Friday, August 2, 2013

Historical Context for Idle No More

It's been a cool wet summer across most of Canada. And things have yet to heat up politically, despite a combined call from Idle No More organizers and Defenders of the Land for a 'Sovereignty Summer' of indigenous mass non-violent direct action.

But things could still get hot. Many of the possible flashpoints involve tarsands and pipelines, and have the potential to mobilize significant non-indigenous support (and opposition, for that matter!). For example, youth from the Dene Nation in northern Alberta have issued a call to shut down 'the Tar Sands Highway,' Hwy 63, on August 24th.

In the meantime, here's a piece giving historical context on the Idle No More movement, and its demands:

Timeline of Assimilation & Resistance – pdf

I would argue that if demands like those put forth by Idle No More seem unreasonable to mainstream Canadians, it's only because we don't know or understand the history of First Peoples and Euro-Canadians.

An earlier version of this piece appeared in The Leveller, in two parts.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

This is what fantasy is for

Monday, May 6, 2013

In the future...

...only electronic forms of ownership will seem real.

Wars will no longer be fought over physical territory, real geography, but over abstract networks and nodes — volleys of electrons fired over sterile servers.

Wealth will become unreal. Men — and a few women — will become rich by indexing imaginary numbers, converting one illusory unit to another measurement of nothing and skimming off a few decimal marks.

Holding something in your hand will seem passé. Paying attention to what — or who — is in the room will seem quaint.

The real will be digitized and become obsolete.

People will be taught to hate the real, to find it dirty and dangerous. They will become ever-more isolated from the physical, the sensual, the fertile, whatever has odour or grit, whatever demands relationship or cannot be turned off, thrown out, put back on the shelf.

Locked into dream mirrors, sucked into screens of distraction, they will not even notice when all that is real disappears, poisoned and screaming.

Monday, April 15, 2013

I'm not poor, I'm money-free

This isn't a deprivation, it's liberation.


Money's a bit stressful too. Have you noticed how much time-energy-emotion rich people devote to their money and the stuff they buy with it?

What would I do with a million dollars? Try to figure out how to get rid of it as quickly as possible, and in as un-evil a way as possible.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

There is no solid ground on which to stand and evaluate others (and that's ok)

"Whatever seems to you to be obvious and inevitable is only so within some institutional or conventional structure, and that means that you can never operate outside some such structure."
 – Stanley Fish
p. 370 of Is there a text in this class? The authority of interpretive communities. Harvard University Press, 1980.

"Relativist sociologists are not sawing the branch upon which they sit because they are not seated on it, and no one is or has ever been"
– Bruno Latour
Quoted in Jean-Guy A. Goulet's Ways of Knowing: Experience, Knowledge and Power Among the Dene Tha. (UBC Press, 1998), p. xliii

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wild rice & the ethics of appropriation

Since writing an assignment on wild rice — posted here — I've thought more about some ethical questions it brought up. I've already dealt with the question of planting in wild areas in my last post. In this post, I want to talk about the ethics of cultivating a plant over which some indigenous people feel rather possessive.

Like I mention in the assignment, a number of Ojibwe felt (at least as of the '80s) that wild rice had been stolen from them, and that settlers should not grow or harvest it.

I think it's important to respect this sentiment. Those who don't, risk perpetuating and participating in the same paternalism and colonialism that Europeans have inflicted on aboriginals since arriving on this continent.

But does 'respect' mean taking this as an absolute prohibition?

Not necessarily, I think. Why do these aboriginals feel this way? My hope is that if you were to respond to the 'why,' then the objection... might just  change. Who knows?

I suspect the 'why' in this case is quite broad. Indigenous people at contact considered themselves affluent, possessing all they needed and more. They became poor and needy when settlers took away their land and killed most of the animals and plants that they relied upon.

This is exactly what happened with wild rice. Wild rice was central to the Ojibwe economy at contact — and by extension, to their culture and spirituality. This continued in the days of the fur trade: wild rice was a significant trade item for the Ojibwe, and later a significant source of income.

But wild rice was 'stolen' from the Ojibwe by a three-pronged process. First, they lost access to most wild rice stands because of the colonization and the take-over of their traditional territory. Second, many stands were destroyed through environmental degradation. Third, a settler-owned wild rice industry was created, which marginalized Ojibwe producers as it adopted the methods of industrial agriculture.

In sum, wild rice  once sustained them, no longer can, and is making settlers rich.

Given this, I'd like to offer some tentative suggestions for how a wild-rice-loving permie might ethically proceed:

1) My explanation of the 'why' might be wrong. Talk to some folks — preferably elders — from wild-rice-harvesting indigenous groups about why they might not want others harvesting wild rice,  and about your hopes to do so. Build relationship. If possible, learn from them how they do it. This is probably the most difficult of all the suggestions to pull off, but it is the ideal starting point.
That said, it might be easier than it seems. A good starting point might be the 'Wild Rice Celebration' that the Ardoch Algonquin seem to put on annually in Perth. They just took down the info on this past year's celebration from their website, but I think I saw a workshop specifically on wild rice among the schedule of speeches, powwows, etc. Keep your eyes peeled for next year, I guess.
Also, Plenty Canada has a program — "Our Traditions, Our Future" — which aims to build relationships among indigenous and non-indigenous communities through the "preservation, promotion, and sharing of indigenous knowledge." They've hosted workshops on a variety of traditional indigenous skills, including traditional wild rice management.
Neither website seems very active at the moment. Hopefully they'll revive themselves?

2) Don't be complicit with the system that has robbed indigenous peoples blind. Start by aligning yourself in solidarity with indigenous people who are resisting this system. Support indigenous nations in their struggles for self-determination, and to maintain, reclaim, and exercise sovereignty over their traditional lands. No individual or group can support themselves without a landbase and without the ability to determine their own destiny — and these are rights that are still being taken away from indigenous people today. (The Barriere Lake Algonquin are a local example). This is about justice, not charity.
If you'll allow a plug for an organization that I'm involved with, you could do worse than to start with the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement Ottawa — if you live in Ottawa, that is.
Plus, if you do all this, you might build the kind of relationships that could allow you to follow suggestion #1.

3) If you buy wild rice, buy it from aboriginals. For example, Kagiwiosa Manomin operate in northwestern ontario, and they sell rice at a third of the price of our local Ottawa health food store.

4) Don't compete with aboriginals. Don't harvest from a stand that an indigenous group considers their own. If you're harvesting in the wild, learn something about the location. If the government calls it Crown Land and gives you permission, that doesn't mean you're necessarily in the clear. This is exactly what happened with the wild rice company who had provincial permits to harvest the Ardoch Algonquin stands in Mud Lake.

5) Don't compete with aboriginals. Don't sell wild rice for profit.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wild rice and the ethics of cultivation

Since writing this assignment I've thought more about some ethical questions that it brought up. There are two issues that I see: planting into wild areas, and cultivating a plant that some indigenous people feel rather possessive over. I'll deal with the latter in my next post, but for now, here's...

1) Planting wild rice in wild areas

Generally speaking, anyone with brains and respect for nature wants to leave wild areas untouched, or as untouched as possible. If you're going to plant wild rice, I think ideally you'd do it into bodies of water that you've created yourself. As long as you could create a spot with a steady flow of water, ponds and even swales seem like they could be possible sites. (And ideally, there would have been little or no natural life before you create that body of water — e.g. a manmade pool or lawn).

On the other hand, I for one would be tempted to try and sow some wild rice if I had access to stream, river or lakefront property with the right conditions — including basically 'wild' and public waterways.

Would this be inappropriate?

I don't think it has to be. It doesn't seem likely that wild rice could ever qualify as an 'invasive species.' It is native to Canada, and though its homeland seems to be Manitoba and northwestern Ontario, it has certainly been naturalized to the Ottawa River watershed.

Also, wild rice spreads very slowly. The only significant natural way its seed is spread is by water currents. There is no real way for it to get upstream, or across land — which is why there are often wild-rice-free waterways right next to other waterways with significant stands. As an annual, it is often out-competed by perennial reeds, cattails, bulrushes, and lily pads, who don't have to re-establish themselves each year.
Also, the Ojibwe that anthropologist Thomas Vennum describes in his book are reluctant to plant wild rice — they see doing so as unnatural. But they also have stories about which ancestors planted which stands. And they generally hold that that most of the rice in their territory — which basically corresponds to the wild rice's 'homeland,' as described above — was planted by them.

Meanwhile, William Dore documents many stands that have been planted by settlers in his book. It seems then, that most currently-existant wild rice stands were originally planted by humans.

But it would still be important to really know the spot you're trying to plant, and the wild rice plant itself (i.e. follow the first principle of permaculture). How would introducing wild rice into this ecosystem change it? Could you minimize the impact, ensuring that there was still habitat for all the pre-existing plants and animals?

Further to this, do you have what biologist William Dore calls 'open habitat' – spots that are regularly disturbed, so that perennial ecosystems cannot become well-established there? (These are wild rice's natural habitat — examples that he gives in his book on wild rice, which I quote in my assignment, include the "soil of deltaic deposits, flood-eroded beaches, drowned land, and especially, soft silty bottoms").

So do you have what I'm tempted to call 'open open habitat' — open habitat like Dore describes that hasn't already being colonized by other annuals? This would be the ideal place to plant wild rice.

Even if you have 'open habitat' that has been disturbed by a one-time event, wild rice might make a good pioneer species, that will help with the transition back to a perennial ecosystem.

In any case, when dealing with basically wild systems, it might be good to not only start but stay small and slow.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Wild Rice & Permaculture

I did an assignment on wild rice for this permaculture course I took last fall. I wanted to learn how feasible it might be to gather wild rice, or even cultivate it.

Wild rice is the only cereal native to Canada. It is stupidly healthy, quite delicious, and has been gathered and cultivated by indigenous people for centuries, if not millennia.

Click the link below to see what I learned about it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Koch Brothers

This is a pretty scary article. It outlines how, among other things, corporate elites are waging covert and costly campaigns to instill political values in the general public that will only benefit corporations and the super-rich.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Comic books

Until "graphic novels" start having page numbers and a table of contents, they should stop whining about how people need to take them seriously as art.

What other published book could get away with such slackness?