Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pope Francis and Canadian History

   The recent election of the new Pope got me pondering Canadian history and the lack of attention it receives in our education systems. How does anyone get to that bizarre connection?
   Pope Francis is a Jesuit priest, the first from the Society of Jesus to reach that exalted position. The Jesuits helped shape the early development of North America, Canada and the northern U.S. in particular. They came to Christianize the Indians soon after Canada was discovered.
   Jesuits are not ordinary parish priests. They are highly-educated, famous for their education methods and travel a higher intellectual road than most of us.
   The most important thing the Jesuits did for Canada was to leave written observations of the New World and its people. The Jesuits in New France sent written annual reports to their superiors in Paris. The reports were called Relation de ce qui s’est passé en la Nouvelle France and were mainly narratives describing in detail the country, its people and how it was developing.
   The Jesuit Relations are a rich source of information on events that shaped Canada into the nation we know today. Anyone spending time reading the Relations will gain a better understanding of what Canada is and why it developed so differently from the United States. The Relations should be part of the curricula of every Canadian education system.
   American historical writer-editor Reuben Gold Thwaites compiled the Relations into 73 volumes early in the 1900s. These English translations can be found at Also, Canadian scholar Allan Greer has compiled a small selection of the Jesuit Relations that gives readers a peek into this vast storeroom of Canadian history. It is titled The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in Seventeenth-Century North America (Bedford/St. Martin’s 2000).
   Canadians generally are not very knowledgeable about their country’s history and often know more U.S. history than their own. And, that’s a shame considering the vast history resources available to us. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Canada's National Disgrace Grows Even Bigger

   The justice system's treatment of Native Canadians continues to worsen despite all our holier-than-thou statements about how we lead the world in human rights.
   The federal incarceration rate of Native people has jumped 56.2 per cent in the last decade, the Office of the Correctional Investigator reported to Parliament this week.Since 2000-2001 the Native representation in federal prisons has jumped from 17 per cent to 23.2 per cent.
   Simply put, almost one-quarter of persons in Canadian federal prisons are Natives despite the fact that Natives make up only four per cent of the Canadian population.
   The report also noted that 41 per cent of all women sentenced to custody in federal prisons and provincial jails are native.
   A backgrounder to the report says what we all know, or should know:
   "The high rate of incarceration for Aboriginal peoples has been linked to systemic discrimination and attitudes based on racial or cultural prejudice, as well as economic and social disadvantage, substance abuse and intergenerational loss, violence and trauma."
   Natives have lower parole grant rates, are over-represented in segregation and maximum security, and are more likely to return to prison for parole violations based on administrative, not criminal violations.
   This is a national disgrace created by stereotyping and outright racism. No one should ever call Canada the greatest country in the world while these shocking statistics, and the reasons behind them, continue to exist.
  More on prison ombudsman's report can be found at:
   Also, more detail on how the justice system treats Native people can be found in my new book Smoke Signals: The Native Takeback of North America's Tobacco Industry available at online booksellers such as Amazon and Chapters-Indigo, or anywhere where books are sold.