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Reconciliation By Example

The prospects were gloomy. I had spent the last few sunny days on the back patio of my seniors’ retirement centre, contemplating my brief future on Planet Earth. At 97 pushing 98, “end of days” is a regular mental exercise.

Not a morbid one. Just philosophical ruminations and the back patio at Berwick Royal Oak retirement is an ideal spot for sunny day contemplation. A large ornamental pool with gorgeous water lilies in full bloom is fed by a waterfall tumbling from a higher pool which in turn is stream-fed by smaller pools.

There are goldfish in the pool. In early fall, a blue crane will become a regular morning visitor to check on goldfish growth. And, if deemed adequately fattened, they will provide a midday stork snack.

But, my ideal time for gentle reflecting on a long life well lived, mostly happy, is being disturbed this day by a nagging quote some thousands of years old: “Watchman, what of the night?” and the watchman’s reply: “The morning comes, and also the night.”

We live today in a highly disturbed world, as did the people of the King James Version of Isaiah 21 when they asked how long the dark times would last. And the prophet told them morning was coming – but so was another dark night.

And, that leaves me wondering where we are, three or four thousand years later, engaged in a world-encompassing battle with a dreadful disease and far from winning the fight, watching the advance of global warming and its ominous threat to Planet Earth.

A few weeks ago, leaders of the Tk`emlups (Kamloops) Indigenous tribe had shocked Canadians from coast to coast by making it known that 215 unmarked graves had been located on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

It was the first of what would become a growing and sad list of similar discoveries in the Kootenays and on the Prairies; other “schools” where the great experiment to deprive an entire race of human beings of their birthright had collapsed in a shocking and massively brutal betrayal of our supposed morality.

Overnight, several Roman Catholic Churches were torched and destroyed. Senseless attacks on statues of pioneer explorers and early settlers by ugly protests followed.

In my mind, I asked the Watchman when this nightmare will end and got a powerful unsolicited reply from the Indigenes Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc.

Within hours of a forest fire destroying the small town of Lytton and while the provincial government was still pondering its response, the well-organized Kamloops Aborigine Tribe was online to: “Welcome all fire evacuees to the Kamloops Powwow grounds. The Powwow Arbour is open and moccasin Square Garden is stocked with free supplies for anyone in need. We emphasize that EVERYONE is welcome! Plenty of room for camping. Free meals. Free water, hygiene supplies, pet supplies, baby things, clothing. Please feed your children; do not be shy to come here – you are more than welcome.”

It is a message of great hope for the future, however ominous the Watchman’s warning that after every morning comes another night. We can handle those nights if we can meet the high standards our original citizens are setting … standards too many white folks can’t manage to emulate.

Time For a Clear decision

Strange times we live in; very strange as immediate history comes chattering into our lives via a multitude of electronics designed, so the people who use them say, to keep “the public informed.”

Sometimes it can be a little confusing as our newspapers, television and radio stations bury us in the rubble of babble, reminding us that the biblical Tower of Babel – created in the Book of Genesis to explain diverse human languages – collapsed for a reason.

It can be argued that I get easily confused. Maybe that was the case a couple of days ago when my local daily published BC Chief Coroner Lisa Lapoint’s monthly report on the use of illicit drugs. By the end of May, with 2021 less than six months old, at least 851 British Columbians had been killed by consuming a drug they once believed harmless.

In her report, Lapoint again stressed her now old plea for the provincial government to find “safe alternatives” to be made available throughout the province for opioid users who discover, too late, the difference between popping a bill for pleasure and eventual addiction.

Of the 851 BC deaths this year, 160 were in May – a slight drop from the 177 in May 2020, which had been a new high for the month. It breaks down to 5.2 deaths a day.

Producers of street drugs are finding ways to vary the ingredients. In April and May, the Coroner’s Service tested “extreme concentrations of fentanyl.” In 75 deaths this year so far, “carfentanil – a more potent analogue of fentanyl – was detected.”

Also detected in the Devil’s broth were “benzodiazepines, Valium and Xanax,” which the Coroner’s Service warns “creates significant life-saving challenges for first responders when used in combination with opioids.”

So – and well may you ask – what do I find “confusing” about a community problem clearly and responsibly outlined by our Chief Coroner and reported by newspaper reporter Cindy E. Harnett?

Simple really. I find it confusing that a problem can be so clearly defined and stated by a senior public servant with a sense of responsibility to the people she swore to serve – and then ignored. 

Coroner Lapoint has served us well. She has turned the spotlight on a grievous life and death tragedy that could be halted if essential health care were provided. Administering controlled drugs to an addict in a safe setting will never be a popular political decision. But it would be the wise and humane course of action until a better way can be found.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson added her voice to the newspaper story with a few weak-wristed suggestions for addicts: “The drugs you might use today are not the same as they were one or two years ago” and an advisory on where they can find free advice on drug checking and reduction services.

Oh, and: “As British Columbians gear up for a social rejuvenation after much sacrifice and restraint, please have these conversations with your family and friends …”

Good advice but she should understand that more than “conversation between family and friends” is required. And “safe alternatives” as suggested by the Coroner are available. Time to stop talking. It’s decision time.

How About Reconciliation Day?

On June 21st, the first day of summer, citizens of BC were urged by their Premier John Horgan to modestly celebrate National Aboriginal Day. It was a quiet reminder that the arrival of the summer solstice had been a day of celebration for several thousand years and that ancestors of those first inhabitants of the vast Canadian wilderness were still around.

The celebrations would be modest this year because Canada, like the rest of the world, appeared to be coming to the end of a science fiction-style plague that had killed millions worldwide before it could now, nervously, claim to be under control. 

It remains a hesitant claim but the first day of summer was a good time in 1996 for then Governor General of Canada Romeo LeBlanc to proclaim that henceforth the first day of summer would be a special day. As the sun rose on the longest day of the year, “the cultural richness of contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people” would be remembered.

It took 21 years for our national government to embrace the concept of recognition but it did in 2017 with a Prime Minister’s announcement –

National Aboriginal Day would become National Indigenous People’s Day.

And, nobody seemed to think it a little unusual that Canada would now have two “National” days – the first to honour the original first citizens of what was then an extremely wild land; the second revered as Canada Day, July 1, to honour the success of white settlers from France and England and later the world, as they conquered the residents by arrogantly outnumbering them. 

Then, not content with taking possession of the land and relegating the original occupants to confined zones called reservations, the government decided to re-educate generations of native children. For assistance in the giant brain-washing scheme, they enlisted the aid of Christian religious leaders, with disastrous results.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was eventually established to check out some ugly stories emanating from the residential schools involving physical and sexual abuse of male and female children. The findings continued to provide shock waves as unbelievable horrors of residential schools were exposed.

A few days ago, two Roman Catholic Churches located on Okanagan reserves were destroyed by fire. It is possible that by the time you read this, the perpetrators will have been arrested and brought to justice. Anger against the church for evils wrought by priests and nuns may be understandable, but revenge can never be acceptable.

I have mentioned before the repeated hope of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that truth would lead to trust and trust would lead to desired reconciliation.

Maybe a sensible next step would be one more name change for a national holiday inclusive of Indigenous and Settler. I’ll leave renaming to sharper minds, but it is important that all talks are dominated by truth and trust, shared and held inviolate.

I modestly suggest, as a “thought starter”: Reconciliation Day acknowledging Indigenous tribes, their language and beliefs while honouring the generations of white settlers who have shaped modern Canada.

National Indigenous Peoples day (June 21) and Canada Day (July 1), re-titled Reconciliation Day – could become a day remembered each year as the day Canada began a long overdue search for redemption for terrors inflicted in the name of  God.

A Prophet in His Own Time

Finished up last week’s blog with an advisory to readers to remember that when we hear church bells tolling for child victims of Canada’s Indian residential schools mini-holocaust, they also toll for those of us who permitted it to happen.

Thought it needed a little further explanation so, with apologies if needed: As a working journalist in Western Canada from the 1950s through to the first decade of the 21st Century, I heard stories from time to time about tough discipline in residential schools but paid little attention. I figured the discipline at Manor Park Senior Secondary back in the UK had been pretty tough in my final years of basic education.

Three far-from-gentle cracks of a cane across a bare hand; six on each hand for “serious” offences like cheeky replies to a teacher’s verbal rebuke. Complaints to an adult brought little consolation. Mother might offer words of comfort. Dad would say: “You probably deserved it.” 

I guess I grew into adulthood thinking much like my father when it came to corporal punishment and stories of rough treatment at church-run schools. Even when, as mentioned last week, my old mentor in native affairs, George Clutesi of the Tse-shaht, talked to me with sadness about life at the Alberni Residential School. He never spoke with bitterness; always with the hope that with patience and goodwill, truth and justice would prevail.

So, I heard about the evil side of “the schools” back in the 1950s. So did many others of that same generation, including public servants and high church authorities. And, like the good people of Munich in the 1930s where Hitler’s first concentration camp would be established, most of us closed our eyes and our ears and said: “We never knew.”

But, George Clutesis and Aboriginal leaders across Canada knew. So did church leaders and the governments – national, provincial and, in some cases, municipal. They knew the ultimate aim of the Indian residential school program was to assimilate an entire race of human beings to mainstream culture and Eurocentric beliefs and values. 

The shameful plan failed because Aboriginal people proved tougher to crush than the white invader thought. Strong and articulate native voices began to be heard. White leaders of good conscience were prepared to listen; and, the general population was shocked to awakening as the plan to absorb to cultural extinction all native tribes was exposed in horrific detail.

George Clutesi is one of the strong native leaders to emerge in the 1900s. I’m just happy he’s one I was privileged to meet and be friended by, on my life journey. His first book Son of Raven, Son of Deer – Fables of the Tse-shaht People, was my introduction to native culture. Readers who visited Montreal’s Expo ’67 may remember the large Clutesi mural in the Indian Pavilion. I remember as I write this that I always forgot to ask George if he used any of the brushes and oils Emily Carr bequeathed to him in her will on her death in 1945.

His books can still be found at https://abcbookworld.com/bc-bookword-archive. And if you’re an old movie buff, you can find on a website dealing with oldies, Dreamspeaker (1977), Nightwing (1979), and Prophecy (1979); three movie titles that could readily be changed to George Clutesi – the native born Canadian who was in real life a dream speaker and a prophet for his people.

“For Whom The Bell Tolls”

”It must 50 years since I talked to George Clutesi in his neat cottage home on Somass River Road in Port Alberni. I was a newcomer in the Albernis having been transferred to the Valley to open a news bureau for the Nanaimo Free Press.

The newspaper had ambitions way back then to spread its new daily wings beyond the Hub City. The Free Press no longer exists; its expansion plans in the Alberni Valley and later Courtenay wrecked by the Internet and other electronic marvels.

My new home with four children and a fifth due in a few months was on Stirling Arm on Sproat Lake not far from the old and famous water bombers, which provided wonderful entertainment during pre-fire season practice and during high fire years when local forest fires kept the flyers busy.

It was a great spot for raising children and a short drive to and from work, shops and schools, and George Clutesi – artist, actor, movie star, and a treasure chest on Tseshaht Nation’s legends and history – was a new-in-town-newsman’s dream. I was not a frequent visitor nor could I ever boast I was a close friend. I was one of those annoying acquaintances who dropped in unannounced occasionally, made myself at home – and was always made to feel welcome.

I’ve been calling George to mind in recent days as I have ploughed through the thousands of pages comprising the report of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, published a couple of years ago.

It contains a lot of George Clutesi’s thinking, although he died in 1988, sometime before the Commission report was published and morphed into the permanent National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

One of the themes echoing Clutesi thinking has to do with revenge for the evils perpetrated (and placidly accepted as valid by the people) imposed by white governors as they tried to whip the aboriginal tribes of Canada into sub-servant replicas of their proclaimed masters’ society.

I asked George why young aboriginal Canadians were so hang-dog submissive; why they tended to step to one side on a downtown sidewalk to give white folk clear passage. He politely saidI was misreading their feeling. He said it was sometimes a serious challenge holding the young bloods in check. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report echoes that warning with the oft-repeated theme that its emphasis is, and will always be, on reconciliation, not revenge.

And I’m wondering if the majority of white people feel that way. John Donne (1572-1631) once wrote: “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Next time you hear them, ringing “from sea to shining sea” in Canada, remember the answer.

Reconciliation Is Never Easy

“Reconciliation is not an aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.”

The words are part of the introduction to the voluminous report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published in December 2015 and still producing shudders of embarrassment in Canada as details of years of practiced cultural genocide continue to be revealed.

The latest shock wave came a few days ago when it was revealed that the graves of 215 children have been located on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School for indigenous children.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, made public after several years of cross-country study and thousands of interviews with former students arbitrarily confined to the schools, defined cultural genocide as: “The destruction of those structures and practices that allow a group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.


During many months of listening to testimony from more than 6,000 witnesses the Commission said it was often difficult to believe that what they were hearing had happened “in a country such as Canada which has so long prided itself on being a bastion of democracy, peace and kindness …”

TypicaI of hard-to-believe-but-horribly-true was the story I wrote in June 2014 about an inquest into the deaths of four children from Lejac Indian Residential School back in 1937.

The four lads were runaways who had decided New Year’s Day would be a good time to be home with their family on the Nautley Indian Reserve some six or seven miles away. It was nine o’clock in the evening of January 1 before the boys – Alan Wylie, 9, Andrew Paul and Justa Maurice, 8, and John Michael Jack, 7, were reported missing. The temperature was below zero and falling.

At the subsequent inquest into their deaths BC Police Constable H.J. Jennings testified he had found the four bodies roughly three quarters of mile short of the Nautley Reserve where their families lived. He estimated they had been walking for about six hours before they fell and froze to death.

Const. Jennings testified they were wearing “underwear, blue denim shirts, overalls, heavy woolen socks, low rubbers, no hats. One boy had lost a rubber and a sock. His foot was bare. Three were lying huddled together; the fourth, some 80-feet away, died alone.”

But the most telling and disturbing testimony came from School Principal Father Patrick MacGrath who, according to press reports, “expressed surprise that the four dead children had fled the school unprepared” and added that “they could and should have helped themselves to more clothing.”

Father MacGrath was also reported to have filed a signed a statement saying: “Ninety per cent of our children are present at the school against their parents’ wishes and are not disciplined by their parents when they do run away so that it is hard (for us) to prevent them.”

The coroner’s jury was not impressed. It found: “More definite action by the school authorities might or should have been taken … and that more cooperation between authorities and parents would lessen the incidence of runaways.” It also decried the use of excessive corporal punishment and strongly recommended there would better understanding between disciplinarians and pupils “if the latter were English speaking.”

The Inquest had revealed that the teaching staff strictly enforced the “no native language rule” for students even though they had only limited knowledge of English.

Truth and reconciliation still lie just beyond our reach. But, not without hope.

Facts Versus Free Comment

“Comment is free, but facts are sacred” was a statement of faith, a first commandment of commitment for any aspiring journalist seeking a coveted reporter’s position with the Manchester Guardian in 1921.

The edict came from the pen of Editor C.P. Scott, remembered by Alan Rusbridger in his book “News – And How to Read It.” Rusbridger served as Editor-in-Chief of Guardian News and Media from 1985 to 2015.

The Manchester Guardian is now just The Guardian, celebrating 200 years of publication and standing tall in today’s turbulent ocean of “news” swamping us in digital print. Rusbridger and the Guardian has thrown readers a lifeline. Grabbing it will not guarantee salvation from the overwhelming flood of waste washing over us threatening to choke sound reasoning – but it might help us tread water until common sense proves a lifeboat.

I am not a newcomer to the Wailing Wall where I can find excuses for my own failures to be more careful with what I write. Long time readers may remember my several pieces over the years on Bob Considine, who’s framed Newspaperman’s Prayer hung at eye level for many years over my Legislature Press Gallery desk until it was stolen. 

I can still remember the opening words: “Dear God, may I be fair. Circumstances and dumb luck have placed in my thumby paws a degree of authority which I may not fully comprehend. Let me not profane it … Give me the drive that will make me check and countercheck the facts. Guide me when, lost for want of a rudder or lead, I stumble through the jungle of speculation …”

I had hoped Rusbridger would give me more of the same home spun thoughts on how to handle the never-ending need for vigilance by reporters, especially personal opinion scribblers, to strive for Scott’s reverence for accuracy, honesty and fairness when dealing with facts. It isn’t always easy.

Rusbridger tells us “Facts are powerful. A single fact can make a story. A single fact can change society.” There are basic facts – a name, an age, an address – that are for the most part indisputable. Photographs, if verified, can confirm a claimed fact, or demolish the claim. He cites, for example, the disputed size of the crowd at President Donald Trump’s January 2017 inaugural. Aerial photographs were proof positive that the crowd was thousands short of the Trump claim.

The President left one of his army of publicists to handle the problem and Kellyanne Conway did so with a flourish. The President and the press were both right – they were just dealing with “alternative facts.”

Rusbridger quite properly noted there are no alternative facts. Just as TV mythology mistakenly records that Dragnet’s Sergeant Joe Friday used say: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

I hesitantly recommend “News – And How to Read It” to anyone interested in an accurate, factual picture of what’s going on in our swirling media world today. There are interesting looks at interesting inside stories and occasionally, in chapters like Caveat Emptor, the blunt recommendation from Don Gilmour, journalist turned academic, to “never take it for granted that what we read, see or hear from media sources of any kind is trustworthy.” This caution applies to every scrap of information that comes our way whether from traditional news organizations, blogs, on-line videos, Facebook updates or any other source.

I prefer Considine: “Make me use my legs and eyes the better to track down and see the truth. Deafen me to the Lorelei song of rootless hearsay, rumour and the gossip of town loafers …”


A Passport to New Normal

So, what’s all the excitement on the web about Canada introducing a vaccination passport to citizens who have now received two COVID-19 vaccination shots?

I’m asking because I thought I already had a wallet-sized card listing James Hume, born December 27, 1923, as the official recipient on January 21, 2021 of a shot of Moderna vaccine with my second shot recorded May 7, 2021.

A plain-looking card not all gussied up like my proud blue Canada passport with its pages of impressive foreign travel stamps, now lying COVID-neutered in my safety deposit box. Plain looking it may be but its printed message “this is a permanent immunization record  – keep in a save place” has a nice ring.

I’m keeping it safe along with my medical care card which I assume lists all my frailties, and my BC Identity Card which is clearly marked in capitals THIS IS NOT A DRIVER’S LICENCE – and in minuscule font “this card remains the property of the issuing agency and must be surrendered upon request.”

And if you had to reach for a magnifying glass to read the previous sentence, don’t worry, so did I.

Now, back to my opening paragraph on the current debate on (a) the need for the establishment of an international vaccine passport; (b) the threat such a document could be to our cherished, but often garbled, interpretation of human rights.

BC Premier John Horgan says he supports the international passport idea. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has his doubts saying it raises “serious questions of equality.”

From a layman’s view, it seems a simple matter: If the double dose of the vaccine stops its spread, expedite the international passport idea and let’s get the world moving again. We already appear to have the basic blocks in place to build on. 

If we still have some way to go before we can truly make the Victory claim, let’s get on with it. Just wishing it was all over won’t make it so.

Living Longer and Thankfully Safer

When I was born in England in 1923 the estimated life expectancy for a newborn male was, with a bit of luck, around 40 years. And every decade or so from 1923 to the present, my “life expectancy ratio” forecast got a boost. In other words, the longer I lived the longer I could expect to live.

By 2020, the actuaries who keep track of these things were assuring us that we could enjoy 81 years … not exactly headline news for this wordsmith still blogging in 2020 in his 97th year. I remain well aware of my good fortune to have been blessed with genes that have now carried me well beyond two “best before” dates, first when I waved goodbye to my 40th birthday in1963 and realized I was indeed getting “old;” and now, remembering that next December I’ll be 98 and wondering who – or what – is turning the hands of the clock so fast.

I become easily irritated these days when I read the sweeping claims of the 2021 anti-vaccine, anti-face mask doomsayers who see nothing but evil in the research and dedication of medical doctors and scientists and armies of health care workers who, over the centuries, have brought the world protection against plagues that once ravaged the world unchecked.

Recently, Facebook and Twitter – unfettered platforms for anti-vaxxers’ outrageous objections to the vaccine program – have promised tighter checks on clients using their services to spread misinformation. In their reluctant concession, they have recognized that unfounded statements and false claims have been disseminated worldwide in the guise of free speech.

I reach back a little before Facebook and Twitter to my well-thumbed copy of Charles Panati’s (1989) Panati’s Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody for answers. It’s a minor classic in that while Panati is dealing with plagues and disasters, he does so with an occasional touch of humour that makes the horror of many catastrophic events easier to face and fight.

When reporting on New York’s “Typhoid” Mary Mallon, 68, who sent to their graves or infected with typhoid an unknown number of victims in the 1870s, he writes: “Medically she was that immunological marvel: a person who carried a deadly agent without ever becoming sick, but who can kill others with a kiss or a meringue pie.”

Much of Panati’s reporting should fascinate today’s truth seekers as they read about Dr. Edward Jenner, the English country doctor who developed the vaccine and method of vaccination that led to the end of smallpox as a global pestilence – a brutal killer of millions until 1977 when it was finally defeated.

Like today’s vaccination attack on COVID-19, Dr. Jenner’s vaccine procedure faced a daunting public fear campaign and he was much maligned until smallpox was finally listed as defeated. Readers who have a genuine fear of vaccines might profit from an hour or two with Panati and pray that the men and women he portrays, facing and defeating centuries of health fear-mongering, never give up the fight.

Stay Alert For Poisoned Cobwebs!

It has long been a fact that the first casualty of any war is the truth. So, it should be no surprise that the global conflict now threatening the future of every nation on Planet Earth is awash with fear and uncertainty.

For sure, we are in a war between science and what we have come to know as COVID-19, a killer germ that broke loose from wherever it was confined a little more than a year ago and has since been on a worldwide, largely uncontrolled, rampage.

It took a few weeks for humanity to awaken to the danger of the new disease and for the world of science to move into high gear in the search for an antidote or cure. Then, in record-breaking time, several vaccines were being tested, refined, retested and finally approved for mass production and distribution.

Around the world, governments created centres to administer the vaccines. Daily bulletins began to appear recording the number of citizens vaccinated, the number successfully returning to work after vaccination, the number kept in routine care or “intensive care,” and the frightening number of deaths. Those deaths leaped from hundreds to thousands then worldwide to millions dying in hospital wards overflowing with the stricken.

And, the rumours and the whispers began. Were all the vaccines safe? Which one is the best? Can the giant pharmaceutical firms be trusted? Are the big pharmas just in it for the money because they don’t care about the cure?

Our local health authorities have done their best to address these rumours and conspiracy theories, but sometimes it has been a losing battle. People determined to think negatively will not be persuaded by science. I don’t envy Dr. Bonnie Henry her job of trying to persuade anti-vaxxers they are wrong.

It will be little comfort to remind her and her colleagues that in England in 1941, during the unpleasantness of World War Two, then-prime minister Winston Churchill permitted his government’s Ministry of Information to establish two in-house bureaus: The Anti Lies Bureau was charged with tracking and responding to German propaganda; and, the Anti-Rumors Bureau was assigned to track down uninformed local gossip.

I hesitate to mention one 1941 rumour making the rounds in British pubs lest 2021 anti-vaxxers dust it off and add it to their reasons for abstaining: The false rumble making the rounds was that German aircraft were dropping poison cobwebs on the British population.

Churchill’s sleuths confirmed the rumour once had life but was “rapidly dying.”

The last few days unfolded as planned and I got my second vaccine shot on Friday, May 7. Didn’t spot any cobwebs. But I’ll spend the next few days wondering if the light I now see at the end of the tunnel is one of promise – or a freight train heading my way.