For First Nations, These Are Precedented Times

The pain of loss. Forced isolation. Unimaginable grief. We know them all.

Hilistis Pauline Waterfall 22 May 2020 |

Hilistis (pronounced Hee-lees-tees) Pauline Waterfall is a Heiltsuk woman who has lived and worked both within and outside of her community. She is an adjunct professor at Vancouver Island University and teaches in the First Nations Stewardship Tech program.

The loneliness of forced isolation is not new to Hilistis Pauline Waterfall. Photo by Emilee Gilpin.

Many people have described the COVID-19 health crisis as “unprecedented times.”

They’re denying or dismissing the historical experiences of First Nations peoples in past pandemics.

Between 1780 and 1889, smallpox had a catastrophic impact on First Nations across B.C. and Canada. In 1792, Captain George Vancouver wrote of coming upon barren villages where human bones were scattered with no survivors.

Hailhzaqv have stories of how our people, as accomplished carpenters, helped in the construction of Victoria. It was from there on June 11, 1862 that the gunboat “Forward” towed 26 canoes full of smallpox infected First Peoples for more than 15 days to Fort Rupert. My grandmother Hilistis shared stories about this devastating time, when Hailhzaqv canoes returned with survivors who passed on a disease, from which there was no immunity. Our Oral History also tells of villages that were completely wiped out.

From 1847 to 1850, a measles epidemic took a great toll on First Peoples.The Tyee is supported by readers like you Join us and grow independent media in Canada

And in 1918, a Spanish flu epidemic wreaked further apocalyptic devastation.

My 93-year old mother, Peggy Housty, told me how her maternal grandmother lived through this epidemic. Her grandmother spoke of the nightmare of so many deaths each day that proper burials couldn’t be performed, nor mortuary ceremonies and customs practised. She witnessed the chaos, confusion and desolation that our ancestors of the day went through.

The removal of our children to residential schools far from home was also a form of plague. It devastated our people’s health and well-being as much as the diseases visited upon us. Residential school abuse spanned at least 160 years. In those five generations we felt very deeply what society is now experiencing. The devastating psychosomatic and health impacts continue to afflict many of our people since the last “school” closed in 1996.

In our Hailhzaqv experience, local control of education was returned in 1976, just 44 years ago. One generation is defined as about 30 years, so we have had our children remain with us year-round for a little over one generation.

During this one generation, we’ve had to relearn how to be a family, how to communicate effectively, how to parent and discipline healthfully — in brief, how to decolonize ourselves from insidious learned behaviours that rendered many of us to be dependent with a sense of helplessness.

Over the one generation, we have worked hard to rebuild our Hailhzaqv identity and place. We have revitalized our cultural ways. We have renewed our ceremonial practices. We are regaining our Hailhzaqv language. We work in solidarity to protect what we have left, including our homelands and waters and all life therein.

Five or more generations lived in the residential school era, experiencing what society in general is now experiencing. As a residential school survivor, I was removed from my family as a pre-teen and placed in an institution that was devoid of warmth and love. There was no model of family structure, and we were left to our own devices to create fragile and tenuous relationships in rigidly segregated circumstances. The abject loneliness that I felt was shared by my dormitory peers. Many nights we cried ourselves to sleep missing the warmth, security, affection and support of our parents and home communities.

So the loneliness experienced during this pandemic time that forces isolation is not new to me. What is unsettling is that the 64-year-old buried loneliness memory is being unearthed in these times. Self-talk and debriefing with my husband help to keep this demon at bay and reinforce that I am once again safe, secure, loved and supported.

So the issue of food security is not new to me — nor was it new to my father who attended residential school and told me about the unending hunger he experienced with the inadequate foreign foods that were forced upon them. I remember the deep longing for a feed of traditional marine foods — smoked salmon, fresh herring eggs, roasted seaweed and so on. All I could do was yearn and dream about what used to be my normal diet. Is it any wonder that my pantry shelves are well stocked with preserved foods including canned salmon, jarred deer meat and jam? Is it any wonder my freezer is full of traditional foods prepared and harvested for these very times when the grocery store shelves are empty? We will never be hungry again despite this pandemic.

So being unable to hug my loved ones is not new to me. In fact, because we were punished for showing emotion, we learned to build thick protective walls around our hearts. My 91-year-old father died without once telling me he loved me. Even though I knew that he did, I longed to hear him say it. In retrospect, how could he when he was punished repeatedly for showing any emotions? He was not even allowed to cry or show emotion while being whipped with thick belts. Building trust and relearning how to emote and express love has been a healing and necessary process for me. Now, I have to self-distance and not practise what I worked so hard to relearn.

I listen to others in the larger society express remorse and sadness about distancing from loved ones. That it is not new to me, and I have to work hard to remain empathetic to their plight and needs.

The most difficult challenge I have now is not to be able to hold my six-week-old great grandchild or be in her company. However, I can FaceTime with her.

Imagine how my mother feels in being socially isolated from the large family that she so lovingly and carefully raised, mentored and guided over these five generations. Imagine how her feelings are intensified as she recalls that five of her children were taken from her when they were very young and returned as young adults. In my case, I struggled to know how to fit into my family unit again after being displaced for so long.

When I see news reports of aged parents detained in nursing homes, only able to see loved ones through windows, I am grateful that we are able to take care of our mother and provide for her needs even though hugs are tabled until this is all over. I relate to the sadness that those families feel.image atom

First Nations Know Pandemics. This Time, They Say, Will Be Different


What is new is learning how to be in a relationship with myself. I’ve always been in situations where I was never alone. My formative years were spent with a large immediate and extended family and many friends. My teen years were spent in communal settings at residential school and boarding homes. I have three adult children, six grandchildren and one great grandchild and I have worked diligently for 53 years to build a foundation upon which my family can grow and flourish.

Now, there is the need to be separated, which is necessary and important. For the first time, I have the space and time to excavate buried memories and work through them. This is a healing time punctuated by moments of sadness and loneliness.

On the other hand, I am able to talk with my husband who understands completely the metamorphosis I’m experiencing. My father used to remind me that there are always upsides to downsides, and this pandemic is revealing that with mixed blessings.

So this is not an unprecedented time for us First Nations who have gone through many challenges and changes that have forced us to be strong, resilient and adaptive. As with all things under the heavens, life renews itself and good things are coming out of this time, as long as our hearts and minds remain open and positive.  [Tyee]

Read more: Indigenous AffairsHealthRights + JusticeThe time for bold ideas is now.

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The new normal

The new normal

Posted on  by maylynno

photo by

This new concept is everywhere now, underpinning new behaviours, new reflexes, new apprehensions and a new way of life. The so called “new normal’ is a normal reaction to an aftermath.

Knowing this fact, why to hate the new reality?

Reality is a complex concept. The etymology is Latin, res, which means “thing” (for example, the word republic comes from res publica, public thing. A dictatorship calling itself a republic is a contradiction of words). Therefore, reality is the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic notion of them.

Zooming in, it is clear that reality is made of different layers: social reality, political reality, public reality, personal reality, environmental reality, individual reality and so on. A repetitive collective action defines the norm or what is normal or abnormal. Wearing a mask has become a new normal as a planetary and an individual repetitive action due to the birth of a new layer: the pandemics.

This powerful new layer threatens all the other ones. Consequentially, new behaviours and ways of thinking and living have already taken place.

Is our life better or worse now? 

So far, we hate it. Humans are creatures of habits and rituals and the latter played a major role in cultural and social cohesion as well as in cultural differentiation throughout history of mankind. It goes for our safety, our sanity and our survival. Even our cells are units of habits. What is a disease other than a disruptive phenomenon in the genetically programmed organism?

The problem is, humans are not their cells. They are their own minds, emotions and desires. Only a human mind can be in denial of an actual threat while an organism can’t be so.

Modern philosophy defined humans as rational beings but we are not or at least not all the time.

We seek pleasure and we fear pain. We function by reward and punishment. If we were only rational, we wouldn’t be depressed facing the new normal.

If ever the pandemics would disappear forever, its consequences on the different layers of the world reality will remain. The new normal will eventually become the normal.

Time for change, but will we?


When I was growing up in Lincoln in the 1950s, most people cycled, walked or caught the bus to work, few had cars. Cycling was safe. There was no air pollution, once the old coal-powered gasworks closed.

Even ten years later, when I visited Lincoln in the 1960s, the main route into town was beginning to be clogged with cars. Another decade and cycling was becoming a thing of the past. It was becoming dangerous, particularly as lorries got bigger and bigger.

Of course this pattern recurred in towns and cities all over the UK, and air pollution became endemic, particularly when there was the ill-advised shift to diesel fuels. The car was king and all bowed before it. Air became polluted and there was a surge in cases of asthma. Strangely, government did little about it, although some cities did a fair amount, within their allowed powers.

Then came covid-19 and lockdown. Suddenly air was clean, roads were quiet, it was safe to cycle. People were exhorted to cycle or walk and avoid cars and public transport. It was like the 1950s again.

Of course the natural reaction of government is to try to re-establish the status quo ante, because that was when the economy ‘worked’. But it didn’t – see inequality, polluted air, climate breakdown and covid.

So we really do need to take stock and set course for a more sensible world that is based on real needs of people and nature, not just on ‘the economy.’ All the ideas are there – green new deals, basic income, move to renewable energy, sovereign money,…

We just need to get on with it. But will we?

Photo of Lincoln High Street near St Peter’s from Francis Frith website – go visit.

Can humans go feral?

Posted on  by Matthew Wright

There was a story in the Guardian the other week about a real-life ‘Lord of the Flies’ adventure: six boys, hoping to escape life in Tonga, ended up cast away on a desert island for 18 months in 1966-67. They survived: and they did not become animals. On the contrary, they maintained the values and ethics of their upbringing. It kept them alive.

William Golding’s 1951 novel Lord of the Flies, which I was forced to read at school, emerged from the western effort to explain how the Nazis had gone so far off the moral rails. Was civilisation merely a façade, easily lost? The idea had been bubbling along in western thought well prior to that, of course, but explaining it gained a level of urgency after 1945. Where had the death camp guards come from, for instance? How could any human, other than schoolteachers, simply drop the values of kindness and compassion and turn into a cruel, sadistic monster?

It turned out anyone could do just that: all that had to be done was create an institution (such as a school, or a death camp) where one group was defined as having total power over the other. The institutional rules became an enabler; and bingo. Experiments in the early 1960s suggested that people got a sense of worth out of being able to hurt others; and more, it made them feel good.

Golding took this in a particular direction with a ‘thought experiment’: a group of boys lost on a desert island without adults. They didn’t take long to become selfish individualists with no sense of moral compass. This, Golding implied, was true human nature. It was controversial. Robert A. Heinlein countered it in his 1955 novel Tunnel in the Sky, one of his ‘coming of age’ young adult stories which had the same basic concept of kids adrift in isolation as Golding’s. But Heinlein’s kids never lost moral compass, or the need to maintain the values of civilisation. The scenes at the end [spoiler alert!] – where the media actively misrepresented what the survivors had done in order to perpetuate the myth of kids falling into savagery – were a particularly pointed rip on Golding’s approach.

I have to wonder whether both missed the point. The argument boiled down to whether rule of law, government, and moral compass involving due care for others was a façade that had come with organised society; or whether it was innate. In the mid-twentieth century, this concept was coloured by Age of Reason suppositions about ‘progress’, and particularly the ‘advance’ of humanity from ‘primitive’ cave-savages to ‘sophisticated’, civilised humans. Even in the mid-twentieth century, those ideas were changing; but the broad framework remained a powerful constraint.

Since then it’s become clear a wider array of forces are at work. One suggestion, flowing from ‘evolutionary biology’, is that humans are innately geared to work in kin-related communities that top out at perhaps 150 or so, and it is to these scale groups – at most – that people show altruism, loyalty and kindness. Other groups are just that: ‘others’, who need not even be defined as human. There is growing evidence, indeed, of hunter-gatherer age warfare. And, of course, there were mechanisms within those kin-related groups that created a contested ‘pecking order’, in which techniques such as bullying were successful strategies.

Agricultural and later industrial societies have larger scale, but – the argument goes – human nature can’t evolve so quickly. The rules of society – laws passed by governments, social niceties and so forth – help. So do groups; employment, in clubs, sports teams and so forth, with which people identify. So does prosperity: if everybody has plenty, nobody fights each other openly over resources. Humans, in short, domesticated themselves.

But that can fail if society is frightened or under stress, or if one group is dispossessed to the point where they have nothing. Then, the local ‘group’ becomes the sole point of loyalty. And if that mind-set spreads far enough, anarchy follows. It can happen in organised society: look at Mogadishu in the early 1990s, which was dominated by rival gangs and where law and order had broken down entirely. UN forces sent to help keep the peace had to use armoured vehicles to protect themselves. I recall interviewing some of the New Zealand contingent during my journalist days: they were shocked at the brutality, including a moment when one kid slaughtered another, right in front of them, over possession of a shovel the first kid had stolen from the outside of their vehicle.

Human nature finally revealed…

The problem is that this sort of behaviour has been happening to some extent in western societies as economic iniquities grow. There are urban areas even in New Zealand where even an accidental glance at somebody is often received as a mortal insult that has to be violently avenged. And New Zealand always classes itself one of the luckier countries.

The word for a domestic animal that has returned to the wild is feral. And that seems a fair description of some of the behaviours I’ve been seeing in our society, including online where anonymity and insulation from any direct consequence become enablers for appalling conduct. What worries me is that when things reach such a state it doesn’t take much to tip everything over. Look at Europe in the early nineteenth century: a cauldron where the first burst of unregulated capitalism allowed the rich to transfer all the wealth to themselves, and where the poor were blamed for their misfortune and then left to fight over what was left. Worked a treat until 1848. That was when the pitchforks and torches came out.

The current pandemic probably won’t trigger such a crisis. But its consequences might. What concerns me is that the neo-liberal system won’t change and will simply carry on with the path that has led to elements of society going feral in the first place. If there’s any way to guarantee trouble, that’s it. I guess time will tell.


Copyright © Matthew Wright 2020

A ‘new normal’? It all depends what we want out of life

Here is something to really think about and not just blithely lay blame elsewhere.

Robby Robin's Journey

The question about what is most important in life is a very, very old one, and the answers never converge on universal agreement. It appears that this is not likely to change as the world navigates the challenges of a global pandemic. There is much talk in opinion pieces and among policy makers, politicians, and news commentators about what a ‘new normal’ might look like when we’re ready for it. Lots of comments about lessons learned from how different countries have approached the pandemic, what weaknesses have been exposed in existing government systems, and how we now have an opportunity – when we’re ready – to consider new ways of doing things as the economy ‘reopens’. Everyone has agreed, even if reluctantly, that not everything will be the same again. That the economy in any country won’t be able to just pick up and move along the same trajectory it…

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The pandemic is forcing us to recognize the brutal cruelty of nature


Scenic view from Lookoff River on Mabou Highland Conservation Land towards Mabou Mines and Cape Mabou Highlands Hiking Trails in Cape Breton are seen in this undated handout photo./THE CANADIAN PRESS

Paul Abela is associate professor and acting head of Acadia University’s Department of Philosophy.

A pandemic has a funny way of making visible what’s been hiding in plain sight.

As we’ve all discovered recently, disorientation has displaced order as the modern condition. Like Job in the Bible, we find ourselves gazing into the whirlwind of a world suddenly out of joint. Social life has been replaced with social isolation. Employment with unemployment. Plans for the future have been given up to planning for next week.

Amidst this sea change, two elements of the human condition, often displaced, have come back into view.

First, as Aristotle articulated well more than two millennia ago, human beings are fundamentally social creatures. A solitary life of self-sufficiency, as he noted, belongs to beasts and Gods, but not to man. We flourish only in community with each other. That flourishing takes many forms – personal, social, economic and political.

As we’ve discovered, social intercourse isn’t something we can just switch off at will. Our nature is realized in social exchange. Modern mythologies of self-sufficient reason and rational planning notwithstanding, if the social contact is ended, we’re aborted creatures at odds with ourselves. The costs of that estrangement are substantial as we’ve begun to witness with private and social pathologies hatching out during this lockdown.

A second rediscovery prompted by the current disorientation is an upfront recognition of nature’s cruelty.

We’re not here wrestling with the aftermath of a man-made catastrophe such as a nuclear exchange. Nor is it – as in the economic crash of 2008 – a disaster brought on by hubris and greed. No, we’re in a standoff with a microscopic, mindless, nano-sized killer.

The idea that nature itself is the origin of our feeling of being adrift is deeply disconcerting, Over the past half-century we’ve tended to see in nature the ultimate foundation of our being-at-home in the world. Quietly, but perceptibly, the gulf left by the decline of religion in the West has been filled by an appeal to nature and naturalism. In different ways, the language of the contemporary generation has been one marked by how we have defiled and despoiled our natural home; whether in terms of pouring carbon dioxide into the air with resulting global warming, or degrading ecosystems, or exploiting nature’s limited resources and overwhelming her natural cycles.

Against this, the pandemic should serve as a poignant reminder of something we’ve really known since the time of Darwin. In honesty, nature is a blind, mindless slaughterhouse. Its murderous ways take place, conveniently, largely out of sight and out of mind. As Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s bulldog, put it in private correspondence: “There is amazingly little evidence of ‘reverential care for unoffending creation’ in the arrangements of nature, that I can discover. If our ears were sharp enough to hear all the cries of pain that are uttered in the earth by men and beasts, we should be deafened by one continuous scream.”

I am reminded of this fact each spring at my home in rural Nova Scotia. Around March or April we hear the return of morning birdsong. It’s a beautiful moment: a sense of return, of being-at-one with the rest of living reality. In a world of naturalism, it is a feeling that rivals the oceanic feeling that religion once offered. Sadly, it’s only a pleasant illusion. The beauty and apparent oneness with nature in fact hides an ugly horror show of starvation, cold, or death by predation. While the song returns – there is no silent spring – few of the self-same songbirds do.

Where our deepest need is to be “at home” in the world – as a philosopher I’m convinced this is the most primitive of our impulses – a pandemic makes visible the twin injunctions that human nature cannot be ignored and that external nature should not be exalted.

We are, in many ways, deeply paradoxical creatures: curious bipeds that can neither spontaneously and rationally jettison our evolved natural needs if we are to flourish, nor find rootedness in the estranged landscape of untutored nature.

We seem to be born cosmic orphans with no natural place of existential rest – a disquieting truth and condition.

But then again, perhaps it’s only in times of disorientation that we have the fleeting power to discern difficult truths – truths that, like the stars in the daylight sky, remain otherwise comfortably hidden.

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The Courage to Do Something — Cynthia Reyes

Ah yes the small things we often we miss and sometimes consciously!

Robby Robin's Journey

I wasn’t planning on posting anything on Mother’s Day, but when I read Cynthia Reyes’ post yesterday, The Courage to Do Something, I knew I had to reblog her message. Cynthia is a Canadian author, journalist, and human rights activist with a message important to us all. (Some of you may know her as the author of Myrtle the Purple Turtle or A Good Home.) We humans have done a very poor job of overcoming racism to date, despite laws to the contrary. In the end, it may be up to mothers – mothers of every colour of the rainbow – to overcome this shameful failing. White mothers especially, please don’t let the status quo survive, leaving mothers of colour to have to teach their children to be careful of white people and white law officials. Help make that be a childhood lesson that is no longer needed…

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America’s issue with socialism, so that’s what it’s all about

Robby Robin's Journey

I can’t have been alone in wondering over many, many years why so many Americans have such an aversion to ‘socialism’ even in its mildest forms, like universal healthcare.   Every other ‘developed’ country embraced what’s commonly called social democracy decades ago, in the aftermath of WWII, as have other countries. But not the U.S. As far as they’re concerned, it’s socialism.

I used to think that I understood the reason and that surely it would pass. My theory was that it was tied to the Cold War fear of communism and the thought that socialism would lead to communism. I reckoned that once enough time had passed they’d realize that wasn’t the case. However, I have now learned that this aversion to social rights has been at the core of American principles since at least the mid-1700s. That’s what individualism is all about. It explains a lot of things.


View original post 1,330 more words