[Photo]: Vancouver Indian Centre president Debbie Mearns (second from right) walking with strike leader Christine Price. August 12, 1978.
This fascinating article originally appeared in Labour/Le Travail. Formatting and spelling has been edited for clarity before appearing on Peripheral Thought. For citations please refer to the article as:
Janet Mary Nicol. 1997. ‘”Unions Aren’t Native’; The Muckamuck Restaurant Labour Dispute Vancouver, B.C. (1978-1983),” Labour/Le Travail, Vol. 40 (Fall): 235-51.
Most photographs are from the Pacific Tribune, originally established by the Communist Party of Canada as the B.C. Workers’ News in 1935.
“IN THIS SOCIETY,” explained First Nations union organizer Ethel Gardner to a skeptical First Nations community, “being in a union is the only way we can guarantee that our rights as workers will be respected.” Ethel was an employee at the Muckamuck restaurant in Vancouver, British Columbia when its First Nations workers decided to organize into an independent feminist union in 1978 and subsequently struck for a first contract against white American owners. The dispute allied First Nations people with predominantly white trade unionists and made an even wider community aware of their circumstances. The union picketed the restaurant for three years, discouraging customers from entering, while the owners kept the restaurant functioning with the use of strikebreakers, many of them from the First Nations community. When the owners closed their operation in 1981, the union ceased picketing and both parties waited a further two years for a legal ruling from the Labour Relations Board. Finally in 1983, the owners were ordered to pay remedies to the union, but sold the restaurant and pulled all their assets out of Canada, refusing to comply with the decision.
The Organizing Campaign
The Muckamuck Restaurant opened in 1971, and advertised “authentic” First Nations cuisine. The restaurant was located in a downtown Vancouver West End neighbourhood, at 1724 Davie Street. Three white American owners, Jane Erickson, Teresa Bjornson and Doug Chrismas also had investments in art galleries and other restaurants in California and British Columbia. The owners maintained an informal policy of hiring First Nations people as restaurant staff. At the time of the union drive an equal ratio of First Nations men and women were employed as restaurant workers. The managers however, were white. Eighteen out of 21 Muckamuck restaurant workers signed union cards with a local independent union, the Service, Office and Retail Workers’ Union of Canada (SORWUC) and were certified as a bargaining unit 21 February 1978. SORWUC, a feminist union active in the 1970s and early 1980s, formed with a primary goal to organize women in industries neglected by trade unions.
In an interview for this study, former Muckamuck employee and organizer Ethel Gardner described her role in the early stages of the union organizing campaign:
I was referred to an employment agency which recommended that I take a federal training program connected to the Muckamuck restaurant. I agreed and eventualiy was working in the cold kitchen making salads and drinks. A few incidents occurred which got the staff upset. The cook was charged for getting the soup burnt and I was fined for leaving the bannock out overnight. When the manager told me to serve the bannock to a customer, I refused because I had been fined for leaving it out. The manager agreed and 1 threw it out. Incidents such as these led a few of us to go to the Labour Standards Branch where we were told we needed a union in order to enforce our grievances. I went back to the employment agency and said I wanted to quit, that the employer was racist. The counsellor said, ‘Why don’t you join a union?’ She told me about SORWuCs organizing efforts at Jerry’s Cove and Bimini’s, I called SORWUC and met with two union reps. They talked about the union and suggested we talk to the unionized employees at Jerry’s Cove which we did.
Ethel said Muckamuck staff had tried to organize before with another union but were unsuccessful and the instigator had been fired. SORWUC was chosen because it had some success organizing in die restaurant industry; Jerry’s Cove and Bimi ni ‘ s, as mentioned, were two examples. When asked if there were First Nations groups the staff could have approached instead of SORWUC, Ethel said, “There just weren’t any out there.”
After the union certification, Muckamuck employee Christina Prince told the press that management had told workers they “should be happy” to have a job because of their race. Christina said the racial issue emerged when employees realized that the owners were getting rich off Native culture. Management responded, “If there has been any discrimination, it has been against the highly qualified whites who we’ve passed over to hire untrained Native people.”
Not only did First Nations people experience difficulty obtaining employment in the city, but when they were hired, often the jobs were in low-wage occupational ghettos. Notes taken by a SORWUC representative at an initial meeting with the Muckamuck workers show that most staff made between $3 and $4 an hour, averaging $60 a night with tips. (The BC minimum wage in 1978 was $3 an hour.) The head cook made $7. Notes on the high turnover and lack of training for staff also included this comment: “AH restaurants have a high turnover rate which is only proof of how much people need a union there and in other places. So some people are untrained. It’s not true for all and certainly implies a slur on Native people.”
The employer took advantage of government legislation and programs to save on labor costs. Workers under eighteen earned less than minimum wage and management made extensive use of the Canada Manpower Training Program, offering to “train” First Nations people to work in the restaurant and, in return, received 75 per cent of the trainee’s wages from the government.
As Ethel Gardner stated employees had approached the BC Labour Standards Branch with complaints of management practices. Although it is illegal, an employer in the restaurant industry will “fine” an employee for making a mistake (such as mishandling cash or food) and will deduct money from an employee’s pay cheque. Muckamuck workers were told that the Standards Branch had little power to enforce laws which forbid such employer practises. A local First Nations newspaper, The Indian Voice, published Ethel’s description of the situation:
Some of us went to the Department of Labour to have the law enforced. The Department of Labour would tell the employer to behave or to give the employees back their money, but there was nothing they could do to prevent any of the illegal acts from happening again, unless we had a union contract.
Ethel outlined the staffs grievances to the First Nations readership:
Breaks were few, if any. Heavy fines were given out for petty reasons, like not tying garbage bags, or forgetting to put tin foil over bannock. Staff meetings were held every week, and it was compulsory to go to these meetings. Employees were suspended two weeks at a time for not attending such meetings, even if it was their day off. At these meetings, employees were put down for every possible mistake that could have been made on the job, big or small, true or false. According to the owners, it seemed like the workers couldn’t do a thing right. Maybe it was because the workers were Indians? I doubt it.
Ethel stated that workers who complained were fired, bribed or harassed. Further, “We are also told that we must wear Native jewelry and if we do not we are badgered about not being proud of our culture. These extras are very expensive for us as we only make the minimum wage.” Scheduling, job security and fines were also major issues, Ethel claimed.
Ethel asked for the support of the First Nations community in the dispute and stated:
For too long the fact that Native workers in B.C. are badly treated has gone unnoticed. At the Muckamuck we are told by our management that we are slow, stunned, inexperienced and hard to train, rude, stupid and ungrateful for the beautiful place that they have built for us (the Indians) to work.
Connecting this situation with other First Nations issues, Ethel stated: “We are doing our part to add to the renewed struggle by Native people to gain the rights and respect that have been denied to us since Captain Cook landed here.”
The list of grievances goes on. According to an information leaflet distributed by SORWUC, employees sometimes received “non-sufficient funds” stamped on their pay cheques. The leaflet also stated: “Employees were proud of the restaurant, nonetheless because it promoted a good image of Native culture. They (the workers) only approached management and then SORWUC because working conditions were so poor that they could not feel proud of themselves.” In an interview with a California newspaper, SORWUC representative Muggs Sigurgeirson said: “The owner would tell the staff that she had 100 applicants from other Natives as a way of threatening staff. Workers could end up working twenty days straight. One worker refused to work the 21st day and had to wait 10 days to work again. She has children to support. Workers were told that whites would be hired if they were dissatisfied.”
A union leaflet contained further workers’ demands and reasons for organizing:
We want to have decent working conditions and to be treated with respect. Some of our grievances are: poor pay, no job security, no say in scheduling, short notice of changes in scheduled hours, illegal deductions for uniforms (T-shirts) and fired or intimidated into quitting.
Another leaflet indicated workers had political grievances as well: “None of the profits made from this sale of Native culture were put into the Native community.” Workers also wanted more input into the menu planning of the cuisine. Ethel Gardner stated in The Indian Voice:
It’s not so much they were white owners, it’s just they were giving the illusion … in their advertising it says ‘staffed and run by Native people.’ People really liked to believe it was owned by Natives—they think they’re contributing to the Native community and Native Indians, but they’re contributing to the pocketbooks of these three owners.
The Muckamuck restaurant employees organized to improve wages and working conditions but also organized as a reaction to their exploitation as First Nations people. While gender issues were discussed by First Nations women workers, it was racial issues which dominated the union agenda, SORWUC organizers recognized these layers of oppression because of their own experiences as women workers in occupational wage ghettos neglected by organized labour. And so out of this dispute came an alliance of white and First Nations workers as SORWUC organizers encouraged and supported Muckamuck employees to voice their demands for respect and autonomy.
What were the features of this situation which brought these groups together to challenge the status quo? As an independent local union, SORWUC had the autonomy and decision-making abilities lacking in larger unions. A larger union would likely have pulled out much earlier than SORWUC. Muckamuck staff chose a feminist, independent union, which suggests that First Nations culture is more readily linked to a small, “alternate” union than to a large, mainstream one. The structure of larger unions could have been alienating and counterproductive to organizing First Nations workers.
Furthermore, SORWUC was committed to class, race and gender struggles. Attempts by visible minority and women’s groups to set up their own caucuses within mainstream unions or to conduct separate organizing have provided some important initiatives in the struggle for workplace equity. However, an independent movement of women workers, even a temporary one, may drive these developments forward more forcefully, a contribution SORWUC can claim to have made during its short existence.
It was also important that the white working class and First Nations groups supported this strike. SORWUC activists had experience and expertise in trade union practices and were able to share this with the First Nations workers. They were able to access the resources of mainstream unions, which was crucial in providing financial and moral support. The endorsement of First Nations groups was also important and though there were conflicts, the dispute also provided an opportunity for the strikers to discuss the benefits of unions with First Nations people.
Certification and Negotiations
The Labour Relations Board (LRB) certified SORWUC as a legal bargaining agent on 20 March 1978 and on 3 April the union served notice to bargain with the employer. A Muckamuck employee summarized events in the Vancouver Sun: “The primary union organizer was fired the day that management was notified of the application for certification. Since then six more of us have been fired or intimidated into quitting. All seven are union members, most quite active.” The union launched charges of unfair labour practices on behalf of these workers on 21 and 23 February, and on 29 March.
The sequence of events following certification are noted in the SORWUC log book. The log book was used to make daily entries of union activities for potential evidence in legal dealings and was especially important during new organizing campaigns, contract negotiations and picketing. The book was available for union staff, officers and members to make records. An excerpt documented the workers’ treatment by the employer after the union application proceedings:
21 February —application for certification Cay fired
23 February —Ethel fired
21 March—Rag suspended
28 March— Rev fired 2
9 March—Lauretta harassed into quitting
The log book described the first steps in contract negotiations from 17 April to the rapid breakdown of relations between the union and management by 20 May:
17 April—first bargaining session (to negotiate a contract)
2 May—second bargaining session
10 May—first date of hearing (of LRB, re: complaints on firings)
12 May—second date of hearing
17 May—third date of hearing
20 May—first date of leafletting (SORWUC information picket) —owner tries to bribe Marge and Christina (Muckamuck employees)
21 May—second date of leafletting
23 May—management walks out (of contract talks) —illegal picketing charge (against the union) —management puts out own leaflet
The union had organized an information picket, handing out leaflets to customers in front of the restaurant on 20 and 21 May as a means of applying pressure against management. Business dropped dramatically during the picketing. A LRB official contacted a SORWUC representative and made an informal request that the union cease leafletting until the board decided on management’s illegal picketing charge. SORWUC declined the request. Muckamuck employee Christina Prince described the LRB’s unfair actions in deciding to hear management’s complaint before the union’s:
It took us two and a half months to get in front of the LRB with our unfair labour practice suits. Yet when this leafletting started, they took us in front of the board within 24 hours. The management got an informal hearing. They called it illegal picketing. And since it was hindering business, the LRB had to automatically fall on management’s side. That’s what we were told. So we thought ‘forget it, we’ll get these people back to their jobs another way, at the negotiating table.’
Management retaliated further by distributing the first of a series of leaflets defending their actions and attacking the union. The dispute was described in the Vancouver Sun as one which “pits Indian workers against white managers.
In The Indian Voice, Ethel Gardner described the frustrations at the bargaining sessions with management in April and May:
Management generally came late, left early, complained about how long the contract was and generally treated us and our union rep with contempt. For example, they refused outright our suggestions that we bargain in the Indian Centre because it was ‘not devoid of colour.’ These were the words of their lawyer, Bill MacDonald.
Management held a final meeting with staff before relations deteriorated completely. The records from a LRB hearing describe management’s interference, in contravention of the labour code, with the union campaign:
At a meeting of the employees in April or May, shortly before the strike commenced, all of the owners —Erickson, Bjornson and Chrismas—were present and Chrismas made a number of statements concerning SORWUC, the restaurant and its future. According to one of the employees present, Sandra Eatman, the gist of these remarks was that the restaurant provided considerable assistance to Native people, that the employees should work hard to make the restaurant prosper, that the employees could thereby earn much more money, and that the employees did not need a trade union. There were some further statements made by one of the owners to the effect that the restaurant had been opened for Native people, that die Native people should be grateful and that SORWUC would destroy the restaurant.
Management tried another tactic to undermine SORWUC as the bargaining agent for the staff. The owners contacted Russell Means, a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), to talk to the workers. Means met with the Muckamuck staff at the Indian Centre in Vancouver in late May. SORWUC representatives were not allowed to attend. Means suggested the workers buy out management and take over the restaurant, but it seemed impossible to get the money to do this.
Management contacted the Hotel, Restaurant and Bartenders Union (HRBU), Local 40 and, believing they would be a more “reasonable” union in negotiations, suggested they raid SORWUC. A raid did not occur, however, and the international unions, such as the International Woodworkers of America (IWA) and its leader Jack Munro, supported SORWUC’s efforts.
Muckamuck workers took a strike vote. A majority voted in favour of a strike and on 1 June began picketing in front of the restaurant. Christina Prince stated to the media: “We’ll be out for as long as it takes to get some serious bargaining done.” She called the management proposals at the initial bargaining sessions “unacceptable and unjust.”
The employer maintained an adamant opposition to the union and hinted at using strikebreakers early in the strike. On 7 June management stated they were prepared to sell their business rather than have a union in the restaurant. Management told the Vancouver Sun that seven workers were prepared to cross the picket line.
The employer also used racial issues to divide workers from each other and the union. SORWUC representative Ulryke Weissgerber said in an interview for this study:
Management promoted the idea that the workers were selling out in terms of their traditional culture by joining a white union. But I think the workers felt an alternative union was more in line with their traditional culture. I don’t think a big union would have held out as long as we did either. There was a huge sign in the restaurant window stating the workers were in a ‘white union.’ The strikers were really angry about this. We discussed things to do and went to Harry Rankin (a Vancouver lawyer [and member of the Communist Party of Canada]) who offered free legal advice. Many strategies were discussed.
A First Nations organization could have made a difference in maintaining unity. Sandra Eatmon, a Muckamuck employee, said in a recent interview that the workers did not have very many options in terms of choosing a union which would represent their interests as First Nations workers. She said, “I admire the dedication of SORWUC members but after the first year of picketing, most of the Muckamuck staff had left the picket line and white people were picketing while Native people were crossing the line and working inside.” She suggests that if a First Nations group had done the organizing, First Nations people may have stayed on the picket line longer.
But Ethel Gardner believes many First Nations people did not have a union consciousness:
The Native population by and large is not a working population. There is about 90 per cent unemployment. Even getting a job is difficult, let alone a union job. Native people don’t have much experience with unions. There is a lot of anti-union sentiment. Even the Native community didn’t support the strike to the extent they could have. People say “unions aren’t Native.” There’s no union consciousness. The staff of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) came down to the Muckamuck picket line but that was due to George Manuel, the head of UBCIC at the time. The United Native Nations sat on the fence. They said Natives were working inside the restaurant and picketing outside so they weren’t going to take a stand. Bill Wilson was head at the time.
Support from the First Nations community was crucial to the strikers. The UBCIC expressed their support for the Muckamuck strikers in a public statement: “Problems being experienced here by our people are the same problems we have been experiencing all over B.C. for 100 years.” And farther, “The owners of the Muckamuck exploit our resources—Indian work, Indian culture, Indian foods— yet refuse to treat our people fairly.” Management responded: “It was with a sense of respect, not a desire to exploit that we put together a restaurant which most business people advised us against.”
The employer’s anger at the First Nations community was also expressed in a copy of a letter sent to the UBCIC and publicly displayed in the restaurant window. It read in part:
We, however, no longer want to be directly involved with Native culture in British Columbia to the degree of commitment required in the past by Muckamuck. We had tried on many levels to achieve a positive statement and seemed to be progressing well until recently when the labor dispute first arose. The amount of energy required to pull the now shattered situation back together is too much if possible at all, the financial situation to us simply does not warrant it and the desire no longer exists.
Workers picketed a closed restaurant for the First six months of the strike. They received $50 a week in strike pay. Voluntary picketers, members of SORWUC, other trade unionists and supporters, joined the picket line. Shifts were maintained from 4 pm to 10 pm seven days a week.
Ethel Gardner kept the First Nations community informed of the strike and wrote in the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs News:
Being able to bargain collectively with Muckamuck management, we can negotiate a just and equitable contract so that in the future Indian people who choose to work there will be treated with dignity and respect. In this society, being in a union is the only way we can guarantee that our rights as workers will be respected.
The city newspapers’ labour reporters maintained regular news coverage of the strike. One Vancouver Sun business writer, Eleanor Boyle, spoke out in favour of the owners. She accused First Nations workers of “using their Indian-ness to make money, exploiting their own culture if you like.” She suggested SORWUC was out looking for a cause and that management “should get a little credit for ensuring 90 per cent of its staff was Native Indian. It should also be spared from crucifixion for hundreds of years of Canadian neglect of Native people.”
In October, management re-opened the upstairs lounge and in November they re-opened the restaurant, employing a few former staff and hiring new workers, many of them First Nations people. The lounge was renamed the “Chilcotin Bar Seven” and had a “cowboy” theme. A Vancouver Sun headline read: “Cowboys Lasso Indians on Davie Street.”41 Strikers viewed these incidents as insensitive to First Nations culture and the union spoke out publicly against these actions.
While most customers did not cross the picket line and business was minimal, die strike took an ugly turn with the emergence of verbal and physical abuse between strikebreaking employees and strikers. The police were frequently called and numerous assault charges were launched in the courts during the ensuing months. Generally these assaults involved strikebreakers taunting, kicking and hitting picketers. In late November, counter-picketing by die strikebreaking staff brought more abuse—physical and verbal—on the street. Counter-pickets were strikebreaking staff, many of them Native, who came out on to the street and held signs critical of the union and supportive of management. For passersby, it was confusing “street theatre.”
A union picketer described the scene in a SORWUC newsletter:
They [management] seemed to particularly delight in pitting the Native staff against the picketers. For several weekends in a row now, the Native scabs [not the Caucasians] have been coming out to picket with strikers. They carry signs like—Muckamuck Open, We Support Muckamuck, etc. To passersby it looks like our line is bigger. One such passerby tried to give one of these counter-pickets a donation to the strike fund and she [the counter-picket] scuttled back inside!
As the strike progressed, fewer original Muckamuck staff showed up to picket. Many had other jobs and some felt a need to maintain a low profile. To keep their current jobs, they did not want to be seen picketing. SORWUC members, other trade unionists and supporters became essential picketers. Most were white and the core picketers, reflective of SORWUC membership, were female. As legal proceedings against the management dragged on, and picketing persisted into the second year, SORWUC members spent a lot of time clarifying the confusing appearances which emerged from the strike as many First Nations people crossed a white picket line to work inside. Picketers were motivated by their determination to establish unions, and by the knowledge that the majority of original strikers supported their efforts, attended the three separate decertification hearings over the duration of the dispute and were prepared to return to work. Some First Nations people chose to join the strikebreakers for a number of reasons, including the confusion created by divisions within their community regarding the dispute, a lack of familiarity with unions and contempt encouraged by the employer for the “white” union.
Entries in the log book by white strikers (unintentionally presenting racial stereotypes of First Nations people) described the picket line atmosphere:
October 12, 1978 — 3:00 — entry by Heather: … former waiter came by to check it out. Had been picketing first two months. Now has job. Got into a hassle with one of the Indian cooks who crossed the line. She said she wasn’t going on welfare and at least they paid her —she doesn’t care about anyone else—only herself. (She’s a young, slim Indian woman). 4:45 — Older Indian man (medium height-lean) went in, greeted by owner (?) in red cowboy shirt (full beard) who smiled and poured him coffee.
The employer hired Ben Paul, a First Nations employee of the Federal Department of Indian Affairs and his wife Evelyn, to assist the strikebreaking staff in composing anti-union leaflets and various labour relations complaints and applications for decertification. SORWUC attempted to charge the employer with hiring a “professional strikebreaker” (in contravention of the labour code) but the LRB ruled that Paul was not legally defined as a “professional.”
The strikebreakers, with employer encouragement, used the legal process in an attempt to stall and subvert organizing by applying on three separate occasions for decertification. All three applications were rejected by the Labour Relations Board because the union was able to prove that a majority of the original staff were still members of SORWUC. These proceedings had the potential to wear down the union as some of the original staff moved out of the city or province and were not always easily available to testify for the union.
The first of three applications for decertification to the LRB was made January 1979, seven months after the original employees had joined SORWUC. SORWUC was able to prove that only one striker crossed the picket line to work inside. At the second hearing on 25 August 1979 the LRB stated, “… in every lengthy strike there will be some employees who do not picket but remain interested and willing to return to work when a settlement is reached.” By the third hearing 14 May 1980, the strikebreakers applied as a new bargaining unit, the Northwestern Hospitality Employees Association. Five of the eighteen original strikers were working inside the restaurant. The remainder had other jobs and one was picketing regularly. Still, SORWUC was able to present testimony from a majority of original staffers that they supported the union and were prepared to return to work when the dispute ended.
Another legal tactic used by management was their application for an injunction in the Be Supreme Court on 1 June 1979 against SORWUC picketing in front of the restaurant. Justice Patricia Proudfoot agreed to ban picketing and then after a union appeal on 8 June ruled that only six pickets per shift were allowed. Muggs Sigurgeirson, speaking for SORWUC, told the press: “We don’t consider it a victory because the number of pickets has been limited. But we’re certainly ecstatic at being back on the street where strikers should be.” SORWUC appealed the limit but the court turned down the appeal. The reason given for the decision was that the picketers were “harassing” customers and employees.
Management distributed and posted leaflets in the west end community. The LRB described and commented on these activities:
The single most disturbing theme throughout the material produced by the (strikebreaking) staff is the persistent accusation that SORWUC is a racist organization or, at least, that SORWUCs position in this dispute amounts to racial discrimination against Native Indians. This accusation is asserted baldly in some of the material. For example, one leaflet distributed during the summer of 1979 is entitled “Stop Racial Prejudice” and its concluding words are as follows: “This issue is no longer a labour dispute. It has been escalated into arguments over the right to strike. Do not destroy job opportunities for Native People! Ninety per cent of British Columbia’s Native People are unemployed. Help our economy and stop inflation. Support the Native workers at the Muckamuck. Bring a halt to racial discrimination. Support Muckamuck traditional Indian food.”
While the LRB condemned these actions, the board did not provide remedies requested by the union which included a public apology in The Native Voice and Westender newspapers. SORWUC’s newsletter contains a description of the First Nations community’s support:
We have recent letters of support from the Vancouver Indian Centre and the United Native Nations. In April of this year when management put a sign in the window saying the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs supported the strikebreakers, the UBCIC lawyer threatened to sue and the sign was promptly removed. Wayne Clarke, the administrator of the Vancouver Indian Centre has walked the picket line along with other people from the centre. In a recent letter to SORWUC, Debbie Mearns (President of the Indian Centre) told the strikers she “admired their dedication to this complex issue.”
Muckamuck strikers solicited support from the First Nations community through fundraising, conference speeches and articles in First Nations newspapers. SORWUC activists also embarked on major fundraising activities within the trade union and political left community. Financial donations for strikers accumulated into thousands of dollars by the end of the dispute.
The strikebreakers faced working conditions similar to those of the original staff, with the added pressure of working behind a picket line and serving very few customers each night. Turnover among them was high. They were paid $3 to $5 an hour. The media reported on 19 December 1979 that the strikebreakers were laid off over Christmas with non-sufficient funds marked on their pay cheques at the bank.
As the dispute wore on the union declared the strike a “civil rights issue” for First Nations people. A leaflet by the union stated: “In their actions and leaflets they (management) make it plain that they do not believe Native workers should have the right to strike.”
On two occasions during the strike when the owners tried to meet with SORWUC, the strikebreakers attempted to stop them. One vocal First Nations strikebreaker, Florence Differ, told the local media, “If management negotiates with SORWUC, we’ll walk out. I think we had a dirty deal pulled on us again. The Indians are done in again.” Manager Sussy Selbst defended the owners’ actions: “We just want to talk to the union. It’s been 17 months— we had seven customers last night. But the staff turned on us and screamed at us and called us turncoats. I was almost in tears myself.”
Again on 25 April 1980 management made moves to contact the union and strikebreakers threatened to quit. The session was cancelled because the owners allegedly feared picketing by strikebreakers outside the negotiating meeting place. By this time, the restaurant was in operation Friday and Saturday nights only. Soon after, the restaurant shut down all operations.
Finally on 25 April 1981, the LRB made a ruling on the various applications by SORWUC. Their main finding was that the Muckamuck management had not bargained in good faith. By October 1981 the owners had no assets in BC. On 1 March 1983 the LRB finally applied remedies to their previous ruling, having waited until they heard an application for certification by the strikebreakers as a new association. The LRB ruled that management owed the union $10,000 in compensation. SORWUC has never been able to collect this money, as the employer moved back to the United States. New owners set up a grocery store on the main floor of the property. Malcolm McSporrum, a local architect and supporter of First Nations issues* viewed the downstairs of the property and discovered that the setting and equipment of the restaurant remained. He contacted some former Muckamuck strikers and suggested they could be part owners in a new restaurant he would help finance. The Quilicum, a restaurant serving First Nations cuisine was reopened and a few First Nations people (including a former Muckamuck striker) have majority shares.
Many First Nations people have believed that “unions aren’t Native” partially because of the neglect by organized labour to campaign on their behalf. Consequently their working conditions have been exploitive on an economic and racial basis. But First Nations workers at the Muckamuck restaurant were able to form an alliance with the members of SORWUC to challenge their unjust status. SORWUC activists* ideological motivations, expertise, and links to the mainstream labour movement were key motivators to the workers’ efforts to resist the cultural and economic status quo.
The state’s institutions, however, failed First Nations workers as they were unable to protect workers from discriminatory and illegal employer practices. In this sense, as the strikers observed, the dispute became a “civil rights” issue for First Nations people. Although the federal employment centre attempted to address First Nations employment issues by setting up a program with local businesses, when told that the Muckamuck employer was discriminatory, the agency was only able to suggest informally that workers join a union. Similarly, the Labour Standards Branch admitted to being ineffectual in enforcing sanctions against illegal activities of employers such as fining employees for mistakes on the job, and again informally suggested workers join a union.
The LRB moved too slowly and provided remedies they were unable to enforce. The board’s decision to hear management’s illegal picketing complaint before the union’s charges of staff firings, and the delay in rendering a decision on the employer’s refusal to bargain in good faith undermined the union’s ability to be effective. The court’s decision to ban, then limit picketing, also hindered the workers’ efforts to establish a union. Furthermore police tended to view picketers as “troublemakers” so that picketers were more likely to be charged than protected in assault incidents.
The employer was not tied to the local community and institutions to the same extent as the union, so its attempts to seek legitimacy eventually failed. Their corporate values nonetheless were insufficiently challenged by the state as the long list of their illegal and unethical practices demonstrates. The fact that foreign owners can sell their business and move south without adhering to legal remedies indicates the global scope of workers’ struggle for justice.
The analysis of the role of the union can be extended further by examining the contradictions and conflicts First Nations workers experienced within SORWUC. Although SORWUC was ideologically committed to racial issues, the leaders and activists of SORWUC were female, mostly white and functioned within an adversarial and hierarchial trade union structure and culture. First Nations peoples’ ways of dealing with conflict, negotiation and decision-making were not introduced into the process. This imposition of values and culture on the First Nations workers could explain in part the eventual departures of strikers from the picket line. First Nations workers spoke on the specific strike situation in public forums, but did not speak on behalf of SORWUC as a union. Nor did First Nations workers take an activist position within SORWUC or other trade unions.
Further research by First Nations people could provide insights into how their community felt about this dispute and about trade unions in general. What were the repercussions of this strike within their community? How did the women strikers view the relationship between race and gender? Did the aspect of a visibly divided leadership among the First Nations organizations and among First Nations restaurant workers create long term problems, negative feelings about trade unions and distrust of the white community?
The closure of the restaurant and the loss of jobs for First Nations strikers does not suggest a victory for the workers. And while the LRB ruled in favour of the union, the monetary remedies were not rewarded to the strikers. Muckamuck workers, however, gained a sense of dignity and respect because they stood up for their rights. Restaurant employers elsewhere in the city may have improved their practices in light of the publicity and support for this dispute. The wider community had been made aware of First Nations, class and trade union issues. The First Nations and trade union communities found an opportunity to develop a bridge which can be crossed in the future.
Two of the original strikers spoke positively of their experience, Sandra Eatmon said she gained a respect for trade unions. “I learned about unions and workers’ rights,” Sandra said. “I thought it was the right thing at the time. We deserved better treatment.” Overall Ethel Gardner believes the dispute was a success. She said, “Looking back now, I see how we took it upon ourselves as a group of Native workers to make a statement that we weren’t going to be run in that way. So I think it was a success. We learned a lot, gained a lot and it was empowering.”
In both instances, Trump and his UN ambassador Nikki Haley reiterated an old American myth that all US aid is disinterested charity, effectively accusing the Global South of being international welfare bums. They also assumed that US aid was indispensable to Global South countries’ survival. Yet, both Pakistan and Palestine in different ways sent a very distinct message; “we don’t care” and “we don’t need you”.
In Trump’s brash displays of bravado, he may have unwittingly contributed to the unraveling of one of US imperialism’s most effective “soft power” techniques for maintaining the loyalty of intermediaries in the Global South, namely international “aid”. International aid from the Global North cores to the Global South peripheries is by and large managed by government institutions like USAID in the United States and Global Affairs Canada (GAC) but enacted by private actors often referred to as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s). NGO’s have proliferated since the 1980’s, interestingly in tandem with the rise of neoliberalism. Contrary to what much of their branding might suggest, they are essential pillars to the maintenance of imperialism today.
The “Caribbean letter”: On agency and neocolonialism in Haiti
Both these scandals have history behind them and were made possible by the deep structural characteristics of NGO’s as “force multipliers” (Forte, 2015) of US and Canadian imperialism. As a signed letter to The Guardian from Caribbean intellectuals and organizers pointed out:
“In 2008 some of us had written to Barbara Stocking, then Oxfam chief executive, objecting to a report that it sponsored, Rule of Rapists in Haiti, which labelled Haitians as rapists while hiding rapes by occupying UN forces. The year before, 114 soldiers had been sent home for raping women and girls, some as young as 11. No one was prosecuted. We wrote: “NGOs like Oxfam have known about rapes by UN forces, as well as by aid and charity workers, for decades. It’s the pressure of victims, women and [children] in the most impoverished communities, who had the courage to speak out that finally won … public acknowledgement.” There was no reply.
The latest revelations of sexual abuse by major charities…are but one facet of NGO corruption. The people of Haiti were the first to free themselves from slavery, but the colonial “masters” they defeated – France, Britain and the US – have continued to plunder and exploit, including through imported NGOs. Haiti has more NGOs per square mile than any other country and it remains the poorest in the western hemisphere. Corruption begins and ends with neo-colonial powers.
While celebrated for “doing good”, NGO professionals do well for themselves. They move between NGOs, academia and political appointments, enjoying a culture of impunity while they exercise power over the poorest. The Lancet described NGOs in Haiti as “polluted by unsavoury characteristics seen in many big corporations” and “obsessed with raising money”.
(Le Cointe, Altheia, Luke Daniels, Cristel Amiss et al., 13 February 2018)
This widespread abuse often goes unnoticed by the Global North public, whose tax dollars often subsidize these projects (Oxfam receives significant funding from the UK government). In fact, in a survey of the Canadian public, 91% of Canadians expressed at least “some confidence” while 41%, almost half, expressed “great confidence” in NGO’s (Barry-Shaw and Jay, 2012b). Canadians also see themselves as widely loved throughout the world (Barry-Shaw and Jay, 2012a). Yet, as the “Caribbean letter” demonstrates, Canadian NGO’s have more questionable reputations than the wider public might assume.
The normalization of NGO’s masks a series of insidious imperialist operations. In Haiti, NGO’s were used to conceal the increasing military role of the “international community”, headed by the United States, on the island. The US has twice intervened to overthrow popular Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, once in 1991 and again in 2004. The troops stationed in 2004 to quell pro-Aristide unrest remain in the country and are a key component to the management and distribution of international aid, and NGO’s are required to cooperate with these occupying forces. These same NGO’s, especially Quebec-based ones, cheered the overthrow of Aristide in 2004 (Forgie, 2014; Barry-Shaw and Jay, 2012b). Numerous NGO’s were also enlisted by the Clinton Foundation to engage in its “development projects”, which as we have discussed before, were in fact a scheme to loot poor Haitians. Such practices are more commonplace than the trusting Canadian public might assume, as state donors like USAID and GAC, or private foundations like the Clinton or Gates Foundation leverage their vast supply of funds to encourage NGO’s to act as maintenance tools for imperialism (Frogie, 2014; Reith, 2010).
That NGO’s describe such schemes as “partnerships” between themselves and government or corporate entities conceals the power imbalance between government and foundation funders and the NGO’s “on the ground”. Sally Reith (2010) describes this as the “Trojan Horse” of development discourses, implying a level, depoliticized playing field. Meanwhile, aid has a precisely political character to it, usually in favour of maintaining imperialism and neocolonialism (Engler, 2015). USAID, which is run by the US State Department, makes no secret of this, saying its purpose is to “further America’s interest while improving lives in the developing world” (emphasis added).
The Kennedy administration created USAID in 1961, and since then the agency has been the proving ground of US foreign assistance objectives. It has been proven that countries rotating onto the UN Security Council received on average 59% more aid. As soon as their term ended, aid would fall to historic lows (Kuziemko and Werker, 2006). In a related study, T.Y. Wang (1999) found that UN voting patterns on vital issues to American interests were successfully swayed through the practice of aid giving, rewarding compliance and punishing political defiance. NGO’s are often bound to these funding streams, making the name “non-governmental” seem quite unusual given their actual reliance on western government aid.
Youthful Idealism: From impetus for revolt to marketing technique
These contemporary practices often coexist with NGO branding which promotes the role of western young people as “change-agents”, not only in their own societies, but across the entire world (Biehn, 2014). This is a legacy of the origin of NGO’s, especially in Canada, which grew out of attempts to neutralize the new anti-war left during the Pearson and Trudeau Sr. years. Many now-mainstream NGO’s such as CUSO, mostly composed of youth and students, were highly critical of the Vietnam war, and openly criticized the politicization of food aid by Canada as part of the Cold War. These organizations were lured by the relative tolerance of Pearson and Trudeau Sr.’s foreign policy, leading eventually to their institutionalization (Barry-Shaw and Jay, 2012b). CUSO was absorbed through a government coup of its board of directors, which ripped control of the organization away from its volunteers, while organizations like the Inter-Church Council (now KAIROS), had their funding slashed for criticizing neoliberal structural adjustment (Barry-Shaw and Jay, 2012a), the beginning of “funding discipline” as a technique for maintaining NGO’s as part of the imperialist nexus.
The idea that NGO’s were an expression of youthful change-making, however, was preserved, pivoted to neoliberal ends. Biehn (2014) scrutinizes this, demonstrating how recruitment messaging directed at potential volunteers enforces neoliberal, capitalist understandings of the problem of and potential solutions to global inequalities. Problems are thus decontextualized and depoliticized. The messages reinforce a desired image of the Western youth as a powerful actor, an impetus for change, and an inspiration (Biehn, 2014).
One of the organizations Biehn uses as a case study is International Student Volunteers (ISV). I had a colleague working on a research project with ISV, which we discussed. She was quick to express her frustration with the organization being dominated by a particular milieu of people, what I would call the professional-managerial stratum along with a particularly involved section of the liberal bourgeoisie. These “white and privileged” (her words) families dominated ISV much to her frustration (her project was to find ways to increase the diversity of ISV volunteers). In hindsight, I would argue this is to be expected, as Biehn points out, ISV-style volunteerism is a noteworthy instrument for reproducing the orientation and allegiance of Global North professionals with imperialism.
Similarly, I had peers embark on various humanitarian trips, usually ranging from one to two weeks, to Haiti immediately following and a few years after the earthquake. These trips, usually financed by a combination of Foundation sponsorship, NGO collaboration, and church-based fundraising, consisted of typical volunteerism – building cheap churches, schoolhouses, etc. Looking back, it is fascinating to me that none of these students reported back anything of the political unrest and popular resentment of Haiti in their glossy presentations once they returned home, and enthusiastically accepted the presence of US marines on the island without question. The sheltering of the future young professionals and aspirant bourgeoisie whilst providing them an “authentic” experience of aid and poverty, helps create the conscious ignorance which characterizes the transnational capitalist class (Biehn, 2014; McGoey, 2012).
South-South cooperation and the urgency of Solidarity
If any more evidence was required to demonstrate that Oxfam and similar NGO’s are part of the imperialist establishment, consider that Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of Oxfam, appeared at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Ostensibly, Oxfam was there to represent the voices of “ordinary people” to the global conference of oligarchs and elites, though as Marc Wergerif (2018) points out, no one asked them to speak for them. The assumption by Oxfam that it speaks for “ordinary people” is undercut by its actual collaboration with US imperialism and the transnational capitalist class and its failure to actually advocate solid propositions of popular organizations like La Via Campesina peasants’ coalition, or the Bolivarian social movements, or god forbid movements in the Global South organizing more explicitly for sovereignty against imperialism, such as the Syrian reconciliation movement.
Furthermore, why should a transnational foundation, run mostly by cosmopolitan professionals from the Global North and a handful of compradors, speak for “ordinary people” as a homogenized mass, and not their national representatives? Wergerif says it will be popular practices and movements that will provide the solutions for global challenges, not the schemes of agencies like Oxfam. One should note that as US imperialism continues to experience an economic and strategic decline, its beneficiaries are increasingly desperate to portray its maintenance as humanitarian, internationalist, and benevolent in nature. Meanwhile, we can see an increasing trend towards South-South cooperation in the form of Latin American integration and Chinese partnerships with Africa and the Bolivarian states, anti-EU groundswell in the form of Brexit, and a general working-class rage catapulting both right and left forces to prominence in the Global North. As Wergeif says, these “people’s everyday practices” have done much more to unravel the foundations of systematic inequality than the docile managers at Oxfam could accomplish. What directions these anti-systemic trends will take remains to be seen, but it is certain that they will increasingly delegitimize NGO’s as vehicles for social change.
Barry-Shaw, Nikolas and Dru Oja Jay. 2012b. Paved with Good Intentions: Canada’s development NGOs from idealism to imperialism. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Press.
Biehn, Tristan. 2014. “Who Needs Me Most? New Imperialist Ideologies in Youth-Centred Volunteer Abroad Programs” in The New Imperialism, Volume 4: Good Intentions, Norms and Practices of Imperial Humanitarianism. Edited by Maximilian C. Forte. Montréal, QC: Alert Press, 77-87.
Engler, Yves. 2015. Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Press.
Forgie, Keir. 2014. “US Imperialism and Disaster Capitalism in Haiti” in The New Imperialism, Volume 4: Good Intentions, Norms and Practices of Imperial Humanitarianism. Edited by Maximilian C. Forte. Montréal, QC: Alert Press, 57-75.
Forte, Maxmillian C. 2015. “Introduction to Force Multipliers: Imperial Instrumentalism in Theory and Practice” in The New Imperialism, Vol. 5: Force Multipliers: The Instrumentalities of Imperialism. Montreal, QC: Alert Press, 1-87.
This piece by French theorist and political economist Jacques Sapir, originally posted on his blog in French and republished in Italian by Voci Dal L’estero is now featured in English here on Peripheral Thought. Sapir argues that, in addition to the risks to public health and environmental integrity, The Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA) is a serious violation of the principles of national sovereignty and democracy. The translation below has been edited for clarity.
CETA, a free trade treaty between Canada and the European Union, which finally came into effect on Thursday, September 21, is a striking demonstration of how states have renounced their sovereignty, leaving room for a new law, independent of the law of the states themselves, and not subject to democratic control.
CETA is, on paper, a “free trade treaty”. In reality however, it targets non-tariff regulatory norms that states may adopt, particularly regulations in the field of environmental protection. In this respect, CETA could start start a race to dismantle these protections. Added to this are the dangers deriving from the investment protection mechanism contained in the treaty. CETA creates a protection system for investors between the European Union and Canada, which thanks to the establishment of an arbitration tribunal, will allow them to sue a state (or the European Union) in the case of which a public measure adopted by that State may compromise what the treaty calls “the legitimate earnings gains from the investment”. In other words, the so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause (or RDIE) is in practice a mechanism for hedging future earnings. And this is a unilateral mechanism: within this framework, no state can, for its part, sue a private enterprise. It is clear therefore that the CETA will put investors in a position to oppose policy measures that are contrary to their interests. This procedure, which is likely to be very expensive for states, will certainly have deterrent effects with a simple process threat. In this respect, let us not forget that following Dow Chemical’s statement of wanting to bring the case to court, Québec was forced to step back on the ban on a substance suspected of being carcinogenic contained in a herbicide marketed by this company.
There are also doubts about reciprocity: it is said that the Treaty opens Canadian markets to European companies, yet the European Union market is already open to Canadian companies. Just look at the disproportion between the populations to understand who will earn what. Beyond this, there is the wider problem of free trade, in particular the interpretation of free trade that emerges from the CETA treaty. At the heart of the treaty are the interests of multinationals, which certainly do not coincide with those of consumers or workers.
The risks represented by CETA therefore concern public health and, without doubt, sovereignty. But even more serious is the threat the treaty poses. At the time of its final vote in the European Parliament, four groups voted against: the Left Front, the environmentalists of ELV, the Socialist Party and the Front National. An alliance perhaps less abnormal than it seems, if one takes into account the problems posed by the treaty. It is instructive to note that it has been rejected by the delegations of three of the five founding countries of the European Economic Community and the second and third largest economies of the Eurozone. Nevertheless, it was ratified by the European Parliament on 15 February 2017, and it is now up to the ratification of individual national parliaments. Nevertheless, it is already considered partially in force before ratification by the national representative bodies. CETA therefore came into force provisionally and partially on 21 September 2017 in regards to aspects concerning the exclusive competence of the EU, with the exclusion for the moment of certain aspects of competing competencies that will need to be voted on by EU member countries , in particular those elements of the treaty dealing with arbitration tribunals and intellectual property. But even despite this, about 90% of the provisions of the agreement are already in force. This is a serious problem of maintaining political democracy. As if this were not enough, even if a country were to tomorrow reject the ratification of CETA, the already in-force aspects of the treaty would still have to remain in effect for another three years.
This is not what is normally understood by the phrase “free trade treaty”. This is a treaty whose purpose is essentially to impose rules adopted by multinationals on individual parliaments of the Member States of the European Union. If one wanted to give a demonstration of the profoundly anti-democratic nature of the EU, this treaty would act as a pinnacle example.
This poses a challenge to the democratic credentials and legitimacy of those who have been advocating the treaty. In France, only one of the candidates for the presidential election, Emmanuel Macron, had declared openly in favor of CETA. Jean-Marie Cavada, one of the treaty’s main supporters, also voted in the European Parliament for the adoption of the Treaty. Thus, in the presidential election, and not for the first time in French history, the so-called “party from the outside“ which in a timely fashion had been denounced by Jacques Chirac from the hospital of Cochin for becoming defenders of the establishment. 
Prior to his appointment as Edouard Philippe’s government minister, Nicolas Hulot had taken a firm stand against CETA. His stay in government, under these conditions, has produced a turnaround. As a Minister of Environmental Transition, he certainly did not regret some last Friday morning on Europe 1. He acknowledged that the evaluation commission appointed by Edouard Philippe in July picked out several potential dangers contained in the treaty. But he also added: “Negotiations have now come to such a point that unless we risk a diplomatic incident with Canada, which we would certainly want to avoid at all costs, it would have been difficult to block ratification”. This is a perfect description of the irreversibility [sic] mechanisms deliberately incorporated in the treaty. Let us not forget, too, that before being appointed Minister of Environmental Transition, the former television presenter had repeatedly stated that CETA was “notcompatible with the climate”. One can imagine how hard that sword was to swallow.
For his part, since his election, Emmanuel Macron has tried to present himself as defender of the planet, answering Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” with his own “Make the Planet Great Again “. He has often reiterated this slogan, both at the United Nations and on his trip to the Antilles after Hurricane Irma. But it can not be ignored that his commitment to CETA and its submission to the European Union environmental rules, which still has delayed on the issue of endocrine disrupters, show that his actions are not ecologically motivated and gestures towards environmental issues are best distasteful public relations performances.
We must have a full awareness of what the application and implementation of CETA means, including the dangers it poses as the national sovereignty, democracy and security of the country.
Jaques Sapiris a graduate of the IEPP in 1976, he supported a postgraduate doctorate on the organization of work in the USSR between 1920 and 1940 (EHESS, 1980) and a Ph.D. in economics, Soviet economy (Paris-X, 1986). He taught macroeconomics and finance at the University of Paris-X Nanterre from 1982 to 1990, and at ENSAE (1989-1996) before joining the School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences in 1990. He has been the Director of Studies since 1996 and heads the Center for the Study of Modes of Industrialization (CEMI-EHESS). He has also taught in Russia at the High College of Economics (1993-2000) and at the Moscow School of Economics since 2005.He leads the IRSES research group at the FMSH, where he co-organizes with the Institute of National Economic Forecasting (IPEN-ASR) the Franco-Russian seminar on the financial and monetary problems ofdevelopment in Russia.
This post originally appeared on The Left Chapter, the blog of Michael Laxer leader of the Social Caucus in the NDP. While not in agreement with all of Laxer’s politics, I greatly enjoy the variety of content on his blog. Contributions from all leftist perspectives are welcome and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leonard Hutchinson was a Canadian artist whose incredible artistic social realist takes on life and struggle during the Great Depression have, sadly, largely slipped into relative obscurity.
Hutchinson was born in Manchester, England in 1896 and emigrated to Canada in 1913 eventually moving to Hamilton after the First World War. Hutchinson died in 1980, but it was just prior to the Depression that he mastered a technique of creating art that the prints of which would then be made from wood blocks. The idea was to make his art more affordable and broadly available.
Hutchinson’s art is searing, powerful and evocative of this era of mass poverty, social dislocation and working class resistance. It strikingly conveys the time and place and is anchored among the workers of Hamilton and area.
One of the few retrospective looks at Hutchinson to have been put into print was done by the Canadian Liberation Movement in 1975 as part of its “Toward a People’s Art” series of books. The CLM was a far left nationalist group that saw Canada as little more than a US colony and that fought for the creation of a working class anti-imperialist movement.
The book they published “Leonard Hutchinson, People’s Artist: Ten Years of Struggle 1930 to 1940”, though long out-of-print, is well worth tracking down for its full page reproductions.
Today we look at a selection of some of these remarkable pieces.
Kent Roach is Professor of Law and Prichard-Wilson Chair of Law and Public Policy at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. He served on the research advisory committee for the inquiry into the rendition of Maher Arar, the Ipperwash Inquiry into the killing of Dudley George, and as volume lead for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report on the Legacy of Residential Schools. False Security won the Canadian Law and Society Association best book prize.
On 20 October 2014, a terrorist drove his car into two members of the Canadian Armed Forces, killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Two days later, another terrorist murdered Corporal Nathan Cirillo before storming Parliament. In the aftermath of these attacks, Parliament enacted Bill C-51 — the most radical national security law in generations. This new law ignored hard lessons on how Canada both over- and underreacted to terrorism in the past. It also ignored evidence and urgent recommendations about how to avoid these dangers in the future.
For much of 2015, Craig Forcese and Kent Roach have provided, as Maclean’s put it, the “intellectual core of what’s emerged as surprisingly vigorous push-back” to Bill C-51. In this book, they show that our terror laws now make a false promise of security even as they present a radical challenge to rights and liberties. They trace how our laws repeat past mistakes of institutionalized illegality while failing to address problems that weaken the accountability of security agencies and impair Canada’s ability to defend against terrorism.
Brant: Forever Loved
Jennifer Brant is currently employed at the Tecumseh Centre for Aboriginal Research and Education, as the Program Coordinator for the Gidayaamin Aboriginal Women’s Certificate Program. She is a PhD candidate in Educational Studies at Brock University, where she is researching barriers Aboriginal women face in mainstream education, and the vision for a holistic support model that honours the educational realities and familial responsibilities of Aboriginal women.
The hidden crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada is both a national tragedy and a national shame. In this ground-breaking new volume, as part of their larger efforts to draw attention to the shockingly high rates of violence against our sisters, Jennifer Brant and D. Memee Lavell-Harvard have pulled together a variety of voices from the academic realms to the grassroots and front-lines to speak on what has been identified by both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations as a grave violation of the basic human rights of Aboriginal women and girls. Linking colonial practices with genocide, through their exploration of the current statistics, root causes and structural components of the issue, including conversations on policing, media and education, the contributing authors illustrate the resilience, strength, courage, and spirit of Indigenous women and girls as they struggle to survive in a society shaped by racism and sexism, patriarchy and misogyny. This book was created to honour our missing sisters, their families, their lives and their stories, with the hope that it will offer lessons to non-Indigenous allies and supporters so that we can all work together towards a nation that supports and promotes the safety and well-being of all First Nation, Métis and Inuit women and girls.
In more of an analytical / in-depth spirit, From the Margins covers issues of local, regional and international concern (present and historical), in that order. Over the years, I’ve covered issues revolving around workers, students, unemployed people, the arts and even sports. Buried in the heart of the From the Margins is an understanding that social problems are rooted in the socioeconomic system, capitalism, through which social relations are mediated. The show is about lived realities within this context and political challenges to these relations. That sense weaves in into many of the pieces, but can be subtle at times or can be completely in the background so perhaps no one can see it but me. The show features live and recorded interviews, recordings of presentations, the odd reading of something interesting, discussions and sometimes more creative approaches. There may be surprises.
H : I : S : T : O : R : Y
From the Margins originally started out as a radio show in the deep woods of Fredericton on the airwaves of CHSR 97.9 FM, the campus – community station amongst thickets of trees. It’s original concept was as an anti-poverty show that largely publicized and discussed the activities and ideas of the Advocacy Collective, an anti-poverty collective in Fredericton at the time. Eventually, the show’s issues became more generalized, discussing the struggles people faced at the expense of Capital. It weaved in and out of production in Fredericton, with the odd co-hosts here and there. Then, yours truly moved to Halifax and decided to re-start the show on CKDU 88.1 FM. And there it stayed for a few years…
But then we (me) started to realize how much we loved those old woods. And we were also unemployed and SOOL in Halifax. We sadly left CKDU, but were happy that it was safe and in capable hands. We trotted to Fredericton for another chapter of our existence. Trudging through the woods we found CHSR’s warm hearth and found an abundance of good things. Now, From the Margins is ready to embark on more of its critical news coverage, analysis and occasional creative approaches to addressing subjects. We remain venomous towards the dictates of capital. Ever our nemesis, we shall do our part against it: providing information and understanding of its lived reality, mechanics and ongoing resistance to its many facets. Well, we’ll try our best, “from each according to our ability … ” and all that jazz. We hope the journey will prove interesting.
Speech delivered in Edmonton, Alberta by Dr. Roland Chrisjohn Member of Iroquois Confederacy (Oneida), healer (“psychologist”), author of The Circle Game Date of speech unknown
Excerpts transcribed by Jim Craven email@example.com
as posted to sovernet-l on September 1, 1998
…”Residential schools were one of many attempts at the genocide of the Aboriginal Peoples inhabiting the area now commonly called Canada. Initially, the goal of obliterating these peoples was connected with stealing what they owned (the land, the sky, the waters, and their lives, and all that these encompassed); and although this connection persists, present-day acts and policies of genocide are also connected with the hypocritical, legal and self-delusion need on the part of the perpetrators to conceal what they did and what they continue to do. A variety of rationalizations (social, legal, religious, political and economic) arose to engage (in one way or another) all segments of Euruocanadian society in the task of genocide. For example, some were told (and told themselves) that their actions arose out of a Missionary Imperative to bring the benefits of the One True Belief to savage pagans; others considered themselves justified in the land theft by declaring that the Aboriginal Peoples were not putting the land to ‘proper’ use; and so on. The creation of the Indian Residential Schools followed a time-tested method of obliterating indigenous cultures, and the psycosocial consequences these schools would have on Aboriginal Peoples were well understood at the time of their formation.
Present-day symptomology found in Aboriginal Peoples and societies does not constitute a distinct psychological condition, but is the well-known and long-studied response of human beings living under conditions of severe and prolonged oppression. Although there is no doubt that individuals who attended Residential Schools suffered, and continue to suffer, from the effects of their experiences, the tactic of pathologizing these individuals, studying their condition, and offering ‘therapy’ to them and their communities must be seen as another rhetorical maneuver designed to obscure (to the world at large, to Aboriginal Peoples, and to the Canadians themselves) the moral and financial accountability of Eurocanadian society in a continuing record of Crimes Against Humanity.
I’m not denying that people in the Residential Schools–some of them–are having troubles today. But I don’t want to talk about the pathology, the alcohol and drug abuse, and the suicide of people who went to Residential School when that takes us away from talking about the real issues, and that is, what are the political, the economic and the legal ramifications of what occurred to First Nations People in these schools. We keep talking about how sick we are but we never ask: how sick were these people who created these things? Why is the sickness on our side? Why is it we have to prove how sick we are in order to get something done about these kinds of things?
I was in a room, early on in the Royal Commission work [Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples], and everybody was telling me oh, well, all this great work you are going to do, that is going to talk about the healing and the therapy that is necessary with Residential Schools. And I’m looking around, there’s a former Supreme Court Justice, there’s a lawyer, there’s another judge over here, there’s another person with legal training who has written law books or whatever, they’re sitting around telling me all of this and I said “it sounds like I’m in a room with damn psychologists.” In a room full of judges and lawyers does nobody recognize that crimes have been committed here? And why aren’t we talking about crimes? No, no that’s not even a fit topic for conversation. What we have to talk about is how sick the damn Indians are; and well we are going to take care of them.
Right. Let’s see how that game works; how the “Therapeutic State” works here. Well the Indians are sick, so do we do? We’re going to take some money, we’re going to give to largely, white, anglo-saxon protestant Eurocanadian therapists, and they’re going to visit with these people for 20 fifty-minute hours, after which time they’re going to be cured. So isn’t interesting that we’re going to transfer white people’s money from one pocket to another pocket and we’re going to call this ‘money spent on Indian People.’
The same game is being played in the education system. Where what we do, is if weve got a child with some difficulty with education, we send them to a psychologist, and in the Province of Alberta, that psychological assessment costs $4,500. That’s $4,500 that goes from the Federal Government to the pocket of a white, anglo-saxon, protestant psycholgist who writes a report and says ‘kid is not learning very much.’ Oh, well thank you for clearing that up. That’s $4,500 that is counted as ‘money spent on Indian Education’, but it’s money that we merely get to authorize the transfer of from the Federal government to the private pockets.
Now does anybody point out, does anybody wonder that the fact that the assessments are not validated, the statistical properties are not established for First Nations children, means that such an assessment is an ethical violation of Canadian and American psychological testing standards? Oh, no, nobody bothers to bring that up; there’s money to made here.
Notice what happens, when, uh–Dr. Hanson was saying about blame the victim– look at how the system reacts to a child who is having difficulty in school: there’s got to be something wrong with the child. We can’t ask the question: Is it possible that maybe there is something wrong with the curriculum?; Is it possible that there’s something wrong with the way that the structure of learning is set up so that some idiot stands up in front of a large group of people and talks, so somebody hears a loudspeaker, and everybody else is a tape recorder, and this is how education is supposed to behave? This is how it is supposed to take place?
We’re not allowed to inquire into the dynamics of the educational system. What we have to do is accept that there’s something wrong with us. We’re the problem. The Residential School does exactly the same thing: the treatment of alcoholism as a disease that First Nations People have as a genetic thing or learned behavior that we don’t seem to be able to get around. Time and time again, the same process is taking place, and that process is, let’s not ask about the systemic kinds of things, let’s not ask about larger factors, let’s not ask about other responsibilities that may be entailed, let’s find what’s wrong with the specific case, what’s wrong with the Indians in this particular instance….
…we must misunderstand Indian Residential School to the extent to which we think that the pathology in the system lies within the survivors of the individual survivors of the Residential School experience. The pathology that you are looking for is not in the pathology of the people who went through the experience, the pathology is in the system of order that gave rise to that Residential School, that saw it in operation, that put it in operation, that thought it was a good thing, that patted itself on the back occasionally saying: ‘aren’t we doing well by our brown cousins?; we’re bringing them freedom and we’re bringing them into this particular world; aren’t we generous?; and all they are paying for it is all of their land, all of their trees, all of their minerals, all of their water, their freedom, their language, their religions, every aspect of their form of life, that’s all their paying.’
Now the fact that they didn’t make that bargain, that they didn’t ask for that, means that well they are kind of stupid you know; they don’t recognize just how superior our way is. So even though they are kicking and screaming, we’re going to do for them. There’s the patriarchy, there’s the patronizing aspect of it. The “Therapeutic State” will constantly congratulate itself that it’s doing good as it is doing the most horrendous thing.
…the extent to which we ourselves as First Nations People have continued that task, by not examining those kinds of questions, by accepting that the problem is our own individualized pathology, by running all kinds of workshops where we’ll say ‘we’ll let’s get together and we’ll hug a lot and this will overcome what happend to us in the Residential School.’
Oh, I’m sorry, it is a political problem, it is a legal problem, for the churches and for the Government of Canada, it’s also a financial problem, because they’ve got mighty big bills to pay if the Canadian public begins to realize what what done to human beings in their name. This is one of the reasons you won’t find the United Nations’ Genocide Charter inside history books, textbooks and in Canadian schools because the Canadians don’t want to tell their people what they’ve been doing in their name. They don’t want to see, starkly, in Article Two and Article Three, what their responsibilities were as human beings, and how, the acquiesence to the Residential School, even if they never even heard of an Indian or ever saw an Indian, how they were implicated in the crime as well–by their governments, by their churches.
They don’t want to hear about that, so we don’t put this in the textbooks. We don’t put in the textbooks what Canadian responsibilities are in terms of language, religion, education, our educational rights as human beings on this planet. Where they say ‘oh, well, we don’t have enough money for that. You want to have your own Indian university or you want to have your own Aboriginal research center, we’ll, there’s just not enough money.’ Well, that’s a violation of the Common Law of Nations that Canada is signatory to. Their avoiding their responsibilities and they’re covering-up by putting over it all the veneer of the “Therapeutic State.”
And God help us; a lot of us are involved in that “Therapeutic State.” We sit down and we do not go into the grounds of what’s going on, why is this happening, what are the historical backgrounds for this. One of the wisest things Dr. Szasz has ever said is: ‘the libraries are open, go and read, you want to find out about this stuff…’
There’s nothing here in The Circle Game that’s esoteric; we didn’t have to burrow into the national archives late at night and come out with secret scraps of paper. Everything we’ve got is public, and open and available. But we’ve got blinders on, and the blinders are ‘oh well Indian people are suffering and we’ve got to deal with that.’
I’ll tell you. Give us back all the land, gives back the payment for everything stolen, meet your obligations under the Treaties and I will see how many of us are still sick. Even if we are sick, we have the right as sovereign people to decide what we are going to do about it–not accept Health and Welfare Canada’s pronouncement that ‘it’s twenty sessions with a psychologist and you’re out the door, that’s it, you’re cured.’
These are part of our sovereign responsibilities. We do not need research; we need to think clearly about these issues. I come to a conference like this and I hear people saying ‘there aren’t any practical suggestions. Well, I’m sorry, when Dr. Szasz says that ‘you’re not fighting facts, you’re fighting ideologies’, that’s what we have to understand. The philosophy that stands behind what was done to us in the Residential School is the philosophy that stands behind the health and welfare cuts, stands behind the dismantling of the educational system in the Province of Alberta and so on and so on. We have to understand that ideology. We’re not doing any of that as we sit around hugging each other saying ‘oh, you had a bad time and I had a bad time too.’
We should be madder than hell about this; and we should be doing what Dr. Szasz has been doing: educating people about the history, the background, the ideology, the commonality of experience that is involved in this.
There’s a part in “Schindler’s List” which is the most horrible part of “Schindler’s List” of a most horrifying movie, that’s a moment that all of us have to say to ourselves ‘this is to be avoided entirely.’ It’s that moment when he has to stand there and say to himself and say to the people around him, ‘I could have done more.’ If we go to our graves and we say to ourselves ‘I could have done more’, I call myself a healer, I call myself a therapist, and I could have done more, then we’re gonna relive that horrible moment in “Schindler’s List” over and over again, and we’re gonna be doing it while we smile and while we pretend that we’re being generous and honest and open with the people who have come to us for help.
That, will be another crime against our own humanity. Thank you.
transcribed by Jim Craven
About Roland Chrisjohn
Roland Chrisjohn is is a member of the Iroquois Confederacy (Oneida), a healer (“psychologist”), and the sole tenured professor at the Department of Native Studies at St. Thomas University, in Fredericton, New Brunswick where he focuses on a critical introduction to the history of colonization and its impact on the applied social sciences, particularly psychology and social work.
He is the author of The Circle Game: Shadows and Substance in the Indian Residential School Experience in Canada, which outlines the manner in which the Canadian state has intentionally misrepresented and obscured the history of residential schools. He frames the Residential School system in the wider context of settler-colonialism and the ongiong genocide of indigenous peoples.