My coworker has been named the Woman of Distinction for Community Leadership and Enhancement in the City of Regina. She is brilliant.
A 72 year old community member is a lonely man with failing kidneys who considers suicide but laughs a lot.
There are three separate piles of change on the floor of my new, empty bachelor suite. I sleep in the closet.
We make jokes about huffing lacquer because we don’t know how else to psychologically deal with it.
I have a phone that is paid for, but am too stubborn to use it.
I don’t know where my cutlery went, so I dump curry into my mouth using man’s ultimate tool: gravity.
The end of each day, my chest is pulled taut and my brain is a piece of processed-cheese on top of a sun-soaked dumpster lid.
I fell asleep with my thumb in a book, reading about work.
My only piece of furniture is a crokinole board.
The most traumatic event I experienced as a child was finding a marijuana pipe in the ditch next to the house.
I get paid lower-middle-class salary and feel exceedingly guilty about it.
Just finished reading one of the worst books I’ve ever read and now aspire to write exactly like the author.
I bought backpack that encourages cycling and fair labour, but doesn’t fit my groceries.
My values are clear but my knowledge is stunted, so I cling to the ideas of the knowledgeable people I know, and when challenged in them I shrivel like a wintery weiner.
I desperately grab the first job I can that is based in community, because as a person with no education, finding a job that aligns with my values is like finding a bedbug on the pink mattress in the gang-monitored apartment. But we did find a bedbug.
Do what you can/Don’t try so hard. Forget about religious guilt. Always ask others if they are comfortable with something. Don’t be selfish. Seek happiness in others. Eat well.
Drive down Victoria Avenue in the work van. There’s Len crossing the street to get pot of coffee. And there’s Pat, the guy that helped me self-publish that book, standing at the crosswalk. Head south to drop someone off at home and there’s Kim, Sid and Scottie’s kid, walking home from school. A few blocks up, Jim and his grey beard are cruising on the bike, being slowed by a stiff headwind. Drive towards to the hood to drop off a few boxes at someone’s house and see Rocky cursing at a non-existent person in a downtown bus shelter, the closest thing to her own living room. Get to the hood and see Sonia walking down the street to her place. Holy shit, have I been rendered dead from a black widow spider bite on my tit, or is it just a normal day in a small town? Is this treasure-trail-like rash my death wound, or just a minor stress-related skin irritation?
I have nearly died several times in my life, as have we all. Nearly fall off a cliff. Crash a truck in the mountains. Eat really old rice and feel your body seize up (regular occurance). These are days I celebrate and remind myself that I am indeed invincible, and that no matter how poorly I treat my body, how many times I bike home and can’t remember doing it, how often I put a cellphone in my pocket to fry my balls into ancient legumes, that I will survive, and survive forever.
I took no photos of my unemployment, an idiotic attempt to live in the moment, but mostly to have less expensive garbage on my shoulders thus less reason for desperate locals to beat the shit out of me for something to sell on the black market. Now I doubt it really happened. That time I had papaya salad on an island, the time I biked 120km in two days between ancient cities, that time a monkey stole our bag of chips, were all fabrications of the mind. Did I grow up in the suburbs? Was there really several times where I had a girlfriend? I don’t believe a damn bit of it.
Same job, same apartment, same old habits.
Driving down Dewdney next time, if I see Rocky in the bus shelter, I will stop and ask her for verification of reality, because at this point, she knows as well as I do.
I have oft dreamed of a world free from the bondages of currency. The ‘bootstraps’ analogy that no longer makes analogical sense would neither make societal sense because people would all have the same strapless boots, the same homes, and the same neapolitan ingredients in the fridge. Where no matter how hard you work, you get a piece of the pie. The pizza pie.
I have oft dreamed of a job that pays me in pizza and beer but until recently I believed it was an impossible, utopian dream. I have found said job. I wear an apron, I swing my hips liberally to the hook-heavy anthems of Jenny Lewis, I spray, scrub, soak, sort, and airdry the cheese-grimed pizza plates of Vera Pizzeria, home of the finest pizza your pedestrian tongue (and undoubtedly mine) will likely ever taste. Contrary to my communist, currency-free compulsions, on busy nights where my free labour has been deemed as moderately necessary, I work hardest and get paid the least, a perfect microcosm of capitalism. In the name of that covetous progress, the human-crushing runaway train that it is, they have sourced a commerical dishwasher. And with the simple stroke of a pen, with the lease of a stainless steel washer that sprays with the intensity of a pissed off geyser at 150degrees centigrade, I have become obsolete.
So with my severance package in hand (a bout of scurvy in my organs from a pizza-only diet), and my travel backpack on my shoulder, I will slither towards an early retirement. Savings were significant in the height of the pizza game, and my investments were sound, so with the wealth of a nation, the tropics call my name. I have long desired, for three years or more, to leave my home to see the homes of others, and now, ticket for Thailand securely in hand, visa for India theoretically in transit, this retirement dream will soon come to pass.
I pack my belongings, patch the holes on my backpack, google trip plans when flashbacks of swimming in the ocean, drinking five-cent chai, eating dogmeat bring excited memories of the learned parts of travel. Then flashbacks of sweaty, anxious, late walks on the beach, the embarassed purchase of tacos from women squatting in the alley across from the department store, feeling responsible and justified when I get attacked on several occasions strike my memory.
Hold on a second. People’s dreams change? Without them even knowing it? Until it’s too late? Well that’s some merited bullshit. Some ironic piece of formaggio pizza, light and bubbly crust on the outside, black and tarry on the inside. I’ve already bought a one-way ticket, already dreamed of the exploits and adventures of the trip for three years. Like a soon-to-be-wife with cold feet, always dreaming of the day she’d get married, but when the vows are written and the dress is tailored and the family has flown into town she realizes that this dream was what she wanted when she was 19, not 29. But she goes through with it anyway because, she figures, it’s still what she wants.
Much has changed in my brain in the three years since I last was in a territory that I was not welcome. For example, I have learned that I have always lived in a territory that I was not welcome; The Dominion of Canada. I have learned that as a person of privilege, I am ignorant and blind to my privilege unless someone calls me out on it, and even then I’m likely too stupid to comprehend it. I realize that abusing this privilege by flaunting it and spending its savings unwittingly, I disrespect those who have no privilege, even if I attempt to be ‘socially responsible’ while I do it.
I am willingly throwing myself into a situation to inevitably become the type of person I never want to be. As if I decided to run in party politics, or get season tickets to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The tenets that I used to hold dear and romanticize about my lifestyle—the learning about culture, and seeing new things, and helping where I can—now come off as paternalistic blather. I am a product of loving parents that worked hard to give me everything I ever needed, which, along with the technologial and economic progression of the west, has turned me into a skilless rube whose only ability is to pick up and go. As a ‘writer’ I use this as ‘inspiration’ for ‘projects’ and ‘essays’. Previously my impulse was to I enjoy flaking on the lifestyles and traditions of groups of people far from my home that have been adversely flaked on by colonial forces for hundreds of years. Now, I’d prefer to do so at home, by myself, in a rundown house in small-town Saskatchewan where I can negatively affect only the people nearest me.
I look forward to coming out of early retirement to rejoin the workforce and finally stop perpetuating the types of relationships I have come to realize as unbalanced and unfair. I look forward to squatting in a moldy, infested apartment, dressing like a true dishwasher thus embracing the motto, “Dress how you want to be addressed” and forever scrubbing the cheese off of pizza-related tools, all for the simple reason that I am too unintelligent to understand how to truly live in balance with other people, so I’d rather just rot.
Letter to the Board,
Carmichael Outreach is a unique community unlike any other within the city of Regina. Community members, occasionally referred to in the pejorative as ‘clients’, use Carmichael for its services and programs, which are often as unique as the community itself. Community members also come to Carmichael for a sense of dignity, belonging, friendship, and community. Where most people find this in their own homes, Carmichael community members make their own family, and use the coffee room as their living room. I have experienced no greater example of belonging, dignity and respect.
The reasons a place like Carmichael has to exist is complex and longterm. Poverty, addiction, mental illness, abuse are complicated human issues that will never be solved by the harm reduction programs run out of a small, dilapidated building with an overrun staff. But the decisions that that individuals and organizations make that cause these issues are clear, and as a non-profit, very avoidable. The systems of capitalism and colonialism are the root cause of the issues that tax the lives of the Carmichael community members. Capitalism is the economic model used by Canada’s colonial past and present. This economic system not only took over Indigenous land for the sake of giving land for new homesteads, but has played the largest role in the destruction of the traditions and governing systems for the fact that capitalism cannot exist in the presence of other traditions. The traditions and governance of Indigenous peoples are the polar opposite of capitalism, which is why colonialism had no choice but to assimilate and exterminate.
As a community-based organization, Carmichael has the distinct opportunity to stray from its current model of governance, that is, treating the non-profit as it were a multimillion dollar company, and to treat it like the living, breathing community that it is. Top-down, hierarchal decision making has worked superficially in the past and works in other contexts, but running Carmichael in such a manner only perpetuates the reasons Carmichael has to exist in the first place. Decisions, economic and otherwise, made for a community’s well-being without direct involvement or even simple consultation of that community, will be uninformed and detrimental to healthy functioning.
A shift to a more communicative, cooperative model of governance, still based in the Canadian laws for charitable organizations, would greatly benefit an agency like Carmichael Outreach. Board members offer a unique outside community perspective with business and executive expertise, while staff bring a frontline, community-member voice imperative to the balanced and equal decision-making to ensure that the customary neocolonial top-down approach of running an organization doesn’t take hold. Carmichael community-member input, more than once a year in patronizing AGM meetings, is imperative to the inclusion of the most important demographic; the service-user. To expect the opinions, ideas, plans, and dreams of hundreds of community-members and dozens of staff members to be filtered through a single Executive Director position is not only ineffective and impossible, it is unfair to charge the Executive Director with such an overwhelming task. Communal decision-making ensures a transparent, efficient, and effective process, and one that could slowly be transitioned into simply by allowing a Carmichael staff member to participate in the board meetings each month. Such a change would bring board members into a far greater understanding of daily operations at Carmichael, and would give staff members a clearer understanding of the necessity of process in an organization of this size. This transition could be complete with running Carmichael as a cooperative community movement that includes people of all backgrounds, incomes, and visions together in one common goal of continuing the important community work at which Carmichael already succeeds. Community requires such social mix, and a community organization’s healthy functioning is no different. Greater communication between stakeholders of Carmichael Outreach can only improve the future strength and effectiveness of such a community. I ask that you please consider a more cooperative and communicative approach to the operations of such a strong and critical community in Regina as it would be a disservice to the service-users to run it in any other way.
I have not, and likely will never again, work in a place such as Carmichael, and I know its potential far outweighs its current impact, which is a significant statement considering Carmichael’s influential past and present. Please consider decolonizing Carmichael’s governance and shift to inclusive and cooperative styles of governanace that truly can benefit such a distinct community.
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this organization.
Abstinence of joy in pursuit of character and knowledge is something I learned from reading Gandhi’s autobiography when I was 18. If I remember correctly he wouldn’t eat anything but fruit and nuts, he wouldn’t even consummate his marriage with his faithful wife. I use it in explaining why I don’t have television or the internet, or why I eat a particular diet, and even something I used as a reason not to sleep with someone in the past. I use it as a noble way to cover less attractive qualities in myself such as cheapness, cowardice. I should have known that reading even a positive influential piece of literature when in the developing years can do a person harm if it is not fully understood. And it wasn’t.
Unlike Gandhi, the intellectual giant and human phenomenon, the abstinence of joys has produced in me an uneven pattern of mental health. For when people are watching Netflix or eating ice cream or having sex on a basement floor, that is, when people are engaging in normal human activities, I am sitting on my couch staring out the window, trying to hide the light from the digital billboard behind a planter pot in order to further abstain from screens. Instead I stare out the window, the sky an apocalyptic yellow, picturing a tornado tearing off the corner of my building and sucking me up two hundred feet in the air before dropping me to the road below and flitting away. Think about how I abstain from distractions and personal weaknesses so that I can spend my time ruminating on philosophical truths and creative outlets, when instead I end up overthinking relationships and decisions and contemplating toenail length and streetlight schedules. My attempts at character building, knowledge gaining, wisdom seeking develop into anxious, panicked sweats. Or I think about thought; admonishing myself for not thinking about the things that a person of intelligence should think about. For not further studying into the history of Palestine, or the teachings of Tagore, or civic policy and politics.
Only when I lay to sleep do I understand that every thought is regurgitation, and therefore not productive. I hear the voices of peers, or my voice repeating things I need to do, or a replay of the things I read, or advertisements plopping out of my subconscious. When tired, the regurgitation of thoughts intensifies. They blow around in your globe and bounce out like the next bingo ball. Meditation; be it unconscious, accidental, or purposeful, is where newness arrives from. From the back shelves, where things have been sorted and stashed. Meditation is being immersed in the lack of thought, either while gardening or biking or baking or sitting in a yogi pose or sleeping or eating. Demanding original and creative thought after ten hours of being pre-consumed and used up is impossible, and the pressure to do this has given me a new relationship with what mental health really is. Abstinence hasn’t ruined me, personal pressure and not knowing the limits of human energy has. And I will be surprised if I truly understand it before I break.
I am learning, despite my previous conditioning, that a proper distraction will do more for an eager mind than eagerness itself. See you at the movies.
What do you think? he asked me again.
How it feels to go crazy? I asked.
I don’t know, I said. Sad and easy, I guess, like losing a friend? You say a few wrong things, you ignore the obvious, you act stupid in an unfunny way. Travis told me that Kafka or someone like that had said insanity could be defined as the attempt to reconcile one’s overwhelming urge to write things down with one’s overwhelming conviction that silence is the most appropriate response. Oh, I said. Okay.
-Miriam Toews, A Complicated Kindness, Chapter 18, p 149-150
You are lying on the street in cardiac arrest. I am obliged to inform your unconscious, breathless body of my newly acquired First Aid training. This, for some reason, is supposed to reassure you, as if my knowledge to enter three digits on a phone grabbed out of a bystander’s pocket changes the fact that your heart has ceased. All I can do is Check, Call, Care, and call bystanders to action, but according to the brawny male firefighters who taught my First Aid course, this should be reassuring. The fewer bystanders, the better, they said. According to said firefighters, CPR and portable defibrillators are so effective that you—unconscious, vulnerable, responsibility of the provincial healthcare and social services systems—shouldn’t worry about what will happen if you don’t wake up, but rather, what will happen if you do.
The day after I became First Aid certified, I heard a piece on public radio that spoke to the misconception of the effectiveness of CPR. When it comes to the point where a human is in cardiac arrest, known as a Code Blue, healthcare professionals are obligated to administer life-saving procedures. When doctors are confident that CPR will not save a life, or will greatly reduce the quality of life that remains, they will often fake it, for it “looks and feels like a really gruesome way to usher someone out of this world.”(1) They go through the motions of CPR without actually trying to save the life. They do it so the patient can die. Slow Code—they even have a name for it. When family and friends are watching a loved-one slip away, they cannot understand a doctor who would stand by idly and let their family member die. CPR, in this case, is a system for the conscience of the bystander, not for the person in emergency. The professionals do this because the system of resuscitation is flawed.
A friend was recently in the hospital. He got into a fight with three men half his age, he told me. Others claim that while inebriated, he tripped, the side of his head the first part of his body that struck the ground. Skull fracture and brain swelling which led to brain damage and memory loss. I visited him regularly—I sat there as an idle bystander contributing to his deteriorating health by supplying him with cigarettes which he forgot he had, as he basked in the overwhelming nature of his life of abuse and addiction. We played cards as he mumbled through the imagined traumatic experience of being locked in a house with three family members who beat him until he bled from the ears.
When my friend is discharged, he will leave the hospital to no home and to a family who can no longer give him the support he requires. The hospital can’t keep him forever. The rehabilitation centre says he is too high-functioning—a man who cannot remember where he put his paintbrush or the names of his brothers. The province cares not for the marginalized. An ethically responsible governing body cares for the vulnerable, but my friend will end up homeless in a week, one inevitable head injury away from complete debilitation. He has never met his social worker. The social worker in his ward blankly stated that it isn’t her problem once he is discharged. The workers search on their computers and make phone calls in vain, aiming to satisfy the bystanders, knowing that whatever they do, it won’t save his life, because, whether or not they know it, the system of resuscitation is flawed. To those within the social welfare system, this is the most receptive the state will ever be—just another case file in the colonial shell game that is the Canadian welfare state.
Those who have not dealt with the system imagine that it works for all. They imagine that the cracks through which people slip are fairy tales told from faraway lands. They can’t imagine a circumstance where someone would be left out in the cold after a traumatic event, because, they think, this is Canada, land of universal healthcare and equal aid for all. This liberal notion of equality of opportunity fails to understand the systemic racism which is fundamental to the colonial state. The gaps exist on purpose. The system of resuscitation is intentionally flawed—it is designed to appease the conscience of the bystander. But unlike a medical Slow Code, it is flawed in its design to take resources and power out from the trained field workers through lack of programs that offer proper supports. Fifty-percent of the Saskatchewan provincial budget is devoted to healthcare and social services, totalling over $5.5 billion per year.(2) With such a significant portion of the provincial budget devoted to two departments of human services, the general populace can only assume that the dollars are sufficient and effective; however, gaps in the departments are purposeful and widespread.
Aboriginal communities have been stunted by the implementation of provincial and federal social assistance programs, contributing “to the persistence of individual and community economic dependency.”(3) These programs run on outdated living allowances, low earning allowances making a transition to employment impossible, and lack of adequate supports for Aboriginal people living in urban centres or dealing with HIV/AIDS. These programs run on cycles of poverty and death. A growing number of Aboriginal people have been forced from reserves to urban centres, where it is exceedingly difficult to live as a traditional Aboriginal person. It is a direct extension of settler colonialism, originally performed under the mandate of pre-confederation’s Indian Affairs, whose policies to ‘civilize’ Aboriginal populations introduced the residential school system. Residential schools were decentralized into the provincially-run Ministry of Social Services, a ministry which continues to perpetuate the same exterminatory mandate. Slow Code Colonialism—neocolonial institutions created to emphasize the desires of the bystander and ignore the needs of the sick. Neocolonialism is already the disguise for cultural eradication and is further masked as the unavailability of programs due to lack of financial support. Where supports exist, resources do not. My friend qualifies for a bed in a home for those with Acquired Brain Injury, but only after sifting through a waiting list of several months, and not if he continues to battle his addiction. Fairytale cracks become real. The ministry that originally took responsibility for my friend as a young boy sent to a residential school, now waives this responsibility and deliberately leaves him to flop around on shore, their program near completion.
I was taught to Check, Call, Care. As your consciousness flickers, as shock sets in, I brush your hair from your forehead and tell you it will be alright. I lean close to your face to check your respiration. You are not breathing. Since I do not have my recommended mouth-cover, I begin compression-only CPR. I tell a bystander to call for help. I break your ribs and bounce up and down on your sternum with my arms locked at the elbows. The paramedics arrive. They are trained in emergency and begin Slow Code CPR, feigning an attempt at revival because that is what bystanders expect of them. There’s nothing we could do, they say, but I am appeased because of their valiant attempts at resuscitation. What they don’t tell me is that they were thinking about football when they were supposed to be pumping blood through your chest. You somehow survive despite the Slow Code, but you wake up with broken ribs, brain damage and you are expected to survive when you have no place to live and no family to care for you. And the system of resuscitation wins in its purposeful defectiveness.
“Sir John A. MacDonald’s policy of starving First Nations to death in order to make way for the western expansion of European settlers,” along with the residential school system, “meets the criteria of genocide…by omission, if not by deliberate commission,” says a letter to United Nations Rapporteur for Indigenous People.(4) The policy of nineteenth-century Canada differs from today’s policy of intentionally defective programs of social service only in thin veils of supposed goodwill. There is no greater place to hide genocidal policy than behind a department of human services. The only other difference between Canada’s previous policies of starvation and the policy of today is the time elapsed in which the extent of the genocide could be fully understood. And time will again pass.
The only way to stop Slow Code Colonialism is through a remodel of the system of resuscitation. The Ministry of Social Services is just one of the administrative programs that force subjugation by stamping out hope and dignity through “a complex web of city agencies and institutions that [regard] the poor as vermin,” Chris Hedges explains.(5) These programs work together to perpetuate the accepted state ideology by operating under the guise of being a protective force. The police who mine for crime by making arrests in communities of lower economic status work as the frontline of the repressive arms of the state. The military who break up blockades of First Nations fighting for liberation form another wing of Slow Code Colonialism. These structures work to protect the status and wealth of white middle class Canada, while ensuring the poor Aboriginal populations live in abject poverty, utterly subordinate to those who control the state. These structures project an image, and behind this image is a bloated bureaucracy focused not on remedying social evils, but on keeping these injustices out of the field of vision of polite society.
The system must be remodelled to one that does not look to appease the taxpayer, but rather to adequately serve the marginalized. This starts when bystanders become involved and demand that governments stop these hegemonic structures of administrative programs such as Social Assistance, the judicial system, the police and RCMP, and unregulated resource development that make up the branches of colonization. This will dismantle the less visible forms of “a very active system of settler colonialism.”(6) It starts with education and partnership that leads to real reconciliation “grounded in political resurgence” that “support[s] the regeneration of Indigenous languages, oral cultures, and traditions of governance.”(7) The system will be reformed when the programs intended to assist people do just that, instead of control, institutionalize, and cripple. As with any cooperative and proactive social system or community network, a welfare system administered by those to whom it caters is a democratizing step to reconciliation and empowerment. Aboriginal participation in the development of such strategies and programs is necessary to eventually eliminate the economic gap.(8) These state apparatuses will require more than just reform to make them democratic, but will require revolutionary change encouraged by grassroots movements like protests at Elsipogtog and Idle No More.
First Aid isn’t as futile as it may have seemed at first. Although I still tread in the overwhelming nature of ignorance of how to respond to an emergency more serious than hunger pangs, I at least know that the symptoms for stroke, diabetic shock, and extreme inebriation are identical. I now know that the systems they taught me are evolving and changing because their legitimacy is still highly in question. I am no longer a bystander, but a person of direct action. The fewer bystanders, the better, they told me. With fewer bystanders, Slow Code Colonialism can shift to a more balanced paradigm of moral care for all.
1. Goldman, Dr. B, (writer). Goodes, Jeff, (producer). 2013. “Slow Code.” White Coat, Black Art. CBC Radio 1. (http://www.cbc.ca/whitecoat/2013/10/18/slow-code/)
2. Saskatchewan Provincial Budget Summary, Ken Krawetz Minister of Finance, Government of Saskatchewan, 2013-14 GRF Expense, p44. (http://www.finance.gov.sk.ca/budget2013-14/2013-14BudgetSummary.pdf)
3. Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People. 1996. Ottawa, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Volume 2, Part 1, Chapter 5, Section 2.9 (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/webarchives/20071211061313/http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/ch/rcap/sg/sh88_e.html)
4. Fontaine, Phil. Farber, Bernie. 2013. “What Canada committed against First Nations was genocide. The UN should recognize it.” The Globe and Mail. October 14. (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/what-canada-committed-against-first-nations-was-genocide-the-un-should-recognize-it/article14853747/)
5. Hedges, Chris. 2005. Losing Moses on the Freeway. New York, NY: Free Press, Chapter 1, p17
6. Simpson, Leanne. 2013. “Elsipogtog Everywhere.” October 20. Retrieved October 21, 2005 (leannesimpson.ca/2013/10/20/elsipogtog-everywhere/)
7. Simpson, Leanne. 2011. Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back. Winnipeg, MB: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, Back cover
8. Painter, Marv. Lendsey, Kelly. Howe, Eric. 2000. “Managing Saskatchewan’s Expanding Aboriginal Economic Gap.” The Journal of Aboriginal Economic Development. Volume 1, Number 2, p42