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.  <>

Monday, 21 May 2012

Caledonia and Six Nations: Majority Opposed April 28, 2012 "Parade"

The Grand River land dispute includes 40 hectares in Caledonia.  Caledonia is located in Haldimand County, in Southern Ontario.  Henco Industries originally planned to build a residential subdivision, to be called Douglas Creek Estates (DCE), on this land.  But some aboriginals at the Six Nations reserve claimed that this land was never surrendered and started an occupation there on February 28, 2006; the occupation continues to this day.  The federal government maintains that the land was properly surrendered in 1841, and sold in 1844.  The Six Nations elected council agrees with the government's contention, but maintains there should be "fair compensation."  However, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (traditional) Council asserts that the signatories to the sale were deceived (Blatchford, p. 27).  Toby Barrett, the Haldimand-Norfolk Conservative MPP, stated in a February 29, 2012 news release that "there are a number of valid land claims along the Haldimand tract area but not on Douglas Creek Estates."  On the sixth anniversary of the standoff, Barrett announced that Haldimand County had lost 650 residents partly because of the "dismal economic conditions locally and the erosion of justice, rule of law and democractic process" that have resulted from the occupation of the former DCE.
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 for native woes cannot be placed on non-natives' shoulders.  Tsimshian lawyer and entrepreneur, Calvin Helin's, book Dances With Dependency (2006) is filled with numerous insights that I share.  Cree Don Sandberg wrote lots of excellent articles for his former employer, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and continues to write ground-breaking pieces for media outlets like the Winnipeg Free Press and National Post.  Helen Miller, a Six Nations elected band councilor, has had a couple of her powerful letters published in the Brantford Expositor and Turtle Island News.

But I also believe that non-aboriginals have a role to play in recommending solutions.  In my case, I am speaking from two generations of experience dating back to the late 1950s, and as someone who worked in aboriginal organizations in different parts of Canada for about 12 years.  And Sandberg believes people like me should speak out.  In a January 2, 2011 National Post article, he was asked his opinion as to what should be done about aboriginal accountability problems.  He responded with "[t]he strongest voice aboriginal reformers have is the non-aboriginal taxpaying public, who can let their elected officials know something has got to be done.  Because we know the government itself does not listen to grassroots native people."

Fortunately, at Caledonia and Six Nations, many aboriginals and non-aboriginals found common ground in their opposition to an outrageous April 28, 2012 "parade" through Caledonia, orchestrated by a group of mostly non-natives from other parts of Southern Ontario.  One of the parade organizers was Tom Keefer who has been involved with the DCE protests since April 20, 2006.  Caledonia activist Mark Vandermaas described Keefer and his allies as a "gang of anarchists, Marxists, radical unionists, and anti-Israel groups who have been supporting the lawlessness in Caledonia since nearly the beginning."

A media release issued by the march organizers said that participation included representatives from Six Nations as well as non-natives from eight Southern Ontario cities, and that as many as 1,000 could be expected (Day, Dunnville, April 18, 2012; Gamble, Brantford April 27, 2012).

Although local and regional news outlets in the Caledonia area paid considerable attention to the discussions before, during and after the march, it received virtually no coverage outside of those areas.  But I think it is important to draw attention to it because it is a very encouraging development.

I first learned about the march through some correspondence I received from Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality (CANACE) Executive Director Gary McHale and Caledonia Victims Project Founder Mark Vandermaas.  Both activists said their groups would not be present at the march because they did not believe in interfering with events initiated by natives.  However, McHale and Vandermaas did organize a protest the week before, on April 21, at which Vandermaas and another Caledonia activist Jeff Parkinson were arrested.  You can read about their unwarranted detainments at the following links:

Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt made it clear he did not agree with the April 28 "parade" in his April 3, 2012 article in the Sachem.  He said "[f]or most of us who live here, we need not be reminded of the time that has elapsed when assessing the absolute abysmal failure of government.  We do not need people coming from other regions to parade through our community in order to satisfy their personal agenda."

Dr. David K. Faux, a Caledonia resident whose maternal ancestry includes a Six Nations Mohawk clan mother, also raised concerns about the march.  In his April 10, 2012 letter to the Sachem, he said that the '''parade' is a euphemism for 'protest march.'"  He went on to say that the "'parade' organizers have an agenda and we (collectively known as 'settlers') are to be at the receiving end of their anti-establishment aims and aspirations.  DCE is just a matter of convenience to them."

Six Nations elected Chief William Montour was not able to get a resolution passed through his 12-member council opposing the march, but he said his feeling was that "our people are starting to get over 2006" and that the march could "create havoc" (Vo, Sachem, April 17, 2012).

The day before the march, Vandermaas sent an email to his Caledonia mailing list, in which he said:
Tomorrow the people who terrorized your town and those who support them will march in a propaganda effort to convince the victims they created to submit to their twisted logic that you are responsible for the violence against you and your town.
In this post, he also made reference to a July 14, 2009 letter that Helen Miller wrote to the Brantford Expositor, in which she said that certain groups at Six Nations, such as the Mohawk Warriors, "were not elected, appointed or authorized by the people of Six Nations to be their representatives or to speak on their behalf."

There were other aboriginal and non-aboriginal people who spoke out against the march.  If you want to read more about it, you can refer to the bibliography below.

Although the parade organizers announced ahead of time that 1,000 people could be expected, only about 400-500, most of them non-natives, actually showed up (Wong, Spec, April 28, 2012; Pearce and Day, Dunnville, April 29, 2012; Pearce, Dunnville, April 29, 2012).

At the event, Faux carried a sign that stated in Mohawk and English "that 98 per cent of Six Nations and Caledonia want nothing to do with the march."  In his May 9, 2012 letter to the Spec, he said:
The sea of Palestinian, Black Panther, Communist Party of Canada and CUPE flags (what is my former union doing with its members' wages?) give an excellent indication as to who was at the march.  As someone with a foot in both the Caledonia and Six Nations communities, I will proposing a new approach to dealing with the problem since the folks in Ottawa seem to be a bit tardy in getting on with land claims negotiations.
I hope that Faux succeeds.  I think he will be building on the work of Caledonia activists, such as McHale, Vandermaas and Parkinson, who laboured for years, often suffering taunts and abuse, before they started to get some recognition from the media and general public.

The mixture of aboriginal and non-aboriginal opposition to the April 28, 2012 march also signals that many residents of Caledonia and Six Nations realize they need to come up with their own solutions.  I am greatly relieved to hear this.


Barrett, Toby.  "Occupy Caledonia will be six years February 28,"  February 28, 2012.  <>

_____.  "There is no valid claim on DCE."  February 29, 2012.  <>

Blatchford, Christie.  Helpless.  Toronto: Doubleday, 2010.

Day, Matt.  "Caledonia reacts to peace walk." Dunnville Chronicle.  April 29, 2012.  <>

_____.  "No injunction for Caledonia rally organizers."  Dunnville Chronicle.  April 18, 2012.  <>

_____.  "Planned Caledonia rally has Hewitt upset."  Dunnville Chronicle.  April 13, 2012.  <>

_____.  "Two arrested during CANACE rally Saturday."  Dunnville Chronicle.  April 23, 2012.  <>

Faux, David K.  "Caledonia march is opposed by mayor, chief" [Letter].  Hamilton Spectator.  May 9, 2012.  <>

_____.  "'Parade' euphemism for 'protest march'" [Letter].  Sachem.  April 10, 2012.  <>

Foot, Richard.  "Reserves look within for fix to accountability problems."  National Post.  January 2, 2011.  <>

Gamble, Susan.  "Thousands expected for Caledonia peace march."  Brantford Expositor.  April 27, 2012.  <>

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

Hewitt, Ken.  "Hewitt: DCE a quagmire."  Sachem.  April 3, 2012.  <>

 _____.  "What's April 28 march really about?"  Sachem.  April 17, 2012.  <>

Miller, Helen.  "Only elected council can speak for Six Nations" [Letter].  Brantford Expositor.  July 14, 2009.  <>

Parkinson, Jeff.  "Video--Two arrested for race in Caledonia."  April 24, 2012.  <>

Pearce, Daniel R.  "Hundreds take part in Caledonia peace march."  Simcoe Reformer.  April 29, 2012.   <>

Pearce, Daniel and Matt Day.  "Caledonia reacts to peace walk."  Dunnville Chronicle.  April 29, 2012.  <>

Vandermaas, Mark.  "Dear Caledonia residents--about Tom Keefer. . ."  April 27, 2012.  <>

_____.  "Email to OPP officer re April 21 DCE rally before two 'breach of peace' arrests."  April 27, 2012.  <>

Vo, Jennifer.  "Coalition planning April parade in Caledonia."  Sachem.  April 3, 2012.  <>

_____.  "Parade rubbing salt in old wounds says Chief Montour."  Sachem.  April 17, 2012.  <>

Wong, Danielle.  "Friendship walk peaceful, but Caledonia residents fear wounds reopened."    Hamilton Spectator.  April 28, 2012.  <>