Indigenous History Month: What do baby steps in Reconciliation look like?

NationalIndigenousMonthLast week’s post in recognition of National Indigenous History Month focused on one of the ugliest truths of the Canadian government’s heinous assaults on the Indigenous Peoples, the residential school system.  There’s a long list of egregious government policies and failings towards Indigenous Peoples that I could continue with, but instead of going to that dark place, let’s talk about a few of the small but hopefully positive changes that have occurred since the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has shone a nationwide light on these issues.

Perhaps foremost, the telling of – and genuine understanding of – Canadian history is being “revised” to include recognition and appreciation of the long history and continuing presence of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada.  A few steps are helping.  The hope is that this movement keeps gaining momentum.

The introduction of the Land Acknowledgement is one example of a small but meaningful step in raising awareness among non-indigenous folks by acknowledging and honouring the First Peoples, who have lived here for thousands of years.  The Land Acknowledgement is a statement now used to begin most public events across the country.  The precise wording varies from city to city depending on the First Nations in the region and the treaties that were or were not signed there.  But in each case, it brings much food for thought for us non-indigenous people.  For many if not most of us, hearing that we are about to see a concert or watch a graduation ceremony on “unceded and unsurrendered territory” is a powerful reminder of how much we have to learn and help change.

Some examples of Land Acknowledgement from across the country: Continue reading

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The power of a smile … OK, and the power of running

As the (nearly 100-year old) song goes,

When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling,
The whole world smiles with you.

Last week our community, and especially our very large running community, lost someone whose smile was legend.  He was my former student and friend, and he was friend to countless people spanning the generations who had encountered him through his long-time cheese stall at the popular Boyce Farmer’s Market and through his running clinics at the Running Room over many years.  For all those runners, and there were literally hundreds, Mark’s smile and gentle but convincing encouragement were what they credited for getting them across the finish line, providing a sense of personal accomplishment they had not thought possible.


Mark Kirby died of cancer last week, just a few weeks short of his 50th birthday.  His body finally said “enough” after 4 years of fighting the cancer.  When the cancer left him unable to run, he instead attended every race to support all the other runners, serving as the race photographer, and helping and encouraging in every way possible.  Just his presence and his smile gave people who knew him (pretty well everyone) that extra spark to want to give their all.  Seeing him taking photos along a race route gave you extra energy.

Mark wasn’t rich by way of making tons of money, but he was rich in other ways.  He wasn’t famous because he developed some new medical advance to save the world (although he certainly was a valuable subject for testing several new experimental drugs in the past few years).  And Mark wasn’t an elite runner making his career out of conducting running clinics.  He took a “learn to run” clinic himself in 2007 and fell in love with everything about it: the challenge, the sense of personal fulfillment, and especially the sense of community. Continue reading

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Canada’s day of reckoning is here: we have the Truth, let’s get serious about the Reconciliation

NationalIndigenousMonthIn my Map Monday post last week I committed to writing on issues relevant to National Indigenous History Month – June – on each Monday in June, so here we go.  There’s so much that wants to tumble out that I’ve found it difficult to know where to start.  I don’t want to write only about the angst and horrific injustices; there is so much Indigenous knowledge and wisdom to learn from, especially in our time of environmental crisis, and so many cultural and spiritual traditions to celebrate.  But Indigenous history in what is now called Canada has been filled with so much tragedy since shortly after the arrival of European colonizers that I think I have to start with the harsh realities.

Just as a reminder, the Americas had been occupied by Indigenous peoples and empires with a diversity of languages and cultures across two continents for at least 14,000 years when the first Europeans arrived.  Estimates of the population across that vast landmass of North and South America prior to 1492 have been as high as 112 million people; the most accepted estimate based on current research is at least 60 million people .  For comparison, at the same time the population in Europe is estimated to have been 70-88 million.

Even before aggressive actions against the Indigenous populations began, mere contact with the Europeans brought diseases such as smallpox and measles for which the local populations had absolutely no defense.  It is thought that up to 90% of that population in the Americas may have been wiped out by disease alone.  The Beothuks of Newfoundland, an indigenous people who had inhabited that northeastern region for 1500 years, were completely wiped out due to contact with the European “settlers”.  And, of course, that was just the beginning.


The overriding push for new land was, initially at least, for the riches to be found there.  In South America it was to take their gold and silver back home; in North America it started with furs, fish, and trees.  The idea became: Gee, while we’re here let’s set up shop and keep taking more.

The mindset of the European colonists was founded on some remarkably egregious edicts from the Pope starting in the 1400s (Papal Bulls), giving permission and even encouragement for kings in Europe to sail the seas to take lands and resources from any heathens they might encounter.  It was their right and even duty as superior Christian men.  If the heathens you find there aren’t Christian (duh, how could they be?), it’s your right as self-proclaimed superior beings to take the land and convert the natives to Christianity and/or dispatch them as you will.  This is also known as the Doctrine of Discovery.  Very handy.  Christ’s lessons in compassion, humility and doing unto others clearly didn’t take too well.

It was in this context that the relatively peaceable relationships that prevailed between Indigenous peoples and early European adventurers and farmers in what’s now Canada – mostly French fur traders and Acadian farmers – gave way to far more hostile relations when the British colonizers came in force.  The philosophy of the Doctrine of Discovery was front and center.  There were certainly serious attempts at conversion, but there was nothing that minimized the European (British) belief that they were superior beings and the land and all resources were theirs by rights of their superiority.  Relationship building and attempts at understanding were not on the agenda.  Compassion? None.  Sense of guilt? Ha, hardly.  And this sense of entitlement, coupled with unbelievable acts of cruelty and inhumanity, set the stage for what the Indigenous peoples of Canada are still living with today. Continue reading

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Thoughtful Thursday: when will we ever learn?

A quote by human rights activist Mohamad Safa (incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela on social media platforms, but I’m sure Mandela would have agreed with it). Can we at least hope these hurtful divisions will decrease with each succeeding generation?  Please?!

Mohamad Safa

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Map Monday: indigenous history around the world, pre- and post-colonization

Today is the last day of May, the day before the beginning of June, which is National Indigenous History Month in Canada.  There can be no more chilling reminder of why Canada needs to have a National Indigenous History Month than what transpired in British Columbia this past week, when the remains of at least 215 children were unearthed at the site of a former Residential School.

For those of you who aren’t aware of this shameful history, the Canadian government ran Residential Schools for indigenous children from 1863 to – get this – 1998.  At least 150,000 children were forcibly taken from their homes and sent to schools far away from their families, mostly run by church authorities.  The stated objective was to “take the Indian out of the child” by removing anything related to their homes and culture, including language, instilling the Church into them, and giving them some basic education.

The reality was that the children were in many instances kept in substandard conditions, without their traditions, their familiar food, or the love of their family and community.  They were beaten and abused (including by nuns and priests), exposed to diseases like TB, from which they died at frightening rates, and often died of hypothermia when they tried to run away and get back home.  The families were rarely ever even told what happened to their children. And we wonder why there is so much dysfunction in many indigenous communities or why so many indigenous people in Canada don’t trust authority.

[The tragic reality is that similar stories of how indigenous peoples have been and/or are being treated can be found repeated around the world.  Similar stories of residential schools can be found in Australia and the United States.  And one might well ask the Uyghurs if this sounds awfully familiar to their current treatment in today’s context.]

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established in Canada in 2008, to uncover the full extent of mistreatment of indigenous peoples as a result of the devastating impact of Residential Schools on their families, their communities, and their very souls.  It also investigated other government policies programs targeting indigenous peoples that have further harmed their lives in many ways, such as forcing them off their lands and into poorly equipped remote towns, etc.

The TRC produced a final report with many recommendations in 2015.  Our country is slowly but surely working its way through them.  It is a long process of undoing centuries of injustices and discrimination, but we will remain hopeful that this process will ultimately bring peace and dignity back to indigenous peoples in Canada.  This has been their ancestors’ land for many millennia, the rest of us – the “settlers” – have so much to learn about the stewardship of this land from indigenous peoples.

To start off National Indigenous History Month one day early, today’s Map Monday will concentrate on maps of indigenous settlements and civilizations throughout history.  In each Monday in June, Map Monday will be replaced by posts relevant to Indigenous History Month.  More maps will be back in July!

The first map shows the distribution of indigenous peoples throughout the world today.  It will surprise many westerners to learn that the vast majority of the world’s indigenous peoples live in Asia and SE Asia, although you will be familiar with the more common term, “ethnic minority”.  As the source of this map makes clear (World Bank), indigenous peoples across the globe endure exclusion and poverty.


The next map is a screen shot of an ambitious interactive map available at Native Land.  It is updated as new or improved information is recorded. It’s worth taking a look (just click and try it out).


This map shows the migration routes from Asia to the Americas that populated those continents nearly 15,000 years ago. It also includes a hypothesized Solturean Route from Europe more than 20,000 years ago.  More information on this hypothesis can be found at the map’s source, Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island.

Map Smithsonian.v3.1


This map shows the peoples, cultures, and economic activity of North America prior to the arrival of Columbus et al.  One sad detail: the Beothuks of Newfoundland (far righthand side in Canada) were wiped out – made extinct as a race – by the encroachment, slaughter and imported diseases of the European colonizers, against which they had no resistance.  The last surviving Beothuk, (Nancy) Shanawdithit, died of TB in 1829.

The next three maps show the changes perpetrated on Native American in what became the United States once the colonists arrived.  These maps show the decreases land but not in population, which was due to disease but mostly to massacres, as well as starvation thanks to a government policy of killing all the buffalo for that very purpose.




This map shows the distribution of indigenous peoples are a percentage of the overall population throughout North America.


This map shows the same area in more detail.  You can click on the map to see considerably more detail.


And finally, a map of where all the Residential Schools in Canada were located.  This is another interactive map, and if you click on the image you can check out its interactive nature.


I am hopeful that the posts I share during Indigenous History Month over the next 4 Mondays will show that we have opportunities for change.  Small steps have been made through the implementation of some of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  We can all work towards many, many more small steps, resulting in large, much needed improvements for the everyday lives of indigenous peoples.

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Pay attention, democracy is more fragile than we like to think

A few weeks ago I came across a powerful blog post by Matthew Wright, an historian and author in New Zealand, entitled “Remembering the importance of democracy”. It included an historical synopsis of World War II’s European front that I shouldn’t have needed reminding of, being one of the first of the infamous baby boomers, born right after the War. If many of the lessons the world learned from World War II have lost their grip on someone my age, then how can we expect those a generation or more removed from the immediate aftermath to stay vigilant? How do we ensure that we don’t repeat the horrors that befell Europe?

Frighteningly, Matthew Wright reminds us that our grasp on democracy is pretty fragile. After reminding his readers of how close all of Europe came to falling to full-out fascism, with only Britain left to fight once France fell, he says:

“We take it for granted that the democracies prevailed. Actually, they did so only by a whisker.”

And he concludes his post with the sobering words:

“The what-ifs could doubtless be debated; but the point is that the Second World War was a near-run thing. Democracy was not necessarily going to be the winner. It was, of course, and the world was all the better for that. What worries me is that these lessons have been forgotten. But as the world slides into what is increasingly presenting as a new existential crisis, they deserve remembering.”

Lest we forget indeed. And although this is a depressing subject, it’s too important a subject for us to dismiss. Perhaps the impending arrival of Memorial Day in the U.S. is a fitting to time to put this concern out there for us all.

We’re used to thinking of all the “western” countries as being fully functioning democracies, along with several developing countries around the world. But the picture is not all that rosy. It appears that power, greed, and ultra-nationalistic inclinations keep getting in the way. And, sorry to say, those are precisely the ingredients for more fascist tendencies at the expense of democracy. Continue reading

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Vitamin F: there are vitamins and then there are vitamins

This piece has been circulating on the Internet since at least 2011 (I came to realize this when googling for the original source). The source remains unknown, and the contents change a bit with the state of the world, but the underlying theme is timeless: friends are critical to our well-being. (Thanks to friend Marilyn for bringing this piece to my attention.)

Why do I have a variety of friends and family who are all so different in character? How is it possible that I can get along with them all? I think that each one helps to bring out a “different” part of me. With one of them I am polite. With another I joke … with one I can be a bit naughty. Another, I can sit down and talk about serious matters. With another I laugh a lot. I listen to one friend’s problems. Then I listen to another one’s advice for me.

My friends are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. When completed, they form a treasure box. A treasure of friends! They are my friends who understand me, sometimes better than I understand myself! They’re friends who support me through good days and bad.
Real Age doctors tell us that friends are good for our health. Dr. Oz calls them Vitamin F (for Friends) and counts the benefits of friends as essential to our well-being. Research shows that people with strong social circles have less risk of depression and terminal strokes. If you enjoy Vitamin F constantly, you can be up to 30 years younger than your real age. (I only wish!) The warmth of friendship stops stress and even in your most intense moments, it decreases the chance of a cardiac arrest or stroke by 50%. I’m so happy that I have a stock of Vitamin F!

In summary, we should value our friends and keep in touch with them. We should try to see the funny side of things and laugh together and pray for each other in the tough moments.

Some of my friends are friends online. I know I am part of their circle because their names appear on my computer screen often and I feel blessed that they care as much for me as I care for them. Thank you for being one of my Vitamins. The most beautiful thing about friendship is that we can grow separately without growing apart.

In these days of COVID-19 and global uncertainty, Vitamin F is needed more than ever.

Keep safe and well.


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Family: parenting versus grandparenting

We’ve had a big milestone in our house this week.  We’ve been parents for 50 years now.  Yes, that’s right, our first born turned the big 5-0.

When you think about it, it’s a little surprising that there are no celebrations of parenting milestones.  I guess those are things we do within the confines of our own homes, celebrating when our children achieve a new accomplishment or milestone and especially when they are finally – and hopefully successfully – launched.  There’s Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, for sure, which are lovely.  But as parents we don’t usually stop and appreciate the magnitude of the role we’ve taken on, usually without having given much thought to what we were getting into!

Some truisms that few of us stop and think about as we’re entering the delivery room, signing the adoption papers, or otherwise taking on responsibility for another human being:

  • There is no more important job you’ll ever have than being a parent. You are now responsible for caring for, nurturing, shaping, supporting, and encouraging another human being, who depends entirely on you.
  • From now on, life is no longer all about you!
  • This all-important job is not always fun, although often it is, and is decidedly not the most relaxing of occupations.
  • This job is not the most lucrative, in fact it’s quite the opposite.
  • This job is hard. The hours are extensive.  Sleep is often elusive in the early years and then again when your teenager is out with the car.  The worries can be endless.  The challenges are both predictable and entirely unpredictable, and you can be sure that you don’t have the experience to handle it all.  Instinct is critical; you have to learn on the job.
  • There is no job that’s more rewarding. The joys come both from unanticipated small everyday occurrences and major milestones.
  • Your biggest successes – and greatest joy – at this job will come from simply loving your child unconditionally.

Continue reading

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