happy birthday to me: in which i arrive at a milestone

I have been alive on this planet for 60 years. 

I don't know how that happened. It doesn't seem even remotely possible. Yet here it is. I am 60.

I keep hearing that getting older sucks. I've been hearing about it for 30 years, but have yet to see it for myself. 

There are tough things about aging, for sure. Unpleasant things. There's no denying it. But there were tough things at every stage of life. Being a child is not the proverbial picnic, nor being a teenager, nor a young adult. There are always issues, always heartache, and sometimes much worse. If we're lucky, there is also love and joy, wonder and excitement, adventure and meaning. 

Aging is a privilege. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to have it. 

Thank you for being part of my life.


"at your library" in the north island eagle: book lists: travel the world by book

Book Lists: Travel the World by Book

In my last column, I promised you lists of books on various topics. I’ll highlight ten books in each column. You might want to clip and save them!


The pandemic put all our travel plans on hold, but we can always travel through reading. In the books on this list, talented writers tell amazing stories about the places they visit, and they invite you to come along.

Title: My 25 Years in Provence
Author: Peter Mayle, a British writer who lived in France
Where you’ll go: Southern France
What you’ll find: Great descriptions of food and food culture, gorgeous scenery, unexpected pleasures. Humorous, sweet, and charming.

Title: Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000-mile Adventure
Author: Monisha Rajesh
Where you’ll go: From London to Russia, North Korea, Kazakhstan – and Canada
What you’ll find: A young woman’s perspective on train travel and the people she meets. Witty and irreverent.
Title: Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya

Author: Bruce Kirkby, a Canadian adventurer and travel writer
Where you’ll go: Across the Pacific on a container ship, then to South Korea, China, India, Nepal, and finally, a remote monastery in the world’s highest mountain range.
What you’ll find: A big adventure, a rare view of a hidden culture. Meditations on love, devotion, and family. Wise and often funny.

Title: Miles from Nowhere: A Round-the-world Bicycle Adventure
Author: Barbara Savage
Where you’ll go: Across the U.S., then Europe, North Africa, and New Zealand
What you’ll find: Adventure, relationships, humor, danger. 23,000 miles by bicycle, in the 1970s.

Title: Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and A Scottish Adventure Like No Other
Author: Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish, stars of the “Outlander” series
Where you’ll go: Across Scotland by van, boat, kayak, bicycle, and motorcycle.
What you’ll find: Scottish history and culture via two funny men. Hilarious, rollicking, colourful, earthy.

Title: Elsewhere: One Woman, One Rucksack, One Lifetime of Travel
Author: Rosita Boland, a solo adventurer and travel writer
Where you’ll go: Peru, Pakistan, Antarctica, Bali, Japan, and more. Nine journeys in all.
What you’ll find: Both travel and introspection, from a perspective of a female solo traveler. Some hair-raising stories. 

Title: Gone Viking: A Travel Saga
Author: Bill Arnott, traveler, researcher, writer
Where you’ll go: All over the world, over the course of a decade.
What you’ll find: Beautiful writing, fascinating stories, informative, wry humor. Plus Vikings!

Title: Signs of Life: A Doctor’s Journey to the Ends of the Earth
Author: Stephen Fabes, an emergency-room doctor turned travel writer
Where you’ll go: Around the world, by bicycle.
What you’ll find: A view of healthcare and healing practices around the globe. Fast-paced, entertaining.

Title: The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places
Author: William Atkins, travel writer
Where you’ll go: Eight deserts on five continents
What you’ll find: Rich descriptions of fascinating places and unusual landscapes. Worlds about as different from Vancouver Island as you can get.

Title: Becoming Coastal: 25 Years of Exploration and Discovery of the British Columbia Coast by Paddle, Oar and Sail
Author: Alex Zimmerman, a Vancouver Island author
Where you’ll go: Our corner of the world
What you’ll find: Beautiful descriptions of landscapes that you know well. The author’s discovery of his new environment and his own capabilities.

"at your library" in the north island eagle: happy new year and happy book lists

Happy New Year and Happy Book Lists

2020 was such a difficult year. Most of us were not sorry to see it go! Your library is here for you, dreaming of a time when we can open our doors wide and welcome everyone back inside.

Do you ever wonder what to read next?

Do you ever want to learn about a specific topic but you don’t know where to start?

Librarians have lots of tips and tricks to help you find what you’re looking for. For my next few columns, I’ll be sharing lists of books on various topics and themes. Some of these lists will be strictly for pleasure reading. Some will be useful resources on a particular topic. 

If you have an idea or a request for a book list topic, drop me a line at lkaminker@virl.bc.ca, or leave a note at the library when you pick up your holds. I promise to make a list for you!

Librarians at the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) have already created many book lists to help you find your next great read. You can find them online at bit.ly/virl-booklists, or you can ask for print copies at your favourite VIRL branch.

Another way to find your next read is NoveList Plus. NoveList Plus is an e-resource that is all about finding books to enjoy. When you first login, you’ll see the words “I'm in the mood for books that are...”. You can choose from adult, teen, ages 9-12, or ages 0-8, in categories such as “bittersweet and compelling,” “sweeping and dramatic,” “funny and own voices,” among many others.

On the left, you’ll see a menu of genres, such as mysteries, historical, romance, and science fiction. Then each genre breaks down further. Historical fiction, for example, has more than 15 sub-categories, including Dear Diary, World War II, Royal Reads, Family Sagas, and Discovery and Exploration in Fiction.

One fun NoveList Plus category is called “For Fans Of”. If you watch Netflix or borrow DVDs, you’ll recognize many of these – For Fans of Ozark, For Fans of Sherlock, For Fans of Outlander, Fans of The Umbrella Academy, and so on.

Another source to find your next great read is through book review websites. The largest of these sites is Goodreads.com, which is owned by Amazon. At Goodreads, readers share reviews, thoughts, and opinions on what they’ve read. You don’t have to join or post reviews in order to use the site. You can just jump on for ideas any time. There are many book review websites that you may not have tried, such as Book Riot (my personal favourite) Bookish, and Book Lists. 

If you like to learn by video, there’s a corner of YouTube affectionately known as BookTube. BookTube features people who are love to read, reviewing books by video. Some popular BookTubers are Climb the Stacks, Little Book Owl, RinceyReads, and Better Than Food. To find these and so many others, go to YouTube and type in one of these names – or type “Book Tubers” and see what comes up.

If you need help with any of these ideas – and of course to request any book title – stop by your favourite VIRL branch. We’re here to help.

"at your library" in the north island eagle: holidays in the time of covid: let your library help (yes, that's how long it's been)

Oh dear, I'm way behind on posting the biweekly columns I write for the local free newspaper. I don't imagine wmtc readers need to read these, but I like to preserve them on this blog.

To avoid a barrage, I'll post a few columns each week until I'm caught up.

* * * *

Holidays in the Time of Covid – Let Your Library Help

“Give Library” is back! The Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) stocking stuffer for you. They’re good for everyone on your list, they look great -- and best of all, they’re free. Yes, I’m referring to a library card, a gift that never goes out of style.

This year’s “Give Library” cards are available at local businesses. In Port Hardy, you can pick up a beautiful “Give Library” card at Book Nook and at Field’s. The Field’s in Port McNeill will also have a “Give Library” display. In other communities, ask at your library branch where you can get one.

A VIRL library card gives you access to millions of books, eBooks, audiobooks, streaming movies, digital music, video games, and magazines and newspapers from around the world. They’re good at all 39 VIRL branches, from Masset to Sooke, Tofino to Bella Coola.

There’s no doubt that the 2020 holiday season is an unusual one. COVID travel restrictions have many people missing family and friends. Maybe you’re preparing Christmas dinner for two instead of 12, or mailing off gifts that you’d rather be giving in person. People prone to feeling sad or lonely around the holidays may be especially vulnerable this year. 

If this describes you, now is a good time to discover more tools that could boost your well-being. Your library has a huge number or books, audiobooks, and articles on self-help, spirituality, and physical and mental health. If you need help finding information, we’re here to help – and anything you share with us will be confidential. 

Your library can help you with your holiday preparations in so many ways. VIRL has hundreds of cookbook titles, covering every type of cooking and baking you can name. Crafting and libraries are a natural fit, whether in magazines, books, or e-resources. Creative Bug and the Hobbies and Crafts Reference Center – two amazing e-resources -- are perfect for beginners and experts alike, and crafters of all ages.

If you’re wondering how this works, or you’re wary of trying it on your own, we’re here to help. Even wearing masks and practicing social distancing, library staff will do our best to get you started. 

If you need some escapist fun this holiday season, your library is the place to go. DVDs, streaming movies, videogames – and of course, books – are all there for you, and with your library card, they’re all free. 

To get the most out of your library card and all VIRL has to offer, your best bet is to order in advance. Your favourite library branch is a a wonderful place, but VIRL has so much more to offer. If you’re not in the habit of using “holds” to order materials, let our staff help you. Once you see how it works, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.


bearing witness: 215 tiny skeletons speak to us. canadians must listen.

The discovery, last week, of the remains of 215 children on the site of a former Indian Residential School has sent shock waves through Canada, especially through this province, where the gruesome evidence was found. 

The skeletons of the children, some seemingly as young as three years old, were in an unmarked mass grave.

For survivors of residential schools, this has almost certainly brought retraumatization, and profound grief and sorrow throughout their communities. For many of us not directly impacted, this has brought great sadness. I myself feel a deep sadness that I can't shake.

Shocking and not shocking

Many Canadians seem to be shocked by this discovery, which means we have a lot more work to do to educate ourselves about the Residential Schools, and the horrors of imperialism and colonialism -- the home-grown variety, the kind that created this country. The kind that non-Indigenous Canadians benefit from every day.

The discovery is shocking, in that the news rockets us out of our everyday worlds, and forces us to contemplate the enormity of these crimes. But that these graves exist, that this horror actually took place: we should not be shocked. We should know very well this happened. 

The discovery of unmarked graves of Indigenous children should be no more surprising than finding a bullwhip buried in Parchman, Mississippi. No more surprising than finding the extermination rolls in Auschwitz. No more shocking than bones and bullets found at Baba Yar. 

There are almost certainly many more sites like this, all over Canada and in many parts of the United States, where similar institutions were called Indian Boarding Schools.

Canada, this is part of our history. 

It doesn't matter that we didn't personally perpetrate the crimes.

It doesn't matter if our ancestors were not on the continent at the time. 

It doesn't matter if we only learned about the Residential Schools a few years ago.

The Residential Schools and their continuing legacy is part of Canada

Most of us enjoy living in Canada, including those who are highly critical of it. We enjoy and benefit from a world that was created by colonialism. By theft. By murder. By genocide. All Canadians must accept and reckon with that legacy. 

We can't pick and choose which parts of Canada, which moments of history, we want to own. We own it all. 

How much does Canada officially resist owning this legacy? The Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that Indigenous people in (first) British North America and (later) Canada were the victims of "cultural genocide". 

"Cultural genocide" is not a thing.

"Cultural genocide" is not legally recognized by any international body. If we read the definition of genocide -- for example, from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum -- and we look honestly at Canadian history, it's quite clear that Canada engaged in the purposeful genocide of the Indigenous peoples of this land.

But Canada doesn't want to wear that. Instead, it hides behind this qualifier -- as if it were possible to kill a people's culture without actually killing them. And as if the murder of a culture did not actually murder people.

An image that burns in my brain

When I took the University of Alberta's Indigenous Canada MOOC, I was incredibly moved and shaken by the unit on the Residential Schools. 

Quoting myself:

One of the characteristics shared by almost all Indigenous cultures is an emphasis on family, usually extended family. In oral traditions, knowledge is transmitted directly from generation to generation. Skills -- hunting, gardening, cooking, building, healing, everything you can think of -- are learned by observation and participation. Values, morals, and ethics -- all the guideposts of life -- are transmitted through storytelling and observation. From birth to death, every aspect of life is shared communally, and done for the benefit of the new generations, to build for the future.

Now imagine a culture such as this with no children. Villages where all the children have been stolen. The trauma and grief and shame left behind. The despair, the helplessness.

At the same time, imagine generations of children who have never been exposed to familial love, or at best that love was a distant memory. Generations of children who have been raised institutionally, with harsh discipline, meager food rations, minimal health care, forced lessons intended for wage-slavery, and of course, verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Generations of children who have been forbidden to speak their own languages or learn anything about their cultures -- and who are indoctrinated to believe that their original cultures are dirty and shameful.

When these children become adults, how can they know how to raise families of their own? They have not seen normal parenting. They lack the supports of their culture and communities. They know only shame and abuse.

These entwined conditions are at the root of the intergenerational trauma that echoes through Indigenous communities in countless destructive ways. The wonder is how people and their cultures have survived at all -- a testament to the determination and resiliency of the human spirit.

The image of whole villages and communities where all the children have been stolen burns in my brain. Imagine that in your own community! Imagine you and all your peers were forced into institutions, even though your parents were alive, even though you had loving relatives who could provide a good home.

Imagine your children being forcibly removed from your home -- not because you were incapable of raising them, but because you are -- fill in the blank. Your children being stolen from you because you are Irish. Because you are Black. Because you are Jewish, or Catholic, or an atheist.

Fuck the haters

Since the discovery in Kamloops was reported to the public, Canada has been gripped by a paroxysm of response. The government -- both Federal and of BC -- declared a week of mourning. Flags have been at half-staff. Resources for survivors who almost certainly have been retraumatized by the discovery are being shared widely. There was (thankfully) a moving tribute before an NHL playoff game.

My inbox is full of responses: from my union, Amnesty International, both my federal and provincial representatives, and of course from any Indigenous groups I follow.

Along with these responses comes an inevitable backlash. Racist right-wingers, without a doubt, are flooding local and social media with ignorance and contempt. These are the people who believe Indigenous people should "get over it", who believe First Nations "get a free ride", and subscribe to degrading stereotypes (many of which apply to plenty of white people!).

In some contexts, I can speak to why we must care about this history, and why Indigenous people cannot and should not just "get over it". 

But not right now. 

I am avoiding any space where I might hear or see this type of response. Because my reaction will not be measured, calm, or professional. Fuck them.

Facts are still emerging

The children's remains were found by a private company using ground-penetrating radar. Many people and organizations are calling for ground-penetrating radar to be used at the sites of all former Residential Schools.

I haven't seen good information about why this operation was taking place. It does not appear to have been organized by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. 

The remains were not, as some early reports suggested, found on a construction site; the former site of the largest Residential School in Canada was not being excavated. Whether the site will now be excavated will be up to the Nation. 

You may find this summary from The Globe and Mail very useful: The Kamloops residential school's unmarked graves: What we know about the children's remains, and Canada's reaction so far.

How can I be an ally?

I've been trying to write this post since the find was announced. When I sit down to write, I am overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by emotion, by the sheer magnitude of the horror embedded in our past, by our inability to adequately address it. 

Coincidentally, right now I am reading The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer. 

Coincidentally, the horrific discovery came on the eve of Canada's National Indigenous People's History Month, which culminates in National Indigenous People's Day, on the summer solstice. I am part of a team that created this Indigenous People's History Month Challenge.

Coincidentally, I see the continuing effects of the Residential Schools every day.  

It is very, very sad. I wish I could do more.

Education as an act of Reconciliation

Many useful resources can be found through the Vancouver Island Regional Library's National Indigenous People's History Month Challenge.

I highly recommend participating in Indigenous Canada, the online course offered by the University of Alberta. It's a 12-week course, and each unit can be easily done in the course of a week. You can enrol for free; to obtain a certificate is only $65. If your employer has an education fund, you can ask about reimbursement.

Statement from BCGEU Indigenous Advisory Committee statement on discovery at Kamloops Indian Residential School:

On behalf of the BCGEU Provincial Executive Indigenous Advisory Committee and all Indigenous members of the BCGEU, we express our deepest condolences to the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, the survivors of the Kamloops Indian Residential School and the kin of those who never came home. The BCGEU's Indigenous members across the province, including members of the committee, have shared their stories about the impacts of residential schools on their personal lives and in their communities. We all carry heavy hearts especially at this time.

We know that the discovery made by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc is not an isolated case; with almost 140 IRS operating across the country over 150 years it is inevitable that other mass graves exist on other territories and that they will be found. In fact, survivors of Indian Residential Schools from across Turtle Island (North America) have shared their lived experiences, including stories of graves similar to the one found this week. In Canada specifically, these stories are reflected in The Survivors Speak: A report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) and the transcripts from past reports, such as the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996).

In the coming days and weeks as we grieve and heal together, it is critical that every Canadian understand settler colonialism—including the tragic legacy of the Indian Residential School system—not as a historical event or a closed chapter but as an ongoing reality that continues to damage Indigenous lives and communities from coast to coast to coast. The last IRS was shut down in 1996, but the removal of Indigenous children—and the cycle of harm perpetuated in families and communities denied the opportunity to raise and protect their children—continues to this day. While roughly 150,000 children went through Canada's residential school system between 1890 and 1996, more than 130,000 Indigenous children are currently in Canada's child welfare system. 

As the BCGEU Provincial Executive Indigenous Advisory Committee we call on all levels of government to do the following:

1. To provide adequate and sustainable mental health and addictions services to Indigenous Peoples on and off reserve in both rural and urban areas of British Columbia and Canada.  

2. To provide First Nations communities with the necessary funding to conduct ongoing searches of the graves of children who lost their lives in these schools in British Columbia and the rest of Canada. 

3. To fully implement all 94 calls to action from Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (2015); all 231 calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2019); including providing adequate funding as well as enforcement, reporting and accountability mechanisms to support implementation . 

4. To legislate full adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), with full support and collaboration from Indigenous Peoples.

From the BCGEU's more than 82,000 members, we would like to share our message of grief and urge all Canadians to join and support us as this healing carries on. BCGEU members and others who want to show their solidarity can:

1. Wear orange shirts during the month of June, which is Indigenous Peoples Recognition month, to honour the children and support the survivors and families impacted by the Indian Residential Schools.

2. Call on your local MLA and MP to integrate the calls to action in the TRC report, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the calls for justice of the MMIWG report into their work, and to advocate for the necessary funding to conduct further searches for grave sites across British Columbia and Canada. Click here to find your MLA and click here to find your MP.

As Indigenous Peoples we have survived government's extraordinary genocidal policies of all levels of government and we will continue to survive, as our ancestors did. We hear the drums in our hearts that give us strength, and we honour the lives of our children who lost their lives and their families across British Columbia and Canada. May they be at peace.


what i'm reading: there, there by tommy orange

After finishing and marveling over Kate Reed Petty's True Story, I picked up There There by Tommy Orange and had a similar reaction.

I don't read a lot of popular fiction, so reading two debut novels back to back, and really enjoying both of them, was a wonderful surprise.

What does it mean to be an Indigenous person -- a Native, Native American, First Nations, Native American Indian, an Indian -- in the world today? Not in the pre-contact world romanticized in our imaginations. Not as any of the stereotypes placed on Native lives, be it the tragic-heroic model or that of hopeless despair. What is it like to be Native in the current, urban world in which the majority of Indigenous people in North America now live. 

How do you keep tradition alive without being defined by it? How do you understand a catastrophic history and its impact on your life, without being obsessed with the past? What does it mean to be an "urban Indian"? 

In There There, Orange asks these questions and lets many different characters -- their lives, their stories -- attempt to answer them.

I don't usually like novels that are collection of stories and vignettes, but Orange's writing is so good that it pulled me in and never let go. As connections among the characters are revealed, plot lines emerge, and suspense builds. The chapters become shorter, the connections more urgent, the answers shattering and sometimes surprising.

Here's a bit of an interview with the author in The Guardian that I found interesting.

What made you decide to have 12 narrators?

I really liked what a chorus of voices could do. I like, within a novel, to jump around and see how the different voices connect. It gives the reader a lot to do. And when the reader gets the connection, something really special happens: like a clicking in place. It gives it a kind of propulsion and makes it a really active reading experience.

Did you also want to portray as many different Native urban experiences as you could?

I guess so. There's a monolithic version of what a Native is supposed to be. Writing a polyphonic, multigenerational novel is resisting this one idea of what being Native is supposed to look like. If we all have to be historical, with a headdress, looking off into the distance, that’s hopeless as far as building a proper, complex, human identity.

Many of your characters are deeply troubled. Why?

I wanted to write characters that felt true and real, and there's a lot of harrowing detail about the lives of Native people. You can just look at the health statistics and they're pretty staggering. I wanted the characters to be working-class, because so often the characters in novels that I've read are white and upper-middle-class with white, upper-middle-class problems. I didn't want to go anywhere near the old romanticised view of the Indian as the warrior, the powerful, the unflinching, the brave. That just doesn't feel whole to me.

Each character in There There owns their Native identity in different ways and imbues it with meaning (or not) in their own way. Their stories touch on family history, trauma, addiction, recovery, shame, forgiveness, loss, memory, and identity. Their voices are funny, angry, desperate, and hopeful. The writing is simply amazing.


what i'm reading: true story by kate reed petty

Kate Reed Petty's True Story is one of the most impressive debut novels you'll ever read. 

It is both a riveting page-turner and a narrative puzzle, twisting and turning in on itself, leaving the reader reeling and uncertain. This book is very smart and very compelling. It is also very difficult to write about without spoiling! But don't worry, I hate when reviewers reveal too much, and always do my utmost to avoid that.

Begin with an incident. A sexual assault. Think Chanel Miller, who was assaulted by Brock Turner, a Stanford University athlete, while she was unconscious. Think Glen Ridge

Add genre references and tropes -- horror, noir, suspense, crime thriller, memoir. Horror and crime movies are especially present. Petty uses these tropes in unexpected ways, to highlight sexism and misogyny, attitudes and stereotypes. I would say Petty gives a feminist reading of the horror and crime genres, but that sounds dry and academic -- and True Story is anything but.

Petty also uses the genre tropes to re-create the fractured memory and dislocation caused by trauma, the way trauma survivors must shape their own scraps of memory into a story, and how people co-opt the stories of others, shaping them into a more easily digestable narrative.

What really happened that night? That clichéd question reverberates through the book, as the stories within stories unfold. Other elements -- more than one unreliable narrator, a ghostwriter, rampant rumour and speculation -- create a story about storytelling.

True Story is the kind of suspense novel I'm always looking for: a great read, but with something deeper, something more substantial.


what i'm reading: the skin we're in by desmond cole

Alternative title: It Happens in Canada, Too.

Desmond Cole's book, The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power may be a difficult book for white Canadians to read. That's exactly why they should read it. 

Cole documents events most Canadians would call "US-style" racism -- except they all take place in Canada. He uncovers historical anti-Black bias in Canada's immigration policies, ongoing anti-Black racism in its public schools, racism embedded in false historical narratives, and racist policing on the streets -- in short, systemic racism. 

As Cole points out, Canadian media is happy to report on anti-Black police violence taking place in the US, which fits nicely into a narrative Canadians know and love. But when it comes to anti-Black police violence within Canada, incidents are glossed over, misreported, or completely ignored. 

In the early days of this blog, before we had even emigrated to Canada, my partner asked if there was a Canadian equivalent of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States -- a counternarrative that tells the often invisible stories of injustice and resistance. Readers  said that kind of history wasn't really necessary in Canada, because Canada's view of itself and its own history was more honest than America's. 

That deserves one massive call of bullshit. 

I'm not suggesting that wmtc readers were bullshitting us. Merely that Canadians think they know the real history of Canada, flaws and faults along with pride and heroics. This is simply not true. Exhibit A: the revelations about the Residential School system that attempted to destroy Indigenous culture and subjugate Indigenous people. Most Canadians were not taught about this in public schools. It was not part of Canada's official history. Without the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Calls to Action, this ignorance would have continued in perpetuity. 

Is it better in Canada than in the US? I think so. But that's easy for me to say, I'll never personally experience systemic racism. Desmond Cole has been stopped by police more than 50 times. And if Canada is better than the U.S., is that the best we can do? 

What does "better than the US" mean to Dafonte Miller? To Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Chantel Moore? To the thousands of young Black men subjected to random stops and searches -- known as carding in Canada and but more aptly named stop-and-frisk in New York City. To the Somali refugees and Haitian immigrants whose families have been illegally broken up and put at grave risk? To the Black Canadian school children subjected to the presence of police in their schools?

This excellent article in the Guardian from June 2020 -- "Canada urged to open its eyes to systemic racism in wake of police violence" -- puts it clearly and succinctly.
... political leaders’ resistance to the idea that systemic racism exists within state institutions often comes from a poor understanding of the country’s past, says educator and historian Natasha Henry, president of the Ontario Black History Society.

“It’s part of the Canadian national narrative of positioning ourselves in juxtaposition to the United States. That’s how we get this ‘exceptional Canada’ of being welcoming and warm – and not paying attention to our own parallel history of racial exclusion and the dispossession.”

In addition to being factually inaccurate, this popular view speaks to a “refusal to take responsibility” for two centuries of slavery within the country’s history, says Henry.

For generations, Canadian history has concentrated on the country’s position as the last stop on the Underground Railroad – a place which meant freedom for those who escaped slavery in the US. But the same narrative omits the experiences of thousands of enslaved people within Canada, says Henry.

According to Henry’s research, the earliest record of African enslavement in colonial Canada was the sale of a young boy, named Olivier LeJeune in 1629.

Slavery was formally ended in the British empire in 1834, including British North America, but legislation was repeatedly passed that would weaken anti-slavery laws in the years leading up to abolition.

After emancipation, black people in Canada still faced segregation, and the looming threat of hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

“You have to decide – are you going to accept all of Canada or none of Canada?” said Henry. “Because you can’t parcel out what you want. That’s not how history works.”

Canadians, if you're ready to confront this -- or even to consider that there may be parts of Canada that you don't yet know or understand -- I urge you to read The Skin We're In.

Desmond Cole has done us a great service. With his unflagging activism, his lively, accessible writing, and his blunt truth-telling, he is helping Canadians to better understand this country, and to consider the experience of Canadians who don't necessarily look like them. If we want Canada to truly be better than the United States, this is a place to start.


Personal footnote: Cole was the keynote speaker at the 2017 CUPE Ontario Library Workers Conference, which I helped organize (post is here).


rtod: kids are jumping out of windows of burning buildings, so we board up the windows instead of putting out the fire

 Revolutionary thought of the day:

What I'm here to talk about is how our whole approach since day one has been like this: Kids are jumping out the windows of burning buildings, falling to their deaths. And we think the problem is that they're jumping. This is what we've done: We've tried to find way get them to stop jumping. Convince them that burning alive is better than leaving when the shit gets too hot for them to take. We've boarded up windows and made better nets to catch them, found more convincing ways to tell them not to jump. They're making the decision that it's better to be dead and gone than to be alive in what we have there, this life, the one we made for them, the one they've inherited.

From There There by Tommy Orange