Category Archives: B - READING - Page 2


25053. (Nushin Arbabzadah & Nile Green) Between Afghan “Idol­og­ra­phy” and Kafir 
. . . . . “Autoethnog­ra­phy”: A Mus­lim Con­vert Describes His For­mer Reli­gion [arti­cle]
25054. (George Mag­nus) Red Flags ― Why Xi’s Chi­na Is in Jeopardy
25055. (Clau­dia Chang) Inner Asian Pas­toral­ism in the Iron Age: The Tal­gar Case, 
. . . . . South-East­ern Kaza­khstan [arti­cle]
25056. (Dan Davis) The Wolf God
25057. (Oula Seit­so­nen) Change and Con­ti­nu­ity in the Holocene Lithics Use in the 
. . . . . Nyan­za Province, Kenya: A Gen­er­al Overview [arti­cle]
Read more »


25034. (Nile Green) The Lan­guages of Indi­an Ocean Stud­ies: Mod­els, Meth­ods and 
. . . . . Sources [arti­cle]
25035. (Jere­mi­ah Cur­tain) Myths and Leg­ends of Ireland
25036. (Sergei B. Kli­menko, Maria V. Stanyukovich & Galian B. Sychenko) Poetic 
. . . . . Lan­guage and Music of the hud­hud ni nosi, a Yat­tuka Funer­al Chant, 
. . . . . the Philip­pines [arti­cle]
25037. (Christi­na Papou­lia) Sea­ward Dis­per­sals to the NE Mediter­ranean Islands 
. . . . . in the Pleis­tocene. The Lith­ic Evi­dence in Ret­ro­spect [arti­cle]
Read more »


25000. [2] (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) Le petit prince
25001. (Jor­rit M. Kelder) An Argu­ment for a Bronze Age Intro­duc­tion of the Chicken 
. . . . . in Greece [arti­cle]
25002. (Nigel Gor­ing-Mor­ris & Anna Belfer Cohen) “Far and Wide”: Social Networking 
. . . . . in the Ear­ly Neolith­ic of the Lev­ant [arti­cle]
25003. (Lau­rent Binet) Civilizations
25004. (André-Yves Bourgès) À pro­pos d’une clé de l’œu­vre de sir Wal­ter Scott. L’origine 
. . . . . angevine des Fraz­er d’E­cosse — nais­sance d’une tra­di­tion [arti­cle]
Read more »


24977. (Jim Grim­s­ley) How I Shed My Skin
24978. (Steve Muhlberg­er) [in blog Muhlberger’s World His­to­ry] Two Books on Charny
. . . . . [review]
24979. (Steve Muhlberg­er) [in blog Muhlberger’s World His­to­ry] My Reac­tion to
. . . . . The Last Duel [review]
24980. (Jef­frey M. Hur­wit) The Athen­ian Acrop­o­lis ― His­to­ry, Mythol­o­gy, and Archaeology
. . . . . from the Neolith­ic Era to the Present
24981. (C. M. Clark, et al) The Mal­ta Cis­tern Map­ping Project: Expe­di­tion II [arti­cle]
24982. (David K. Wright) Cli­mate Change: Lacus­trine Zone [arti­cle] Read more »


24958. (Michael J. Crowe) The Extrater­res­tri­al Life Debate, 1750–1900
24959. (Mark Maguire & A. Jamie Saris) Enshrin­ing Viet­namese-Irish Lives [arti­cle]
(David W. Antho­ny ‑ed.) The Lost World of Old Europe ― The Danube Valley, 
. . 5000–3500 BC:
Read more »


24943. (Chris Loen­dorf, et al) East­ern Puebloans on the Mid­dle Gila Riv­er: The Middle 
. . . . . Rio Grande Dias­po­ra and Peri­od­ic Changes in Cul­tur­al Tra­di­tions [arti­cle]
24944. (Steven A. Cook) False Dawn: Protest, Democ­ra­cy, and Vio­lence in the New 
. . . . . Mid­dle East
24945. (Natalia Bichu­ri­na & James Cos­ta) Nom­mer pour faire exis­ter: l’épineuse
. . . . . ques­tion de l’oc [arti­cle]
24946. (Eleanor Brock­ett) Per­sian Fairy Tales [ill. Har­ry Toothill]
24947. (Adam B. Rohrlach, et al) Using Y‑chromosome Cap­ture Enrich­ment to Resolve 
. . . . . Hap­logroup H2 Shows New Evi­dence for a Two-path Neolith­ic Expansion 
. . . . . to West­ern Europe [arti­cle]
24948. (Nile Green) The Sur­vival of Zoroas­tri­an­ism in Yazd [arti­cle]
24949. (Elwin W. Midgett) An Account­ing Primer
24950. (William Shurtl­eff & Akiko Aoy­a­gi) The Book of Tofu ― Food for Mankind
24951. (Tom­my Tse, Vic­tor Shin & Ling Tung Tsang) From Shanzhai Chic to Gangnam 
. . . . . Style: Sev­en Prac­tices of Cul­tur­al-Eco­nom­ic Medi­a­tion in Chi­na and Korea 
. . . . . [arti­cle]
24952. (Kevin G. Hata­la, David A. Per­ry & Stephen M. Gatesy) A Bipla­nar X‑ray Approach 
. . . . . for Study­ing the 3D Dynam­ics of Human Track For­ma­tion [arti­cle]
24953. (Randy Bach­man) Randy Bach­man’s Vinyl Tap Stories
24954. (Karen S. Rubin­son) The Context{ualization} of Art in Non-Lit­er­ate Societies: 
. . . . . Armen­ian Mid­dle Bronze Age Images and Ani­mal Bones [arti­cle]
24955. (John Holt) Free­dom & Beyond
24956. (P. M. N. Hitch­ings, et al) A Baysian Approach to Archae­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey in 
. . . . . North-west Jor­dan [arti­cle]
24957. (Richard J. Need­ham) The Hypo­der­mic Needham


24927. (Christophe Picard) Sea of the Caliphs ― The Mediter­ranean in the Medieval
. . . . . Islam­ic World
24928. (Kol­b­jørn Enge­land, et al) New Flood Fre­quen­cy Esti­mates for the Largest
. . . . . Riv­er in Nor­way Based on a Nov­el Com­bi­na­tion of Streamflow‑, Historical‑,
. . . . . and Paleo-data [arti­cle]
24929. (Alfre­do Mederos Martín) El san­tu­ario feni­cio de la calle Mén­dez Núnez-plaza
. . . . . de las Mon­jas y el ini­cio de los asen­tamien­tos feni­cios en la península
. . . . . Ibéri­ca [arti­cle]
24930. (María Rosa Meno­cal) The Orna­ment of the World ― How Mus­lims, Jews, and
. . . . . Chris­tians Cre­at­ed a Cul­ture of Tol­er­ance in Medieval Spain
24931. (Stephen O’Shea) Sea of Faith ― Islam and Chris­tian­i­ty in the Medieval
. . . . . Mediter­ranean World
24932. (Tor­ben Bjarke Ballin) Radio­car­bon-dat­ing ― Is the Hum­ble Hazel­nut Shell
. . . . . Archae­ol­o­gy’s “Sil­ver Bul­let” or Not? [arti­cle]
24933. (Somdeep Sen) Race, Racism, and the Teach­ing of Inter­na­tion­al Relations
. . . . . [arti­cle]
24934. (Jeff Hearn, et al) Vio­lence Regimes: A Use­ful Con­cept for Social Politics,
. . . . . Social Ana­lyis, and Social The­o­ry [arti­cle]
24935. (Chris­tine Cald­well Ames) Medieval Here­sies: Chris­tian­i­ty, Judaism, and Islam
24936. (Ste­van Springer & Pas­cal Gag­neux) De nou­velles vari­a­tions génétiques
. . . . . préser­vent les fac­ultés cog­ni­tives des per­son­nes âgées [arti­cle]
24937. (Fred­erique Dar­ragon) The Lang Xian Thou­sand Year Old Grooved Towers ―
. . . . . A Pos­si­ble Con­nec­tion with the Lang Xian Ancient Tombs and/or the Lhodra
. . . . . Grooved Tow­ers [arti­cle]
24938. (Avishai Mar­galit) On Com­pro­mise and Rot­ten Compromises
24939. (Mark J. Kaswan) Coop­er­a­tives and the Ques­tion of Democ­ra­cy [arti­cle]
24940. (Jacob Lass­ner) Jews, Chris­tians, and the Abode of Islam
24941. (Élise Luneau) Effonde­ment ou évo­lu­tion de la civil­i­sa­tion de l’Oxus? Une
. . . . . révi­sion de la tran­si­tion de l’âge du Bronze à l’âge du Fer en Asie
. . . . . cen­trale mérid­ionale [arti­cle]
24942. (Bar­ry N. Malzberg) Herovit’s World


24889. (Shen Con­g­wen) Bor­der Town [边城]
24890. (Ste­fan Dreibrodt, et al) Earth­worms, Dar­win and Pre­his­toric Agriculture ― 
. . . . . Cher­nozem Gen­e­sis Recon­sid­ered [arti­cle]
24891. (Prim­i­ti­va Bueno Ramírez & Rodri­go de Bal­bín Behrmann) The End of the Ice Age 
. . . . . in South­ern Europe: Iber­ian Images in the Pale­olith­ic to Post-Palaeolithic 
. . . . . Tran­si­tion [arti­cle]
(William M. Brei­d­ing ‑ed.) Portable Stor­age Sev­en ― The Great Ser­con Issue, Part Two
. . . . 24892. (William Brei­d­ing) The Edi­tor Gets Jig­gy [pref­ace]
. . . . 24893. (Christi­na Lake) Uncan­ny Sleep­ers and Dreams of Utopias Past [arti­cle]
. . . . 24894. (D. S. Black) Flâneur in a Quan­tum State: Rome-Gno­sis at the Moun­tains . . . . . . . . . of Machen-ness [arti­cle]
Read more »


24876. (Gary O. Rollef­son & Zei­dan Kafafi) The 1996 Sea­son at ‘Ayn Ghazāl: Preliminary 
. . . . . Report [arti­cle]
24877. (Alexan­der Ref­sum Jense­nius) Son­ic Microin­t­er­ac­tion in “the Air” [arti­cle]
24878. (Efem N. Ubi & Vin­cent Ibonye) Is Lib­er­al Democ­ra­cy Fail­ing in Africa or Is Africa 
. . . . . Fail­ing under Lib­er­al Democ­ra­cy? [arti­cle]
24879. (Kon­stan­ti­nos Kopa­nias & Gio­ta Bar­la­gian­ni) Unequal in Life but Equal in Death? 
. . . . . The Mor­tu­ary Evi­dence for Social Strat­i­fi­ca­tion in the Ubaid Poli­ties [arti­cle]
24880. (Seth Brew­ing­ton, et al) Islands of Change vs. Islands of Dis­as­ter: Man­ag­ing Pigs 
. . . . . and Birds in the Anthro­pocene of the North Atlantic [arti­cle]
Read more »

Tuesday, April 19, 2022 — The Secret Path

I am for the wolf, pitch-black and yel­low eyes
This is the only place to be
For the raven arriv­ing first to get my eyes
This is the only place to be
And I’m for the poor sun, always against the mind­less night
This is the only place to be
And I’m for the wind, in the pale blue sky
This is the only place to be
On this earth-like world
It’s cold and real
And with a sun-like star
You can feel
I’ll just close my eyes
I’ll just catch my breath
This is the only place to be

[“The Only Place to Be” — 9th song from The Secret Path)]

I final­ly saw the film com­po­nent of The Secret Path. I heard all of the songs on Gord Down­ie’s album when it was released in Octo­ber of 2016, and liked them, but I did not see the film. Now I have. This would be some­thing that I would not have to explain to most Cana­di­ans, and some­thing that I would cer­tain­ly not need to explain to any­one from Canada’s First Nations. How­ev­er, the read­ers of my blog are inter­na­tion­al, and most are unfa­mil­iar with Canada’s pecu­liar low-pro­file cul­ture, so I will explain some things for their sake.

The Trag­i­cal­ly Hip are a rock band that was tremen­dous­ly pop­u­lar in Cana­da through­out its career, but apart from a cou­ple of briefly suc­cess­ful sin­gles nev­er broke out into the Amer­i­can or glob­al mar­kets. Not every­one in Cana­da likes the band, but every­one is aware of it. It’s not my favourite band, or even my favourite Cana­di­an band, but I lis­ten to it fair­ly often, when it suits my mood. But I can tell you from the expe­ri­ence of hitch-hik­ing across the coun­try that the peo­ple who were like­ly to give me a ride, when I stood for­lorn and mos­qui­to-bit­ten on the dusty shoul­der of the Trans-Cana­da High­way, like as not had a Hip cas­sette play­ing in their car or truck, and a bunch of them scat­tered on the front seat, which they hasti­ly gath­ered up to let me sit. The Hip began the usu­al way, a hand­ful of high school bud­dies start­ing a band and work­ing their way up play­ing local joints in the small city of Kingston, Ontario. The ear­ly songs were strik­ing, and well played, though not par­tic­u­lar­ly ambi­tious in their arrange­ments. An ear­ly hit, “Blow at High Dough”, has a pret­ty basic chord pat­tern and chug-along rhythm gui­tar and slide gui­tar, and depends most­ly on the pecu­liar­i­ty of Down­ie’s voice and his enig­mat­ic lyrics to hook the lis­ten­er. As time went on, gui­tarists Paul Lan­glois and Rob Bak­er, bassist Gord Sin­clair, and drum­mer John­ny Fay picked up greater and greater skill, and attempt­ed sub­tler and more ambi­tious tech­nique, while Gord Down­ie’s lyrics became more and more poet­ic. But the Hip always behaved and played like a real­ly good bar band. Their sub­ject mat­ter —- the world from the point of view of the small-town under­dog, had the pecu­liar mix­ture of con­cern for the envi­ron­ment, out­rage at social injus­tice, ghost­ly snatch­es of dream­like imagery, along with pick­up trucks, junior hock­ey and get­ting drunk at the town curl­ing rink that appealed to Cana­di­ans and felt Cana­di­an. For exam­ple, “Wheat Kings” was told from the point of view of David Mil­gaard, who served twen­ty years in a Man­i­to­ba prison, wrong­ful­ly con­vict­ed of murder:

There’s a dream he dreams where the high school’s dead and stark
It’s a muse­um and we’re all locked up in it after dark
The walls are lined all yel­low, grey and sinister
Hung with pic­tures of our par­ents’ prime ministers
Wheat kings and pret­ty things
Wait and see what tomor­row brings

and this theme is even stronger in “38 Years Old”, set in an Ontario prison:

Same pat­tern on the table, same clock on the wall
Been one seat emp­ty, eigh­teen years in all
Freez­ing slow time, away from the world
He’s thir­ty-eight years old, nev­er kissed a girl

If you’ve ever heard Neil Young’s “Help­less” or Joni Mitchel­l’s “Raised on Rob­bery”, for exam­ple, you can guess that this sort of thing has long formed the core of musi­cal sen­si­bil­i­ty in Cana­da. Nobody here sings about their lam­bergh­i­nis or design­er watch­es or what macho dudes they are. Cana­di­ans laugh at brag­garts. By the time Down­ie wrote “Ahead By a Cen­tu­ry” in 1996 , with its erot­ic dream of two teenagers climb­ing a tree togeth­er to make love and fig­ure out their des­tiny, the lyrics were way past the con­ven­tions of either pop song writ­ing or sto­ry­telling. But the song had been worked out from impromp­tu jam ses­sions done as ear­ly as when they first per­formed “New Orleans Is Sinking”.

Stare in the morn­ing shroud
And then the day began
I tilt­ed your cloud
You tilt­ed my hand
Rain falls in real time
And rain fell through the night
No dress rehearsal, this is our life
But that’s when the hor­net stung me
And I had a seri­ous dream
With revenge and doubt
Tonight, we smoked them out

In 2012, after decades of sol­id suc­cess, The Hip played in Fort Albany, Ontario, pop­u­la­tion a smidge over 2,000 ― hard­ly a mon­ey-mak­ing venue ― shar­ing the stage with a local band. Fort Albany and Kashechewan First Nations live most­ly by tra­di­tion­al trap­ping, hunt­ing and fish­ing, and their small pop­u­la­tion var­i­ous­ly speaks Cree, Ojib­way, Eng­lish, French, and Oji-Cree (a sort of com­pro­mise between the first two). The town is acces­si­ble only by bush planes and, in mid-win­ter, by a long and dan­ger­ous ice road dri­vable only by spe­cial­ly trained truck dri­vers. It was here that Gord Down­ie learned the sto­ry of Chanie Wen­jack, a twelve-year-old boy from Ogo­ki Post, a tiny upstream First Nations vil­lage, who escaped from mis­treat­ment at one of the noto­ri­ous Res­i­den­tial Schools and died of hunger and expo­sure while attempt­ing to walk 600 kms back home. It also began a kind of spir­i­tu­al bond between The Hip and First Nations that would grow steadi­ly deeper.

In 2015, Down­ie was diag­nosed with a fatal brain can­cer, with the expectan­cy of soon and cer­tain death. The band was deter­mined to keep play­ing til the end, and their last con­cert, in their home town of Kingston, was broad­cast cross-plat­form and nation­wide to an esti­mat­ed audi­ence of one third of the coun­try’s entire pop­u­la­tion. This includ­ed every sin­gle liv­ing per­son in the town of Bob­cay­geon, the set­ting and title of one of their best songs. After thir­ty songs and three encore sets, they fin­ished with “Ahead By a Cen­tu­ry.” But Down­ie also had a spe­cial solo project in mind. This was The Secret Path, which was to be much more than the album of ten songs that Down­ie com­posed. It was pack­aged with a graph­ic nov­el which Down­ie wrote and was illus­trat­ed by cel­e­brat­ed DC and Mar­vel comics artist Jeff Lemire, an ani­mat­ed film ver­sion of the graph­ic nov­el direct­ed by Down­ie, and a suite of relat­ed instruc­tion­al mate­ri­als for pub­lic schools. These were pre­sent­ed togeth­er in con­cert at Roy Thomp­son Hall in Toron­to on Octo­ber 2016, with Chanie Wen­jack­’s sur­viv­ing sis­ters present. This was Gord Down­ie’s last pub­lic per­for­mance. He died on Octo­ber 17, 2017. The Prime Min­is­ter called a spe­cial press con­fer­ence, in which he announced the death of “our bud­dy Gord, who loved this coun­try with every­thing he had…”

As I said, I heard the album when it came out. I did not know what to expect, but I end­ed up watch­ing it with a friend and restrain­ing tears, because Secret Path is not only a fine piece of ani­ma­tion, but it touch­es on many parts of my life. The songs have a pecu­liar, repet­i­tive and almost dron­ing qual­i­ty, with no fan­cy licks or catchy tunes, and an odd absence of cadence. Now, hav­ing seen the film, I under­stand that these pecu­liar­i­ties are nec­es­sary com­po­nents of the music and the ani­ma­tion tak­en togeth­er. They cap­ture exact­ly the way young Chanie’s mind must have expe­ri­enced his des­per­ate jour­ney. I can tell you from expe­ri­ence that in pro­longed and over­whelm­ing dan­ger, your brain repeats words and phras­es like obses­sive tics. You become a rhyth­mic chant of help­less­ness and fear, and this is how the boy would have expe­ri­enced the events that he endured, the mem­o­ries that swamped him, and the hope­ful fan­tasies that kept him going.

I’ve known sev­er­al peo­ple who went through the same ordeals that Chanie went through at Cecil­ia Jef­frey Indi­an Res­i­den­tial School in Keno­ra, or in any of the 138 oth­er such schools in the coun­try. I’ve known an even greater num­ber of peo­ple who were the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion vic­tims, grow­ing up with par­ents strug­gling with severe psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems and alco­holism trace­able to their abuse in child­hood. This always put the less­er trou­bles of my own child­hood in per­spec­tive. I’ve been study­ing the issue most of my life, gath­er­ing up what doc­u­men­ta­tion I could get a hold of. There was not much avail­able at first, but in recent years much more objec­tive data and analy­sis has become avail­able. I am still in the mid­dle of read­ing mas­sive reports. Why has so much mate­r­i­al recent­ly become avail­able? Part­ly because of the dis­cov­ery of unmarked children’s graves on the sites of aban­doned Res­i­den­tial Schools, which has shocked the nation. But prob­a­bly more because of Gord’s music, graph­ic nov­el and film, and it’s accom­pa­ny­ing edu­ca­tion­al mate­r­i­al. These are now teach­ing aids in many Cana­di­an schools. The prof­it from them has been spent exclu­sive­ly on inde­pen­dent asso­ci­a­tions striv­ing to expose and doc­u­ment this injus­tice, and to heal the injuries it left behind it. And it cre­at­ed the psy­cho­log­i­cal break­through that forced the Cana­di­an pub­lic to face up to the truth.

In one part of the ani­mat­ed film, which I did not under­stand when I only heard the song, we see Chanie des­per­ate­ly using the match­es which his moth­er had giv­en him before he was sent away. This is the third song, “Sev­en Matches”.

She gave me matches
Sev­en wood­en matches
She put them into a small, slim glass jar
With a screw-top lid
I fin­gered that jar
I put it in my pocket
She said, ‘Can’t go into the woods with­out them’
I smiled at her and left
And I kept them dry
And as long as there were six
I’d be fine
As long as there were five
Match­es in that jar
Mile after mile
On the chick-chick chick-chick sound of the matches
On the mem­o­ry of her smile
I kept them dry
And as long as there were five
I’d be fine
As long as there were four
Match­es in a jar
With a screw-top lid
I know she did not mean to hurt my feelings
But that’s what she did
And I kept them dry
And as long as there were three
I’d be fine
As long as there were two
Match­es in that jar

Know­ing that his artis­tic cre­ation would have to be expe­ri­enced by young chil­dren, and used to teach in school, Down­ie did not direct­ly refer to the sex­u­al abuse that is known and noto­ri­ous. Instead, he just con­cen­trates on Chanie’s help­less­ness and fear expressed through ges­tures and oblique images. It is, after all, the help­less­less and fear that mat­ters, and chil­dren are per­fect­ly capa­ble of under­stand­ing this. 

In the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tu­ry, Canada’s pio­neer and wilder­ness soci­ety was meta­mor­phos­ing into some­thing more com­plex. Reform­ers strug­gled to estab­lish pub­lic edu­ca­tion. In the urban and agri­cul­tur­al south, Canada’s First Nations had long been an inte­gral part of its social fab­ric. Abo­rig­i­nal names resound­ed in the coun­try’s mil­i­tary and polit­i­cal his­to­ry. It was our Mohawk and Ojib­way gen­er­als who had repelled an Amer­i­can inva­sion and made the coun­try’s future pos­si­ble. Seneca and Mohawk farms were as good as, if not bet­ter than those of Euro­pean set­tlers, and First Nations com­mu­ni­ties sprout­ed busi­ness­men, cler­gy­men, ath­letes, schol­ars, writ­ers and poets. But in the north­ern wilder­ness, it was a dif­fer­ent sto­ry. Abo­rig­i­nal life in the big emp­ty part of Cana­da (most of the coun­try) remained tra­di­tion­al, and com­mu­ni­ties were tiny, scat­tered, and remote. It seemed log­i­cal to bring edu­ca­tion to these com­mu­ni­ties by means of board­ing schools, which would mean remov­ing kids from their fam­i­lies. The reform­ers no doubt were mod­el­ling this enter­prise on the famed Mohawk Insti­tute, found­ed as ear­ly as 1831. It was also tak­en for grant­ed that the Church­es were both the nat­ur­al source of teach­ers and the unques­tion­able foun­tain­head of moral­i­ty. This was to turn what began as a move­ment of pro­gres­sive reform into a total­i­tar­i­an night­mare of abuse and tor­ment. The First Nations of the North were famil­iar with sym­pa­thet­ic mis­sion­ar­ies, who were usu­al­ly pious men who learned their lan­guages, defend­ed their inter­ests, and respect­ed their way of life. The peo­ple who ulti­mate­ly ran these Res­i­den­tial Schools were noth­ing like that. They were strict and fanat­i­cal ide­o­logues who saw an oppor­tu­ni­ty to have total author­i­ty over help­less kids that they could mould as they wished into what­ev­er they wished. And the Gov­ern­ment would pay them to do it! Pay by the head. And the Gov­ern­ment would not make any effort to over­see or ques­tion them, since the moral pro­bity of the Angli­can, Catholic and Pres­by­ter­ian Church­es could not be ques­tioned. On top of that, the atti­tudes of Canada’s rul­ing elite under­went a not-so-sub­tle trans­for­ma­tion in the last quar­ter of the cen­tu­ry. With cheap trans-Atlantic steam­ers, it became pos­si­ble for Canada’s rich to send their kids to school in Britain, or even Con­ti­nen­tal Europe. Many returned stuffed with the “mod­ern” and “sci­en­tif­ic” ideas of racial and cul­tur­al supe­ri­or­i­ty and infe­ri­or­i­ty, which had pre­vi­ous­ly had lit­tle influ­ence in Canada’s egal­i­tar­i­an back­woods cul­ture. Even when Canada’s new elite were aware of the nasty things going on in the Res­i­den­tial Schools, they did not dis­ap­prove. This atti­tude would hold for a half a cen­tu­ry, with only a hand­ful of voic­es raised in oppo­si­tion. And as Cana­da became more urban and indus­tri­al, what­ev­er hap­pened in the north­ern hin­ter­lands seemed of lit­tle consequence.

For much of Canada’s old­er gen­er­a­tion, First Nations issues seem to be noth­ing but an end­less cycle of bick­er­ing over old treaties and occa­sion­al flair-ups where the peo­ple in some remote vil­lage in the bush block a log­ging road. The “tree hug­gers” and urban-based activists that ally with them often get most of the cov­er­age and do most of the talk­ing. Cana­da may nev­er have had “Indi­an Wars” like the U.S. or sys­tem­at­ic depor­ta­tions and geno­ci­dal slaugh­ters, but it has had legal dis­putes that last­ed cen­turies. For exam­ple, the legal sta­tus of an entire neigh­bour­hood in down­town Toron­to, based on the exact inter­pre­ta­tion of Toron­to Pur­chase Treaty 13 with the Mis­sis­saugas of the New Cred­it First Nation signed in 1805, was only sort­ed out in 2010. As you can imag­ine, the his­to­ry of such dis­putes is so long and com­plex that it will nev­er be com­pre­hen­si­ble to most peo­ple.* Despite the reg­u­lar use of the word “racism” in this con­text, it real­ly is not appro­pri­ate. Cana­di­ans are not brought up with any con­cept of First Nations as being a “race” in the sense that Amer­i­cans use the word, or to have any par­tic­u­lar hos­til­i­ty to them, or con­tempt for them, or fear of them, nor do they con­ceive of them as an alien “oth­er”. There are First Nations in every part of Cana­da, but since they are most promi­nent in remote non-urban places, and least promi­nent in the biggest cities, they are main­ly tucked into Cana­di­ans’ minds as iden­ti­fi­able minor back­ground char­ac­ters, along with rodeo cow­boys, lob­ster fish­er­men, high-steel con­struc­tion work­ers, and British Columbi­a’s weed-smok­ing snow-board­ing hip­sters (An irony is that First Nations have a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence in all four of the groups I just list­ed). It’s only in some spe­cif­ic com­mu­ni­ties where the eco­nom­ic inter­ests of a reserve and a near­by town con­flict, or where First Nations have a strong show­ing on skid row, that there is any overt prej­u­dice. And, while many First Nations com­mu­ni­ties are pros­per­ous, Canada’s wilder­ness is full of tiny reserves that seem to be in a con­stant state of finan­cial or envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis. These reserves often stand on land wrapped up in those com­plex treaties, which were drawn up because Fed­er­al and Provin­cial gov­ern­ments thought the land was worth­less, but sub­se­quent­ly found out it was full of oil or dia­monds, or gold, or rich fish­ing grounds, or valu­able tim­ber. Keep­ing their inhab­i­tants from estab­lish­ing any sol­id title to these good­ies has always been a pri­or­i­ty, espe­cial­ly with the Provin­cial gov­ern­ments that are in thick with the rel­e­vant indus­tries. Every­where, gov­ern­ments present to the pub­lic the image that they are giv­ing “hand­outs”, gen­er­ous set­tle­ments and benev­o­lent char­i­ty to First Nations when they are actu­al­ly only ful­fill­ing the oblig­a­tions of the treaties that they signed long ago, and doing that grudg­ing­ly and stingi­ly at best. Most Cana­di­ans of the old­er gen­er­a­tion under­stand noth­ing of this, and per­ceive it as gov­ern­ments giv­ing unfair pref­er­ence to a sub­group of the nation because of some neb­u­lous wrong in the dis­tant past, which they acknowl­edge must have hap­pened, but don’t under­stand why they should be “pay­ing for” now. The facts that Cana­da has no his­to­ry of “Indi­an wars” or forced pop­u­la­tion removals like the U.S., that First Nations have always served dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly in our armed ser­vices with great dis­tinc­tion, and that many First Nations com­mu­ni­ties are pros­per­ous exem­plars of the mid­dle class makes the issues of the poor and besieged ones all the more baf­fling to them. 

But there are oth­er kinds of vio­lence and oppres­sion than wars or lynch­ings, and the most immoral of them are those that vic­tim­ize chil­dren. Steal­ing some­body’s land may piss them off, snob­bery and big­otry may make life a hard­ship, pover­ty is a drag, but steal­ing chil­dren from their fam­i­lies and ter­ror­iz­ing them is in anoth­er class of evil. It scars them in a way that cuts to their souls, not just their bank accounts. I grew up pret­ty poor, in an unhap­py fam­i­ly, and expe­ri­enced some nasty stuff well into my teenage years, but it’s just some expe­ri­ence under my belt. It does­n’t hurt me now, and I’m smarter and more empath­ic because of it. But most of the kids who were dragged away to Canada’s Res­i­den­tial Schools, where they were psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly, phys­i­cal­ly and often sex­u­al­ly abused at the most ten­der and vul­ner­a­ble age were not able to just tuck it under their belts and write it off to expe­ri­ence. The Res­i­den­tial Schools left a whole gen­er­a­tion dam­aged, and in turn dam­aged the gen­er­a­tion that fol­lowed it. The Secret Path was meant to be more than just part of a heal­ing process. It was meant to give the next gen­er­a­tion in Cana­da an under­stand­ing of their past, and the most pre­cious gift of all, self-aware­ness and free­dom from delu­sion. If you are an Amer­i­can who is at this moment con­front­ed with the Repub­li­can Par­ty’s attempt to cen­sor and re-write Amer­i­can his­to­ry in the same way that the Com­mu­nist Par­ty or the Nazis did, then you hope­ful­ly know just how pre­cious is the gift of free­dom from delusion.

Gord’s project, which he pur­sued with pas­sion and unbe­liev­able hard work while he was actu­al­ly dying, was root­ed in the fact that he real­ized that he was an extra­or­di­nary lucky man. In fact, he pro­claimed this at his last con­cert: “I am the luck­i­est man in the world.” Not only had he been gift­ed with love and respect, but he got to know and deter­mine the style and dig­ni­ty of his own death. He also knew that these were pre­cise­ly the things that Chanie Wen­jack had been cheat­ed of. When that lit­tle boy fled the night­mare world he had been plunged into and ran des­per­ate­ly to get back home to the fam­i­ly that loved him, he was every hero of lit­er­a­ture that you should take seri­ous­ly. But unlike the heroes of art, there was no hap­py end­ing, no ren­di­tion of jus­tice, no dig­ni­fied exit.

* The 1805 treaty was almost cer­tain­ly bogus. In 1787, coun­cils of three groups of Mis­sis­saugas were con­vened at which trade goods were dis­trib­uted in recog­ni­tion of their loy­al­ty dur­ing the strug­gle with the Amer­i­cans, and guar­an­tee­ing “right of pas­sage” for new set­tlers across the area that would even­tu­al­ly become Toron­to. By the time of the 1805 treaty, this had been mag­i­cal­ly trans­formed into a “doc­u­ment of sale” and only much lat­er was it dis­cov­ered that the “deed” to Toron­to [which meant “car­ry­ing place” or “meet­ing place”] was com­plete­ly blank, with the marks of three Mis­sis­sauga chiefs on sep­a­rate scraps of paper sus­pi­cious­ly sand­wiched into it. This proved some­thing of an embar­rass­ment con­sid­er­ing the land that it cov­ered is now the third largest urban econ­o­my in North Amer­i­ca, hav­ing dis­placed Chica­go for this posi­tion in the last few years. One par­tic­u­lar­ly nag­ging con­flict that has gone on for lit­er­al­ly cen­turies in Cana­da and has come to the point of vio­lence sev­er­al times is a dis­pute over a small patch of land in the sub­urbs of Mon­tre­al that traces back to antag­o­nism between Catholics and Methodists over con­trol of a cemetery.