Dispatches from the Left
This is Canada
It’s been awhile since this newsletter has gone out, and there are many stories that have happened in between now and the last edition. And yet, every Canadian story, every Saskatchewan story, is root, trunk, and leaf, the story of colonization. It would be absurd to start talking about the latest stories from Saskatchewan without addressing first the news out of Kamloops in the last week of May, when a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children was found on the grounds of a former residential school. Although the discovery was reported as news, it was well-known among the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc that the bodies of children would be found there. Those who were surprised, hadn’t been paying attention.
Jared Martineau via Briarpatch Magazine
It has been six years since the TRC report told this country that more mass graves would be found in provinces from coast to coast, and there is no excuse for not knowing. But it’s a common cycle in Canada: Indigenous people speak clearly about the crimes committed against them, these crimes are ignored until the evidence becomes too blatant to ignore, then the government and the public express shock and surprise (this is not our Canada!), hands are wrung, expressions of sorrow are made, perhaps an inquiry is ordered, or elected officials are bullied into lowering flags to half mast, then Canadians go back to life as normal, and few, if any real changes are made. Rinse, repeat.
There is a tendency among Canadians to refer to residential schools as a “dark chapter.” This is convenient and comforting. It allows us to acknowledge that something happened (virtuous), and that that something was very bad indeed, while breathing a sigh of relief that that chapter, at least, is closed. But residential schools have not ended, they have only changed form. While the 215 children who were discovered in an unmarked grave on the former site of the Kamloops Residential school were buried decades ago, Indigenous children are still dying in the care of the state, in numbers too high to be borne. Last year, more children died in care in Saskatchewan than in any year since 2008. All but one of those children was Indigenous. Almost one-half – 49 per cent – of Indigenous children in Saskatchewan live in poverty. Three-quarters of prisoners in Saskatchewan are Indigenous, almost all of them residential school survivors or children of survivors. Many of them have children of their own. It is a brutal, enforced cycle that makes every effort to suppress and extinguish Indigenous voices, Indigenous joy, Indigenous excellence, and Indigenous family. The country we live in is the way it is by design, not by oversight, not by carelessness, but by intention.
Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society British Colombia via Facebook
For settlers, this is done in our name. Even for those who abhor colonialism and capitalism and the state, these killings (and even when they are “natural,” they are still killings) are done in the process of claiming more land and more resources for us. It’s done for our comfort, for our security, for our prosperity. If we are to be serious about decolonization and reparations, if we are to be serious about being human, we need to recognize these atrocities as belonging to us, as things we are responsible for owning and repairing. This is the house we live in. It was built for us, passed down to us, and it is being maintained in the same way that it was built.
Part of the reason Canadians are able to move through this bizarre and infuriating cycle of denial-belief-outrage-denial is, of course, white supremacy and settler colonialism. These are two worldviews that nurture and reward the denial of their violence, only occasionally allowing for belief/outrage as a kind of release valve before swiftly closing ranks (look at the expressions of shock and surprise – “this is not our Canada!” following the cruel murders of a Muslim family in London only days after the discovery of the mass grave and only four years and one province away from the attack on a Quebec City mosque that inspired the Christchurch shooter). The idea of Canada that is fed to us (and to the world) from the time we are very young is an idea utterly detached from reality. Canada is a facade, a mythic society of polite, friendly peacekeepers whose national identity is largely tied to corporate brands. It’s a remarkably fragile facade that can easily be seen through by anyone who is even vaguely conscious, and yet the facade is so pretty, and the truth so monstrous, that many settler Canadians prefer to simply not look. Because if they do, they will realize that everything good about this country – the breathtaking landscapes, the abundant resources, maple syrup itself – is stolen, and everything reprehensible that is left belongs to us.
Settlers owe. We owe and we owe and we owe. Like any massive debt, it is frightening to owe this much, especially in a culture which loves to argue that you don’t owe anyone anything and no one owes you. To realize that you owe seems like fundamental failure because it means that somewhere along the way, you messed up your perfect balance sheet. It’s frightening and that is simply too bad. It’s long past time for Canadians to claim our bad kin, and to claim our debt, to accept that this is very much our Canada. Refusing to do this is a monstrous act of cowardice. Complicity is too weak a word for it. To refuse to take responsibility is to actively participate in a conspiracy to let more people, more children, die in exchange for the comfort of believing a lie so toxic it is hastening the end of the world.
Camp Justice for Our Stolen Children via Facebook
Reading the TRC and MMIWG reports and understanding the treaty agreements on the territory you live on is a duty for settlers. To understand more about what it means to decolonize these lands here is a list of additional readings. Thanks to Mike Gouldhawke who compiled many of these:
Our sister publication, Briarpatch Magazine, published the Land Back issue in September 2020.
This Red Paper from the Yellowhead Institute in October 2019.
Reckoning with the Genocide and Denialism of the Canadian State by Aziz Choudry
Another Word for Settle: A Response to Rettachments and Inhabit
Calls to Action Accountability: A 2020 Status Update on Reconciliation by Eva Jewell and Ian Mosby
Reconciling the Apocalypse by Erica Violet Lee
SUPPORT LINES FOR SURVIVORS AND INTERGENERATIONAL SURVIVORS:
IRSSS Toll-Free Line: 1-800-721-0066
24hr National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419 KUU-US
Crisis Line: 1-800-588-8717
Tsow-Tun-Le Lum: 1-888-403-3123
Minimum wage increases
The government of Saskatchewan has benevolently granted low-wage workers a 36 cent raise, bumping up Saskatchewan’s minimum wage to $11.81 an hour. The whopping increase – which works out to an extra $57 a month, before taxes, for a full-time worker – means that Saskatchewan will no longer have the dubious distinction of having the lowest minimum wage in the country (we still hold the record for highest rates of gonorrhea, teen pregnancy, and HIV and hepatitis infections).
The Bees via Flickr
The meagre increase leaves the minimum wage in Saskatchewan well below the living wage. It’s an affront to the dignity of low-wage workers, and it’s a clear indicator that the government doesn’t care about the high rates of poverty and child poverty in the province. A common refrain whenever the abysmal minimum wage is brought up is to “think of the mom and pop capitalists!” whose salt-of-the-earth dream of owning their own combination bait shop/aerobics centre will die if they have to pay their workers more than a fistful of nickels. It’s not a right to own a business, and if Scales and Squats is doomed to fail if you pay employees a decent wage, then it deserves to fail. No one should be sacrificed on the altar of small business.
There’s often talk about a “livable wage” and while it is GOOD to pay employees a livable wage, there’s also a risk of getting stuck at a livable wage in the same way we have gotten stuck at $15 – which was a reasonable wage when Fight for $15 started nearly a decade ago, but is woefully inadequate now. That instead of a thrivable wage, where workers can earn enough to own a home and buy nutritious, delicious food, and save some money, and buy themselves flowers and vintage pogs, employers will bow just enough to the pressure to pay employees exactly the amount they need to survive, and no more. And of course, it’s better to get paid what you need to survive than not to, as so many workers are, but survival is a low bar. People are already getting paid next to nothing, why shouldn’t movements start asking for everything?
(Unsettlingly) hot girl summer
Although the past week has brought some rain and cooler temperatures to parts of the province, for the most part late spring has been hot as hell and dry. Last week more than 20 communities in Saskatchewan set or tied heat records, and more than that recorded temperatures of 30 or higher. The early heat wave was unsettling in a province where the average June temperature is between 16 to 23 degrees. Most of the southern part of the province is experiencing extreme drought, and the north isn’t faring much better. Climate change is fairly easy to deny here. Temperatures fluctuate wildly from season to season (and day to day) as part of business-as-usual. The inconsistency can be taken as a sign that all is well, thank you very much. There are no intense hurricanes, no coral bleaching, and it’s been dry for so long it’s getting hard to remember what normal precipitation looks like.
Seems fine! Via Agriculture Canada
But so far this year, the province has only seen 40 per cent of its average annual precipitation (those of you who have been watering your useless lawns, just know you’re being judged) and it’s simply not possible to argue that the weather patterns we’re seeing are unrelated to climate change (we can say that here because this is a newsletter). The news tends to report on the weather as one would expect: “it’s hot! It’s dry! Here is a photo of some sweaty, beleaguered people lined up for ice cream!” Rarely, if ever, do reporters acknowledge the psychological toll that “wrong” weather takes (it’s not bad weather, exactly. It’s hot and sunny, the kind of weather you dream of in the winter when it’s cold and also sunny). But for many people, abnormal weather patterns can provoke anxiety, as they wonder how much worse it will get, and are reminded of the complete lack of action on climate change that is propelling us closer and closer to the droughtpocalypse. There is the stress felt by those who make their living off the land, who worry that there won’t be enough rain for a harvest. There’s PTSD experienced by people who have survived wildfires that can be exacerbated by the kinds of conditions that lead to more fires. There’s all those dead fish.
Sweaty, beleaguered people lined up for ice cream. Robert Catalano via Flickr
There are things to do, of course. Stop watering the stupid lawn, organize and push for climate action in your community. Train yourself not to become addicted to water, à la Mad Max. But sometimes the evidence of climate change, right there in the air and in the (lack of) water and in the freaking heat, feels bad. It’s scary. It’s ever present. And the pandemic was a good reminder that personal choices will not be enough to curb the crisis. Sometimes it’s okay to just feel spooked by the weather.
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