Sunday, 2 June 2019

NWT Metis Leader Nick Sibbeston - Bringing About Positive Changes to the Catholic Church/Indigenous Spirituality Relationship

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 those of my family, friends or associates.

Note One:  The photos included with this post are by Rene Fumoleau (b. 1926), who has lived in the North for more than 50 years.  He has donated more than 15,000 images to the NWT Archives:  I can use the eight included here, with attribution, because this is my personal blog.  But including them does not imply in any way that he shares my opinions.  

If you want to look at more of Fumoleau's creations, go to the Fumoleau section of the NWT Archives site.

Note Two:  Around 2014, I instituted a policy regarding both my blogs that I do not include links to other people's websites or blogs on mine.  Consequently, you find information on how to locate the links (but not hyperlinks).  Further clarification can usually also be found in the bibliography.


I first became aware of Nick Sibbeston's memoir, "You Will Wear a White Shirt" (2015), when I read about it in a 2015 Northern News Services column by honorary Dene chief Cece Hodgson-McCauley (1922-2018).  The fact that Hodgson-McCauley made note of his memoir made me interested in reading it, because I frequently shared her honest and forthright opinions.

When she passed away in March 2018, Sibbeston was quoted in the press as saying she was "fearless, spirited, civic-minded [and].  . .just marvellous."  His praise provided yet another motivation.

I was also intrigued because Sibbeston was very much involved with Northwest Territories (NWT) politics both times I was in the capital city of Yellowknife.  My first time, May 1975 to October 1976, I was employed by the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories (IBNWT) in the library/central files area.  (The IBNWT became the Dene Nation in 1978.)  During my second time, November 1983-April 1987, I was employed by the Dene-Metis Negotiations Secretariat on library/archives matters.  Both times I trained Dene/Metis people.

For most of the 1970s to the early 1990s, Sibbeston was an elected member of the NWT's Legislative Assembly.  Although I do not believe I ever met him, I was very much aware of what he was up to because he frequently pushed for, or helped enact, major changes to territorial policy.  During the time he was premier, 1985-1987, his trailblazing initiatives accelerated.

Nick Sibbeston at Fort Good Hope Dene National Assembly, July 1980 (cropped, edited)

Preliminary Comments about "You Will Wear a White Shirt"

"You Will Wear a White Shirt" covers Sibbeston's early life in his home community of Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories (NWT).  He then discusses his negative, but occasionally positive, experiences at residential schools, not only in Simpson, but also in Fort Providence, Fort Smith, Inuvik and Yellowknife.

He then talks about his schooling at the University of Alberta (UofA), along with his marriage, family and work with the NWT government.  We also learn about his business initiatives, his UofA law degree, and his work in the Senate.  His memoir was published in 2015 when he was still a senator.  In November 2017, on his 74th birthday, he resigned because he wanted to spend more time on other matters that were of interest to him.

For brevity's sake, I will be concentrating on his political contributions, particularly during the time I was in Yellowknife.  But what interests me the most is that he has returned to Fort Simpson, and, along with his wife Karen, is helping to re-establish the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.  He believes the solution to the numerous historical conflicts between the Dene and the church, is to incorporate more Dene practices into the liturgy.  Consequently, he is in the process of translating the Catholic Mass into one of the Dene languages, called Slavey.

Despite the fact that Sibbeston explores a lot of difficult topics in this book, I did not find it a chore to read; it was like he was having a conversation with me.  And his honesty is refreshing; it is not an "it's all the White man's fault" Indigenous narrative.  For instance, he freely acknowledges where he has benefitted from his interactions with Non-Aboriginals.  But he also articulates how many aspects of colonization and the residential schools failed him and other Indigenous people.

He is not a proponent of the far-leftist, anti-development, absolutist rhetoric which I contend frequently stifles public discourse on what happens in the NWT.  Consequently, he is not afraid to state an unpopular opinion, if that is his true conviction.

For instance, in 2005, he opposed the expansion of Nahanni National Park because "Aboriginal people. . .need money to run their governments and the mineral and fossil resources to create jobs for their people."  He distributed a "Nahanni Forever?" newsletter to every NWT household, which laid out his arguments.  This newsletter provoked both applause and condemnation.

I agree with him that Aboriginal people need to be actively involved in business, both as individuals and through development corporations.  He is right that "[t]raditional economies are insufficient to support growing populations and are often quite marginal.  Only through wealth creation can sustainable communities be built."

However, he also recognizes that development has to be responsible and not harm the environment.  He is very concerned about how climate change in the NWT is contributing to "erratic weather and earlier open water."  He plans to be insistent that something be done about it.

Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson, who succeeded Sibbeston as NWT premier, recommended Sibbeson's book for its insights into the history of the NWT's political development, and because it courageously told all.  I have found the book helpful for those exact same reasons.

Sibbeston's account of 1970s-1980s NWT happenings frequently transported me back to when I was living there.  This process has helped me to more fully understand what was going on behind the scenes when major territorial policy decisions were being made.  In addition, it has led me to conclude that I have three, albeit tenuous, connections to his life path.

Slave River, August 1982

My Three, Albeit Tenuous, Connections to Sibbeston's Life Path

- In Fort Simpson During the Passing of the Dene Declaration, July 1975

The first is that, on July 19, 1975, I was in Fort Simpson at the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories Joint General Assembly, when the Dene Declaration was passed (I was a recording secretary, know shorthand).  In his memoir, Sibbeston discusses the implications of this declaration.  Although I agree with him there have been positive developments as a result of its passing, I think there has also been a downside.  But I will leave that controversial topic for another day.

- At Yellowknife Airport When Pope John Paul II Spoke There, September 1984

Secondly, on September 18, 1984, I was at the Yellowknife airport when Pope John Paul II spoke to the crowd (including Dene and Metis leaders) gathered there.  The Pope was supposed to be in Fort Simpson, but the plane he was in could not land because of fog.  Nick's wife, Karen, was instrumental in convincing the Pope to come to Simpson, not only during the failed attempt in 1984, but the successful one in September 1987.

I have a circa 1984 booklet which the Roman Catholic Church commissioned in preparation for the Pope's visit.  It covers Fort Simpson's history from the 1800s to the 1980s.  In addition, there are interviews with Dene and Metis elders about both their positive and negative experiences with the church.  The booklet is entitled "Liidli Koe = Two Rivers of Faith (Fort Simpson, Denendeh)"  Further information can be found in the bibliography.  I will be discussing its contents in a bit more detail later in this post.

- My Parents, Jay Peterson (1920-1976) and Charles T. Peterson (1913-2007), Shared Nick and Karen's Interest in Religious Matters

The third is that my mother Jay Peterson (1920-1976) shared Nick and Karen's interest in religious matters.  Mom was raised in a number of different Protestant religions, and said she benefitted from this diversity.  She also believed in learning from other cultures.  During the 1960s, she helped organize religious art exhibitions at First-St. Andrew's United Church in London, Ontario.  These exhibitions included not just Judeo-Christian, but also Muslim "Art and Artifacts."

It is therefore not surprising that when I was growing up, Mom encouraged me to explore a variety of cultural and spiritual experiences beyond that of the United Church.  I went to Catholic Mass, Jewish synagogue services, and Quaker "Friends' meetings.  In addition, I tagged along with her to Indigenous gatherings, such as the Indian Pageant at Six Nations of the Grand River.

To learn more about my mother, click on the "Jay Peterson" label in the right sidebar of my blog.

My father, Charles T. Peterson (1913-2007), frequently said it was important to believe in a higher power than oneself.  He was a long-time member of the United Church of Canada, right up until his final days.  He also shared many of my mother's interests, including regarding Indigenous issues.  His funeral program included Biblical passages and an "Iroquois prayer."

For further information about my father, click on the "Charles T. Peterson" label in the right sidebar of my blog.

I have inherited my parents' belief in reaching out to others across the cultural divide, so I applaud Sibbeston's Dene-cizing the church initiative.  I firmly believe the answer to much of the current racial strife often lies in hybridizing cultural systems instead of stressing their differences.  For further information regarding my views on this, see my April 18, 2018 cultural misappropriation post, which can be found elsewhere on this blog.

My cultural misappropriation research, along with my personal experiences, and my reading of Sibbeston's memoir, has made me acutely aware of many of the negative aspects of colonization.  But there were some positive aspects, such as some Indigenous people gaining marketable skills that benefitted them later in life.  Sibbeston noted many of the beneficial things he learned at some of the residential schools he attended.

It is also important to bear in mind that Indigenous cultures were not perfect before the White man came.  One of the interesting aspects of the "Two Rivers" publication is that it covers Dene and Metis elders' positive and negative experiences with, not only the church, but also with their own cultures.

My Narrative on Indigenous Issues Needs to be Considered in Context

In the ". . .Personal Journey" section of Part One of Three of my May 2016 series, I explained why I felt pressured to carry on my mother's involvement in Aboriginal issues after she passed away in December 1976.  The time period before, during and after her death was when Indigenous groups, including the Dene, were establishing a national presence, e.g., voicing opposition to the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, due to unsettled land claims.  Many of the people my mother had aligned herself with naturally hoped I would carry on where she left off.

But I had numerous concerns about this.  One of them was that I am very much an integrationist by nature.  I became more reticent as the "nation" concept increased in prominence.  Although I did not express these views openly at the time, I inwardly felt more would be gained if Indigenous people developed marketable skills that would help them become part of the mainstream economy.  However, I also realized that, at the same time, they needed to preserve, document and practise the positive aspects of their culture.

I knew my pro-mainstream views ran counter to what the "cause" was espousing.  Consequently, I masked my true feelings, and carried on with a "crusader zeal" which only made matters worse in the long run.  If you are interested in learning more about my inward/outward dilemma, read the ". . .Personal Journey" section.

Nevertheless, a beneficial aspect of my reluctant involvement was I wanted Indigenous people to run their own show.  This was why I was insistent that I train Aboriginal people to take over the work I was doing.  I did not want to be part of the process on a permanent basis.  The advantage of it from an Indigenous perspective, particularly during Sibbeston's time as an MLA and premier, was that I was busy training Dene and Metis people to take over.  Since Sibbeston wanted more Indigenous people involved with decision-making, I am assuming he would have thought this was OK.

Fort Simpson - Dehcho-Liard River, 197-?

Sibbeston's Life Path: From Residential Schools to Senate to Simpson

I will first discuss Sibbeston's early years, his time at various residential schools, his university degrees and marriage, and his career in territorial politics and the Senate.  I will then talk about his healing journey, particularly during the 1985 to 2006 period.  Finally, I will get to the part that I am most interested in, his Dene-cizing of the church in Fort Simpson.

"idyllic" Early Years, 1943-1949

From his birth in November 1943, until the early fall of 1949, Sibbeston was raised in Fort Simpson.  His mother, Laura Sibbeston, had him out of wedlock, so he did not have a father.  Although Laura is Metis, she was raised as a Dene by her adopted parents.

Sibbeston and his mother lived with a Dene woman named Ehmbee, who Nick considered to be his grandmother.  Ehmbee could not speak Latin, French or English, but she faithfully brought Nick to Catholic Mass every Sunday.  He considered these church experiences to be ". . .distant--like another world."

Despite his misgivings about church services, he described his early years as "idyllic. . .[a] young boy could not have asked for a better upbringing."

Residential Schools Attendance, 1949-1964

Sibbeston's mother developed tuberculosis (TB) and had to go south to hospital.  Consequently, in the fall of 1949, he was sent to the Fort Providence residential school.  Although his mother returned from her hospital stay around 1955, she eventually moved to Hay River.  She wanted to live in a place that had the southern amenities she had grown accustomed to during her illness.

From 1955 to 1964, Sibbeston attended residential schools in Fort Simpson, Inuvik and Yellowknife.  The negative aspects of this schooling became more apparent to him during the 1980s--I will have more to say about this in the "Healing Journey" section below.

But there were some positive aspects to his education.  He gained valuable academic skills, such as reading, writing and arithmetic.  At Fort Smith's Grandin College, he had some excellent teachers.  In addition, he enjoyed playing hockey and basketball.

University of Alberta and Marriage

In the fall of 1964, Sibbeston started his studies at the Faculty of Education, University of Alberta.  Some of his high school teachers had encouraged him to continue learning, so he thought perhaps he would emulate them and become a teacher.

He attended four classes with Karen Benoit, "a beautiful girl from Lloydminister, Alberta."  She did not drink and enjoyed liquor-free activities, particularly dancing.

Sibbeston got along well with Karen's family.  Her father was an "uprooted Acadian farmer," and her mother was of British background.  Karen was the fifth eldest of their 17 children.

During the fall and winter of 1967-1968, Nick and Karen worked as supervisors at Breynat Hall in Fort Smith.  Sibbeston became friends with the Breynat administrator, Fr. Camille Piche.  It was Piche who performed Nick and Karen's marriage ceremony at a Lloydminster church on August 17, 1968.

I appreciated Sibbeston's honesty about the "phenomenon" of Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal people "getting together" frequently in the North.  My experience has been that this topic is often taboo, even though it is so prevalent.  He also said this intermingling "certainly stirs up the gene pool and creates a good breed of people."  You do not hear this observation very often from Indigenous people, even though I believe this hybridity is often beneficial.

in the summer of 1969, Glen, the first of Nick and Karen's six children, was born.  Nick received his Bachelor of Arts in April 1970, and became secretary-manager of the hamlet of Fort Simpson that fall.

Kakisa Lake, river, village, June 1978

Sibbeston's Years in Territorial Politics, 1970-1975, 1979-1991

In December 1970, Sibbeston was elected MLA for Mackenzie-Liard.  After he lost the 1975 election, he decided to pursue a law degree at the University of Alberta.  He became the first Indigenous lawyer born and raised in the NWT.  In 1979, he was re-elected and remained in territorial politics until 1991.  From 1985 to 1987, he became the second Aboriginal NWT premier.

"You don't get anything done by writing nice letters and speaking calmly"

In his book "Arctic Revolution" (1994), John David Hamilton (1919-2009) said Sibbeston was ". . . a very different kind of personality. . .who was constantly ruffling feathers."  I know exactly what Hamilton meant by this.

Sibbeston was determined to bring more recognition for Dene rights and culture in the assembly "both practically and symbolically."  He objected to the militaristic, Westminster style of government procedures, which paid almost no attention to "Northern culture."

I burst out laughing when he said ". . .you don't get anything done by writing nice letters, and speaking calmly.  You have to slam the table and often raise your voice. . ."

Early 1980s Incidents That Don't Fit into the "Speaking Calmly" Category.

I was not in Yellowknife when the following four early 1980s incidents occurred, but I certainly remember public debates and media reports about them.

- When the 1982 budget and subsequent assembly discussions on the matter of Dene languages failed to provide more funds for this purpose, Sibbeston spoke in Slavey.  The proceedings "ground to a halt," and "[e]veryone looked bewildered, moving uneasily in their seats." This led to the Speaker recessing the house for a caucus meeting.  At this meeting, Sibbeston got his wish to have an interpreter when he spoke in his language.

- During the 1982 winter session, in reply to the commissioner's speech, he removed his suit and tie, and put on a fur-trimmed moose-hide jacket, adorned with beadwork.  He encouraged his Dene and Metis colleagues to do the same in future, rather than be shackled to the government's "suits and oxfords" rules.

- February 17, 1982: Sibbeston devoted about five pages of his memoir to before, during and after his hitting Inuk MLA, Tagak Curley, on the side of the head with his fist.  For this, he was suspended from the house for the rest of the day.  He apologized the next.  There are complicated reasons for why this dustup occurred.  I recommend reading the book to get more insight.  Sibbeston said in his office he had a "framed editorial cartoon" of himself, fiercely making a point in the assembly, with a hockey-helmet-wearing Curley looking on.

- A few weeks after his "round with Tagak," he caused a stir in the assembly again by throwing a coffee cup in the direction of the chair, Peter Fraser.  The cup broke into pieces and the room fell silent.  Before he headed out to the lobby, Sibbeston said he was resigning.  Commissioner John Parker told him to go home and talk with his constituents.  When he returned to Simpson, he was treated like a hero and told he should throw more cups.

Later in life, Sibbeston concluded that his "political passion to see right was done" for Indigenous people was definitely connected to the trauma of his residential schools years.

But outside of the "assembly ropes," he could be "the picture of cooperation and collaboration."  By 1986, he had garnered mostly positive reviews for his work as minister and government leader.

1983-1987 - "Great Progress and Achievement" in the NWT

As Sibbeston states in his memoir ". . .1983 to 1987 was one of great progress and achievement in the Northwest Territories."  I can attest to the truthfulness of this because I was an eye witness to it.

Among the NWT milestones when Sibbeston was premier (1985-1987) were:

- Aboriginal employment in the territorial government increased from 17 to 26 per cent.  This included appointing "strong Aboriginal people into senior positions."

- Implementation of the Official Languages Act, 1984.  English and French had full official status, along with official recognition of the seven Aboriginal languages.

- The NWT Pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver, British Columbia was one of the most popular Expo attractions.  Inuk MLA, Tagak Curley, among others, helped to make the pavilion a success.  It brought in more than a million dollars during its sixth-month operation.

- National political and constitutional meetings included the NWT's involvement.

Of course, all these major changes were bound to rub some people the wrong way.  Sibbeston acknowledged that "MLAs and the media did not always agree with my decisions or actions."

I remember the shock in Yellowknife when Sibbeston terminated a number of Non-Aboriginal bureaucrats, and replaced them with Indigenous people.  His actions were a huge departure from the federal government's longstanding assimilationist policy.

Blueberry, n.d.

Dene and Metis Divisions

I share Sibbeston's disappointment with the breakdown of the Dene and Metis land claims process.  For about three years after I left Yellowknife, I had some NWT publications mailed to me, because I wanted to follow what was going on.  I was not surprised when the Dene-Metis Negotiations Secretariat shut down in November 1990.

I agree with Sibbeston that one of the factors contributing to the breakdown was the 1984 Inuvialuit Final Agreement.  The Inuvialuit (Western Arctic Inuit) obtained both extensive surface and limited subsurface rights to renewable resources in their region.  As Sibbeston points out, this settlement has contributed substantially to improving the social and economic well-being of its inhabitants.

The Dene regions near the Inuvialuit, and the Southern Metis, could see the benefits of settling.  But the southern Dene wanted to hold out for a better deal.  Unfortunately, this deferral has led to a far more complex negotiations process.  Although some claims are settled, there are still regional, and even community-level claims, in process.

I do understand why Indigenous communities would want to hold out for a better deal, but I fret about the impact the decades-long process is having on the NWT's economy.  Since July 2015, I have had a subscription to Northern News Services, which covers happenings in the NWT.  It makes me very sad to see how many problems there are, not only in Yellowknife, but also in many of the communities.  Unemployment, addiction and crime are at record levels.  I realize there are complex reasons for this, that are not entirely related to land claims or the economy.  But I suspect if the remaining claims are settled, it would lead to more certainty, not only for Northern residents, but also for potential investors.

Sibbeston believes the breakdown in the Dene and Metis claims process has had some negative impacts in the Western Arctic.  He said "[t]he complexity of the regulatory system is due, at least in part, to the patchwork implementation of land claims."

But he also realizes that economic development in the NWT must not be of the "boom and bust" variety.  In 2012, he helped draft a report which set out a "vision for development that is both progressive and sustainable."

Lutsei K'e - backlit silhouette - Dandelion, 197-?

Sibbeston''s Healing Journey, circa 1985 to 2006

Throughout his "young adult life," Sibbeston drank, partied and chased women.  This behaviour continued for a long time after his marriage.

When he was in territorial politics, particularly when he was government leader, he also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mild depression.  As his self-destructive and mental health issues took an increasing toll on his personal and family life, he realized he had to get help.

Through "counsellling and self-reflection" he concluded that the six years he spent at the Fort Providence residential school, without seeing his mother, were the "most traumatic" period of his life.  He was teased because he was fairer than the other boys, he was sexually assaulted by an older Aboriginal boy, and he was "treated cruelly by the nuns."

His wife Karen's "love and forgiveness," and his "faith in God" were what saved him.  Despite his negative experiences with the church, he has been able to move past his resentment.  He now advocates that the church incorporate Dene cultural practices into the liturgy.  I will have more to say about this "Dene-cizing" in the section below about his work at the Fort Simpson church.

Sibbeston regained his well-being by quitting drinking in 1985 and by attending Marriage Encounter sessions with Karen.  In 2006, he was inspired by Margaret Trudeau's account of her struggles with mental illness, and got further help from an Ottawa psychiatrist.

Christianity and Indigenous Spirituality Finding Common Ground in Quite a Few Indigenous Communities in Canada

Although you would not know it by reading many mainstream media accounts, Christianity and Indigenous Spirituality are finding common ground in quite a few places in this country.  Statistics Canada's 2011 National Household Survey found that two out of three Aboriginal Canadians consider themselves Christian, although their church attendance was not necessarily on a regular basis.

Since about 2006, I have maintained a file of articles on this Christian/Indigenous Spirituality hybridity.  Rather than cite all these items, I suggest interested readers do an online search for "Christian" and "Indigenous" or "Aboriginal."  Canadian journalist, Douglas Todd, has written about this topic a number of times, so you could do an online search of his name, along with the other keywords.

Consequently, Sibbeston's work combining the Indigenous with the Christian at the Sacred Heart Church in Fort Simpson is part of a trend to be found elsewhere.

Fort Simpson - Sun. - Trees, March 8, 1986

Sibbeston's London, Ontario Veritas Lecture, September 22, 2016

On September 22, 2016, Sibbeston gave a presentation entitled "Incorporating Indigenous Spirituality into Church Liturgy and Practice."  His contribution, which was sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph, was part of the Veritas Series for Faith and Culture.  This hour-plus event took place at King's University College in London, Ontario.

I am sorry I missed this lecture in my hometown, but fortunately a video of the proceedings is available for viewing online.  For further information, see the bibliography.

Sibbeston referred to his early years sitting on his grandmother Ehmbee's knee at the church.  He said almost all of the services were in Latin or French.  Ehmbee would "lighten up" when the priest occasionally spoke in Dene.

In more recent years, the services have been conducted in English, but he thought a greater number of Dene people would attend if their culture was more part of the service.  It has been a challenge for him to translate the liturgy into Slavey because many of the concepts are not based on matters the Dene are familiar with.  But he believes it is worth the effort, so that what is actually going on is understood.

Re-Establishment of the Sacred Heart Church in Fort Simpson

As Sibbeston explained during the London, Ontario lecture, the Fort Simpson community came together to make sure the church was re-established.  The original church, which was built in 1923, had to close in October 2009 because it was structurally unsound.

When the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith Bishop, Mark Hagemoen, visited Fort Simpson in 2013, he concluded that now was the time to rebuild.  At that point, local parishioners had raised $300,000 towards the church, through bake sales, bottle drives, and other fund-raising initiatives.

Hagemoen managed to secure the remaining funding and support from the Archdioceses of Edmonton and Hamilton, as well as Catholic Missions in Canada.

On September 17, 2017, the new $1.3 million Sacred Heart Church opened.  Some of the items in the new structure had been saved from the old, including the baptismal font, made of local diamond willow.

When the consecration Mass was over, a special service was held at the site of Pope John Paul II's September 20, 1987 visit.

Days before the church opening, Hagemoen had been appointed the new Bishop of Saskatoon, so he greeted the consecration of the new parish with mixed emotions.

During the opening, Sibbeston was quoted as saying "if we could Dene-cize the Church, we could use our language and we could have songs in our language, people will come back."

On Sundays, he, along with other parishioners, translates the Mass into Dene.  Drumming is often part of the service.  The offerings are collected in a birch-bark basket and a moose-hide blanket.

Ndilo - Rene's house - Northern Lights, March 1971


As mentioned in the "Healing Journey" section above, Sibbeston said he was saved by "Karen's love and forgiveness" and his 'faith in God."  His faith came from his grandmother Ehmbee, who attended church every Sunday, and who "lived a life of kindness, gentleness and love."

I think Karen deserves extensive praise for her patience and understanding during her husband's trials and tribulations.  And I strongly suspect Ehmbee is beaming down from heaven at the good work her grandson is doing.


Catholic Missions in Canada. (2016, October 14).  Sacred Heart Church in Fort Simpton, Northwest Territories.  Retrieved from Catholic Missions in Canada:

CBC News. (2017, September 21).  N.W.T. Senator Nick Sibbeston resigns.  Retrieved from CBC News:

Cooke, L, & Piche, C. (1984?).  Liidli Koe = Two Rivers of Faith (Fort Simpson, Denendeh).  Yellowknife? Native Communications Society of the Western NWT.

DeGroot, P.  (1984, September 19).  Yellowknife residents delighted by papal visit.  Edmonton Journal.

Dene Nation. (2019, May 29).  Dene Nation - History.  Retrieved from Dene Nation:

Edwards, T. (2108, March 17).  'I did very well, didn't I?'  Retrieved from Northern News Services:

Ehrkamp, A.  (2017, September 17).  Fort Simpson rejoices as new church opens.  Retrieved from Grandin Media:

Ehrkamp, A.  (2017, December 13).  New church in the North a symbol of reconciliation  Retrieved from Grandin Media:

Hamilton, J.D. (1994).  Arctic Revolution: Social Change in the Northwest Territories, 1935-1994.  Toronto: Dundurn.

Hodgson-McCauley, C. (2015, December 21).  Make Daryl Dolynny NWT ombudsman!  Retrieved from Northern News Services:

News/North.  (1990, November 19).  Negotiations office to shut down November 30.

Northern News Services (2017, September 24).  New church, renewed hope.  Retrieved from Northern News Services:

NWT Archives.  (2019, May 23).  Copies and Use of Archival Material.  Retrieved from NWT Archives:

O'leary, K.P. (2015, March 4.  Expo 86.  Retrieved from Canadian Encylopedia:

Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.  (2019, May 30).  Seasons of Beauty: Photographs by Rene Fumoleau.  Retrieved from Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre:

Senate or Canada. (2016, March 31).  Meet Senator Dennis Patterson.  Retrieved from Senate of Canada:

Sibbeston, N. (2015).  You Will Wear a White Shirt.  Madiera Park, BC, Douglas & McIntyre.

Sibbeston, N. (2016, September 22).  Incorporating Indigenous Spirituality into Church Liturgy and Practice.  Retrieved from King's University College: https:www.kings.uwo/ca/campus-ministry

Statistics Canada (n.d.) 2011 National Household Survey: Religion.  Retrieved May 2019 from Statistics Canada:

Wikipedia. (2019, March 12).  Nick Sibbeston.  Retrieved from Wikipedia:

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Why It is Taking Me So Long to Write a Multi-Part Series About Cultural Misappropriation, As It Relates to Indigenous People Who Live in Canada

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.  In addition, the images I have included are for expositional purposes only.  The people in these images may not share my views.  The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily represent those of my family, friends or associates.

Note One: The title of this post includes the phrase "Indigenous people who live in Canada," rather than "Canadian Indigenous people." because I know there are some Aboriginals living in this country who do not consider themselves to be Canadian.  I recognize that many Aboriginals have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed.  However, I think they are better off to try and resolve their differences, while remaining Canadian.

Note Two: The nature photos, which I took during walks in my neighbourhood, have nothing to do with the contents of this post.  I included them as a reminder of our universal connection to the natural world.

A.          Introduction: Two Sides to Every Story

Since January 2017, I have been working on a multi-part series about cultural misappropriation as it relates to Indigenous people who live in Canada.  The reason it is taking me so long is because I have been revisiting my late parents' and my connection, not only to this particular topic, but also to Aboriginal issues generally.  It has been an eye opener for me to review 60 years of this material.

Because it is going to take me more time to finish the multi-part series, I have, in the interim, published this abbreviated one-post version.

Before I started working on this series, I considered myself to be relatively well-versed regarding the historical reasons why Aboriginal people are sometimes exploited because of the misuse of their work or ideas.  But my research has made me realize the roots of the problem are much more extensive than I had realized.

Duck in water, London, Ontario, September 15, 2016

Nevertheless, I had been familiar with many aspects of the topic from an early age, mainly because my late parents got involved with Indigenous issues in 1958 when I was six.  For further information about my parents connection, you can check out my December 15, 2016 post, entitled "Part Four of Four: Tribute to Jay Peterson (1920-1976), on the 40th Anniversary of Her Passing - Her Involvement With Indigenous Issues, 1958-1976, December 15, 2016,"  Go to, and click on the "Jay Peterson" label in the right sidebar, to find it.

In addition, my September 27, 2013 post, entitled "Charles T. Peterson (1913-2007) - His (Rejected) Submission to the Royal Commission on the Northern Environment, 1978," includes many of my father's views on Aboriginal issues.  Go to, and click on the "Charles T. Peterson" label in the right sidebar, to find it.

My parents instilled in me a deep appreciation for genuine Indigenous creations.  We had quite a few examples in our family home, some of which I now have in mine.  In addition, I have other treasures that I have purchased over the years.

My knowledge of Aboriginal matters expanded dramatically when I worked primarily in Native organizations in Southern and Northern Ontario and the Northwest Territories, from 1975 to 1987.  My employment in this area included some work in the cultural field.  Consequently, I have some understanding of Indigenous knowledge, and appreciate why many traditionalists object to the commodification of it.

From the 1970s onwards, I have recorded my views on Aboriginal matters in published and unpublished form.  I consulted with quite a few Indigenous people about my writings until around the mid-2000s.  Although I got a lot of very helpful advice from these individuals, I concluded that I was often better off to work on my own.  I will have more to say about why I decided to go solo in my multi-part series.

The mid-2000s was also the period when I decided to disengage from the Indigenous "cause."  Since then I have mostly been on the outside looking in.  However, I have continued to write about my experiences, because it helps me to make sense of all that happened to me.

From 1990 onward, my employment has been almost entirely in the mainstream.  I am not out to make a living out of writing about my experiences with Aboriginals, but I feel my perspective needs to be taken into consideration, along with those of Indigenous people writing about their situation.

I do not agree with those who think only people from the culture in question should be able to comment.  Sometimes those on the outside looking in can provide insights that those directly involved cannot publicly voice for various reasons.

In April 2011, I launched both my and blogs.  A few Aboriginals have given me positive feedback on some of my previous posts.  But I did not consult with them before publishing my views.

Nevertheless, I realize it is important to be very careful what I say about this subject.  That is why I spent months working on my previous posts.  And, as mentioned, earlier, I have been working on the cultural misappropriation topic since January 2017.  During this time, I have read hundreds of articles about the misuse of Indigenous heritage.  Many were written by Aboriginal people who have been personally wounded by the loss of their culture.  It was heartbreaking for me to review so many accounts of the damage this has caused.

I also looked at scores of articles by People of Colour (PoC).  Quite a few acknowledged they borrowed from other cultures all the time.  Their main concern was that any writing about the subject had to be done respectfully and carefully.  But Indigenous discussions were frequently less nuanced and more focussed on blaming cultural loss almost entirely on colonization.  Those Aboriginals who thought that the cultural misappropriation issue needed to be examined in context got relatively little attention.

So, if Aboriginals who want to consider both sides of a story often get short shrift, my prospects of having my voice heard, as a Non-Aboriginal, are even worse.  In fact, many social justice advocates claim that my views are of no value because of the colour of my skin.  But I disagree with this viewpoint.  Indigenous issues were front and centre during a number of pivotal times in my life, including my mother's December 1976 passing.

What I am presenting is my interpretation of my experiences.  This is not the same as Non-Indigenous individuals writing fictional or non-fictional accounts about Aboriginals they have no connection to.  I think it is important to make this distinction because a lot of the cultural misappropriation debates have concentrated on Non-Indigenous people writing about Indigenous people without having any background to the subject matter.  This is not the case with many elements of the story I am telling.

Duck, London, Ontario, September 12, 2016

Although I frequently understand Indigenous peoples' cultural misappropriation concerns, there have been some instances where I think the objections have gone off the rails, into an outright censorship situation.  I have a right, as a participant in an experience with an Aboriginal person, to express my opinion of what I think happened in that interaction.  The Aboriginal person, of course, has the right to counter my interpretation.

I pay for both my blogs out of my own pocket.  Although I am working on a book about my two generations of experience with Indigenous issues, it is still at the developmental stage and there have been no financial transactions so far in this regard.

If people do not like my views, then they can ignore them.  But, because there are two sides to every story, I think my opinions should be out there for those who want to consider another perspective.

B.          Terminology for Indigenous Peoples Is Multi-Layered and Multi-Faceted

In the multi-part series I am working on regarding cultural misappropriation, I include a section on terminology relating to Indigenous peoples.  This is because there is quite a bit of confusion regarding why and how certain terms apply to the first inhabitants of this country.  Below is an abbreviated version of what I plan to include in my multi-part series.

B.1        Canadian Federal Government's Interpretation of Indigenous/Aboriginal Terminology

The uncertainty over terminology has been heightened by numerous changes to Indigenous policy since Prime Minster Justin Trudeau took office in November 2015.  For instance, in August 2017, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) split into two departments: Indigenous Services Canada, and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada.  While the split is taking effect, people are directed to either the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada or the Indigenous Services Canada home pages.

On the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada site, a December 4, 2017 entry says:

"Indigenous peoples" is a collective term for the original peoples of North America and their descendants.  Often "Aboriginal peoples" is also used.  The Canadian Constitution recognized three groups of Aboriginal peoples: Indians (more commonly referred to as First Nations), Inuit and Metis.  These are three distinct peoples with unique histories, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

What I take this to mean is that the term "Aboriginal peoples" is defined in the Canadian Constitution and "Indigenous peoples" is not.

In a March 23, 2018 article about the University of Victoria's Indigenous Law degree program, which starts in September 2018, there is a distinction made between "Aboriginal law" and "Indigenous law."  According to this article, when Canadian common and civil laws interact with Indigenous communities, it is called "Aboriginal law."  But when Indigenous people utilize their own self-governing oral laws, it is called "Indigenous law."

So, even though I use the terms Indigenous and Aboriginal interchangeably throughout this post, Aboriginal has a distinct meaning in terms of the Canadian legal system.

B.1.1      Indian

As mentioned above, the Canadian Constitution recognizes the term "Indian."  This is at least partly because 'Indian" has a legal meaning in documents, such as the Indian Act.  Bob Joseph provides guidance on when Indian should and should not be used in a post he wrote for the "Working Effectively With Indigenous Peoples" blog.  You can find the citation for this in the bibliography at the end of this post.

The most recent edition of the online Canadian Press Stylebook recommends that the term Indian be avoided "except when it is the stated preference."  Status Indians sometimes prefer it to be used.

B.1.2      First Nations

"'First Nations people' include Status and Non-Status Indians."

B.1.3      Metis

The federal government defines Metis as "one of the three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada, along with Indians (First Nations) and Inuit."

As Metis Adam Gaudry explained in his "Metis" entry for the Canadian Encyclopedia, the term is "complex and contentious."  I recommend reading Gaudry's article for further information.

B.1.4       Inuit

"Inuit are the Indigenous people of the Arctic.  The word Inuit means 'the people' in the Inuit language.  The singular for Inuit is 'Inuk.'"

B.2          Native

When I was working in Aboriginal organizations in the 1970s and 1980s, the use of the term "Native" was common.  But, in a July 2016 blog post, Bob Joseph described Native as an "outdated collective term," although he acknowledged some groups, such as the Native Women's Association of Canada, still use it.

B.3          How Indigenous/Aboriginal People Describe Themselves

Many Indigenous people prefer to describe themselves in their own traditional way.

C           Cultural Misappropriation and Related Terminology Issues

The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature defines cultural appropriation as the "taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes or practices by one cultural group from another."  This "taking over" can be a positive or negative occurrence, depending on the circumstances.

The 2015 guidebook "Think Before You Appropriate: things to know and questions to ask in order to avoid misappropriating Indigenous cultures" navigates the reader through this issue.  It was published by the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage project (IPinCH) at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.  iPinCH is a "collaboration of scholars, students, heritage professionals, community members, policy makers and Indigenous organizations across the globe."

The guidebook notes that cultural appropriation occurs all the time, so the issue is more one of cultural misappropriation, which is a "one-sided practice where one entity benefits from another group's culture without permission and without giving something back in return."  I think the term cultural misappropriation is far more accurate and will use it as much as possible instead.

However, I will still employ cultural appropriation if it applies in a particular context, e.g., it is used in the title of the work being cited.

D          Lack of Consensus on What Cultural Misappropriation Means and When it Occurs

As explained in Part C above, cultural appropriation occurs when the process is one-sided, rather than reciprocal.  Although this interpretation certainly lays out the groundwork for further dialogue, there is still debate over when the process is one way.

There are also difficulties reconciling intellectual property rights (IPRs) with many Indigenous world views.  IPRs are a Western construct designed to protect literary, artistic and other works, through the use of copyright, patents, trademarks and designs legislation.  There is usually a commercial, individual, "fixated," and time-limited methodology to IPRs.

But the spiritual, variable and overlapping aspects of most Indigenous philosophies often do not mesh with IPRs.  Traditional knowledge does not view heritage as a commodity that can be bought and sold, so the economic rights aspects of IPRs often conflict with this.

Pink Flower, London, Ontario, July 4, 2016

Another difficulty is that traditional knowledge terminology is open to varying interpretations, depending on the Indigenous group consulted.  I agree with those who believe this knowledge needs to be more clearly explained.  As an April 2, 2018 Globe and Mail editorial pointed out, "a strong definition would only give it more value."

Additional specifics are also required for cultural misappropriation terminology.  Toronto, Ontario, Canada, writer, Brian Fawcett, is right that more exacting vocabularies, such as those from the literary, philosophical or legal traditions, would make communicating regarding this topic more effective.

I think the more specific vocabulary should be legal, but should be developed in such a way that it respects both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous protocols.  However, I believe there are times when a compromise needs to be struck between the two world views.

Michael F. Brown is the president of the School for Advanced Research (SAR) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States.  SAR supports Native American research in anthropology and related fields.  Brown believes "legal protocols" are needed to "resolve knotty questions."

The 189-member Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) is part of the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  Since the early 2000s, the IGC has been trying to come up with a global process to protect Indigenous cultural property.

Canadian Indigenous groups, such as the Assembly of First Nations, have expressed concerns about the lack of financial support they are getting to participate in these talks.  This is because many of them are hoping that the IGC can make misappropriating Indigenous culture illegal worldwide.

But it seems to me that if the IGC has not been able to make much progress after 17 years, it does not seem likely this will change much, even if funding were supplied to Canadian Indigenous groups.  I believe this is because tribal systems have frequently become fragmented due to the passage of time and modernity.

I am far from an expert, but, after examining this issue for more than a year, I contend it often appears to be easier to implement cultural misappropriation compliance on a case-by-case basis, or with regards to specific items, such as visual art.  Trying to come up with a global interpretation is very difficult due to the many different views in Indigenous communities.  For instance, some have both elected and hereditary systems, which often have different perspectives.

This is where I think Michael F. Brown's "legal protocols" to "resolve knotty questions" could apply.  There will be some instances where the issue will be relatively straightforward, such as with a tribe that has a longstanding tradition of using a particular art style or custom.  But there will be others where the cultural entity has been influenced by such a confluence of factors, that it would be difficult if not impossible to confirm a cultural misappropriation charge.

White flower, London, Ontario, September 16, 2016

Some traditionalists maintain that the way around this problem is to decolonize and create small independent nations or sovereign entities.  They believe that going back to Indigenous systems wherever possible is the best route forward.  I disagree with some aspects of this.  As I said in Note One at the beginning of this post, I recognize that many Indigenous people have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed.  However, I think they are better off to try and resolve their differences, while remaining Canadian.  Many Aboriginal people are able to function successfully in both worlds.

In addition, there is a tendency for some traditionalists to idealize pre-contact societies.  They make it sound like returning to the old ways will resolve all the current dysfunction.  But I maintain these societies, with their frequent inter-tribal warfare, and the disparaging treatment of women by some tribes, were often far from idyllic.  It might be better, in some instances, to take the best from both worlds, and create hybridized systems, that still support Canadian sovereignty, but respect Indigenous world views.  However, these systems need to include economic partnerships with the Aboriginal community, that will lead to financial sustainability.

Perhaps the four-year Indigenous Law degree, which will be starting at the University of Victoria in September 2018, may cause me to revise some of my views.  This program, which is the first of its kind in the world, will combine Indigenous methodology with Canadian common law.  To me, this is a form of hybridity, which could lead to a better legal framework.  So possibly out of this, the best of both worlds can be achieved.

E           "Necessity the Mother of Invention" in My Mother's Baby Carrying Creations - And I Was a Factor in this "Necessity"

Before working on this cultural misappropriation series, I had assumed that my father's circa 1970 biographical sketch, which stated that my mother became interested in the "plight of Indians" in 1958 was accurate.  But now that I have had a chance to examine my mother's files more closely, it appears she was at least aware of some Aboriginal matters before this date.  This was because she invented several baby carriers, which she acknowledged were influenced by a variety of different cultures, including Indigenous.

She was an artist and an art historian who saw the creative process as a continuum throughout history that was built upon and added to by successive generations and cultures.  Therefore, her inventions incorporated the ingenuity of mothers throughout the ages.

She said in a 1958 London Free Press article that "necessity was the mother of invention."  As the oldest of her four children, I know I was a factor in her "necessity."  This was because I was always taking off down the street, into the water, and so on.  She decided that for her three younger children, she would be prepared.

Leith Peterson "eavesdropping" on neighbours, 1953

In May 1955, a photo of my baby brother Chris in a "webbing sling" on my mother's back, with three-year old me looking on from a stroller, appeared in the London Free Press.

London Free Press, May 10 or 11, 1955

Since you will likely have trouble reading the cutline it says:

The Indians thought of it--Mrs. Charles Peterson adapted it--little Christopher Peterson loves it.  Mrs. Peterson has three children three years old and under, and getting them from place to place presented problems until she thought of the practical solution devised by the Indians.  Above she pushes three-year old Leith in her cart, while Christopher rides comfortably in a webbing sling on his mother's back.  (Photo by Ernie Lee, Free Press Staff Photographer).

This photo and cutline are part of the London Free Press Collection of Photographic Negatives, Western Archives, Western University.

Also below is a scan of the actual photo that appeared in the London Free Press in May 1955.

L-R: Chris, Jay and Leith Peterson, London Free Press, 1955

My mother was certainly unlike many other Non-Indigenous people in the 1950s because she acknowledged she got her sling idea from the Indians.  She did not act like it was her creation alone.

(Note: Although the Peterson family home on Dufferin Avenue in London, Ontario, Canada (ca. 1951-1977) was sometimes referred to as the "United Nations," and there were East Indians who visited our home over the years, I have concluded from looking at my mother's files that she was crediting North American Indians for the sling concept.)

In a 1959 Chatelaine article, Mom said that she had not patented her creations "because that might lead to a business venture that would take her away from her children."  She was so selfless that she never got any financial compensation for any of her baby carrying devices.  In fact, the Chatelaine article included a diagram on how to make the baby chair.  The chair was initially referred to as the "Peter Perch," and later the "babi-sitter."

Here is a 1958 London Free Press photo of my brother Don in the "babi-sitter."

Don Peterson in "babi-sitter," London Free Press, November 6, 1958

From 1958 to 1967, the babi-sitter was one of the major fundraisers for the Service League of London.  It was available for purchase in hospital gift shops across Canada, and was also sold in Switzerland, Italy, France, England, Bermuda and the United States.  In 1966, the League made $3,000 on the sale of the chair alone.

Below is a 1953 photo of my brother Stu in another one of my mother's inventions, called the "babi-toter" (a.k.a. the "shoulder bag carrier").  The Chatelaine article also included a diagram on how to make the toter.

Stu Peterson in "babi-toter," 1953

(Note: Stu's legs and feet were in casts because he has club feet.  His legs and feet were later straightened.)

A November 6, 1958 London Free Press article, entitled "Necessity Mother of Invention" included a photo of Mom at the stove at our home on Dufferin Avenue, with my brother Don in the babi-toter.

Jay with Don Peterson in toter, London Free Press, 1958

Joan May, the author of this article, said my mother "thought of ways Indian mothers, Eskimos and Chinese have looked after infants from ancient times.  She adapted the old ideas to new ones of her own."

I wonder if my mother was aware of the Jolly Jumper around the time that she was giving credit to the Indians for some of her baby carrying concepts.  This is because Susan Olivia Poole (1889-1975) was part Ojibway (also spelled Ojibwe).  She was originally from a reserve in Minnesota in the United States, and later moved to Canada.

Poole remembered how an Ojibway mother would rock her baby in a papoose hanging from a sturdy tree branch.  In 1910, Poole used a cloth diaper, axe handle and steel spring to fashion her first Jolly Jumper for Joseph, the first of her seven children.  She marketed her invention in 1948.  In 1957, her son Joseph Poole and she patented it.

Around the mid-1960s, I remember seeing my first cousin smiling and bouncing around in a Jolly Jumper.  Other family toddlers may have also enjoyed it as well, but I can only confirm that my first cousin used it.

For further information about my mother's baby carrying devices, go to my blog.  Click on the "Jay Peterson" label in the right sidebar and look at Part One of Four and Part Two of Four of my December 15, 2016 series, entitled "Tribute to Jay Peterson (1920-1976) on the 40th Anniversary of Her Passing, December 15, 2016."

In addition, you can read my May 4, 2012 post entitled "Jay Peterson (1920-1976)."

F.           My Father Wore Genuine Cowichan Sweaters

Around 1977, my father, Charles T. Peterson (1913-2007), moved to Duncan, British Columbia, Canada.  Shortly after he arrived there, he started wearing genuine Cowichan sweaters.  Here is a photo of my father and me in Duncan in December 1995.

L-R: Charles T. Peterson and Leith Peterson, Duncan, 1995

Dad continued to proudly wear the sweaters after he moved back to Ontario in 1997, right up until his final days.  Below is a photo I took of him in October 2006.

Charles T. Peterson, Fergus, Ontario, 2006

Because of working on this post, I ended up doing some research into the history of genuine Cowichan sweaters.  The Coast Salish, which includes the Cowichan, were expert weavers for many years before contact.  By 1500, archeological records show the technique had been perfected.  Blankets and other woven products were usually made from mountain goat wool, dog hair and other long fibres.

After sheep started to be raised on Vancouver Island in the 1850s, a switch was made to this type of wool.  "Coast Salish European circular knitting" was first documented at the Sisters of St. Anne Roman Catholic mission in Duncan.  From about 1864 to 1904, the Sisters of St. Anne provided instructions on how to knit.  In the 1870s, knitting was also taught at the Anglican mission in Metlakatla.

Since the 1950s, the Coast Salish creators of the genuine sweaters have faced relentless competition from those who produce the inauthentic variety.  The copies are often sold at a lower price, thereby undercutting the Indigenous sellers.  As a result, the Cowichan Band Council passed a resolution, in 1981, outlining what constituted an authentic sweater.  The requirements included the type of wool and designs used, and the knitting method.  The band does not have copyright protection on the sweater, but registered the name "Genuine Cowichan."  Each sweater is also given a registration number and a label indicating that it is an authentic product.

Around 1986, my father mailed me a genuine Cowichan hat from Duncan.

Leith Peterson wearing Genuine Cowichan hat, March 2018

It has a "genuine" label in the inside.

Label on inside of Cowichan hat, March 2018

If you have trouble reading the label, it says "Genuine Cowichan by Wilma."

My father was very supportive of Indigenous craftspeople, just like my mother was.  He often bought Indigenous-designed products for family members, including me.  This was one of the ways he showed his respect for Aboriginal people.

G          Conclusion

In 1991, Hartmut Lutz published Contemporary Challenges: Conversations With Canadian Native Authors.  In the preface to the book, Lutz concluded that many Natives wanted Non-Native people ". . .to use self-restraint. . .to learn and listen to First Nations people before writing about them, to at least seek permission before telling their stories."

Well, I have had numerous conversations with Indigenous people over the past 50 years.  In addition, I have read many books by Native authors.  My attendance at plays and presentations by Aboriginals has taught me a lot.  Consequently, I think it is time to move from the back seat to the front and contribute to the discussion.

I do understand the need to get permission for the use of tribal-specific information, such as artistic designs.  I acknowledge that many Aboriginal peoples' histories and cultures have been distorted and exploited over time.  In addition, I recognize that many have taken advantage of Indigenous peoples' traditional knowledge, without giving back anything in return.

Autumn leaf, London, Ontario, October 28, 2016

Nevertheless, I think the permission aspect can end up being a form of censorship if it only amounts to silencing a Non-Aboriginal who wants to state a point of view that does not adhere to the "Aboriginals are always right and Non-Aboriginals are always wrong" narrative.

I contend there are grey areas where stopping misappropriation outright would be difficult if not impossible.  In other words, I think there should be a selective application of cultural misappropriation.

I also believe the personal experiences of Non-Aboriginals who have been involved with the Indigenous situation for one reason or another, need to be taken into account.  I heartily disagree with those who say that only Indigenous people can write their perspectives on this.  Why shouldn't a researcher be able to look at both sides of the story?  The researcher might end up rejecting the Non-Indigenous viewpoint, but it should be available for consideration.

My view is that the ability to operate on two or more cultural paths is a healthier way to live, than to insist on only following one route.  I recognize that because Indigenous people lost so much of their culture over the years, they would want to regain the knowledge and the connection.  But I think it is a mistake to believe that one has to disparage one culture in order to function in another.

I will have more to say about all this in my multi-part series.


Academic Entrepreneur (2016, March 26).  Susan Olivia Poole: An Iconic Woman for the Bank of Canada's new Banknote.

Atkinson, N. (2017, January 3).  Knit wit: 5 things you didn't know about Canada's beloved Cowichan sweater.

Austin (2017, August 17).  Protecting Indigenous Cultural Property: Is Intellectual Property Law Actually the Answer?

Bird, H. (2017, June 13).  Cultural appropriation: make it illegal worldwide, Indigenous advocates say.

Bird, H. (2017, June 17).  Money now available to cover Indigenous groups' travel costs to UN negotiations.

Brown, Michael F.  (2017).  About/Upriver Home.

Brown, Michael F. (2017, June 17).  Beyond hoop earrings: The damaging impact of the cultural appropriation meme.

Canadian Press (2018).  Canadian Press Stylebook: Online guide for writing and editing.

Davis, A. A. (2018, March 23).  University of Victoria law degree a world first.

Face of Native (2015, March 25).  For your information: History of Cowichan knitting.

Fawcett, B. (2017, June 29).  Cultural Appropriation, Misappropriation and Cultural Exchange: a primer.

Gaudry, A. (2016, November 16).  Metis.  Canadian Encyclopedia.

Globe and Mail (2018, April 2).  Globe editorial: Ottawa pits 'traditional knowledge' against 'science,' and then walks away.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (2017, December 4).  First Nations.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (2017, December 4).  Indigenous peoples and communities.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (2017, December 4).  Metis.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (2018, March 22).  Inuit.

Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage Project (2015).  Think Before You Appropriate.

Jolly Jumper (n.d.).  History.  Retrieved June 7, 2017 from Jolly Jumper.

Joseph, B. (2016, July 20).  Indigenous Peoples Terminology: Guidelines for Usage.  Working Effective With Indigenous Peoples.

Joseph, B. (2017, August 15).  Tips for Purchasing Authentic Indigenous Art.  Working Effectively With Indigenous Peoples.

Lloyd, A. (2017, June 19).  It's Cultural Appropriation All the Way Down.  The Weekly Standard.  the

London Free Press (1955, May).  New Look - Old Custom.

Lutz, H. (1991).  Contemporary Challenges: Conversations With Canadian Native Authors.  Saskatoon: Fifth House.

May, J. (1958, November 6).  Necessity Mother of Invention.  London Free Press.

McColl, K. (1959, May).  Babies are meant to be near you.  Chatelaine, pp. 108-109.

Meikle, M. (1987).  Cowichan Indian Knitting.  UBC Library Open Collection.

Ogumamanam, C. (2017, June 28).  Rethinking copyright for Indigenous creative works.  Policy Options.

Oxford Reference (2017, February 20).  Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature.

Peterson, L. (2003, May 10).  Remembering Mom.  London Free Press, p. F3.

Peterson, L. (2006, May 27).  From party panache to practical.  London Free Press, p. F3.

Stopp, M. P. (2012, Fall).  The Coast Salish Knitters and the Cowichan Sweater: An Event of National Historical Significance.  Material Culture Review.

Woodrow, A. (2018, March 7).  University of Victoria offers first combined Indigenous law degree.  Canadian Lawyer Magazine.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Cultural Misappropriation, "Molasses" and HTTPS

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 represent those of my family, friends or associates.

During the mid- to late-1970s, some Indigenous women I knew at the time gave me the nickname "Molasses" because of my slow-motion style.  They can rest assured I am still as slow as molasses in January.

These women are not alone in their opinion.  Many Non-Indigenous people of my acquaintance think it is taking me far too long to finish my multi-part series on cultural misappropriation, as it relates to Indigenous people who live in Canada.  In fact, I have been working on it since January 2017.

For those who have been waiting patiently (or in some cases, impatiently), you can rest assured I am working on it regularly, and it is taking shape.

In other news, on April 8, 2018, I upgraded to HTTPS on this blog, so the url is now:

I have also updated to HTTPS on my blog about me generally:

Friday, 27 May 2016

Part Three of Three: Why I Think Canadian Aboriginal Integration is Better Than Parallelism or Assimilation: More People Need to be Involved With Indigenous Policy Decision Making

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 represent those of my family, friends or associates.

Note 1: In this post, I will primarily be focussing on First Nations people living on- and off-reserves.  For brevity's sake, I will not be covering Inuit- and Metis-related issues.  But when I include information about indigenous people generally, e.g., statistics, it sometimes incorporates Inuit and Metis.

Note 2: The nature photos, which I took during walks in my neighbourhood, have nothing to do with the content of this post.  I found working on this entry so mentally challenging, that I sometimes recharged by playing slideshows of these images.

Part Three - A       "Ordinary Canadians" Are Frequently Left Out of Decisions Regarding Aboriginal Policy

Although I do not agree with Sudbury lawyer, Peter Best, that all aboriginal rights should be eliminated, I concur with the point he made in his There is No Difference essay (2016)--available at decisions regarding indigenous issues are not, for the most part, being made in consultation with ordinary Canadians.

Best's definition of "ordinary Canadians" is anyone who is not part of the "Indian industry."  In the industry category, he includes "Indian band elites. . .politicians, civil service elites" and many in academia, particularly those in "native studies departments."  Non-indigenous professional people who provide services to this industry are also on his list.  However, he acknowledges he is generalizing about a complex topic.

I agree with him that it is difficult to make sweeping statements regarding who makes up the industry.  This is because there are many people, who fall into the categories he lists, who are helping to improve the situation.  But, as I explained in the "Personal Journey" section of Part One, I have found there are individuals who promote the parallelism narrative, even when it does not make sense to do so, and these parallelists can often be found in the groups Best cites.

I also concur with Best that a lot of indigenous policy decision making is an "essentially private conversation amongst our courts, governments, governing classes, Indian elites and the Indian industry generally."  Ordinary Canadians are not consulted about what is going on, but they need to be because they are affected by these decisions.

For instance, Supreme Court decisions regarding indigenous rights and resource development are causing many companies to not pursue projects in contentious areas.  This has negatively impacted thousands of people, including aboriginals working in the resources industry.

(See "Part Three - F       Indigenous Rights, Resource Development and Environmental Stewardship" for an expanded discussion of the above paragraph.)

I believe most ordinary Canadians agree it is best for the country to remain unified.  I also think the majority of citizens uphold the humanist and social democratic values this nation was founded on, which include freedom of speech and the rule of law.  Of course, there are many aspects of this country's history that were detrimental to indigenous people, but this does not mean the fundamental principles are lacking in merit.  If anything, these principles, such as peace, order and good government, should be lauded.

There also has to be a greater emphasis on social democratic values such as equality and the rights of the individual, instead of the current stress on collective rights, when it comes to indigenous issues.  This is because when aboriginal lobby groups negotiate with their federal, provincial and territorial counterparts, grassroots aboriginals are sometimes left out of the conversation.

And when aboriginal lobby groups negotiate with government leaders, many non-aboriginal Canadians are left out of the conversation as well.  In fact, the last time Canadians had a say regarding indigenous policy was during the 1992 referendum following the failed Charlottetown Accord.  At that time, Canadians rejected the self-government concept, which was based on parallelism.

October shrubbery, October 11, 2015
Despite this rejection, the federal government ignored Canadians' wishes and stated, in 1995, that an "inherent right" to self-government was now government policy.  Nevertheless, both the 1980s entrenchment of aboriginal rights in the Constitution and the 1995 statement still saw indigenous governments operating within the Canadian legal framework.

The federal government's May 2016 support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) underscores their commitment to increased aboriginal autonomy.  Fortunately, a number of analysts are recommending that UNDRIP's adoption include provisions to ensure that Canadian laws and policies are still adhered to.

The federal government is also planning to do away with the Indian Act and change the focus to Section 35 of the Constitution and UNDRIP.  This could end up being OK if indigenous groups do not want to separate from Canada.  But if some groups decide they want to break away, I think the federal government should have a referendum to get Canadian feedback on this.  In my opinion, separating from Canada is unacceptable, particularly if these groups still expect to get government funding.

Conrad Black made an important point when he said that Canadians have demonstrated respect for other cultures, but are "achingly slow to defend" their own.  He also said many radical activists promote a "process of self-hate" that demands almost all aspects of our past be renounced and rebuked.

This self-hate has got to stop or it will literally destroy this country and everything it stands for.  It is perfectly acceptable to reach compromises that will contribute to both indigenous and non-indigenous well-being.  But Canadians should not forget the many sound principles this country was founded on, and if these views are challenged, they should make their opinions known.

Part Three - B       Scapegoating/Betrayal of Some Non-Aboriginals

Since 2007, I have been networking with non-aboriginals who are concerned with some aspects of the way that indigenous policy is being handled in this country.  For the most part, those of us who feel this way are not part of the decision-making apparatus of this country.  But we still want to publicly express our views on what we see is wrong with the way the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments often respond to indigenous issues.

Earlier in our lives, we were very much involved with the aboriginal situation for one reason or another.  In some instances, this commitment extended back one or two generations in our immediate families.  As previously mentioned, my primary involvement was working in aboriginal organizations.  Others were connected with the residential schools in some way.  Still others are professional people whose employment intersected with the indigenous community.

But around the late 1980s/early 1990s, many of us felt scapegoated and/or betrayed.  Some of us spoke out initially, but later backed off, due to the harsh criticisms we received.  However, now quite a few of us are semi-retired or retired, and are advocating once again that our side of the story gets more attention.

I saw what I consider to be scapegoating occur with some non-aboriginal residents of Caledonia, Ontario.  They were in the wrong place at the wrong time when a land claims dispute ignited in 2006.  Although the situation there has been comparatively better since 2014, there are still many unresolved differences between some non-aboriginal residents and aboriginal occupiers involved with the land claims dispute.  For more information regarding my views on Caledonia, click on the "Caledonia" label in the right sidebar.

Wildflower, March 9, 2016
Those who worked at residential schools have had a particularly troubling plight.  Although there is no doubt that abuses happened at some schools, this was not the case with them all.  There were many staff members, including aboriginal ones, who did the best they could under the circumstances.  And up until the early 1990s, it was quite common for numerous residential school attendees to praise the support they got at the schools.  But since then, it has become politically incorrect for most attendees to do so.  Consequently, since the late 1980s, most people who worked at the schools have been reticent about even acknowledging their role.

I suspect why some of the scapegoating/betrayals occurred in the late 1980s/early 1990s, was because aboriginal rights were entrenched in the Constitution in the early 1980s.  In my opinion, this caused some aboriginals and their supporters to develop too much of a cavalier attitude towards anyone whose lifestyle or views did not advance their "cause."  This was the case even if the falsely accused had tried to do their best to support aboriginals in the past.  In other words, some people became expendable for political reasons.

But I contend that, if indigenous leaders want to ensure justice really happens, they should acknowledge those who helped them along the way, rather than regularly throwing them under the bus.

Part Three - C       "Hemispatial Neglect" = One-Sided Analysis of Aboriginal Issues

There has to be more attention given to the entire story, rather than the current emphasis on blaming everything on colonization and the residential schools.  As National Post columnist, Barbara Kay, noted, some radical leftists (she called them "blind progressives"), particularly on Western campuses, frequently oppose any Western icons, "especially if they are dead white males of European provenance."  Kay provided the example of Wilfrid Laurier University's February 2016 decision to abandon a privately funded Canadian prime ministers statue project.  Their pronouncement was based on opposition from some people on campus, who thought the project would offend indigenous and other groups.

Kay said that those opposed showed signs of having a neurological condition called "hemispatial neglect."  This condition made them think that any argument from what they perceived as the "right" should be suppressed.

But, as Naomi Lakritz of the Calgary Herald pointed out, former prime minister, Paul Martin, has championed aboriginal causes since his retirement.  He would have been one of the former prime ministers included.  This is just one of many arguments for why disapproval of the project lacked objectivity.

Because radical leftists often judge the past by today's standards, their analysis of historical events should be challenged.  Yet their "hemispatial neglect" dominates most of the discussions about aboriginal issues.  It frequently contends that all indigenous people suffered cultural genocide.  In other words, it takes a very complex situation and reduces it to collectivist rhetoric.

Part Three - D       Need for More Administrative Fairness

Am grateful to a colleague who made me aware of administrative fairness guidelines, specifically the ones assembled by the Alberta Ombudsman.  I suspect many "ordinary Canadians" would agree that indigenous policy does not always adhere to these guidelines.

For instance, Guideline #6 is "Reasonable Apprehension of Bias."  This means that the process must demonstrate the "impartiality and independence" of the decision maker.  My view, and that of others, is that some of the policy makers in this area have demonstrated a distinct bias towards the parallelism position, at the expense of other options.

One example of this is the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), which was established in August 1991, and which tabled its final report in 1996.  The original RCAP composition was four aboriginal and three non-aboriginal commissioners, one of whom was Allan Blakeney, the former NDP premier of Saskatchewan.  Jeffrey Simpson described Blakeney as the only non-aboriginal who had "hands-on experience" with the topic, "not as some abstract idea or legal theory."  But in April 1993, Blakeney resigned because he felt the other commissioners were "dreaming up unworkable non-solutions."

Mallard Duck, May 9, 2016
The RCAP report is frequently held up by some aboriginal spokespeople as the "blueprint" for how to "fix" the "relationship."  In a December 8, 2015 CBC Radio/Unreserved interview, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) Chair, Murray Sinclair, acknowledged that quite a few of the "calls to action" were "echoed" in other reports, such as RCAP.  I think this underscores why the TRC executive summary, which was released in June 2015, often falls into the same rut as the RCAP report.  This is because the RCAP recommendations, which revolved around parallelism, did not always apply to the 42 per cent of aboriginals who lived off-reserve 20 years ago.

Now, 20 years later, the number of aboriginals living off-reserve has increased to 56 per cent (although some indigenous spokespeople say it is more like 70 per cent).  Since parallelism primarily addresses the reserve situation, this means it should not be trumpeted as a blanket solution to native woes.

Part Three - E        Governance and Accountability on Reserves

Many aboriginal leaders contend that on-reserve poverty is the result of misguided government policies.  This is certainly the case in quite a few instances.  But there are just too many reports of mismanagement, resulting from poor governance, for it to be blamed solely on non-aboriginals.  John Reilly said in Bad Judgment he had been told by a source he considered reliable that "aboriginal policing had evidence of millions of dollars going into offshore accounts."

In Dances With Dependency, Calvin Helin lamented "Aboriginals' unhealthy focus on the federal government," which had contributed to a deeply engrained "'culture of expectancy.'"

Phyllis Sutherland is a Peguis Band member who supports better accountability on reserves.  In 2012, she said that attempts to get financial information from her band leadership were ignored, and members were "subjected to intimidation tactics, such as fearmongering, public attacks and attempts to destroy a person's credibility."

Reilly's, Helin's and Sutherland's accounts are just a few of the ones I have read that address lack of accountability in some aboriginal governance systems.  Despite many indigenous leaders' protests to the contrary, there does seem to be a pattern here that I do not think can be solely blamed on colonization and the residential schools.

As mentioned earlier in Part Three, Peter Best thinks that "ordinary Canadians" need to participate more in indigenous policy decision making.  I agree with him that these ordinary Canadians are often grassroots aboriginals who are negatively impacted by poor reserve governance.

Autumn tress and shrubs, October 16, 2015
Part Three - F       Indigenous Rights, Resource Development and Environmental Stewardship

I am all for sustainable resource development that will preserve the environment, but I think some "green initiatives" are being implemented too hastily, without enough concern for the burden they are placing on, not only the economy, but the individual ratepayer.

I have been astounded by the steady increases in my Ontario hydro bills over the past few years, and am consequently not surprised the province has reportedly the highest rate on the continent.  It concerns me that one of the main reasons for these increases is the Ontario government's environmental stewardship program.

I contend that some environmentalists are going overboard in their push to get Canadians off fossil fuels.  Considerable work has been done and is being done to make fossil fuel extraction, transport and manufacture safer and more environmentally sound.  It would be better to slow down many of the green programs, so they are more economically sustainable, rather than implementing them too fast, as is happening in Ontario.

Part Three - G       Conclusion

I agree with Jeffrey Simpson that parallelism is a "re-creation of a long-ago past in modern idiom," which has not met with much success.  I do not believe it is entirely the fault of the non-aboriginal community that this has occurred.

In my "Caledonia and Six Nations. . ." post, May 21, 2012, I observed that "many of the best recommendations for improving the aboriginal situation originate with natives who recognize that changing things for the better is a two-way street.  They acknowledge that all the blame cannot be placed on non-natives' shoulders."

The "two-way street" individuals are helping to make Canada stronger, each in their own unique way.  Some of these talented people may not see themselves as integrationists, or, indeed, want to be classified that way.  But their multi-faceted, creative approaches to moving the dialogue forward are a huge improvement over the parallelist spin that frequently shuts down constructive discussion.


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