Monday, June 14, 2021

School's Out

In the painting by Kent Monkman entitled "The Scream" you can see it all with the R.C.M.P. seizing the children from their homes and handing them over to the priests and nuns while their mothers scream in anguish. How something like this could ever have been allowed to happen is only believable when you realize the high level of racism that exists in this country. No settler Canadian would have ever tolerated such an outrageous trampling of parental rights but it was okay to do this to the Indians.

After Canada was established in 1867 it created the Indian Act of 1876 which gave the federal government complete control over First Nations identity, political structures, governance, cultural practices and education. The government then used this power to try and assimilate First Nations people into mainstream society and terminate their cultural, social, economic, and political distinctiveness. The Act replaced hereditary chiefs with band councils, made it illegal to practice any Indian festival, dance, or ceremony including cultural activities such as the potlatch, powwows, and sundance, it was illegal for First Nations to hire lawyers or bring about land claims against the government, First Nations people could not vote, and a pass system was put in place to control their movements off the reserves.

The Act also provided the federal government with the obligation to provide an education for First Nations people so, in 1883, in partnership with the churches, they began setting up residential schools across the country, with attendance mandatory. The purpose of the schools was to remove the children from the influence of their own families and culture and assimilate them into the dominant Canadian settler culture in order to "kill the Indian in the child." As a result, their hair was cut off, they were forbidden to speak their own language, wear their traditional clothes or keep any Indian objects, they were given new Christian names, and the missionary staff spent a lot of time instilling Christian practices and ideas while denigrating their own spiritual traditions. 

The schools operated on a half day system where the students spent half a day in the classroom and the other half of the day at work helping run the school, with girls doing the domestic cooking, cleaning, sewing and laundry chores while the boys were involved in construction, general maintenance, and agricultural labour. As a result, the education they received was very sub-standard nor did they learn any useful vocational skills that could be applied to the job market when their schooling was completed. And while they were at school the children were often subjected to beatings, confinement, and sexual assault. Over 150,000 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children were put through this system with the last school only closing in 1996.

But perhaps the worst thing of all was the way the children's health was so badly neglected. Underfed, overcrowded, and malnourished, all in the name of saving money, the children were vulnerable to tuberculosis, influenza, smallpox, measles, typhoid, diphtheria, pneumonia, and whooping cough. In spite of recommendations made by the government's own medical experts to improve the health and medical services of the schools the government and churches refused to make any changes, again because of cost, and, as a result, thousands of children died or committed suicide.

Even worse than the fact thousands of children died is that half of these deaths weren't even documented and the school graveyards are filled with nameless crosses. And who ever heard of a school having a graveyard in the first place? The incomplete record keeping didn't even track attendance or scholastic achievement never mind cause of death or the names of the poor unfortunate souls. And the reason the bodies were buried on the school grounds is because the government and churches didn't want to pay for the cost of sending the bodies back to the families.

It took some modern radar mapping technology to uncover the bodies of 215 children at one of these notorious schools, in spite of all the denials from officials who ignored what parents had been trying to tell them for years, and now we can only imagine how many other buried bodies there are across the more than 139 former residential school grounds in Canada. Finally the Canadian public is waking up to the injustices that have been inflicted on First Nations people over our own lifetimes and we are horrified and shamed. The secrecy, complicity, and duplicity of the churches and past governments of all parties must now end and serious restitution and reconciliation begin. 

Canada has enjoyed pointing the finger at other countries for their genocidal practices but now the world has seen what hypocrites we really are with the genocide of our own people. Our delay tactics in implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), the court challenges the government is engaging in to deny adequate health coverage, housing, and compensation to First Nations people, and the ongoing boil water advisories on so many reserves illustrates the lack of meaningful actions behind our government's many self-serving announcements.  

It all started with our founding Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, whose statues everywhere are now being painted red and/or getting toppled. The world is watching us now and our leaders need to know we are embarrassed and ashamed of being Canadian. We need to own up to the treaties we have already signed and start making meaningful progress on the ones still in negotiation. Most of all we need a dramatic reassessment of our relationship with the First Nations people that lets them know we are truly sorry for what we have done and that we are ready to move forward with real solutions for living together. In the meantime, school is out.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Fish Global And Poach Local

This past month a pair of free divers off of Jericho Beach came upon some illegal crab traps and immediately contacted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). After dragging the ocean bottom for the next few days the DFO came up with more than 250 illegal traps that were all of commercial grade but without any identification or locator floats. Clearly a poaching operation where the poachers retrieve the traps at night using GPS coordinates and then sell the catch to unscrupulous or unsuspecting buyers.

Earlier in the year the DFO and Canadian Coast Guard seized another 337 illegal crab traps in Boundary Bay, part of an annual operation that has netted 1,000 illegal traps over the past few years. Both operations netted traps that were filled with female and undersized crabs and other fish that would otherwise have been sold. With this many illegal traps it's no wonder crab and other species are getting harder and harder to find and we aren't even talking about all the illegal fishing for cod, rockfish, halibut, and salmon that is going on under the nose of the DFO which doesn't have the manpower or budget to properly enforce regulations along the B.C. coastline.

But this local illegal fishing pales in comparison to what is going on in the rest of the world, and the biggest offender by far is China with its distant water fleet of over 17,000 boats. While technically doing most of its fishing in international waters, where these drag net trawlers are seriously overfishing, they have also been caught fishing within the restricted domestic zones of Korea, West Africa, and South America. The illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing index ranks China as the worst performing nation followed closely by Taiwan, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Russia and some African countries also make the top 10 list. The four worst areas in the world for IUU fishing are; the coast of West Africa where it makes up 40% of the catch, Western Pacific 34%, West Bering Sea 33%, and the Southwest Atlantic 32%.

One of the main contributing factors to overfishing is the ability of fishing boats to stay at sea continuously thanks to transshipment where fishing boats unload their catch to refrigerated cargo vessels which also keep them re-supplied with fuel and food. These reefer vessels then pull into ports with lax fishing regulations and unload their cargo. All of these boats mostly fly flags of convenience allowing them to pay low wages and making it difficult to enforce any safety standards or working conditions.

Working conditions couldn't be worse than the slavery on fishing boats operating out of Thailand that stay out at sea for years at a time. The hundreds of horrific stories of rescued fishermen and deckhands that have spent three or more years on board filthy ships working 16 hour days for free and being fed just enough to stay alive seem to belong to another era, but they are happening right now with kidnapped men from mostly Cambodia or Burma. All this to satisfy the world's demand for seafood.

The demand for seafood has led to over 60% of the world's fish stocks being fully fished and 33% of the world's fish stocks overfished. Without a serious reduction to allow stocks to rebuild experts estimate the world's fisheries will collapse by 2050. Meanwhile there are millions of tons of unwanted bycatch that are caught and discarded including an estimated 300,000 whales and dolphins that are killed each year.

And if that wasn't bad enough we have the cruel and wasteful habit of finning sharks to supply the Chinese with the main ingredient for shark fin soup. The trade in shark fins is now widely condemned and in most cases illegal but that didn't stop some local Vancouver importer who was recently fined $60,000.00 for bringing in 434 kg. of silky shark fins. The same type of importer who is probably quite happy to buy the crabs that have been caught by local poachers.