Legacy

Our Legacy

God’s head was not turned
when our people were created.
His eyes were not closed.
Nor his thoughts far away
on a task of more import.
His mind was not distracted,
Nor his heart locked away
in a dark, uncaring place,
unaware of our existence.
For God was our Creator too.

With gentle hands and loving heart,
from four parts of Creation,
he moulded our ancient ones.
He placed his loving words
inside their hearts and minds
He breathed his guiding spirit
into the center of their soul,
and in so doing,
made Anishinaabe whole.

He showed us his existence
and inspired us to voice and sing
our love and praise for him
and for all of Creation he had made,
as well as for the life he had bestowed.
A life and land which he had always clearly meant
to be forever ours
to use and to protect
for all of our time here on this earth

We loved our Gitche Manitou
and believed that he felt only love for us.
Deep within the center of our souls,
we lived and breathed that thought
Because our faith was strong.
We truly knew what we were meant to know.
For our right to be
was told in our Creation story
and all such teachings always held us true.

And then those others came
and with their twisted thoughts and words and tongues
declared that all his work with us was false
and that our sense of Him was wrong.
They made us deeply sick with growing doubt
as, slowly, harshly,
like a rising tide
they drowned or drove away our spirit
piece by piece,
child by child,
so that when we woke one dark and lonely day
we found
our spirit and our faith had shrivelled
and were gone.

And when we cried in pain
They said it was a sign our god was weak
and that it was a sign their god was strong
and that we should fall down upon our knees
and pray with them
and somehow that would save us
from that evil place
where dwelt our Gitche Manitou
a place we once had deeply called our own.

They did not know
that it was in their doubt
where dwelt the source of illness
that infected all they touched
in this part
of our Manitou’s creation.

They took us off our spirit road
And tried to make us walk inside their shoes
but when we looked behind
We could not see
The point from which our journey had begun
And when we looked ahead,
we could not hear
the voices of our mothers calling out
Nor see the light of fires
Showing our way home
We were confused and felt like we were lost

And so
Our spirits ran away and hid
in places dark and safe
So they would be protected
strong and pure
Ready to embrace and be embraced
When it was time.

Our minds and bodies,
left behind,
sometimes filled the void
with other spirit teachings
And in those foreign words
some solace found
Yet many could not, would not,
And so, emptied of their love of life
they staggered through existence
falling, rising, falling,
sometimes lying still
waiting for it all to end

And when the law of man
at last declared this wrong
and asking for forgiveness
offered words and beads
designed to cure our broken lives,
they still did not believe
such things alone could not repair,
They still cannot believe
our healing starts from deep within the soul
Where the spirit placed there by Creator sits

They do not understand
That our spreading sickness
lies within the fact
we had and have no way
to fight the racist’s sin
and when we are inflicted
we can no longer sing our healing songs
for all our healing voices have been stilled
and some forever gone

But now that we are finally freed
Of heavy chains of aging pain
many go in hungry search
of spirits so long hidden, almost lost
And there is great rejoicing
in connections strongly made.

But sadly some have found
their spirits have been locked away,
so well and and for so long
that they can not be found.

Mizana Gheezhik

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I was not born to die

I was not born to die.
Like everyone else, I will 
But I was not born to die.
I was born…to live.
I was given life for a reason.
…..to do something with it.
I know I have a purpose.
And it is not just to die.
It is to do something with this life
Before I die.
Just like you.

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CMS First Senate Speech

Speech in the Senate of Canada
by the Honourable Senator Murray Sinclair
on Bill C-14 (Medical Assistance in Dying)
delivered on June 2, 2016

Honourable senators, I couldn’t help but have a feeling of déjà vu here as I was listening to the debate this afternoon — not because I’m standing for the second time today, but because I left a job in which I had to sit and listen to lawyers argue over constitutionality all day. All we have been doing all afternoon is arguing constitutionality. Therefore, I think I will make some comments about that.

I wanted to add my voice to the other senators who are speaking about this particular bill on medical assistance on dying. I have a number of comments I want to make about the provisions of the bill, and I also want to talk about the constitutionality question.

I want to begin by noting for the record that, as you all know, I have been a senator here now for exactly two months, having been summoned to this chamber on April 2 of this year. I am told — and I can certainly see from not only the level of the debate and nature of the debate but also from the bill itself and from the public comments that we have all observed — that this bill is one that is going to define this country for some time to come. It certainly represents an opportunity for Parliament, including this chamber, to make a bold statement about the character of this country and about who we are, about our sense of compassion, about our courage as human beings, about our kindness to each other and about our respect for life and for each other.

Yesterday, as I sat in this chamber listening to the questions that were asked of the ministers involved — along with the several comments that many of you sly, veteran senators tagged on to your questions — I felt a significant degree of pride in this place and in all of you.

In this place, I heard hard questions being asked and answered. I heard references to mothers, fathers and the impact that this proposed law might or might not have for them and for others in like circumstances. I observed your intelligence and heard and felt your passion about this bill, and I certainly felt your humanity.

While I heard the occasional partisan jab, such comments were usually spoken as gentle jabs toward each other and not as a means to score empty points. Perhaps, as was mentioned, the presence of cameras broadcasting the proceedings yesterday brought about an added air of civility and positive behaviour and all of that which has been mentioned on Twitter and Facebook.

That may, in fact, speak to the need to reconsider allowing them into this chamber. But it certainly did show that this chamber can be a strong, passionate, dignified place of wise and careful deliberation. I therefore wanted to extend to you my personal congratulations for showing this country what this place really stands for and to thank you for making me feel proud to stand among you.

That brings me to a consideration of how I believe we ought to proceed and how I am going to proceed in my assessment of this bill and other legislation that comes before us.

I begin with this thought: Based upon my experience and the way that I have been raised, I am going to believe and treat this place, the Senate of Canada, as though it is the place of “Canada’s Council of Elders.” Among my people, elders are treated with great respect, for it is recognized that their experience and life achievements have given them the right to be seen as wise people, and the responsibility to behave as such.

Elders are the ones consulted about the communities or the individual’s most significant problems, and their advice is sought to help those who have the ultimate responsibility to make the final decisions about their lives.

Elders do not become or take up the cause of one side or the other in a dispute, but work to help others overcome their differences.

Elders are the ones to whom young leaders come with their proposed plan or a problem and are asked what do you think of this. They listen, discuss and advise. Ultimately, they recognize that the ultimate decision rests on those whose actions must be taken or problem must be solved to accept the elder’s advice or not, for it is they who must live with the consequences of their decision.

As I said, I see many similarities with this place. We must not forget that we are not elected. We are not accountable to the citizens of this country for our actions in the same way as those who are elected. Like judges, we are appointed. Like judges, we are entrusted with plenary powers which, if we exercise too often, too easily, or inappropriately, we run the risk of bringing disrepute to this place, and we do not want that.

We hold office until the age of 75, which means that we are expected to bring the wisdom of our life experiences to bear on those issues that come before us.

When legislation is forwarded to us for consideration, we have an obligation to proceed carefully, in full recognition that it is here before us because 337 men and women elected by the people of this country to govern them have given it every consideration and that the majority of them, who have been selected to administer the government of this country, have proposed and passed the bill in order to meet their governmental objectives.

In other words, the people elected to govern have exercised their right to govern in this way. We must not interfere easily with that right.

None of us should believe that we are here as opponents or proponents of the government in power. We are here to consider, to discuss, to bring our collective wisdom to bear and to decide what to advise those who govern about what we think. We are entrusted to ensure that regional interests are properly considered, that the citizenship and legal rights of minorities are protected, that there is an overall fairness to each law and that the proposed law is clear, concise and constitutional. We do not have to agree with the law. If it is properly passed and meets the test of Senate consideration, we must allow it to proceed, in my view.

With the greatest of respect to those who think otherwise, we were not appointed to govern. We were appointed primarily to review and to advise, but with an inherent power to prevent government abuses.

I was a judge in this country for 28 years and I can assure you that there were times I applied a law which I did not personally agree with because that was required of the office I held. That is also true here.

During our time here, we have an obligation to show Canadians that they expect this place to abide by those two important principles. We will allow and we will assist the government to govern and we will protect the rights of those whose minority positions are threatened by majority rule. We must abide by the proverb that when two foxes and a chicken are voting on what to have for dinner we will stand up for the chicken.

Bill C-14, as has been mentioned many times here and elsewhere, is unique legislation. It essentially allows a person to have another person help them to die. The prohibition against assisting someone to commit suicide is one of long-standing basis in Canadian and English law. Life is sacred to us and we, as a nation, believe that should be continued as such. People should not have it taken away from them, even at their own hand.

It has been illegal in this country to attempt to end your own life since our first Criminal Code. That amendment occurred not too long ago within the lifetime of all of us here. Committing suicide as an act in and of itself could not be rendered an offence since of course if you were successful in committing suicide you were dead and beyond the reach of the law, at least the law of humans.

But often committing suicide had legal ramifications for those left behind. It was part of the common law of England for example for members of a suicide to be legally punished. Their property could be forfeited, they could be ejected from their lands, they could be excommunicated, and burial of suicide victims or family members in a community or church-run cemetery could be denied.

We have come a long way from this, but it is to be noted that it is still common practice in our law in this country, and elsewhere, for us to allow insurance companies and pension companies to deny benefits to the families of suicide victims.

Suicide was not easily condoned in any nation, and we do not want a society to think that suicide is always an option. We certainly do not want others encouraging others to end their lives. Those prohibitions continue in our law.

As a matter of principle, we still believe that life ought to be sacred. Therefore, when we are asked to consider a bill which undermines that principle, we must proceed cautiously. Our obligation as senators is to ensure that this law protects the weak, the impressionable and the vulnerable from themselves if necessary but certainly from others.

We must ensure that as a matter of principle taking one’s life is not undertaken easily. We must not open the door too wide or try to imagine every possible scenario where one might want to die and facilitate, in law, such potential wishes or scenarios. We must proceed cautiously and we should proceed incrementally.

We must also recognize that the limiting factor here is that the federal government is limited to dealing with the criminal law and public health aspects of this.

I would like to consider the issue that has been raised here throughout the day, and that has to with the constitutionality issue. Some in this chamber have suggested that the bill fails and may be unconstitutional because it fails to uphold the principles set out in the Carter decision.

We should not be surprised that there are disagreements over issues of legality and interpretation. Lawyers are notorious for being able to dance on the head of a legal pin. But we must take those concerns seriously here for that is our obligation.

I would point out though, as would many of my former judge colleagues, that half of all lawyers who appear in our courtroom are wrong. Most seem to suggest that the bill fails because it recognizes a constitutional right in a manner that is less than what Carter said. They suggested that it is only the four principles set out by the court in paragraph 127 of that decision that can be enacted and that anything less is unconstitutional. Those principles have already been enunciated to you here today. The allegation that the law is unconstitutional arises, as I understand it, because of the addition of the words “natural death that is reasonably foreseeable” as well. I agree that those words are not found in Carter. I do not agree however that renders the bill unconstitutional.

I have presided as a judge over many cases involving laws enacted after constitutional invalidation where the government enacted something less than what the Supreme Court of Canada has stated. O’Connor applications, referenced by Senator Baker here today, are the best example of that. Hundreds of such applications are heard by judges every year.

Judges of course are all familiar with the Supreme Court’s holding in Mills again referenced by Senator Baker here today where the Supreme Court of Canada rejected an argument that the legislation following an earlier invalidation must comply totally with its earlier decision. It does not. It must comply with the Charter, and in my opinion, in this case it does.

As Thomas McMorrow in an on-line article noted:

The Court in Carter noted: “It is for Parliament and the provincial legislatures to respond, should they so choose, by enacting legislation consistent with the constitutional parameters set out in these reasons.”

Those words have been referenced here many times.

Importantly the Court stressed that “complex regulatory regimes are better created by Parliament than by the courts.” Moreover, why would the Court be willing to twice extend Parliament’s deadline to tailor a new law, if Carter imposed a legislative straitjacket?”

In her testimony before the standing committee Diane Pothier testified that in her opinion the proposed bill was constitutional. As we heard in the house yesterday, the government considers that it is constitutional. It has considered the issue of limiting the right to medical assistance in dying very carefully. They have reviewed the public willingness to support this bill. They conclude that Canadians want the right to medical assistance in dying limited to those cases where a person’s natural death is reasonably foreseeable.

They have done what appears to me to be an appropriate Charter analysis. In doing their work in enacting a bill, every government has a responsibility as does this Senate, to take a look at section 1 of the Charter and ask ourselves whether the law complies with it.

That section says:

1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

The Charter itself recognizes the right of governments to legislate for less than what the Charter contains in its provisions.

If there is a constitutional challenge to this bill then the government would likely, in my view, be able to sustain a strong argument that the requirement that the applicant had to be able to show that natural death is reasonably foreseeable would be sustainable.

Therefore, while I understand all of the arguments that have been put forward here today on the constitutionality question, I, with respect, disagree with them. I suggest that the bill does not have to comply with Carter, but the bill does have to comply with the Charter and, in my view, the government has acted appropriately to do so.

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If I but could…

If I but could
I would reach back 
into your youth
and stop the movement 
of the brutish hand 
that hurt and left the scar
that lingers in you still.

If I but could 
I’d cover you 
with shield of steel
to keep from you 
the pain so real
or wrap you in a cloak 
of earthen hues

If I but could
I’d give you all 
that you would need
Id give you happiness and beads
and health and joy
and love 
for all your friends and family 
and I would grant you love of child 
in arms of other mothers or in yours. 
If I but only could.
But all that I can do I fear 
is listen to your words of tears 
with heavy heart
and weigh them hard 
against apologies 
that never have been spoken or been thought
and know that even if they had 
they could not overcome the bad 
for sometimes 
words can never, ever, ever 
be enough
But nonetheless I promise you 
that I will always care for you 
and daily grant you life renewed
And tell the world
that what you have revealed to me is true.
and I will sing your song each day 
And tell the world in every way 
That I think 
you’re the strongest 
most resilient 
bravest
person 
I have ever known.

Mizhana Geezhik
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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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