Tag: Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back

Slow Code Colonialism

The following essay was published in the Summer 2014 edition of Transition Magazine, a Canadian Mental Health Association publication. Digital copy available here.

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 Turtles 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

Books of the Year: 2013

When you finish reading a book and you know that it was one of the three greatest you’ve ever read, it is what I would, in my perpetually-single state, relate to the meeting of a soulmate. Likely better, because though the belief in soulmates is silly bit of fatalism, that book will remain in the library for at least a decade until libraries are shut down after the potash, oil, and uranium resources dry up and revenues can no longer sustain the economy and public services begin to close like Blockbuster movie rental stores after the plague of the internet. That’s love. Very rarely will a book make me cry, not out of despair or an emotional plot, but out of basic human discovery presented perfectly through dialogue. For me, this was East of Eden.

I don’t know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is a great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.
At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?
Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.
And now the forces marshalled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And This I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.

-Steinbeck, East of Eden, Chapter 13.1, p130-1

My discovery of Leanne Simpson has also begun a personal interest in Indigenous thought and storytelling. Her aptitude in both fiction and non-fiction is stimulating, and a genre-blurring project that presents the tone of a piece of work unlike I have ever experienced, specifically through the songs of Islands of Decolonial Love, is a remarkably refreshing experience.

“Reconciliation” is being promoted by the federal government as a “new” way for Canada to relate to Indigenous Peoples, and it isn’t just government officials that are promoting the idea. I have heard heads of universities talk about reconciliation; I have read journalists’ op-ed pieces; I have heard mayors talk about reconciliation as they open local Aboriginal events. But the idea of reconciliation is not new. Indigenous Peoples attempted to reconcile our differences in countless treaty negotiations, which categorically have not produced the kinds of relationships Indigenous Peoples intended. I wonder how we can reconcile when the majority of Canadians do not understand the historic or contemporary injustice of dispossession and occupation, particularly when the state has expressed its unwillingness to make any adjustments to the unjust relationship. Haudenosanee scholar and orator Dan Longboat recently reminded me of this, when he said that treaties are not just for governments, they are for the citizens as well. The people also have to act in a manner that is consistent with the relationships set out in the treaty negotiation process. If Canadians do not fully understand and embody the idea of reconciliation, is this a step forward? It reminds me of an abusive relationship where one person is being abused physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. She wants out of the relationship, but instead of supporting her, we are all gathered around the abuser, because he wants to “reconcile.” But he doesn’t want to take responsibility. He doesn’t want to change. In fact, all through the process he continues to physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally abuse his partner. He just wants to say sorry so he can feel less guilty about his behaviour. He just wants to adjust the ways he is abusing; he doesn’t want to stop the abuse. Collectively, what are the implications of participating in reconciliation processes when there is an overwhelming body of evidence that in action, the Canadian state does not want to take responsibility and stop the abuse? What are the consequences for Indigenous Peoples of participating in a process that attempts to absolve Canada of past wrong doings, while they continue to engage with our nations in a less than honourable way?

Leanne Simpson, Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back, chapter 1, p21

Indians and Indians

Carmichael WindowThe Red Indians. That is how I remember friends from India refer to Aboriginal peoples in North America. Please excuse the politically incorrect nature of the title of this essay.

As Cook and Food Recovery Program Coordinator (the more words you have in the title, the more important you are on a global scale) one of the duties is to run a nutrition program. If my roommates are a typical sample selection, I can guarantee that I eat healthier than most single men my age, but in no way does this qualify me to pretend I know more than mothers-of-five or middle-aged men. I stumble through repetitive weekly sessions about budgeting and Canada’s Food Guide for First Nations, Inuit and Metis populations trying not to brainwash them into vegetarianism that could realistically jeopardize their culture. Currently, the program consists of several Aboriginal mothers and fathers and one Punjabi woman with no children.

Daily I feed hundreds of people who lack a regular source of healthy food. I attempt to do this with absolutely no ability or knowledge in serving them food that respects their culture, let alone their dietary preference. I serve westernized semi-processed foods out a back window to people verging on physical malnutrition and cultural assimilation. Carmichael Casserole or Spaghetto and Meatsauce sustains their bodies for a while longer and at times it doesn’t even achieve that. I am overwhelmed with how little I know.

Then I read such articles. Things which are 100% relevant to my current position and I begin to reel. If the government or people are not willing to properly reconcile, then I become immaturely overwhelmed as to how to do so out of a 6′ x 6′ kitchen. Leanne Simpson, Indigenous author, writes:

“I wonder how we can reconcile when the majority of Canadians do not understand the historic or contemporary injustice of dispossession and occupation, particularly when the state has expressed its unwillingness to make any adjustments to the unjust relationship….

It reminds me of an abusive relationship where one person is being abused physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. She wants out of the relationship, but instead of supporting her, we are all gathered around the abuser, because he wants to ‘reconcile.’ But he doesn’t want to take responsibility. He doesn’t want to change. In fact, all through the process he continues to physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally abuse his partner. He just wants to say sorry so he can feel less guilty about his behaviour. He just wants to adjust the ways he is abusing; he doesn’t want to stop the abuse.”

-Leanne Simpson, Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back

I cannot host reconciliation out of a kitchen. And this is because, according to the synopsis of Simpson’s book (see the above link), “reconciliation must be grounded in political resurgence and must support the regeneration of Indigenous languages, oral cultures, and traditions of governance.” I cannot catalyze reconciliation because I do not really understand the historic or contemporary injustice of occupation. And that is what gets me. Reconciliation is not done solo out of a grimy kitchen. It is done through processes which may have nothing to do with me and steps which I cannot control, but processes and steps in which I can participate in some way. Processes which I can learn about to potentially approach a climate that is fair for future reconciliation.

The fact that I cannot adequately express my intentions with the word Indian demonstrates my obvious inability to help promote and preserve a culture that is not mine through an ill-prepared nutrition program and sloppy meals. The infinite nature of my naiveté and glaring inability is burning me out. They make me want to run away to the land of the Not-Red Indian in a fit of hedonistic, selfish admission of my lack of knowledge. My lack of commitment. My lack of connection to the issue, which is maybe the worst part—that I could get on a plane and forget about hundreds of years of colonialism and assimilation, because I can.

I am here to stick around for as long as I can before my brain explodes and I find myself crying in some colonially-cultivated blossoming organic flax field, because I do not want to “adjust the ways” we have been abusing, rather I want to stop the abuse. One of the only ways to do this is participation, knowledge, and handing out egg salad sandwiches to two-hundred people a day.

Or at least that’s what I’m going to tell myself so I don’t drown in egg salad.