Tag Archives: first nations

Filmmaker Christine Welsh on Tracing Her Heritage in Women In the Shadows

My Canadian studies class recently watched Women in the Shadows, a documentary by feminist filmmaker and professor, Christine Welsh. Not long after we had watched her film Welsh agreed to visit our class for a question and answer period. Below I’ve included a little of what I learned from her film and her visit.

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Norbert Welsh’s oral history was recorded by Mary Weekes.

In an article detailing her documentary experience, Welsh explains that her interest had been sparked when her mother recovered a copy of The Last Buffalo Hunter, an oral history by her great grandfather, Norbert Welsh. In the film, however, Welsh attempts to recover more information about her great grandmothers, figures who were much harder to trace.

Along her search, Welsh discovers the name of her great grandmother, Margaret Taylor, and Margaret’s mother, Jane. Welsh surmises that Jane was most likely Cree. Jane’s union with George Taylor meant that Margaret was one of the first generations of Metis women. While documentation about women was lacking during early colonization, Welsh was able to uncover some details about her foremothers because of Margaret Taylor’s connection to Hudson’s Bay Company Governor George Simpson.

In the early period of Canadian colonization, Hudson’s Bay employees often took “country wives”. These women, of First Nations or Metis heritage, would create family ties between the explorers and the local community and were often the reason their husbands survived their first few Canadian winters. In Women in the Shadows, Welsh discovers that Taylor had been Simpson’s “country wife” for many years, only to be cast aside by Simpson when he returned from a trip to England with a new white wife.

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The Remnants of Colonization in La Loche: What Factors Lead to Tragedy?

On January 22nd, a 17-year-old student killed four individuals in La Loche, Saskatchewan.

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The four victims of the La Loche shooting, Adam Wood, Marie Janvier, and Dayne and Drayden Fontaine.

When I first heard about this heartbreaking tragedy I was shocked. Since then, I’ve been reading more and more about the town of La Loche in order to better understand the context of what happened. Below I’ve shared some of what I’ve learned about the situation this small Northern town has faced.

1. Rural isolation

Canada has become an urban nation, so the city is where most of our jobs and resources are.

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In some ways the popular Canadian cliche of a “vast, empty wilderness” is still true today. Just like the “discovery” of Canada – when a country filled with many different nations was considered “empty” by explorers – today Canadians still consider the jobless pockets of Northern Canada “empty”.

While settler-Canadians have congregated primarily in the region of Canada closest to the American border, First Nations peoples still tend to be the majority in Northern rural areas. In La Loche, for example, more than 2,400 of the 2,600 community members identify as First Nations or Metis.

However, these communities have changed considerably since “the discovery” of Canada. Generations of First Nations peoples were forced to give up their cultural practices during their time in the Residential school system, which lasted from the 1870s all the way into the 1990s. They also gave up huge portions of land to white settlers. Not as a gift, but in an exchange drafted out in treaties that the Canadian government has yet to honour.

First Nations communities continue to survive, despite the loss of many traditional practices and lands. While these communities struggle to overcome their isolation, many settler-Canadians continue to ask why they don’t move south to find more jobs and a “better lifestyle”. In her article responding to this question, Susanna Kelley argues that many rural reserve members are forced to give up their land and community support if they want to find employment and education.

“First of all, the overwhelming majority of [rural] reserve residents have not completed high school and have no place to work once they hit the urban south. And many fly in reserves don’t have high schools.  Would you like to send your 13-year-old to live 70 km. away for months at a time?

Many who do come to the cities end up in the sex and drug trade.  They simply are unqualified to make a living other ways…

Which is why many [First Nations] people stay where they are, close to family and their community.

But what most Canadians don’t know is that our nation is legally bound to provide housing, health care and education to [First Nations people] who live on reserves.

The federal government isn’t just doing it out of the goodness of its heart.

The obligation comes from legally binding agreements made by treaty many years ago.”

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This is What Environmental Racism Looks Like

Environmental racism was one of the most surprising concepts I encountered during my undergrad. It had just never occurred to me that where and how we polluted our environment would be intentionally arranged to affect some racial communities more than others.

In the States there have been several famous instances of environmental racism.

After the Second World War, for example, Chicago kindly provided African American veterans the opportunity to live in a housing community built atop an abandoned landfill. After serving their country and surviving the war these veterans came home to Altgeld Gardens Homes, a community that would have significantly high cancer rates because of exposure to toxic chemicals.

Then, in the 1970s and 80s, there was the Warren County PBC Landfill case, when the state of North Carolina decided to bury soil that had been contaminated with toxic polychlorinated biphenyls in Warren Country, a community with primarily black residents and a much lower income rate than the rest of the state.

With the very likely possibility of their drinking water being contaminated by the toxic material, residents, civil rights groups, environmental leaders, and clergymen all joined together to protest the state’s decision…

…and then got arrested.

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We’re Fighting For Our Rights, Not Yours: Suffragette and the Persistence of White Feminism

This month I got to go out and cast my vote in the Canadian federal election. I owe this privilege to women who came before me. Women who sacrificed their time, energy, and sometimes their lives because they believed that we deserved the same privileges as men. Because I’m thankful for the sacrifices those women made, I’m ecstatic to see a film coming out this month that celebrates those women and explores what they went through in order to win us the freedoms we have today.

However, if you have been paying attention to the way the film has been publicized, you may have heard about the controversy surrounding one of its marketing campaigns:

By wearing this particular quote on their shirts, these successful white actresses have demonstrated another instance of what many activists and bloggers have begun to call “white feminism”.  In her article, “This is What I Mean When I Say ‘White Feminism'”, Cate Young explains that

“White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of colour. It is “one size-fits all” feminism, where middle class white women are the mould that others must fit.  It is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual white feminist, everywhere, always.”

We have seen several recent examples of white feminism play out in our pop culture, like the recent “feud” between Taylor Swift and Nicky Minaj or Patricia Arquette’s Oscar acceptance speech. However, white feminism has negatively affected the lives of women of colour in more than just the pop culture arena. Consider our right to vote, for example. Continue reading

5 Major Issues that Contributed to the Burnaby Mountain Protest

Canadians have a really bad habit of patting ourselves on the back. We see violent clashes between citizens and the state, like what is continuing to unfold in Ferguson, and we tell ourselves that would never happen here in Canada.

In light of the recent Grand Jury decision in the Ferguson case, I would encourage you to check out what Gordon, our resident American, has to say on the topic.

While the dispute in Ferguson may be drawing our attention, here in British Columbia we are actually experiencing our own clash between citizens and the state.

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Neil Young and the Tar Sands

On January 12, 2014 Canadian singer Neil Young spoke out against the Alberta Tar Sands on his “Honour the Treaties” tour to “raise money for the legal fight against the expansion of the Athabasca oil sands in northern Alberta and other similar projects, in Toronto.” I’ve included the video for you to see for yourself below. 


Since deciding to speak out Young has been under a considerable amount of criticism. A radio station in Fort McMurray has responded with a “No Neil” day. They’ve been trying to get the #notawasteland hashtag trending on twitter and banned his music on their station. One of my favorite journalists (that’s sarcasm, FYI), Rex Murphy, insists that Young is a “man who cannot distinguish the nuclear bombing of city from a worksite [and] is plainly in need of rest and instruction.”  A spokesperson for the Canadian government responded by saying that “Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day.”

I first heard about Young’s controversial statement on CBC radio as the host asked callers to respond with their opinion. The reoccurring theme coming from callers seemed to be “what does he know”. As a young person I found it especially frustrating when callers would insist that youth would now follow Young’s cause in droves, because you know us young people, we just do whatever celebrities tell us to. Continue reading

Shame Day: Rob Ford and the Enbridge Pipeline Project

Well, you’ve probably all heard about Rob Ford by now. You know, smoking crack, allegations of domestic abuse, recently said this while defending himself to a crowd of reporters [Warning: for mild language]:


I’m not actually a Torontonian, in fact, I live on the other side of the country so other than my irritation that people like Ford are able to retain leadership in our country, the Ford story doesn’t really affect me. I’m not even going to get into the embarrassing antics of Ford since I’m sure you’ve heard most of them already, but if you would like all the details I’ve heard thus far, you could check out this episode of the Fifth Estate. It features practically all the allegations against Ford that are out there, and delves into the danger this controversy has caused for the community where it took place. Continue reading