History Slam Episode 123: Reconsidering Confederation

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By Sean Graham

In the lead up to Canada 150 last July, there was no shortage of projects looking at Canada’s political history. One of my favourites was the Confederation Debates project. With a massive team, the project organized, scanned, and digitized thousands of documents related to each province and territory’s entry into Confederation. From there, they created a wide variety of content, including interactive maps that allow you to see what the Confederation concerns were where you live, a Confederation quote of the day, and lesson plans for teachers.

A further extension of that project is the new book Reconsidering Confederation: Canada’s Founding Debates, 1864-1999. Edited by Daniel Heidt, it features an impressive lineup of historians exploring the debates and discussions that surrounded each province’s entry to Confederation. While each chapter focuses on a different province/territory, certain universal issues in Canadian history continue to appear, thus challenging concepts of identity while highlighting some of the core issues that have always existed in this country.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Daniel about the book. We talk about the Confederation Debates project, the team he assembled, and approaches to understanding Confederation. We also chat about Canada as a political entity, concepts of Canadian identity, and what an examination of Confederation tells us about contemporary Canada.

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Caucasian Complexities: White Ethnicity and the Politics of Ultimate Fighting

Vladimir Putin with Conor McGregor, 2018. Instagram.

Travis Hay & Angie Wong

On the 6th of October, the trash-talking Irish superstar and mixed martial artist Conor McGregor was handed a very one-sided loss in his fight with Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov – a white Muslim man raised in the Dagestani mountains of the Caucus region. When the match was stopped in the fourth round to save McGregor from Nurmagomedov’s relentless combination of grappling and striking (known colloquially as ‘ground and pound’), a melee broke out, which has since become the talk of the sports world. In short, the reason for the melee had to do with McGregor’s antagonizing in the lead up to the fight: Conor called Nurmagomedov a “backwards c— and a “smelly Dagestani rat”; McGregor also accused Khabib’s father of being a “quivering coward” for associating with Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov.[1] Somewhat alarmingly, heads of state were very present within and around the fight: for example, Conor McGregor was reported and photographed as the personal guest of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 2018 World Cup, which added to the tensions surrounding the coming match given that Nurmagomedov fights under a Russian flag.[2] Further, in the aftermath of the fight  – that is, following Khabib’s victory and the subsequent melee in which members of Nurmagomedov’s team jumped into the octagon to attack McGregor – Putin defended Khabib and his team’s aggressive post-fight behavior. Just this week, video emerged of Putin telling both Khabib and his father: “If we are attacked from the outside…we could all jump in such a way … there could be hell to pay.”[3]

It is perhaps unsurprising that the McGregor-Nurmagomedov fiasco emerges as a major cultural moment in the wake of conspiracy theories and political controversies surrounding Russian interference in western political affairs. Adding to this complex configuration of white ethnicity, Russian-Dagestani-Chechen relations, and symbolic masculinities is the fact that UFC President Dana White is a well-known friend and supporter of Donald Trump. White sponsored the American president in his electoral bid for office – declaring loudly in a speech at the Republican National Convention of 2016 that “Donald Trump is a fighter! And I know he will fight for this country!”[4] Similarly, the construction and popular image of Vladimir Putin as a ‘fighter’ has been bolstered by his widely reported capabilities in the Russian combat sport of Sambo.[5] Continue reading

Plains Injustice: Tipi Camps and Settler Responses to Indigenous Presence on the Prairies (Part 3)

This is the third and final article in a series that places the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp in Regina into historical contexts of tipi camps and settler responses to Indigenous presence on the prairies. The previous two articles can be found (here) and (here). 

In direct contrast to the opposition to the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp, a tipi sits on display on the Saskatchewan Legislature grounds one year earlier, as part of Canada 150 celebrations.
(Photo by computer_saskboy on Flickr. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Part Three: The Legacy of White Hegemony and the Future of Reconciliation

By Stephanie Danyluk and Katya MacDonald

As the previous essays in this series have established, Indigenous people in tipis on public lands is nothing new. Nor is it a new phenomenon when settlers seek to have Indigenous presence or absence conform to our own short-term goals. The Justice for Our Stolen Children camp was set up as a way for participants to claim agency and representation in important contemporary issues, but these issues hold deep historical roots.

The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called on settlers to help foster reconciliation and address these past and present wrongs. But as we are reminded by requests to display tipis at celebratory events, these well-intentioned efforts at inclusion do not automatically fulfill goals of reconciliation. As political scientist Rita Dhamoon has argued, multiculturalism, as a Canadian value, has in fact served to regulate non-white society, because it ignores questions of power and racism.[1] Without the historical contexts for tipi camps, the tipis remain the same ahistorical symbol of nationhood they were expected to be during invited events like Pion-Era, or more recent Canada Day celebrations. A deeper understanding of Indigenous experiences of tipi camps reveals that settler and Indigenous goals for these spaces have often been different, yet the public narrative has been driven largely by settler interests and understandings.

Indigenous comedian Ryan McMahon has emphasized that decolonization is ultimately about land.[2] The tipi encampments at the Saskatchewan legislature reinforce that idea on both micro and macro levels. Continue reading

Liberation from “That Vicious System”: Jim Brady’s 20th Century Métis Cooperatives and Colonial State Responses

Molly Swain

James (Jim) Brady (1908-1967) was a Métis communist community organizer active primarily in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan in the mid-20th century.[i] He played an instrumental role in the formation of the Métis Association of Alberta (now the Métis Nation of Alberta) and the Alberta Métis Settlements. Over nearly four decades, Brady was also involved in organizing resource cooperatives (also referred to as producer cooperatives) in the fish, fur, and timber industries throughout the northern Prairie Provinces, primarily in Alberta and Saskatchewan.[ii] Brady developed a unique understanding of Métis society, and believed in pursuing Métis liberation in concert with the liberation of the broader working class, through a Leninist proletarian revolution. His politics were based on the idea that “what we would refer to vaguely as the national liberation of the Indian peoples and the Métis people in Canada, cannot be completed until Canada as a whole, and the western world as a whole, free themselves of that vicious system which has imposed these conditions on a conquered people.”[iii]

He believed that resource cooperatives were an ideal way to reorient Métis relationships to labour and build Métis class consciousness, economic and political self-determination, and thus solidarity with the white working class against colonial capitalism (“that vicious system”).

Jim Brady, 1944. Glenbow Archives.

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Plains Injustice: Tipi Camps and Settler Responses to Indigenous Presence on the Prairies (Part 2)

This is the second post in a series that places the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp in Regina into historical contexts of tipi camps and settler responses to Indigenous presence on the prairies. You can check out the first article in the series (here). The third and final article will be available next Friday.

In direct contrast to the opposition to the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp, a tipi sits on display on the Saskatchewan Legislature grounds one year earlier, as part of Canada 150 celebrations.
(Photo by computer_saskboy on Flickr. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Part Two: Prohibit and Exhibit: A History of Prairie Tipi Encampments

By Stephanie Danyluk and Katya MacDonald

For the Indigenous people who called the plains home, encampments were central to their everyday cultural, social, spiritual, and political lives. Cultural and spiritual meanings associated with the tipi and encampments are deep and complex; this includes the elements, design, position of the tipi, their ownership, their ceremonial role, and the organization of the camp, to name just a few.[1] Of course, the specific cultural and spiritual meaning and practices associated with tipis and encampments differ among the diverse First Nations of the plains. This article seeks to situate responses to the Justice for Our Children Camp on the grounds of the Saskatchewan Legislature within the historical context of reducing “tipi villages” to ahistorical symbols of Canada’s nationhood. This context is placed vis-a-vis Indigenous perspectives on these camps as sites of cultural, social, and political gathering apart from settler interests.

For early settlers coming into contact with Indigenous plains peoples, tipi encampments were primarily remarked upon for their form and function. Although often ignorantly defined as “primitive,” it is clear that these were autonomous, self-determined, complex spaces.  In the late 1860’s, HBC apprentice clerk Isaac Cowie describes a gathering of ”three hundred and fifty large leather lodges” of Cree, Saulteaux, Assiniboine, and a small group of Metis, “containing a mix population of probably two thousand five hundred or three thousand.”[2] Cowie’s description of the camp and its purpose make it clear that these Indigenous groups had diverse and complex reasons for gathering. Among these, Cowie lists buffalo hunting, the Sundance ceremony, a gathering of the Warrior’s lodge, and military protection from the Blackfoot. Cowie notes the inhabitants of the camp had varied and divergent interests and were “very far from agreeing on other matters amongst themselves.”[3] In other words, they were diverse cultures with diverse needs, and sought to be treated as such.

After the signing of the Numbered Treaties on the Canadian prairies, settler colonial forces tightened their grip on First Nations with the forced relocation of First Nations onto reserves. As well, increasing controls and colonial violence were perpetrated through the Indian Act with the the banning of cultural gatherings and with the pass and permit system. As colonial controls increased, so too did settler anxiety and fear associated with these encampments, as they symbolized and facilitated the mobility and autonomy of Indigenous peoples. The reactions to a gathering of approximately 3000 Indigenous peoples at Fort Walsh in the spring of 1881–which was to be one of the last gatherings of this kind–provides a stark contrast to Cowie’s account. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 122: The Influence of American Conservative Media

By Sean Graham

Accusations of media bias are a hallmark of 21st century political debate in the United States. From claims that the ‘mainstream media’ opposes the Republican Party to hyperbolic accusations of Fox serving as a form of government propaganda, there is no shortage of distrust when it comes to news outlets. It is not surprising, therefore, that the silo effect in media is so strong.

For as much as these are prominent discussions today, the idea of biased media is not new. Nor is the idea of the political process being heavily influenced by ideas put forth by partisan writers. In his new book Paving the Way for Reagan: The Influence of Conservative Media on U.S. Foreign Policy, Laurence Jurdem explores the way in which conservative print outlets shaped conservatism and, in many ways, the Republican Party in the second half of the 20th century.

By focusing on three key publications, National ReviewHuman Events, and Commentary Jurdem demonstrates how conservative commentators sought to influence politicians in Washington by defining a specific vision of American conservatism. With a specific focus on the United States’ international relationships, Paving the Way for Reagan examines how American involvement in Vietnam, China, and the containment of communism were influenced by conservative voices in the press.

This is a particularly useful book for this time. As we are inundated with fake news, ‘fake news’, and increasingly partisan media outlets, Jurdem’s examination of these outlets provides a terrific road map for navigating bias in news. An engaging work, Paving the Way for Reagan is a book that illuminates the present through an examination of the past.

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Kina gegoo miiksemgad: Mnidoo Mnising Neebing gah Bizh’ezhiwaybuck Doodemag: Wii-nsastamang Anishinaabeyaadziwin miinwaa doodemwin

Everything is Connected: The Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute (MISHI) 2018 on Doodemag: Exploring Anishinaabe Worldviews Through Clans

By Carolyn Podruchny

Anishinaabe holistic pedagogy and academic interdisciplinarity make a good fit, as we learned during a seven-day summer institute (MISHI) focused on exploring Anishinaabe worldviews through the lens of clans and generations.

Co-sponsored by the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF), an organization devoted to Anishinaabe history and culture, and the History of Indigenous Peoples (HIP) Network, a research cluster embedded within the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies at York University, and partnered with ActiveHistory.ca, MISHI brought together 32 established and emerging historians, graduate and undergraduate students, administrators, Elders, and knowledge-keepers to explore all things Anishinaabe through site visits, lectures, stories, and activities.

Situated in northern Lake Huron, Manitoulin is the largest fresh-water island in the world and has been home to Indigenous peoples for more than 12,000 years. Today it has six Anishinaabe communities, the residents of which share close relations with First Nations on the north shore of Lake Huron, including Whitefish River, Sagamok, and Serpent River.

Knowledge-keeper Alan Corbiere and Elder Lewis Debassige (both from M’Chigeeng) were the main instructors of the Institute. Another 19 presenters included scholars, artists, and local knowledge-keepers with distinct views of land-based pedagogies, including story-telling, hiking, cooking, and creating art.

We began the institute on the land digging up naturally occurring clay to make pots and sculptures. We gathered at the Mutchmore Café to hear Anong Beam and Laurentian University Professor of Archaeology Alicia Hawkins speak about the ancient village site at Providence Bay, where many of the participants were staying. They focused on the long practice of pottery production at the site, which challenges the interpretation that Anishinaabeg did not have an ancient ceramic practice. Professor Hawkins led the group on a walk to view the ancient village site. Continue reading

Tlatelolco – Massacre in Mexico 50 years on

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By James Cullingham

News from Mexico is often baffling and extremely sad. Bulletins regarding the country’s devastatingly high murder rate, the activities of organized crime and lethal attacks on journalists are common. Such tensions are endemic in the country that in July gave a landslide victory to Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly known as AMLO, running on an anti-corruption and anti-violence platform. The new government will face severe challenges when sworn in on December 1. As that date approaches, Mexico confronts the 50th anniversary of an event that haunts the country and underscores its persistent political instability.

Memorial stele dedicated to the massacre victims at Tlatelolco. (Photo by Ralf Roletschek, wikimedia commons)

On October 2 1968, troops (a shady group of out of uniform military intelligence operatives and secret police) opened fire at student protesters in the Plaza of the Three Cultures at Tlatelolco in downtown Mexico City. The massacre took place days before the opening of the 1968 Olympics. It was the nadir of months of conflict between protesting students and a government bent on quelling what it regarded as a communist inspired insurrection.  Contemporaneous accounts by media sympathetic to the ruling party put the casualty figure at about 40 persons. That number is lamentably off target. Continue reading

Plains Injustice: Tipi Camps and Settler Responses to Indigenous Presence on the Prairies (Part 1)

This is the first article in a series that places the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp in Regina into historical contexts of tipi camps and settler responses to Indigenous presence on the prairies. You can check out the second article on October 5th and the third on October 12th.

In direct contrast to the opposition to the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp, a tipi sits on display on the Saskatchewan Legislature grounds one year earlier, as part of Canada 150 celebrations.
(Photo by computer_saskboy on Flickr. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Part 1: Justice for Our Stolen Children Camp: Legislating Indigenous Space

By Stephanie Danyluk and Katya MacDonald

In the wake of the acquittals of Gerald Stanley and Raymond Cormier in the winter of 2018, there was a growing settlement of Indigenous protesters on the grounds of the Saskatchewan legislature, with the movement expanding to Saskatoon as well. These were not isolated actions, but part of connected and similar efforts such as the expansive water protection encampments at Standing Rock and the Parliament Hill tipis set up on July 1, 2017 to emphasize Canada’s legacy of colonialism, which were removed forcibly ahead of Canada 150 celebrations.

The Justice for Our Stolen Children camp on the Saskatchewan legislature grounds has drawn to a close as we finish writing this piece. But this individual camp is also part of a long history of settler responses to tipi camps on the prairies. The members of the 2018 tipi encampments seek concrete action from governments to address the ongoing legacies of colonialism in the legal, foster care, and educational systems. Facing opposition, arrests, and even threats of violence from governments, police, and members of the public, the protesters’ story resembles the stories of Indigenous encounters with colonialism since the first permanent settlers arrived in this region.

But parallel to this history of opposition to Indigenous presence is another set of stories. For several decades, and as recently as Canada Day of 2017, Indigenous people have, ironically, also been asked and invited to bring tipi encampments to display at local public celebrations in Saskatchewan. In this series, we want to explore the irony that some tipi villages are vehemently opposed by settlers, yet simultaneously solicited and celebrated in other contexts. These seemingly opposing histories of settler colonialism have both worked to shape settler assumptions and expectations about Indigenous presence. Continue reading

Out of the Shadows: CAUT Report on Contract Faculty Across Canada

Cover of CAUT "Out of the Shadows" report.

Cover of CAUT “Out of the Shadows” report.

Andrea Eidinger

On the day after Labour Day, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) released its long-awaited report from its first national survey of over 2,600 contract faculty who had taught at least one course in the 2016-2017 school year. The numbers, while unsurprising to many contract faculty, were quite shocking. And yet the release of the report has made barely a ripple. To date, there has only been one news article published on the report, from the Toronto Star.[1] Given the lack of news coverage, I would like to review some of the more significant findings, since they reveal major structural and systemic problems which impact faculty at all levels.

Who Are Our Contract Faculty?

In publications as recent as 2018 it has been stated that a significant number  of sessional instructors were professionals like doctors, lawyers, and engineers who taught the occasional course.[2] However, CAUT’s findings show that the highest numbers of contract faculty can be found in the humanities (21%) and in the social sciences (18%). And contrary to some findings, CAUT found that over 47% of contract faculty held doctoral or “post-doctoral degrees.” Further, these are not individuals who are simply teaching for a couple of years before securing a tenure-track position. 59% of respondents had worked as sessional instructors for over five years, including 25% who had worked for between six and ten years. The majority of contract faculty are, perhaps unsurprisingly, in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.

What Kinds of Work Are They Doing?

In general, 70% of contract faculty work on a course by course basis, sometimes across multiple institutions. Depending on the hiring cycles of universities, which can vary significantly, this can mean reapplying for your job between every four months to ten months, and renewal is rarely guaranteed. The number of courses that each contract faculty teaches per year can also vary significantly, although CAUT found that 40% taught more than four courses per academic year.

In many cases this is the equivalent to a full course load for regular faculty. However, this does not translate into significant amounts of money. Approximately 49% of sessional instructors make less than $50,000 per year, despite these heavy course loads. A further 27% of contract faculty make between $50,000 and $80,000 per year. In comparison, Statistics Canada reports that the average starting salary for assistant professors across all fields is $103,400. When we consider that many contract faculty are also expected to publish on a regular basis (67% reported working on peer-reviewed articles and 26% on non-peer reviewed publications), and that 75% report having to do some kind of committee work (60% reporting that this work was unpaid), there is a serious discrepancy here, one that cannot be justified by saying that contract faculty only teach. Continue reading