Friday, March 7, 2014

Fighting Yesterday

You've probably seen the kerfuffle in the news. You've probably discussed it with friends, family, and spouses. Odds are anyone reading this shook their head in mild derision.

I get it. Inappropriate comments. No place in modern world. Etc. etc. etc.

What I don't get is the disproportionate response the comments have garnered.

Some people are uncomfortable with homosexuality. This isn't news. It's unfortunate, but it's common knowledge that some older people in particular, including some older Inuit, are not comfortable discussing or celebrating homosexuality.

I have gay family. I have gay friends. I have gay colleagues. I'm all for their gayness. Do whatever you want with your dirty bits, and I'll do the same. Yes we can and should all get along.

Looking at newspapers, facebook, twitter, and in conversation with people I see and hear enormous outrage over the issue.


It may seem like a dumb question, but until someone gives me a convincing answer I have to keep asking it.

Homophobia and other related afflictions are quickly evaporating with modernity. Every day more and more people are on board and cool with accepting people for who they are and who they sleep with.

So what the President of an Organization is uncomfortable with it? I mean seriously - my gay sister, who very recently did an interview with a newspaper reflecting on the discrimination she's endured over a period of 20 years happily posed for a picture with Cathy the day of the kerfuffle. She was well aware of the comments made by Cathy - but she also knew Cathy wasn't going to run away from her homo-cooties. They remain friends and friendly.

If my gay sister who has endured those 20 years of discrimination can happily chat with and pose for a picture with Cathy, why is everyone else so angry?

The best responses I have seen to this whole fiasco have been my sister's, the cupcakes, and this one.

What do those 3 responses have in common? Think about it. It's messages of affirmation and conciliation that will make the difference, not angry comments and calls for resignation.

As for the petition that's making the rounds - not only do I think it's a mistake to call for an elected leader's resignation over this issue, I would also point out that NTI is an Inuit organization. Inuit get a say in Inuit affairs - no one else. At the time of this writing I see 6 or 7 names that I don't think belong to Inuit.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dear Canada...

You may have heard about or read the Globe and Mail's newest series The North. Every few years the Globe or The Post or some other outfit gets it in its head that the north needs more coverage. Sometimes the hook is the Franklin expedition, with Peter Mansbridge giving inspired speeches about the sheer guts of British explorer-gentlemen. Sometimes the hook is tragedy, like a plane crash or the epidemic of poverty and despair we endure up here. Sometimes it's the majestic wildlife or Greenpeace hijinx or Russian sabre-rattling or whatever.

It's always interesting reading about southerners' reactions to the north. You know how Canadians often ask foreigners what they think of Canada? Northerners have the same insecure fascination with southern-Canadians who come north - we just have to know what they think of this place. Until we do, and then it's not so fascinating.

Think of the last time you went to the Caribbean, or Mexico, or South America, or Africa, or any other place that's less "developed" than Canada. What did you do? How did you feel? You explored the amazing geography. You met and befriended the friendliest locals in the world. You met all kinds of people from other places who were enjoying the same part of the world you were. You made a show of trying new, exotic foods. You took hundreds of really neat pictures. You felt slightly unsafe a few times when some of the less friendly, more desperate looking locals eyed you and your $600 camera. You discovered a part of yourself. Etc.

I know. I've done it too. At the end of your trip, when you are back in affluent, safe, comfortable, BORING home, you gather your thoughts and throw some pics on facebook, enter a blogpost, or send of a long email to your loved ones before the afterglow fades away. It wasn't just a vacation, it was a fucking experience!

When I read alot of coverage in Canadian mainstream news about "The Majestic North" I get the feeling the reporters (some, not all) are writing in that same afterglow - sharing their journey of discovery with the world. It's a great feeling. I know.

It also really annoys the shit out of me. I'm not in Jamaica. I'm not in the Dominican Republic. My country doesn't get IMF money. Canadians don't need a passport to get here.

I'm Canadian. You aren't supposed to marvel at our geography/culture/society/arts/etc. while simultaneously flinching at the sight of our malaise. You aren't supposed to relate the poverty you saw in my community over a glass of wine with your buddies back home. I'm in the same country as you. Our living conditions aren't supposed to be so dramatically different and shocking/amazing.

I'm not angry, just tired of the BS. I can only read so much Northern fluff before I just tune it out.

Awhile back Vice magazine got in some trouble for posting some pics of Iqaluit. Folks got upset. Hands were wrung. I actually kinda liked the spread though. At least it wasn't just more of the same.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The End of an Era

For my entire life he's been dad the fighter. Dad the lion. Dad the leader.

Now he can be dad the granddad.  Despite the disappointment tonight, he will really love just being dad the granddad.

He's had a great run. Still, I can't help but feel saddened. Not so much at the loss, but what the loss signifies.

He is a towering monolith of achievement, and in a week he'll be last weeks news. I suppose that's what happens to monoliths. We move on, they stay standing right where we left them.

I have to thank you dad, because so many won't, even though so many should.

You taught me to do the right thing, especially when it's hard. You taught me that if it was easy then everyone would do it, and I wouldn't have to.

You taught me that real leadership is not about getting the most votes. It's about daring to go where others won't.

You taught me not to look away.

You taught me to never forget there are people who need my help more than I don't want to give it.

You taught me to get back up.

You taught me not to hide the scars.

You taught me that I will make mistakes, and that they will always be with me, but they will not define me.

You taught me to look them in the eye.

You taught me the needs of the many are sometimes outweighed by the needs of the few.

You taught me that I have to be able to look myself in the mirror.

You taught me that I should trust people.

You taught me that there will be people who disrespect me today and ask for my help tomorrow, and that I should help them if I think they need it.

You taught me that it's not always necessary to throw the first punch. Or the last one.

You taught me that being a good father means being a good man.

Thank you dad.

I love you.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Paper Thin

I'm fading.

I'm raising my 3 kids, plus 2 foster kids, plus my niece while her parents are on holidays.

They go to 3 different places in the morning. They get picked up from 3 different places after work.

I'm working full-time.

I'm managing a political campaign.

I'm trying my darndest to get the motor running and the boat in the water.

I'm studying for my LSAT's.

And there's another month until the election.

Mother-in-law and sister-inlaw were here for awhile. They just left. No comment.

Phones need calling. Pamphlets need printing. People need coordinating. Events need organizing. Doors need knocking.

The kids need reading to. And hugs. And kisses. And teeth-brushing. And love. And care. And mostly they just need daddy.

In darker times I'd say I need a drink.

Now I need to focus.

Pamphlets need formatting. And they aren't going to format themselves.

I'll sleep next month.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Time of Plenty for Political Junkies

The next 14 months or so are going to be very interesting for Nunavut political junkies. We've got 3 high profile elections coming up - the Mayoral Race (and Council elections) in Iqaluit, the NTI Presidency, and the GN territorial elections.

Iqaluit Mayoral Race

The Mayoral Race in Iqaluit would not normally register high on my political radar. Municipal issues generally don't garner much of my interest, but this one will be interesting for a few reasons. Incumbent Mayor Madeleine Redfern has dramatically raised the profile of Iqaluit, and thus the role of Mayor of Iqaluit, during her tenure. Her outspoken activism via Social Media, participation in Conferences across the country, and her role as a spokeperson for the City of Iqaluit during the recent Baffinland Hearings has proven that a Municipal Mayor in Nunavut can have a large impact across the territory and the country.

Combine this with the new full-time Mayoralship that the next Mayor will enjoy, and you have a political position that is unique in Nunavut: a municipally elected official who may or may not maintain and/or grow the high-profile of the City from the Mayor's chair. I don't know Iqaluit well enough to know who might run or who might win - but there's no question expectations will be high for the incoming Mayor.

NTI Presidency

Cathy Towtongie's victory in 2010 ruffled alot of feathers across Nunavut - nowhere moreso than in the Baffin region. Chronically jealous over the dominance of Kivalliq political figures winning every NTI Presidency since the Mesozoic era, Baffiners want the NTI Presidency so bad they can almost decide to vote as a regional bloc for one candidate. Almost.

The Baffin holds the majority of Nunavut's population, but cannot seem to focus this demographic advantage into a winning candidate. I won't get into the nitty-gritty of regional rivalries here - but let's just say that the Kivalliq has produced a disproportionately high number of political leaders for it's relatively small population.

Cathy's promise of dispersing some of our land claims monies to NLCA beneficiaries has yet to materialize, although the recently developed Resource-Revenue-Sharing plan NTI and the RIA's created may lead to checks being cut sometime in the not-too-distant future.

The potential for enormous amounts of money flowing into the coffers of RIA's and NTI from the likes of Baffinland, Meadowbank, and Meliadine makes the NTI Presidency more relevant than ever before. What to do with all this money will hopefully introduce a semblance of legitimate political debate into the NTI election.

The current by-laws for NTI elections state that any person or company who does business in Nunavut can contribute to NTI electoral candidates. This freaks me out. Enormous Mining interests are at play here, and will be affected by decisions made by the next (or continuing) President - and they can all give money to candidates with no public disclosure necessary. This should freak you out too. The RIA's and the NTI Executive need to re-evaluate their by-laws to improve transparency, particularly with respect to political contributions, lest our Inuit leadership contests get resolved in Toronto boardrooms rather than in Nunavut election booths.

Territorial Elections

MLA Elections are the largest political events in Nunavut. Turnout is high across the board - much higher than with Inuit Org. elections.

Territorial Elections will demand a much larger and longer post in the near future. For now I'll just say that things are already getting interesting as people jockey for position, and as soon as the NTI race is wrapped up you'll really begin to see some interesting developments.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Family and a Territory

I realized tonight that my family is a microcosm of Nunavut. In fact, I can think of several families that are microcosms of Nunavut.

Nunavut is a land of extremes. Before you finish shaking your head at the cliché, hear me out.

I've got siblings that span the range of economic status - from homeless and broke to established and comfortable. I have a sister in prison, and a brother who works at the prison next door to where my sister is. I've got family in government, in Inuit organizations, in the mine at Meadowbank, in retail, and everywhere in between.

I've got family with serious mental health issues, and family that works to address the mental health issues in Nunavut. I've got siblings that are suicidal, and a mother who works to prevent suicide in Nunavut.

I've got a sister who just moved to Iqaluit a month ago and already works 3 jobs. I've got other siblings who couldn't hold a job for a month.

My family includes Dene, Inuk, half-Inuk, and white folk.

I've got family that have graced the covers of newspapers and magazines, and I've got family you've probably never heard of.

All of this just within my immediate family.

This sudden realization tonight made me pause. The trials of Nunavut are not altogether different from the trials of my family. Both can frustrate me and both I hold dear.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On Complacency

I once considered myself a radical.  I pushed.  I challenged.  I picked fights.

Since joining the workforce, getting a haircut, and getting a real job, I find that I've mellowed out.  I think about interest rates.  I have an appointment at the bank next week.  I'm looking for a place to rent.  I spend more time on my ski-doo and computer than I do reading books or journals, or picking rhetorical fights.  On top of raising my 3 kids, I'm also raising other peoples kids.

This is not a conscious effort.  I still believe in the same things, I still want the same future, I still have the same plans for world domination.

So what's different?

It's not that I'm worried about job security - I'm secure.

It's not fear of anyone or backlash - I still don't care.

It's not any one particular thing.  I'm tired.  My last "vacation" consisted of my traversing large segments of Hudson Bay in an open-topped aluminum boat in a stormy August.  It was cold and wet and was considerably more stressful than my day job.  I enjoyed it but it didn't do wonders to relax me.

I need a beach.  I need to be on a beach with my wife, with a cocktail, and nothing else.

And yes, I recognize the irony of thinking about a beach vacation on top of interest rates and bank appointments.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's On You And On Me

So tonight we exercised our rights and we counted the ballots,
Real-time results sated our political palates.
New leaders emerge, defeating the old,
Other leaders remain, political gold.

For a month they've been working to earn my vote,
Quote "To represent Baffin Inuit" unquote.
Candidates campaigning with solutions in hand,
Proclamations and speeches ringing across the land!

We look to our leaders to manage our money,
And guide us into a future that's sunny.
Glossy magazines and status reports,
Cultural camps and traditional sports.

Our problems loom larger than we care to admit,
Quick, light a Qulliq, lickety split!
We blame the Man and we blame the Feds,
We blame the first bad guy that pops in our heads.

Ours is the strangest of predicaments,
Natural Resources will make us all rich!
And yet we fret about cutting cheques,
Knowing that alot of us aren't ready yet.

Adding fuel to the fire is all it'll do,
Our demons vodka and weed will subdue.
A history of trauma just below the surface,
Smoldering yet, like coals in a furnace.

Asking more of each other is out of the question,
Preferring to bristle at the very suggestion.
It's not our fault we remain in this mess,
It is the result of colonial excess!

Each of these claims contains a morsel of truth,
Which we must ensure we pass onto our youth.
They must know of our mistreatment at the hands of the state,
And the damage caused by priests and oblates.

These truths we'll pass on and proclaim 'Never Again'!
We'll shout at the tops of our lungs this refrain.
The Land Claim is signed and the money's been paid,
The map's been redrawn and our flag is displayed.

But at the end of the day, when our leaders drive home,
After a day at the office, when they're all alone.
They'll see hungry kids and they'll see drunks in the street,
They'll make declarations and call for a meet.

For this we can't blame them, it's the political game,
To make proclamations, to assign blame.
This is what we expect of our Inuit leaders,
Of our content providers and our newspaper readers.

But if we want to get serious and get out of this funk,
We'll need to rediscover our mojo and spunk.
We will all need to work at making things better,
And not just by writing the editor a letter.

Within each of us lies a perfect solution,
Each of us will partake in social revolution.
You will stand and be counted, you will cause a stir,
You will not give a damn whose wrath you incur.

You will challenge each other to step up to the plate,
You will not allow each other to give into this fate.
You cannot on your own right all the wrongs,
But you have to start somewhere, you've been waiting too long.

For today is the first day of the rest of your life,
Tomorrow's too late to stop today's strife.
The longer we wait, the harder it gets,
Each opportunity missed adds to the list of regrets.

It will not be easy, and it will not be free,
To give up your comforts as a revolutionary.
Some of your efforts will be met with a frown,
Some people will think you're just messing around.

Do not waver in your will or your spirit,
Some people simply aren't ready to hear it.
Sooner or later they'll sit down and they'll see,
That the onus for change is on you and on me.

Oh what does he mean? To what does he speak?
Revolution and change? Forgotten next week!
Let not the cynic within you take over,
Or tomorrow the same sad story starts over.

Today is the day you admit you're fed up,
Today is the day you proclaim "Enough"!
Today is the day you must stand and be heard,
If not, it's just another revolution deferred.

Nunavut you hold such promise, I know,
I see the potential and how it may grow,
If you open your eyes look around and you'll see,
That the onus for change is on you and on me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dear Nunavut: Get Better

Imagine a song, that really reached out and touched kids, 
And not in a Daily Mail way, innocence corrupted, 
But in a way where criticism remained constructive, 
And wasn't too politicised and children weren't instructed, 
To behave in a way that was unrealistic, 
Or made out the way they live was somehow sick and twisted, 
But simply pointed out reasons to get it together, 
Not shouting "get a job", but just saying, 

Get better, get better, get better, get better, 
Get better, get better, get, 
Get better, get better, get better, get better, 
Get better, 
Get better, 
Get better, get better, get better, 
Get better, get better, get, 
Get better, get better, get better, 
Get better, 
[ Lyrics from: ]
You see the young mother capital is where I live, 
Little kids being raised by slightly bigger kids, 
Society seems unphased that this is how it is, 
While I'm constantly amazed that this is how it is, 
They confuse love at first sight with lust at first light, 
It must have hurt right when trust first took flight, 
You're young, you've no rights, you long for new heights, 
But some of those nights leave more than love bites, 
Tops cropped, skirts stop at the top of their thighs, 
And the boys got that hungry look in their eyes, 
They wanna be grown up and have respect you see, 
But they're acting uneducated sexually, 
I ain't saying' be celibate, 
Go out and have your fun, 
But there's plenty you can do without impregnation, 
And there ain't nothing wrong at all with having children, 
Just build yourself a little before you try to build them, 


I see small town syndrome growing in size, 
There's not a lot to do, so the kids they decide, 
To get drunk every night, a glazed eyes disguise, 
Do drugs every night, tired from their lives, 
People getting off their faces for a quiet night in, 
Kids rolling around the streets rowing and fighting, 
But it's all just because life ain't too exciting, 
And it's easier than trying to do the right thing, 
But there are other choices --- if you want them, 
You don't have to tow the line and just float with the flotsam, 
You can build your time better when you find a passion, 
The Internet and public services give free education, 
So it really ain't a case of rich or poor, 
It's a case of self-motivation and nothing more, 
Like Billy says, whether you have or you have not wealth, 
The system might fail you, but don't fail yourself, 


More lyrics:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

On Social Revolution

What is social revolution?  Wikipedia has plenty of definitions, none of which describe what I mean to discuss.  I don't want to see coercive property redistribution, or the forceful expulsion of a class of people, or even necessarily a changing of government.  Our revolution must take place within our families, in our homes, in our communities, and at our water coolers and coffee shops.

You may remember the stir the youth of Kugluktuk caused when they decided to march in the streets to protest the rampant alcoholism and related social ills affecting their community.  Their protest made national news, and generated widespread buzz and hope for the community of 1,300 people.

Marching in the streets is the hallmark of any respectable modern social revolution. From the women's rights movement to the civil rights movement to the more recent tea party and occupy movements and the Arab Spring - taking to the streets is the fastest, most accessible way to voice displeasure with the status quo.

The result of the Kugluktuk youth protest was concrete, measurable, and positive change - in municipal government policy, crime rates, and most notably in a drop in suicides.

How did this come about?  It appears to have started almost by accident - when the local RCMP detachment was being renovated they asked the hamlet to prohibit the import of alcohol into the community.  The ensuing period of relative calm saw a happier, healthier, more vibrant community emerge from the shackles of alcoholism and misery.  When the booze started flowing again, the community immediately saw youth suicides and alcohol-related social ills return.  Recognizing the root of the problem, the youth of Kugluktuk decided they had had enough of the madness - they took to the streets and demanded change.  Change from their municipal council, from their parents, from their older siblings, and from each other.

While the Kugluktuk experience does not meaningfully compare to the grander movements I mentioned above, it demonstrated that the most effective way to achieve positive change is through grassroots, community action.  Despite the well known and depressing crime and suicide statistics the community faced, it's municipal government was either unable or unwilling to address it's social problems on it's own. The simple act of taking to the streets provided a catalyst for action to address a problem that everyone knew existed, yet no one seemed willing to solve.

The substance abuse, crime rates, and suicides that plagued Kugluktuk prior to the march are widespread across Nunavut.  We all know this, and like the community of Kugluktuk we seem collectively unable or unwilling to address the root causes of these problems.  We are paralyzed by our belief that Traditional Knowledge, or Christ, or Mining Jobs, or Education, or Royalties, or Swimming Pools, or Treatment Centres, or Inuktitut, or Elders will magically rescue us from ourselves. Too many of us seem preoccupied with the notion that if we just get this one thing right we will be okay.

Relying on these sentiments s worse than foolish, it is counterproductive.  Sure, all of the things I mentioned will help, and some of them I believe to be very important to our long term prosperity.  However, it is our collective refusal to demand more of ourselves and from each other that is our biggest obstacle.  On any given day, one can listen to or read about another leader proposing their solution to our collective problems.  Some of the proposed solutions are really good, common-sense kind of stuff we should be pursuing.  Other "solutions" are vague platitudes aimed at reviving the half-remembered utopia of yesteryear - you know, when we were almost completely reliant on Government programming and services for housing and financial income.  Unless we are willing to throw off the shackles of modernity and leave our cozy homes and iPods behind and return to a nomadic lifestyle, the only way to look is forward, not backwards.

I've personally heard multiple elders say that they have no idea how to deal with the challenges we face today - that we need to be teaching them about the modern world as much as they need to be teaching us about our heritage.  I have enormous respect for most of our elders and the struggles they've had to overcome in their lifetimes, struggles I cannot imagine and hopefully will never have to face myself. The values they can teach us - of hard work, of self-reliance, of resilience and resourcefulness, and of adaptability - will undoubtedly benefit our society going into the future.  However, these are values that are taught in homes, by parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles - not values that translate well into boardrooms or Government policies.

Over decades of colonialism and internal colonialism we've become accustomed to the idea that all of our problems can be blamed on, and solved by, institutions.  While this belief may hold some merit, the largest mistake that we've made and continue to make is believing that we are without the personal and social responsibility or wherewithal to figure out solution to our own ills.  If the youth of Kugluktuk have taught us anything, it's that we have the potential to make a difference within our communities, that we can affect the change we so desperately want to see if we just have the courage to act on our discontent.

The next time a report is released, or a strategy is developed, or a policy is enacted, or an agreement is signed, or an initiative is announced - remember that none of these is what triggered the small miracle that took place on the streets of Kugluktuk in 2007.  The next time someone claims that solution X is the most vital, the most important, the most necessary solution for our fragile territory, accept that this is the way of things today.  Accept that we've grown accustomed to this manner of dialogue, and that it will take time to grow beyond it.  Accept that many of us still desperately need to identify and target Institution X or Historical Injustice Y as the source of our problems - the odds are that there is some truth in the claim.

We should not forget, though, that in a tiny community on the outermost fringes of our territory, a group of youth resolved to channel the courage and strength that we claim is inherent in our culture, and took to the streets to demand change.  They did not demand change from a faraway Government, or in the form of program or funding changes, or from the outside world.  Without the "benefit" of armies of bureaucrats or consultants or reports or statistics, these youth demanded change from their community, from their peers, from their parents, and from themselves.  I have yet to see evidence of a change as dramatic or as abrupt as what is reported to have taken place in Kugluktuk, even if it was only temporary.

If we can recognize and remember the lessons those youth taught the rest of us, I think we might be ok.  And that, dear readers, is what I mean by Social Revolution.

Speak up, but be nice.

About Me

I'm all that and a bag of onions.