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Cultural appropriation and the aristocracy of stupidity…

May 21, 2017

Many of the white folk who have positions of power at various Canadian media and literary outlets, who made the deeply insensitive comments last week about their indifference to the concept of cultural appropriation – coming in the midst of a national debate about Canada’s 150th birthday, and how the nation was built on the genocide and oppression of Indigenous peoples who already lived here – was clueless on so many levels I am almost too overwhelmed to respond.

What strikes me, is that these white men (yes, there was at least one white woman involved as well – but as with all positions of power in Canada, this is first, and foremost, a tale of white men) are completely clueless to their own positions of privilege, to the history of who has voice in Canada, as well as a seemingly total ignorance of the price indigenous people have paid for the military occupation of their land, and the almost total eradication of their culture.

What baffles me is that these are white men who are, more or less, in my age range. These are men in their mid 40’s through to their mid 60’s, men in their peak career earning years, men with corner offices, men who are seen at all the top literary and journalism events. Men of the Arts and Culture Scene in Canada.

Many of these men were in journalism school around the same time I was. They all have the past 30-40 years of participating in the cultural zeitgeist we call Canada. Sure, that dominant zeitgeist is white – Tim Horton’s, Shopper’s Drug Mart, Margaret Atwood, Hockey Night in Canada white – and yes, at the heart of Hal Niedzviecki’s infamous editorial was a call for white writers in Canada to step out of themselves and stop being, well, so white! Still, have they not listened to the news of their own outlets, read the discussions about cultural appropriation in their own magazines, empathized with the national tragedy that is Canada’s indigenous community.

This is where Niedzviecki’s editorial completely falls off the rails – being blinded by his own ignorance and privilege and general lack of intelligence and common sense (or, just plain stupid), he assumed that the problem of too much whiteness in our literary circles could be solved by white writers assuming the perspective and viewpoint of the Other – “not white” people.

Rather than calling for the opening of Canada’s tightly-clenched white sphincter of privilege to people who are “other”, to allow them space and voice, he calls for white writers to be more indigenous, or Black, or Asian, or Chinese.

What better example do we have for understanding ongoing white-centric cultural neocolonialism?

Of course as writers and thinkers we should all try to embrace the other that we encounter and relate to, but Niedzviecki speaks as if all people on the spectrum are on equal ground, with equal access to voice.

Which is so obviously not true. Can you name even three Indigenous Canadian writers? Poets? Movie directors? Television personalities? Radio show hosts? Newscasters? Friends?

Of course, all last week the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and CBC (TV and radio) have rolled out indigenous personalities to voice their disappointment and anger at Niedzviecki’s editorial and the subsequent pro-appropriation response it provoked from within certain Canadian literary circles. But where are these voices the rest of the time?

Shut the fuck up with your feigned liberal outrage and intolerant righteousness when next week these same voices of tokenism are relegated back to the Rez.

It’s hard being reminded, that 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement started, 35 years after Canada got a new constitution, and 10 years since we started talking about truth and reconciliation that we are, at heart, still so white – so dramatically white, that we are still so blinded by our privilege and our access to voice that in a magazine that was supposed to be celebrating indigenous writers in Canada, the editor-in-chief asked that white writers appropriate indigenous culture. And, that there should be a prize for the one who could do it best. And!, that other white men (and white women) would tweet their support for this appropriation initiative and even pony up some of their own money for the prize.

But it’s more than that as well. It’s as if we are actively not listening to what other people are saying; that we willingly wear blinders to keep the periphery out of sight, out of mind. That the marginalia will be happy with their yearly film festivals, their pride parades, their weekly slot on CBC Radio, or with one issue of the Writer’s Union Magazine being dedicated to indigenous writers (a magazine which, until this week, most of us had never heard of).

Some of my liberal white friends – forever optimists – say that, at least, things are slowly getting better. That this would not have been an issue of national debate 50 years ago. That at Canada’s 100th birthday party no one ever considered the implications of that celebration on our indigenous communities.

They point out that Niedzviecki was forced to resign for his stupidity. That other supporters lost their jobs as well.

They point out that we have had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, are now having a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, that many of us have at least heard of Motorcycles and Sweetgrass.

A round of applause I say.

Let’s pat ourselves on the back. Let’s thump the parliamentary podiums with a “here here!”

The ruling aristocracy loves to vindicate itself by throwing breadcrumbs to the pigeons.

Of course incremental change has happened. But how little things have actually changed, by 2017, is embarrassing.

After 400 years of colonial occupation this is the best we can do? Pat ourselves on the back for at least talking about cultural appropriation?

Maybe in another 400 years Canada’s indigenous communities will finally get safe drinking water. Basic housing. The same standard of education that white children get. Maybe we will stop taking their children from them. Maybe.

A lot can happen in 400 years.

Or not.

You are judged by what you do, not by what you say…

May 15, 2017

Jeff Sessions is on the official record as opposing same sex marriage, and the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (all queers should simply be expelled from military duty). He is against the Voting Rights Act, and opposes (on principle) anti-discrimination laws.

He is anti-immigration, pro-military, and anti-union…

As the new United States of America’s Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is now the most powerful law maker in America!




rural living…

May 13, 2017

City Folk have come to expect art on their lattes. Expect in the merest sense of the word, like its nothing more than a sign of modernity, common sense, the least a decent cafe should be doing to meet expectations.

Local folk are equal parts amazed and perplexed that we have come to this: putting art on our coffee.

Some of my childhood friends, those who grew up with dirt floors, are the most confused by the state of the world; friends who never left local, and now live amongst million dollar cottages and $5 latte art.

Occasionally one will walk into out cafe, they heard I was back in town, want to have a quick chat, catch-up, talk about the old days. I’ll make them a latte – what’s that they say?

Love it, or hate it, they are bemused by the art. What will they think of next?

Talking to some of the old ones up here – there’s a 94-year-old mother (grandmother, great-grandmother, now great-great-grandmother…) of 21 children up here – who by the way can still tear it up at the UNAF dance – talking to her is like the time, back in the ’90’s, when I got to talk to three old guys sitting on a bench in Clarkesdale, Mississippi, and asking them what life was like in Mississippi, 30 years after Martin Luther King Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement.

“Shit boy. What do you know of such things?” And then they would all laugh and smoke their cigarettes and look off into the middle distance.

The old ones up here can be like that too. Remembering the street fights between the Catholics and the Protestants. Trees as wide as houses. Getting through the winter on potatoes and cabbage. Tongue soup.

Latte art…

What will they think of next?






When the spring rains keep falling…

May 8, 2017

It’s there, in people’s voices.

There’s that excitement, barely concealed – out of politeness, out of a sense of decorum. Can’t get too excited. That would be impolite.

But it is exciting. The river moves now as if it had awoke from a long slumber. It writhes through our town like a nest of coiling snakes breeding in the spring.

It moves as if it could swallow everything in its path. As if it is twisting on itself, as if the banks are too tight, struggling with a shirt that is too small, trying to unwrap itself, wanting to be free.

In our cafe people’s eyes light up as they look at it from the window. They compare it to the great flood of 2011. Could it happen again? Could it be worse than the last time?

Their faces looked concerned, but happy at the thought that it could break its banks – soon…how soon…I hope I get to see it when it happens kind of faces.

The further from the banks they live the more excited they are by the possibility.

Where would be the best vantage points – when one drives into town – to watch it happen? How mighty will its wrath be?

It is quite different than the people who live on those banks. It is even more so for those who live in the flood plains of the river. Already, their driveways have disappeared. There is no way into town. They are isolated. Cut off from civilization. It’s biblical.

What drives the excitement? What makes the eye gleam while watching the frothing surface, the roiling back of that great snake?

Tranquilized by our technology, do we glimpse something larger, more primal, stirring something deep behind our loins – a basic urge, a reptilian response? It’s almost sexual. A longing. A hunger.

In our anthropocentric multi-mirrored existence we catch a glimpse in the river of something that moves outside of us – that has been here an eternity, that will be here long after we are gone.

On CBC radio yesterday the man spoke of the fact that fewer and fewer of us attend church services. Yet more and more of us say we long for something spiritual. We have no God.

But we have Nature.

And increasingly we will have Nature’s wrath, climate change, global warming, a punishment for our collective sins. Wash the world clean again. We can make a new start. Get it right next time.



The divine sweetness of punishment.

It’s all so exciting!


Bonfire of the Vanities

May 2, 2017

It’s one thing to be upset with art that appropriates the sacred teaching tools of oppressed indigenous people – to be part of a dominant culture that is essentially a 150 year military occupation, whereby indigenous Nations have suffered genocide, and now those who remain cling to life at the very bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder – to then idealize them – as a people – and make white art in their sacred traditions, and then sell it as a commodity – is, not only culturally insensitive to the point of willful ignorance, but is also some of the worst ramifications of colonialism.

But to confuse appropriation with art you simply find uncomfortable is another matter entirely.

Some of the best art in the world directly challenges the status quo.


Rokeby Venus by Diego Velazquez

Venus, Diego Valazquez – banned by Spanish Inquisition

To suggest that religion, violence, or eroticism should also be banned from a gallery moves one into dangerous, censorious neighborhoods.


These are the neighborhoods of the Totalitarian bureaucrat, the Soviet administrator who has been given power to decree “what is Art” and “what is not Art”.

The Trench warfare by Otto Dix

Trench warfare, Otto Dix – banned by Third Reich

Bertolt Brecht, Charlie Chaplin, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Salvador Dali, Diego Velazquez, Cravaggio, Otto Dix, and many many many others have had their art, their writing, their movies, their ideas, banned in the name of proper social convention.


The last Judgment by Michelangelo

The Last Judgement – Michelangelo – Vatican was initially outraged and wanted the work destroyed if genitalia was not covered.

In Hitler’s Final Solution for the total elimination of the Jew from Europe, he planned on keeping the Jewish Quarter in Prague as a museum of the vanquished people. That is why he ordered that Prague not be bombed during the war. Prague contained some of the oldest synagogues in Europe – they would be perfect spaces to venerate a disappeared people.

This is why the indigenous communities of Canada get so upset when they see white people appropriating and idealizing their culture. It is a safe and comfortable place from which to view “these people of the land.” (No matter that most of the indigenous population in Canada now lives in urban areas.)

That is an important concept to understand.

But in your haste to eradicate appropriated culture, you then also want to include any art that makes you uncomfortable, which is a slippery slide into only producing art that is meaningless.

Just how much more generic, inoffensive, landscape art do you want me to put up with?

…remembering how to breathe…

April 30, 2017

_DSC9079We walked the back ridge today. The dog and I.

Led by childhood memories, following deer trails this way and that.

Yellow tree buds carpet the undergrowth, blooming from knee-high softwoods that live in the canopy’s summer shadows.

_DSC9102When I stop to ponder, it can get hard to breathe. It comes over you like a wave of ecstasy. Like 3 shots of MDMA, and awaking up in 100,000 acres of forest! With spring in the air, and a new moon on the horizon.

Two weeks ago I was taking pictures of new snow under a full moon.

_DSC9146Two times since we moved home I have got myself turned around in this forest. Getting tripped up not by what the forest is, but by walking as I remembered this forest to be.

Twice I followed the high back ridge that leads one into the forest interior, thinking I was on the front ridge which merely skirts the forest’s edge. Twice I had to stop and align myself in unknown forests, find our way out of the labyrinth before it was too late.

Today I am out here as an adult, as someone who has been away for 25  years. Wanting to see again, as if for the first time. Part cartographer, part trail sniffer, the dog and I are out and about in this great forest, reacquainting ourselves like long lost friends.

_DSC9200Finding familiar markers, cleaning up old trails, the dog joyfully treeing chipmunks and squirrels as we go.

For the day I am Lao Tzu, Thoreau, Bronte, Edna St. Vincent Millay.

But trees are trees, an alm or oak
Already both outside and in,
And cannot, therefore, counsel folk
Who have their unity to win.

Turn all tree-signals into speech,
And what comes out is a command:
‘Keep running if you want to reach
The point of knowing where you stand.’

                                                          excerpt: Reflections on a Forest, Auden

_DSC9151Science now confirms what we already knew, that walking in a forest is good for your health. To which my mom would reply, “I could have told you that for the price of a lunch.”

Songbirds flutter along the naked canopy. Peepers deafen down by the edge of the swamp. Everything twitterpated. Everything is alive! The world is magic.


And I walk through this magic as if in a dream.


Blues, with a feeling…

April 30, 2017

In the late 1980’s and  into the early ’90’s, my friend was in B.B. King’s house band at King’s bar in Memphis.

I had just been transferred to head of overnight shipping at the Molson’s beer factory in Barrie and he was our shunt man. A shunt man is the guy who brings the trailers from the parking lot to the warehouse doors in order for them to be loaded or unloaded.

One night, about 3 am, he came into the office while I had John Lee Hooker playing on a tape deck. I had just discovered the blues and John Lee and thought it was pretty cool. We had never spoke. I was management. He was union. That kind of factory bullshit.

“3 cord John,” he called Hooker from over his shoulder.

“Don’t get me wrong. He’s cool. But he plays a pretty simple mix.”

Then he took a shipping invoice off the wall and left.


One night after a lot of bourbon, maybe a month or two after that first encounter, we were at his house and he told his wife that he thought he would get his guitar out. Fine, she said. I’m going to bed. Until that moment I did not know he played.

Down in his rec room he pulled out an alligator guitar case and took out, what he told me, had once been one of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitars.

For the next hour he riffed – flawlessly – on Vaughn. I was stunned.

What the fuck are you doing in Barrie? Shunting trucks, for fuck’s sake!”


I’m moving to Memphis! I got an audition.

Get the fuck out!

I did, man. They said to come down. We decided to just go. See what happens. I’m not getting any younger. Fuck this job!


Sixteen months later, my university debts were paid off, i had stashed some cash, and I had been invited to visit the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. So I too quit my factory job, and drove to Memphis before heading out west.

For two weeks we toured through Mississippi searching for old blues master’s graveyards. Robert Johnson. Willie Brown. Muddy Waters. Sonhouse. So many of them died in poverty, in unmarked graves. We went to Rosedale. Where Robert Johnson says he sold his soul to the devil for fame and fortune. Talked to old Black men about pre-civil rights Mississippi. Toasted the future.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that I was just turned on to the musician Orianthi. I watched one of her videos and was immediately transferred back to King’s bar in Memphis watching my buddy play the house down at the end of the night.

New versions of old feelings.