“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” – Alice Walker

There is a growing movement in Canadian Aboriginal circles called Idle No More. Its mission statement is to call “on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water. Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth”.

The driving force behind Idle No More is opposition to a piece of legislation before Canada’s Parliament, an omnibus bill with everything from changes to Senatorial pensions to the construction of a new bridge between Windsor and Detroit. The two sections causing the issues in Aboriginal circles are changes to the Indian Act and further changes to the Environmental Assessment Act.

Changes to the Indian Act include changing the rules about what kind of meetings are required to lease or grant interest in designated lands, as well as giving the Aboriginal Affairs minister the authority to call a band meeting or referendum for the purpose of considering the absolute surrender of the band’s territory to the federal government.

The Environmental Assessment Act changes include making major pipeline and inter-provincial power line projects exempt from requirements that they prove they wouldn’t damage or destroy navigable waterways in Canada. A list of lakes and rivers was attached to this section of the bill and anything mentioned on it is no longer under federal protection.

The effects the omnibus bill can have are potentially devastating to Aboriginal land claims. The changes to the Indian Act make it far easier for the Federal government to make expropriation claims on Aboriginal lands. Expropriation might be better known as “eminent domain”, meaning authorities have the right to buy private property for public use as long as there is fair compensation. This by itself isn’t detrimental to Aboriginal land claims, but there are other factors which make the timing of this legislation very suspect. We’ll get to those in a moment. The Environmental Assessment Act changes have taken protection off many Aboriginal-controlled lakes and rivers, making them open for development and resource harvesting. Again, it’s not the changes themselves that are the problem, but discussing what has come before the omnibus bill will make things clearer.

Let’s turn back the clock a bit:

On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons and gave a solemn apology for Residential Schools, where thousands of Aboriginal children were taken from their parents and subjected to mistreatment, including physical and sexual abuse. This apology was seen as a strong step towards reconciliation for Aboriginal peoples across Canada and a government with which they have for decades viewed with mistrust.

On October 28, 2011, the Aboriginal community of Atiwapiskat declared a state of emergency for the third time in three years, resulting from multiple issues including housing, utilities, inadequate water and sanitation systems. The media attention the story quickly gathered brought the poverty of many Aboriginal communities to the screens of millions. The Harper government’s response was seen as slow, inadequate and willfully ignorant of the facts of the situation. Many Aboriginals I talked to saw this as a turning point in fighting the sense of increasing marginalization of Aboriginal communities.

On January 24, 2012, Harper met with Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo and while calling for an overhaul and updating of the Indian Act, promised that “Our government has no grand scheme to repeal or unilaterally rewrite the Indian Act”.

On June 4, 2012, Bill C-428, the Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act, was introduced by Saskatchewan Conservative MP Rob Clarke. The bill had mixed reactions in the Aboriginal communities. While the bill called for greater authority for Aboriginal chiefs and councils and less authority for the Native Affairs minister and federal government, it was also seen as a step against Prime Minister Harper’s promise to not repeal or unilaterally rewrite the Indian Act. The bill passed its first reading on December 5, 2012, by a vote of 156-129, with Prime Minister Harper voting in favor of it.

This brings us back to the omnibus bill that set Idle No More in motion. The bill, also known as Bill C-45, was passed on December 5 as well, by a vote of 156-128, again with Prime Minister Harper voting in favor of it.

So now what? From the joy of reconciliation to anger over changes in the Indian Act, it’s been a turbulent few years for Canadian Aboriginals. The timing of the bills, and their affect on Aboriginals is suspect because of the Harper government’s push to build a new oil pipeline, one that would most likely have run through Aboriginal land. The changes in how expropriation claims are made, to me, feels like the government is gearing up to start making claims on Aboriginal lands that run along the proposed pipeline routes by simply saying “the government has need of this land”. The taking away of protection status on some 16,000 lakes and rivers, again to me, seems like a move to make expropriation claims that much easier. What bothers me most is the giving the Aboriginal Affairs minister the authority to call a band meeting for the purpose of considering the absolute surrender of the band’s territory to the federal government. This feels to me like nothing more than a end-game solution for getting land that has politically valuable purpose.

The use of the omnibus bill, in which literally hundreds of amendments to law are pushed together, seems like a tactic designed simply to make it impossible to adequately argue against the proposed amendments in the House of Commons. With so many things pushed together, it becomes overwhelming to try to fully anticipate all intended affects of each section of the bill. The irony in this is that when Stephen Harper was first elected to Parliament, he was an outspoken critic of omnibus bill usage by the Liberal government, calling it an injustice to democracy.

I have no desire to turn this into an anti-Harper tirade. That’s not going to help anyone, especially in a situation as politically fragile as what we find ourselves in now. What I will say is this: when I see ads on TV promoting the proposed pipeline I smirk to myself because I can only imagine the amount of money and political wrangling behind that advertisement. Let me put it this way: if the pipeline was not such a political minefield, you wouldn’t need commercials to sway interest because there would be little opposition to it to begin with.

As for Idle No More, here’s my take on it: I myself am an Aboriginal of Ojibway descent and part of the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations. I was not raised in an Aboriginal home but was adopted by a Caucasian family. In this way I am, in many ways, an outsider looking in at my own culture. At the risk of opening up a firestorm, I am glad that I was adopted because it has given me opportunities that wouldn’t have been there if I had been raised by my birth family. Unfortunately my birth family falls in the category so many other Aboriginals have found themselves in, one where the cycle of addiction and brokenness only repeats itself with each passing generation.

A friend of mine teaches in a school in Fort Albany, Ontario, on James Bay. It is a mostly Aboriginal community and the stories of broken families she’s relayed to me are heartbreaking. Many of her students often miss class because they have to take care of their parents, who often spend their days and nights getting drunk. A number of those parents went to residential schools, and the abuse they suffered there has left them hardened and bitter towards any non-Aboriginal person. My friend, who is Caucasian, has said to me several times that “if you’re not Aboriginal, the chances of you being accepted in the community drop greatly”.

I say all this because I want to try to convey to you what’s at risk for the Aboriginal community. This isn’t just about land claims or bitterness over past treatment. There is a very real sense among Aboriginals that this a move to slowly do away with Aboriginals as a distinct society within Canada. If you slowly take away land claims, legally and politically assigned rights and privileges, eventually there will no distinction between Aboriginals and any other Canadian citizen. Perhaps the best way I can phrase this is that it’s “assimilation via the installment plan”.

I spoke at an Idle No More gathering and said that the time has come for Aboriginals to stop letting ourselves be marginalized and that it’s time to break free from that cycle of brokenness that has affected so many families. Most importantly, the time has come to forgive those who wronged us, whether it be by sending our children to residential schools, or putting us on reservations that limited our livelihood, or by any other way that we’ve been wronged.

Shawn Atleo, Aboriginal First Nations Chief, said ” We can’t work in isolation. The status quo has to be significantly changed, and these young people in the communities where I go need to see, taste and feel results sooner than later. I hope we’re in the kind of tipping point movement that other movements have experienced, whether it’s civil rights, women’s rights, the environmental issues”.

I do find myself torn when it comes to the Idle No More movement. On the one side, I can see where the merits are, where the possibility of change lies, but on the other, I really do wonder what lasting affect this activism will have, especially in seeing self-implosion of the Occupy movement. That said I do dream of a day when Natives are able to live up to their full potential in Canadian society. I dream of a day when the vicious cycles of addiction are finally broken. I dream of a day when I no longer have to worry about slurs and vitriol being flung at me simply because of my ethnic heritage.

Aboriginals have a voice and they have a vote that counts as equally as any other Canadian’s but up to now we’ve squandered that voice. For too long we’ve heard cries of “I’ve been wronged” instead of “I have something to contribute”. We are guilty for our predicament in that we stopped believing we could be more than what we were constantly told we were.

The first step is forgiveness. If we can forgive, we can move forward. I’m excited to see so many of my Aboriginal brothers and sisters coming together in a way never before seen. I just wish it didn’t take the threat of the end of our status as Aboriginals to ignite the fire.

“Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was saddened to hear of the suicide of 15 year old Amanda Todd. She was cyber-bullied repeatedly by a man who circulated a photo of her flashing the camera. The fallout from that picture’s circulation led to her family moving and her changing schools. It didn’t stop the same cyber-bully from going after her again. And again the fallout caused her life to descend into shambles.

She posted a video on Youtube in September in which she detailed her life and what happened after the cyber-bullying began. I watched it with my wife and we were both heartbroken because we realized that even though the video was posted a month ago, it was most likely too little too late for Amanda. It wasn’t that it wouldn’t be viewed and people wouldn’t reach out to her. It was that, in all honesty, it felt like a suicide note, a last will and testament for a girl who felt she could never again have the privacy and dignity that all people inherently deserve.

Dr. Brenda Morrison, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, as well as a board member of SFU’s Centre for Restorative Justice, said in an article about Amanda’s suicide, “Once we’re in a downward spiral our negative self-talk can be so detrimental to us. And especially around issues around sexually, it cuts us at our core. Other kids pick up on that, we get labelled, the label becomes self-perpetuating and can end in tragedy, as we all know now”.

My last post on Shaneisms was about my distaste for social media. The sad case presented to us here is a reminder of the dangers of social media. While having almost limitless information at our fingertips is a wonderful resource, it is just as dangerous as a loaded gun when used maliciously. We can find addresses, social networking profiles, tweets and almost any information we want about someone with just a few keystrokes. And once a picture is posted online it can be just a matter of minutes before it’s impossible to wipe off the digital web.

Once we find information about someone, it can take only a few more keystrokes to set them on a self-destructive path. And because of the anominity of the internet there is often no fear of reprisal by those who use it to bully and abuse others. All you have to do is set up a profile under a false name and off you go, knowing it will be that much harder to find you. If you’re worried about your computer being tracked down via it’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) address you can always go to the library or an internet cafe, adding another layer of anominity for authorities to work through.

Here’s where we start to look at ourselves and our behavior, our reactions to a life lost long before it should have been.

After looking through videos and articles related to Amanda Todd, I started looking at online reactions. Many of these saddened me as much as Amanda’s story itself. I could not believe the number of people calling for revenge on those who bullied her. One young man on Youtube went as far as to call out the bullies, giving them directions on how to find him. While I admire his conviction, he became symbolic to me of our society’s wrong-headed notion of what Justice means.

When I worked through many of the comments I came across, I saw that, at the core of them, they called for what can only be described as “vigilante justice”.

“If the police won’t do something to stop them, then we should”, “let’s let the bullies have a taste of their own medicine”, “do you think they’d be laughing if it was their privacy invaded and their dirty laundry out there for the world to see?” “yeah you’re so tough picking on a teenage girl. think you’d be so tough against a grown man?”

The list of similar comments went on and on. I saw several Facebook posts that echoed the same sentiments. I understand completely where they are coming from. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” is a golden rule throughout the world. Unfortunately, in times of crisis and fear, we have a tendency to interpret this as “they did it to us, so doing it back is completely justified”. Is it really?

There was a time, a few years ago, where I had the chance to pay back in full kind someone who had made my life hell, with no possibility of any consequence to me. It was a free, wide open opportunity to give that person punishment for everything he had put me through. I won’t lie… knowing I could get away with it made it very tempting. But in the end I chose not to take vengeance and I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve often reviewed that day, going over every detail in my mind, every possible outcome. I came to the realization I would have become the very thing I hated: I would have become the bully. I would have become the coward.

These calls for “justice”, saying “repay them in kind” is nothing more than vigilantism. It’s about nothing more than one’s own gratification, about nothing more than satisfying one’s own need for vengeance, with the wrongful belief it will bring us a sense of balance. But will it really? How does becoming the bully to repay bullying lead to a higher form of justice?

If we truly desire justice, change, and healing, it can only come when we end our desire to see the other person hurt.

Am I saying that those who bullied Amanda should get away scot free? No. They crossed a line and there have to be consequences and prevenative measures. What does need to change is our instinctive desire for revenge as a means of seeking justice. We must put our pride, ego, and desires aside and work towards a greater Good.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate:
only love can do that.

I believe with all my heart that love is more powerful than hate. It is also far more difficult to act out of love because it requires us to make ourselves vulnerable to attack. It requires us to give with no thought of repayment. It asks of us everything with no guarantee of even our own safety. Revenge allows us to stay within our comfort zones. Love often requires we leave them. Especially tough love. It too easy to forget that often the schoolyard bully comes from a home where they’re the one bullied. It is very rare the person that bullies and attacks for no reason and not out of some hurt in their own life. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to say that whether you were the bully or the one being picked on really came down to your social environment. Another roll of the family situational dice and you could have been in the opposite role you found yourself in grade school.

Amanda Todd felt like an outsider, someone who had been misunderstood and labeled by someone else’s abuse. She didn’t realize how far and wide her life and her passing would affect people. Perhaps she will spur you to act, to prevent further tragedies. If you’re asking “but what can I do”, use some keystrokes and look up positive ways to combat bullying in your community. I’ll even give you a head start. Head on over to thejackproject.org and read how you can help. The Jack Project was started in memory of Jack Windeler, an 18 year old who committed suicide after falling into a deep depression.

For all the negative posts I saw about Amanda Todd’s death, I did come across many sensitive, sorrowful and caring ones, like this one: “I’m sorry you had to go through all that, I’m sorry that people are that horrible and cruel, I’m sorry you had to experience being that alone and I’m sorry that you had to end your life so short of its potential.”

Maybe one day, if we work together, other boys and girls, other men and women, in Amanda’s position will find the encouragement and strength to reach that potential.

Maybe.

“Those are my principles. If you don’t like them I have others.” – Groucho Marx

EA Games, makers of the upcoming Medal Of Honor: Warfighter video game, recently removed a blog that gave reviews of the real-world weapons used in the game itself, as well as links to the manufacturers’ websites. The blog was put up to promote a charity partnership, with EA’s proceeds from the partnership going to the Navy SEAL Foundation and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provide scholarship grants and couselling services to families of fallen special operations personal as well as financial assistance to severely wounded special operations personal.

Now, let me state this straight away: I am in full support of the Navy SEAL Foundation and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. War is a horrible thing and anything done to heal the wounds suffered in battle, both physical and psychological, should be done with everyone’s full support. What I am against is EA Games’ decision to promote real-world weapons as a video game tie-in.

I’m not worried about those who use weapons properly, with proper training and proper securing of weapons when not in use. I am worried about kids going to the game’s website and blog and seeing the weapons promoted as being something so awesome you can’t live without them. My reason? Well, let me put it this way: curiosity and hindsight rarely go hand in hand.

Most of the blog postings about the weapons have been taken down after criticism of the partnership. A common criticism on posts regarding the program I’ve seen is the irony of promoting weapons to raise money for families whose lives have been torn apart by weapons themselves, in some cases including ones promoted on the blog itself.

I am all for promotional tie-ins, especially ones with charitable donations involved. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve donated an extra dollar or two to a charity drive while getting fast food or making a purchase at a department store. I’m all for cross-promotions and I usually find them fun to look into, like the James Bond series’ on-going promotion with Aston Martin. As it stands right now, one of the books I currently have on the go is the novelization of “The Dark Knight Rises”, after buying and enjoying the novelizations of the previous two Batman movies. If you, as a media company, have created a cool world to get lost in, the geek in me is going to want to take part of that world home with me. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Here we get into a murky ethical area. If someone buys a first person shooter game like MoH: Warfighter and then decides the weapons are cool, buys one and then opens fire on an innocent crowd, I wouldn’t hold the game manufacturer responsible anymore than I would hold the Beatles responsible for the Manson Family killing because of Manson’s misinterpretation of songs on the Beatles’ “White Album”. Case in point: when the Columbine shooting happened it was revealed the shooters were huge fans of the video game “Doom”, which lead to many wanting the game banned outright. However, subsequent studies, including ones done by Harvard Medical School and the US Department of Education found playing violent video games, including Doom, was not a cause for violent school attacks.

Where EA has gone wrong, in my opinion, is being realistic about the target audience for the game. Yes, it’s rated “M for Mature”, meaning it can’t be bought by those under 18, but there are numerous documented cases of underage kids getting M-rated games as gifts or by pestering their parents into buying it for them. I myself have seen it firsthand while standing in line at stores like EB Games, a parent buying a game with their teenage child right next to them. You can tell which one of the two the game is for. Hint: it’s not the one footing the bill.

If someone decides to go the illegal route of getting the game, namely via downloading a pirated copy off the internet, there’s not much you can do to stop them, let alone make sure they are of legal age to play the game. Sure the websites for M-rated games are often requiring age verification but any teenager knows all you have to do is enter a date of birth prior to 1994 and you’re golden. EA knows this. They are well aware of the problems and loss of revenue caused by piracy, hence new forms of Digital Rights Management (DRM) such as one-time activation (also preventing re-sale in the used game market) and the requirement of an always-on internet connection to play the game. And again, I’m all for protecting your intellectual property and any produced product, even if it does treat the honest buyer the same way as the dishonest scammer.

I guess what I’m calling for is a sense of responsibility from companies in how they market their products. With the recent shootings in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, we need to be more aware than ever of the seduction a weapon can have on someone who feels singled out or comes from a rough background. A gun can be far too empowering for someone who feels like they don’t have any control over the world around them. In working with at-risk youth I can tell you first hand the personality change that someone can go through the moment a weapon comes into their posession. The Warfighter blog showcasing the real-world power of the in-game weaponry is, to me, too close to lighing match under a power keg. The whole purpose of advertising or promotion is to make you believe you can’t live without something you may have not even known existed ten minutes ago. And a high-powered weapon can seem like an easy way out of your problems when things are going bad.

EA Games knows their games are big hits among the under-30 crowd. Multiplayer deathmatches are a way I and many friends have passed (far too much) time during our high school and university days. I used to work at a gaming cafe where teens from the local high school would come in after class and have Call Of Duty deathmatches. There wasn’t a bad kid in the bunch. Issues including being socially awkward and having questionable hygiene where very prevalent but no one who played in the daily deathmatches set off alarms for potentially violent behavior.

Here’s a better idea for EA, if they’re so adamant about raising money for soldier-related charities: donate a portion of sales from Warfighter and other EA Games titles. If they gave one half of one percent of their stated 2012 earnings (4.14 billion dollars) to the Navy SEAL and Special Operations Warrior Foundations, that would work out to over twenty million dollars in donations. Too much to ask of EA? Probably. Especially with all the piracy going on in the video game market. I guess the real world isn’t as cool as video games make it out to be.