This autumn marks a significant milestone in the history of filmmaking about Indigenous – settler relations in Canada. As Long As The Rivers Flow, the documentary series about Indigenous resilience that launched Tamarack Productions, was released in September 1991.
As Long As The Rivers Flow was among the first national collaborations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous documentarians in Canadian television history. It is a series of five one-hour documentary films. The films recount an epic story. The struggle of Indigenous peoples to assert control of their destiny in the place that came to be called Canada.
In September 1991 two documentaries in the series, one by the late Métis director Gil Cardinal and the other – her first film – by Métis filmmaker Loretta Sarah Todd, director of 2020’s wonderful Monkey Beach drama, premiered at TIFF (then The Festival of Festivals.)
Following the world premieres of Tikinagan and The Learning Path, As Long as the Rivers Flow debuted on a consortium of provincial educational broadcasters led by TVO. The films were introduced by Cree and Métis actor and activist Tantoo Cardinal for the English broadcast premiere. The series was first broadcast en français in Canada and abroad that same year on TV5 as Tant que coulent les rivières. Eventually the series was versioned in Cree for broadcast and educational use in northern Ontario and Québec.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the series, and in the spirit of intercultural cooperation, respect and truth that the series represents, Tamarack Productions is proud to offer the films free of charge for the remainder of 2021 on its website in the interest of fostering reconciliation and collaboration among storytellers.
Molly Swain is a Métis woman, or otipêmsiw-iskwêw, from Calgary, Alberta (otôskwanihk), in Treaty 7 territory, Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) Region 3, currently living in amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton), MNA Region 4, Treaty 6 and Nehiyaw-Pwat (Iron Confederacy) territory. A PhD student in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, Molly also co-hosts otipêyimisiw-iskwêwak kihci-kîsikohk (Métis in Space), an Indigenous feminist science fiction podcast, along with Chelsea Vowel. She is part of the directorship of the Métis in Space Land Trust and a member of Free Lands Free Peoples, an anti-colonial penal abolition group.
Politically, Molly describes herself as an Indigenous, specifically Métis, anarcha-feminist, with the goal of “total anti-colonial liberation,” including “the destruction of white cis-hetero-patriarchal supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, ableism, and states, as well as the regeneration of both new and remembered ways of living together with the land and with one another,” humans and other-than-humans alike.
Series co-editor Edward Dunsworth spoke with Molly over Zoom on 14 July 2021. Transcript edited for clarity and length.
Article from the front page of Victoria’s Daily Colonist, 16 November 1907.
Kathleen McKenzie and Sean Carleton
As the result of the news of unmarked graves being located at former residential schools across Canada, many people are finally reckoning with the history of the Indian Residential School (IRS) system. While school survivors and Indigenous communities are not surprised by the recent revelations, some Canadians have been shocked to learn of the high rates of death and disease at the schools. They shouldn’t be, though. The horrors of the system were always hiding in plain sight.
As was recently reported in the Globe and Mail by Crystal Fraser, Tricia Logan, and Neil Orford, the Department of Indian Affairs’ own medical officer, Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, blew the whistle on the IRS system in the early 1900s. In a 1907 report on the inadequate care that Indigenous children were receiving in some schools, Bryce outlined the ills of the system – including death and disease – that many Canadians are only learning of now. The Department of Indian Affairs, however, chose to ignore Bryce’s findings, burying his report and thwarting his subsequent calls for reform.
Yet, it is too easy for Canadians to say that the public was not made aware of Bryce’s report and apply blame solely to church and state officials who downplayed and ignored his warnings. The report was leaked to the public, and an examination of newspaper articles from the early 1900s reveals that readers across the country were presented with the findings.
In an empty parking lot with patches of silty snow and grey ice, Kaisy wobbled, skidded a bit, and struggled to maintain her balance. She had barely bicycled previously and hailed from Brownsville, Texas, and yet she had signed up for my winter bicycling class. As an informal pre-requisite to that class, students agreed to spend the winter semester pedaling for their education around the Twin Cities; she was well aware of this. Home to the International Winter Bicycling Summit that year, Minneapolis is well known for a vibrant winter bicycling culture. I wanted to offer my students a different take on what is widely perceived as a lethal activity, and to learn about the politics of bicycle mobility in the area. We were admittedly off to a bumpy beginning.
Kaisy had e-mailed me to ask for some “tips on how to stop and start.” Adhering to my promise that I had designed the course “for all bicycle abilities,” we met for a practice ride in the lot behind our classroom as the late January sun set.
Bam! Within less than 30 seconds, Kaisy collided into my bicycle, dented and bent the fender – years later, I still haven’t been able to straighten it out entirely. Nevertheless, she saved herself from toppling over, and me from doing the same. Failing at lesson number one, I gulped and thought to myself, maybe I should start requiring students to sign a waiver? But when Kaisy also mentioned that she had recently started playing ice hockey, I knew this young woman from southern Texas was determined. She was not the only student with little previous experience.
By semester’s end, Kaisy bicycled smoothly and confidently throughout the Twin Cities – she never had another crash. Empowering my students to be comfortable in a variety of bicycling conditions is just one of the small things that I love about the bicycle curriculum I teach. Entitled “Bicycling the Urban Landscape: A History and Politics of Bicycling,” designing the Twin Cities-based course had also introduced me to the array of bicycle players in my new community. Continue reading →
The rhetoric of warning, emergency, and alarm is everywhere in climate change coverage. Headlines flag the recent release of the IPCC-1 as our “starkest warning yet,” cities and institutions around the world announce climate emergencies, and academic studies draw on the metaphor of the fire alarm in an effort to convey the urgency of the crisis. As different as each of these registers are, they all invest in the view that warnings are not idle but activating: that they will do something. Greta Thunberg is perhaps the best-known public commentator to combine all three of these rhetorical terms—warning, emergency, and alarm—in her many calls for climate action. Consider her speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on 25 January 2019 in which she focuses on the latter, the fire alarm. “Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire.” In the conclusion to her speech, she returns to the metaphor of the house on fire: “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
I agree that the climate crisis is an emergency. I agree with the warnings and alarms. But I also wonder if there is a saturation point on climate warnings and alarms? And, worse, I wonder if they might thwart the very action for which they advocate. To be sure, immediate and sustained climate action is necessary and it has never been more urgent than now. News media have translated the science into terms that gain the attention of a general reading public. And Thunberg’s mobilization of phrases like “our house is on fire” have catalyzed action, contributed to a worldwide youth movement focused on climate action, and inspired global movements like Extinction Rebellion. They’ve also given ballast to the Green New Deal and related proposals for a green economy less wedded to sustainability discourses. One would be hard-pressed to say that her rhetoric of warning, emergency, alarm, and warning has had no impact. But has this rhetoric had other, less inspiring, impacts as well?
Edward Dunsworth: Thank you, Dr. Waldron, for speaking with ActiveHistory.ca today. Your 2018 book, There’s Something in The Water, about environmental racism against Black and Indigenous communities in Nova Scotia, has done exceptionally well. Currently in its third reprint, it also was the inspiration for the documentary film of the same name, co-directed and -produced by movie star Elliot Page, that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 and is now streaming on Netflix. Could you tell us a bit about how the book came about?
Ingrid Waldon: I had planned on writing a book, but perhaps not so soon. Since starting the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health Project (ENRICH) project in 2012, I’ve been keeping detailed notes. [Editor’s note: ENRICH is “a collaborative community-based research and engagement project on environmental racism in Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotian communities.”] So I knew that I would use that at some point, but I was planning on a different type of book that would look at the challenges of doing community based research, in general. I was approached by the publisher of Fernwood about writing a book on environmental racism in Nova Scotia. And I thought about it and said yes.
The book talks about the ENRICH project, the challenges of community-based research, and the health impacts of environmental racism, all within the context of settler colonialism, heteropatriarchy, and neoliberalism.
An important goal of mine with the book was to give voice to the Black and Indigenous communities I engaged. I wanted their voices to be at the forefront. Many of the chapters include direct quotes from them that articulate their experiences and their thoughts on the issues.
In the west hills outside of Portland, there is a climb popular with road cyclists called Old Germantown Road. It’s the sort of climb cyclists often describe as “punchy” — that is, it is not particularly long, but peppered with the whimsical steep pitches that characterize the back roads of regions that rarely see snow. I make it a regular feature of my Portland rides. It never feels good — in fact it usually feels like taking knives to the legs — but I like the aesthetic and the lack of traffic, and I am a sucker for difficult things.
Recently, toward the bottom of the most sustained section of the climb, someone has stenciled the name MAJOR TAYLOR in white paint on the gray pavement. It got me thinking. About cycling. About bodies. And about history.
Marshall “Major” Taylor was an African-American professional cyclist who raced in an otherwise all-white world cycling tour in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Over his career, he racked up a pile of world records and a world sprint championship. He also faced rampant racism and discrimination across three continents during his time on the bike, only to be all but “forgotten” for almost a century by sports historians focused on other, whiter things. His story is fascinating, and has rightly resurfaced in a variety of media after nearly a century of neglect.1Continue reading →
We’re in a climate emergency. This isn’t just rhetorical hyperbole, but a statement backed by more than 13,000 scientists. Even the venerable publication Scientific American agreed to adopt the term earlier this year.Canada is particularly culpable for this crisis because of its petro-state status and hyper-consumerism.
My research deals with the transborder history and politics of Canada-U.S. water and energy issues, lately involving climate change. But it is in my teaching role that I spend the most time addressing the climate emergency since I’m in an environmental and sustainability studies department (which has a climate change minor). This includes an introductory course that features a major climate change component, as well as senior courses such as the seminar I’m teaching this fall that concentrates on my campus’s carbon emissions.
True, I have the advantage of teaching in an environment-focused setting that looks as much at the present and the future as the past. But all historians, regardless of experience in environmental history or history of science, can bring the climate emergency into their classroom. What I would like to do in this post is to suggest some areas, based on my teaching experiences and reading of recent literature, where climate change could be injected into Canadian history survey courses.
During the pandemic, I’ve read a wide range of new popular books about the climate crisis – from the technocratic solutions of Bill Gates to the Green New Deal advocacy of Kate Aronoff. Within those public-facing books, I noticed four key debates – or spectrums since they don’t have to be either-or questions – about tackling climate. These are illustrated below, with the ‘X’ marking where I land within each:
In 1994, Lynn Gehl applied for registration as an ‘Indian’ with the federal government. Unable to provide evidence as to the identity of her paternal grandfather, meant that, under the terms of the Indian Act, she was not entitled to registration, despite her paternal grandmother having status. What followed was a long challenge to the Indian Act in which Gehl challenged the federal government’s decision, claiming that s. 6 of the Indian Act, which covers unstated parentage, is contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Over 20 years later, Gehl’s case was finally resolved, but it serves as yet another reminder of Canada’s colonial structures and the harm they impose.
In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Lynn Gehl about her new book Gehl v. Canada: Challenging Sex Discrimination in the Indian Act, which follows her case through real-time articles she wrote over the past 30 years, as well as some contemporary reflection on the case. We discuss Lynn’s challenge of the Indian Act, the 30-year legal proceedings, and her role in challenging unknown and unstated paternity. We also chat about the colonial policies and their impact on Indigenous communities, contemporary questions surrounding Indigeneity, and the legacy of the ‘Famous 6’.
Historians have always concerned themselves as much with the present as the past. Some do so explicitly, their work guided by a conscious desire to provide context for a matter of present concern. Others do so implicitly. They may study the past because it makes them curious, but that curiosity is inevitably shaped by their day-to-day lives. One way or another, history as a discipline is the outcome of the history historians must live through.
Today no challenge seems more daunting than the climate crisis. Earth’s average temperature has warmed by over one degree Celsius since the nineteenth century, and it is likely – though not inevitable – that much more warming is on its way. Global temperature changes of this magnitude, with this speed, profoundly alter both the local likelihood and severity of extreme weather. Human-caused heating will reverberate through the Earth for millennia – by slowly melting ice sheets and raising sea levels, for example.
Our lives and livelihoods will be – in many cases, are already – shaped by this crisis. No surprise, then, that ever more historians now think urgently and seriously about the implications of climate change for their scholarship. Forecasts of the warmer future are still dominated by economics and climate science, but few now deny that scholars of the past – including historians – can offer unique perspectives on how we entered this crisis, where it might be taking us, and how we can avoid its greatest dangers.