Archive for January 2013

Five days at Brew Creek

29 January 2013

Brew CreekI just got home after five intense days at the Brew Creek Centre, about 20 km south of Whistler, BC. It was much snowier than this picture, but maybe even more beautiful for it.

I had the fabulous fortune to be invited up there in the company of some amazing people involved in the soon to be world famous Water Wealth Project.

Brew Creek is a beautiful space for gatherings and retreats. The setting is natural and peaceful, the staff unobtrusive yet always at hand to deal with any request. The food was beyond compare in my experience. I never had time to get hungry and it was all so good I was afraid of stepping on the scale when I got home!

It sometimes felt like we were just having a meal, and then a meal, and then a meal…. I suppose because the intensity made the time between meals fly while the relative pause to enjoy those meals made that time stand out. After five days I came home to a digital scale that tells me I’m one pound less than when I left! A testament to eating really healthy food.

“What did you learn?”, you ask. Well, once I’ve reviewed my notes and put some things into practise to really understand them I could tell you what I learned if you have five days to listen to me talk really, really fast! There was some human nature, some history, some technology, some science, some nature. It was wonderful! I learned to value stories more. And maybe to value people more which may make me more immune to the next time someone steps on my toes in one way or another.

I’ve heard these sort of retreats can be energizing. I know that for those five days I stayed up late each evening and woke before my alarm each day, and my first day home stayed up really late and woke before five excited to get going on things. So yes, these sort of retreats are energizing, thanks of course to the hard work of the people who organized the whole thing! If you’re looking for a place to take a group, I’d definitely recommend Brew Creek Centre.

Racist rhetoric is not the way forward

5 January 2013

This is hastily done and I’m as far from expert in these issues as one can be so don’t take anything I’ve written as gospel. Someone asked me what I thought of the statements from Sun News (in bold).

“Between the government money and money pouring in from the nearby diamond mine, it works out to $250,000 for each family, each year. Tax free. That’s like $400,000 a year for the rest of us” — Ezra Levant

Actually the mine royalties go to the province. There are Attawapiskat band members employed at the mine. I would hardly characterize their wages as “money pouring in from the nearby diamond mine”. I would argue that money should be pouring in from the diamond mine. It’s in their territory.

Levant tries to make us think each family is being handed $250,000 cash, tax free, with which to buy big screen TV’s and popcorn. Leaving aside the validity of the figure, it’s not going to each family, it’s going to everything the community needs; water, roads, housing, health-care, education, etc, etc. The “$400,000” figure is pure fantasy. There was some sort of large payment when the mine opened, most of which has been put into a trust fund to provide for the future (see the stock investments ranted about further down).

Aboriginal Affairs spending is up under Stephen Harper, $7.9-billion last year from $6.1-billion in 2006-2007

That’s Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC). It provides services to “First Nations, Inuit, Metis and people living in Canada’s North”. Not just aboriginals, though aboriginals are the fastest growing sector of Canada’s population.

According to Aboriginal Affairs the number was actually $7.8-billion in 2012. Some of the increase since 2006 due to Residential Schools Resolution and “increased focus on settlement of claims”. Some 17% of the money goes to run the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. The remaining money covers what most Canadians receive as federal, provincial, territorial and municipal government services, eg health-care, infrastructure, social services. The portion for essential services and programs for First Nations has been capped at 2% annual growth since 1997-98.

Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike isn’t actually a hunger strike — she’s consuming fish soup, medicinal tea, and lemon water several times a day

I’d like to see Levant try it.

Chief Theresa Spence makes just under $70,000 a year tax free

$69,579 salary and honouraria and $1,798 travel expenses to be precise. And we can be precise because Attawapiskat publishes all of its financial statements. I think it is correct that First Nations do not pay Canadian income tax on income made on reserve. Chilliwack’s chief administrative officer in 2008 (what I found with a quick online search) made $215,121. He presumably paid income tax. Is ~$70,000 out of line for someone in Chief Spence’s position?

Chief Theresa Spence’s boyfriend, Clayton Kennedy, is Attawapiskat’s town manager and earns $850 a day income tax free

Chief Spence excused herself from meetings where filling the position were discussed and it appears a healthy tendering process was followed. (Kind of like should have happened with the F-35’s) Kennedy’s consulting company was hired. He does their accounting, looks after finance staff and oversees reporting to various government agencies. He works 3 weeks out of 4, 5 days a week. Is he worth $850 a (working) day, or about $12,750 per month? I don’t know. My accountant charges $100 per hour. The previous outfit that held the job at Attawapiskat, BDO Dunwoody, charged $23,860 per month.

Attawapiskat purchased an Olympia ice resurfacer for $96,000 during a so-called housing crisis

The machine cost $85,035 so I assume Sun’s figure includes shipping costs. The community paid for it with money raised through bingo. Would a responsible community not look after recreation for it’s people, particularly the youth?

Speaking of housing, Attawapiskat receives $580,000 per year for housing. With cost of getting materials in, that could build 2 houses per year if no money was spent on maintenance of existing housing stock.

Attawapiskat has 21 full-time paid politicians for a town of 200 homes

Again I don’t know where they got these numbers. Audited statements show elected and unelected officials receiving various rates of pay from about $1,000 a month to nearly $7,300 a month. The highest being Technical Services Manager Mike Gull, mentioned again below. Looking at elected officials in the fiscal year ending March 31 2011, there are 8 councilors that served 12 months. Most made under $30,000. What do our city councillors make?

Attawapiskat also has its own health authority, school board, power corporation, development corporation, and a corporation to run the hockey rink

Well yeah. It’s a community. It needs health-care, school, etc. The population is young – they need recreation.

Development corporation? Do racists really want to rant at them for receiving tax dollars AND rant at them for having a development corporation? Pick one maybe.

In 2007, Mike Gull made $126,000 tax free as technical services manager

What happened in 2007? Mike made $87,381 in 2011. Must be doing a good job, he’s still there. shows Technical Services Manager Salaries in Canada as being $50,700 to $111,542.

$450,000 a month pours into Attawapiskat in welfare payments

APTN reports that according to Ontario Works 443 households got $755 per month for a total of $334,465. What does $755 a month get you in a remote community where everything has to be flown in? Let’s wish the development corporation all success.

Attawapiskat First Nation owns $9 million worth of stocks in Apple, Disney and Chinese cell phone companies

Yes, they have a fund from resource money received. Alberta used to too, but it’s pushing a $3-billion deficit now despite tar sands expansion. Who’s the bad manager?

All Canadians receive services from government without anyone saying we should empty our bank accounts first.

In 2011, acting Manager Wayne Turner, ran up more than $68,000 in travel expenses in just two months

Wow! He did. I don’t know why.

Harper’s 5-day trip to China in February cost $725,000 in travel expenses and $972,000 in hospitality and conference fees. I’m curious about Turner’s $68,000, but a quick search didn’t turn up any detail. Whatever it was he has to answer to Attawapiskat and AANDC.

Algonquin First Nation and Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau has received death threats for speaking out against Idle No More

Not surprised. Wonder if we can get Trudeau to beat him up again? You can find Brazeau’s history on-line.

[Update: My wife told me I should delete that line above as it appears to condone violence. I said “I’m not condoning violence, I just said I’m not surprised.” As usual in areas of communication and empathy and the like she was right, as was made apparent by Peter’s comment. I took this part of what Sun News published too lightly, in part due to an assumption that said threat would just be some frustrated person venting. Not a safe assumption, particularly for a public figure like Senator Brazeau. I’ll leave that in now to give context to Peter’s comment, but I apologize for not having been more thoughtful. (And for not listening to my wife!) I do not condone threats or violence. Violence in various forms is part of the problem. We won’t solve our problems with the same thinking that caused them.]

Attawapiskat made $2,738,339 profit in 2010 and $3,140,041 in 2011

Oh good! Not sure what they’re calling profit or where that’s coming from. I read that the community brings in $12-million of its own revenue. Again the audited statements are all on-line. I started to go through it, but it’s a lot of pages and I’m hungry.

The government says Attawapiskat has received $90 million since 2006

Yes, and BC got $6,470,000,000 in federal transfers in that time, plus we get services from provincial and municipal governments. Just throwing the $90 million number out with no explanation serves only to feed ignorance.

In 2011, Attawapiskat spent $200,000 on ‘gifts’ and $36,000 on ‘goose hunting’

I’ve moved this item to the bottom because I looked at it last. “Gifts” doesn’t show up in a search of the financial statements and a quick search on-line didn’t come up with any details so I don’t know where they got this number or what it was about. Goose hunting is a big part of Attawapiskat sustenance and culture. Maybe they needed a couple of ATVs.

On the tail end of a failed attempt at cultural genocide Canada has a long way to go to actually live up to the spirit of the treaties it signed and to work out a relationship with First Nations. A big part of that job will be to educate non-aboriginals (some might notice I avoided the term “settlers”, I don’t ‘feel’ that label at all).

Sun News and Levant are bottom-feeders. I may be a little angry. I’ve begun work on educating myself in this area, reading Chelsea Vowel’s blog and beginning to read the report from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Actually I’ve only read the 51 page summary linked to from that blog, but the full report is on my list. Our past is dismal. Criminal. We reap what we sow. If we can find the ways to work together with understanding and respect for each other and our place on the Earth we will ALL be better off.

Idle No More! This is serious

3 January 2013

I write today in response to an Ottawa Citizen piece by Terry Glavin titled “Idle No More? Let’s get serious“.

Glavin makes me angry in the first line. He starts off his propaganda piece by calling “creepy” a wide-spread, peaceful demonstration of democratic freedom expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo and disagreement with the direction we are headed.

He follows by being dismissive and condescending toward Chief Spence’s courageous hunger strike. Framing it as though her action is improper because of the conditions on so many reserves.

That Occupy has fallen from the headlines is taken by certain pundits to mean that Occupy failed. This is like saying GDP is the best measure of quality of life. Occupy’s gains may not be easily quantifiable, but they are no less real and Occupy is not gone.

There is nothing paranoid about concerns over C-45. Problems with C-45, from being undemocratic at the outset, to the long term harms it will bring, are well reasoned and well documented.

Glavin calls people who are actively calling for change “idlers” and proceeds to tell these ilders as though they were children that they should not look for a “magic way forward”. These people are anti-idle, and no one expects “magic” unless one considers respect and integrity to fall into that realm.

I would be interested to hear Mr Crey’s take on Glavin’s piece. I hope that Mr Crey does not truly dismiss the value of raising public awareness, and further hope that he does not think that colourful demonstrations are all that Idle No More has to offer.

There is hard work to be done. Glavin seems to suggest that we should sit down, shut up and wait for the powers that be to look after it. How has that worked for Canadians, aboriginal or otherwise, so far?

As for “transformational change in the consciousness of white North Americans”, I’ll speak from my experience as one raised in a very white Canadian neighbourhood and too long ignorant of all things aboriginal.

I was standing by the Hope Slough not long ago, watching a handful of salmon spawn, when the word “reserve” rose unbidden to mind. I looked around me at Sto:lo land and thought “Reserve. What is that?” Then as some realization sunk in, “What do we do now?”

That moment felt pretty transformational to me. I don’t know what we do now. What I can do is stand in support of justice for all people and I am grateful for the welcome I have received from Idle No More to do that.