This post is a reflection on a presentation I attended on June 27 by Dr. Georg Marschnig, Ph.D., University of Waterloo. The post has been supplemented by additional online sources along with the presentation notes kindly provided by the author.
On the morning of March 4, 1945, a B-24 bomber the Strange Cargo took off from its base in Italy. Their mission was to bomb the rail lines in Graz, Austria. The crew was in a good mood, they were scheduled for a few days at a rest camp after the mission (“Former Army Pilot Recalls Little-Known WWII Tragedy, the Mates Who Didn’t Make It,” 2017)
The Strange Cargo was last seen shortly after 1:00 pm by fellow airmen. Around 15 seconds after dropping its bombs, the plane was hit in the nose and wing by flak and burst into flame. Eight of the ten crewmen were able to parachute out of the plane before it crashed. (“Operation Graz, Austria March 4, 1945,” n.d.)
Two of the crewmen were quickly captured by the local police. A major in the SS arrived on the scene and ordered one of the police officers to shoot the Americans. The police refused. A soldier on medical leave Max Karl Lienhart then arrived on his bicycle, pushed through the gathering crowd and shot the two fliers.
A third airman was captured by the police and was transferred to SS custody. Lienhart followed the SS soldier and shot the American. A fourth aviator was found by German soldiers, and he too was executed. The two pilots were smuggled out of Graz by Austrians and survived the war.
In the summer of 1945, a memorial was erected to the murdered airmen, no one knows (or will admit) who erected the monument.
Why this project?
What new insight did you gain about schooling;
The talk was presented by Dr. Georg Marschnig, Ph.D., Senior Scientist for the Didactics of History at the University of Graz. His lecture was part of the History Education in International Contexts series organized by the Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future project. Professor Marschnig is a former high school teacher who conducted a local history project starting in 2016 to investigate the origins of the war memorial erected in Graz (Georg Marschnig, 2022).
Over the years, the memorial has been vandalized and remained half-hidden on the side of a busy roadway. Dr. Marschnig, then a high school teacher, worked with his students to uncover the story behind the monument. The research was conducted by the students over a two-year period and stands as an excellent example of Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR). The students undertook an extensive study of World War II air warfare, held town meetings with the residents of Graz and interviewed local residents and former fliers. As a concluding activity, the students proposed remodelling the memorial in order to tell the full story behind the deaths of the Americans (“Operation Graz, Austria March 4, 1945,” n.d.)
How do schools frame notions of citizenship;
The project really is an attempt to redefine the story of a community at the end of the Second World War. It reframed citizenship through their investigation. Citizens were obliged to look back to a time long forgotten. Their work showed that members of the community were complicit in war crimes, something the town was not interested in resurrecting. The story is well documented in the records of war crimes trials and Lienhart was found guilty of three of the murders and was hanged in 1946.
What kind of relationships in schools and in educational decision-making processes foster real learning;
Because this is an action research project, the students along with their teacher became actively involved in uncovering events in the past that the community preferred to forget. In doing this work, the community became engaged in looking at their own stories and was obliged to reflect on the actions of some of their neighbours.
How do power structures affect learning?
This is a question that I asked during the presentation:
It seems that the students were revealing a dark past the community wanted to forget. In essence, they were revealing an important truth. Has this had any impact on how the students look at modern-day politics and the post-truth environment?
Professor Marschnig responded by focusing on the relationship between power and truth:
They learned a lot – some stories are told some are not – [there is] a strong connection to power. It is always important to look and double-check the information that they have. (Georg Marschnig, 2022)
In the notes to his presentation he also writes:
For the young people, it became crystal clear that cultures of remembrance in the public sphere are always linked to questions of power and are embedded into a field of discourse, which responsible citizens can influence and change. The first, authentic steps in this field were taken as part of the school project and it should not come as surprise to you that some of the young people are now actively involved in local politics (2022).
Some elements of the community did have a vested interest in keeping these stories quiet and the students were publicly confronted when they presented their findings to the community. They were accused of dragging up the past, something that no one wanted to do. City politicians also pushed back against any proposed changes to the monument but were eventually obliged to agree to changes that illuminated the dark history behind the murders.
How were race, class, gender differences framed in the event?
The YPAR project brought to the surface old animosities that had laid dormant for 60 years. While the old memorial did state that four American airmen had died on March 4th, 1945 in Graz, there was no mention that the airmen had been executed by local community members following a Nazi policy called Fliegerlynchjustiz in English – “lynch justice for fliers”. Rather, the old monument stated that the aviators had been killed by “cowardly Nazi-fascist murderers”.
The stories about the murders are available from a few sources (Baltimore Sun, Mar 04, 2017 ; Archive Report US Forces 1941-1945), however, there had never been a local examination of the event. It is important to note here that the students were the ones who chose to work on this project. This closely follows the methodology outlined in YPAR.
What connections can you draw with readings, lectures, and discussions we have held in the class?
Notions of citizenship are fluid. How we define ourselves as citizens can change when new information comes to light. The investigation of the students centred on a forgotten war-time memorial. Their work led to public remembering of a war crime committed in March of 1945. The students also participated in rededication plans for the memorial to make clear what had happened.
What creative ideas or astute analysis about education did you encounter in the event?
Youth Participatory Action Research is a powerful tool to examine local issues of interest to the researchers. One of the key principles of YPAR is that young people become active participants in the work and play a large role in researching the truth. (Petrone et al., 2021)
This is an important technique that can be used by students and teachers to combat the miasma of post-truth that we struggle with today. By completing this work, the students were able to gain a greater respect for the truth and the challenges that come from confronting stories that have been buried in the past.
The methodology (YPAR) used by the students has been suggested as a way to gain a stronger affiliation with the truth, so important in a post-truth world. (Chinn et al., 2021) Students involved in this project have now become involved in local and regional government. It would seem that YPAR is good preparation for anyone who intends to enter a political career in the post-truth future.
The project provided the students with a way to start conversations with parents and grandparents about the war. Family stories can differ greatly from what the official stories present. The students best sum up why it is important to understand a community’s past:
“’What’s the point now?’ We were asked more than once. ‘They’re dead anyway!’ Well, ‘they’ may be dead, but we’re not. […] Why does this affect us now, although it has happened so long ago? It affects us because we live and our present and future are built on that very past that we wonder what it has to do with us.”
Chinn, C. A., Barzilai, S., & Duncan, R. G. (2021). Education for a “Post-Truth” World: New Directions for Research and Practice. Educational Researcher, 50(1), 51–60. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X20940683
Georg Marschnig. (2022). Sometimes it is enough to look back to see the Future clearly.
Petrone, R., Mirra, N., Goodman, S., & Garcia, A. (2021). Youth Civic Participation and Activism (Youth Participatory Action Research). In J. Z. Pandya, R. A. Mora, J. H. Alford, N. A. Golden, & R. S. de Roock, The Handbook of Critical Literacies (1st ed., pp. 50–60). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003023425-6
There are a variety of approaches one can take when accompanying high school students in their journey to become citizens. Westheimer and Kahne (What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy, 2004) describe two approaches – one that develops citizens who can organize projects to make their community better, the other that centers on issue analysis from a social justice perspective.
I have a background in public education and as a high school teacher, I took students to the Dominican Republic to the sugar cane town of Consuelo. Based on my experiences, this project wavered between participatory and social justice. To take a social justice approach would challenge students to explain why such grinding poverty exists in a place best known for its sunny beaches.
Conducting participatory citizenship programs in Catholic high schools is less risky than examining power imbalances and injustice. Even though Catholic schools are supposed to work within a social justice framework, most educators are more comfortable doing things rather than examining the injustice and imbalance that exist in the relationship between the Global South and North.
In the same school, every year we had a canned food drive. Our school was very good at this. At no time did any of us question why there was a need for a program to prop up community food banks. We were just doing a good thing and we all felt proud of our efforts.
Much in the same way while we tried to examine the social causes of inequity in the Global South, I do think that many of our students were caught up in the romance of travelling to an exotic (and very poor) country. It is much easier to do something rather than see yourself as part of a larger social problem.
Why would justice-oriented projects be more of a challenge to run in a state-supported institution like a school?
The authors contend that developing a commitment to civic participation and social justice do not necessarily align. Do you agree with this statement, or is it possible to do both at the same time?
The questions I posed this week focused on how justice-orientated projects challenge the status quo in our publicly-run schools. The second question explored the possibility that justice and participatory citizenship projects can align.
The responses to these questions focused on the difficulty of enacting justice-orientated programs in schools mainly because teachers and students do not have the time to get involved in social justice issues. The one exception to this might be in schools that are experiencing social injustice. For example, students and teachers might get involved in a campaign against online bullying if this is an issue in their community.
Another response focused on the difficulty in aligning participatory programs with social justice issues. A school may take part in a civic participation program supported or initiated by the police, or a school could organize an information session with the school resource officer (SRO). It is hard to fathom a school running a justice-orientated program at the same time that focuses on critiques of the police as an institution that participates in violence against racialized populations.
After reading and responding to the comments, there are a few points that I want to reemphasize. Based on my experiences as a teacher and an administrator, educators and students do get involved in participatory citizenship initiatives on a regular basis. Schools do not normally sponsor justice-orientated activities, but this is not because teachers do not have enough time.
Social justice leads to a critique of the power imbalances that exist in our society. The school as a public institution can actually encourage and support these imbalances. Take, for example, the steaming of grade 9 courses or SRO programs that bring police officers into the schools. The school system encourages compliance, not criticism. There is little alignment between programming that focuses on participation and social justice. In fact, participatory good citizen projects are a safe alternative to questioning the injustices that exist in our society.
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson – I Pity the Country (Paul)
Our updated Playlist
Classified – Powerless
selection by Bob
According to Classified, whose real name is Luke Boyd, the song, titled “Powerless,” is drawn from the experiences of multiple people who’ve reached out to the Nova Scotia musician.
Premiere: Classified’s ‘Powerless’ music video is an incredible ode to missing and murdered Indigenous women
Justin Chandler · CBC Music · Posted: Apr 04, 2018 12:00 AM ET | Last Updated: April 9, 2019
When rapper Classified released his new single “Powerless” two weeks ago, he wrote an impassioned post on his Facebook that concluded: “We need to speak up for these kids … don’t let them feel powerless.”
The track was inspired by responses Classified received when he posted about the news of a Newfoundland man who was sentenced to five years in prison for the rape of an 11-year-old girl. “I thought it was unbelievable,” he said, explaining his outrage towards the case, which led to his post on social media. As a result, he began writing “Powerless” to give a voice to children and women who have experienced abuse.
Buffy Ste Marie – You’ve Got to Run (Spirit of the Wind)
Selection by Bob
You Got to Run (Spirit of the Wind)” was inspired by champion dogsled racer George Attla, who competed in the inaugural Iditarod dog sled race in 1973 and whose story was the subject of 1979 film Spirit of the Wind.
For further exploration, try premier reissue label Light in the Attic’s compilation “Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985.” The following review from Pitchfork appears to hit the nail right on the head.
Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985 features artists from all over Canada combining Native American culture and popular music. The tracklist has been carefully curated to not only to emphasize the diversity of the artists and their ideas, but to reveal the vibrancy and energy of this large and largely undocumented scene.
Also worth viewing is Rumble:The Indians Who Rocked the World.
iskwe & Tom Wilson – Blue Moon Drive
selection and notes by Karen
Tom Wilson and Iskwe- Blue Moon Drive
Tom Wilson- I saw and heard him sing with Iskwe on an online music show during covid and I was so impressed by his stories and their beautiful voices which sound so great together.
He is a 62 year old Canadian rock musician from Hamilton Ont. whose career has included work in Blues, rock, psychedlic folk and folk you may have heard him as he has also been a major part of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Junkhouse and Lee Harvey Osmond along with members of the Cowboy Junkies and Skydiggers
He had a rough and tumble life, battled demons and addictions -with music and visual arts being a real life saver for him
He was raised by his great aunt and uncle but only recently found out that the woman he thought of as his cousin was actually his mother who is part Mohawk. His father was also Mohawk but Wilson didn’t learn of his Mohawk heritage until quite recently.
Tom was commissioned by the city of Hamilton to paint a mural depicting the history of music in that city and he has published a memoir in 2017 titled Beautiful Scars which discusses his discovery of his Mohawk heritage
His son Thompson Wilson is also a musician (formerly part of Harlan Pepper ) and they have toured together
Tom Wilson is very interested in learning more about and sharing his Mohawk culture. He partnered up with Ojibway trumpeter Chuck Copenace who sprinkles his notes, fluttering in the air, in space, and contributing a different breath to song and with
Iskwe( who has been featured on your podcast previously) whose name means blue sky woman- is an artist and creator and communicator of music and movements, pictures, poetry and prose. She’s a teller of stories that impacted our past and will inform our future. She has 3 albums and has performed 100s of shows in Canada and internationally and has been nominated for a Juno. She has a Cree- Metis background from Treaty One Territory who was born and raised in Winnipeg. She refers to herself as an urban indigenous 2-spirited woman from Red River Valley.
The single Blue Moon Drive is an incredible collaboration of 3 amazing artists, a celebration of 4 Indegenous nations uniting together to celebrate their art.
Greg Keelor – Black Feather
selection and notes by Karen
Most of you know him from Blue Rodeo fame but he also has 6 solo albums with the most recent one- Share the Love- coming out during the pandemic.
Greg had a studio version of the songs ready to go when the pandemic hit and decided to record them live in a community centre near Rice Lake with the same musicians. He actually liked the live version but both albums are available for purchase.
Greg says that writing songs is how he deals with “stuff”. He had recently lost a dear mother-like figure and his girlfriend of 5 years left and he was feeling rudderless. His good friend, Frank, who is Cree and from Saskatchewan invited Greg to go to a sweat lodge to pray and he realized Frank’s prayers were all about gratitude- thanking everyone and everything, sun, moon, everything. Frank had brought his pipe, sage and eagle feather and did a smoke ceremony and Greg felt relief for the first time in months.
During that same period, he visited Waskaganish Reserve in James Bay for a gig with Blue Rodeo and he felt a kindred connection to the place. The album grew out of a desire to get away somewhere and be isolated and think. He spent more time there and his friend Charlie Hester ( the director of culture, sports, leisure and tourism for the Cree nation of Waskaganish) took him on a tour of the community which Greg found to be healing in its own way- big beautiful landscape and generous and kind people. Greg had a lot of questions about the pipeline and other Indigenous issues across Canada and he found it a great place to gather his thoughts.
While there he saw a piece of art on the side of a local radio station and it said “Share the Love” on the front of a teepee with a heart in the centre. He found out it was there to honour the life of deceased resident- Claudia Stephen – who had shown many acts of love and kindness in the community and had passed away too soon. Greg obtained permission from Claudia’s family to use the design on his album covers as he was so touched by the 15 ft by 15 ft wall art in her memory.
A combination of his loss along with the generosity of spirit he found in Waskaganish and the example set by Claudia and the love the people had for her energized Keelor from his melancholy. Behind melancholy and sorrow and hardship, there is a river of love or energy that unites everybody and he felt that connection in James Bay very strongly.
Share the Love is a paradox of an album both reflective and uplifting and perfect for the times. Even though we are all isolated, we are all connected. There are many references to feathers on this album and their association with freedom, transcendence and communication with spiritual realms.
The Jerry Cans – Northern lights
selection and notes by Andrea
Shortly after Gord Downie passed away, I heard The Jerry Cans perform “Ahead by a Century” in Inuktitut. Having taught in an Inuit community, I loved hearing a familiar song performed in this beautiful language. The Jerry Cans are a band from Iqaluit, Nunavut. They combine traditional Inuit throat singing with folk music and rock. Their music is largely written in Inuktitut. “Northern Lights” incorporates throat singing and captures the power of the breath-taking land of the Arctic.
Snotty Nose Rez Kids – The Warriors
Selection and notes by Andrea
I first heard Snotty Nose Rez Kids during an interview with Eden Robinson, the Haisla and Heiltsuk author of Monkey Beach. They are a Haisla hip hop duo composed of rappers Darren “Young D” Metz and Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce. “Warriors” is a protest song as part of a benefit album for The Tiny House Warriors, a group that is fighting the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline expansion into Secwepemc Territory in British Columbia, Canada.
Eqpahak by Jeremy Dutcher
Selection by Steve Ferracuti- family friend who is hunkering down in Nova Scotia having finally been able to pierce the Atlantic Bubble and see his new grandson, Fred, and 2-year old, Flo.
Aik pa HUK – where the tide stops Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Language
It is hard to know whether and what to celebrate and how to combine this with mourning. I don’t know how we approach all this apart from bringing a sense of humility and respect for our indigenous people and also a sense that these are present issues, not only historical ones, and I hope that we can also bring a sense of real responsibility to all of this. One little tiny part of the “answer” is the theme to this song, that is the songs. I thought it appropriate to celebrate that.
Lido Pimienta – Nada
selection by Mairi
Piqsiq – Artic Hallows – from their 2020 Album TAAQTUQ UBLURIAQ
selections by Claire
2 songs I chose:
1 – I have always been captivated by throat singing. Throat singing, katajjaq, ka TA jjaq was banned in the 20thcentury among many other Inuit traditions when Christian Missionaries went North. They believed throat singing was ‘Satanic’. The ban was only lifted in the 1980s. Watching a duet live has always given me goosebumps and is a beautiful tradition to be celebrated, not oppressed. Listening to throat singing is a reminder of the strength of the Inuit culture and their resilience. I am happy to share a song by this group named Piqsiq. The group consists of 2 sisters, Tiffany Kuliktana Ayalik and Kayley Inuksuk Mackay, with roots in Nunavut’s Kitikmeot and Kivalliq Regions, the sisters grew up in Yellowknife, NWT. They perform ancient traditional songs and eerie new compositions.
Ms.PANIK – Open Hearts from her 2018 Album Open Hearts
Another artist who is new to me is from the West Coast, Ms.PANIK. I was drawn to her beautiful voice, her mesmerizing musical loops and powerful lyrics. She lives in Tofino and the ancestral lands of the klaw-OH-kwee-awt Nation and is originally from the unceded Territory of the (Haida) Nation and member of the southern Kaayahl Laanaas Clan. Tla-o-qui-aht
An additional note from Claire
I wanted to share two artists that didn’t make the list because of the year cut-off. I thought you could hold onto them and add them to another show. Thank you again for organizing this episode. I truly enjoyed the process of consciously looking for Indigenous artists and love discovering new music.
Cris Derksen – Hindsight 20/20 – from the 2010 Album ‘the cusp’. Cris Derksen is from Alberta and is an Indigenous cellist and composer.
Digging Roots – Hwy 17 – from the 2014 Album ‘For The Light’. This song was written to raise awareness about the MMIWG and is a call to action.
Debbie – Claire’s mom who works actively in reconciliation in the Ottawa community and across Canada.
I would love to hear almost anything from Jeremy Dutcher
Maybe ‘Mehcinut’ – first song on his album (pronounced MEH-jin-nud)
I first heard Jeremy Dutcher about 4-5 years ago on CBC when I was driving somewhere. I had to pull over. My eyes filled with tears at his powerful voice, the haunting sounds and the voices from the past captured on wax cylinders. I told everyone about him. His music still stirs something deep within me. So thanks for playing one of his pieces today.
Blackbird sing by high school student, Emma Stevens, in Mi’qmaw, 2019
selections by Heather
Adapted from Paul McCartney’s song, re-written in Mi’kmaq to bring awareness to indigenous languages in 2019, International Year of Indigenous Languages.
Sung by Emma Stevens, performed by students at Allison Bernard Memorial High School in Eskasoni, Cape Breton.
“The Stranger” from Secret Path, Gord Downey, 2016
I chose “The Stranger” by Gord Downie as my second piece. It tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year old boy who escaped from the Kenora residential school to make the 600 km journey home back to his family and never made it. He was found by the railroad tracks. This happened on 1966 and was actually reported on in 1967 by Macleans. Here is Downie’s introduction, better said:
Mike Downie introduced me to Chanie Wenjack; he gave me the story from Ian Adam’s Maclean’s magazine story dating back to February 6, 1967, “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack.”
Chanie was a young boy who died on October 22, 1966, walking the railroad tracks, trying to escape from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School to walk home. Chanie’s home was 400 miles away. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know where it was, nor know how to find it, but, like so many kids – more than anyone will be able to imagine – he tried. I never knew Chanie, the child his teachers misnamed Charlie, but I will always love him.
I have always wondered why, even as a kid, I never thought of Canada as a country – It’s not a popular thought; you keep it to yourself – I never wrote of it as so. The next hundred years are going to be painful as we come to know Chanie Wenjack and thousands like him – as we find out about ourselves, about all of us – but only when we do can we truly call ourselves, “Canada.”
Downie’s music and Lemire’s illustrations inspired The Secret Path, an animated film broadcast by CBC in an hour-long commercial-free television special in Sunday, October 23.
I used the book – illustrated by Jeff Lamire and the video in my grade 7 and 8 classes. In 2017, I had the opportunity to hear Gord Downie and Chaney’s sisters, Pearl and Daisy, sing an Ojibwe – Anishinaabe blessing.
Rose Cousins – The Benefits of Being Alone, 2020
selection by Colleen
a video about Rose Cousins. She mentioned that hers was the last concert we saw before the pandemic changed everything.
Ahead By a Century – The Jerry Cans
selection by Liam
The Jerry Cans are a band out of Iqaluit, who combine traditional Inuit throat singing with folk music and country rock. The band’s music is written mostly in Inuktitut, and reflects “the challenges and beauty of life in the far north.” The band had local success, but their popularity began to grow after Tanya Tagac won the Polaris prize in 2014 and gave prominence to Inuit throat singing. The band’s name comes from the band trying to rig up a drum set out of jerry cans.
I chose this cover of Ahead by a Century because it reminded me of a couple of things. First, the Jerry Cans and other artists are bringing Inuit music to the forefront, and reminding us that Canada or Turtle Island has many different languages, each of which should be celebrated. Second, this song feels like a bit of a bridge. Ahead by a Century was the last song played in concert by Gord Downie and the Hip. In that same concert, Gord called on us as Canadians to inform ourselves about the ongoing impact of colonialism on Indigenous peoples, and “figure it out.” To me, this song is an ode to Gord and the Hip, but a bridge towards an expanse of Canadian music beyond our traditional understanding, and a reminder of our collective responsibilities towards the process of truth and reconciliation in our country.
Julian Taylor- “The Ridge”
selection by Beth
Julian Taylor started out with Staggered Crossing, a band he formed while still in high school in the mid 90’s. They were fairly successful playing around clubs in his hometown Toronto. They were classified as rock music. In the early 2000’s he formed the Julian Taylor Band which is hard to classify as it mixed many genres but was still within the realms of rock. With his very different introspective 2020 album, The Ridge (of which I chose the title song), he writes about his Black and Indigenous roots. The song The Ridge speaks about this as he reminisces about his childhood and the family members who formed his sense of identity. “The ridge is like a cut- a divide, in half, of me- not only from an emotional standpoint but also from a social standpoint as a Black and Indigenous person growing up in a predominantly white experience .”
Hailing from Portugal, Marito Marques is a Grammy, Latin Grammy and Juno nominee drummer and producer, he takes the sounds of the world into his soul to produce melodies that bring the audience together in an unparalleled unity. Born July 11, 1987 in Arganil, Portugal, Marito began playing the drums at the age of 2, quickly moving on to live performances, including television appearances at 5 years old. Marques pursued his formal instruction at CETM in Coimbra, Portugal. Afterward, Marques moved to New York City to further his studies at the Drummers’ Collective and later at the Manhattan School of Music where he studied under some of the best instructors the school had to offer, including John Riley, Kendrick Scott, Ignacio Berroa or Greg Hutchinson.
Currently living in Toronto, Marques is considered one of the most requested and versatile drummers and producers in Europe and Canada, having performed World Tours with artists in the most diverse music genres; some of which include two Grammy Winners Ivan Lins and Carlos do Carmo, Camane, the Grammy nominees Helik Hadar, Adonis Puentes, Hilario Duran and Jeff Coffin, Anna Maria Jopek, Mino Cinelu. Larnell Lewis, Gregoire Maret, The Wilderness of Manitoba, Sara Tavares, Jesse Cook etc.
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
I Pity the Country – Theory of Ice
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a renowned Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist, who has been widely recognized as one of the most compelling Indigenous voices of her generation. Her work breaks open the intersections between politics, story and song—bringing audiences into a rich and layered world of sound, light, and sovereign creativity.
A Note on Leanne’s Family – this I had to include, it is amazing how many hurdles Indigenous people have had to go through just to keep their own status!
Leanne’s grandmother, Audrey Williamson (nee Franklin) was born in Alderville First Nation in 1925, and moved to Peterborough, Ontario at the age of three, as her Dad and Leanne’s Great Grandfather, Hartley Franklin, previously a fishing guide on Rice Lake got a job in town building canoes. Leanne’s grandmother regained her Indian Status under Bill C-31 at the same time as her mom, Dianne Simpson (nee Williamson) in the early 1990s.Leanne and her sisters, Shannon, Ansley, and several of their cousins, regained their Indian Status under Bill C-3 after the bill became law in 2011, and their children regained their status after Bill S-3 became law in 2019. They are all off reserve band members of Alderville First Nation. Leanne was born and raised by her mom Dianne and her dad Barry, who is of Scottish ancestry, in Wingham, Ontario.
There are times in our collective story when something really stops people in their tracks. The story of the 215 unmarked graves beside a residential school in Kamloops is one of these instances. Even though the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report has been out since 2015, it seems to take the pictures of 215 little pairs of shoes on Parliament Hill to bring all this home to us.
We have known about the appalling death count in residential schools since at least 1907. That year, Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce produced a report on the state of health in Canada’s residential schools. The conclusions of the report were astounding:
“It suffices for us to know, however, that of a total of 1,537 pupils reported upon nearly 25 per cent are dead, of one school with an absolutely accurate statement, 69 per cent of ex-pupils are dead, and that everywhere the almost invariable cause of death given is tuberculosis.”
The Bryce Report, 1907 p.18
Bryce focused on one particular school where the results were particularly heart wrenching:
Thus, of a total of 31 discharged from the File Hills school, 9 died at the school, of 6 others there is no record of condition on discharge, but all are reported to be dead, 7 others died from within a few months to three years after discharge and 9 are reported as in good health,
The Bryce Report, 1907 p. 18
The reason for this very high death rate was well understood. Scientific medicine had made great strides in the past 40 years and the health effects of good and proper ventilation were well understood. In many of the schools however, there was a criminal inattention to what was needed to keep kids well and protected. Bryce continues:
in the absence of regular and sufficient ventilation, extremely inadequate; that for at least 7 months in the long winter of the west, double sashes are on the windows in order to save fuel and maintain warmth and that for some 10 continuous hours children are confined in dormitories, the air of which, if pure to start with, has within 15 minutes become polluted, so as to be capable of detection by ordinary chemical tests. It is apparent that general ill health from the continued inspiration of an air of increasing foulness is inevitable; but when sometimes consumptive pupils and, very frequently, others with discharging scrofulous glands, are present to add an infective quality to the atmosphere, we have created a situation so dangerous to health that I was often surprised that the results were not even worse than they have been shown statistically to be.
The Bryce Report p. 19
The report goes on to talk about a general inadequate level of physical activity provided for the students and the absolute disregard for daily health and sanitation in the schools.
Such a report could have been a clarion call for action. These children were the responsibility of the state and it was clearly the state’s responsibility along with the various churches to make amends and vastly improve every aspect of the residential learning environment.
But here is where the story get sinister. Dr. Bryce reported to Duncan Campbell Scott, federal Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs and Scott suppressed the report. It was leaked to the media causing a public outcry, but very little was done to follow through on Bryce’s recommendations that included “the handing over of the school system to the Chief Medical Officer and be made in its first essentials a sanitorium system rather than an educational one: That each child must be primarily considered an “individual case of probably tuberculosis.” That improvements be made in the buildings so that open air work-rooms and dormitories shall be provided. That increased expenditure for extra clothing be provided for, also a special dietary. Also improved water supply for bathing &.” Indian Residential Schools & Reconciliation
In fact, the report was seen as an irritation:
It will be obvious at once that Dr. Boyce’s recommendations while they may be scientific are quite inapplicable
to the system under which these schools are conducted. Even were the Department prepared to take the schools
over from the Churches, it is self evident that the Churches would not be willing to give up their share of the
joint control. These preliminary examinations by Dr. Lafferty and Dr. Bryce have already caused considerable
irritation and brought protests from the Roman Catholic authorities who have the larger number of pupils under
Department of Indian Affairs File 140,754-1 “Correspondence relating to tuberculous among the Indians in the various agencies across Canada 1908-1910” (c10167)
Scott continued to block Bryce at every turn. In 1913, he denied him the funding he needed to continue his work. Bryce was not allowed to present his findings at conferences. He was denied positions in the Federal Public Service that he was certainly qualified and by 1921 he was forced into retirement (First Nations Child and Family Caring Society). All techniques used by large institutions that have no need for the truth.
But we still don’t seem to get it. Decades after the suppression of The Bryce Report by Duncan Campbell Scott and the Canadian Government, there is still no willingness to call the acts of our churches and governments genocide.
Collins is a smooth operator and he brushed aside any thought that there are records that have yet to be disclosed, even as the head of the Oblate order, Rev. Ken Thorson, is in the process of digitizing the records from their Kamloops school (CBC, June 6, 2021).
It is the smug arrogance of church leaders like Collins that will really make the struggle for reconciliation so much harder. No need for apologies, no grand gestures, just a little bit of work here and there.
When the mighty fall, they fall hard. Trite statements and interviews by complacent, comfortable men do not help. Yesterday Egerton Ryerson’s statue in Toronto came tumbling down and it has been announced it will not be reinstated.
Ryerson was responsible for the early design of the residential school model in Canada. He believed that white and indigenous students should not be taught in the same schools due to their different cultural backgrounds. He was also responsible for developing the separate school system in Ontario – another outmoded idea that might also soon face the chopping block.
As we reexamine our history, who do we still honour? Who do we now comdemn?
All history is relative and the judgement of current times will have to be meted out on people like Scott, MacDonald and Ryerson. These are Canadian icons no more and they must all be toppled from their ridiculous pedestals so we can move on.
I have been following an issue in Ontario education for over a year now. I have to say right at the start that I have been following this because of a very brave Catholic educator Paolo De Buono. He is brave in a way that I never was. I was a Catholic educator for 31 years. I sat on the governing board of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace – the Canadian Catholic development organization – for 6 years. But in all that time, I never spoke truth to power like Paolo does. He is noble and brave, he is attacked for advocating for LGBTQ students in Catholic schools. He is in my opinion, a true Catholic educator.
I am writing now because I have followed Paolo’s tweets for a long time. In November of 2019, he started writing about an incredibly bizarre meeting of the Toronto Catholic School Board where one trustee, Michael Del Grande, in a motion to the board compared a variety of ghastly and illegal sexual practices to those of the LGBTQ community. The Board had been discussing changes to their code of conduct to include the terms gender expression and identity, a request made of all boards by the Ministry of Education to align with human rights legislation (Toronto Star, October 29, 2020).
For over a year, De Buono publicly advocated for LGBTQ students in Toronto Catholic schools against Del Grande. His tweets appeared daily, but it looked like the board and the Toronto Cardinal Collins just wanted him to go away.
Finally, after a report conducted by Michelle Bird of Rubin Thomlinson LLP, the board was obliged to deal with the incident. In the report, Del Grande was found to have violated the Trustee’s Code of Conduct:
She said “while Mr. Del Grande’s choice of words alone would be sufficient to find that he violated the Trustees’ Code of Conduct, I note that Mr. Del Grande’s actions are exacerbated by the fact that he chose to suggest that including criminals — such as cannibals and rapists — in the Code of Conduct was somehow similar to including members of the LGBTQ+ community … In choosing the words that he did, he created an unwelcoming and harmful environment for certain members of the Catholic school board community.”
The problem with all this goes well beyond the trustee. To me, this looks like a systemic failure of the Toronto Catholic Board’s ability to protect the rights of minorities in their schools. After the report was completed, with everything that had happened, four trustees still supported Del Grande at an August meeting called to consider whether he had violated their own code of conduct.
Finally, on November 11, 2020, after what the Toronto Star called a “tense seven-hour meeting”, Del Grande was found in contempt of the code of conduct. He will be required to make a public apology, is barred from being elected to any representative position or role on the board for three months and will need to complete an equity training program within a month (Toronto Star, November 12, 2020).
But the story is far from over. A week after the November meeting, Cardinal Collins, head of the Archdiocese of Toronto publicly criticized trustees for stopping a meeting delegate from reciting from the Roman Catholic Catechism, specifically the sections on chastity and homosexuality that characterizes homosexual acts as acts of ‘grave depravity’ that are ‘are intrinsically disordered’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 6).
This would have been a great opportunity for the Cardinal to applaud the work of the trustees who did sanction Del Grande. An even better time to demand an apology from Del Grande, instead, he sided with those at the meeting who defended the trustee. This shows an incredible lack of leadership by a Cardinal and shows how out of touch Cardinal Collins is with mainstream society.
In a great article by Rev. Michael Coren, Debate about Toronto Catholic District School Board is overdue, Coren rightly, in my opinion, challenges the Cardinal and others who ” judge, are legalistic, and ignore the central call to love.” The Catholic hierarchy is clearly in favour of those like Collins and Del Grande do not want to grant equal rights to LGBTQ students as they are obliged to do according to Ontario human rights legislation.
The point is you can’t have it both ways. You can’t take money from Ontario taxpayers and at the same time say that you don’t have to follow the rules and social norms of that society. You cannot exclude some because you are not comfortable with them, not in a democratic society.
This leads inevitably to the question – again – why are we still funding school systems that think it is ok to discriminate because of a set of beliefs most Catholics do not even agree with? I was a Catholic educator for 31 years, and I was mostly happy working for Catholic institutions. However, this has to stop, we are long past the time where the Catholic minority in Ontario needs special constitutional protection.
Reverend Coren says it best:
The truth is that many if not most Catholic schools are progressive and inclusive in their teaching, with teachers more concerned with the well-being of their students than some of the harsher beliefs of their faith. But there are still school trips to anti-abortion events, cases of LGBTQ students feeling isolated and insecure, and genuine questions about duplication of spending and the need for a separate, Catholic system in the modern age — especially as other religions do not receive the same privilege.
Cardinal Collins’ letter may have the opposite of its intention, but perhaps an open and informed debate is long overdue. Just don’t expect Jesus to attend the meeting.
It is a good thing that we have educators like Paolo De Buono taking a public stand. There are very serious problems however with a system that has such difficulty sanctioning outright discrimination. A democratic society is sustained by its public institutions. When one of those institutions fails in its public mission it is time for that informed debate. This would the sign of a society ready and willing to look at itself and contemplate some important changes.
This is my second year teaching at the University of Ottawa. We work with students both in the first and second year program. In a year that is fraught with troubles due to the pandemic, there are, I think, some great opportunities to really focus on what we are teaching our students in the Faculty of Education.
Here we work in cohorts and we are the Urban Communities Cohort (UCC). There are fewer distractions this year as everything we do is online. I really believe that what we are focusing on this year is truly essential to the formation of new educators here in Ontario.
This is an essential pause at the beginning of a career, a chance to reflect and ponder before actually diving in.
In both years, we are focusing our work on anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion. In the first year program, we are studying Is Everyone Really Equal by Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo. In second year we continue to work on How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.
Along with this, we have had a series of excellent panel discussions from leading urban educators here in Ottawa. The panels and the books are challenging our thinking about what it means to teach in an urban school.
This year we are doing something very special, something that we were not able to do last year. It is a bit like starting our own school of urban education. By starting with Sensoy & DiAngelo and Kendi and the panel of education leaders, we are truly grounding our students in a social justice framework – something that I have not seen before.
People like to talk about social justice, but it is not very often that it is practiced in our schools. The discussions with local leaders really brought this home – as urban educators, we need to ground our teaching in social justice first, everything flows from this. It is one thing to say that social justice is important to your teaching, it is a very different thing to make this the basis of your practice.
And what will this look like in your school? What will this look like in your classroom? How will you be challenged if you put social justice first?
Teaching from a social justice perspective means that you need to challenge societal norms and practices that are invested in protecting the status quo. A school board by its very nature is designed to protect itself from any radical change. In many ways seeing the world from a social justice perspective calls into question the very existence of large institutions like our school boards. How well do our schools cater to Indigenous students or students from different ethnic minorities?
Through the work in this program, we have been introduced to the works of Dr. Bettina A. Love and the Abolitionists in the United States. Her work is compelling and we focused one of our online discussions on what she teaches and how it can apply in the Canadian context. Dr. Love and others advocate for a system of education that breaks down barriers for children and where social justice is the guiding principle.
The education survival complex mirrors the prison industrial complex. Both industries are making money off these narratives about Black and Brown children—that we’re defiant, violent, thugs—and it’s just not true. This is about racism and how it plays out on Black and Brown bodies. The complex doesn’t want to remove any barriers, it’s just going to try to measure how well you can jump over them.
We watched a long interview with Dr. Love and other Abolitionists educators and I have included an excerpt below. The original is 90 minutes long and is really worth watching. Even this short segment is liberating and talks about how the impossible became possible at the beginning of the pandemic.
It is a bit crazy to think about now. We had computers, but kids couldn’t bring them home. We had testing, then EQAO stopped. Teachers became the center of everything. We need compassion over compliance!! Why did it take a pandemic to see what really is possible?
These ideas are new and liberating to me. How appropriate for new educators to be exposed to these ideas at the beginning of their career. Education should be about liberation, educators need to lead and not comply with what the conventional practices of the school board dictate. New teachers really need to question who our schools are really for. They need to critique the public school system and look for ways to change that system when it does not serve their students.
By giving our students this framework, they will be able to question more and push the limits of a system that really needs to be pushed. Teaching from a social justice framework is the opposite of supporting the status quo. This is certainly what our schools and our students need right now.
Some of these ideas are making it into our own school systems. Just last week, the Peel Board announced changes to entry requirements for Black and Indigenous students into specialized programs:
Faced with continuing criticism of its failures to address issues of equity and systemic anti-Black racism in its schools, Peel’s interim education director told trustees on Tuesday evening that giving access to groups that are underrepresented in programs, such as arts and technology, strings music and the International Baccalaureate, is a “necessary action.”
“They have a right to be there. If our random selection process was working well and we were encouraging students from these identities to apply, we wouldn’t need this step,” Colleen Russell-Rawlins said in an interview earlier on Tuesday.
Peel board changing specialty program criteria to increase access for Black, Indigenous students
Maybe this is why the abolitionist approach is so interesting – the only way to actually provide BIPOC students with a safe and caring environment is to create new structures that do not rely on a school model designed for Industrial Age Great Britain. The Peel approach is a good one and one that should resonate with our students.
At a time where the education of our children is so important when we need to question how we serve all of our students, these questions and discussions are essential to the development of the next generation of teachers. As they learn to challenge the way things have been done in the past I am confident we will build a better way forward.
The modern school system has, for all intents and purposes, come more and more to resemble and function much like what German sociologist Max Weber called the “Iron Cage” – a bureaucratic structure that traps individuals in a world driven by technological efficiency, rational calculation and control.
I worried most about this third article in my series Living in the age of incivility. I worried about this because I was going to take things personal, talk about a situation that occurred while I was a principal in the Ottawa Catholic School system five years ago.
In a tweet I never put out I wrote this:
In 2015, I was unjustly suspended by a school board I had worked for for 27 years. A disgruntled employee brought a whole host of false accusations against me. I have never written about this. In a time of such incivility, is it now time to expose the injustice of what happened?
Yes, it is time, but how do I make this a useful article? It would be very easy to become the victim in my own story or for the reader to think – maybe these accusations were not false, maybe he got what was coming for him.
If you keep the story as personal, if you hold on to the anger, the message gets lost, the story is blurred, people turn away.
Even a few years ago, I couldn’t write this story. I was too caught up in anger and shame. I have avoided any occasions that involve the OCSB for years now, including, to my shame, the retirement of a good friend, and my own board retirement party. But enough with that now.
What has given me the context for this third article is an opinion piece by Paul W. Bennett in today’s Globe and Mail. He is writing a summary of some of his ideas in his new book – The State of the System: A Reality Check on Canada’s Schools. I don’t have the book yet, but I will be reading this soon.
In his article, he starts out by writing how the pandemic has really exposed the inadequacies of our public school system, a system that has maintained the same structure for well over 100 years.
Beyond this crisis however, the pandemic has exposed a more fundamental problem. It has lost its connection with students, families and the wider community.
Our public schools, initially established as the vanguard of universal, accessible, free education, have lost their way and become largely unresponsive to the public they still claim to serve. Those voicing concerns about early reading, mathematics scores or school closings find the system resistant to change and regularly hit brick walls and glass ceilings, particularly when trying to access the points of decision-making.
What they are very good at is shutting down innovation and smothering dissent.
Now, I enter the personal, but I do it briefly, because I am not the story here.
In 2015, I was the principal of a small urban school in the Ottawa Catholic School Board. We had a great school with wonderful children, mostly new to Canada. Our school had served immigrant communities for decades and this meant going beyond the prescriptive norms to give them the opportunity to thrive in a brand new world.
At the time, we had one employee who worked closely with me who used their position to create tension and strife amongst the staff. I was unaware of this situation until the staff member began to poll staff about their attendance in a board-wide PD day. This is something you just don’t do in a school – the principal can do this, but I would never take a step like this – I trusted the people I worked with.
I did call the employee out on this behaviour, but I did not know at the time it was just one in a series of ‘aggressions’ the staff member had taken out on the rest of the staff.
While generally we could have moved on from this incident we didn’t. The employee went directly to the head of HR for the board, brought in their union representative and left the school when I asked why they were escalating the issue.
This was a time of high tension in the school board. The employee’s union was on work to rule and incidents like this were happening in other schools as well.
Still, nothing really to worry about here. In the ensuing weeks, without my knowledge, the employee with their union rep held a series of meetings with the superintendent of HR and others and in those meetings a long history of my supposed infractions were laid out out. It must have taken hours and hours to come up with this list.
It was fanciful, but it was damming. When the list was complete and the meetings were over, I was called in to hear the whole story. I brought our association rep, a fellow principal. As principals in Ontario, we don’t have a union which means we are exposed and unprotected. Most principals have no idea how precarious their position is.
A meeting that I thought would be a 15-minute conclusion to a strange affair turned into a two-hour grilling that only ended when I had had enough. I told them this was ridiculous and I left.
There is a nine-page summary of the meeting written by my representative. Even now I can’t read it and my hands actually shake as I pull it up again on the computer. I also produced a 22-page document in my defence. I really don’t know if anyone actually looked at it.
As a principal, you get accused of all sorts of stuff. This is part of the job, but you do expect your supervisors to support you and believe in you.
Mine did not. A few weeks after this meeting I was suspended pending an investigation.
I don’t know if an investigation ever took place. Three weeks later on the last day of school before Christmas, I was reinstated with a hastily written disciplinary letter added to my file.
There was no explanation about what their findings were or if they had actually conducted an investigation. To this day I don’t know the results, but apart from the letter, there were no consequences. The employee was relocated and later it turned out that this person had done similar things at another school, but in the earlier case the principal was told to keep quiet. There has never been an explanation or an apology.
This is my story of the Iron Cage. A school board totally out of touch with their staff more than likely doing its utmost to stay clear of a strong union in a time of labour strife. A school board that placed little value on a loyal employee.
There is no question in my mind that the system of centralized power and incompetent managers needs to be reworked. The pandemic has exposed all of this, but I experienced this gross misuse of authority and power over five years ago.
In his article, Paul Bennett calls for a humanizing of the education system. We need to turn away from big schools that dehumanize relationships between educators, children and parents. We also need a system that has some real oversight so that power can no longer be abused by those who want to sanction others who do not follow the script.
One board official once told me I deserved what I got because my views on education were unconventional. With attitudes like this how can we not want to rework our system? How can someone think it is OK to say things like that?
My situation remains unresolved because I never received an explanation and certainly not an apology. I am retired now – writing this while working at a school would certainly lead to grave consequences.
Now I want a better system. Not for me, but for all those who work in schools, for all children and families and their communities. These old institutions need to go and we need to start considering alternatives. As paul Bennett writes:
A new set of priorities is coming to the fore: put students first, democratize school governance, deprogram education ministries and school districts, and listen more to parents and teachers. Design and build smaller schools at the centre of urban neighbourhoods and rural communities. It’s not a matter of turning back the clock, but rather one of regaining control over our schools, rebuilding social capital, and revitalizing local communities.
This is what we really need to do. Humanize education, give power back to parents and communities, get rid of the bureaucracies that do everything in their power to protect what they have.
Education should be about people, it is not about power and institutions. When abuse of power happens so easily with no consequence for the abusers it is time to rework the system.
Everything we do these days needs to be seen through the lens of justice. In this second article on living in the age of incivility, I want to focus on the tools we use in our schools to deal with injustice.
One of the main tools for many years has been the WE Foundation. Fortunately, the days of WE dominance seem to be coming to an end. Unfortunately, this is not happening because people, educators finally saw through the mist of corporate charity but because they got caught in a national scandal.
I was always quietly appalled by the spell WE held over our schools. WE was always about making us feel good, making us look like we were doing something to roll back poverty in the Global South. To my mind, that was never the case. WE never questioned the imbalance that exists in the world and they certainly never exposed the incredible role we have played as settlers and exploiters here in Canada and in the Global South.
They were the good story. That is why boards like my own (Ottawa Catholic) were happy to sign up with WE and why they encouraged participation in their extravaganzas for students and even booked them for one of our annual staff conference days (Christian Community Day).
We never questioned their lack of analysis or their unwillingness to talk about the root causes of poverty and injustice in our world. As Catholics with a rooting in social justice, we should have known better, but how many Catholics have ever examined the social justice roots of our faith? In the vast majority of cases, it was more important to make sure our students felt good about themselves. Rarely did educators and administrators take the next step to challenge the roots of injustice, racism, poverty, and inequality that are endemic in our society.
Look at the quote by Pope Francis below – this is what we should be talking about in our schools – it is not about feeling good about yourself, it is all about becoming uncomfortable with your wealth and privilege and recognizing how we have been the designers of an unequal, unjust world.
… the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity. It must be reiterated that “the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others.” To speak properly of our own rights, we need to broaden our perspective and to hear the plea of other peoples and other regions than those of our own country. We need to grow in a solidarity which “would allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny,” since “every person is called to self-fulfillment.
White saviourism is not simply a personality trait that critics can attribute to the Kielburgers or voluntourists alone. In his explanation of the “white savior industrial complex,” Teju Cole does not distinguish between genuine humanitarians and self-seeking ones, but focuses on the construction and material causes of global poverty. Cole explains that the white saviour looks at places like Africa and sees only desperation, consequently failing to understand why the misery exists in the first place.
This is an important article and it would be a good one to read to get a sense of how we have been taken in by WE. We have been lazy and we have not wanted to think things through. We don’t really want to examine the roots of poverty, racism, inequality, and injustice. We certainly do want to become uncomfortable.
Corporations have adopted We to acquire a ‘brand halo‘, a way to attach any the company on to the coattails of WE at rallies that focus mainly on intermediate aged school kids. The WE rallies have been a great way to encourage brand loyalty, sell more soap. As Vice writes:
A page of WE’s website, advertising Marc Kielburger as a paid speaker, touts his insights into “purposeful and profitable business strategies.” The page, which has since been updated to remove that language, boasts that Marc can help teach strategies to “inspire brand fanatics to stay loyal to you, your company, and your cause (and) add a halo effect to your product.”
WE has nothing really to do with changing our mindsets. It is a cynical organization that believes the only way to talk about the Global South to students is by putting on a rock show. Bring out the celebrities and we will change the world. After the show, you can go home, feel good and forget about the global imbalance that grows every day. No need to question the status quo, you just got a t-shirt.
Next, incivility in the school system – don’t ever rock the boat.
In this series, I am writing about incivility, injustice, and in this case racism in our local community. This article has a lot to do with racism – a word we don’t like using in Canada. But when you enact a policy that negatively impacts young racialized people that is racism and it needs to be called out.
It is hard to write about stories where poor, racialized communities are forgotten in a time where their needs are not seen as important or even relevant.
The story. In the east end of the city, a community rink was converted into a homeless men’s shelter at the height of the pandemic. As parents and community members began to organize protest against the usurping of their place for hockey and pickleball, the City of Ottawa Housing Department looked for a new location.
They fixed on Dempsey Community Centre.
Dempsey Community Centre in the heart of social housing in the near-by Alta Vista neighbourhood was chosen as a replacement. You can read about this here in the only article written about all this in Ottawa. The article makes no comment, no editorial, no judgment on the move. The article misses the important fact that local families were not consulted even though they had signed their kids up for recreational programs with Christie Lake Kids, a city-wide foundation that runs recreational programming in low-income neighbourhoods.
In better days, Dempsey was a place for Russel Heights youth to play and take part in important community partnerships. Here is an example from two years ago where the Ottawa Police played basketball with Russel Heights youth at Dempsey.
The beauty of Dempsey is that kids could walk over from their homes and participate in a wide variety of programming through Christie Lake Kids – all that programming is now gone.
Understandably, Christie Lake Kids has been silent about the loss of one of their key centers for community programming. What can they possibly do? For them at this point to advocate for their youth would risk losing more programming from the City of Ottawa.
This is one of the essential problems with programs based on charity. It is always a handout. We do this because we are in power and we can – but don’t ever challenge us. Don’t ever question our decisions.
The City Councillor Jean Cloutier has defended the move saying all the right people were consulted, no one objected. His level of advocacy for marginalized youth in his own community is a disgrace. When contacted he assured us that he had followed all the requisite steps. His conscience is clear.
These are racialized youth, these are underrepresented families. These are people with no power. This is a racist act made by people who have nothing to fear – no one speaks up for these people. They know they don’t have to worry about decisions that affect people in this neighbourhood.
A few weeks ago there was a huge furor on the local Ottawa CBC when a backyard youth Shakespeare group was shut down by local by-law officers for making too much noise. We heard about this story every second day. A quick Google search turned up 18 separate articles about this! Through the advocacy of people with power, the troupe was moved to one of the premier theatres in Ottawa to complete their performances.
Good for them but there were some big differences between the troupe and Russell Heights. They came from a well-off mainly white neighbourhood. They got the support of local (CBC) media because it was a ‘good’ story. They had an effective voice. They had real power.
The kids and families have none of these advantages. CBC showed very little interest in the story – who cares about poor neighbourhoods in Ottawa. The press coverage was minimal – again who cares?
Situations like this make me angry. The injustice and overt racism in this story are incredible. This is tragic.
Yes, this is an example of the growing incivility of our times. Should the men’s shelter exist – of course. Did it need to displace fully enrolled children’s programs at Dempsey – of course not.
This is a case of inattention by City staff and a City Councillor who really didn’t care. Why should they? They knew no one in Russel Heights would protest. These people are used to stuff like this, why would they object?
No one sees them.
If people don’t start caring in the times of COVID when will they start caring? Why can’t we be understanding and compassionate for all communities, not just the rich, white ones? Why does no one seem to care?
Like many, I watched the first American debate last night. It was deeply disturbing and it is still resonating today. This is the quote that comes to me this morning.
But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight / Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.
— Bruce Cockburn
For me, it is not an option not to write right now, but I don’t want to focus on the trainwreck that is Donald Trump. I want to write about incivility – much of what is concerning me has gone on for a long time – Trump is just a symptom of a larger problem.
incivility towards myself from my employers who suspended me unjustly in 2015 – I have never written about this before, do I risk it now?
I take a risk by doing this. I do not live on some remote island. I work for a local university and I have lots of social contacts. It pains me that I need to be so careful in what I write so as not to ruffle the feathers of people in power. People in power do not think or worry about abusing that power or affecting people who do not share their power or influence.
In the first two cases, I will anchor my post to an article – one on the Dempsey Community Centre here in Ottawa, the second, a great article by David Jefferess a university professor at UBC’s Okanagan campus.
In the third instance, there is no article. My story is hidden mainly because when a person is the victim of incivility and a power imbalance they do not want to talk about these things. The overwhelming emotion that comes from being at the sharp end of a power imbalance is shame. To talk about these situations, even in my case four years after the incident is very hard to do. However, in an age of incivility, you really do need to kick at the darkness.
It is OK to do this. I hope it will do some good somewhere.
Next week, I will start with the loss of the Dempsey Community Centre here in Ottawa.