On the Tragedy in Orlando

Following is thee text of my statement in the Senate about the shooting deaths of 49 people in a Gay Bar in Orlando Florida on June 12, 2016:

Honourable senators, shortly after midnight on Saturday night, our openly gay daughter sat and laughed with us, as my wife and I and her sisters sang her “Happy Birthday,” badly I might add, as all families do, but with huge amounts of love. She turned 33 on Sunday, June 12.

At almost the same moment, an American filled with hate for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered, queer and two-spirit people carried his legally purchased machine gun and pistol into a bar in Orlando, Florida, and started killing everyone he could.

Eventually, over a period of three hours, he hunted down all those he could find in the bar and killed 49 young men and women, whose only reason for being targeted was that they were celebrating Pride month and were openly gay.

Much has been made of the shooter’s connection to Islamic terrorism and his ability to purchase, own and carry guns, despite his history of mental disturbance and violence. American politicians and others will line up in one camp or the other to denounce those who they say caused this to happen, whether close at hand or remote. The number of political footballs this event presents for use is significant. You need only look at the headlines today to get a flavour of that.

But yesterday and today, I thought only of the 49 mothers and fathers whose hearts are broken and whose lives have been torn asunder, and I think every day of the fact that I could have been and could be one of them. I think of the dozens of brothers and sisters born into the victims’ families, whose anger and tears may never end, and I think of the fact that my other children could be among them also.

Society’s dislike and disrespect for those who are gay and transgendered has been a part of Western thinking for many generations. The enhancement and recognition of their right to be who they are and their right to public protection of those rights does not sit well with far too many people, the shooter in this case being representative of that.

When my daughter spoke to us as a young teenager of her recognition of who she was, we stood beside her and gave her every assurance of our love and of her right to be open about what she was.

What my wife and I could not bring ourselves to discuss with her, or between ourselves, at that moment was that she had just enhanced her risk of danger. She was already living a life of enhanced danger just by being female. That danger was increased by the fact that she was in a higher at-risk group because she was an Indigenous woman.

We told her about the fact that among Indigenous people, being a two-spirit was traditionally a position of respect and honour. Ceremonies, we have been taught, are enhanced if done by or with two-spirit people present, for it is believed that they embody the strengths and spirits of both man and woman and bring a special healing power and medicine to every special event.

She has brought great respect to our family. We are said to be blessed by having her as a daughter because she is two-spirit, and we feel so. We adopted another two-spirit daughter into our family as well, whose partner just gave birth to our newest grandson. He will be raised by two-spirit parents.

As parents of two-spirits, we want to protect our children from the bullying, the offensive comments, the disparaging remarks and the physical and verbal abuses that every member of the LGBTQ2S experiences. We have learned to shield them and to heal them when our shields prove insufficient.

What we fear the most is that someone will murder them just for being gay. The belief that such an event could occur would be enough for many to discourage their children from coming out, and it would also discourage the children themselves.

So in our moment of silence, I thought of the parents. We as a society have all lost something as a civilized people in this act of mass murder, but they have lost more than we can ever know.

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Address to the Grads of Carleton U Nov 14/15

Ladies and Gentlemen;

I am privileged to be a recipient of an Honourary Degree from Carleton University today and to share this very special day with this special group of people.

I want therefore, to begin by extending my thank you and express my appreciation to the University community of Carleton for allowing me to be here and for the honour you bestow on me.

I also wish to acknowledge and congratulate Dr. Ben Heppner, who is also receiving an Honourary Doctorate later today from Carleton.

Today, I think of the Military Veterans living and past, for whom and with whom we stood on Wednesday of this week at the National Cenotaph in remembrance of their sacrifices. At such times we were also called upon to remember and honour the victims of mass violence around the world, a point brought home to us by the events in Paris yesterday. Like many of you I suspect, I grieve for those victims and their families. Events like those teach us the importance of love, of family and of friends, and also of the importance of celebrating moments and achievements such as this.

Graduates, I am proud to share this day with you. We will forever be connected.
As we gather here on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation, I am guided in my thoughts by the realization that though I may think in my heart that it was not so long ago that I once sat where you now sit, in reality my moment was decades ago.

Forty years ago, on my first day of law school, I was sitting in a discussion circle with classmates, asking ourselves why we were in Law. Some talked about wanting to “make lots of money”, some wanted to change the world, some wanted to be famous trial lawyers.

I wanted to understand.

I wanted to understand why I did not know the laws of my people. I wanted to know why Canada did not know the laws of my people. I wanted to know why a Federal law could define my people, and we could not define ourselves. I wanted to know why I could not speak the language of my grandmother or know the history and traditions of my people – the Anishinaabe. I wanted to know why my grandmother and so many others believed that by not teaching me those things she was saving my life.

I wanted to know why and how, in 1913, my family and neighbors could be forcibly removed from our traditional territory – from prime agricultural lands along the Red River – from the very reserve the Crown had agreed to set aside for us during the negotiation of Treaty 1 just 43 years earlier in 1870 – and be forcibly marched over 200 miles to flood prone swampy land, far to the north, to live there forever.

I wanted to know why and how my tall, silent and strong grandfather had been able to resist that forcible removal and remain on his farm and why a handful of other families had been able to do so as well, despite the use of the army to move others along.

I wanted to know why the displacement of our people was never taught in the schools on the very land from which our people had been displaced.

I wanted to know why my young and beautiful mother had died at the age of 25 from tuberculosis – a disease that killed our people by the thousands and which few of the families of my non-Indigenous friends had ever experienced.

I wanted to know why my serious and stern grandmother – who took us in after my mother died to raise us when she was 63 and my grandfather was almost 70 – never grew up in the house of her mother – why she was raised in a convent by nuns, unlike her seemingly silly sisters whose laughing energy overwhelmed our small house when they came to visit each summer.

I wanted to know why my grandmother and my uncles and aunts who went to residential schools never talked about it, unlike the parents of my non-Indigenous friends who joked and told stories about their teachers and classmates, and held high school reunions.

I wanted to know about the sense of injustice carried by all of the adults in my life like a sword and a shield, ready to be wielded at a moment’s notice at the smallest slight or glance or word.

I wanted to know if anything could be done about that sense of injustice or if we would spend the rest of our lives in virtual and real conflict with our non-Indigenous friends and neighbors.

I wanted to know if all of the things my family had experienced had happened to others.

That’s why I went to law school. I wanted to know why, and I wanted to know what to do. I have dedicated my life to that process of discovery. It has not been easy, but as you know, I have shared its burdens and its joys with many people along the way.

I am now growing old. My body does not let me do what used to be easy, and when it does, it takes much longer. At a time when I want to cram so much living into what little time remains for me, I have no choice but to move more slowly.

But I have learned that as you move more slowly, you have time to think more carefully and to ponder the burdens and the benefits of the load you carry. So, I have come to this conclusion.

Despite all of the pain of the past and the complexities of the problems we face, I want to be your friend. And I want you to be mine.

I want to respect you and I want you to respect me, even if we never get to meet.

I want us to find a way to stand and walk together and live side by side, so the world can see that this great nation was formed not just by the Europeans who came here, but also by us who were here already.

I want us to come to a new realization of ourselves as a Nation for the sake of our children and their children, and the children who will be here seven generations from now. I want us to be better than our ancestors, and for those children of the future to be better than theirs. I want us to strive to be perfect, not just as individuals but as Canadians – knowing that we may never be, but knowing that from time to time we will have those moments when we will come …oh…so…close, and that the process of striving will be consistent with our obligation to the future.

I have seen some amazing things and borne witness to some amazing developments over the years. I have suffered personally at the huge holes in my heart left from losing members of my family and some of my friends far too early. And I have shared the joy and excitement of young people such as you, on the edge of greatness.

Personally, I have gone from the self-absorbed brilliance of a young know-it-all lawyer before I was married, to a deep sense of my inadequacies as a husband and a father.

I have been both lifted and humbled at the love of my beautiful wife, and dismayed at my inability to be all that she needs. Her awareness of my inherent limitations as a husband and her willingness to help make me better, has, I know, been a challenge, and is, she will tell you, still a work in progress.

I have felt overwhelmed at the enormity of my responsibility to my children to ensure they grew up not only to do better than me, but more importantly, to enjoy a better life than I had.

I have also basked in the unquestioning, yet defining, love of my grandchildren who are impressed at my knowledge and my work. It is their love and respect and kindness, which makes me feel brilliant once again, but with a much greater sense of humility.

During much of my life I struggled with those personal responsibilities alongside my growing public ones, and I have to say, I was constantly faced with the guilt of inadequacy as I saw no change in what I believed to be important over so many years. My process of discovery uncovered a lot of painful things – painful not only for me, but painful also for this country.

Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples is nothing in which this country can take pride – at least, to this point in time. But I sense we are on the cusp of something special, as this country begins to come to terms with our history.

Since we released the summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings and our Calls to Action in June of this year, I have been inspired at the public reaction to what we said, and I have been inspired at the efforts of so many segments of society to work for reconciliation.

As the new generation of professionals and scholars of today, glowing in your accomplishments, I hope that you can see that you are the beneficiaries of our work at the TRC. You are not only inheriting the painful legacies of the past, you are also inheriting the awareness and knowledge of why and how, and a framework for defining Canada’s new relationship with its Indigenous peoples, for that is the edge of the future upon which we sit.

Armed with that knowledge Graduates, we will now be looking to you to continue the conversation of reconciliation which we have begun. We will be looking to you to move this great country of ours into a new and truthful sense of itself, to shed the cloak of pain and shame and to walk with Canada’s Indigenous people into the future where our children will be able to talk to and about each other in a more respectful way. Where your children and my grandchildren can be friends for life respecting each other’s past and future, knowing everything that has happened in this country.

There are among you those who will define that path to reconciliation with greater clarity than we can at present. We know the objective – a relationship of mutual respect – but like a marathon, we can’t see the finish line yet, or the challenges along the way. We may not see them for a while, but like every marathoner, you have to believe there’s a finish line and that you can get there with effort, or you will not even start. If you don’t believe in the race you will not know the importance of continuing to the finish. You have to believe that doing something about this history is the right thing to do, and you have to be fearless in doing what you can.

But be forewarned, there will be critics. There are naysayers out there – some on the sidelines and some among you – who do not believe that any wrong has been done or that things need to be changed or that they have any responsibility to that process. Just remember that such critics define the problem so they do not have any responsibility for it, and even if they acknowledge the problem, they rarely have a plan.

They are comfortable in their criticism because they can not see that this could very easily have happened to them. Or that this could happen again. With the growing strength and influence of other world powers they do not realize that some day, Canada may be colonized again, and how will you know how to deal with that if you have not learned how to deal with this.

I am reminded of the words of US President Theodore Roosevelt who said this (sexism edited for this day and age):

“It is not the critic who counts; not the person who points out how the strong one stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends themselves in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if they fail, at least fails while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

So graduates, congratulations on your achievement today. Bask in the glory and the honour of the moment….for tomorrow, the real work begins.

Come and join me as we dare greatly.

Thank you.

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A Tribute to Mothers

I think of the mothers
with babies nearby
who hear their soft breathings
and dream based cries
and I think of the mothers
with tears in their eyes
and holes in their lives
who can only ask why
and I think of the children
whose mothers are gone
and I think of the women
who help them belong
and I hope they can feel
our love and respect
for without them
we never could be

Mizana Gheezhik

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The Race to Forget

Mother and child

The RCMP study showing that 70% of Aboriginal female murder victims were killed by Aboriginal men, is leading to a very disquieting assumption – that being that because the so-called “solved” cases of murdered Aboriginal women shows that 70% of their killers were Aboriginal men, therefore 70% of those responsible for the missing victims must also be Aboriginal men. Such a conclusion lies behind the Minister’s statement that Aboriginal men have to learn how to treat Aboriginal women better. Yet to make such a leap from solved cases to unsolved cases is a potentially huge mistake.

Firstly the data does NOT tell us whether the 70% conclusion is accurate. It may be but we don’t know. We have not been given enough information about the investigations that were conducted, and whether the “murder” led to a murder conviction.

We don’t know whether women whose deaths were attributed to suicide or accident or overdose, or freezing temperature, or drowning, may in fact have been murdered.

We do know from studies and inquiries that Aboriginal people generally are more likely to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit than non-Aboriginal accused for a lot of reasons.

We also know that police are sometimes prone to closing a file as solved even where a conviction has not been entered because they are sure of the perpetrator’s identity.

In addition, the majority of killers of female murder victims will be someone the victim knew (and therefore someone from their family or ethnic community) no matter which community you look at.

However, when it comes to unsolved murders and missing women, the fact that an Aboriginal victim’s perpetrator is NOT easily and quickly identified, is highly suggestive of the likelihood that her perpetrator is not Aboriginal.

That issue is being overlooked in this race to forget.

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Trust

I have come a ways, alone, he said
A dream once spoke to me of you
When I was still a youth I saw it lead me to this place
where you and I could walk and share this path
of life and light and love and truth
She was not sure, for there had been so many more
who spoke of dreams that turned into a neverending night of hurt
and pain and loss of hope
But something held her hand that always pushed
Something in the kindness of his eyes
Something in the softness of his touch
She sensed a spirit beating in his heart
That had the strength of many thousand souls
And so, she held her hand with bated breath
allowed herself the comfort of his warmth
and calmed herself with words
He whispered softly to the night
She knew the evil ones would stay away
As she listened to the beauty of his song
Yet, always ready
With the hand
To push
In case
She found
That she was wrong.

Mizanagheezhick

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Reconciliation: the Role of Education

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed as a result of the largest class action lawsuit in the history of Canada. It is an entity created by the court-approved Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement reached in 2007. The Settlement Agreement involves several Parties including the Government of Canada; Catholic and Protestant Churches; and the Survivors themselves.

The TRC is not a government commission. It reports to the parties and is subject to the supervision of the courts

Not all schools attended by Aboriginal children over the years are included in the Agreement. 140 schools are listed, and there is provision to ask for others to be added. The initial request to add a school is submitted to the government, which can agree or not, and there is a right to ask an oversight committee to review Canada’s decision. There is also a right to ask the courts to rule on the matter if you don’t like the results of those processes. The Government of Canada takes the position that only those schools where children resided and where it jointly or primarily managed the residential part of the school can be added. Requests have been made to add over 1,300 other schools to the Agreement but Canada has agreed to add only two. In addition, the courts have ordered that two more be added.

There are two compensation funds created by the Agreement, the first one being the Common Experience Payment, to which every student who resided at one of the Indian Residential Schools listed in the agreement can apply and receive a payment. The payment schedule provides that they are entitled to $10,000 for the first year of attendance, and $3,000 for each subsequent year. Approximately 105,542 persons have applied and 79,179 been approved for a Common Experience Payment. The total amount paid under CEP has been $1,619,631,106. The average payment has been $19,412

The second fund is for those who suffered a serious personal injury at the school. There is a list of injuries in the Agreement which they have to prove through testimony and other evidence such as medical reports, that they suffered at the hands of another person, whether a staff or a student, while on the grounds of the school.

Just less than half of those who attended residential schools have made claims for serious personal injuries. The total amount paid so far for the claims that have been resolved total approximately 2.3 Billion Dollars. The average claimant has received approximately $115, 259. There are still thousands of claims to be heard and resolved and it is predicted that claims may take until 2017 to be finalized.

The settlement agreement itself has created its own set of bad feelings among survivors. The exclusion of such a large number of schools attended by Aboriginal children at the insistence of the government but which the government did not manage or run itself or in partnership with a church entity, the exclusion of claimants who can’t testify due to death or infirmity, the treatment of survivors by lawyers, lawyer fees, the slow pace of hearings, and the process by which the claims are heard and resolved have all contributed to an entirely unforeseen set of issues calling for a reconciliation process outside of the TRC mandate, which may never occur.

In addition, students who attended residential schools but did not reside there are not eligible for the first level of compensation despite the fact that while in the schools, they were treated the same as the residents. Metis students who attended church run schools are also left out of the agreement.

This has created a significant class of former students excluded from the Agreement and its compensation processes, although we have included them in our processes. As a Commission, we take the view that, to be effective, any process of reconciliation must include all Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal persons in Canada. The road to reconciliation will not be easy so long as so many Aboriginal people continue to feel similarly aggrieved without having their grievances recognized.

When I say that the Settlement Agreement created the Commission, I mean that it exists because the Survivors negotiated for it. They agreed to set aside $60 million of money that would have gone into their compensation fund for the Commission’s purposes and to ask the Commission to complete its work within five years. Canada and the other parties are legally obligated to support the work of the Commission.

Our mandate originally was five years, and was to end on July 1, 2013. However, the first set of Commissioners appointed in 2008 were unable to continue and in the fall of 2008 the Commission Chair resigned, necessitating the appointment of new Commissioners. We were appointed effective July 1, 2009, with a renewed five year mandate to end on July 1, 2014. That mandate was extended by one year to June 30, 2015 due to the lack of timely document production to the Commission by the Government of Canada and the Catholic Church as was required by the Agreement.

The timeline was understandably short to begin with. Given the average age of survivors at the time of its negotiation, time was of the essence. It is also important that we complete our work – or at least as much of it as we can – while survivors are still around to see the results of their Commission. I feel strongly that as a Commission we should deliver a report to survivors by the end of the time period we have committed to.

However, it is clear that reconciliation cannot be achieved in five years, so we have taken the approach that our role is to identify what reconciliation means, where it should take us, and, in the context of these times, what the parties, as well as Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, need to do in order to get there.

The first obligation of the commission is to reveal to Canadians the full and complete story of residential schools. Our second obligation is to inspire and guide a process of healing and reconciliation in this country. Certain rights of the Commission and duties of the Parties are identified in the Agreement to clarify and facilitate those obligations.

The TRC is all about the education of children. We have been directed to investigate the federal government’s educational system for First Nations, Inuit and Metis children that was in place for over 125 years. Educational initiatives are implied in that part of our mandate which requires us to reveal to Canadians the true and complete story of that system. The story of the schools, in an obvious sense, is a lesson in education.

However, it is precisely because education was the primary tool of oppression of Aboriginal people, the and miseducation of all Canadians, that we have concluded that education holds the key to reconciliation.

Education is important.

All students, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, need to learn that the history of this country did not begin in 1492, or even with the arrival of Vikings much earlier. They need to learn about the Aboriginal nations that the Europeans met, about their rich linguistic and cultural heritage, about what they felt and thought as they dealt with such historic figures as Champlain, LaVerendrye and the representatives of the Hudson’s Bay Company. They need to learn why they negotiated treaties and that they negotiated them with purpose and integrity and in good faith. They need to learn why Aboriginal leaders and elders fight so hard to defend those poorly worded treaties and what they represent to them and why they have been ignored by Euro-Canadian settlers and governments.

They need to learn about what it means to have inherent rights, what those are for Aboriginal people, and the settler government’s obligations, in those areas where treaties have never been negotiated in the first place. They need to learn of the many issues that are ongoing and why.

They need to learn that the doctrine of discovery – the politically and socially accepted basis for European claims to the land and riches of this country – has never been accepted in Canadian courts and has been repudiated around the world, recently by the United Nations and the World Council of Churches.

But this is not enough. As I said before, mainstream Canadians see the dysfunction of Aboriginal communities but they have no idea how that happened, what caused it, or how government contributed to that reality through residential schools and the policies and laws in place during their existence. Our education system, through omission or commission, has failed to do that and misunderstanding, ignorance, and racism has resulted, on the one hand, and shame, humiliation, a lack of self-respect and anger has occurred, on the other.

The educational systems of this country bear a large share of the responsibility for the current state of affairs. But it can fix what it has broken.

What our education systems need to do is this: it must commit to teach Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children – our children – how to speak respectfully to and about each other in the future. It begins with teaching them the truth about our history. Knowing what happened will lead to understanding. Understanding leads to respect.

Reconciliation is about respect. The relationship must be founded on mutual respect, but we must not lose sight of the threshold importance of ensuring that firstly, Aboriginal children are given an opportunity to develop their self-respect. That must come first.

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Commitment is needed by everyone.

People who have heard me speak about reconciliation, often say they do not support it because they are angry at this government.

I understand that. I have said many times that reconciliation will not be achieved in my lifetime, nor will it be achieved in the lifetime of my children I suspect,

The attitude that Aboriginal people are just another inferior minority group, responsible for their own situation (look how newcomers have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps they say) working against the Nation’s interest and corruptly misspending public money is very entrenched. The majority of Canadians believe that, even though a majority of Canadians also feel empathy, even sympathy, for the “plights” Aboriginal people face.

Changing those situations is important, but nothing will be very effective, in my opinion, until we educate Canadians in a manner that results in respect for Aboriginal people and their rights as the original peoples of this land. Knowing the history of residential schools is key to understanding why things are the way they are, but knowing what public schools have done and are still doing is also key, It’s not an Aboriginal problem we’re trying to fix, it’s a Canadian one. That’s gonna take time…and serious long-term commitment. The same long-term commitment that was behind the schools even when every analysis done during their existence showed they were failing. The Americans closed down their operation of Indian Boarding Schools in the 1930s for that reason, but Canada just kept plugging away, usually because churches would not agree to closure. They had their own motives.

Money will not buy new attitudes. Education will. It is through education that we got here, and it is through education that we will fix this relationship.

So to the cynics throwing the stones, keep that in mind. I know that’s not going to make you stop – you are entrenched in your thinking too. But next time attach a note to your stone, with your plan, so at least part of what you do might have a positive impact.

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