Social Media and Social Justice: To Believe or Not to Believe – Is This the Question?

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Source: http://consciouslyenlightened.com/

I have closely followed a conflict in British Columbia (BC) between Lax Kw’alaams First Nation community members and the Provincial government. The current Liberal government, under Christy Clark’s leadership, is fighting to establish a Liquid Natural Gas (LGN) facility on Lelu Island.  This island, located on the BC coast, is traditional territory of the Lax Kw’alaams. This area is environmentally sensitive, and a key habitat for wild salmon. Many members of the Lax Kw’alaams community are very vocal against the LNG plant. The Province supports Petronas in their efforts to build the facility.  Recently Clark informed media sources that, “The Lax Kw’alaams voted massively in favour of supporting LNG, with some conditions.” Clark’s claim may not be “massively” true, however. To learn more, check out http://bzfd.it/29292du.

Media sources report this conflict differently. According to APTN, BC Chiefs say LGN approval is like declaring war on First Nations.[1] The BC government website shows the benefits of natural gas – creating jobs, boosting the economy, and providing a ‘safe’ source of energy. Check it out here: http://engage.gov.bc.ca/lnginbc/.

Which side do we believe? How do we make the best decisions? Where do we turn when industry, government, and communities each have a different story to tell?!  Finding the truth is daunting. Many of us simply throw up our hands in surrender.  We decide scientists and government officials have the expertise needed to make the right decisions.  Sad to say, these experts often prove to be corrupt, dishonest, and engaged in conflicts of interest.

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Source: www.pixabay.com

So, what DO we DO?!

Fortunately, science and education has provided us with tools necessary to determine ‘truth’.  Some of these tools include:

  • Decide if the media source is credible or not (some sources, like CNN, CBC, or the New York Times seem credible than sources like Fox News).
  • Check to see if a news story is covered by several sources. If many sources carry the same story, it is more likely it is true…
  • Many people avoid stories that read like a conspiracy theory.
  • Determine the source of the story – if it comes from the far right or far left wing, it is less likely to be true… right?
  • Finally, people might chose scientific reports, peer-reviewed journal articles, and government documents over sources such as Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter or blog posts.

Let’s stop right there…

Turns out these tools won’t always work either…

According to a blog post on the New York Times, “Truth has never been an essential ingredient of viral content on the Internet. But in the stepped-up competition for readers, digital news sites are increasingly blurring the line between fact and fiction, and saying that it is all part of doing business in the rough-and-tumble world of online journalism.”[2]

media-monkeys

Source: http://americanbuilt.us/

I guess we can’t always believe what we read – even if it IS reported by the most reputable source we can find.

If we can’t trust our news sources, then what can we possibly trust?!!

Maybe we are asking the wrong questions. In the case of the LNG plant on Lelu island, perhaps the question is NOT whether or not natural gas is good for Canada, but whether or not a natural gas facility is in the best interests of the Lax Kw’alaams.

Let’s bring this closer to home.  If you own a home, and hate the colour pink, are you going to paint your house pink?  What if the government tells you that you must paint your house pink, because new research shows pink is a great colour, will you immediately run out and buy pink paint?  Probably not.

no_101_good_lies_by_derekdavalos-d6b854o

http://derekdavalos.deviantart.com/

Government reports and news articles are not really the best places to discover truth. In matters of social justice, we need to listen more carefully to the people who stand to lose the most.

Communities, such as First Nations, are very knowledgeable about the places they live in.  It makes sense, then, that ‘truth’ can be obtained by listening to what these communities have to say.  Truth is not in the reporting, but in what marginalized groups have to tell us personally.

Once we chose to listen, we may find something to truly believe in!  Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the invisible, visible.

[1] http://bit.ly/28XMEid

[2] http://nyti.ms/28XV5Kw

Faceless Dolls: Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women made Visible

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As part of our Solstice celebrations this year, my family participated in a Faceless Doll-making workshop.  This was held at the Guelph Women in Crisis Center (WIC). The event was co-sponsored by the WIC and OPIRG-Guelph. While we enjoyed decorating felt dolls and eating strawberries and bannock with community members, this activity was part of a much more serious and mostly invisible issue facing First Nations women today. The dolls we created become storybooks, visual art, and ‘maps’ which represent murdered and missing Aboriginal women.

According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), researchers identified almost 600 Aboriginal women, who are missing or murdered, over a five year period. Some key findings of the NWAC 2010 report are:

  • The majority of missing women disappeared from the western provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba).
  • Over half of the women were 31 years or younger.
  • 88% of these women were mothers.
  • 53% of current murder cases remain unsolved.
  • 70% of the murder cases occurred in urban areas.

Despite these horrible statistics, very little has been done on a National level to address the problem.  In fact, former Prime Minister Harper refused to hold a federal inquiry into the issue, insisting that “most” cases of murdered Aboriginal women had been solved.[1]  This is interesting, given that 53% of current cases remain unsolved!  It was not until this year that current Prime Minister Trudeau has made promises to begin a Federal inquiry into the matter. Information on the inquiry can now be found at the government of Canada website: http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca.

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The NWAC began the Sisters in Spirit Initiative in 2010. Their mission is “to help empower women by being involved in developing and changing legislation which affects them, and involving them in the development and delivery of programs promoting equal opportunity for Aboriginal women.”[2]  Their report concludes that ending the cycle of violence against Aboriginal women is the responsibility of all of us – all genders, all levels of government, and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities alike.

The faceless doll project is an initiative begun by the NWAC, so that the many missing and murdered women would not be forgotten. Each doll created is a visual representation of each missing woman. The reasons the dolls remain faceless is to show not only how Aboriginal women are devalued in society, but that each doll can be any Aboriginal woman who experiences forms of violence in their lives.  There is also another reason. According to one article, a young student explained that the dolls were faceless because “society has stopped looking for them”.[3]

Every faceless doll tells a story.  Each and every doll created for display blankets becomes a type of map.  These dolls are both story and map, because they represent a specific place and time where another person has heard the stories of the missing women.  Each doll represents women who are loved and missed by their children and families. Every doll created by community members now gives a voice to people who have been unjustly silenced, and rendered invisible through our own silence and failure to act.

The blanket displays created by the NWAC perform many functions – as maps, history, stories and visual art.  Most importantly, the faceless doll initiative serves as a vivid reminder that missing Aboriginal women have not disappeared.  It is up to all of us to make sure that these women are not forgotten – and that the causes for injustice against First Nations communities are addressed, redressed, and changed!

Today marks the Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere.  It is traditionally a celebration of warmth and light, and the longest day of the year.  It is my hope that we can all take some of that light and use it to illuminate some of the invisible problems for people in our world – not only today – but every day!  Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity: Making the Invisible, Visible.

Dolls-Rabble

 

Image source: http://www.rabble.ca

[1] The Globe and Mail, http://bit.ly/28Lzwf8

[2] NWAC. Sisters in Spirit 2010 Research Findings. What Their Stories Tell Us: Research findings from the Sisters In Spirit initiative.

[3] Faceless Doll Project. http://bit.ly/28MsqLo

A ‘Jumbo’ Conflict: Economic Opportunity, or Loss of Sacred Space?

Last week I watched the documentary, Jumbo Wild. Check out this website: http://www.keepitwild.ca/. This is a story about a new ski resort near Jumbo Glacier – a remote wilderness location in the Kootenay Mountains of British Columbia (BC).

Jumbo Mountain

WHAT IS THE CONFLICT?

The proposed Jumbo ski resort is about 55 miles west of Invermere, BC. It is a story about conflicts between the Province, developers, local residents, environmentalists, and First Nations for many years. The BC Liberal government stands to profit from this development. Over the last many years, the BC government has supported this ski resort.  The government not only approved the project in 2012, but changed the Local Government Act – making Jumbo Glacier Resort a legal municipality.  They have provided the resort with $260,000 in funding and approved its 5-year financial plan – paid for with one million tax-payer dollars through 2018.

Local residents are concerned that there are already too many ski resorts in the region. Environmentalists are concerned about the ecological impacts the resort will have on the receding Jumbo glacier and sensitive grizzly bear habitat. Most importantly, the Ktunaxa First Nation claims the resort will harm a sacred space called Qat’muk. Check out this video to learn more: https://vimeo.com/31890388

WHAT DOES THE SKI RESORT SAY TO THESE CLAIMS?

Ski resort developers have tried to discredit Ktunaxa claims to the region.  This is a colonial tactic which Canada has used since the first European settlers arrived.  This link shows how Jumbo Valley is discrediting the Ktunaxa: http://beforeqatmuk.com/. The ski resort makes two claims: (1) the Shuswap First Nations (who currently support the development) have more rights to the region than the Ktunaxa, and, (2) the Ktunaxa are lying about the region being a sacred space to them.  Check out this link to learn more about the sacred space court case: http://www.thecourt.ca/2015/12/ktunaxa-nation-v-bc-bringing-aboriginal-spirituality-into-section-2a-of-the-charter/

SHUSWAP OR KTUNAXA TERRITORY?


fig3_2_Ktunaxa_tradterritory

Source: http://www.tetongravity.com

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Source: www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca

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Jumbo developers say that the Shuswap live closest to the proposed ski resort, and therefore get to say what happens. It seems that Jumbo developers are quick to band together with a community that supports them – whether or not their ‘facts’ are true or not!  The above maps tell a different story, however! It is true that the Shuswap Reserve is close to the resort area, but Reserve location has nothing to do with shared traditional territories! Jumbo’s argument only serves them, and perpetuates colonial land grabs which marginalized First Nations groups in the first place.

WHOSE VOICE DO WE LISTEN TO IN THIS CONFLICT?

As often happens in resource conflicts, people are making the argument that their story is more important than anyone else’s. In the case of Jumbo Valley, this oversimplifies a complex problem. Jumbo is not just a story about grizzly bears or a chance to ski in pristine wilderness.  The Ktunaxa have an important story to tell us, and we need to listen!

LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE:

In Canada, government and industry often put their own wants over the needs of First Nations communities. Indigenous knowledge and narratives have been discredited and ridiculed by settler society.  It was not until the late 1970s that First Nations could make legal claims to land and resources by telling their oral histories. Today, many First Nations groups use this legal precedent to protect the sacred spaces they have historical access and rights to. By trying to discredit Ktunaxa oral history, Jumbo ski resort developers are promoting injustice and discrediting themselves! Ultimately, Jumbo continues to marginalize First Nations and render them ‘invisible’ – just like we have done since the 1800s throughout Canada.

In 2012, the BC courts refused to hear Ktunaxa claims regarding Qat’muk. Today, the Ktunaxa have ‘won their day in court’. The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear their appeal. Check out this news report: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/jumbo-ktunaxa-nation-supreme-court-of-canada-1.3495494.  The final decision is important, because it will prove Canada’s commitment to ensuring equality and justice for First Nations’ communities.  Until Canada makes the decision to give really listen to First Nations’ claims to sacred spaces, injustice and inequality will continue to be the foundation of our Nation.

Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity: Making the Invisible, Visible.

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Source: http://www.desmog.ca

 

Land Acknowledgements: What they ARE, and what they are NOT…

800px-Amerikanska_folk,_Nordisk_familjebok

By G. Mülzel – Nordisk familjebok (1904), vol.1, Amerikanska folk [1] (the colour version is available in this zip-archive).Nordisk Familjebok has credited the image to Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=846880

This week I read a very important blog post for any small business, which may be operating ANYWHERE in the world!  This post, entitled “Our Homes (and Businesses) on Native Land”, can be read in full at https://communityedition.ca/blog/2016/06/01/our-homes-and-businesses-on-native-land/.

Spatial Integrity is currently established in the city of Guelph, Ontario.  Guelph, and many of the businesses/institutions located here, has been recognizing the importance of providing a Land Acknowledgement for First Nations’ communities across Ontario.  These acknowledgements are not just being conducted in this province, however – this is a form of verbally recognizing First Nations’ rights which is occurring across Canada!

What IS a Land Acknowledgement?

According to the Laurier Public Interest Research Group (LSPIRG), the definition of a land acknowledgement is: “… a formal statement that recognizes the unique and enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories.” In more ‘basic’ language, this is simply a statement that we (as Canadians) recognize that everything we do happens on land occupied by First Nations peoples, and that everything we do impacts people who lived here long before our ancestors first moved here!

It is very easy for Canadian business owners, students, researchers, and citizens, to begin thinking we have exclusive rights to do whatever we need to in order to make our own lives better.  Sometimes, what we do can cause unintended harm to communities who have been here long before we can imagine!  This includes First Nations communities, and marginalized people who have established themselves in the places we live long before we can imagine.  A simple Land Acknowledgement can change our perceptions as ‘owners’ of the space we live, to tenants of the place we live on – much like renters of residential spaces.  It is our responsibility, therefore, for us to provide Land Acknowledgements when we conduct our business, and NOT of the First Nations communities themselves!

This is, in fact, who we are – people who ‘rent’ the spaces we live in.  The places we live, and where we conduct our businesses, have been occupied by people who resided here thousands of years before our ancestors ever arrived in Canada.  The area we now call ‘Guelph’ was occupied by the Attawandaron (Neutral) people before the year 1500.  This region was used as a gathering place for many of the Six-Nations Indigenous groups who called this land ‘home’.  Once European settlers moved in, the Attawandaron people were decimated through war, disease, and policies which included the Indian Act of 1927 and Residential Schools.  For more information on this history, check out this website — http://wampumkeeper.com/wellingtoncounty.html

Deciding to engage with a Land Acknowledgement forces us to change our perceptions from land and resource ‘owners’, to people who are ‘renting’ the spaces we conduct our business in.  We come to see ourselves – not as people with exclusive rights to land and resources – but as individuals who are committed to collaborating and consulting with the communities on whose land we currently live.  It is not the responsibility, therefore, for First Nations groups to remind us of our obligations as ‘tenants’ – but for us to consistently remind ourselves of our responsibilities to ensure that we ourselves remain accountable for our actions.  We need to remember that we are here as responsible members to a common cause which helps everyone make this a better place to live, work and thrive in!

As such, Spatial Integrity commits to its own Land Acknowledgement:

Spatial Integrity acknowledges that we currently operate on the traditional territory of the Attawandaron (Neutral) peoples.  We also offer respect to our Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe and Metis neighbours.  At one time, the Attawandaron, who lived in the region of Guelph, Waterloo and Hamilton, numbered over 30,000. Their community was ultimately wiped out through disease, war, and colonial policies. Today, we honour the ancestors of many Six Nations residing here.  At all times, Spatial Integrity is committed to honouring First Nations leadership and knowledge.  Spatial Integrity remains mindful of the harm done to First Nations communities through colonial policies; both past and present. We are committed to our duty to consult and collaborate with First Nations’ communities toward their sovereign rights to land, development and resource management.

Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – Making the Invisible, Visible!

Grassy Narrows: An ‘Invisible’ community becomes Visible!

 

Grassy Narrows

Grassy Narrows is a small First Nations community in remote Northern Ontario. According to their website, they are an Ojibwa community who identify as the Asubpeeschoseeewagong First Nation. Their Reserve has fewer than 1000 members. Under Treaty 3, signed in 1873, they were given a large area of land which they were allowed rights to hunt, trap and fish. Between 1876 and 1969, the Residential School system had disrupted much of their culture, and they became increasingly marginalized from their traditional resources and lifestyles.[1]

even-the-chief-of-this-reserve-has-mercury-poisoning-but-ontario-has-no-plans-to-clean-it-up-1464724518Image of the Grassy Narrows community today. Source: https://news.vice.com

To make matters worse, much of the land and waters Grassy Narrow’s members still hold today has been destroyed by logging and private industry.  Between 1962 and 1970, Dryden Chemicals Ltd dumped almost 10 tons of mercury-laden waste into the English-Wabigoon river system.  The toxic sludge eventually made its way into Lake Winnipeg. For almost 50 years, the two First Nations communities in this region have suffered from mercury poisoning, loss of important food resources, and loss of jobs and a steadily declining economy.  Dryden Chemical has denied any accountability for their actions, claiming that mercury present in the water is due to natural sources, and that factory effluent is only a small percent of the mercury present. While the Federal government has paid close to $9 million to Grassy Narrows for social services and economic development initiatives, Ontario has contributed little to the community. Through it all, the Province of Ontario has shrugged off any responsibility they might have for clean-up costs and financial support to Grassy Narrows.

1024px-Dryden_millDryden Chemical Paper Mill. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10536091

More than 50 years later, several members of Grassy Narrows made the long bus ride to Toronto.  On June 2, 2016, Grassy Narrows joined over 2500 supporters at Queen’s Park, in front of the Provincial Parliament Building.  There, people rallied and marched in support of Grassy Narrows.

20160602_124306Parliament building at Queen’s Park, in Toronto, Ontario. Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

While Premier Kathleen Wynne remained hidden away, invisible to the assembled audience, Grassy Narrows elders and youth educated those assembled on this shameful story in Ontario history.  As of now, no clean-up of the mercury has occurred.  Even though scientists support research which shows that clean up of the area is possible, the Ontario government still insists that more study and analysis is necessary.  Meanwhile, Grassy Narrows community members are still sickened, dying, and poverty stricken!

What is clear is that, while scientific and community commitment to water cleanup is intact, political will remains ambiguous. The story of Grassy Narrows needs to be told and retold, until the government of Ontario is forced to listen and finally collaborate with this community to make the waters and people healthy once again!

After the rally, Grassy Narrows members, along with supporters and allies, flooded the streets and marched from Queen’s Park to Allan Gardens – just over two kilometers away. The street was blocked off, and all traffic halted, as the growing surge of concerned citizens walked and chanted the entire way.  One by one, each person symbolically turned away from a government intent on ignoring the voices of the people, and began their first steps toward Ottawa.  Discontent with Ontario’s response to their plight, Grassy Narrows stands poised to once again tell their story to Justin Trudeau – forcing him remain accountable to his promises to begin reconciling past injustices with First Nations groups across Canada.

This last Thursday, a few voices joined with a swelling number of voices – telling a story which must be heard – and even more importantly, MUST be acted upon.  This is a story which needs to be removed from the back shelves once and for all.  Perhaps, finally, we will begin listening to each of these stories – and acting as a Nation who is truly concerned with redressing the harmful chapters of our collective history!

For now, this is Spatial Integrity – making the invisible, visible!

 

[1] http://www.grassynarrows.ca/