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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Aboriginal Voices Radio Silence

In a way, I was there at the beginning. It was 1988 and I was working at Sunday Morning for CBC in Toronto producing documentary radio for the nation. One night in the editing bays, there was a very large Native man editing tape in one of the plexi-glassed cubicles. It was audio editing the analog way, listening to tape with headphones on a reel to reel machine until you found your spot, marking the tape with a grease pencil and cutting it with a razor blade. I took the bay next to him. 

I did not know Gary Farmer from the stage although I knew of him and the success of Thomson Highway's Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing was all over Toronto.  PowWow Highway the movie that would make him an international star was not going to be released until 1989. We were two Native guys trying to get our work edited and ready for the national airwaves of CBC. It was a couple of nights in the late 1980's and I do not remember if he talked about Aboriginal Voices Radio but I know we talked about radio and getting our stories heard and being in control of the medium.



When Gary created a pilot episode of Aboriginal Voices Radio in the mid 1990's, he brought me in as talent and had James Cullingham our Executive Producer from CBC produce the show.  Gary and I would do other projects together but never radio. 

He used his great influence as a person and personality to put together the team that got radio licences in most of the major Canadian markets and Aboriginal Voices Radio Network was born. The first licence for Toronto was granted by the CRTC in 2000. Licences in Regina, Saskatoon, Montreal, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary would follow.

Then at some point in the mid-2000’s he was driven out of Aboriginal Voices Radio Network. I don't know how it happened, I broached the subject a few times with Gary but it was not something he would talk about. These days he continues to act on stage and screen as well as singing the blues with his band Gary Farmer and the Troublemakers.

In the years after Gary very little radio was made and the long lonely death spiral began. In 2009, AVRN lost their licenses in Kitchener-Waterloo and Montreal. Many began silent witness to the dream circling slowly inevitably into oblivion.

In 2012,  I offered to take on the AVRN operation in Edmonton. I had family there and had helped build a youth driven Native radio station in Winnipeg. I would go to work in programming and finding talent but also identify job training dollars and other sources of revenue to build the station. The offer was rebuffed. 

A year later, I read the CRTC warnings to AVRN online and sent a number of emails with concerns about the future of the network for the purpose of writing on this blog. On June 13, 2013 I received an email from Jamie Hill, President AVRN. 

“AVR is not at risk of failure at this time. Though I do believe it was at great risk of that in the distant past. When I became involved with AVR in 2004, AVR was about $1.8 million in debt, had very little money coming in, had not filed required financial statements with the CRTC and was thus in a state of non-compliance with conditions of licence, and was well past the CRTC policy maximum of 3 extension requests to get the stations on the air in 6 of its 7 cities. At that point AVR was at great risk of failure.”

I had queried about AVRN’s transparency.

“Also Miles, I would like to comment on your statement about a lack of information regarding AVR. As you are aware AVR operates in an extremely competitive business environment and must behave prudently as far as releasing information about its operations that other competitors could acquire and distort and attempt to use against AVR in Ottawa to advance themselves at the expense of AVR. I view this as AVR doing its best in undertaking sound business practices to ensure AVR's business survival. Rest assured there are numerous other broadcasters in Canada who would like to see AVR fail so they can have an opportunity to try to acquire AVR's radio licences - each of which would be worth tens of millions of dollars to a commercial broadcaster.”

I didn't know what to write and so I kept my silent vigil. 

In October of 2014, the station in Ottawa ceased broadcasting. 

According to Wikipedia, "In December 2014, AVR renamed itself to Voices Radio, as its scope expanded out of the aboriginal realm and more into music from mainstream artists, generally bent towards adult contemporary. In February 2015, Voices Radio began to air old time radio programs from the United States."

On June 25, 2015, The CRTC rescinded all the licenses of the Aboriginal Voices Radio Network. 

The death of Aboriginal Voices was greeted with a murmur. There was a story on APTN and a few words here and there. I saw one post on facebook and nothing else. 

It should have been a beautiful thing - a place to share our music and our voices and it was wasted. Silence sings the dream dying.


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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Stoics and Sundance, Truth and Reconciliation (Part 1)


I was packing my bag for Sundance and I was going to take the two books. Both had something to teach me and that I wanted to share on my journey.

The first I picked out of our yard sale. It had been on the main shelf but as space was needed it made the trip from living room to back room to yard sale box in the shed. Essential works of Stoicism – Marcus Aurelius: To Himself, Epictetus: The Manual, Diogenes Laertius: Life of Zeno, Seneca: On Tranquility.

I had read some of it before but nothing that would suggest the text would live up to the author's introduction that the teachings of the Stoics, "left its mark on both the constitution of the Roman Empire, the teachings of Christianity and eventually it helped prepare the way for the French Revolution."

I started, of course, with Marcus Aurelius: To Himself. It was the movie Gladiator that put Marcus Aurelius back into the cultural ether and into my mind. I could see Russell Crowe shouting out the name as he led the Spartans in the movie 300. (I know. Two different movies but that’s the way it was Gerard Butler entered only in the afterthought of writing.)

To Himself is a list of teachings and philosophies that begins with giving thanks to his parents and grand and great grandparents and the many teachings they shared with him such as “To endure Freedom of Speech, and to have become intimate with philosophy and to have been a hearer.”

To "endure" freedom of speech. That is beautiful.

Epictetus: The Manual is a list of 53 things that one can do in order to live conforming with nature. 

“Of things some are in our power and some are not. In our power is the power of opinion, movement toward a thing, desire, aversion (turning away from a thing) and in a word, whatever are our own acts.”

I would post Epictetus quote about gossip.

“If a man has reported to you that a certain person speaks ill of you do not make any defense to what was told to you but reply, “The man did not know the rest of my faults else he would not have mentioned these only.”

The goal of the Stoic was self-sufficiency autarky by conforming to Nature. I began to wonder if Stoic was accurately placed on the Native Americans by the settlers as a term that is close to  Warrior/Philosophers. That something true had been turned into a lie.

Why not? Everything that has been taught to me must be considered a lie. A resumption of presumption. Everything should be questioned. Everything is upside down.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had proven that a great conspiracy of silence hid Canada’s cultural genocide in the implementation of the Indian Residential School System. It is in every school and every history book - lies and deceit towards the willful elimination of Native people and their history.

It was a narrative that was divined soon after discovery and before the arrival really began. These people can not be human beings. They are not like us. They are less than us. 

In Myth of the Savage, Dr. Olive Patricia Dickason writes, “In 1513, a presentation to Pope Leo X had claimed of Amerindians, “they are our brothers.” But there were others who were not so sure, and from the very first, opinion was sharply divided on the subject. As spiritual conformation was considered to be all-important, it was immediately asked why Amerindians had not been informed about the Christian God, Pope Alexander’s bulls notwithstanding, there were those, even in the church, who held that the answer lay in the fact that Amerindians were brute beasts and incapable of learning the mysteries of the faith.”

So began the “Wild Man” period in which tales of cannibals covered in hair and communicating in grunts, dog headed men and other bizarre tales became acknowledged truth. Dickason notes that the reality to early explorers was jarring, “As Claude observed, “In truth, I expected to find fierce beasts, men totally rustic, rude and savage (as we call them), but I found that to be far from reality. Instead I have never encountered any people with such perfection of their natural senses, whether exterior or interior, and I have never heard of a nation which excels them in this.”

There was another book that had my mind and unlike Dickason's beautifully illustrated coffee table size book this was pocket size and one I could easily carry with me. I had discovered it by accident when the book was used as a prop at a wedding. The pages were painted shut and the cover had a faux pearl design and the words "The Kiss" in a tasteful font. I got bored and peeled open the book.

 The Story of ModernScience Vol 8 – Bettering the Race is part of a ten volume set published in 1923 by Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York and London. The book celebrated the new school of anthropology as “the science of man in all his relations”. Although fitting in all his relations into the brotherhood of man was as difficult for the scientist as for the religious fundamentalist.

“There are writers of the present day,” says Dr. Pritchard, writing about the year 1840, “who maintain the offspring of the primitive Mosaic pair did not comprehend the uncivilized inhabitants of the remote regions: and that the Negroes, Hottentots, Eskimoes, and Australians are not in fact men in the full sense of that term, or beings endowed with like mental faculties as ourselves.”

The book pointed to the debate on the origin of the species and “associated with this question of the origin of mankind as a whole was the allied question as to the origin of the so-called Aryan Race.”

Its scientific recommendations on bettering the race include “judicious inbreeding” which the royal family is held as the example. 

It was with these teachings and the accompanying perceptions and interpretations weighing upon my mind, the text of Bettering the Race in my bag and The Essentialism of Stoicism in my hand, I headed to Sundance. 



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Friday, May 1, 2015

Coming out in Canada

We stopped at Tim Horton's after dropping our daughter off at Western University in London, ON one morning in January. I was short about 15 cents for my order. I cancelled the muffin that I did not need and which I thought was on sale.  The server asked if I had a status card. Which never happens in this part of the world. I said, "I don't have one". She began to share that she had recently helped a friend of hers get a status card. I told her that I could get a status card but I chose not to have one. She seemed to think that I was put off by the paperwork, I assured her I was not. I asked why her friend did not have status, "was she adopted out, a lot of people have been adopted out of their communities". She said no, her friend's family came from Manitoba when she was young and then recently she decided to...to...to..her voice trailed off, she did not have the words. I said, "She Came Out". "Yes, that's it", she said.
"Well it can be harder to come out as Native than to come out in the other sense, after all, this is Canada." She paused and then her hand went to her eyes with the napkin she was to give to me. "Oh my god, that's so true...I never thought about it like that." She wiped her tears and pulled her self together. I offered my apologies, I did not mean to ruin your day, I said. She said it was Ok. I told her I was Metis Nation, "you know Louis Riel's People", and that is why I did not have a status card. She was pleased that I had shared and she smiled brightly and told me to have a good day. It wasn't until later that I thought about my dark haired server and how people sometimes say "my friend" when they tell stories about themselves.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

#shutdownCanada Honor and Shame

I had heard about #shutdownCanada in advance of February 13. I knew that it was another day to try and bring the national crisis, the national tragedy, the national shame that is Murdered and Missing Native Women in Canada to attention of the world.

I was not sure about the date of this event in comparison to other actions and days around the issue, but it didn't matter. It had my support. This must stop.

When the day came I had forgotten about it and went into the radio station for my afternoon show with the intention of playing four hours of sweetheart songs. It was going to be my first Valentine's Day.

Not soon after arrival at work a council member for the First Nation said that Highway 21 at Aazhoodena was closed down and people had to drive around. I asked what for and he said it was for Murdered and Missing women ,and he told me, as though it was news that he himself could not believe, "they say that that there are thousands across the country."

I did spin songs for sweethearts and the sweethearted and I played songs for the broken hearted. I went into my first break after my intro and I was going to talk about #shutdownCanada. I said that it was a national campaign that was driven online with the hashtag #shutdownCanada and I did not offer specifics on actions but began to talk about the national tragedy that sparked the day. When I got to the word "Thousands", I could no longer speak. It was though, I too, could no longer believe the words that I was saying. I could not go any further.

I hit off on the mic and the red light went out. Dead Air. I tried to speak but it wasn't going to happen. Thank God for Music. I hit play and Pray Sister Pray by Crystal Shawanda begins and she tells the story as honestly and as harshly as it needs to be done. I have a good cry and keep going.

I go online to see if I can get any details on what was happening but there was no stories coming out and when I went to the hashtag on twitter it seemed to have a lot of haters. In my facebook circles I didn't see much action. I posted the hashtag and played the music along with songs to round dance and slow dance.

If people were listening down the road at Aazhoondena that were taking action, I wanted to inspire them and for our non-Native audience I wanted to speak from the heart about this great pain in our country.

Later in the day I was home with my wife and grand daughter. My wife asked me if we could see any images from events across Canada on Youtube. There were only a couple videos posted to the hashtag, one was blocked, one looked like a rant and the first actual action from Montreal. In the video a group of men in black stormtrooper outfits blockaded a road. The men in black are speaking and acting aggressively. They are bearing signs in English that I did not understand. I didn't see anything about our women.

There was a "Bill C- something, something..." I didn't know. My wife said it was the new terrorism surveillance bill. I asked what this had to do with the Murdered and Missing. It was a farce. I felt I could see what those faces underneath looked like and deeper into what their true motives and spirit expressed. I felt ill.

We went back to our search and went to the only other video that looked to be a live event. It was a round dance in BC. Once again in an intersection and once again the traffic was stopped. The women are leading the drumming and singing and it looks to be a gorgeous day and I don't have to imagine what their faces look like under their masks and I can see them smiling and singing and there is no twisting undercurrent of threat and violence and anarchy.

I also know one thing there are people in that circle who have lived with this national nightmare and that their sister, daughter, cousin, friend, mother, wife or lover is gone forever in violence or mystery and no one seems to care.

Men in stormtrooper gear and with hidden faces using the threat of violence do not get to co-opt a movement that is the national crisis, the national shame, the national tragedy of Murdered and Missing Women in Canada. Whoever those men were behind those black masks. Shame on you.

To all of those who danced and sang in the spirit that honours our Missing and Murdered I am grateful that we continue to show the world how to stand against violence in peace.

They say that the only thing to allow the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. Good united becomes great.