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The Current Transcript for November 9, 2017
Host: Anna Maria Tremonti
STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE
Listen to the full episode
There's a way of life here that I think is a grand thing. The line says, "you don't know what you got till it's gone." Well, we got it. I know we got it. I'd like to keep it too. [Chuckles]
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: We've got a tale of two communities today, each one an island, each between one to three hours from shore by ferry, each barely populated. One has 12 residents the other just over 100. Tiny places but the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has a responsibility to them. The residents of one have voted themselves off their island. The people on the other well don't even suggest they could consider going. And don't think they can be gilded out by the cost of government subsidies to live there. The fate of these two little places raises big questions about the choices we make when it comes to rural and isolated communities in Canada. Listen for that in just a moment. And then as the Quebec law restricting the niqab heads to court, is it constitutional?
You know what. I think there's going to be a lot of reflections on that. But as I've said many times, if you want to prevent women from being forced to wear a veil maybe you don't want to be a society that forces women to not wear a veil.
AMT: Polls say the majority of Quebeckers support Bill 62, is that true? Those challenging it call it discriminatory, unconstitutional and unnecessary. Those defending it say Quebec is misunderstood. That issue in half an hour. And then meet Lynn Gehl. It took her years to understand her indigenous background and in the process she discovered the depth of indigenous knowledge.
It was a hard journey because it is a paradigm shift. You would have to really think differently and conceptually. It's not just the fluffs and feathers and dancing. There is a real sophisticated knowledge system under that.
AMT: As Ottawa moves toward recognising the status of hundreds of thousands of indigenous women and their children, we bring you the stories and insights of one woman who has claimed her Anishinaabe heritage and her human spirit. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.
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I'm going to miss it': William's Harbour residents bid farewell and begin relocation
Guest: Katie Breen, Terry Roberts
VOICE 1: [Unintelligible] Stuff going on board
VOICE 2: Yes, every time the ferry goes, it is very full. They can literally [unintelligible]
VOICE 1: Yes, that is my bike over there. [Unintelligible] Knows how to drive. I never ever [unintelligible] on your bike.
VOICE 3: Do not know how to drive a car?
VOICE 1: No, never ever drove one. [Chuckles] Never thought about it.
AMT: Over for it. Well that is 80 year old Graham Russell loading his ATV or his bike, as you heard him call it, onto the ferry sailing out of William’s Harbour. Over the last month each ferry run from that small community has been loaded up with a lifetime's worth of possessions because the residents of William’s Harbour are leaving. It is relocation under way in Newfoundland and Labrador with most of the residents on their way to Port Hope Simpson, compared to the 50s, 60s and 70s when hundreds of communities opted for resettlement. The practice is relatively rare in the province today but it's what this community has voted for. And come tomorrow. The lights will be turned off in William’s Harbour for good. The CBC's Katie Breen spent some time in the community and she joins me from our studio in Happy Valley Goose Bay. Hello.
KATIE BREEN: Hi.
AMT: Tell us about William’s Harbour.
KATIE BREEN: It's just this tiny island off the south coast of Labrador, very isolated just clinging to the edge of the ocean. People have been going there to fish for generations. But it was settled just about 40 years ago when the community was hooked up to electricity. If you go by ferry it's going to take you between two and three hours and that's after driving there on a dirt road. When you sail in, you're going to see houses and fishing stages all knit very closely together connected by the dirt road just dotted along the coast. There's only one store, no gas station and it's home to about a dozen people.
AMT: Wow. How common is relocation in Newfoundland and Labrador these days?
KATIE BREEN: Well growing up I've heard about it. I mean it's been happening since the 1950s. Relocation happens when people in a remote community decide they want to leave, for whatever the reason. They approach the province, vote, and if at least 90 percent say they want out they'll be paid to move. Really it gets the province out of paying to provide services. You know, for an island like William’s Harbour, the province provides things like a ferry, medical flights, electricity and it really starts to add up.
AMT: So how much will it cost the province to shut down William’s Harbour?
KATIE BREEN: Well, households will get about $250,000 to pack up and leave. They should be receiving that money shortly. The province is going to spend a total of about four million dollars in buyouts and decommissioning costs. Over 20 years, it predicts resettling William’s Harbour will save taxpayers about $8 billion. Because you know once Friday hits, the province is no longer going to be responsible for keeping the place connected anymore. There won't be any electricity on the island. The ferry will stop running and people are making use of that boat in the meantime, though. The residents are using it to ship out their stuff.
[Sound: Indistinct conversation and chatter]
A lot of stuff going on board.
KATIE BREEN: Anna Maria that is what the dock sounds like nowadays when the boat ties up then it's ready to be loaded up.
VOICE 1: It's sad to see everyone's stuff go and going away from home. It's unbelievable that everyone is actually -- it's starting to become real for all the families that they actually have to leave. Every time the ferry goes she's right full. The deck is leveled right off with stuff. Everyone has a household full of stuff to move
VOICE 2: Watch the legs, watch the legs. Okay you got her.
VOICE 1: It's out of our hands it's out of our hands.
KATIE BREEN: That's Mark Russell. He's in his early 20s and he fishes for a living. Mark was in William’s Harbour visiting his grandparents.
AMT: Okay, so he is not living there I guess. But are there many young people left on the island?
KATIE BREEN: That's the thing, there really aren't. When the northern cod moratorium hit in 1992 the population took a hit. Most of the young people left. There was only 12 people who stayed in William’s Harbour this past winter and Mark's grandmother was one of them. Her name is Rosalind and she runs the only store left in William’s Harbour.
Changed a lot. This community was real busy community one time, because you had a fish plant here. People you used to work. We used to work in the plant all the time. Yes. Well when we get the food [unintelligible] come in in the winter, you know, fresh fruits and vegetables and everything. That'd be fun, because everybody in the community would be here. Before he [unintelligible] everybody be up, and gets some fresh fruits and vegetables. Yes. That was good. We haven’t got much of anything, now. The shelves are getting pretty bare now, but I think I'm going to miss it, just to say. I won’t know what to do.
AMT: She really loves that place she sounds like quite the character with all those memories of busier times.
KATIE BREEN: She really is a character. You should have seen the store. There wasn't too much left there on the shelves. And actually the store isn't run like a regular store, doesn't have your regular business hours. There's so few people left in the community that they'll just give her a call and, you know, she'll walk over. Its next to her house or she'll walk over and open up so people can get their stuff. That's the kind of compromise that they come to on that island. It's a really hearty group that's left there. They've had to endure the elements on their own for a long time. And that's a big part of the reason why they decided to leave in the winter. The ocean freezes up and the ferry stops running. Flights can't land on the gravel runway. Residents tell stories about how they can sometimes walk onto the second story of their house from the ground. That's how much snow has fallen so it's a rough harsh climate. I'll let George Russell tell us more about that. You know, William’s Harbour it's too small to have a mayor. But that's what everyone calls him.
Everybody is up in age sort of thing, no clinic here, no nothing. Probably storm bound here 3-4 days, no way to get out of the island. [Unintelligible] Sometimes the ice condition isn't that good, and the only way out is by aircraft. We had one year here, that was a few years back, when the [unintelligible] 19 days with not a flight. People running out of medications. God we're one of the worst isolated communities in Labrador when it comes to wintertime, eh.
AMT: Well that kind of isolation can be dangerous. I can understand why they might want to leave but still it couldn't have been an easy decision.
KATIE BREEN: No it really wasn't. The ties to this community run generations deep. Everyone has family buried on the island and they themselves want to be buried next to them. There's one church. Even though they're leaving they have insisted on re-shingling it.
AMT: Is that right, huh?
KATIE BREEN: Yes.
AMT: So what's going to happen to their houses, Katie?
KATIE BREEN: The province is going to own them but they can go back to visit. I mean there's not going to be electricity and they'll have to find their own way there. But homeowners can apply for a permit to get back into their homes. The only thing is they can't pass that permit on, or their houses, they can't pass those down. And you know that's what stopped Michael Penney from taking the settlement package. He's going to be there on Friday, when the lights go out. He's going to watch it go dark. He plans to go back for weeks at a time and live without power.
MICHEAL PENNEY: I had the papers come and everything and read the fine print and I didn't like what it had to say, so, no.
KATIE BREEN: What was it you didn't like in the paper?
MICHAEL PENNEY: Well it said that after five years they can come bull the house. If they found any minerals around they can come and take the house, you would not have back. I did not like it. I talked to the wife of course. We both agreed, no we won’t sell.
AMT: So, he didn't like the government deal. He and his wife were going to be there by themselves?
KATIE BREEN: This won't be the first time that they've seen it without power. For a resident like Cliff Russell and his girlfriend Mallory, plan to come back next year. They see economic opportunities on the island and they're going to come back in the summer to fish.
MALLORY: I think we got one more over here. [Unintelligible] I think that is where it is.
CLIFF: I will not be the same, you know, when he comes home to their house. No shower or no running water. Washing clothes. Well, I guess we'll go back. Resort to what we did years ago. Carry our water, hook up some hose or something from the pond.
MALLORY: Yes it's a totally different life altogether. Everything's outdoor, which I really like. I'd stay here all year honestly. If they weren't resettling, I'd stay here all year.
CLIFF: You know, it is not going to be the same there but [unintelligible] a few visits, probably, making a living, keeping the name in the map.
AMT: Keeping the name on the map. They make it sound like we should all go visit. They really love that place don't they?
KATIE BREEN: They really do. Cliff and Mallory plan to go back next summer and fish. They're going to sell their catch. They're going to get a generator to keep that catch fresh. They really do see it as a viable way to make a living and still return to a place that they feel is home. The province may no longer feel responsible or be responsible for William’s Harbour but it isn't dead in the eyes of the people who love William’s Harbour. The people who are packing up to leave, they intend to make that distinction clear.
AMT: Well Katie Breen stay with us. We have someone else with us the CBC's Terry Roberts in St. John's has been looking at another community in Newfoundland; St. Brendan's, another one of the dozens of small isolated communities along Newfoundland and Labrador is expansive coastline. Like William’s Harbour. It costs a lot of money to provide public services to people who live there. This community is making headlines for a different reason, though, and that's its pricey ferry service. Hello Terry.
TERRY ROBERTS: Well good morning Anna Maria.
AMT: What's it like on St. Brendan’s?
TERRY ROBERTS: Well let me just give a little tourism ad here, for St. Brendan’s, if you don't mind. If you want to feel like you step back in time, you need to visit St. Brendan’s. We're talking a fishing community with just 115 people there right now. Where is it? Well it's about a three hour drive by car, northeast of St. John's and then there's a one hour ferry ride. We'll tell you more about that shortly. But when you get there you drive out a Penney’s Cove, gravel roads all the way, fishing stages, home is powered by a large diesel generator that's running 24 hours a day much like in William’s Harbour.
[Sound: Waves crashing]
TERRY ROBERTS: But unlike William’s Harbour, Labrador do not talk about the word resettlement.
Don't mention the word or someone will have you in the freezer for lobster bait next spring.
AMT: Lobster bait next spring! Who's that? [Laughs]
TERRY ROBERTS: That was that was my welcome. That Anna Maria was Kevin O'Reilly. Here's his story; retired teacher, chairman of the St. Brendan's Ferry Users Committee. So you knew I was going to spend some time with him. He's not in a joking mood when it comes to the big R word; resettlements.
AMT: Okay, and why? How expensive is this ferry service?
TERRY ROBERTS: Six million dollars last year to operate, okay, that's for a population that wouldn't fill two school buses. So on a per resident bases, it's the most expensive ferry service in the province. For them the ferry of course is a necessity. And the town is fiercely proud of their community, their way of life.
I think it's a grand thing. There's a way of life here that a lot of these people, the naysayers, would love to have. And sometimes, like the line says, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. Well, we got it. I know we got it. I'd like to keep it too.
AMT: So he values the town's way of life but $6,000,000 a year to keep them connected to the mainland?
TERRY ROBERTS: Yes so Anna Maria let me set the scene for you. There's a lot of talk in our province, lately here in Newfoundland and Labrador, about our very grim financial situation. And we're talking billion dollar deficits, the highest per capita debt in the country. And remember we're a province of just a half million people or so but we're spread over a vast geography. We have hundreds of communities and many are accessible only by ferry and that's costly. So I asked the province for a breakdown. A marine services’ cost for last year and the numbers were pretty surprising 73 million for about 14 ferry services. But the St. Brendan’s run, Anna Maria, it really stood out.
AMT: How so, Terry?
TERRY ROBERTS: Let me tell you how it's done. The vessel is called the MV Grace Sparkes, at a cost to the government of nearly $30 million. Very modern, six million last year to operate alone. Now that's the equivalent of about 53,000. $53,000 for every man, woman and the few remaining children on St Brendan’s based on the current population there.
AMT: So you did visit St Brendan’s and we've already heard about the lobster bait threat, huh. What's the reception from the town when you start asking questions about this?
TERRY ROBERTS: You're not going to find any nicer people. I stayed at the bed and breakfast with an 87 year old woman named Agnes Wall. She's been a widow for 30 years, lived alone in her house and I felt like I was homeless felt like, I spent two days with my own dear mother. But here you got to know a reporter like myself coming from the city. So, when I approached Mayor Veronica Broomfield about this story, you know she was standing in the doorway to her house and pointing her finger at me and in no uncertain terms asking me if I came to St. Brendan’s to kill her community. Well, that was a tough thing to hear you know. So when she finally agreed to answer some of my questions her tone was iron rod stiff. Listen to this.
If you cut out rural Newfoundland, there will be no Newfoundland. And what it's costing the government, we all live on an island. We live in Newfoundland, and Newfoundland is an island. I work every day, and most everybody here works every day. I'm not worried about what it costs people to live in Burnside. Or what it costs the people to live in St. John's. So why are they worried about us? I'm too busy during the day to even think about how other people live. And I think they should do the same.
AMT: Well no apologies for Mayor Broomfield. Who else did you talk to? It's a fishing community. The fisherman must have a view of this.
TERRY ROBERTS: Oh for sure yes. St. Brendan’s it's still about a dozen fishing crews there and it's been a way of life. [Sound: Waves crashing] So I went down to the wharf to meet some of them and you know they just had a very good morning on the water. Lots of the cod is coming back in Newfoundland and you know you need to drop a line now and also guaranteed you're going to get cod once again. But the youngest fishermen in St. Brendan’s Anna Maria, much like the fishery everywhere in Newfoundland, the youngest fishermen is 50 years of age, and his name is Patty Kelly. He knew this would become a problem.
I know that big ferry costs a lot of money. a lot of people thought it was a good thing to get this big ferry. But I said to my brother when I saw it the first time. I said I think that's a nail in the coffin for St. Brendan's. Too big. Too much money.
AMT: So the community must be feeling pretty anxious, pretty vulnerable at the moment.
TERRY ROBERTS: They feel like they're under siege you know. And here's Kevin O'Reilly again the chairman of the fair users committee.
I don't know what you're going to do with us all. You gonna chisel us off and … There's no way to defend your home, you know, if they look at you as an expense. I don't want to feel that way. We worked all our lives. I was born here so it's not like I decided to come here and there was nothing to do.
AMT: They look at you as an expense. They must feel like they're a target of the government and austerity measures then?
TERRY ROBERTS: I think they do. And really you only need to drive around St. Brendan's to , you know when just really start asking questions about the cost of these small communities because the first thing I noticed was the school there St. Gabriel's a very big school. You know just 9 students Anna Maria. And then there's also 10 kilometers of provincial roads, you have to maintain while I was there a dump truck with a snowplough got off the ferry so that's going there to prepare now for the winter snow tarring needs. And of course there's that very expensive ferry. And when I asked our minister of transportation about this brought to his attention, he agreed that you know there's a problem here. So here's Steve Crocker provinces transportation minister.
We're going to look at vessel capacity and this particular vessel is at I think thirteen per cent passenger capacity, and twenty two per cent vehicle capacity. So when you look at those numbers, Terry, they don't fit. The time has come in this province that there are tough conversation that we have to have with a lot of our rural communities. And that's something we're going to have to do. The reality is upon us.
AMT: It sounds like there's change coming but what about relocation Terry? Is there any appetite in St. Brendan’s for that>
TERRY ROBERTS: So no there's no real appetite for resettlement. And despite the small population Anna Maria there's so much spirit in that little town. So, Mayor Veronica Broomfield, the pull no punches mayor of St. Brendan’s. She laid it out in very simple terms for me.
I came here 44 years ago and I was told 44 years ago St. Brendan’s might last five years. That's 44 years ago and it's still going strong. And I love every minute of it. People want to live here people owned their own homes and we quite content here and they don't want to go to another place. I will fight for this community. I will fight with every breath within me.
AMT: Well there's no mistaking her determination. So what happens next for the community, Terry?
TERRY ROBERTS: Most of the homes there are occupied by senior citizens. Like I told you, Agnes Walsh 87 years old, and you know those winds of change, people recognize they're coming. People like community leader Kevin O'Reilly, well he sees it every year we lose.
We're gradually losing, every year we lose, you know, older people off the top, young people moving away. It's probably going to come faster than even I anticipate. I have no illusions that we are dying.
AMT: He's talking about inevitable change and I'm wondering, Katie and Terry, how do you guys see the province dealing with these communities in the years to come?
KATIE BREEN: Yes well you know it's tricky. Resettlement dates back to the 50s and it does not have a flawless reputation. Government might want to be seen as forcing anyone out. There's a lot of people in these places are elderly and it's where they're from it's what they know. They don't want to go. So it's down to price. How much is keeping these communities connected worth. And that answer can be very different depending on who you ask.
TERRY ROBERTS: When you go back to what Steve Crocker said. He's the minister of transportation. He set the tone I believe in his comments and he said them more bluntly than I've heard in any minister in a long time. So issues like these can be political hot potatoes but it sounds like this government - this liberal government under Premier Dwight Ball, they may be investing in some triple layered oven mitts here. You know one thing to deal with these issues and that may not be good news for rural communities like St. Brendan’s.
AMT: Wow. Amazing stories of these communities. Thank you both for bringing them to us.
TERRY ROBERTS: You're welcome.
KATIE BREEN: You're welcome.
VOIE 1: I don't wanna lose my your grandfather's house. [Unintelligible] And he told me, I said, “Oh is your house [unintelligible]” and I said I ain’t leaving that’s it.
VOICE 2: I think more so I care less about all that. It's just the people leave, one by one. People living here all their lives and last year we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. Freeman and Rosalind Russell. And to me that was one of the biggest, the last gathering we had. With all the families coming home and was beautiful.
VOICE 3: You ever come to meet me again, you know , we are home at William’s Harbour
AMT: Some final voices out of the island community of William’s Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador. Tomorrow the lights will be turned off for good there. Terry Roberts is a reporter with CBC St. John’s. Katie Breen is a reporter based in Happy Valley Goose Bay. Let us know what you think of what you just heard. You can tweet us @TheCurrentCBC, find us on Facebook, go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. What's it got you thinking about rural isolated communities in Canada. The news is next and then we're talking about Quebec’s controversial face covering law facing a constitutional challenge.
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'Religion is not a race': Quebec's face-covering law heads for court challenge
Guests: Ihsaan Gardee, Lise Ravary, Chantal Hébert
AMT: Hello, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come, claiming Anishinaabe. How one Toronto woman worked to connect with her indigenous heritage and everything that means in Canada today.
You do think you're unworthy of joy and unworthy of food and unworthy of land and almost unworthy of life.
AMT: My interview with Lynn Gehl in half an hour. But first Bill 62 heads to court.
I live in fear. I am always scared because I don't know what will happen when I go out. I don't know how people will react because of this law. And at this moment, I did not have to receive a service properly. So I don't know how it will go but I am really scared.
AMT: That is Warda Naili, a Muslim woman living in fear, she says, in Quebec. Warda Naili converted to Islam six years ago. She began wearing the niqab. And since kopeck passed bill 62 last month that means she must uncover her face to access public services. That could mean no longer being able to board a bus, borrow a book from the library or check into a hospital. Warda Naili believes that's unconstitutional. And on Tuesday she joined a coalition of groups launching a legal challenge to the so-called religious neutrality law in Quebec Superior Court. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is part of that challenge and so is the National Council of Canadian Muslims. Ihsaan Gardee is its executive director and he is in our Ottawa studio Hello.
IHSAAN GARDEE: Good morning Anna Maria.
AMT: So first of all what specific part of this law are you challenging?
IHSAAN GARDEE: Well our legal challenge really Anna Maria is aimed at the heart of what this law really is in our view, a discriminatory and unnecessary and constitutional piece of legislation that that really excludes and stigmatizes an already vulnerable minority of women and by extension of the larger Muslim community. So as part of that legal action what we're seeking to do is seeking a court order to stage the operation of Section 10 of the act, which is the provision that requires individuals to uncover their faces in order to give or receive basic public services, including things like as you mentioned health care day care and public transit. And this in our view, this requirement directly and almost exclusively would impact Muslim women who veil their faces according to their sincerely held religious beliefs.
AMT: And as you know the premier Philllipe Couillard says the legislation complies with both the Quebec and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. How do you respond to that?
IHSAAN GARDEE: Well we e disagree and we think that you know it's an argument that's being made. You know putting forward that the goal of this is state religious neutrality Bill 1:54 has nothing to do with state religious neutrality which is already guaranteed by the Constitution and the Quebec charter. And our view, it has everything to do with politicians aiming to and trying to get electoral advantage in upcoming elections. We've seen it in this province. We've seen it federally as well in the 2015 election where rhetoric around Muslims and Islam whether it was veils and citizenship ceremonies or the so-called barbaric cultural practices act were used to try and leverage and gain votes.
AMT: So we just heard a little bit from Warda Naili about the impact the law has had on her, what else have you heard about the effect this legislation is having?
IHSAAN GARDEE: It's there's a lot of confusion, Anna Maria. As MS. Naili said, there's a lot of fear and anxiety and uncertainty. Ms. Naili and the other affiant in our legal challenge have both said that they have experienced an increase in the amount of harassment that they have been feeling and been exposed to. And we're hearing similar concerns from others across the province. And there's concern as well as we mentioned in our legal challenge about a ricochet effect. You know undeniably it's a popular move. You can see that from the polls. But just because a law is popular Anna Maria does not mean it's principled.
AMT: And am I right in understanding some that of the women who have spoken out who wear niqab have said that they are willing to remove it for security purposes for those reasons. But this is actually telling them they have to take it off and keep it off, in certain situations.
IHSAAN GARDEE: Absolutely I mean this is again the argument being put forward is that this is about communication, identification and security. Well the communication issue is we think a red herring. I mean you and I are talking right now with any without an aid of any visual cues and there's no problem communication. With regards to security and identification, women who wear the niqab have always removed the veil for legitimate purposes of identification security whether it's for driver's licenses or at airports. And we expect they'll continue to do so.
AMT: What action would you like to see from the federal government on this issue?
IHSAAN GARDEE: Well what the federal government does is obviously within their purview. But I understand that they're looking at it and you know they have to make a decision about how they wish to proceed. And I'm sure there's a lot of different things that factor into that decision.
AMT: And so how do you want to see a balance struck between protecting religious freedom and respecting Quebec’s jurisdiction?
IHSAAN GARDEE: Well I think the balance needs to be struck in terms of ensuring that the focus remains on the human rights and civil liberties that are shrines in both the Quebec charter and the Canadian Charter as well.
AMT: How many women actually wear niqab in Quebec, do you know?
IHSAAN GARDEE: The numbers vary. The most recent numbers I've heard is less than 100. So we're talking about a tiny fraction of the Muslim community of Muslim women in Quebec. But you know even though it's a small group I think it's important to remember that this is a group that is already marginalized and vulnerable. And you know as Gandhi said the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable.
AMT: And the government has indicated that there could be some kind of accommodation for some people wearing niqab. Do you know what that's about?
IHSAAN GARDEE: We don't. We haven't gotten any information about what you know what the accommodation process is and again this speaks to the idea that what is the point of having this law without having all the necessary information. There is no discussion around that whether it will be enforced. You know they're saying it won't be enforced and there won't be consequences. So to that just it just reinforces to us why this is unnecessary.
AMT: And certainly we have heard from politicians who have said that they will not enforce it, politicians in Montreal in particular both the outgoing mayor and the incoming mayor.
IHSAAN GARDEE: Indeed local politicians, universities like McGill and others have all come out against this law. I think because they recognize as well the vision the Quebeckers have for society is a society where the rights of all, including minorities, are respected. One of the things that gets forgotten in all of these discussions Anna Maria is that people focus on the niqab and they forget that there's a real person behind the niqab, somebody with hopes dreams fears. There is just this fixation on the niqab itself forgetting that you know there's a real human impact here.
AMT: So there would be uncertainty I guess if you had if you wore niqab, depending on where you were you wouldn't know if someone was going to enforce this law?
IHSAAN GARDEE: Exactly. I mean you have no idea about how is it going to be enforced. And then where is it going to end. Right now the niqab is a convenient political cover because it is very polarizing and controversial. However, you know once we allow government to start infringing upon the rights and freedoms of one vulnerable group it really it opens the doors to further discriminatory actions in lawmaking.
AMT: And how concerned are you about Quebec’s ability to invoke the notwithstanding clause in response to your legal challenge?
IHSAAN GARDEE: Well as I understand, the notwithstanding clause has been invoked very rarely and governments seem to be very reluctant to do so. However, you know if that happens we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
AMT: Quebec invoked it ease the notwithstanding clause for its language long years ago.
IHSAAN GARDEE: Indeed. And you know this is something that we're monitoring and we're taking it one step at a time.
AMT: There are those in Quebec who say that that those in English Canada don't understand the need for this in terms of wider culture. What would you say to that?
IHSAAN GARDEE: I think as I said, I think Quebeckers you know once they learn more about this law, I don't think they support discrimination and prejudice, which is what Bill 62 does. You know when the part about why introduced its charter for secular values in 2013 it was also seen as very popular in the polls. And later when Quebeckers came to learn more about how identity politics are harming Quebec society, they voted just a few months later against the party Quebecoise in 2014 and the PQ was defeated. And you know in our view I think the government should take note, and just because as I said just because a law is popular doesn't make it principled.
AMT: Okay, Mr. Carty Thanks for your time today.
IHSAAN GARDEE: Thank you for having me on.
AMT: Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, one of the group's mounting a legal challenge to the law that was brought in with Bill 62. He joined us from Ottawa. Now Quebec’s face covering law may be facing a challenge in the courts but in the court of public opinion the verdict appears to be in. the end Ipsos Public Affairs survey last month found that 76% of Quebeckers supported 68% of Canadians outside Quebec would support similar legislation in their provinces. Lise Ravary. He is a columnist at the Journal de Montreal and we've reached her in Alexandria, Ontario, right near the Quebec border. Hi Lise.
LISE RAVARY: Hi.
AMT: Mr. Gardee says this law is discriminatory. Do you agree?
LISE RAVARY: I can understand why he would say that but then you could argue that many laws are discriminatory in nature. Now I personally believe that law 62 is a bad law overall because it never really explains its purpose. It's not exactly clear why it's there. And of course applying it will be a nightmare for many workers such as bus drivers, you know police officers, when one day a woman wearing niqab will board their buses. So I don't think it's going to be the most popular law on the books in terms of applicability although people support it from a principle point of view.
AMT: Do you support the idea behind the law?
LISE RAVARY: Actually I do. And I'll tell you I support the idea that in a in a free open rule of law society going about with your face covered and your identity concealed is problematic. There are, as I'm sure you know, many European countries that are you know highly democratic and tolerant - I'm thinking about the Netherlands for example that has a law very very similar to last 62 banning niqab in hospitals and buses and so on and you know all the other countries in Belgium and France and Austria Switzerland - and the decisions made by these countries has been backed by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014. And it's a very tough court. It's not a lenient court. And they've decided that in our societies limiting the right to cover your face in public is something that should not be encouraged or you know if you want to ban it. Well they consider it legal.
AMT: What do you say to people who say despite that that's a racist law?
LISE RAVARY: Well first of all, religion is not a race, that would be my first argument. Number two, the niqab and I hate to get into arguments. You know whether you know the Al-Azhar University in Egypt supports it or not or you know whether it's really a Muslim injunction or not. But the fact of the matter is, not only that a minority of women here who wear it, it's a minority of women in in the Muslim world who wear the niqab where it is very highly controversial. It's not just controversial here. As some people use the argument, well when you go to Mecca on the Hajj on the pilgrimage. Women are not allowed to cover their faces in Mecca. That's often used as a reason why should we tolerate it here while in the center of the Muslim world it is not tolerated. So you could go on and on about these argument. I prefer to stay on the side of living the free open rule of law democratic society, going about with your face uncovered is not unreasonable. And Canada offers every Canadian great advantages or great privileges to be a Canadian.
AMT: But let me just ask you though. You say it's not racist but it is discrimination against identifiable religious group by the state. Are you comfortable with that?
LISE RAVARY: You know in that term…
AMT: Are you comfortable with that?
LISE RAVARY: I am not completely comfortable with it. But at the same time it is, you know if you are born black or Asian and you are facing discrimination, it's you know it's a terrible thing because it's who you are as a human being. But wearing a garment is a choice.
AMT: Why do you think so many Quebecers support this law?
LISE RAVARY: Well you know the problem with - we call it religious accommodations - I'm sure you know, this has been going on for 10 years since the Bouchard Taylor commission on reasonable accommodations. The Liberal government at the time decided not to do anything with the recommendations or very very little. So the issue has been left to fester and something that festers for 10 years at some point might just become well unsavory. And I think it has in this particular case and you know many analysts look at this as the Liberal government as it's going remember there's an election next year, the provincial election. And if they go into election telling the people that they haven't really done anything about the festering, that they could stand to lose. So it's you know it's seen, and I agree, as a political gesture in order to position themselves to the elections next year. And I think that's terrible.
AMT: Okay, Lise Ravary, we have to leave it there. Thank you.
LISE RAVARY: Thank you.
AMT: Lise Ravary, a columnist at the Journal de Montreal. We reached her in Alexandria, Ontario, near the Quebec border.
We could see this one coming from the moment that the bill was adopted. So it's not a surprise. Clearly people are saying there's lots of constitutional problems with the bill. You never know how long things can take in a court. So it's going to be a long time before we have the final word on this one.
AMT: That is Robert Leckey Dean of McGill University Faculty of Law and he says it may be a long time before the courts have their final say on this law. But it doesn't mean there won't be considerable political debate about it in the meantime in Quebec, in Ottawa right across the country. Chantal Hebert is a national columnist with The Toronto Star. She's in our Montreal studio. Hi Chantal.
CHANTAL HEBERT: Hi.
AMT: What do you make of the fact that some premier Couillard pushed for this law in the first place? Why do you think he did that?
CHANTAL HEBERT: I think he felt that he couldn't go in an election leaving a vacuum on the issue that had been at the root of the last Quebec election and had been front and center in many ways in the last Federal election. And he felt that he was reaching for the lowest hanging fruit by going for the face unveiled provisions, leaving aside all of the PQ and the CAQ calls for all religious symbols, garments etc. to be banned from people who work in the public service, in the larger sense of the word; Hospitals, teachers etc. It was a box he wanted to put a ticket. And so he did and here we are.
AMT: And what effect has it had on the opposition parties in Quebec?
CHANTAL HEBERT: That's kind of interesting because the opposition parties have both committed to bringing in their own version of this law, and it would be a law that would be wider in its application and would cover a host of religious symbols closer to the PQ charter on secularism. Remember? That banned all religious vestments from the civil service. Or at least in the case of the opposition parties at this juncture from people who were in positions of authority that would be judges, police officers, prison guards, crown prosecutors. And the CAQ and the P-Q in different ways would extend that to high school, elementary school teachers and possibly childcare workers or at least those coming into the child care workers system as new hires.
AMT: You make the point to actually. You've written that Mr. Couillard has managed to do something no one could do, which is you know with opposition parties against him.
CHANTAL HEBERT: Oh. He has done is done more than that. He has united Quebec. If he was looking for something to unite Quebec, he has united Quebec against this law. The opposition parties are obviously - the main opposition parties are obviously not satisfied and both have promised to alter or replace the law if they are elected next fall. The third opposition, Quebec Solidaire, is also against this law because they feel it's discriminatory and that it shouldn't even be on the books. People who wandered measures of that kind find that this doesn't meet their expectations and people who are against these kinds of measures are appalled that the Liberal Party would actually go down that road. So it's really hard to find, outside of Mr. Couillard’s liberal caucus, anyone who will say anything good about a law that a lot of elected officials and unions and institutions are basically refusing to apply. I was listening to people who are going to court to challenge this and I was thinking that maybe one of the upsides of this challenge, and there are many I think, clarity on the legal front would be nice, but one of the upsides is that it may force the Quebec government to give the many administrations who would have to apply the law some more clarity as to how they are supposed to go about that. You've probably heard the that the justice minister and the days after the law was adopted first said that it didn't only apply to Muslim women who wore the niqab or the burka, it also applied to people who wore large sunglasses.
AMT: Yes I was wondering about that.
CHANTAL HEBERT: Yes and then, she then modified her interpretation of her own law to say well you know possibly not on a bus unless you have to interact with the driver. I know in some places you still buy bus tickets but in Montreal most of us just get on the bus, we say good morning to the driver because we're polite but we don't interact with the driver. There is no transaction involved. So she seemed to say “unless you have a past that is a senior pass or a student - that's where you need photo ID - you would actually not have to do anything to board the bus.” But then she said “there wouldn't be people thrown off the bus because they wouldn't get on the bus”.
AMT: The bus would not stop for them, essentially, yes.
CHANTAL HEBERT: Exactly. I'm looking at this. There is a mystery or a disconnect on this issue that is been really striking. It is the disconnect between the polls that show strong support in principle for the measures of that kind and electoral results that actually go the other way. And I'll give you just one very recent example we've just had. I think you heard the small municipal election in Montreal, where two candidates, the outgoing mayor Denis Coderre and Valerie Plante obviously had a really good fight and both obviously wanted to win. So if this law is so popular how come the leading candidates, in the biggest Quebec municipal election, both stated repeatedly over the course of the campaign that they would not apply it on their watch.
AMT: Good question. I want to ask you about the federal government in all of this. We have got a clip of Justin Trudeau, the prime minister, while campaigning in the federal riding of Lac-Saint-Jean during a by-election last month. And he was asked whether this is constitutional.
Ah. You know what. I think there's going to be a lot of reflections on that. But as I've said many times, if you want to prevent women from being forced to wear a veil, maybe you don't want to be a society that forces women to not wear a veil. I think we have to respect that. This is a debate that's ongoing in society and we respect that The National Assembly in Quebec has taken a position on this. But there is an awful lot of questions being asked, not just from people outside of Quebec, from people in Quebec and I think it's healthy to have a really robust discussion about how to best defend people's rights and how to best ensure people freedoms.
AMT: How do you interpret what he's saying there, Chantal Hebert?
CHANTAL HEBERT: In subsequent interviews, Trudeau made it clear that he dislikes the law. I think Justin Trudeau, like you and me, cannot vouch for the constitutionality or lack of constitutionality of law 62. And that's the reasonable expectation that this issue will play itself out in the courts and in the end the final word on whether it respects the Quebec charter and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom will come from the Supreme Court of Canada. The question is not when the Supreme Court will pronounce on the issue. It is not if, but when. But so here here's what Justin Trudeau is faced with; he could chart take a shortcut and take this Quebec law and refer it to the Supreme Court and ask. So does this jibe with the charters. And that would probably save months and probably years of waiting for an answer. But there are two problems for this, both of them political but up to a point. The first problem is that by the time the Supreme Court starts looking at the law it may not be the law anymore. The Quebec government might have changed next fall and a new government would have come up with a new law that would be wiser. So going to court on Bill 62 is interesting but it may not be the final legislative word of the Quebec national assembly on the issue. That is the first problem. The other problem is that within Mr. Trudeau's own caucus, there are Quebec MP who say that the federal government should not be jumping in front of this parade that should be courts that go through this process, and the federal government at best should play a support role. They are not saying they are because they like the law. They're saying it because they think it's the fair process. And I did some research for you.
AMT: Okay. Actually we're out of time, we have to leave it there.
CHANTAL HEBERT: Okay, but bill 101, the federal government did not take it to court.
AMT: And that was Justin’s father.
CHANTAL HEBERT: Yes. The language law.
AMT: That was Pierre Trudeau.
CHANTAL HEBERT: But they did support those who went to court when it got there.
AMT: Okay. Chantal Hebert, thanks for your insights.
CHANTAL HEBERT: Okay.
AMT: Bye bye. Chantal Hebert, national columnist with The Toronto Star. She joined us from Montreal. Stay with us in our next half hour getting to know your heritage and learning to know the world in a different way. Lynn Gehl shares her story. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.
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How author Lynn Gehl reclaimed her Indigenous roots
Guest: Lynn Gehl
AMT: I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
[Music: Adaptation theme]
AMT: For my next guest connecting with her indigenous heritage has been a lifelong journey, a deeply personal and spiritual one but also a journey through the courts. After decades of fighting, Lynn Gehl won a victory last April when the Ontario Court of Appeal recognized her Indian Status. That victory came with a setback though. She did not receive the level of status she had sought. In that way, Lynn Gehl story is part of a wider ongoing battle to remove sex based discrimination in the Indian Act. But in terms of her personal voyage Lynn Gehl has overcome many obstacles. Growing up in Toronto, she was distanced from her Algonquin Anishinaabe roots and like many young Indigenous people she felt her heritage was being suppressed. But in a series of adaptations she found that learning about her culture helped her gain something else, her own indigenous spirit. Lynn Gehl has a book and it's called Claiming Anishinaabe. She's with me in Toronto as part of our project adaptation. Hello.
LYNN GEHL: Kwe, Kwe. Thanks for having me [indistinct language].
AMT: What did you just say to me?
LYNN GEHL: I said hello. Kwe kwe.
AMT: Thank you. Thank you for saying that. I want to ask you about your youth. When you were growing up, how much did you hear about your Algonquin Anishinaabe roots?
LYNN GEHL: Not very much, the knowledge of who I was as an Algonquin went underground. And it was found in the silences really which is kind of interesting when you think about that. But I did have exposure to who I was as Algonquin Anishinaabekwe where we spent a lot of time traveling up to go like first nation now known as Pikwàkanagàn First Nation. And we visited relatives and harvested fish and things like that. So it was through practice versus through discussion and talk.
AMT: How did your mother view her indigenous cultural background?
LYNN GEHL: My mother grew up in Quebec and she does have indigenous ancestry but she identified more as a French person and she spoke French and that's who she was.
AMT: And your dad?
LYNN GEHL: My dad was a different story. He was born and raised near Golden Lake because he was of unknown paternity; there was a lot of shame associated with who he was. He lived the life of subsistence in Golden Lake and he didn't look traditionally like an indigenous person, which was an issue, but I think in his heart he was Algonquin.
AMT: And you write about going fishing with your dad.
LYNN GEHL: Yes. So my parents had a lot of children. They had eight children and it was interesting process.
AMT: How so?
LYNN GEHL: So we'd go out in a rowboat and we were doing it illegally.
AMT: Illegally because you weren't status.
LYNN GEHL: Yes my father was not a status Indian. He was in a band member of Golden Lake and his mother had been escorted off the reserve. So we did it in secret and it was quite apparent we were doing it in secret.
AMT: Like how would it be secret?
LYNN GEHL: It wasn't celebrated. We didn't have ceremony of feast. It was I guess subjugated. It was quiet and silent and it was apparent we weren't supposed to be doing what we were doing.
AMT: So you were introduced to a part of your culture that mattered to your dad, to be there, but you also were introduced to the idea that you didn't have the right.
LYNN GEHL: Yes. And I think that's really important like he was trying to show us who he was and who we were through practice. And at the same time we it was a process that involves some shame and that was difficult. And when you think about that eating feast food it should be really a joyful time and a lovely time, a spiritual time. But for a lot of people it was a shameful time. And so that whole process of eating was a ritual of embodying shame and segregation and not worthy. I wasn't worthy, we weren't worthy.
AMT: How did that follow you through your life, did it?
LYNN GEHL: Oh it still does. Well it's something you really have to reflect on and it can become your default, that you're not worthy and so you have to spend a lot of time reflecting on that and walking around it and reminding yourself that you are worthy, that you are a person.
AMT: You said that his mother was escorted off the reserve. Why?
LYNN GEHL: Yes that's right. So my father's mother, she married a man who was French and Algonquin. But the Algonquin came from the mother line and so that meant that the Joseph - His name is Joseph Garney - was considered white even though his mother was Algonquin. And then when he married Ann Jane from Golden Lake, an Algonquin from Golden Lake, he converted her to a white woman and then in the 1930s when Canada was pushing people off the reserve and Jane was considered white and so was Joseph Garney, considered white and then my grandmother and my father. So were they were escorted off the reserve probably in the late 1920s by the RCMP.
AMT: It's interesting how governments figure into someone's view of their own culture. That's an example right there.
LYNN GEHL: Yes. Cultural genocide. Yes and it continues today.
AMT: What was your childhood like?
LYNN GEHL: Well we grew up in Toronto, in housing, there was eight of us. We lived in a small apartment. It was an affluent one bathroom. It was tough, in a tough neighborhood.
AMT: And you have a visual disability.
LYNN GEHL: Yes. I lacked depth perception I'm blind in terms of three dimensions. I see a flat world which is interesting. Growing up my parents they knew I had something wrong with my eyes because I had some surgeries. But they didn't couldn't understand that I was blind in terms of depth perception and I was struggling with the print material and text. So my family a lot of them can read really well but I was always puzzled by their ability to read and it wasn't until I was in my 30s that I learned how to read and write beyond primary school level.
AMT: How did you end up working in the sciences?
LYNN GEHL: Trying to understand reality, what happened to indigenous people, what happened to the Ogunquit people? Why is Parliament Hill on our land and nobody's talking about it? Why are the Algonquin suffering so much why are they poor? So I was trying to understand the nature of reality and that's where I went, to atoms and molecules.
AMT: And what were you doing with atoms and molecules?
LYNN GEHL: So I studied at community college and chemical technology and then I worked in the environmental sciences for about 12 years and I monitored Ontario's rivers and lakes for toxic organic molecules such as organic chlorine and pesticides and herbicides and PCBs. It is very interesting work.
AMT: And so despite your challenges, visually, you had a good job and you were pursuing this but then you left that. What changed as you continue to do that job in the way that you looked at that work?
LYNN GEHL: I think social justice, my sense of fairness, but also I realize the knowledge system wasn't working. Like it was very profound knowledge system and that we could detect pesticides and herbicides at the parts per million level, but people were continuing to pollute. Nothing was changing. It was like there's some other aspect of human behavior that knowledge system isn't capturing and that just pollution kept on coming and coming.
AMT: As you looked at this you are also looking at your own indigenous culture at the same time. Take me a little bit through your thought process.
LYNN GEHL: Yes I was being exposed to some indigenous knowledge and then in 1985 when they amended the Indian Act to bring it in line with the charter, I started to do that work. And of course you know I felt well I can't really just become a status Indian without really understanding what that means. And I was exploring indigenous knowledge and it was hard. It was a hard journey because it's a paradigm shift. You have to really think differently and conceptually it's not just about Fluff's and feathers and dancing there's a real sophisticated knowledge system under that. So it was a long journey and then eventually, it helped when I was in university, learning how to read and write. I studied started in psychology but I realized psychology wasn't going to answer my questions and then I switched to anthropology. Anthropology was quite phenomenal and it sent me deeper into mine indigenous knowledge system and realizing that indigenous knowledge had value incredible value. Then I ended up doing a master's and a Ph.D. in Indigenous Studies.
AMT: Let's go back to the science because you start working in what you term as which is understandable that a Western scientific method and at some point you start to learn about a more indigenous method. What's the difference? What do you see? What are you thinking?
LYNN GEHL: When I was working in the laboratory, you know we're relying on objectivity and it's quantitative. And then even going through university and on what do you write about. I can only write about my experiences and slowly I realized that indigenous ways of knowing really embraces subjectivity and experience and personal truth and learn by doing. They really values practice knowledge and prayer and song and rituals. So it's such a different way of knowing versus the laboratory, where they relied on technology and instruments of identification. It was good for me though to reflect on it. Comparatively I would never say let's get rid of Western laboratory science. But I think we have to value the limitations of it, that it doesn't change human behavior.
AMT: And so as you learn more about indigenous knowledge what gaps did that view of the world feel for you?
LYNN GEHL: Well that's why I learned that what we teach children before they, even have a conscious understanding of who they are - the dances and the songs and the prayer - we're teaching them how to do that. And then as they grow up they grow into a conscious understanding of that. But the knowledge is already there it's already embodied in them. So they're just learning a conscious understanding of it. You could say the knowledge came through their feet and through their hearts and through their body practices. It's in their subconscious really. It's there before they even have a conscious understanding of it. And in that way it's really quite sophisticated because it's there. They don't even have to think about it in order to default to it when they're sad or whether they're depressed or when they're anxious. It's right there for them. It's there for them when they need it most when their minds forget, which is really quite interesting right because our minds do forget in times of grief and anxiety and death. It's there and your body will do it without even having to think about it.
AMT: Do you think that's true of solely indigenous people or do you think that's true of other people and other cultures as well?
LYNN GEHL: I think it's everyone and I think when we think about what we're teaching young children now what they're dancing to, what they're singing to, where they get their rituals from shopping. We really need to rethink that and bring them back to their culture and their indigenous knowledge because that's their medicine. The rituals and ceremony - if you can call them ceremony - the rituals and practices of materialism is not really going to be there as medicine when they need it most. It won't sustain them. They'll keep shopping and they'll keep eating and they'll keep drinking because it won't have a depth of meaning there.
AMT: So you talk about colonizing the human spirit. What was the process that you went through as you became more aware of your Algonquin Anishinaabe self?
LYNN GEHL: You hear people talking about spirit and spirituality and religion and I used to of course struggle. What is that? I mean is there really a god out there? Why would a god do what has happened to my parents and their children and to a lot of indigenous people? So it was something I really wrestled with and what I learned as I moved deeper and deeper into indigenous knowledge that what I learned about the moon, the importance of the moon and feasting and song and dance, that sustains me and makes me happy. And so what I realize is that the human spirit is in me. It's in my heart but it will only be animated by what is outside of me. So if Canada's laws you know they criminalize indigenous knowledge and indigenous culture, and in that way they suppress the human spirit. At least they did within me. I would actually say kill it.
AMT: I want to ask about that because there's a quote in a specific part of your book and I'll read it to you. And here is the quote: “I'm happy to have learned that the denial of who I was as a person was the result of an oppressive nation state called Canada. I'm also happy to have learned about the intentional criminalization, denial and cultural genocide of my Anishinaabe worldview and its deep meaning, rather than think that who I was as a person was the result of an inherent in adequacy. Canada owns this cultural genocide.”
LYNN GEHL: Yes.
AMT: That’s a very powerful thing to say.
LYNN GEHL: Yes well it was good that I learned that. Because you do think you're unworthy and then you realize oh no this was something that was imposed on you. This was a cultural genocide and actually your knowledge system is incredibly sophisticated and beautiful and wonderful. And we all have indigenous knowledge. I really think that's important to keep in mind. I'm not going to say that I'm more special because I'm an Algonquin Anishinaabe. We all have indigenous knowledge and we're all special.
AMT: There was something that really struck me in that, that was the idea that because of the way that so many Indigenous children are raised through generations, that they blame themselves for things instead of saying “wait a second. There's a reason for why we feel this way.”
LYNN GEHL: Yes you do think you're unworthy of joy and unworthy of food and unworthy of land and almost unworthy of life. It's tough. It's a tough thing to go through. I'm just happy that I came out the other end and realize that that was cultural genocide that Canada did to my family and continues to do to indigenous people. They continue to destroy who we are.
AMT: There were things that you couldn't do. There were dances? They were languages?
LYNN GEHL: Yes there was a lot of things were denied. So it was criminalized I think it started in 1980 where they wouldn't allow us to pray and dance and even at one point they wouldn't allow us to hire lawyers to take on our land grievances. It was a direct targeted cultural genocide, through many policies and laws. And that continues today through Canada's land claiming of government policy and that's what a lot of people don't quite understand is that the cultural genocide does continue. And is an example Canada spent five hundred million dollars on Canada day, but yet the Algonquin people - and Parliament Hill resides on our land - they're only offering us 1.3 percent of our land and a 300 million dollar buy out. Well that's cultural genocide when you use 500 million dollars of Indigenous land and resources to shape people into thinking they're good Canadians. That is cultural genocide.
AMT: And that word is very loaded. And I'm going to ask you - I'm not saying you shouldn't use it. I'm just saying when I hear it and you say it still goes on, what you're really saying is that those of us who live in this country, who are not indigenous are still part of something that is hurting you?
LYNN GEHL: That is right. Yes. And I think that's hard for Canadians.
AMT: And you are sitting here in telling me this and you're so calm.
LYNN GEHL: [Laughs] I'm not calm. I'm not calm about this. I think a lot of people don't even want to talk to me because I can be quite forceful about my views on cultural genocide. A lot of people don't quite understand that Raphael Lemkin defined genocide in cultural terms. It's hard for Canadians because Canadians want to be happy and they want to believe in the two founding nations and Canada is a benevolent country and a great country.
AMT: Well I mean I'm the daughter of immigrants. I'm a non-Indigenous Canadian and I'm thinking I should take this personally because I'm one of… like. Help me process this.
LYNN GEHL: Yes it's emotional to hear it.
AMT: Yes. I'm not saying you shouldn't say it to me. I'm saying how... What kind of reaction would help?
LYNN GEHL: Well you know indigenous knowledge, Anishinaabe people they talk about the importance of heart knowledge. But if all you're feeling is the heart knowledge of that statement, your truth is incomplete that you have to go on an intellectual understanding, with that heart knowledge, so that you're less reactionary and less harmed or hurt by what I'm saying. So we talk about the circle of heart knowledge and the circle of my knowledge and they have to be connecting for the truth to be there. So I think that's what I would say that when Canadians feel emotional and feel hurt when I say it's cultural genocide, they need to just understand that that's a heart knowledge and maybe they need to go on an intellectual understanding with that heart knowledge to temper it or to come to a better truth.
AMT: It's interesting because, like you say more than once in your book, that you know Canada has to own this, I blame Canada for certain things. But what you're telling me right now is you're trying to open a window to non-Indigenous Canadians to actually understand it at another level, who you are and why what you're saying has this depth to it.
LYNN GEHL: Yes. I want Canadians to really think about who are they. Are they really Canadians? What is their indigenous knowledge? Because that's going to sustain them. And then that will also help them relate to other indigenous people. Canadians should have more loyalty to indigenous people versus Canada. Canada doesn’t care about water quality. I don't think they do, not in terms of their practices.
AMT: And some of this then translates into voting to then right. I mean we, as a society, we choose governments we choose policies we do have a say in these things that actually affect the very things you're talking about.
LYNN GEHL: Yes yes. The Trudeau government right now is really co-opted a lot of terms such as reconciliation and nation to nation and feminism for example. You know being a feminist is much more than wearing a pink shirt and hiring you know 50% of women as part of your cabinet. It's quite disturbing that he's talking about nation to nation and reconciliation but right in front of our eyes he's actually engaging in cultural genocide. There's an example we're just down from Parliament Hill, there is this place where Creater laid the first sacred pipe known as Akepuktuk, and it's in our landscapes. You know we don't have mortar and brick churches. We have landscapes that are sacred. It is the sacred pipe the first sacred pipe that the Creator laid in the landscape. And it's the ultimate symbol of reconciliation and that the Creator gave it to a father and son so they would reconcile their issues. And that is being further destroyed right now, as we speak. But yet Trudeau continues to talk about reconciliation. It's terrible.
AMT: The story of learning more and acknowledging your indigenous self as an adult is your journey, but it's not solely your journey. It's the journey of many indigenous peoples that we hear more of maybe today than we might have 20 years ago. What would you like today's young generation of Anishinaabe people, other indigenous people, to see in what you have learned?
LYNN GEHL: That they are special people, that they're valuable people and they're important people and they're loved people. But you know it is really hard to be a human. It really is. You know trees they're born with their knowledge right. They know what to do what it means to be a tree, but humans we have to learn it from our family members and their ancestors and it is harder to be a human because we have all that learning to do. And what I think is really important is it's hard to be human but just keep trying.
AMT: And do you believe it's possible for Indigenous and Canadian cultures to come together and find some kind of harmony?
LYNN GEHL: Yes yes I do. I think there's no reason why we can't share the land and resources. There's no reason why indigenous people can have their own courts and their own schools and their own medical systems. Yes I do.
AMT: Do you see any progress on that front?
LYNN GEHL: No absolutely none at all. So I'm really actually quite disappointed. No I don't see any progress in Carolyn Bennett is still promoting a model of land claim in self-government process that is rooted in extinguishment. No nothing is changed. Nothing at all has changed and it's really quite annoying that they continue to use the language of nation to nation, reconciliation and treaty making, when they're not doing that. They're not doing that at all.
AMT: And yet we see some indigenous leaders who are working with the government on these fronts. What do you say to them?
LYNN GEHL: They're funded by Canada. So you have to follow the money right.
AMT: But do you need a different kind of leadership then?
LYNN GEHL: Yes yes absolutely.
AMT: Do you see any - I don't know if the words is progress - but do you see a difference in the kind of conversation you are having –not necessarily mean with me but in the kind of wider conversation you're having today, than in a conversation that was being happening 10-20 years ago on the issue of indigenous people and indigenous identity and rights
LYNN GEHL: I think there was a peak of agency an interest during Idle no More. But I still see a lot of people who are very complicit and obliging him and it's actually quite hurtful. So am I having different kinds of conversations? I think so but that may be because of the journey I went on.
AMT: Maybe you're forcing them, in some ways in some ways.
LYNN GEHL: Yes, around the fireplace. I wish there was a little bit more understanding of a new paradigm.
AMT: It's really important to hear what you think. Thanks for coming in.
LYNN GEHL: Oh thank you. Thank you.
AMT: Lynn Gehl is the author of Claiming Anishinaabe: Dcolonizing the Human Spirit. She was speaking with me in Toronto. We requested a response from the minister of crown indigenous relations and Northern Affair,s Carolyn Benet's, office. They sent us a statement that reads in part “Our government is advancing a new relationship with indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership”. It goes on to say: “We are committed to addressing issues like extinguishment and surrender which do not fit with a recognition based relationship.” Well we've got time now for a word from the team behind the show this week.
JULIAN UZIELLI: Hi. I'm Julian Uzielli one of the producers here at The Current. This week the show was produced by: Idella Sturino, Yamri Taddese, Howard Goldenthal, Amra Pashitch, Ines Colabrese, Willow Smith, Kristin Nelson, Karin Marley, Samira Mohyeddin, John Chipman and Pacinthe Mattar. And thanks to our network producers: Mary-Catherine McIntosh in Halifax, Susan McKenzie in Montreal, Suzanne Dufresne in Winnipeg, Michael O'Halloran in Calgary and Anne Penman in Vancouver. The Current's writer is Peter Mitton. Our web producer is Lisa Ayuso. Ruby Buiza is our interactive producer.Transcriptions are provided by Rasha Shehata. Our technical producer is Gary Francis. Our presentation producer is Lara O'Brien. And our documentary editor is Liz Hoath. Our senior producers are Richard Goddard in Toronto and Cathy Simon in Vancouver. The executive producer of The Current is Kathleen Goldhar.
AMT: And that's our program for today stay with Radio 1 for q. Actor Greta Gerwig joins Tom Power to talk about her directorial debut the film Lady Bird. Remember you can take The Current with you to go on the CBC Radio app. It is free at the App Store or Google Play. Now after hearing from people in William’s Harbour Newfoundland and Labrador where the lights will be shut off for good tomorrow, we're going to leave you with a song inspired by the many communities in the province that went through resettlements in the decades past. This is the Irish Descendants performing Out From St. Leonards. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. Thank you for listening to The Current.
[Song: Out from St. Leonard’s]
In the mid 1960s the news rang out clear
Pack your bags and your nets you must get out of here
Take your picks and your shovels, you rakes and your hoes
The government says you must pack up and go
Well the news it soon spread to the harbours and coves,
That the young people were leaving in hoards and in droves.
For to go to Toronto and follow their goals,
For to go to Placentia to live off the dole.
And it's out from st. leonard's and out from toslow
They'd steam 'cross the bay with their houses in tow
With their beds in the bow and their stoves in the stern
Bound away with their sons and their daughters
Now Skipper Jim Pittman said he wouldn't go,
While there's nets to be mended and hay to be mowed.
He said he'd never work, no matter the pay,
In some hockey stick factory out Stephenville way.
And it's out from St. Leonard's and out from Toslow,
They'd steam cross the bay with their houses in tow.
With their beds in the bow and their stoves in the stern,
Bound away with their sons and their daughters.
Now on all politicians they cursed and they swore,
They rather would fight off in some distant war.
For when they ceased to ramble and they ceased to roam.
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