Syrian Refugees Now and South Asian Refugees Then: Marion Dewar and the Legacy of Project 4000

By Deborah Gorham

In the biggest refugee crisis in decades, four and a half million Syrians have fled the civil war in their country.   As I write, the refugees from the Syrian civil war have become a continuing media event.   We can see refugees drowning; refugees boarding trains, or being prevented from boarding trains.  We see victims starving in Madaya, a besieged Syrian community near the Lebanese border.

Our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to bring 25,00 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015.  The number of refugees entering Canada has fallen far short of that promise.    Still, many Canadians believe the government is doing its best and they were proud when Prime Minister Trudeau met the first arrivals at Toronto airport.  “Welcome to Canada…You’re home now,” he said.

Almost 40 years ago, the world faced another refugee crisis.  After the Vietnam War ended, and Saigon fell, three million Southeast Asians fled Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.  The mayor of Ottawa was then the staunch progressive, Marion Dewar.  She launched Project 4000, one of the most ambitious local initiatives in Canada to resettle displaced people fleeing Vietnam. Continue reading

Bleeding Him White: How Canada Stole an Indigenous Veteran’s Identity

By Lynn Gehl

In the Anishinaabeg tradition dibaajimowinan, which translates to personal storytelling, is valued as a valid and legitimate method of both gaining and conveying knowledge. The dibaajimowinan method is holistic in that it values knowledge that is more than what is rational: it is emotional and spiritual too. As most know, the oral tradition was recognized in the 1997 Delgamuukw Supreme Court of Canada decision. Remaining within my ancestral knowledge tradition, it is in these ways of knowing that I offer this Algonquin Anishinaabeg history.

CFWW Gehl Figure 1 - Joseph Gagnon (Gagne) in uniform

Figure 1 – Joseph Gagnon (Gagne) in uniform.  All images are of items in the author’s possession.

Most days, and especially Remembrance Day, are a bundle of contradictions as my lived experience is laden with the genocide by colonial Canada both historical and in a contemporary sense. Through family oral history I know that my great grandfather, Joseph Gagne (also spelled Gagnon), served in the First World War (1914-1918). I was told that his mother, who is my great great grandmother, Angeline Jocko (also spelled Jacco), once resided at a mission settlement in the Lake of Two Mountains which was first established in 1721.

CFWW Gehl Figure 2 - Lynn Gehl holding wampum belt. Photo credit Nikolaus Gehl

Figure 2 – Lynn Gehl holding wampum belt. Photo credit Nikolaus Gehl.

The Lake of Two Mountains mission settlement was a place where the Algonquin, Nippissing, and Mohawk people lived together, each nation retaining their own council houses (Day and Trigger 1994). Through the oral tradition I know there is a wampum belt that represents this relationship. This belt has three human icons encoded, as well as a cross representing the three Indigenous nations and the community as a Christian settlement.[i]

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The Revenant is Beautiful, Disappointing Art

Stacy Nation-Knapper

Stills courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Stills courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The Revenant is not history. Yes, as the film trailers, posters, and advertisements boast, the film was “inspired by true events” and it represents an amalgam of multiple historic fur trade events during the years 1820-24, and fantasy. Most of the non-Indigenous characters in the film existed. Other writers, including Clay Landry for the Museum of the Mountain Man and Alex von Tunzelmann for The Guardian, have explored the general historical accuracy of the film and I will add little to such critiques here, though there is more to be said. In the tradition of fur trade reenactors, it is possible to fact-check each scene against the historical record. Few films hold up well under such scrutiny. The nineteenth-century Missouri River fur trade is represented fairly well in The Revenant as a dirty, dangerous, ethnically diverse arm of the global economy. The paucity of evidence about Glass’s life means stories of his life are more legend than history and the film is no exception. The story of Hugh Glass is an excellent seed for artistic filmmaking because evidence is sparse and lore is abundant. In the process of creating art from that seed, however, the filmmakers made disappointing choices of appropriation and sensationalistic excess.

Much has been made of the artistic beauty of The Revenant and for good reason. It is a beautiful film. Continue reading

Exploring the Clash of Official and Vernacular Memory: The Great War in Brantford, Brant Country, and Six Nations

By Dr. Peter Farrugia and Evan J. Habkirk

The American historian, John Bodnar has argued that “Public memory emerges from the intersection of official and vernacular cultural expressions.” Official memory in his conception is propagated by elites who attempt to advance their vision “…by promoting interpretations of past and present reality that reduce the power of competing interests that threaten the realization of their goals.” Meanwhile, vernacular culture “…represents an array of specialized interests that are grounded in parts of the whole. They are diverse and changing and can be reformulated from time to time by the creation of new social units…”[1]


All images are the authors’ own.

These distinctions between official and vernacular cultures become particularly relevant when we enter the realm of the First World War centenary. There are many organizations that are currently grappling with the question of what they should commemorate: the official grand narratives championed by Government or the multi-narratives that have been generated at various levels in Canadian society. Since its founding in 2012, the Great War Centenary Association, Brantford, Brant County & Six Nations (GWCA) has explored these issues, while seeking to find a way to honour the contributions of the more than 5,000 men and women who served from the three named communities.

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When History Needs an Intervention

By Mary Jane McCallum

Title Page-2

Cover page of “Education — A Vehicle for Change”, essay written by the author’s mother in the late 1970s. Photo by author.

Thank you to Crystal Fraser for guest-editing #AHindigenous at ActiveHistory this week. Her initiative exponentially increased Active History’s content by Indigenous people and likely its Indigenous readership. To Leanne Simpson, Zoe Todd, Claire Thomson, Daniel Sims, Adam Gaudry, Anna Huard, Lianne Charlie, Norma Dunning and Billy-Ray Belcourt, thank you for your thoughtful and inspiring posts. Each piece makes vital contributions, and together they highlight some of the key themes in contemporary Indigenous scholarship: rootedness in place and land; family and kinship as inspiration and methodology in Indigenous history; critical analyses of the politics of recognition and reconciliation in a context of entrenched historic and ongoing colonialism; and identifying solid concepts and practices of decolonization. Their work is creative, critical, and attentive to change and continuity over time; it gives special insight to our own complex and often contradictory moment in Indigenous history. In this piece, I bring these valuable contributions into conversation with my thoughts on the new Indigenous Course Requirement at the University of Winnipeg.

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Political Depression in a Time of Reconciliation

By Billy-Ray Belcourt

It’s tough: knowing that you might not get the world you want and the world that wants you back, that your bones might never stop feeling achy and fragile from the wear and tear of mere existence, from the hard labour of getting through the day. Ours are bodies that have been depleted by time, that have been wrenched into a world they can’t properly bend or squirm into because our flesh is paradoxically both too much and not enough for it. In the wake of both eventful and slowed kinds of premature death, what does it mean that the state wants so eagerly to move Indigenous bodies, to touch them, so to speak?

Reconciliation is an affective mess: it throws together and condenses histories of trauma and their shaky bodies and feelings into a neatly bordered desire; a desire to let go, to move on, to turn to the future with open arms, as it were. Reconciliation is stubbornly ambivalent in its potentiality, an object of desire that we’re not entirely certain how to acquire or substantiate, but one that the state – reified through the bodies of politicians, Indigenous or otherwise – is telling us we need. In fact, Justice Murray Sinclair noted that the launch of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report on December 15, 2015, puts us at the “threshold of a new era in this country.”[1] I am interested in how life might be lived willfully and badly in the face of governmental forms of redress when many of us are stretched thin, how reconciliation, though instantiating a noticeable shift in the national affective atmosphere,[2] doesn’t actually remake the substance of the social or the political such that we’re still tethered to scenes of living that can’t sustain us. What I am trying to get at is: reconciliation works insofar as it is a way of looking forward to being in this world, at the expense of more radical projects like decolonization that want to experiment with different strategies for survival.[3]

This way of doing things isn’t working and, because of that, optimism is hard to come by. According to cultural theorist Ann Cvetkovich, political depression emerges from the realization “that customary forms of political response, including direct action and critical analysis, are no longer working either to change the world or to make us feel better.”[4] It is the pestering sense that whatever you do, it won’t be enough; that things will continue uninterrupted, teasing you because something different is all you’ve wanted from the start. To be politically depressed is to worry about the temporal reach of neoliberal projects like reconciliation, to question their orientation toward the future because the present requires all of your energy in order to feel like anything but dying. Political depression is of a piece with a dispossessory enterprise that remakes the topography of the ordinary such that the labour of maintaining one’s life becomes too hard to keep up. We have to wait for the then and there in the here and now; how do we preserve ourselves until then?


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugs residential school survivor Eugene Arcand during the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report in Ottawa, December 15, 2015. Source: CBC

As Leanne Simpson points out, reconciliation has been reparative for some survivors, encouraging them to tell their stories, to keep going, so to speak.[5] But, what of the gendered and racialized technologies of violence that created our scenes of living, scenes we’ve been forced to think are of our own choosing? Optimism for the work of reconciliation disappeared in the face of multiple crises: of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, of HIV infection rates, of mass incarceration, of diabetes, of suicide. Reconciliation, at once a heuristic and a form of statecraft, fakes a political that doesn’t actually exist as such, one that not only presupposes that we – Indigenous peoples, that is – are willing to stay attached to it, but that we are already folded into it, that we’ve already consented to it. What does it mean, for example, to consent to a nation-to-nation relationship if there are no other options to choose from? Continue reading

Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow: The Next Generation of Yukon Indigenous Politics

By Lianne Charlie

CHARLIE IMAGEIn 1973 when Chief Elijah Smith and a delegation of representatives from Yukon First Nations travelled from Whitehorse, Yukon, to Ottawa to present Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau with Together Today for our Children Tomorrow (TTFCT), they had my generation (and the many to follow) in mind: “This is a settlement for tomorrow, not for today…This settlement is for our children, our children’s children, for many generations to come.”[1] TTFCT, drafted by the Yukon Native Brotherhood on behalf of the “Yukon Indian People,” called for a “fair and just” settlement and spoke of our nations’ struggles with racist assimilationist policies, poverty, residential school, settler encroachment, dispossession, and unabated resource extraction that Indigenous northerners had been experiencing in our homelands for more than a century.[2] The document captured our desire, at the time, for redress, recognition (in the form of a legal “Settlement”), and a way of moving respectfully and responsibly toward a better future with Canada. In light of emerging critiques of Recognition Politics in Canada by Indigenous scholars, I explore the possibility of TTFCT taking on new meaning in resurgent Indigenous politics in the Yukon.

TTFCT had a profound effect on Indigenous-Canadian politics, at both the territorial and national level. Its presentation to Prime Minister Trudeau initiated our journey towards—what is now commonly known as—a “modern-day treaty” process, a form of political recognition. Political recognition seeks “acknowledgement of the existence, validity, or legality of something.”[3] An example would be a First Nation seeking recognition from Canada of its Aboriginal rights and title to land through modern-day treaty negotiations, comprehensive land claims agreements, self-government agreements, and/or through the courts. Continue reading

Strengthening the Nunavut Educational System

By Norma Dunning

In Canada there is an educational crisis. Within Nunavut the attrition rates of Inuk high school students is 51%.[i] The Inuit population is just under 60,000, making this a national disaster. Out of the three recognized Aboriginal groups Inuit remain at the lowest end of academic success. Within this country, in 2011, there were a total of forty Inuk PhD holders, twenty of whom are medical doctors.[ii] This number alone points to a system that is essentially flawed. My doctoral research examines the implementation of Inuit epistemology into Nunavut schools as the most logical way of strengthening the educational system. Educational policy input by both Inuk students and parents using their inherent ways of knowing and being will bring parity to Inuit communities within a system that has clearly proved itself to be ineffective.

On December 8, 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a “significant investment” towards First Nation Education. Indeed, during the course of the Liberal electoral campaign they promised funding of $2.6 billion over four years with an additional $500 million that would be funnelled into educational infrastructure. I caution Canadians to keep in mind that none of this money will be used in the area of Inuit or Métis education. This educational investment is exclusive to First Nations peoples. I do not say this with envy. I say this as most Canadians have historically and currently lump Inuit in with First Nations. Inuit are distinct. This distinction is something that was hard fought for, in the past Inuit were considered to be another brand of Indian.

Historically the Canadian government grappled with the identity of the Inuit, questioning how to legislate their identity. In 1924, the Indian Act was amended to include Inuit within the act as citizens of Canada – not wards of the state.[iii] Unlike First Nations, Inuit had the same rights and access to social benefits in the areas of health and education as mainstream society. This included the right to vote federally and to pay all taxes. The benefits extended to Inuit were cared for through various bureaucratic branches including an Eskimo Affairs Committee. It is not until 1951 that the Indian Act was further amended, removing the Inuit from the Act permanently. Continue reading

A Wrench in the Medicine Wheel: The Price of Stolen Water on Indigenous Cultural Continuity

by Anna Huard

Shoal Lake No. 40 [Online image]. (2014) Retrieved February 26 from

Shoal Lake No. 40 [Online image]. (2014)

I wish to illustrate the severe negative cultural and spiritual impacts Indigenous people face when forced to reallocate from their traditional and sacred lands. Since the development in 1919, of a 100km aqueduct to transport drinking water from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation (SL40) to the City of Winnipeg, residents of a once flourishing and prosperous tract of land have been constrained to an island, and subjected to the adverse effects of this so-called “engineering feat.” Construction of the aqueduct, providing the City of Winnipeg with clean drinking water, ironically had a variety of negative effects on the quality of water available for the Shoal Lake First Nations communities. One negative environmental impact of this project includes the artificial increase of water levels in Shoal Lake1, which affects fishing and wild rice harvesting due to a rise in water levels by one meter, as well as diminished water quality.2 Lack of access to potable water has also left this community under a water boil advisory off and on over the years, most recently since February 1997. Simply put: the City of Winnipeg continues to benefit from the natural resources of SL40 at the cost of this Indigenous community’s cultural, ecological, and social well-being.

The most alarming aspect of this issue is the consistent (and very intentional) violations of human and Indigenous rights that SL40 has experienced over the last century. The injustice is so prevalent that SL40 has chronologically displayed the documentation on how they have been systematically wronged in their community centre, calling it the Museum of Canadian Human Rights Violations. I was fortunate enough to visit this exhibit with my research group last summer with the hope of delving deeper into the immediate perspectives of community members. Continue reading

Paved with Good Intentions: Simply Requiring Indigenous Content is Not Enough

by Adam Gaudry

Over the past year, the University of Winnipeg and Lakehead University have mandated that incoming undergraduate students complete an Indigenous degree requirement before graduating. This requirement takes the form of an Indigenous content class chosen from a number of options relevant to the student’s degree program. Given the popular response, many other universities are following suit, a byproduct of both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s “Calls to Action” and an arms race to be at the forefront of progressive curricular reform.

Generally speaking, this is a good thing, and I believe that this is an effective strategy, especially at universities like these with substantial capacity to provide this curriculum. It is not my intent to critique those universities who have taken the lead on this, but I think that universities without this experience must move ahead cautiously. In the rush to get students learning about Indigenous-Canada relations, little friendly criticism has challenged this popular desire for curricular change. A sobering analysis by Daniel Heath Justice, however, shows just how difficult this project really is, and how poor implementation of a requirement could actually work against this goal. The stakes are high, much higher than benefiting good public relations in mandating an “Indigenization” program. In implementing an Indigenous content requirement universities need to think long and hard about how to do this effectively. Continue reading