Thursday, March 1, 2018

Executive Balinese Home

In February, we took a holiday to Hawaii.  We opted, as we normally do, to rent a house using Airbnb because we enjoy having an entire house rather than staying at a hotel.   We have never had any major issues using Airbnb in the past.

Selecting a house for this trip was more onerous because we had to look for something that was not carpeted and particularly clean due to dust allergies. Finally, the perfect house in Honolulu was secured, or so we thought.

Review of The House
I was first attracted to his house because of how it was decorated, soft lighting, wood artifacts, and Buddha statues everywhere. The yard had beautiful fruit trees. As a meditator this really appealed to me. It is a bit of an oasis in the middle of the city of Honolulu and would have been perfect save for the traffic noise. The host was very accommodating and responsive to our needs. They provided us with two beautiful papayas, some coconuts, bottled water, and local beer as a welcoming gift. Which was very much appreciated. 

However, there were a few issues with the house and its location.  To begin with it is situated on a corner of a busy intersection and at times the traffic was very noisy.  We had assumed, wrongly, that we were closer to the ocean. It is actually a few minutes walk to the beach, which by the way is not a swimming beach. There are other beaches in the area but not in walking distance.

There is a comfortable outdoor living room with a TV, which sounds lovely. However, anyone could just walk off the street onto it because there is no gate. In fact, someone did come into the house looking for the owners to pick up a key.  In the evening, there were mosquitoes making it uncomfortable for sitting outside.  I believe that problem could have been alleviated if they emptied the two stagnant water containers with plants just in front of the steps. The washer and dryer, though, just off this area, were great!

The kitchen was spacious and fully stocked. As a vegetarian with other dietary needs much of it was wasted on us. Unfortunately,  the appliances were rather dated.  The dishwasher was not working nor was the reverse osmosis system for drinking water.  The fridge’s alarm kept going off and had to be continually disabled.  The freezer part of the fridge was not working at all but another fridge was located outside.

There was no real dining room to accommodate six people to enjoy a meal together when we had family visiting. In addition, if you enjoy direct sunshine into your living area, this house does not provide that. 

The bed was comfortable.  The ensuite bathroom was adequate, although there was no shower curtain, making showering somewhat awkward trying to minimize water going on the floors. The shower curtain in the other bathroom fell on my head when I pushed the curtain aside to get into it.  The linen and towels were nice, though the beach towels were nowhere to be found.  There was plenty of bath soap and shampoo, a blow dryer was available but it was broken and held together with an elastic band.   

The Wi-Fi was inconsistent and not very reliable. Overall I give them a rating of 2.5 out of 5. I think if I didn’t have high expectations of the house it would have not been as disappointing.  Everything in the advertising of the house lead me to believe it was a luxury house, even the name “Executive BalineseHome”. But at the end of the day, it simply fell short of an executive style house.  It is in need of new appliances, some TLC and attention to detail to upgrade this house.

The last Airbnb we stayed at in the same area was half the price, had a pool, was across from an actual swimming beach, and all the appliances worked.  Sometimes paying more does not mean better. I really do wish I could have written a more positive review of the house. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


Online conversations are riddled with pitfalls because navigating provocative subjects one tweet at a time invariably brings up very strong views and misconceptions. I have blogged about some controversial topics in the past, notably this one, which I received some blowback.  I am afraid we are faced with a conundrum, a difficult choice of balancing free speech and political correctness. We have become so intolerant of differing views and we are quick to censure anyone based on a single tweet.  It is like we have lost the art of having a conversation and debating an issue.  We are becoming so polarized and quick to make judgements without pause.  How much can you honestly get from a single tweet, anyway? 
I am going to  contemplate  two recent controversial tweets because it is a subject that interest me.     

Holy Angels property, Fort Chipewyan, Alta
First, you may have heard about Sen. Beyak’s tweet on residential schools and the social media comments in response to her subsequent tweets. Full disclosure, I am Dene from Northern Alberta and spent years at Holy Angels Residential School in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. I have blogged about my  experience here. Although not a popular position and one that I deliberated on before writing that my experience at Holy Angeles was not a bad one. I was worried that I would get hate tweets for even saying anything positive about my experience. But more importantly I didn’t want what I said to mean that the tragic and atrocious treatment didn’t occur. I want to make clear, my personal experience doesn't in any way contradict the horrific experiences of thousands of other accounts.

That said, I did take exception to Sen. Beyak’s tweet because in this climate of reconciliation I felt an extra burden is placed on a public servant to understand more profoundly the issues as they relate to indigenous people. Had she reflected on what she was going to tweet, she might have understood how her tweet could be offensive to some and maybe she would think twice before tweeting on a subject she does not fully understand.  She was consequently removed from the Conservative Caucus because she refuse to see her error.

Secondly, a tweet from Rick Mehta began circulating. The National Post interviewed him on January 15, 2018.

I fear that if I say something, I’ll be labelled as a racist,” Mehta said in an interview Monday, referring to the Indigenous residential school system in Canada. “If you dare question the orthodoxy, you’re automatically a racist and labelled a colonialist who somehow endorses what happen in the past.”

In my opinion, this simple quote is a disturbing sign of the times because he clearly felt the need to clarify his view.  However, judging by a petition that was started to remove him from his position at University of Acadia, my guess, is that his subsequent tweets only enflamed the issue further.

Once a twitter argument gets started there is a no winning, trolls come out, and it explodes into heated diatribe.    By that I mean since the eruption of social media people have an outlet to express their every whim and thought. And with this deluge of information we have become selective in what we read and more critical of what does not resonate with our own sensibilities. The social media platform is ideal for this because it is easier to read each tweet as faceless. Sadly, it has become common to read strongly worded comments that include violence against a person just based on thier tweet.
In particular, indigenous controversial issues always appears to invoke a more spirited emotional response. Comments on controversial indigenous stories tend to be harsh. Are some of these comments racist? it sure appears to be.  However, to be sure, some are taken to be racist even if they are not intended as such.  Indeed, miscommunication occurs often and easily online.
The more important question for me, becomes shouldn’t we have the right to voice an opinion separated from our professional opinion like Rick Mehta’s tweets.  It is obvious that he was tweeting from his personal profile and not under that of his university.  Is he not allowed free speech without risking his job? Are any of us?

Simply put, the issue of free speech is becoming an intricate and difficult problem in this environment of intolerance. I believe our bias continues to shut each other down. If continued, we are courting a disastrous outcome to our individual right to free speech and it will happen gradually.  We should be able to be tolerant of others point of view no matter how abhorrent it is to our own beliefs.

In an extreme situation, in the 1979 case of Stokie, a march that tested the intolerance of religious and freedom of speech in a historical legal battle ensued.  A small group of neo-Nazis (National Socialist Party of America) challenged in court for the right to march in a predominately Jewish community wearing swastikas.  The community, many of them former concentration camp members argued that it was like being victimized again.

 “The Supreme Court rejected that argument, ruling that display of the swastika is a symbolic form of free speech entitled to First Amendment protections and determined that the swastika itself did not constitute "fighting words."[10] Its ruling allowed the National Socialist Party of America to march.” Wikipedia

At the end of the day, the march never took place.   Interestingly, a Jewish lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union had represented the neo-Nazis in court, seeing their rights of free speech as more important than suppressing the hateful content of that speech.

Similarly, the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville last year by the alt right, as disgusting as their message was, were able to demonstrate because of their constitutional right to freedom of expression. We might not like it but we can’t pick and choose who gets to exercise their freedom of expression.

In our world of social media we have tools to make free speech easy – maybe too easy -- but we are losing what must go along with free speech, namely the ability to express nuanced positions in an environment where respectful consideration and response can be expected.

In our diverse and complicated society, we should be becoming more tolerant not less tolerant of each other. Reconciliation.  What does that mean?   As a first nation person, what reconciliation means to me, is the intent to reconcile what was done in the past by educating ourselves on indigenous history. It means creating a future for first nations that is not based on guilt or shame.  Sen. Beyak’s tweets is the complete opposite of reconciliation. At some point the tweets became so contentious she lost all credibility.   We have to stop tweeting "fighting wordsbecause these fighting words come off as racist more times than not.

Another point is that someone with controversial or hateful views will only become more hardened in their position if the only response to those views is suppression or emotional invective.  We can’t hope to change people’s minds on Twitter. It is better to leave the conversation.

Finally, true reconciliation cannot happen in absence of complete truths. Which means acknowledging truths no matter how uncomfortable it is. On this point, I agree with professor Mehta as quoted in the National Post;

“He believes former residential school attendees that claim the schools did good in some cases should be heard as well, as part of the overall conversation…”

Here too, I caution you to guard against going too far to the other side as to distort history. 

"Every story has three sides, yours, mine, and the facts." R. Fumoleau, OMI

The treatment of Residential school students in Canada differed from province to province and from decade to decade. However, there is plenty of evidence that residential school did far greater harm than good. Perspective is important (My friend's account.) There are many, many, more similar accounts! In order for true RECONCILIATION Canada needs to accept their role in our history and to accept that these horrific stories from students as truths instead of trying to minimize these accounts because of the humanity shown to some.

Friday, December 29, 2017


“I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen,

And accrue what I hear into myself...and let sound contribute toward me.” 

The end of the year is a time for reflection and soul searching. And, the possibility of creating a new you!

As I look back on the year I am touched with how blessed I am. I have shelter, food, my health and people around who love me.  I have purpose and passion.  What more do I need?  There is absolutely nothing that I need.  But I might want the odd material things of comfort, like awesome sheets, which I simply can’t have enough of. LOL

That said, what really matters to me is my relationships and the feelings of connection I have developed with others. It could be a smile, a kind word, or just an acknowledgement that I matter in some way.  As humans, I believe this is what we all desire: a validation that our existence means something to someone and has purpose.

This past year, I’ve witnessed so much sadness and melancholy in others.  I have listened to people who were in their bleakest hour.  I trust that I was able to provide them with the compassion and light they needed to see that they indeed matter to someone.  Really, it is nothing special about me, because anyone can be a conduit to help others. All I have tried to provide was a sliver of hope that their life has meaning.

Social media played a big part in what I was able to do because reading some of the posts truly broke my heart and I reached out to those who looked like they needed someone to hear them. Moreover, living in the east helped because I am normally up when I read some overnight posts from western Canada, where most of my family live. 

The truth is that the real “hurts” often have to do with feelings of being not accepted and misunderstood by our very own family. Whether we admit it or not, what we “think” family “thinks” about us does impact on our wellbeing.

To me it is all about my family.  I have a very large family with plenty of opportunity for drama. I have witnessed acts of kindness, compassion and generosity.  However, I’ve also witnessed how cruel we can be to one another.

Sadly, there are members of my family who have not talked with one another for long periods over some disagreement. Still others are more serious, like disowning one another because of a rumour, which they in many cases have never confirmed to be true. They simply stop acknowledging they are family.  People’s lives have been destroyed and left in shattered pieces by simple rejection. I know that their pain is real.  I am not diminishing it and know it can be complicated.

The only healing for these relationships is the willingness for open communications and the real willingness to forgive.  I know this can be difficult; as Dene, we often avoid bringing up uncomfortable subjects. We give a fake hug or extend a handshake when we gather at family functions, smiling forcefully.  The hurt shows up in subtler ways.  I’ve observed from the sidelines as this damage showed up in how family treat one another.  How their BELIEF is holding them back from a more meaningful relationship.

Fortunately, there is a way that family could let go of the “story” they hold so tightly, even as it shackles them to their pain and keeps family estranged.  First, they must be willing to admit: “I am willing to be open.” And “I admit my belief is not serving me.”

There are always two sides to these “stories” and both can be “true” to each side. In order to avoid perpetuating this pain they must be willing to view it from the other person’s perspective. To do that they must let go of being “right” and to really “hear” each other with compassion and empathy.    

Tell me you don’t want to be a game-changer in 2018, when it could mean restoring a relationship you desired with a family member you might have disowned.

Tell me you don’t want to Stand for creating a remarkable family relationship.  Tell me you don’t want to Stand for knowing that you can release your pain and suffering.  Tell me you don’t want to Let IT go!  Tell me that you don’t want to let go of your BELIEF, which is not serving you.  

I stand in the possibility that you can be a game changer.  What are you waiting for? If you change your attitude you can change your reality.  I dare you to Stand for a healthy and happy relationship with your Dad, mother, sister, brother, nephew, nieces, and cousins.  Believe me, transformation does happen every day.  Stand in the possibility that your relationship can be transformed and I will absolutely support you in that.

Happy New Year! 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

We are Broken People

This is about my First Nation, the Athabasca First Nation (ACFN) and should not be interpreted as a commentary on any other First Nation.

Since the summer it has been all about the settlement of our Agricultural Benefits Claim (also referred to as Cows and Ploughs).  Arguments within our community were started over the Cows and Ploughs settlement and at times tempers reached a boiling point.  The settlement relates to a long outstanding obligation of the government of Canada under Treaty #8.  The government failed to provide agricultural assistance as the Treaty, which our First Nation signed in 1899, promised.  The process took many decades to negotiate and resolve.

The Treaty obligation, if it had been implemented as it should have been in the past, would have given some benefits to individual First Nation families and other benefits to the Chief, for the use of the First Nation as a whole, to help the community adapt to a farming way of life.  The federal government negotiated this based on models of what it would cost today for a family of five to start a farm.

The settlement in our First Nation’s case was arranged so that a majority of the settlement is held with ACFN, to be held in trust for collective community purposes. However each member received an amount of money on November 15, 2017 from the First Nation, representing about a quarter of the settlement proceeds.  In the day since the distribution I have been feeling pensive. It is not much, but we all have more than we had on the 14th.  Most members will be able to catch up with outstanding bills and maybe buy something nice for their family.  Unfortunately, by the end of the week some will return to their poverty-stricken life.  And our homeless will still be homeless.
The questions I have been asking myself are: how does this improve our life overall? How will the funds in the First Nation’s account fix our social problems? Will there be any fundamental changes in how we do business? Will this money actually make a difference? And if so, how?

The truth is that no amount of money will change the lives of individual members in any meaningful way unless we change the way we are. The problem with our nation goes deeper, many layers deeper.  We have seen that money cannot solve these problems, whether it is held by the community or individually.  We only have to look at the residential schools settlements, right?  Sadly, some members received in excess of a hundred thousand dollars and are in no better position today than before they got the money.

To understand how we got here we have to go to the signing of the Treaty. Once the Treaty was signed in 1899 we were effectively doomed as a nation. We became disenfranchised.  Treaty #8 was signed with a group of people who didn’t know how to read, let alone understand the various concepts being translated through an interpreter. In particular, the notion of ownership of lands was a completely foreign notion. When you add the effects of alcohol combined with a gradual loss of purposeful economic work, the decline of a beautiful people began.

Then came the Indian Act to administer and transfer Indian lands to non-indigenous people, and regulate the Indians. The drafters of the Indian Act certainly didn’t expect it to last into the 21st century because they likely believed the “Indian Problem” would be solved by assimilation and acculturation, especially after the Indian Residential School system began. By now we are all too familiar with that horrifying legacy.

Fortunately, after 1951 it was no longer illegal for First Nations to hire lawyers, after amendments of sections of the Indian Act that had been in place since the 1920s.  The courts to some degree have been on our side over the years.  However, legal victories did not prevent us from continuing to be seriously damaged. Much of the damage goes back generations, stemming from lost of livelihood, lands, and culture.  Once we were stripped of our self-sufficiency we essentially became dependent.  And in the 1960s, the welfare state came to our communities.

Today we are a broken people, spiritually and physically.  Each clause of the Indian Act is used as ammunition to diminish our humanity.  The Indian Act shackles us.  Notwithstanding that there have been amendments and challenges to it over the years, it still controls every aspect of being an “Indian” until death.

There have been talks by the Assembly of First Nations and the federal government of doing away with the Indian Act.  This is proving to be difficult. How can we eliminate the Indian Act when First Nations themselves are of two minds about it? They see it as our saviour and the bane of our existence at the same time.  It gives us just enough to make us feel like it is protecting our special status but not enough for true liberty.  It is complicated.  Like an abusive marriage that contains just enough promise to keep trying to keep it together.

There needs to be a paradigm shift among our people. A fundamental change in the way First Nations are run.  First Nations today are run like the colonial system, without the checks and balances of good governance.

We can’t continue to do things the same old way and expect our communities to improve.  It has to be a change that is dramatic and that rejects the “normal” way of doing things.

In my own First Nation, there are members who distrust our leaders.  Some feel that the leaders are not acting in their best interest and they feel abandoned. Even though we are one of the lucky ones for owning a multimillion-dollar business that services the oil industry there are still too many members living in poverty. The demand never ends. And I am certain that our leadership feels overwhelmed by those demands. The Cows and Ploughs distribution will provide a stopgap for a couple of weeks and then the demands from those who don’t have enough will return.
My First Nation’s Chief and Council saw a need for change and chose to reward themselves in advance for their hard work, and without notice to the Community, doubling their salary three months into their term and making it retroactive to back to the election date. I agree, that being on Council is difficult and stressful work but unilaterally doubling their salary is not the way to handle this problem. Is this behavior the reason for the distrust of our leaders? This is not the change I am talking about. And if any member brings this up they are scorned and told they are being too critical of the leadership.

Can we agree that this is insane?  Because, it is actually our own members who are saying not to be critical of the leadership no matter what they do. It is as though they are so cynical that they believe they don’t deserve better governance.  To follow leadership blindly without question is the absolute definition of being broken.

The band-aid approach of fighting one crisis after another is not working. Honestly, our Council is not equipped to govern; they are simply over their heads. Are there enough healthy ACFN members that see this?  We have over 800 voting members, yet it is the same people running for election each term. There must be a way to get more members to take an interest in local politics.  Perhaps the new salaries of approximately, $270,000 for Chief and $160,000 for each Council member will be enough incentive to get new members to run. It is even being received tax free, I might add, although the basis of this is unclear to me, the First Nation having lost a test case on the application of the Indian Act tax exemption some years ago.
I don’t have the answers to fix us but I do know if we don't do something we will continue to have high suicides, addictions, sickness, moldy houses, lack of education, economic losses, unemployment and abject poverty.

Our future health depends on us getting out of a spiral of decline. How do we get unbroken? It is clear that our nation must not rely on government to improve our circumstances.  Being entitled and waiting for the Government to tell us what we need to do is fruitless. We must be innovative, take risks, and change the conversation from victims to an empowered healthy community.

Our leadership must use the funds from the Cows and Ploughs settlement to create not only economic stability but also a plan to address the social problems.  The initial information from Council does speak to a general economic plan but is silent on addressing in any fundamental way the social issues that plague our nation.  In my view, in order to have economic success we can’t continue to ignore these problems.

We are going to have to look in the mirror and honestly confront what has happened to our community and its individual members in the 118 years since our Treaty promised us a future of healthy coexistence.  We were poor in material terms but we had what we needed to survive.  We worked together to overcome difficult times.  Nobody imagined they were entitled to handouts.  Life had meaning and our culture was strong.

Settling Treaty claims is good and should provide compensation on what we lost.  But how do you compensate for the loss of meaning and hope in a people?

ACFN members deserve HOPE and a MEANINGFUL life without despair, no matter how challenging the task is for our leadership.  

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Finding Forgiveness

Coming from a large family is a blessing.  Although, at times we are faced with having to navigate emotional pitfalls.

A few months ago, a nephew hurt me deeply by writing inaccurate and hurtful things about me on a  private family group chat. Someone from the group copied it and emailed it to me so I would know what was being said about me.  Thank you.
Words like these should not affect me but it did, I found it to be mean-spirited especially from someone who I thought was better than that. However, he has not said these words to me directly. In fact, we have not spoken in years. 
I have been trying to work though my hurt but each time I read what he wrote I am taken back to the anger I feel.  I guess, I should stop reading it, right!  I have even been avoiding family gatherings because I don’t want to have a confrontation with him while I still carry this anger, or have family take sides. More importantly, I don’t want to just ignore him. I don’t want to be angry and at the same time I don’t want to pretend his words and attitude didn’t hurt me.  So I have stayed away and will continue to avoid family gatherings until I have made peace with it. I think, I am almost there after a dream I had last night. 
In my dream I was at my late brother Rossi’s grave with some family members.  I was okay emotionally until I tried to take a picture and then I was overcome with emotional grief.  This nephew tried to console me but I wouldn’t let him.  I could see that he didn’t like to see me in so much pain and he just stood there and watched helplessly.  I was inconsolable.  I felt like the day we buried my brother,  totally heartbroken.  Then I woke up. 
My understanding of this dream is seeing my nephew try to help me deal with my pain and sorrow.  He may have said some harsh words about me to family on social media but I don’t really think he meant to hurt me, and even if he did, so what.  At any rate, it is not about my relationship with my nephew because we really don't have one, not one that counts.  I am certain that he has not thought about what he wrote since he wrote it, so the only person hurting, is me.  I keep hurting myself, over and over again, just thinking about what he wrote. It is just a story in my head.  It is my story!
The only way forward for me is to change my thinking about this incident. My intent is to forgive him, not for him, but for myself. The way I see it forgiveness is for the most part, for the forgiver.  It is to set our mind at ease and it does not matter if the other person accepts the forgiveness or not. At the end of the day, we don't need validation from anyone.  
My forgiveness Note:  
Dear MD:

I am writing today to let you know how I felt when I read something you wrote about me on a private family chat on Facebook. It is so long ago that you likely don't even remember it. I am embarrassed to say that it bothered me this long. That said, I am not sure why you said what you said about me to other family members. You may not know this, but it really upset me.  I was angry and very hurt.  Why would you say those things?  You do know it was untrue and if you don't, I would gladly explain to you. Based on your tone in your message it sounds like you really must hate me or have very little regard for me. And that is okay. 

In addition, I am not asking for your explanation or state of mind at the time you wrote what you did because what is done is done. The only thing that matters is how I respond to what you wrote. At this moment those words don't need any more attention from me. I choose to not have them impact on me anymore. I have decided to not be affected by it anymore, it is just words.

I want you to know that I FORGIVE you for writing those words, but more importantly,  I forgive myself for having carried the anger and hurt for way too long.  You wrote, “We must remain united…” I hope you also included me in that statement since I am still part of the family.

Today is the Canadian Thanksgiving, making this a perfect day to move past this.  There is so much to be grateful for. I am grateful for having had a time in our life where we loved and respected one another.  I am grateful for the members of my family who truly love and understand me.  I am grateful for my dream last night, which led me to the understanding that the hurt feeling was really my own doing and that I have the power to change it.    I just reread what you posted and I am pleased to say, that I feel nothing. 

Perhaps one day you will actually ask me to explain to you what it is we do for First Nations across Canada.  And, maybe you will get an appreciation of all the positive changes they have made to their nations resulting from the settlement of land claims against the federal and provincial governments.  It is rewarding work and I am completely satisfied to be on the right side of the table.  It is gratifying work and I am blessed.   
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!
See you at the next family gathering.  

I remain,
Your Aunt

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