Reflections: CAP, Sex Workers, and Identity

I think it is fitting that my last blog post for this class will focus on two of the abstractions we have focused on throughout this year. The two being sex work and Canadian multicultural identity. It has been a long 8 months at UBC and half of me is looking forward to summer and the other half is in shock that I am done my 1st year at university and that much closer to “real life.” On April 4th I attended the Coordinated Arts Program Conference and these are some of my thoughts.

One of the panels I had the chance of going to was “Race and Globalization.” The panellists brought up some very interesting ideas of race internationally specifically I enjoyed the presentation by Helen Wagner talking about commodification of indigenous people in photographs. It was really interesting to see how her stream, Law & Society, directly addressed something we had talked about back in first term with Whitlock.

However, what I want to talk about was Suzanne Ross’ presentation on Sex Work. What struck me in the beginning was her clear differentiation between prostitutes and sex work. She decided to use “sex work” in her presentation due to the gendered and negative connotations behind prostitution. Additionally, she said that she chose that word because it is an all-encompassing word that describes anyone that performs sexual services. This could be an exotic dancer or someone who sells sex for money. This then unites these people in some of the issues they may face together. When I heard this definition it immediately brought up concerns for me. My question behind this word was whether we should  generalize, or group up, these different types of professions into one label? I imagine that the concerns/issues/privileges of say a stripper is quite different that someone who works the streets. From this year at ASTU I have become aware of the problems with putting a label on a broad group of people. This can be related to how First Nations people are put under one umbrella term when in fact there are hundreds of different nations and cultures in Canada, but they are grouped up due to settler ignorance and a common narrative of cultural genocide. Borrowing from Carter, I’m concerned with labelling a diverse group of people with one label in that it could creates silences in that community. Specifically with what types of people are being represented. An example of this is the cultural association behind the word of “sex work.” Prior to Ross’ definition I had always associated sex work with prostitution. So given my belief I hope you will allow me to make a claim that as society we give voice and recognition (whether that be positive or negative) to those who fit traditional roles of “sex work,” and perhaps leave out and ignore the others that fit into “sex work” as an all encompassing word.

Another panel I had the fortune of attending was the “Canadian Identity and Multiculturalism” roundtable lead by students from the Philosophy, Political Science & Economics stream. They wanted to bring ideas from their POLI 110 class on Canadian Politics to the CAP conference. Some ideas they discussed how it is to be living in Canada as a multicultural country. Many of the panellists were international students (something I’ll discuss later) that addressed how they did not know Canada was such a multicultural society (especially at UBC) and once they came here they were pleasantly surprised. Overall all the panellists had positive experience of Canadian multiculturalism.However I couldn’t help but notice the (ironic) lack of representation of any people who were born and raised Canadian to provide a voice  to the panel. Their was one Canadian, but she has only lived here for seven years. While that is still a very important voice to include in a panel (as well as the international student voice) I was left off-put by the lack of representation in that context. This is not to discredit the knowledge that these panellists have on multiculturalism, but I believe that additional voice would have been more beneficial to the discussion.

One of the fallbacks in multiculturalism several of the panellists articulated was the fact that new immigrants tend to self “segregate” themselves into their own cultural enclaves and the fact that immigrants are less likely to interact in politics. When pressed on a explanation on the latter the panellists said something on the lines that immigrants just weren’t interested in politics because they feel that they are not effected by the politics of the country they have moved to. Basically they were arguing that new immigrants were apathetic to politics because they have no (perceived) reason to care about Canadian politics. While this maybe true for some, I am hesitant again to lump that stereotype to all immigrants. Putting on my ASTU hat again I am critical of the systems that are behind that belief that disempower immigrants and that belief that immigrants don’t care actually just further enforces stereotypes. In the context of why immigrants move to enclaves I think it is precisely because the resources and accessibility to move into well established areas is not given to immigrants. Why would you leave your country to buy a $1.3 million house in Vancouver where you will be culturally isolated when you can buy a house in Surrey where it is cheeper and people look and talk like you?

It is no secret that “minority” groups are underrepresented in politics, but rather than being because of immigrant apathy, I am curious to look at the systems that stop immigrants from being informed or eligible for politics. Take for example that the mainstream news is in English (or French), so if those languages aren’t the ones you speak than no surprise that you aren’t interested in politics. Additionally, I would be hesitant to say that immigrants aren’t active in politics as evident by the most important people in my life-my parents who are in fact immigrants as well.

So while many of the streams have shown similarities with ours, I think Global Citizens provides something that perhaps not all the streams are taught. We are taught to see through the obvious. We are taught to see the power that language and words have in our society. We are taught to think about who is being represented, by whom, and how. I believe we are taught these things due to the fact that as Global Citizens the world requires us, and demands of us, to see the complexity behind the issues that face our world. This is not to downgrade or disregard the important work that other streams have done, I just believe that GC focus is on being critical on societal norms which I greatly appreciate.  Stop the hegemony! 

I’d have to say my experiences in CAP were immensely rewarding. I don’t think I would have liked university as much as I did if it was not for the people I have met and the things I learned. I consider myself a more introverted person and I know I would have had a hard time meeting people in the regular stream, so I am very grateful for the privilege of being in this program. I wish all my fellow colleagues a successful university experience!


TED as a genre, but for who?

As some might know TED, the popular technological innovation and inspirational speech-think-tank, is coming to Vancouver. TED will move from Long Beach, California to bring their popular conference to Vancouver for two years. As the Vancouver Sun has said this is a huge economic boon for the city. Where else do you have 1,200 of the smartest and brightest people in the world congregate in one city for a week? Not only will these people spend their money on restaurants and hotels, but they (the smartest in their respective fields) will share ideas and strategies to solve and address some of the world’s countless problems. Not only is that a good thing for society, but as a viewer TED talks are immensely pleasurable to watch. They open our minds to new ideas to new problems that we didn’t even know existed. Also our very own astronaut Chris Hadfield will be there! And Bill Gates !!!!

However, spurred by this article, I want to challenge and explore the idea of TED as an elitist form of narrative that favours the wealthy, the white, or those who try to be. If this may seem like a big jump for you, let me back peddle a little and show you my framework before proceeding on.

The article linked above talks about how TED 2014 is not a conference for you in me even thought it is happening in our city. Unlike the popular TEDx events which are local based talks, this conference is an international one with no direct connections to the city. Most participants will be from the USA. While yes they will live stream the talks all across the city, it would have been nicer to have been able to actually engage with these smart people because low and behold one of us may have an idea worth spreading (see what I did there). If brains didn’t stop you from apply to go to TED than the price tag surely did. It costs $7,500 for an exclusive TED2014, not to mention the essay as well. A final observation I’ve made from TED is the speaker line up for the week. To put it bluntly if you don’t fall into the categories or white or rich you won’t be a speaker at TED. Most of the speakers are white people and the people who aren’t are usually rich. This is particularly evident by the opening day lineup which consist entirely of white guys.

So what do these observations mean to my original point of TED being an exclusive genre that only a few of access to. The fact that the only way of engaging with the speakers is of a role of being a viewer indicates to me that it is an exclusive genre. A genre where the privileged of the world (weather that be in gender, “race,” or class) tout to us their great ideas. The mission statement of TED is:

TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world. On TED.com, we’re building a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers — and a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other, both online and at TED and TEDx events around the world, all year long.

As we have seen their “community of curious souls” are not us regular folk but those who cater to the privileges western societies idealize. I’d like to cite the case of William Kamkwamba. He is a rare example of someone from a “poor” country delivering a TED talk. Additionally he is highlighted because he is returning to TED 2014 in the “All Stars” category to give another talk. His original talk “How I harnessed the wind” was about how he was able invented a wind turbine in his village to generate electricity for the struggling community, thereby liberating them from their internal poverty. As one of the only African people to be featured at TED 2014 and in the “All Stars Panel,” it is interesting to understand how his story completely coincides with the western theme of triumph where he is able to overcome his struggles and becomes empowered. We can see that while yes he is different in the TED lineup because of his origins, his life narrative completely compliments western values. So in his case we can see how he is tokenized to be representative of the West in Africa and as a way for TED to pat itself on the back for including a person of colour in their very white lineup. We can connect this idea to Jewani and Young in their discussion of “Zones of Degeneracy” and “Zones of Respectability”(900) where the dominant force seeks to bring degenerate bodies (in this case black bodies) into the zones of respectability by emphasizing their “virtuous” characteristics (in this case the fact that he is an innovator- a very western value). By excluding different people and people with different ideas TED is not living up to it’s mandate.

In summary, because of the lack of participation, emphasis on wealth, and lack of diversity (and when it is there it isn’t that diverse) I believe that TED has become a genre of elitism that excludes everyone else except the top 1,200 of the world from discussing world ideas.

I’d like to provide a counter narrative to TED which is the BIL “unconference” where regular people sign up the day of to give talks. It is completely free event which actually encourages people from various groups to participate. It follows TED around the world to give participants an alternative from the top down “TED Talk.”

So comment bellow. Do you think TED is an elitist convention why or why not?


Expanding on “Zones of Degeneracy”

In their article “Missing and Murdered Women: Reproducing Marginality in News Discourse,” Jewani and Young talk about the way that the media represents violence against women with focus on aborignality. Their research site is the news representation by the Vancouver Sun on the murdered and missing women of the Downtown Eastside, otherwise knows as the poorest postal code in Canada.

Young and Jiwani bring in in a scholar by the name of Sherene Razack, a Salteaux woman, who introduces the idea of “zones of degeneracy” (899). “Zones of degeneracy” are places where hegemonic masculinity is reinforced. It is reinforced because these zones are places for men to visit, do their business, and leave, thereby exploiting these spaces and the women who live there. The zones only exist for the purpose of the other. Additionally, the authors mention how with the existence of zones of degeneracy there must be zones of “respectability.” The men are able to cross between both zones, transcending any stigma for existing in the zone of degeneracy.

Jiwani and Young make the argument that the DTES is a “zone of degeneracy” where men come to slum-it-up and have a good time. In regards to the DTES they say:

 “not only are areas such as the Downtown Eastside created as degenerate zones that can be frequented with impunity by men, but such zones are also designed to demarcate degrease bodies” (900).

As they argue, the zones are created to separate, isolate, and identify those that society deem unwanted.

Expanding on the idea that “zones of degeneracy” are created, I will show that by looking at Geography’s understanding of place and space we can better understand the problems around the zones.

In geography 122 we often talk about how colonizers, or people in power, often fail to consider place and space. They usually just think of an area as a space rather than a place. They think of an area as a space for resource extraction, or as a strategic destination for military. We can consider that men are looking at the DTES as a space (or zone) of degeneracy, without considering the people who live in and animate the neighbourhood. Is problematic to think of an area as space, rather than place, because you fail to acknowledge local needs and concerns. A space is only important in relation to other spaces. Similarly, a zone of  degeneracy only exists in contrast to zones of respectability. However, a place is important in of itself without needing a relationship.

Furthermore, we can better understand the media attention that is drawn to the DTES and how it only portrays an image of a crime filled neighbourhood, by considering space and place. As can been seen in the hyper representation aboriginal women as “drug filled prostitutes”, the media takes a broad stereotypical understanding of a space and applies it to all the people within the zone.

The problematically of considering zones of degeneracy as spaces is that it fails to meet the issues of the community. This can be seen by the ongoing concerns of gentrification in the DTES. In “Through a Blue Lens” Nicola talks about being literally pushed into the DTES by security guards. She was being pushed into these spaces of degeneracy. These spaces where the poor/the prostitutes/the mentality ill/the old go. Perhaps if these “zones” can be understood as a place in the city, and not where we shove the unwanted, Vancouver could address the issues that happen in the DTES.


How Narratives Get Taken Up: Vancity Buzz

Last friday February 7th there was a lantern event held at Spanish banks for two very different reasons.

The first, by organizer Yakiv Yaholnitser, was a way to peacefully protest and raise funds for the conflicts occurring in Ukraine dubbed “Euromaiden.”

The second, by Vancity Buzz was “an authentic Chinese New Year Sky Lantern Festival.”

Problems on authenticity aside, what happened was that Vancity Buzz miss interpreted an event for the UBC community and broadcasted it to the wider Vancouver audience. The event was promoted as a Chinese New Year event which was not the purpose that Yaholnitser, a Ukrainian, had in mind. (Edit: Looking at Vancity Buzz’s post again it seems that they added a bit saying that the money is going to Ukraine. However it is at the very bottom of the page and was probably added due to complaint).

This is not the first time Vancity Buzz has been in trouble for taking up other people’s stories/event. Back in October the site stole a post made on the “#WhatShouldWeCallUBC” tumblr and reposted it on their site without recognition. The Ubyssey (who I write for occasionally) wrote a cool blog post about it here.

Yaholnitser received a lot of criticism for the event indirectly on the Vancity Buzz article. People gave him a lot of hate for destroying the environment, putting peoples houses at risk, etc. However, his lanterns that he sold specifically for the UBC event were biodegradable (made out of bamboo and rice paper), but the other 6,000 people who showed up had a variety of lantern.  Some that included metal framed ones that do NOT biodegrade. So his close intimate gathering was turned into this massive publicized event that garnered him un wanted and un expected attention.

Vanicty Buzz took up his personal narrative of being a Ukrainian national and having a personal connection to the violence occurring there, in order to bringing revenue to their site. The site is a for profit company that operates on a ad based revenue stream and the article, which received 14, 000 “likes” sure brought in some money. So we can look at how his personal life narrative was taken, twisted, and commodified in order to promote Vancity Buzz as a company that is “just letting you know about the cool thing happening in our city.”

What happened raises a lot of questions on the ethics of the reproduction of people’s own stories by other bigger companies. Because, yes the event was a completely unexpected success gathering  7,000 people, but was it a success for the purposes originally set out? Perhaps if the event was marketed as a Ukrainian event it would be okay, because it would keep the original message. However, because it blatantly ignored Yaholnitser’s personal story, I believe that it was not a success. Vancity Buzz profited on the stealing of a UBC event.


Being Mixed-Race in Canada

Reading Diamond Grill and watching Between: Living in the Hyphen made me think of my own position in Canadian as a person of mixed origin, and how it differs from Fred Wah’s experience which he perfectly outlines on page 53.

I’m mixed. I’m half German and half Indian. My mom and dad met in Saudi Arabia and came to Canada where I was born. Growing up I lived what I will call a standard Canadian life style. We went swimming in the summer, tobogganing and skiing in the winter. We celebrated Christmas like every other home. And I learned French in school, but never learned Hindi or German at home. I never saw myself as being something separate, or a new category of being. Like all my friends my parents came from somewhere else and that was normal being Canadian. Looking back on it, the moment when my “race” started being a big deal is when my sister was adopted from India. She looks vastly different from me, my brother or my mother, so I had to start explaining to people what the connection was.

However, this is not just a blog post about me. I want to look at the comparison of the people in “Between” and “Diamond Grill” and my own life. On page 53 Wah describes his confusion that being Canadian isn’t a racial identity (we’ll save that for another blog post). The teacher tells him that you are Chinese because his dad is Chinese and so forth. It was almost a forced segregation. He didn’t feel, because, he was mixed that he had ties to any other nation. However, at the time immigration and multicultuism was not the policy of Canada. Racism and bigotry prevented many mixed marriages, so a mixed child was rare. Therefore, there wasn’t an idea that everybody was part of Canada. As it was, and still is, Canadians identify with the country they were born in or their parents are from. As he puts it:”The only people who call themselves Canadian live in Ontario and have national sea-to-shining-awa twenty-twenty CPR vision.” Ontario (like most of Canada) was dominated by the old protestant anglican descendants. This brings me to another idea.

There is a common belief held by many Canadians that a Canadian is some sort of white miss-match and that everyone else is ____-Canadian (again the hyphen as Wah’s key abstractions). I’m Chinese-Canadian, African-Canadian, French-Canadian. This idea of the “mosaic” is interesting because while we are apparently are all united as a collective identity of “Canada” we also assume that true Canadiansism is equivalent to whiteness. Nobody every says they are Canadian until they are abroad.

Relating back to my life. I have never felt ashamed, or attacked for being a weird minority. I don’t even think of myself as a minority. Perhaps because I borrow from white privilege as that’s what people assume I am and therefore have the luxury of not having to justify myself at every corner. Nonetheless I believe that the times are dramatically different for being “Canadian” from Fred Wah’s life to mine. Take for example this article in Toronto Life titled:”A new mixed-raced generation is transforming the city: Will Toronto be the world’s first post-racial metropolis?” What the future holds for being “Canadian” (it itself a hard thing to identify) for being mixed race (again a complex topic) nobody knows.


Detroit and Commodification

In my Socio 100 class on wednesday we watched an episode of “Parts Unknown” by Anthony Bourdain. (side note: Do all CAP professors like Bourdai?) The episode focused on Detroit and the deindustrialization that occurred in the city leading to its decay. The episode journaled Bourdain’s travel around dilapidated Detroit as well as interviewing the citizens striving to survive in the city. He found not a city of helpless people, but a city of proud Detoriters who were adapting to new niche markets and did what they had to do to survive.

First let us address the elephant in the room. If you recall I was not that impressed by a previous episode Bourdain did in its catering to a western audience. Bourdain still carries his arrogance of being a world class chef. There is a  scene when he goes into a new upscale eatery in the “hipster” area of town and questions the chef’s sanity of moving back to Detroit as there was nothing here for him. The chef could be working in Las Vegas and instead he chooses to come back home to support him hometown. Bourdain seems unable to wrap his mind around this concept. However, perhaps Bourdain has taken a class in cultural appropriation because he seems much more respectful in this episode. This is probably attributed to the fact that Detroit is not a far away place like Nicaragua was and cannot be so easily “othered.” After all as Bourdain mentioned Detroit was once the manufacturing hub of the USA, pumping out weapons during WW2 and luxury cars after it, so it makes sense if he is familiar with it.

Much of Detroit is abandoned. The population fell from 1,850,000 in 1950 to 701,000 in 2013. There are many reasons why this happened, but a main factor is the rise of the suburbs and the hollowing of the urban core as white families fled in a phenomena dubbed “white flight.” This created a sparse spread out population with a lot of abandoned factories in-between. This led to the rise of  the “‘ruin porn‘ scene, in which tourists and others gawk at and take photos of the city’s abandoned and blighted buildings.” As this article by David Muller points out people from all around the world come to Detroit to take photos and explore this urban decay.

Let’s look at how this relates to commodification. Bourdain mentions the fact that film studios, professional photographers, wedding companies, and other media agencies  come to these abandoned locations to take “urban” and “gritty” photographs. However, they do not have to pay for doing this as it is abandoned. What these people fail to realize is that they are benefitting from other people’s suffering. Detroit does not want to be a poor city. They do not want to have to deal with bankruptcy. Detroit is not an empty city, it has culture, so by only showing the decay these people are furthering stereotypes. By taking pictures of “ruin porn” you are commodifying a living breathing city into a exhibit to serve your own purposes. There is something morally uncomfortable going in and profiting from people’s hardship just so you could get a “cool shot.” It shows a complete lack in respect.

Click here for a very interesting blog highlighting some of these issues.


The Problem of Representation and Rob Ford

Being away from my home city of Toronto has made me miss it more than I ever thought I would. I miss knowing where I am when I go downtown. I miss being able to know where the coolest places are to shop without looking on the internet. I miss the the whirling sounds the streetcar makes as it lurches along it’s tracks and oh we’re stuck in traffic again. I miss the the quirks that make my rough city home, so when I see Rob Ford used as a representation for Canada, but especially my city my blood boils.

Let’s first get this out of the way, I do not like Rob Ford. His policies are based on the polarization of “leftist-downtown-pinkos” and the suburbs, he has been caught on video being racist, homophobic and sexist, his policy on how to fund the city, whilst decreasing taxes don’t make any sense, and he has used his privilege of being a mayor to kick people off a bus. He has lied on multiple accounts of drunk driving and using elicit drugs, and he uses the idea of him being bullied by the world in order to get votes.

When Ron Ford finally admitted to using crack cocaine the media went crazy. A simple search for Toronto will pull up thousands of hits around the globe of “Mayor Rob For Smokes Crack.” The Daily Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, the Colbert Report all report of it. Many people couldn’t tell you a think about Canada, but doesn’t that mayor smoke crack?

Suddenly he becomes the representation of Canadian politics. Steven Harper who? It is all about Mayor Rob and his issues. This may seem like a silly issue, but it fundamentally highlights the issue of representation. Canada has 33 million people and 1 man becomes the face of the country. All the voices get swallowed up. Especially in a city like Toronto that has had it’s entire identity dragged thought the mud with this guy. The issue with representation is that people don’t connect to it happening. I didn’t vote for my city to become the laughing stalk of the world.

Fundamentally the issue is that people skip over what the city, and a larger sense the country, has to offer. Toronto becomes the city where the mayor smokes crack, not the city where insulin was invented.


What Audience?

In POLI 100 we watched two clips last week on garbage pickers in Nicaragua showing very different ideas.

In the first clip produced for Anthony Bourdain‘s show “No Reservations” where he tours the world dining and experiencing world cuisine and culture. In this particular episode we are showed his experience looking at the waste pickers, or “Churequeros” at La Chuerca dump. For the 300 families who live here, we are told that they live a life of extreme poverty, lack of basic education and sanitation. The waste pickers sort throughout the enormous amount of garbage every day. People hope to produce 1$ a day from the garbage picked by selling the recyclables. This is similar to here in BC where you get 5¢ per bottle that you return. Bourdain is horrified at the life that these people have to live. Feeling what we call “white guilt” he describes the paradox of people having to eat food from the dump and where he cooks decedent food for TV. That link refers to a direct response from white people to people of colour. However, we can extrapolate the definition of white guilt to include a western guilt.  He particularly he is upset by the fact that there are so many kids working at the dump. One of which is his daughter’s age.

While moving and provocative. There is something distinctively off-putting about the clip. Bourdain stands separate from the crowd talking to the camera as if nobody around him can hear him. He also is wearing sun glasses that block off his his eyes. It makes it all seem very zoo-like, as if he were standing outside a cage, but in fact he is standing in the middle of a crowd, and filming people most likely without their consent. It is a very western idea of individualization that a person can do whatever they want.

Bourdain’s reactions of “well I’m totally depressed” is understandable. Many of us would have the same reactions faced with people having to sort through garbage to meek out a basic existence. However, the way the clip is filmed and the way he narrates it clearly panders to a western sentiment of pity and guilt. That we are responsible for these people’s living conditions (of you look at it with a colonialist lens) and that we have to somehow fix and help these people. This is a very neo-colonial idea.

Now let’s look at another clip. This clip of the “First Congress of Latin American WastePickers” shows a completely contrasting view of the “Churequeros” that was shown in Bourdain’s video. Rather than hopeless people doing what they have to do survive. These people are an empowered multi-generational community that is proud of being who they are. They fight for the right to pick the garbage, because they play a key part in the economy-as recyclers.

Let’s discuss this in terms of “God Grew Tired of Us.” The film was portrayed in a similar matter as the Bordain clip. It showed how the “boys” were saved by America and how great the country was for doing that. It showed them as aliens in their surroundings by portraying them as clueless of an consumer society that they were not familiar with. Both films were made for western audience. They were both narrated and produced by American companies and portrayed western ideals such as freedom and the “american dream.” However, in the second clip it was meant for a variety of audiences. They film, while in Spanish, had English subtitles hinting on a trans-cultural dialogue, because they want to tell their side of the story. Instead of observing and making deductions as Bordain was doing, the creator of the second clip went and interviewed people.

What these two clips show is that it is important to be critical of the information we are given. Be critical of the intended audience and the different biases that are shown. Because while it is true that the Churequeros may not be working in safe conditions, it does not imply that they are doing it out of desperation.


“Defend Our Climate” and Indigenous Life Narratives

On Saturday November 16th I had the pleasure to go to one of 130 rallies occurring across Canada, from coast-to-coast-to-coast, against tar sands expansion,  pipeline development, and “run away climate change.”


5,000 people attended the rally

At 2 pm I boarded a bus, by myself, from UBC and headed to Science World. I’ve been to a few climate change activities in the past year and the experience of going to PowerShift 2012 in Ottawa deeply affected me and changed my outlook in life. It was one of the reasons I got into UBC as I wrote about my experience of going somewhere by myself with friends to learn about activism and how intersecting the climate change issue is. I came out of the experience with a newfound network in climate alliance and a new outlook in life.

At PowerShift I heard a woman by the name of Crystal Lameman speak on her experience as a member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation who’s lands are directly downstream and on tar sands development. She spoke on the increased amours of rare cancers appearing throughout the community and the loss of a way of life. She spoke on how the people on her reserve do not have antiquate living standards. There is no access to clean water. However, just across the invisible border that separates “indians from non-indians” a farmer has access to clean, safe drinking water and doesn’t have to worry that he is poisoning his children by keeping them in their home.

And we thought indigenous suffering ended with residential schools.

The city of Vancouver declared “June 21, 2013 to June 20, 2014 as a Year of Reconciliation in Vancouver.” And now four months later my hometown of Toronto has decreed that November 12, 2013 to November 12, 2014 will be the year of reconciliation in Toronto. In Vanocuver we’ve seen the TRC come and go. We’ve heard the voices of past events, but what abut the present and the future? Colonialism did not end with the residential school system and still occurs in Indigenous territories across Canada where we have pipelines, mines, fracking operations, and chemical plants in communities where the people see little to no economic value. What is the point in reconciliation when children and elderly people living in the tar sands region have ten times the risk of developing life threatening cancers?

As a Torontonian I’m more familiar with the Line 9 proposal which seeks to transport crude oil from the oil sands through the poorest and most impoverished neighbourhoods in Toronto. So, coming to the Defend Our Climate Rally was eye opening because the same thing is happening here with the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. You may have seen an add for that as they have released a multi million dollar campaign to change public opinion in BC. I heard from Indigenous leaders from the interior (side note: I’m learning BC lingo) and the coast who have come in solidarity to oppose the pipeline as most of it runs through their unceded ancestral territory.

As I learned. first nation’s are the last line of defence for the environmental movement, because the minimal laws we had have been gutted with the passing of two omnibus bills. The latest one, Bill C-45, was the one that sparked IdleNoMore. However, Native Canadians have rights that are guaranteed in the constitution that gives them rights to their land and their way of life. And because of this collaboration between the environmental movement and indigenous peoples there has been a proliferation of oral life narratives. Every single climate event that I have gone to within the past year has featured a opening ceremony by the nation of the area followed by the stories of how the issue is affecting them. There are usually sage smudges, music and dancing. Never before have Native Stories come to the forefront of Canadian minds with the IdleNoMore protest and the story of Chief Theresa Spence and her hunger strike, and now this with the first line of a Global News article reading “First Nations and environmental groups hopes came true when thousands of people gathered to attend a ‘No Enbridge’ rally this afternoon.”



Regret, Relief and Confession

I was looking at PostSecret today and I noticed these two secrets that were posted:

These two posts made me stop and freeze in my tracks. I’ve had to look at PostSecret for my presentation, but these two just jumped out at me for the raw honesty in these people’s mini autobiographies. They talk about horrible things that have happened to them, but don’t at all filter it. It presents us with a shock value that makes us sit up straight and think about PostSecret. This is what I’m doing.

Both these posts show how regret can tear you up. In the first case, regret of your past events and in the second, regret for being silent. We can see from this that PostSecret allows for people to post and share the things they wish never happened. Instead of bottling it up, they post online and they have to deal with it. Look at the example of the second postcard. This person had held onto the card for 2 years, before they sent it in. However, once they did they felt free. This goes back directly to a quote that Frank Warren, the founder of PostSecret said.

You will find your answers in the secrets of strangers. – Frank Warren

By posting online this person was able to feel free. However, we don’t know if author of the first postcard felt free after sending in their secret. The contrast between the horrible message and the cartoony images seems to imply a sort of self-deprecating regret that exemplifies the author’s inner turmoil. One tool that PostSecret uses which is not part of the official website is a discussion board. On it, people can communicate and discuss and provide help for those who are suffering. So while we might not be able to tell how the person felt after submitting their secret, we can show that there is an alternate forum for them to come to peace if they so choose.

PostSecret is interesting because it presents a platform where the viewer can observe the unguarded lives of people. The cyclical humour of the first post, paired with the tragedy yet comforting second posts show us where postsecrets can start, but how every person’s journey to resolution is different. For both people, the act of sending away their secrets let them come to some sort of conclusion. For the first person it’s the fact that now that it is on the web they have to deal with their regret and sadness. For the other is that now they are unburdened by their sadness and it leads to their relief. Relief in moving on and having a new life.

PostSecret’s like these leave me uncomfortable. Perhaps it is the private nature of our society has socialized me to be weary of such unguarded emotion. A downfall of PostSecret is that there isn’t much I can do when I learn about these peoples suffering. As humans we want to fix problems, but with PostSecret their isn’t much we can do besides posting words of sympathy on a discussion forum.

There is a sort of burden that we as viewers take on. A burden of a witness that see’s what is happening, but can do nothing to stop it. We can compare this to the TRC. Horrible things happened to Native Canadians and so out of respect and dignity we listen to their sorrows. As witnesses of tragedy we often have feelings of despair. We want to make the world a fixable place, but it is not. So the best we can do are things like the “International Suicide Prevention Program” and the TRC that allow is to help, but not fix people.

By celebrating and becoming the culture of confession, we have a role to play as witness and that is helping people. That may be implied through invisible people on PostSecret sympathizing with someone or directly as providing advice for people on the forum. Whatever it is as witnesses we have roles to play in regret, relief and confession.