Sunday Poem: “Please, Sir”

 

A beggar

approaches.

I offer more than he asks.

 

Odds are

he’ll spend it on drugs,

alcohol.

 

True help

would have been food,

shelter,

a respectful place in

society.

 

Put money

in his pocket

and watch him walk away,

drifting

from bad

to worse.

 

Yet again

I preach one thing

and practice another.

 

Because he was there.

 

It’s only hypocrisy

when you don’t admit it.

 

By Shai Ben-Shalom

Review: Blunt, Fresh & Good

Nouns are revealing. We call English homesteaders “settlers” but Ukrainian ones “immigrants,” writes Professor Margery Fee. Similarly business reporters describe monthly StatsCan unemployment figures as “job creation numbers,” cabinets rename programs “action plans” and the heritage department selected as its monosyllabic themes for Canada’s 150th anniversary: “Strong. Free.” They might have chosen “Big. Snowy.” You get the picture.

Fee is a professor of English at the University of British Columbia. Her intriguing book Literary Land Claims examines the nouns and adjectives we use in describing Indigenous people. Note they are never described as Indigenous-Canadians. “The French in Canada called themselves Canadiens; this name was appropriated from them along with transfer of the territory called Canada,” Fee writes. “They became hyphenated French-Canadians. However, the label Canadian was applied grudgingly or not at all to other racialized groups.”

Fee even challenges the presumptive title of her book, “land claims.” How did people who occupied all of Canada for thousands of years end up “claiming” territory that was theirs to begin with, as if ownership was an allegation?

The author recounts a 1968 meeting with Tony Antoine, then-spokesperson for the Native Alliance for Red Power: “Chatting nervously with him later, I asked him where his land was. When he said, ‘Vancouver,’ I replied inanely, ‘Oh, I don’t think they’ll give you that back, not with all the buildings.’ He looked right at me: ‘We don’t want the buildings.’ This abrupt comment has shaped my thinking”.

Literary Land Claims is a thoughtful analysis of revisionist Canadian history legitimized by the language of officialdom. Many Canadians have very definite opinions on Indigenous “welfare” and “grievances.” Few know Parliament passed restrictive laws.

In 1911 they amended the Indian Act to expel First Nations from any reserve located within the incorporated limits of any town of more than 8,000 residents, and in 1927 restricted Indigenous people from hiring their own lawyers.

“Canada is filled with people who firmly believe that Canadians are among the most tolerant and most civil in the world and that ‘their’ government treats Indigenous people well – even too well,” Fee writes. “Little is taught in Canadian schools and universities that might fill the huge gap between what ‘ordinary’ citizens believe and what many white scholars and judges, not to mention Indigenous activists and intellectuals, are now saying.”

Literary Land Claims argues one of the first barriers to public understanding is language. An example: When Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence carried out a self-described hunger strike near Parliament Hill in 2013, National Post columnist Christie Blatchford described the protest as “an act of intimidation if not terrorism.” Professor Fee explains, “Tolerant ordinary Canadians were once again seriously inconvenienced by ungrateful, dishonest and potentially violent Indigenous people.”

Words matter. Literary Land Claims is blunt, fresh, good.

By Holly Doan

Literary Land Claims: The ‘Indian Land Question’ from Pontiac’s War to Attawapiskat, by Margery Fee; Wilfrid Laurier University Press; 326 pages; ISBN 9781-77112-1194; $29.24

Lab Chief Quit Weeks Before

Iain Stewart, former federal executive censured for concealing records documenting security breaches at the National Microbiology Laboratory, retired just weeks before cabinet finally disclosed files in the case. Stewart was the first manager censured by Parliament since 1891: “This is not a game.”

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Now It’s Anarchy, Feds Claim

Canada faces anarchy after Saskatchewan launched a carbon tax strike, Energy Minister Jonathan Wilkinson yesterday told reporters. The decision to halt remittance of carbon taxes on home heating in Saskatchewan sends “a terrible signal to people across the country,” said Wilkinson: “This is all very new.”

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Tears, Tributes For Mulroney

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, last federal leader to win 50 percent of the popular vote, died yesterday at 84. Word of his passing prompted tributes and tears on Parliament Hill: “You do what is right, and you let history judge you.”

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Sees First Step To Pharmacare

Cabinet yesterday introduced a long-promised pharmacare bill outlining terms of a future universal public drug plan. “This is a historic day,” said New Democrat MP Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway), adding that Liberals “fought us every step of the way.”

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Leaves Theft To Automakers

Curbing auto theft is up to carmakers, says the Prime Minister’s former parliamentary secretary for border security. Liberal MP Peter Schiefke (Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Que.) yesterday told the Commons public safety committee the “onus is on the people making that car.”

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Israel Is Hostage Taker: Miller

Immigration Minister Marc Miller yesterday called Israeli military action in Gaza “the largest hostage taking in the world.” He made no mention of some 130 Israeli hostages held by Hamas terrorists: “We are all failing Gazans at this point.”

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Feds Reinstate Mexican Visas

Cabinet effective 11:30 pm Eastern last night reinstated mandatory visas for air passengers from Mexico. The change followed a dramatic rise in Mexican refugee claims: “They are significant and they have increased dramatically in the last year or two.”

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Scientists Hid China Contacts

Two Chinese-Canadian scientists fired by the Public Health Agency kept secret contacts with Beijing and maintained a Chinese bank account, documents show. Cabinet yesterday disclosed a 614-page report confirming the husband and wife given top clearance at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg were security risks: ‘Asked what she would so if approached by the Chinese government, Ms. Qiu responded, ‘Well, it depends.’

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Wasn’t My Fault, Says Anand

Treasury Board President Anita Anand yesterday said ArriveCan contracts “did not cross my desk” when she was Minister of Public Works responsible for federal contracting. Anand’s remarks came as the Commons outvoted Liberal MPs 170 to 149 for full disclosure of ArriveCan costs: “Did you know about any of this?”

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Claim Protesters Were Violent

The Freedom Convoy posed a “risk of serious violence” that justified emergency measures, says Attorney General Arif Virani. His remarks came five weeks after a federal judge ruled use of the Emergencies Act against peaceful demonstrators was unjustified and unlawful: “There was a risk of serious violence.”

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