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Category: canada

more to dream

But while I was abroad I felt the need to find out who I was and where my soul was. I chose to be a Haitian woman. I couldn’t see myself being forever a nigger in the United States, an immigrant in Canada, or a stranger in Europe. I felt the need to be a part of something. This couldn’t be the black cause in the United States or the immigration cause in Canada. It could only be the cause of the Haitian people. Thus, I decided to return to Haiti.

Myriam Merlet, The More People Dream

I talked to a friend the other night, far from his New Mexico home in Hong Kong, where he’s decided to stay for another year. “I’m quickly becoming a refugee from everything,” he said. “In a way, it’s a nice feeling.”

There is no comparing self-imposed exile, or self-controlled banishment, from the kind of displacement people affected by war, economic collapse, or natural disaster experience. They are on different planes, different planets. I am a different sort of migrant from my parents, me with my fancy degrees, languages, bank cards. But when you are removed, for whatever reason, your relationship with yourself, your past and your future changes. Plucked from a space where you don’t have to second-guess such things, second-guessing becomes everything. It’s in your air.

“I chose,” writes Myriam Merlet, “to be a Haitian woman.” She sought and found her soul in her native Haiti, where she passed decades later in that terrible January quake along with so many others. I am saddened to know that, were it not for that disaster and her death, I might not have found her words. Sadder still that there will be no more words.

I’ve reached the conclusion that one should just proceed, and to hell with the others. This means that I won’t play the game. It’s hard and frustrating because you find yourself alone. At times you question your sanity, your ability to function while being so different from others.

A tribute to Myriam, and to others who perished in the rubble, is here.

essentials, credentials

I’d like to step up the pace, if you don’t mind.

Tourists in plastic blue rain slickers were lined up on both sides of the falls, waiting for their ride on a Maid of the Mist, and it wasn’t even noon yet. Crossing the border at Niagara is so much nicer than crossing through Buffalo, and not only for the view from the Rainbow Bridge. The Homeland Security folks here are so much gentler than their Peace Bridge counterparts, probably softened from years of dealing with day-trippers and blue slicker-clad families. Our entire bus was in and out, passports stamped, in about five minutes. I stuck behind a minute longer to have my papers signed and answer the standard questions.

“Where you going?”
New York.

It was the close to a refreshing, ful-filling week in Toronto. I biked for days. Bumped into familiar faces. Picked up some magazines, some music, some stories. Caught up on the Globe and Mail, and I don’t think I’d ever noticed so many American references in their pages before. The Walrus and Maisonneuve are one thing — they’ve always been in love with New York and DC stories — but the last thing I wanted to do was read a New Yorker’s perspective on Toronto in a Canadian newspaper. Really now? I haven’t been paying close attention, but I’m certainly not the only person rolling their eyes at the Globe’s behavio(u)r. I’m far better versed on this sin of Watching The Elephant As It Sleeps as manifested in the arts, and it is no less wack in a rap song.

But, back to the border.

While officer Cavelli processed my visa documents, I seized a rare opportunity to actually have a conversation with Homeland Security.

“Have you heard of a show called ‘Border Security USA’?”
Yeah, he knew it. ABC was behind it.
“Have they ever filmed here?”

I was expecting a no, but it turned out that a camera crew had come around twice already, in February and again during Memorial weekend. I read about the new reality show just last week, and was secretly hoping to cross paths with them when I hit the border. Here’s a whet:

The security agents depicted in the show stop a wide range of criminal behavior. In one episode, customs finds a human skull shipped through the mail. In another, a Coast Guard boat chases cocaine smugglers.

Yet it’s the show’s depiction of the government’s post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts that’s bound to draw the most attention. In one story, two young men of Iranian descent are denied entry into the country when one is found to have relatives with ties to a terrorist organization and the other carries a fake ID.

“That’s (the agents’) No. 1 mission: to protect the country from terrorists and from terrorist materials, such as bombs,” Shapiro said. “We haven’t been there with a camera when an actual terrorist has been caught, but we’ve seen a few people not admitted because they’re on watch lists. Nobody wants to be the officer who lets in the next terrorist.”


Shapiro said “Border” will tell “the other side of the story.”

“I love investigative journalism, but that’s not what we’re doing,” he said. “This show is heartening. It makes you feel good about these people who are doing their best to protect us.”

I can’t imagine that the Rainbow Bridge, locale of cascading waterfalls and funnel cakes, will get much screen time on this feel-good, head-knocking reality series. I’ll have to wait to watch the show myself, but I’m willing to bet that Border Security USA’s camera crews are more keen on shooting Suspicious-Looking Brown Folks, especially Brown Folks Who Look Like They Might Possibly Once Have Met Someone With Ties To Terrorist Organizations. I wonder who is supposed to feel good about this, and why it makes them feel good. Is it different from the feeling you get when you help someone? Or when you bake a really amazing cake? Or when the new Pharaoh Monch record finally comes out and it doesn’t suck?

I wonder, too, how the timing of this show — set to air in the fall — will interact with the presidential campaign. Immigration, terrorism, the culture of fear, the myth of The Enemy, and the protection of the empire are all very big, enormously sensitive elements in this game.

Cavelli didn’t mention that the camera crews would be back, and I didn’t ask. He wasn’t around on the days they were shooting anyway, he said, but I couldn’t tell if he was lying. He shuffled a few more papers, looked me in the eye, and said,

“Sorry, we can’t admit you today, you’re not authorized to cross.”

Then he cracked a smile, laughed the way Homeland Security officers always laugh when they make their favo(u)rite joke, and told me to be on my way.

like regular tv, only browner

The Writers Guild strike wears on, and American television networks and broadcasters will soon be scrambling for content to fill airtime. Unless everyone gets back to work soon or they find some other compelling way to substitute programming (please no more gameshows), they’ll likely begin losing audiences to online-based video content, or even worse, real-life activities.

It’s now being reported that Canadian content may be the answer to their show woes. Alors, if this means an end to crap like this, no one could be more excited than this little hater.

Lucky Americans, let me introduce you to a brighter, browner small screen: Little Mosque On the Prairie, where Michael Landon is Lebanese and his mixed-race daughter wears a hijab. It premiered on CBC last winter amidst much anticipation, and I’m happy to see that the show has come back for a second season. Here’s the first episode ever, complete with low-budget Canadian charm:

our flag is red

“Part of the nature of First Nations people is sharing what we have. What we’re given we use, and in the process we give it back or pass it on. We don’t own the land, we use the land, and it’s not ours, it’s the next generation’s. A Muskoka bear doesn’t know where the boundary is, it just knows, ‘There’s the honey.’ This idea is probably the hardest idea to maintain in modern times, when we use labels: ‘This is my cup, this is my car, this is my parking spot.’ There’s such a property-divided line, it’s hard to remember that, by the way, this is ours to share.”

Earlier this month, for reasons I don’t need to get into here, I sat in on a meeting between representatives from the provincial government and about twenty Aboriginal Chiefs, Elders and leaders from across Ontario. The topic was healing and wellness, and in the course of just a few hours, my heart and mind raced through a gamut of emotions and reactions: humility, honour, annoyance, joy, indignation, warmth, disappointment, sorrow. I listened to the Aboriginal partners — many of whom had traveled from very far to attend this meeting — clearly outline the health (mental, physical, spiritual) issues affecting their respective and collective communities. Many of the same terms kept popping up: diabetes, domestic abuse, barriers to health services, century-old treaties being ignored — treaties where they’ve held up their end of the bargain, but have yet to see reciprocation.

They expressed a desire for partnership, government to government. They outlined the need for a Native health minister, and a sovereign organizational structure to properly tend to their vast and specialized needs. They stressed the importance of community-guided services, of complete healing (of the body, within the home, in school, etc), and lamented the misconception that all they wanted was handouts and money, money, money. “Don’t fund us because how bad off we are,” said one, “but because of how great we’re going to be.” Approach funding not from a place of scarcity, but of richness, of potential. We all stood up at one point and held hands in a circle, calling upon the example of sweetgrass — how one single strand will bend and break quite easily, but how several pieces (one for the body, one for the spirit, one for the mind) braided together become virtually indestructible.

Their presentations complete, it was then the politicians’ turn to speak. Very little of note was said, and absolutely no action was hinted at. One minister brushed them aside with a two minute speech than can be summed up as: “Ah, so you want more money. There’s an election in the fall, and if I’m elected (hint hint), I’ll see what I can do.” It was disheartening. So many come from so far away with solid points that needed to be addressed, and all they got was empty rhetoric in return. It was clear that nothing would be done. There would be no change. Meeting done, thanks for coming, and see you again next year for more of the same.

And for one brief window of time, I saw just what kind of uncompromising, cold brick wall these Chiefs and leaders had been struggling to communicate with for generations.

Was it so impossible for these government sirs and madams to recognize their basic humanity? To address how awfully the bureaucratic body they now represent had mangled Aboriginal relations throughout the entire history of this country, and for several hundred years before that? Was it so impossible to admit to the enormous role they had played in creating the infrastructure for diabetes, domestic abuse, depression, substance addiction, plummeting education levels, isolation and corruption to exist?

There’s no getting through a brick wall, especially when it knows it’s a brick wall. Meetings, negotiations, and speeches have barely made a dent, it seems.

“We’ve been trying to get the Canadian public on side with the issues First Nations, Metis and Inuit people struggle with. We’re looking for ideas, because the ones that we have used – land claims disputes, blockades and letter writing – have had little impact. The Day of Action is looking at a more positive new way of raising the issues. All Canadians are involved with the ongoing land claims disputes, and all Canadians will benefit from the economic growth that will come by resolving them.”

Fast forward to today, June 29th, Friday of a long weekend *and* the National Day of Action. A day of peaceful collective demonstrations that, hopefully, will allow a few more people a glimpse into the centuries-old problems at hand. NOW Magazine has just put out their First Nations Issue, and it features a number of news pieces, personal essays and interviews of note.

Drew Hayden Taylor (who I have to thank for my new favourite phrase, “people of pallor” — brilliant!) penned the cover story, reprinted in part below. His style is darkly funny, taking jabs at stereotypes and basic ignorance, but always with a nod to the violence, poverty, racism and historically sub-human treatment that has brought us all to where we are today. Here are his demands:

It’s not easy being red.

Remember, this October will mark the 510th anniversary of the introduction of illegal immigration to Canada. In that time, First Nations have managed to accrue a substantial list of complaints against those who sign agreements and then fail to deliver. I guess you could call this a form of bureaucratic Indian giving.

Come the Day of Action, expect a plethora of grievances and calls for redress. Here are a few of the lesser-known ones:

WE DEMAND that something be done about the belief that Aboriginal people get everything for free. This might seem to be true if you count the bad water in Kashechewan, illness from black mould in inadequate housing, linguistical genocide, diabetes and rampant sexual abuse. But trust me, we’ve paid for all this.

WE DEMAND that the feds actually appoint a native person as the minister of Indian Affairs. We humbly ask: isn’t the attorney general usually a lawyer? Isn’t the minister for the Status of Women usually a woman? Doesn’t the minister of Transportation have a driver’s licence? Isn’t the minister of Defence usually defensive?

WE DEMAND that filmmakers of any nationality be prohibited from using flute music on the soundtrack of any and all documentaries about native people. And no more feathers either. Or dream catchers.

WE DEMAND that white people (more politically correctly known as people of pallor) stop angrily saying, “They shouldn’t do that!” in regard to protests and blockades, and instead exchange it for the more understanding “They shouldn’t have to do that.” It’s technically more correct.

WE DEMAND that all commercials for Lakota medicine be pulled. Immediately.

WE DEMAND that the police of this country stop shooting, assaulting and otherwise abusing the civil rights of native people. It’s for law enforcers’ own benefit. There are substantially more native people in this country than police, and we have more guns.

WE DEMAND that the federal government apologize to survivors for over half a century of abuse at the hands (and other parts of the body) of residential schools. There are some things children should not learn in school.

WE DEMAND that instead of being forced to mark the passage of time by the dominant culture’s BCE (before the common era) and AD (anno domini), we use the more culturally sensitive TI (time immemorial) and PC (post-contact).

Oh, Canada! Our home on Native land…

higher, deeper values

I’ve been spending my days in a dream state.

Physically, I’m preparing to transplant myself from Toronto to New York in roughly a month’s time. Mentally, I’ve been floating about, drifting in and out of conversations and playlists. On the cusp of flying away on dreams of my own, I can’t help bask in the dreams and dream-chasing of others. Old dreams. Dreams that are still formulating. Dreams I thought I’d forgotten…

I mused to a friend recently that maybe this upcoming move (which I’ll talk more about some other day) will do me good. Toronto is my hometown, my first playpen and discovery ground, but as much as I find things and people and colours and places to be excited about and fall in love with here every day, too much about this city has been dragging me down as well. I feel disconnected from things that used to make my heart pound. My memory is slipping. What does freshness feel like again? How does it feel in my ears, between thought bubbles and headnods?

Perhaps this is reflected in the (lack of) recent content here, but it seems I hit a point a while ago where I just didn’t care about Can-Con rap anymore. Hardly a revelation, and likely not a confession that too many people could identify with, but for me —- someone who built the beginnings of a “career” in rap writing and radio due to a near obsessive amour for the sounds and styles of rappers, DJs and producers (and graf writers and dancers and etc) across this country —- it was kind of an upset. Maybe it’s not fair to blame this faded feeling on Toronto. Maybe I could have kept things fresh somehow, if I hadn’t been so lazy, if I had only stuck with my radio show, if only, if only…

Lucky for me, Fritz and Birdapres are still around to punch me in the face whenever I need reminding:

there are a zillion hip-hop mp3 blogs out there…

but there is ONE that is 100% canadian content.

and this is it.

Ladies and gentleman, I present the newest addition to your bookmarks menu: Living Underwater. This little blog is only a few days old, but is already packed with gems from HDV, Maestro, Moka Only, Ghetto Concept, the Cold Front compilation (complete with liner notes via John Bronski), and even a Ron Nelson (!!!) joint. Check back often and practice your mouse clicks, because ain’t nobody re-upping shit if you miss the party.

I was tempted to keep this link to myself, but I just couldn’t be greedy like that. Please spread the news, spread it far and wide and far and wide. A lot of people need to read this blog. A lot of people need to hear these records. I lot of kids (and grown folks alike) need to catch up on their history, pay their respects, and gain some understanding for why and how we’re at where we’re at.

I can’t wait to see how the rest of this blog unfolds. Because this right here, this thing is fresh.