COTTFN senior policy analyst, said that businesses would be offered 99-year leases, but larger outfits may prefer to own the property
• COTTFN has managed to keep the surrender provisions of the settlement open ended.  Chief Joe Miskokomon said "some members of his community are not happy with surrendering their title to the land in exchange for money and political approvals. . .the band doesn't believe it has surrendered rights to resources above and below the land" (London Free Press, March 26, 2013)

London Mayor, Joe Fontana, said he has held some preliminary talks with Miskokomon about the matter and is "excited" about the prospect.  The city is waiting for COTTFN to complete a settlement and economic development plan before more detailed talks commence.

Points for Discussion

My concerns fall into the following categories: political, policing, governance interface, the effect of the urban reserve on aboriginals who are not from COTTFN, and the impasse I feel I have reached with some former and current COTTFN residents.

A.      Possible Political Tensions

Michael E. Gertler, a sociology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, penned a chapter of Urban Indian Reserves (1999) entitled "Urban Indian Reserves and Community Development: Some Social Issues."  Gertler noted that the political nature of urban reserves could lead to changes in relationships and power structures.  His observation is just as applicable today as it was at the time he wrote it.

A.1      The COTTFN's Objections to Bill C-45

On October 18, 2012, the federal government introduced the omnibus budget Bill C-45 (Jobs and Growth Act, 2012), which contained provisions that many aboriginals and their supporters did not like (although some natives supported various aspects of the bill).

(Note: Opposition to this bill has commonly been referred to as the Idle No More (INM) movement.  I prefer, nonetheless, to stay away from this term, since a number of the INM founders stated they did not condone the actions taken by some under this moniker.)

The COTTFN objected to Bill C-45 in an "urgent memo" it released November 28, 2012.  The covering page of the memo was signed by Chief Joe Miskokomon, who said it was a "notice of support for Anishnaabeg, Lenni Lenape, Haudenosaunee and all Indigenous people in Anishnaabe territory of Southwestern Ontario to join in a united peaceful opposition to the legislative attacks by the federal conservative government."

On December 19, 2012 and January 10, 2013, the COTTFN were involved with two peaceful Bill C-45 protests that blocked roadways in London.  Then on January 28, 2013, the London Free Press reported that "native leaders" were employing other lobbying methods, including the use of social media, to try to prove to "Southwestern Ontarians" that "we are all treaty people."  Miskokomon is quoted in this article as saying "[o]ur objective is not to inconvenience people, but to educate them. . ."  This is understandable, since many aboriginals who opposed the legislation feel strongly that it endangers not only their way of life, but also that of other Canadians, e.g., the reported erosion of environmental safeguards.

Although Bill C-45 received Royal Assent on December 14, 2012, and is now law, the opposition to it remains strong among many aboriginals and their supporters.  This makes me wonder if future native leaders might have more radical ideas about how to settle the score with the government, and that Londoners could get caught in the middle.  I hope there are provisions in the arrangements made between the COTTFN and the CoL to make this less likely to happen.

A.2      Contentious "Surrender" Provisions in Settlement

I can understand why the COTTFN membership would not be keen on the surrender provision, but I think there needs to be more clarification on their part as to what this objection entails.  What exactly do they mean when they say they own the resources above and below the land?  Does this only apply to the current reserve and the 2,017 hectares they can potentially obtain?  Or are they also talking about the Big Bear Creek area?

A particularly worrisome aspect for me is a statement made by Ray Deleary in the "Big Bear Creek Specific Land Claim" video, that was published on five days before the COTTFN ratified the settlement.  Various stakeholders in the land claim were voicing their opinions as to what should be done if the membership rejected the settlement and wanted to get the Big Bear Creek area back.  Deleary said an option would be to move in as was done at Caledonia or Ipperwash--or words to that effect--at least that's my interpretation of what he said.

Regardless of the context in which Deleary said this, it is still troubling to me that he would voice such an option.  The Caledonia and Ipperwash disputes have contributed to frayed relations between native and non-native neighbours in those areas.  In both cases, millions of dollars were spent to deal with the fallout.  Miskokomon said in the video that that sort of approach would not be pragmatic, but what if he is defeated as chief, and someone with more radical views takes over?

As mentioned already, there were 101 who voted against the settlement.  Is there a possibility that some of these dissenters could be of the view that the Big Bear Creek area should still be taken back?

I realize the COTTFN have legitimate grievances, but I also think that, if they want to maintain positive relations with non-aboriginal business partners and the CoL, they need to recognize that Deleary's statement could contribute to apprehension, even though he stated it in a hypothetical context.

As the "Big Bear Creek Specific Land Claim" video makes clear, COTTFN members have differing points of view in certain areas, which is, of course, the case in any community.  But it worries me that these differences could spill over into actions that may create difficulties down the road.  For instance, from December 21, 2012 to January 3, 2013, some members of the Chippewas of Sarnia reserve (Amijwnaang First Nation) blockaded the CN rail line over objections to the Bill C-45 legislation, even though the band council recommended alternative ways of raising objections.  Are there going to be any stipulations built into agreements between the COTTFN and CoL to minimize these sorts of protests occurring?

B.      Policing

I think the CoL needs to take the issue of policing very seriously because of the aboriginal protests that have occurred in Ontario from time to time since the 1970s.

The Ontario government has been one of the worst for employing appeasement methods to native issues.  From the Ipperwash Inquiry recommendations to the occupation of the former Douglas Creek Estates in Caledonia, to the non-action or delayed action by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) regarding various protests that occurred during the December 2012-January 2013 period, provincial officials have frequently demonstrated that they prefer to avoid confrontation at all costs, despite the fact that many non-natives have been inconvenienced, hurt or even permanently injured as a result.

Consequently, I think the CoL should strike out on a different path in their negotiations with the COTTFN, one that stresses the safety of all people involved.  Miskokomon and some other COTTFN spokespeople have indicated by their recent comments that they want to employ a pragmatic approach in their dealings with their non-native neighbours.  I think this view needs to be translated into specifics in any urban reserve agreement.

C.      Governance Interface

I contend it is extremely important that every possible detail be ironed out before the urban reserve is established, not only because it makes good business sense, but also because it leads to greater trust between the negotiating parties.  One of the editors of the Urban Indian Reserves book, Joseph Garcea, mentioned the importance of trust in an interview he gave with the London Free Press, January 30, 2013.

Furthermore, court decisions handed down of late have stressed the need for clearly spelling out the rights and responsibilities of all negotiating parties in treaty settlements.

Moreover, Ryan C. Walker, who is in the Geography and Planning Department of the University of Saskatchewan, echoed this refrain in his 2008 article, entitled "Improving the Interface between Urban Municipalities and Aboriginal Communities."  He consulted with aboriginal and non-aboriginal stakeholders and resource people in seven cities before he prepared his article.

As Walker points out, Canadian treaties with aboriginals are between the federal government and the band, and governance for municipalities falls under provincial statutes.  He thinks that both the federal and provincial governments could do more to improve the interface with urban centres.  But he asserts that municipalities should be proactive about improving their affiliation with aboriginal communities, rather than waiting for action to be taken at the two higher levels.

One of the things I learned from my research is that municipalities cannot veto the creation of an urban reserve.  This makes it all the more crucial for CoL to ensure the agreement they establish with COTTFN leaves no stone unturned.

D.      What Do Urban Aboriginals Who Are Not from COTTFN Think?

As Gertler explains, urban reserves can create complications in terms of other types of urban self-government, and can also contribute to divisions among urban aboriginals.  I think his comment needs to be taken into consideration by all negotiating parties.

When there was first discussion about the COTTFN establishing an urban reserve, Miskokomon mentioned that one of the options might be "central London."  The 2006 census listed 4,500 first nations living in London.  How many of these are former and current COTTFN residents and how many are not?  What do the ones who are not think about this?

Although the media focus has moved to the possible creation of an industrial park on the 400 series highways, the "central London" option could still resurface at a later date, since the band has an unlimited amount of time to establish additional reserves.

Miskokomon said that economic development projects initiated by COTTFN could create opportunities for not only his reserve, but also for other first nations.  I do not doubt this for a minute, but it is also well known that aboriginals do not always speak with one voice.  Quite a number of natives have publicly acknowledged this fact.

In 2011, the Environics Institute released the Urban Aboriginals People Study (UAPS).  This study involved interviews with first nations, Inuit and Metis in 11 Canadian cities, including Toronto and Ottawa.  It also encompassed interviews with non-aborginal urban residents.  Although the UAPS ( did not include urban reserves, it does provide considerable insight, e.g., many natives consider the city home, and most feel confident that they can retain their culture in an urban setting.  The study also found that most urban aboriginals did not think that any organization, including native, represented their interests very well.

My personal experience confirms these findings, and I have also found that London aboriginals have differing points of view.  For instance, my play, Fishy Wisdom, which was produced at the London One Act Festival in 2004, dealt with controversial matters relating to aboriginal accountability.  To make a long story short, there were some aboriginals who were supportive of my play and others who were not.

Furthermore, when I have asked some London aboriginals where they were from, they have occasionally said they were from London.  In other words, they considered London their home, and not the reserve where their parents or grandparents originally came from.  I have also surmised (although not recently) that aboriginals in this city come from many different tribes and reserves.  So that is why I can understand why Gertler would recommend that this matter be dealt with.

I realize there are many bands that function well as collectives, which is one of the reasons why so many urban reserves are reportedly successful.  Am just pointing out that a "one size fits all" approach does not necessarily address the needs of all aboriginals in the CoL.

E.      Personal Impasse

From the mid-1970s until 2007, I had a fair bit of contact with some former and current COTTFN residents (except for when I worked in native organizations in Northern Ontario and the Northwest Territories during this period).

Some of my happier moments relating to COTTFN include:

• The Thanksgiving meal mentioned at the beginning of this post.  As I recall, I took the photo below though the window of my host's home

I took this at COTTFN, ca. 1980

• Going into the bush with a reserve resident, where we located and later ate nutritious wild plants 
• Attending services at the reserve church, during which some of the residents would pray to the four directions
• Doing some consulting work for the band relating to genealogy and other matters
• Donating books and other items to the reserve resource centre
• One or two COTTFN residents attended my politically correct Amelia play at Eldon House (but not my politically incorrect Fishy Wisdom)

Here's another photo I believe I took through my host's window.

Another photo at COTTFN, ca. 1980

In 2007, I reached an impasse with some former and current COTTFN residents and their supporters.  We disagreed on how this impasse could be rectified, and I stopped having any contact with them.

Before some of you start blasting me for being racist, let me assure you that I have also reached an impasse with a number of non-aboriginals, and have curtailed contact with them as well.  I march to my own drummer, but some people, regardless of race, prefer that I conform to what they want me to be.  I prefer to be myself.

I realize there are probably many non-aboriginals who continue to maintain positive relations with COTTFN, so I do not want to give the impression that what happened to me could happen to them.


I think the CoL should negotiate with the COTTFN with the mindset that both have something important to contribute to the discussions.  And I also contend that they need to carefully study what has worked and what has not worked in terms of other urban reserves.  I also think that CoL must be ever mindful of the political tensions between the federal government and the COTTFN, as well as the problems I feel have been caused by what I consider to be the Ontario government's racial/political policing methodology.  Finally, I recommend that the CoL conduct public consultations regarding this urban reserve issue, particularly if the decision is made to locate one of the reserves in "central London."


Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.  "Backgrounder: Urban Reserves: A Quiet Success Story." August 14, 2008.

Barron, F. Laurie, and Joseph Garcea, ed.  Urban Indian Reserves.  Saskatoon: Purich, 1999.

Blatchford, Christie.  "Judge slams Ontario police for not breaking up Idle No More protesters." National Post, January 7, 2013.

Burleton, Derek, and Sonya Gulati.  "Debunking myths surrounding Canada's aboriginal population." TD Economics.  June 18, 2012.

Cairns, Alan C.  First Nations and the Canadian State.  Kingston: Queen's University, 2005.

Chippewa Thunderbird.  "Big Bear Creek Specific Land Claim" (video).  You Tube.  March 19, 2013.

Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.  "Urgent memo: Notice of Support for Grassroots Movement Against Legislative Attacks." November 28, 2012.

Curtis, Christopher.  "'We believe our future is at stake,' Idle No More movement founder Tanya Kappo says."  National Post.  December 21, 2012.

Curtis, Christopher.  "Idle No More founders distance themselves from chiefs."  National Post.  January 1, 2013.

DeBono, Norman.  "Chippewas of the Thames First Nation may use its tax-free status to lure industry and undercut London's industrial tax rate."  London Free Press.  March 26, 2013.

DeBono, Norman.  "Dividing the industry pie."  London Free Press.  April 7, 2013.

Friesen, Joe.  "Canada's urban aboriginals feel politically unrepresented, poll finds."  Globe and Mail.  April 6, 2010.

Huffmediatalk.  "Big Bear Creek Specific Land Claim News Conference" (video).  You Tube.  March 26, 2013.

Idle No More.  "Face and Leaders of Idle No More is the Grassroots People."  December 31, 2012.

Jeffrey, Tara.  "Band council does not support blockade."  Sarnia Observer.  December 31, 2012.

King, Hayden.  "We natives are deeply divided.  There's nothing wrong with that."  Globe and Mail.  January 9, 2013.

LEGISinfo.  "C-45."  December 14, 2012.,aspx.

O'Brien, Jennifer.  "A political scientist who has studied urban reserves says negotiations start with trust."  London Free Press.  January 30, 2013.

O'Brien, Jennifer.  "Native group turns to social media to engage all 'treaty people.'"  London Free Press.  January 28, 2013.

O'Brien, Jennifer.  "Native reserve eyed for London."  London Free Press, January 30, 2013.

Oved, Marco Chown.  "Thames First Nation to buy land in London for Ontario's first urban reserve."  The Star.  February 15, 2013.

Richmond, Randy.  "Chippewas of the Thames First Nation approves land claim deal."  London Free Press.  March 26, 2013.

Saskatoon, City of.  "City of Saskatoon Urban Reserves Frequently Asked Questions."  ca. 2012.

Sher, Jonathan.  "Chippewas of Thames to expand."  London Free Press.  September 26, 2012.

Switzer, Maurice.  "First urban reserve in London."  Anishnawbek News.  March 24, 2013.

Walker, Ryan C.  "Improving the Interface between Urban Municipalities and Aboriginal Communities."  Canadian Journal of Urban Research 17, no 1 (2008).

Young, George.  "Ontario First Nation settles 171-year old claim."  Windspeaker.  2005.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

A Critique of the Aboriginal Components of "The Mental Health Strategy for Canada"

The definition for "weed" is "any plant growing in cultivated ground to the injury of the crop or desired vegetation. . .If is isn't in a straight line or marked with a label, it's a weed" (Wiktionary, May 17, 2012).
"Beneficial weeds can accomplish a number of roles in the garden or yard, including fertilizing the soil, increasing moisture, acting as shelter or living mulch, repelling pests, attracting beneficial insects, or serving as food or other resources for human beings" ("List of beneficial weeds," Wikipedia, April 20, 2012).
Spring is one of my favourite times of the year, but there is a down side: looking out my back window to see how many weeds have grown between the cracks in my patio stones.  And then the conundrum: how long can I delay pulling them out?  My procrastination often includes going for walks in my neighbourhood and enjoying the weeds in their uncultivated habitat in the park near my home.  There I do not mind looking at them; in fact, I think some of them are quite beautiful (the photos in this post were taken in the park, May 7, 2012).  Besides, weeds can sometimes be beneficial, as explained in the Wikipedia excerpt above.

I think the weed analogy works fairly well in terms of mental illness: it can be disastrous if left unmanaged in certain settings, but it can lead to crucial personal breakthroughs if addressed in others.  That is why it has been refreshing to read the increasing number of media reports in which people, including many famous ones, discuss their inward struggles.  And I am also very glad that mental health issues are getting an increasing amount of attention in Canada.

The most encouraging manifestation of this is the fact that, on May 8, 2012, the Mental Health Commission of Canada released its report "Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada."  The document is available for download in both full and summary versions.  "All people living in Canada have an opportunity to achieve the best possible mental health and well-being" is the strategy's vision statement.

Overall, I am impressed with the report's comprehensiveness.  But the authors note that "despite the broad consensus on the key directions for change, there will never be universal agreement on everything that needs to be done or on what should be done in what order."  They also acknowledge that it will take time to implement, and that how it will be funded still needs to be determined.

Before this report was unveiled, Canada was the only G8 nation that did not have a blueprint, and I totally agree it was high time to get one.  This is mainly because I have personally benefited from the support of mental health care professionals from time to time over the past 12 years, and I would like to see others in need also benefit.  My treatment has involved counselling to help me cope with profoundly negative experiences that have adversely affected my well-being.  I also took courses through the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association so I was better equipped to deal with the mental illness of a person (now deceased) who I had to deal with for various reasons.

I am happy to join the growing chorus of people who have spoken out about their inner struggles.  But for every one of us who speaks out, there are probably two more who are either struggling privately or who are in denial about it.  The report summary states that "in any given year, one in five people in Canada experiences a mental health problem, with a cost to the economy of well in excess of $50 billion."  Yet the summary also notes "only one in three people who experience a mental health problem or illness--and as few as one in four children or youth--report that they have sought and received services and treatment."  Fortunately, I recognized that I needed help and sought counselling early on, but far too many let their "demons" take over to the point where their lives spiral out of control.

Although I have greatly benefited from the counselling I have received, I feel the political factors that led to my negative experiences remain largely unaddressed.  In my case, these factors have primarily involved aboriginal issues.  Yes, I have gained important skills from my counselling, such as mindfulness and cultivating patience.  But mental health care practitioners also believe that people who have been traumatized need to feel safe and secure in their personal environment, and I sometimes lack this.  This is because of the phenomenal runaround I got when I tried to seek atonement (my "runaround" concerns are covered in a number of my other posts, including my "Aboriginal Issues During the 'Culpability Era'" post).  Furthermore, every time I have spoken publicly about the political factors, I have either been subjected to harassment and intimidation, or have been marginalized and ostracized.  So, in order to avoid being traumatized again, I generally avoid contact with people who are not helping me to move forward on my healing journey.

(A reader of many of my counterpoise posts said it was more difficult for him to understand my concerns because I did not elaborate on exactly what led to my being victimized.  I explained that the reason why I skirt this issue is because if I got specific, I would very likely suffer additional harassment and intimidation.)

I did not find any references in the Mental Health Commission report to my contention that political conflicts can lead to psychological distress.  Factors listed are "a complex mix of social, economic, psychological, biological and genetic"--I do not think social does an adequate job of covering this aspect.

The full version of "Changing Directions, Changing Lives" contains 12 pages devoted to First Nations, Inuit and Metis "Streams" (I will concentrate on those relating to First Nations simply for brevity's sake).  The First Nations "Stream, Priority 5.1" lays out the historical reasons for First Nations' difficulties, such as colonization, the "60s scoop," and the residential schools.

I am glad there are initiatives in place to help First Nations deal with mental health issues, such as a land-based healing program that combines traditional and mainstream approaches to wellness.  But what I do not agree with is the sweeping generalization that "First Nations have a holistic vision of health and well-being that is based on a balance of spiritual, mental, emotional and physical needs, as well as social and economic well-being."  I know that many First Nations definitely have this holistic vision, but I do not believe it is true of all.

In addition, I do not think that colonization, the residential schools, et cetera are the reasons why some First Nations lack it.  I think this generalization cannot be made because aboriginal tribes were diverse culturally during pre-contact times.  Some were matriarchal, some patriarchal, and there was violence and inter-tribal warfare.  In addition, bad medicine was practised alongside good medicine (check out the "bad medicine" label in the right sidebar for my posts that mention my concerns about bad medicine).

It is simply not historically accurate to make it sound like aboriginal life pre-contact was a paradise.  Yes, there were many wonderful aspects to aboriginal society before European encroachment.  But I feel the report gives the impression that most of aboriginals' mental heath woes only started when non-natives arrived on this continent.  I think the reasons are far more complex than this.  For instance, I have a fair number of media and other reports in my files in which aboriginals state that they or their relatives benefited from being at the residential schools and/or from their interactions with non-aboriginals  It is absolutely true that there was a lot of abuse at the residential schools, and massive dysfunction resulted from colonization, but I think the constructive elements of aboriginal/non-aboriginal relations also deserve attention.  I think for more healing to occur, there needs to be more recognition of the positive aspects.

I am pleased, however, that Priority 5.4 (which addresses responses to First Nations, Inuit and Metis mental health issues) acknowledges that 50 per cent of aboriginals live in urban and rural centres, and that sometimes aboriginals move to larger centres to escape a negative environment.

The report states that the authors consulted with "national Aboriginal organizations and other stakeholder organizations that represent First Nations, Inuit and Metis."  And the references at the end of the strategy include citations for reports prepared by various native organizations past and present, such as the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) and the on-going Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  I think it is great that the Mental Health Commission consulted with these groups and reviewed their findings, but I feel the strategy's aboriginal "Streams" give too much weight to a political analysis of the situation (see "Note" about this below).  This is ironical, considering that the report does not list politics specifically as a mental health factor.

National Health Minister, Leona Aglukkaq, attended the launch for "Changing Directions, Changing Lives," and had this to say in her speech:
This strategy is a call for all of us, across different levels of government, in the corporate world and the volunteer sector, to find ways that each of us can make a difference.  No single person, group or government will succeed on its own. . .We must. . .be sure that all issues of mental health are addressed at every level.
My view of "every level" is that the aboriginal "Streams" need not be so heavily cultivated with political weed whackers.


Regarding the Mental Health's Strategy's "First Nations Stream": I would like to have seen more input from people in places like Caledonia and Six Nations, where there have been clashes between aboriginals and non-aboriginals, and mental health problems as a result (check out the "Caledonia" and "Six Nations" labels in the right sidebar to find my previous posts on this conflict).  At the end of this post, I have listed just a few of the articles that mention the mental health issues faced by non-native Caledonia residents, either currently or during the past six years.

In addition, I think the "Changing Directions, Changing Lives" authors would have benefited from reading the "Ending Race-Based Policing: The Caledonia Act" report which was presented at a Queen's Park news conference on February 9, 2012.  One of the recommendations is that funding be provided for counselling of Caledonia victims.

A copy of the "Caledonia Act" recommendations can be obtained at the link below:

For further information about the news conference, check out my "Part Two of Two - A Delectable Lie, A Tree and a Way Forward: Multiculturalism and Aboriginal Policy Compared" post.


Blatchford, Christie.  "Canada's forgotten family a symbol of national shame."  Globe and Mail.  October 11, 2008.  <>

_____.  "Settlement gives hope to others in Caledonia."  Globe and Mail.  January 5, 2010.  <>

Canada Newswire.  "Changing directions, changing lives: Canada's first mental health blueprint unveiled."  May 8, 2012.  <>

Health Canada.  "Speech for the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, the Mental Health Commission of Canada Mental Health Strategy."  May 8, 2012.  <>

Humphries, Adrian.  "'Lawless oasis' formed in Caledonia: lawsuit."  National Post.  November 12, 2009.  <>

Jones, Allison.  "Police sometimes did not act on Caledonia crimes, court told."  The Star.  November 13, 2009.  <>

Killpatrick, Sean.  "Minister praises 'milestone' mental-health plan, but will Ottawa fund it?"  Globe and Mail.  May 8, 2012.  <>

Mental Health Commission of Canada.  "Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada."  May 8, 2012.  <>

Scoffield, Heather.  "Canada's first-ever mental health strategy will pressure Harper to act."  Global News.  May 7, 2012.  <>

Vandermaas, Mark.  "Listening to Victims: A Fresh Approach to Healing and Reconciliation."  Caledonia Victims Project.  May 4, 2010.  <>

Wong, Danielle.  "Caledonia homeowners seek compensation from province, OPP."  The Spec.  August 1, 2011.  <>