Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October Update: Bringing Huu-ay-aht Together

[The following piece is a expression of my beliefs as an individual Huu-ay-aht member. It is not necessarily the view of anyone in the Huu-ay-aht organization save myself.]

When I ran for Council in the month leading up to June 2009, I promised that I would work to bring Huu-ay-aht people together. I used the title above as a slogan and it has been in the back of my mind for the entire time that I have been involved with the people and organization of my tribe. In order to bring people together, one might suppose that they were separate in some way to start. In fact, I think we are somewhat divided and have been for quite some time. I wish to help reconnect Huu-ay-aht with each other, no matter their location or trajectory.

The Huu-ay-aht First Nations is a tribe that has been defined by its territory ever since we have been in contact with European settlers. When the Crown established the Indian Act and took over the "stewardship" of the Indian people, they defined native people by where they lived and not in any other way. In fact, native people in Canada were restricted from locating off-reserve until 1951. When that restriction was lifted, the effect was a slow but steady march toward city life. As time passed, our people moved away from the traditional territories of our ancestors in order to pursue a better life for themselves and their families.

Can we blame any of them for this? I'd like to think not.

This process created a divide within the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, just like it did with many other tribes in Canada. We came to know each other not as simply Huu-ay-aht, but rather as on-reserve or off-reserve.

Real Indians and Apples.

Has this helped us in any way? Of course not, but the notion that you have to live on-reserve in order to be thought of as an authentic native person has survived in the thoughts and words of far too many people.

If any form of Huu-ay-aht identity is to survive the test of time, we must redefine what it means to be Huu-ay-aht.

We must not base our identity solely on boundary or blood lines, but rather as a common cause, a common purpose. Our community must exist in the thoughts and words around the dinner tables of every household no matter its location. We are not defined by drops of blood or lines on a map, but rather by the way we connect with one another across all boundaries.

But how do we do this?

I read somewhere that the communities of native people in urban areas are a lot like the communities of foreign expatriates. Much like the Chinese and the East Indian people in urban places like Nanaimo or Vancouver, native people are visible minorities separated from their homelands by time and place. Does this make them any less Huu-ay-aht, Chinese or East Indian?

Many expatriates send resources back home to improve the lives of their families and native peoples do just the same in many ways. How many people do you know who send money back to their families back in our traditional territory? How many people open their homes so their cousins, nieces and nephews can go to school, go to work or get back on their feet?

The Huu-ay-aht First Nations are alive and well in those homes, no matter where they may be located. It is by allowing our community to be defined by its people, rather than by its borders that will ensure that our community will go on to exist beyond our own lifetimes.

What can the government do?

Government is not about nation-building. Rather, it is about creating systems for solving problems. It is the people who build the nation, who define what it means to be Huu-ay-aht. The government is meant to carry out the wishes of its people to the best of its ability. Every single person who identifies themselves as Huu-ay-aht helps to create what it means to be Huu-ay-aht. It doesn't matter where each person lives or what they look like, what matters is their connection to the community as a whole and their drive to make our lives better.

We are a people in transit, a mobile tribe in a modern world. We are strengthened when any type of connection is created and maintained between members of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, formal or informal.

As the government of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, we are obligated to help improve the lives of all members of the community. We can help to strengthen the connections between all members. We can create and cultivate networks to keep people informed of opportunities for employment, housing, education and perhaps most importantly, any and all forms of belonging.

As leaders of our community, we should know how our people relate to each other. We need to know what works, what can improve and what opportunities there might be in order to make our lives better. Our homeland is the root of our identity, it is our common origin and the basis of our history and culture. We need to be able to bring the benefits of our land, culture and common history to the Huu-ay-aht "expatriates" and allow for our people to access the benefits of city life -- employment and education -- should they choose to pursue that path.

Once we know what works, we need to provide support for those methods of staying connected. If this means that we need to have places for Huu-ay-aht in each major urban centre, then so be it. This may be an office, a home for the elderly, a dormitory for students or all the above, but we need to keep all of our people connected.

We need to bring Huu-ay-aht together, but not necessarily all at once or in the same place.


Monday, July 13, 2009

July Update: Council Responsibilities

Since I started my term of office on 8 June 2009, I have occupied myself with getting up to speed on Huu-ay-aht First Nations (HFN) activities. We had our first Chief & Council meeting on Friday, 12 June 2009. During the first meeting, the specific responsibilities of each Councillor are assigned. These responsibilities are referred to as a Councillor's portfolio. They center on various aspects of the operation of our government and implementing the Maa-nulth Treaty. Examples of these areas are forestry, fisheries, finance, economic development, governance, lands & resources, education, health, community services and communications.

Currently, my portfolios are: Finance, Economic Development, Communications and overseeing progress on the Treaty Closing Plan. Also, I am a member of the Governance Committee. While these items are generally my responsibility, they are in no way my own personal fiefdom. The power to make decisions rests in the entire Council, not just in one Councillor. The Council has put their trust in me to oversee the operations and progress in these particular areas, however, and I aim to do my best. Making decisions that will alter policy or our practices take the agreement of the Council, and this is a hallmark of our democratic process.

(Committee Chair)

Honestly, I used to find the idea of finance to be more than a bit boring. It took me a while to fully realize just how important the management of money and wealth is in today's world. Like every well-run organization and most households, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations has a budget, a plan that looks at our sources of income and the things we decide to spend money on. Whenever there is a decision made by government, it is the job of the Finance Committee to find the money in the budget to do it. Nearly every decision made by government affects the budget and there needs to be people in place to assure that it is all managed properly. So far, I am glad to say that we have a good team in place.

Economic Development
(Committee Chair)

When I was in University, I specifically studied the concept of economic development. It's not just about jobs or money, but rather building a human environment where the rules allow for businesses to operate without undue interference from government, to provide the necessary opportunities for citizens to acquire the skills for a job and access enough information to find those jobs. My approach to building a stronger economy is comprehensive. While I understand the need for Nation-owned businesses to exist, I also want to build an economy where citizens can start their own businesses. Thus far, I have worked with the "EcDev" committee on the creation of a process for evaluating the opportunities that have been forwarded to our Nation from various sources. Our next job will be to work with members and experts on the creation of an economic development strategy that will guide us into the new era for more than the next few years.

(Committee Chair)

One of the reasons that our government has been so successful has been because of efforts that we have put into keeping our people informed. Through phone calls, community meetings, home visits and our newspaper (Huu-ay-aht Uyaqhmis), the HFN has made informing you one of its first priorities. Though I am no longer in the same position to help put the newspaper together, I am still the Chairman of the Communications Committee. Our first priority will be to find a suitable candidate to fill my old position as Communications Coordinator. Our next task will be to create a communications plan that will involve a plan for revamping the HFN Website as well as further involvment on the "New Web" such as Facebook and YouTube.

(Committee Member)

I retain my seat on the HFN Governance Committee. We work to create the laws that will be the rules of our government and the methods that we use to make decisions. We've done much work on developing laws such as the Elections Act, the Referendum Act and the Citizenship Act. In September, we aim to start work on one of our most important laws, the Government Act itself. Right now, we are working to take the input you provided during the last community information sessions and use them in the development of the previously-mentioned laws.

In Closing...

It's been a busy month. The coming weeks will be just as, if not even more, active. It's an honour to be a part of something so important.


Klecko, klecko.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Democracy, Progress and History

On 6 June 2009, I was elected as a Councillor for my tribe, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations (Wikipedia Link).

I would now like to relate my thanks to the Huu-ay-aht people and those who decided to put a mark next to my name. Thanks to everyone for their words and input, and I vow to represent the interests of all Huu-ay-aht no matter their location, age, status or gender.

As things develop, I will endeavour to keep you informed on the progress that we have made to become one of the most progressive First Nations in Canada.


Kleko, kleko!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pushback: Residential School Common Experience Payments

On February 1, The Calgary Herald published an article titled "Residential school payments gambled away." It was written by Richard Wagamese and paints a stark picture about how the common experience settlements were used by native people. Wagamese wrote anecdotal statements about how our First Nations elders do not know how to use their money wisely and that many wasted it on gambling, alcohol, drugs and "vehicles parked in the yard that [settlement recipients] cannot afford to gas and drive."

Wagamese goes on to state that "a report last week indicated a significant rise in alcohol abuse, drug addiction, domestic violence, suicide and death as a result of residential school settlement money," though he fails to cite the name or source of the report in question. Such an article serves to reinforce racist stereotypes of native people, and though Wagamese might have intended for his article to be a wake-up call for the aboriginal community, The Calgary Herald was not a proper avenue to do so.

If Mr. Wagamese takes the time to refer back to his own article from The Ottawa Citizen on May 7 of last year entitled "The value of residential schools," he will no doubt agree with the notion that there are wildly different experiences in almost any situation and that some may be positive. Apparently, Wagamese fails to understand that his examples of settlement money misuse may be an exception and not the rule.

In the Huu-ay-aht experience, many of our elders attended residential school when they were young. Their experiences were varied, many were abused or neglected, but the simple fact remains: their freedom and the freedom of their parents to raise their own children was taken away by the Crown and Churches. This is the basis for the common experience payments, the subsequent abuse and neglect were tragic additions to an already sorrowful story.

As a result of their shared experiences in residential school, many Huu-ay-aht elders were given a Common Experience Payment from the federal government. What follows are more examples of how these moneys were used by our people and will serve to further inform the public.

Marje White was featured in the October issue of Uyaqhmis as our featured elder. She is a well-respected and active member of not only the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, but the entire provincial and aboriginal community. She used her common experience payments to pay off her vehicle and other debts, renovate her home, pay for her share of an upcoming family potlatch, go for a small holiday and invest the remainder.

Fellow Vancouver resident, Bill Ginger, used his settlement to secure a business loan from the Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corporation to get his fishing charter off the ground. He will be out on our traditional waters this coming fishing season.

Ernest and Shirley Jack, a fisherman and homemaker married for over forty years, used their common experience moneys to pay down some of their debts and pay bills. Their eldest daughter, Myrna Macleod, did the same.

Huu-ay-aht member Robert Dennis Senior used his money to pay down debts and help out his children and grandchildren. As did Ben Clappis and his wife Clara, who both used their money to purchase a much-needed truck and help out family.

These are mere examples, a small sample of how the settlement money was used by our people -- a people more similar to their family, friends and neighbours in the rest of Canada than Mr. Wagamese cared to express in his article. In the end, how a person handles his or her finances is a personal matter. To say anything less is an insult to those native elders who used their money wisely.


This article was originally published in the March 2009 Issue of Huu-ay-aht Uyaqhmis, a newsletter I help write and publish. Please visit the Huu-ay-aht First Nations website for more information. Kleko, kleko. (Thank you, thank you.)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

What's the point?

You have been charged with High Facebookery, how do you plead?

Not long ago, I took part in something of a social experiment that took Facebook by storm. I dubbed the exercise "Twenty-Twenty" but I'm sure there are myriad names for it. The point of the exercise is to do two things: (1) write a series of twenty "random" things about yourself in no more than a few sentences, and (2) tag twenty of your friends so they'll see that you've created the post and ask them to write a similar piece and tag you in return.

The idea is clever. It gets people thinking about various and varied aspects of themselves and begs them to post it for all to see. In addition to that you are guaranteed a limited audience for your self-expression, which is at once healthy and the engine that drives the entire experiment. The hypothesis behind it all is two-fold, "People love to talk about themselves. They like it even more when there is an audience to project and reflect themselves off of..."

I am not immune to this. I must admit something of an addiction to filling out questionnaires, personality tests and posting my own written pieces of self-expression. The mere existence of this blog is evidence of this, and I'm never really certain that many people read it.

I ask myself, "What's the point?"

Assymmetric Conversion is an ego blog. It's not claiming to report on events that you can't find out about somewhere else, and it doesn't claim some special knowledge or hints and tips for living. It's a personal site where I post my own thoughts for no other reason than I have them and have the time to write them down for the Internet to envelop and consume like so many sand castles before the tide. However, this does not explain why I continue to publish my thoughts and opinions. So, why?

It's not for personal reasons. It doesn't stand as my only record for my thoughts and experiences. I have a journal for that sort of thing, though I must admit that I don't update it all that often. As well, my personal diary contains much more than I'd like to let known. It's more a record of thought and emotion than a record of events and activities. I have an odd relationship with my emotions, and I have an innate mistrust of letting anyone know what I'm feeling and thinking.

"Anyone" usually won't get the nuances because I'm not yet skilled enough to express myself that way.

My blog isn't anonymous. I don't use it to express unpopular opinions. I'd like to think that I can stand in the Sun and let my thoughts known in one way or another. Communication is communication. It doesn't always have to be words.

The only alternative is exhibitionism. An altogether common cry of "Look at me! Look at me! I'm so very interesting!"

I'm not all that fond of my own physical existence. From the first time I was told that I was smart, I have been a being of thought and ideas. I judge myself on the quality of my thoughts, the results of my theories and my ability to gather, retain and synthesize information is all its forms. I wish to be intelligent, knowledgeable and wise; not strong, fast or possessed of great endurance.

I find that there are several reasons why people write ego blogs. One is validation. Another is self-discovery. The other is entertainment. I find that I blog here for all of these reasons in one way or another...

Calling Marcus Aurelius, Emperor Aurelius, are you out there?

I have a cynical side, some say it's an entire hemisphere, and it's been telling me that people only write to validate themselves in order to exorcise the aspects that they dislike about themselves. In writing here and in other places, am I white-washing my past as some temporary fix for my general malaise? No doubt people do this all the time and in different ways. How many times have you heard a group of people sitting around talking about their past relationships and it never seems as though they're willing to admit that they had a part to play in the downfall? If you were to go by how people present themselves, we have a lot of victims of fate, betrayal and greed. It's very rare to hear or see someone own up to their shortcomings in a private forum, let alone a public one. Do I seek validation? You bet I do. Do my logical sides think I should? Not really, no.

I blog because I seek feedback. I contemplate my life. I am introspective. I find that this only gets me so far. I cannot, in good conscience, take up a person's time face-to-face whining about my existential angst, nor could I afford the service professionally. Still, I blog becaus I wish to know more, not only about the world, but also myself.

If you're not powerful, entertaining or attractive, do people really want to know who you are? Even then...

The third option isn't likely a reason that I blog. I find that I'm not all that concerned with how entertaining I am as a writer. I'm not writing for The Office or The Daily Show. I'm writing for a blog that maybe a handful of unique visitors read in a year. My life just isn't that interesting.

My day-to-day life isn't all that interesting. I'm not a spy. I'm not knee deep in amazing adventures, political or sexual. I'm not a traveler, nor a journalist. I get up, I go to work, I come home and do chores. Sometimes, I watch a movie or consume other intellectual property. I react and respond, but not in any unique way.

My blog isn't a soapbox. You can load up more expert and eloquent men and women left, right and center. I offer no insights that haven't already been written or spoken by better people than me. I stand on the shoulders of giants, and I still have to stand on tip toes to see where I'm going because it's getting crowded up here.

Everyone has them, everyone loves them and hates them at the same time.

I've thought entirely too much about this subject. What do I have to offer that I'm fairly certain that people will be interested in?

The only answer I have are those little black diamonds that result from mistakes made and consequences unforeseen: secrets.

My secrets. Your secrets. Others' secrets.

The realm of secrecy is dangerous territory. You need only to remember your own secrets and what would happen if they were to find their merry way into the hands of the very people you keep them away from... we all have secrets, no doubt, but I think we hoard them too. What do you know about your best friend? Your spouse?

There's an economy of secrets out there. Holding them is like possessing something of value. Once cashed in, they lose much of their worth. They're markers, vouchers of trust. I wouldn't reveal others' secrets, for the repercussions of that are far too high. I like the people whose secrets I keep. I would never violate their ever-tenuous trust in me unless safety was at stake, and even then...

I find that my life is one lived with no more secrets than I expect you to have, but when I think of why I would continue to write this blog, I find that the only things of true value that I could offer are my secrets.

Am I going to do that?

I'm not sure yet.

Where would I start? What's interesting?

I'll be doing some research. Then, I'll get back to you.

Be seeing you,

- J.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Year and a Bit

As a writer and a speaker, I am keen on the use of analogies to aid in comprehension. Of course, the use of analogies does not confer much in the way of a complete understanding of a topic or issue, but it does suit my needs in most of my discussions. I find that they are a short-handed way of explaining something overly technical or overly complex. Analogies help, but perhaps I overuse them.

That being said, I will likely be using plenty of them in this upcoming article whereupon I ask whether and to what degree self-change affects one's relationships with others.

It's still the New Year, time to track my changes and my perceptions of others' perceptions.

Watch this site.