Theme Week Introduction: Women’s Social and Political Activism in the Canadian West

Introduction by Nanci Langford with Sarah Carter. Theme week edited by Sarah Carter, Erika Dyck and Nanci Langford. 

                         “If I didn’t do something, my spirit would die…”
Senator Thelma Chalifoux, 2006

This quote forms the title of Corinne George’s study of the history of Indigenous women activists of Alberta that she drew on for her presentation at the October 2016 conference on the History of Women’s Social and Political Activism in the Canadian West held at University of Alberta in Edmonton.[i] Corinne’s paper had a focus on Cree Elder, activist and conference participant Lillian Shirt, and was the topic of an Active History post in December, 2016.[ii] The six articles in this series showcase some of the other papers presented at this conference.

The centenary of the achievement of suffrage for (some) women in the prairie provinces prompted conference organizers Sarah Carter, Nanci Langford and Claire Thomson to provide a forum for recent research on prairie women’s activism in the last century.[iii] In particular we wanted to feature new scholarship being undertaken in diverse communities that reflect the struggles women have been engaged in during the last fifty years.

Prairie women have always been involved in community development and lobbied for public measures that would improve the lives of women and children. The challenges and conditions of the settlement years in the west demanded action from women and men in both settler and Indigenous communities to build secure lives for themselves and their children, and that action started at their front doors and extended to communities, districts and to provincial politics. Moving beyond those years, women of all backgrounds and cultures were and continue to be engaged in political activities to address personal and community needs, to confront unfair practices or unsafe conditions, to change the political agenda, or to demand equity. To carry out these activities they spoke out individually or formed organizations and committees, joined political parties and ran for political office. Continue reading

Trumpism, Fascism, and the Lessons of History

By Geoff Read, Cheryl Koos, and Samuel Kalman

The 45th President of the United States

Many articles have appeared in the past year debating whether or not Donald Trump is a fascist.[1] Although some of these pieces are mere exercises in name calling, others offer political, social, and historical analysis. Just prior to the US presidential election, for example, Kevin Passmore, an eminent scholar of the French far right, took up this question in the Manchester Guardian and reached similar conclusions as previous commentators: that fascism is a difficult concept to nail down, that so-called fascists were a diverse group, and that the label “fascist” may not be helpful for understanding Trump and the movement (let’s call it “Trumpism”) that he has inspired.

We don’t argue with the thrust of the first two conclusions. However, unlike Passmore and others, we do think that comparing historical forms of fascism to Trumpism can be a useful exercise. Moreover, the day of Trump’s inauguration is the right moment to revisit this question from a different angle. It strikes us that asking whether or not Trump is a fascist misses the point. The logic of the comparison is as follows: that the majority of rational people can agree that fascism was dangerous and thus if a political movement resembles it, it must be strongly opposed. Surely, therefore, the important question to focus on is what similarities Trumpism shares with the fascists of the past. Pursuing this line of inquiry allows us to see many disturbing points of convergence between Trumpism and fascism without falling into the trap of a semantic debate and does in fact help identify the danger that Trumpism represents. It is not necessary that Donald Trump or his movement be fascist for these similarities to alarm us.

Focusing on the fascists of western Europe between 1919 and 1945, then, what similarities did those movements and governments share with Donald Trump and his followers? Continue reading

Planned and Unplanned Urban Migrations

Richard White

Rush hour transit – a common downtown Toronto conundrum.
Source: Urban Toronto

As anyone who lives in or frequents Toronto’s inner-city can attest, the place is over-run with human activity. The word “congestion” is probably over-used in urban affairs, and it still feels tainted by its long association with slum clearances, but it is the word that comes to mind when travelling about the city’s lower downtown these days. Walking is usually the fastest way to get around – certainly faster than streetcar, taxi, or automobile travel, though perhaps not faster than bicycling for anyone willing to face the risks – though walking can be frustrating, and even dangerous, when the sidewalks fill up like rush-hour subway cars.

Congestion-related problems appear in the local news almost every day. Most recently is the alarming increase in motor vehicle accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians. But others crop up regularly: unreliable electricity supply, insufficient public libraries and schools, conflicts over land use (dogs vs children, residents vs clubs), and of course the endless problem of surface public transit which, in truth, barely functions. At times the situation seems perversely amusing, but at other times truly alarming – deleterious consequences multiply, and policy solutions are nowhere to be found.

Viewing this through the lens of history reveals an intriguing, and perhaps rather surprising, parallel between recent growth in the inner-city and postwar expansion of the suburbs. On the surface, of course, they reflect population migrations in opposite directions, but at the root of both is a conviction, pervasive in the popular mindset of the time, that these migrations would yield a better urban life. Continue reading

How Thunder Bay Was Made

Travis Hay

Thunder Bay from Animikii-waajiw (Mount McKay). P199/Wikipedia Commons

Thunder Bay, Ontario is a city well-known for a particularly explicit form of anti-Indigenous racism.[1] Unlike more southern and urban locales where anti-Indigeneity is predominantly expressed as erasure, the social structures of feeling that exist in Thunder Bay are informed by a close proximity to Fort William First Nation (FWFN) – a community located adjacently to the city. Recently, the news that FWFN has reached a $99 million land claim settlement with the federal government has stirred up racial tensions in Thunder Bay and across Canada more broadly. Predictably, complaints about ‘handouts’ and other well-worn racist tropes have frequented news media comment sections, social media debates, and the everyday conversations that make up public life in the city of Thunder Bay. In this article, I wanted to offer a brief review of the land claim settlement that situates it within its proper historical context of settler colonial dispossession. In writing this history, I am relying quite heavily on the work and research of FWFN Lands Director Ian Bannon and Chief Peter Collins. To supplement these materials (which FWFN has made widely available online) I use the scholarship of historians who have attempted to unpack the settler colonial constitution of Thunder Bay in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[2]

The 1905 Forced Relocation

In 1905, the Fort William band was forcefully uprooted and relocated from their reserve site on the shores of the Kaministiquia River so that settlers could build a grain terminus for the Grand Trunk Pacific railway. Continue reading

Peaceable Kingdom or Emergency State?  The Legacy of Canada’s First World War for Security Regulation and Civil Rights

By Dennis Molinaro

The First World War led to many profound changes in Canadian society, including expanding the security powers of the government and laying the foundations of the modern surveillance state. Through measures such as the War Measures Act and Section 98, certain wartime powers became a permanent means of judging people’s politics in peacetime.  Surprisingly, this legacy of the First World War also spurred a politically diverse civil rights movement, whose mainstream leaders included J.S. Woodsworth, that helped form the basis for the progressive political and rights campaigns of future generations.

Hugh Guthrie, who as Solicitor General was the major author of Section 98. Image from Wikipedia.

In 1914 the Canadian government created the War Measures Act (WMA) and it was purposely designed as a “blanket act” meaning that it gave the government the power to craft whatever law it deemed necessary for the war.  The reason the Canadian government did this was because it had looked at similar British legislation, the Defense of the Realm Act (DORA), and it thought it was not efficient because the British had to frequently amend it. Unlike DORA, Canada’s WMA had no end date and was broad enough to deal with anything that could come up. While the expectation was to only use it during the war, the fact that it had no end date meant that a peacetime application was entirely within the right of the government.
Continue reading

The CIDA Photography Collections: A Visual Perspective on Canadian International Aid

Rights and Realities Exhibit ID Number:730-2258 Slide Number: 730-487-04 Date: 1995 A woman repairs shoes in a tiny kiosk on the sidewalk in downtown Lima, Peru. (c)Global Affairs Canada/Stephanie Colvey

Rights and Realities Exhibit
Slide Number: 730-487-04
A woman repairs shoes in a tiny kiosk on the sidewalk in downtown Lima, Peru, 1995
(c)Global Affairs Canada/Stephanie Colvey

Sonya de Laat & Dominique Marshall

The ways in which the former Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has visually represented its projects and people to the general public have greatly informed public perceptions of aid and international affairs. From the end of the 1960s, CIDA’s photographs have been used in the communications products of the Agency and of partners (NGOs, schools, publishers, etc.), or in travelling exhibitions, publications and teaching materials. They also represent a resource for scholars and practitioners interested in exploring and sharing CIDA’s multifaceted histories. For forty-five years, CIDA administered the nation’s official development assistance (ODA). From large-scale mining and electricity projects to smaller scale education and health programs, CIDA was Canada’s main response to a global surge in international development initiatives that started in the 1960s. Simultaneously, CIDA was a vehicle for extending Canadian economic and political interests as well as its social values abroad. It became a key entity in defining Canada’s caring and helpful identity domestically and internationally. Continue reading

Stewarding a Canadian Culture of Comity

By Elizabeth Mancke

Reception of the American Loyalists by Great Britain in the Year 1783. Engraving by H. Moses after Benjamin West.

Reception of the American Loyalists by Great Britain in the Year 1783. Engraving by H. Moses after Benjamin West.

The election of Donald Trump as US president raises concerns about the impact on Canada: on trade, energy policy, currency exchanges, pipelines, climate change. Most anxiety inducing is the toxic turn of civic discourse, as the US political process tolerated expressions of racism and sexism, as well as outright lies and intimidation.

The contaminating effects, we fear, may spread north. Although Canadians now have a cultural confidence about their differences from Americans, and believe that they should be protected, the task is complicated by the difficulty of identifying these differences.

At a very mundane level, Canadian “niceness” might be undermined. That niceness, however, is not from Canadians spending more time in Sunday school (lower than in the US) or table time with parents over supper.   It reflects a culture of comity, of courtesy and consideration in civic discourse, dating back to the Loyalists of the 18th century. As refugees from a war they opposed, these Americans moved north armed with words not weapons as the primary tools to rebuild shattered communities and forge deliberative governments. Continue reading

Lillian Piché Shirt, John Lennon and a Cree Grandmother’s Inspiration for the Song “Imagine”

By Lillian Shirt, Corinne George and Sarah Carter

Lillian Piché Shirt speaking at the University of Alberta in Sept. 1969 for the Native Peoples Defense Fund. The Gateway 29 Sept., 1969: 1

Lillian Piché Shirt speaking at the University of Alberta in Sept. 1969 for the Native Peoples Defense Fund. The Gateway 29 Sept., 1969: 1

It was the summer of ’69. Lillian Piché Shirt, a twenty-six year old Cree woman from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, was living in a tipi with her four young children on Sir Winston Churchill Square outside Edmonton’s City Hall. She was protesting the lack of housing for Indigenous people in Edmonton. Lillian had been evicted from her apartment two months earlier when ownership changed hands, and had not found other accommodation since. Landlords refused to rent to her.

Interviewed in 2006 by Corinne George for her M.A. thesis on  Aboriginal women activists of Alberta in the 1950s – 1980s, Lillian explained: “I decided I was going to do something about it, it was in May, and I thought, well, how am I going to do this? I am not many in number, not too many people will risk anything, and I looked at it from all different directions… So I went and picked up my tipi at my grandma’s, cause I had decided what I was going to do. I was going to put up a tipi right smack dab in the middle of Churchill Square- right in front of city Hall, where the mayor could see me from his desk.” She declared “I won’t move until I’m forced out or I get a proper house to live in.”[1] Lillian said the protest was not just about housing, but about discrimination in education and welfare and a call to respect human rights. She was concerned that Indigenous children were not being taught their own history in school, that children were losing their identity, and she called for schools on reserves rather than young people having to go to the cities.[2] The tipi went up on May 30.

Edmonton’s police station, court house, and the public library also all looked out onto the square where Lillian was camped. City Hall would not give her a permit to live on the square.[3] But Mayor Ivor Dent was sympathetic, as was Joe Poss of the Edmonton Police who provided security. Lillian had friends and supporters who helped her raise the tipi, brought supplies and took the older children to and from school. By early July she was joined by others in three pup tents and one more tipi.[4] A Citizens Committee on Housing and Discrimination was formed. She intended to stay on the square until accommodation was found, and if the city forced her off she was going to move to the grounds of the legislative building.[5]

The protest received local, provincial and national attention, and Lillian’s protest was covered in newspapers, television and radio. On May 31 for example, an article was published in the Toronto Globe and Mail under the headline “Mother Confronts Edmonton Authority: Erects Teepee Outside City Hall.” That same day a photo of Lillian holding one of her children and one of her tipi appeared in the Toronto Daily Star with the headline “Crees Camp in Edmonton Square.”

Just at this time John Lennon and Yoko Ono were in Canada. Continue reading

Listening to History: Correcting the Toronto Metis Land Acknowledgement

By Jesse Thistle

Map ascribed to Louis Jolliet after 1673 showing ganatchakiagon and the rouge trail the eastern arm of the Toronto carrying place

Map ascribed to Louis Jolliet after 1673 showing ganatchakiagon and the rouge trail the eastern arm of the Toronto carrying place

One of my friends is a teacher for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). She recently asked me for help regarding their traditional land acknowledgement recognizing the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Wendat, and the Metis. She told me that the board was facing considerable resistance from the community regarding the acknowledgment of the Metis. The blow back is understandable, and here’s why.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the Metis wars on Twitter raging amongst our scholarly friends. They rail on about who is and who is not Metis; where the historic Metis homeland is and where it is not. Well if you’re wondering, Toronto isn’t Metis, nor are its historic mixed-bloods. But beyond the contested lines drawn in the scholarly sandbox, here is some actual history to break down why Toronto sits outside of the western Metis homeland and thus should not be included in the TDSB Indigenous land acknowledgement. Continue reading

Quarrelsome cannabis in the UK: evidence from Canada and elsewhere

By Lucas Richert

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-8-40-26-pmIn September the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform in the UK stated there was “good evidence” cannabis could help alleviate the symptoms of several health conditions, including chronic pain and anxiety. According to Professor Mike Barnes, a leading consultant neurologist who contributed to the report, “We must legalise access to medical cannabis as a matter of urgency.”

The co-chair of the Group, Baroness Molly Meacher, stated:

“The evidence has been strong enough to persuade a growing number of countries and US states to legalise access to medical cannabis. Against this background, the UK scheduling of cannabis as a substance that has no medical value is irrational.”

The All Party Group obtained evidence from 623 patients, representatives of the medical professions and people with knowledge of how medical cannabis is regulated around the world. It reviewed over 20,000 reports and suggested cannabis could be used for multiple health problems.

By contrast, a Home Office spokesman noted: Continue reading