Blind Man with a Pistol

‘Police Brutality Is Not a Game’

spiritThe 2009 World Police and Fire Games kicked off in Vancouver this weekend. More than 12 000 police officers from around the world will compete in 65 sporting events over the next ten days. The event has prompted the Vancouver Anti-Poverty Committee to call for a mobilization against police brutality both locally and internationally, under the banner ‘Police brutality is not a game’. It is curious, then, that the Games chose this ‘Eagle Spirit’ image, by traditional Haida artist Garner Moody, as the official logo. The 1329-strong Vancouver Police Department boasts a meagre twenty-one First Nations officers (about 1.5%), and even fewer (if any) actual Haida officers. While this substantially less than the 4.4% First Nations make up the general population, perhaps the Games decided not to honour this small contingent by rooting their national heritage for the official crest, opted instead to salute the overrepresentation of First Nations our boys and girls in blue incarcerate: First Nations make up 18.5% of our national prison population, a bias even more acute in British Columbia.

This shameless appropriation of First Nations’ cultural heritage by the state has become a popular past-time in British Columbia, perhaps the most infamous example the Inukshuk logo of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. At least the Haida, unlike the Inuit, can be found within the borders of the province.

The audacity of the World Police and Fire games to choose the national art of the people they most brutalize and incarcerate as their logo bespeaks gross ignorance and criminal blindness.  The fact that the choice was probably meant to sell Canada’s ‘multicultural’ society internationally adds further insult. Just as the purpose of our police forces is not to protect its citizens, but to protect the state against its enemies—in this case, the autonomy and nationhood of our First Nations—its gamesmanship and recreation extend this defence to new fronts. By appropriating without honour or good faith, the ‘correctional services of Canada’ engage in an act of cultural violence against the artistic heritage of its favourite victim, the First Nations of Turtle Island.


Margaret Wente, Serial Bigot
28 October 2008, 10:43 am
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , , ,

I have made it a habit in recent years to avoid reading Margaret Wente. But over the past few days, too many people have been doing it for me. In case you missed her latest gem: What Dick Pound said was  really dumb—and also true.

North American native peoples had a neolithic culture based on subsistence living and small kinship groups. They had not developed broader laws or institutions, a written language, evidence-based science, mathematics or advanced technologies. The kinship groups in which they lived were very small, simply organized and not very productive. Other kinship groups were regarded as enemies, and the homicide rate was probably rather high. Until about 30 years ago, the anthropological term for this developmental stage was “savagery.”

Wow. It’s impossible to dissect fully the Eurocentric assumptions and outright lies Wente packs into this tiny paragraph (there’s more at the link) without writing a monograph—not to mention that calmly explaining to a bigot that the First Nations were people too is an exercise in absurdity. The economical system of trade, tolls and tariffs employed by the Iroquois, Algonkian and Huron (there were, in fact, Ms. Wente, hundreds of native peoples across Canada, not some monolithic morass acting with singular purpose) was tailored to specific geographical and political needs. While surely their religious rituals might not have had the same verve as the witch-burning festival that was occurring across the ocean, these ‘savages’ enjoyed diverse and complex social and mystical systems. Unfortunately, we don’t really know much about the vast medical knowledge of the First Nations (the Aztecs, for example, kept large medicinal gardens) because Jesuit missionaries heaped scorn upon the heathens’ expertise (except when it saved them from scurvy). The Europeans were certainly superior in one medical area: their usage of biological warfare was unrivalled by the  First Nations.

I could go on. The requisite facebook group has popped up, calling for the columnist’s dismissal. I can’t agree with firing a journalist for writing a single article. Such censure amounts to censorship and creates an environment where journalists will self-censor in fear of offending the higher ups. Margaret Wente is, however, a habitually poor writer and plays fast and loose with things like ‘facts’ and ‘research’. She is wilfully reactionary, divisive and hateful and has no place in a newspaper that fancies itself ‘Canada’s’. Margaret should not be fired because of one editorial. She should be fired because she is an incompetent journalist.

But if the Globe hasn’t figured that out by now, they won’t. This is a newspaper that endorsed Stephen Harper in the last election. They endorsed an administration whose hostility to journalists and journalism is unsurpassed in Canadian history. They endorsed a government who made it their mission to dismantle and undermine every independent government body and check to executive power that exists in this country. So why should we be surprised that this editorial board supports, and indeed, encourages, a columnist like Margaret Wente?

Until we let the Globe know that in their current form they are emphatically not ‘Canada’s Newspaper’, until we show them in broad strokes that their vision, and Harper’s is not ours, they will continue to steer this country away from us, away from social justice, and away from democracy. Write to Canada’s newspaper and ask for it back.

Leading Performance

Prime Minister Harper announced his “Canada First” Defence plan this week: “The Canada First Defence Strategy will strengthen our sovereignty and security at home and bolster our ability to defend our values and interests abroad.” But, as The Ottawa Citizen points out, when the media requested a few details as to what this strategy might entail, they were rebuffed. The content of the plan, it seems, was the speech itself:

Asked about when the actual Canada First Defence Strategy was going to be released, Jay Paxton, Mr. MacKay’s press secretary, replied: “It is a strategy that you heard enunciated by the prime minister and Minister MacKay.”

“It is not a ‘document’ like a white paperit is the vision delivered today for long-term planning for the CF,” he added. “As such, the speeches are the strategy.”

The speeches are the strategy. Who says Marshall McLuhan is unfashionable? The medium is the message, Canada. “If you want to be taken seriously in the world,” Harper declared, “you need the capacity to actit’s that simple.” The insinuation is clear: “act” like you have a strategy.  Act like a leader. (After all, don’t our wars take place “in theatre”? With “actors” and “players” in leading roles?) Harper must be taking his media cues from ex-FEMA administrator Harvey E. Johnson. “Real leadership” is performative, not demonstrative.

But the implications behind Harper’s avant-garde leadership are much graver than the opportunity for mockery it affords. Just like “real leadership” is not real but imaginary, it’s very difficult to argue that organizing the Canadian Armed Forces with an eye on the current colonialist enterprise in Afghanistan is a “defence” strategy. In fact, such missions suggest that Harper’s strategy hardly puts “Canada First” either. Why bother outlining the details of your defence policy when our priorities clearly come from south of the border?

Furthermore, the largest threat to Canada’s sovereignty comes not, laughably, from Denmark or Afghanistan, but from the United States.  While surely Canada should acquire the equipment and vehicles necessary to service trade and safety issues in the North, it is ludicrous to suggest that we should enter an Arctic arms race with the United States. You would think that Harper would recognize that Canada’s best claim to the Arctic lies in its relationship with the society that has subsisted there for thousands of years: the Inuit First Nation. Investment in Inuit society would not only repay the moral debt Canada owes the Arctic’s indigenous culture after a century of neglect and abuse, but would strengthen Canada’s historical and social claim under international law. Canada’s best chance at establishing legal stewardship over the Arctic comes from cultural, not  military sovereignty.

Indeed, if you add in to the equation the erosion of Canadian cultural integrity by the commercial monolith to the south, and the ongoing transformation project of the CAF into a subsidiary of the Pentagon, the threat to our sovereignty can’t be defended with helicopters or submarines. Yet the Harper government (and the Liberal government which preceded it) has spurned every opportunity to mend relationships with Canada’s First Nations, or to solidify Canadian art and culture against interminable American influence.

Someone has to put Harper’s improv show out of its misery.

h/t to pogge.