Posts By: First Nations Drum

Gangsters Out to Beat The Rap

Winnipeg – Three teenagers saunter down the sidewalk in North End Winnipeg, one dragging a bicycle and another carrying a plastic bag. Driving slowly behind them is an unmarked police cruiser with two veteran officers inside.
Brakes lights flash.

“Hey how’s it going?” offers Detective Sergeant Ron Hodgkins, an affable policeman, as he hops from behind the steering wheel.

“What’s in the bag?” asks Sergeant Rick Lobban, a powerful-looking man who gets right down to business.

One boy drops the bike with a sigh and another hands over the bag; inside is a package of chicken destined to become dinner.

With Sgt. Lobban circling around the group, each of the teenagers is coaxed aside by Det.-Sgt. Hodgins and asked his name, age, address and gang affiliation.

The two younger teens – both 17 – wear ball caps and proudly announce their membership in a street gang called the Indian Posse. The third, a year older and perhaps wiser, says he is not involved in gangs.

As the older boy speaks, Sgt. Lobban notes a thin elastic holding his hair into a ponytail and two roughly hewn tattoos: the letters “O.G.” on his shoulder and a “G” with two vertical strokes through it, like a dollar sign, on his biceps.

It seems innocuous stuff, but all three teenagers have just earned themselves an entry in the Winnipeg police Street Gang’s Unit computer data bank of known gang members and associates – an identification that might one day bring them before the courts under new, but untested federal legislation designed to attack Canada’s growing organized crime problem.

The evidence against these boys might easily have been missed.

The two younger boys are wearing red caps, the gang colour of the Winnipeg-based gang. Of course, their admission to being in the Indian Posse helps.

The third boy requires a more experienced eye: the two veteran street cops note the band in his hair is red. the “O.G.” says Sgt. Lobban, stands for “original gangster” and is worn by many veterans street gangsters; the “G” tattoo means “gangster money,” a mark worn by gang members who have obtained cash through robbery.

This all suggests the boy is not being upfront about his gang affiliation, especially
considering he’s with two self-admitted gang members.

“This was one casual encounter on the street and we had two verbal administrations and an association,” says Det.-Sgt. Hodgins.

While these three youngsters in a poor stretch of Winnipeg’s core seem a far cry from traditional face of organized crime – outlaw motorcycle gangs in Quebec, Mafia crime families in Ontario, and Asian Triads in British Columbia – the Crown alleges their gang, and others like them, represent a growing threat that is spreading across the Prairies.

“Street gangs are a definite threat to public safety in the province of Manitoba,” says Vic Toews, Manitoba’s Attorney General.

Such gangs are blamed for Manitoba’s violent crime rate, which crept steadily upwards through the 1990’s – until last year when it dropped to its lowest point in six years.

To meet the perceived threat, the Winnipeg police’s Gang Unit has developed what could one of the most effective new tools in the law enforcement arsenal for fighting gangs: a computer database.

First, however, both the database and the new federal legislation under which it is to be used in court must pass legal muster in an important court battle scheduled to begin next month in a specially constructed $3-million courthouse in Winnipeg to accommodate 33 accused, their lawyers, prosecutors and judge and jury. the defendants are all alleged to be members of a gang called the Manitoba warriors. The trial begins on Sept. 7 and could be one of Canada’s longest ever.

Winnipeg’s North End has a considerable history. An old, working-class neighborhood, it was once home to such legends as Monte Hall, the famous game show host, and Burton Cummings, the chart-topping musician. Today, however, small patches of the wide streets and narrow alleys that criss-cross each other look like pared-down scenes from a war zone.

“The neighborhood bottomed out a few years ago,” says Det-Sgt. Hodgkins.

“Here is where we have a large drug-dealing problem. They move into a rental property and sell crack out of it until it gets raided and busted; then it’s just pack up and move on,” says Det-Sgt. Hodgins.

It is here that “flaps” sell for $20 – the sale of “flaps” (A quarter gram of cocaine wrapped up in an old lottery ticket) is big business for the more established gangs, police says.
Graffiti – sometimes in letters as tall as a man – adorn some homes and businesses, proclaiming turf around it belongs to a specific gang.

“Graffiti is an indicator of an area they’re active in,” says Det.-Sgt. Hodgins, as he drives down an alley well-marked with gangland art.

Sometimes the message is simple and blunt, other times it takes considerable decoding.
“INF” stands for “In Full Effect” and usually follows a gang name, meaning that gang dominates this turf, says Sgt. Lobban. “PK” stands for “Posse Killers,” the rivals of the Indian Posse.

“187” seems innocent enough, but it is the criminal code section for homicide in California, and is used as a death threat among gangs, who take much of their dress and manners from their American cousins.

Police monitor graffiti closely for clues as to gang territory, emerging rivalries and which gangs are growing.

The emergence of rival street gangs across the prairies has led, police to the prairies has led, police say, to drug sales, stabbings, home invasions, robbery, machete attacks, prostitution and murder.

“When you have street gang members banding together, you have to add the bravado factor to crime. they want d the bravado factor to crime. To prove themselves hey want to prove themselves. Because they have an audience, they want to do something a little more ballsy than when they are alone.” says Sgt. Lobban.

Street gangs started to make their dark presence felt in Winnipeg in the late 1980’s. The Overlords was the first gang of any note and it soon splintered into rival factions and it soon splintered into rival factions. Those factions today form several of the 26 gangs in Winnipeg tracked today by police.

According to the Street Gang Unit’s database, these gangs incorporate 1,548 identified active gang members and 826 inactive members.

“It was formerly seen as a youth gang problem but it was obvious people involved in street gangs at the age of 12 and 13 weren’t just leaving gangs because they turned 18,” says Sgt. Lobban.

The oldest known member of a Winnipeg gang is 56. Many others are in their 30’s. There are even parents and children who are all members of the same gang.

“It is officially an issue that involves many gang members, however, I’d say about 85% of the street gang members are aboriginal,” says Mr. Toews.

There are four primary gangs.

The Indian Posse is the largest gang. There are 505 active and inactive IP members in the police database. The group often invokes aboriginal culture in their activities.
Deuce is a younger gang and is the fastest-growing and most multicultural. There are 502 active and 75 inactive Deuce members in the database.

“They tend to attract a younger group who are attracted to the mystique from the heavy television and movie influence,” says Sgt. Lobban.

Deuce members closely mimic the large gangs in Los Angeles in dress, speech and manners; with bandanas around their head and caps perched on top, members throw awkward gang signs with their fingers in a culture ripped right from popular American gang movies such as ‘Colours’.

“Talking to some of the Deuce you would swear you’re in South Central L.A.,” Sgt. Lobban.

The Native Syndicate has 35 active and 19 inactive members in the police database. The gang mimics an Italian Mafia family cribbed from The Godfather movie, with a boss, an underboss and a consigliere as the three ranking positions.

The NS is composed almost entirely of adults and is believed to have been formed by convicts when in prison.

The Manitoba Warriors closely resembles an outlaw motorcycle gang in its structure and use of logos on the backs of their vests and jackets. The gang has a president, vice-president and sergeant-at-arms, and would-be members must serve an apprenticeship, called “striking,” just as in bike gang culture.

The Manitoba Warriors recorded membership of 327 active and 143 inactive are almost all adults.

“The Warriors are an older gang and more oriented towards day-to-day business rather than running around tagging their gang name on everything in sight,” says Sgt. Lobban.

The gangs are not confined to Winnipeg.

Through recruitment in other cities and in prisons, the gangs are spreading their tentacles across the prairies and into Ontario.

When the Manitoba Warriors – wearing gang colours, T-shirts emblazoned with the gang name, and baseball caps – started recruiting in Regina, police there thought a new baseball team had come to town. Now a branch called the Saskatchewan Warriors seems to inhabit both Regina and Saskatoon, says Sergeant Greg McKinnon of the Regina police.

He believes the Warriors, Native Syndicate and Indian Posse are all in Saskatchewan, comprising some of the estimated 250 members and associates of street gangs in Regina.

“One gang being there will create four others,” Sgt. McKinnon laments.
He and a team from the Regina police spent a week with the Winnipeg Street Gang Unit this summer to learn how best to stem the growth.

“We want to start off on the right foot and not make any mistakes. We’re here to learn,” he says.

There is also growing concern over emerging native gangs in Edmonton, Calgary and Brandon.

“This is not simply a Winnipeg problem, this is not just a Manitoba problem. This is a problem that is found all over the Prairie provinces and as Manitoba gets tougher and tougher on gang activity, what we are finding is that the gangs are simply setting up elsewhere,” says Mr. Toews.

When gang warfare was threatening to surge out of control in Winnipeg, all levels of governments looked for a new strategy.

“It wasn’t enough to rely on the federal Criminal Code, or the municipal police,” said Mr. Toews. “We felt as a provincial government, we should step in in a much more active way.”

Another 40 extra police officers were hired in Winnipeg in 1995, and the Street Gang Unit, featuring 15 officers was formed.

“The mandate here is for high visibility, in-your-face policing,” says Sgt. Lobban, the unit’s head.

The mandate accounts for the team’s military-style uniforms – with dark blue T-shirts, bearing the unit’s name in bright yellow letter’s, that are pulled over bullet proof vests.

“The unit is project-oriented and raid-oriented. We target an area where we can make an impact.”

Says Mr. Toews: “Where they are white gangsters or aboriginal gangsters, I make no distinction – I don’t want them on the street. I make no apologies about what people sometimes say about our tough line in terms of attacking the gang problem. For the hardened, violent criminal, I say they need to be incarcerated.”

It is a tactic that has put 385 gang members currently behind bars in provincial jails. Many more are in federal prisons.

Mr. Toews is looking to increase that pressure and is expecting great things from two very new items in Canadian law enforcement arsenal: the federal anti-gang legislation and the Street Gang Unit’s creative use of computers.

In the war against gangsters quick to draw machetes and shoot from passing cars, the computer might seem a rather lame weapon.

If prosecutors are right, however, the modest database in the unit’s back office could prove to be one of the most effective tools for putting gang members behind bars.

“The gang database is not filled with intelligence briefs, but factual, defendable information,” says Sgt. Lobban.

“Information that [police officers] can be called to testify on in court. When an officer stops an individual, any tattoos, gang colours, associations with gang members – it can all be entered into the database.”

The difference between this database and other police compendiums of information is that each entry relates to a specific person found by a named officer on a specific date and time to have met strict criteria that indicate gang membership. Such as the three youth Sgt. Lobban and Det.-Sgt. Hodgins stopped with the bag of chicken.

Not long after the database was started the unit launched an expansive operation probing suspected cocaine sales out of hotels in the city’s core. After a year of undercover and surveillance operations, police were ready to make arrests for alleged narcotics and weapons offences.

Police wanted to know if they could also lay charges against the alleged gang members under the new anti-gang legislation, says Clyde Bond, senior counsel for the federal
Department of Justice in Winnipeg.

Passed in April 1997, Section 467.1 of the Criminal Code allows for a maximum 14-year sentence for participation in, or substantially contributing to, the activities of a criminal organization.

“The police came to me because it was a drug operation and asked if they could charge them under the new legislation. I sent them away with several questions that I assumed they would not be able to answer,” says Mr. Bond.

“Frankly, I didn’t think there was a hope of it, but, lo and behold, they could.”

Police realized that in the growing gang database was reasonable and potentially provable evidence that certain individuals were members of a criminal gang.

“The database really started as a place to gather information and developed into something far more sophisticated. I don’t think anyone fully realized how valuable it would be as evidence,” says Mr. Bond.

Interest in the database is spreading, with inquiries about it coming from police across Canada.

“The database is crucial for us,” says Det.-Sgt. Hodgins. “I think databases are cutting-edge in the fight against street gangs. We’ve shared a lot of our experiences with other departments.”

“But the court case up will be the big test.”

It is a test being watched closely by lawyers, police officials and Department of Justice officials in Ottawa and may help decide how we fight against organized crime in a country
that values personal freedom so highly.

Says Mr. Toews: “I’m not proud of the fact that we have more crime than I want in the province. I am very pleased, however, that our officers are sharing our experiences.”

Bee In The Bonnet – Smoke ‘Em

Smoke ‘Em”What? How much?” The sweet little old lady said as she bought her cigarettes at the native smoke shop. She started to grumble on and on about, how low the prices used to be in the “Good ol’ days.”

Her rantings gave me a moment to think back, after all I had the time, thanks to this long winded ol’ gal.

She was right, prices had gone up over the years. But it was no fault of the poor man trying to explain to the lady, that the smoke shop was just passing along the increase from the manufacturer. All to no avail I might add. She just continued on, so I guess I will too.

If she had just thought back a little further than her “good ol’ days”, she would have realized the poor man trying to serve her, was very low on the totem pole of who’s to blame for the increasing prices.

Let’s roll back the clock, to a time when it was the natives of this continent that introduced tobacco to the new arrivals. Little did they know of it’s potential power. To them it was just another gift from the great spirit. A gift they shared freely, with one and all. Or he knows. maybe they thought they could rid themselves of these greedy newcomers, by letting them have all the tobacco they wanted. Tobacco to stuff in their pipes and in between their cheeks and gums. Enough tobacco to roll up a few million cigars and let’s not forget cigarettes. Oh no, we can’t forget cigarettes.

The chatty, old lady was by now giving us all a year account of how little she use to pay. Did you know that in 1955, she paid only $.19 for her tobacco fix? Do you care?

Well back to our poor uniformed ancestors. As time passed the newcomers introduced them to “commerce”. This new concept must have been very confusing to them. For instance, the tobacco plant, that was once a gift from nature, now had a “value”. How could something that used to be free, now have a price fixed on it? Incidentally the old boot, was now up to the 80’s and $2.22 a pack.

Fixed pricing, what an appropriate name. The newcomers fixed a lot of things. And just like you used to take advantage of a younger siblings understanding of a big shiny nickel and a skinny little old dime!

(Hey, “big brother,” didn’t think I’d remember, eh? Well I did and about that “candy money” you took. You don’t have to pay me back,… just give it to “our little brother”).

They of course, took full advantage. As more time passed, the newcomers soon held all the “dimes.”

They even changed the “Golden Rule”. The “new: golden rule is, those who have the gold, make the rules. They also fix today’s tobacco’s prices. “Up date, she’s in the mid 90’s, at $3.19.” Which of course translates into more time for me to think.

I truly hope that future generations don’t look back upon us (with all these new treaty talks going on) and say “Those idiots up all this for peanuts!” Today’s tax exemptions, could be tomorrows “tobacco plant!”

Speaking of tax exemptions, tobacco sold to natives is exempt. Could it be the newcomers, the fixers, are trying to offer us all the tobacco we can stuff, roll and smoke? Just a thought!

Finally! The fat old cow is starting to walk away, with what I thought were her own personal cigarettes. Now, this is the part the really gets me! As she was leaving, the clerk said sarcastically. “Don’t smoke ’em all at once.” Her retort was, “Oh they’re not for me, I quit last year. I’m selling them to Mr. Wong at the corner store!”

Mohawks To Be “Offshore” Banking Power

By Mark Stevenson

The Kahnawake Mohawk Nation in Quebec says it will establish its reserve as a “sovereign financial territory” and transform it into a major “offshore” tax haven, with out federal or provincial government approval.

Kahnawake leaders say a bank, a securities exchange and a regulatory authority that will oversee them are all under development and will make their reserve, located 30 kilometres south of Montreal, a financial centre similiar to Antigua, the Caribbean nation where low taxes and privacy legislation encourage international investors to shelter money.

“We have every intention of becoming a power in offshore banking,” said Chief Davis Rice, who heads Mohawk Internet Technologies (MIT), a high-tech park with 44 employees at the reserve.

“We’re talking about offshore banking on the shores of the St. Lawrence River.”

To help the effort, MIT has hired Michael Tobin, the former head of business development at the New York Stock Exchange.
In September, MIT announced it would use the legal protection of its sovereign nation to become the first territory in North America to license online gambling firms. Most Internet gaming businesses conduct transactions through computer servers based offshore to avoid an uncertain legal climate in Canada and the United States.

The plan now is to lure investors with a range of financial services and accounts “hidden … for obvious tax reasons,” according to Chief Rice.

“Why can’t we take business from Antigua and put it on the St. Lawrence?” he said.

“Of course Canada and others will say that it’s impossible, that what we’re doing is illegal … [That] will be our battle.”

Kahnawake Mohawks, as with all native Canadians, pay no income taxes provided they live on reserve and are not subject to sales tax on products or services purchased on their territory.

Chief Rice maintains that their “sovereign status” as natives means they do not need approval from Ottawa to establish their own bank or securities exchange.

Federal officials say they do not know if the Mohawk efforts are legal.

Margaret Pearc, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), the federal regulator, said there are strict requirements, including capital and deposit insurance standards, which banks must meet to operate legally in Canada.

She said reserve status may pose regulatory jurisdiction questions.

Nevertheless, she said a Mohawk bank would not be recognized unless it met OSFI’s requirements.

“We wouldn’t consider them a bank unless they became a bank,” said Ms. Pearcy Jean-Michael Catta, a spokesman for the Finance Department, would not comment on whether the Mohawk move would be legal.

“If you want to set up a bank in Canada, there are rules that need to be followed,” said Mr. Catta.

“But in the [Mohawk] case … we would have to get a legal opinion.”

No one at the Mohawk Nation would offer details about the tax regime that would be set up to create an “offshore” banking centre are typically low-tax countries with such secretive banking regulations that an individual’s or company’s home country cannot prove where the money in a given bank account came from.

Michael Tobin, the former New York Stock Exchange official advising MIT, is also a former director of economic development for New York State in the province of Quebec.

In a telephone interview with the National Post from Long Beach, California, he said he expects the bank to be operating within six months and the securities exchange in a year.

“The Mohawks have a certain special tax status … which will be part of the formula,” Mr. Tobin said.

“There is no reason for this not to evolve into something based on the Caribbean [model].”

Mr. Tobin was reluctant to release further details, but said the group would offer bank accounts, electronic cash and a securities exchange through the Internet. Businesses and financial firms are also being encouraged to locate at the park.

He said MIT has already been approached by a number of interested banks, including “heavy hitters from the US and Europe.”

Both online businesses and firms located at the reserve would be under a Mohawk financial authority that is being developed to protect investors and ensure such practices as money laundering do not occur, said Mr. Tobin.

Tax experts say a sovereign financial entity on North America soil would have certain benefits.

Alex Doulis, an expert on tax shelters who is based in the Caribbean said a Mohawk bank, for example would be unique difficulties for Canadian tax collectors.

At present, Revenue Canada tracks money leaving the country through records provided by banks, which are required to record transfers greater than $10,000.

But with a tax haven on Canadian soil, investors could avoid detection by physically moving the money, said Mr. Doulis.

“If we have a tax haven in Canada, someone would drive from Montreal with $20,000 in their jeans [deposit the money at the Mohawk bank] and say, thank you, very much.”

Lindley Family Farms

Faced with a choice between commercial or agricultural development, a Westbank First Nation’s family opted for the latter-and reaped more than a source of organically grown food.

Roxanne Lindley faced a difficult choice: whether or not to develop her family’s 35 acres, which form part of a highly-sought-after parcel of land on the Westbank Indian Reserve. Pressure to sign 99-year leases on the property and allow commercial development was intense because of the tremendous value of the property.

“We had and independent analysis and property evaluation done a couple of years ago and found that each acre of our property was valued at $100,000,” Roxanne says.

But although the lure of potential profit from lakefront development was great, Roxanne and her family wanted to do something else with their land. It as been in their family for untold generations and they did not want to give up control to outsiders. Instead, they had a vision of developing a business that would incorporate the traditional teachings of the Okanagan people, provide the family with clean, non-toxic food and earn them a steady income from their land.

Thus the idea of Lindley Family Farms was born. Established in 1997, it is a family-operated, organic market garden. Roxanne and her family worked with the Western Indian Lending Association (now known as the First Nations Agricultural Lending Association), headquartered in Kamloops, to develop a business plan to borrow money for capital development and the purchase of necessary equipment and supplies to start up the farm.

Roxanne is manager and co-owner, along with her mother Elizabeth, sister Sherry, husband Wayne, daughters Twyla and Rheanna, and son Nathan. Other family members help to keep the operation going by contributing both know-how and sweat.

One way Aboriginal values are incorporated into working the land occurs when plants are transferred from the nursery into the ground. “Everyone who handles the plants thinks good thoughts, when transplanting the vegetables,” says Roxanne. This respect and care continue throughout the growing cycle, right up until the crops are harvested.

The Lindleys know they must give something back to the land because it is there for them to live off of in a responsible and practical way. For this reason, they have opened their farm up to the community, encouraging First Nation’s youth from Westbank to work there. The youth help with planting, irrigation, harvesting, weeding and general farm maintenance.

“The changes we see are positive,” Roxanne says, “The youth feel contact with the earth and draw strength from it. When they say to us, ‘Those are our vegetables,’ we know they’re taking ownership of their work.”

The Lindley’s have learned a great deal from operating the farm; not just in growing vegetables but in growing relationships as well. “Our son Nathan was working at the vegetable stand when an elderly couple came in. They were a little short on money, so Nathan said, ‘Don’t worry, just pay me the difference when you come back.’ It was incredible. The couple were so touched by his offer that they started crying.” Now, the couple returns on a regular basis and has become staunch supporters of Lindley Farms.

The farm has four acres of vegetables under production, with 20 acres devoted to hay. The vegetables are grown organically for local markets. Although the crops are not certified by the provincial government as ” organically grown, ” the Lindleys are careful to avoid using chemicals in any part of their operation.

“We fought with moles and magpies, and at the end of the season two young bear cubs visited us,” Roxanne says. ” The worst were the moles. They didn’t bother our root crops, but they chewed holes in our underground irrigation drip lines. Instead of using poisons, we used a trap designed specially for moles.”

“Thirsty birds were another problem; they pecked holes in our tomatoes. We placed containers of water around the rows and left a mister going, hoping the birds would drink the water rather than peck holes in the vegetables,” she says.

Customer service is an important key to the operation. The family blends common sense with their sense of community as Aboriginal people in the way they treat people. “Last year, we picked vegetables specifically for people and even delivered the produce around supper time so our customers could truly savor the sweetness of the corn. There is really nothing like eating freshly picked corn,” says Roxanne.

“At our stand we encourage people to eat the vegetables raw. If the customer was not aware of a certain vegetable or variety, we offered a free sample,” she adds.

“Looking back at our first full year of operation, I’d say the concept and operation of Lindley Family Farms has been a very rewarding experience for my family,” Roxanne concludes. “Not only did we earn extra money, we contributed our ideas, energy and time and created an experience that has been beneficial to us all. The connection to Mother Earth has given us strength and provided us with a sense of balance, which is necessary in the fast world in which we live,” says Roxanne. “Our land is very productive and we take a tremendous amount of pride in our family-operated business.”

Susan Aglukark – A Leading Voice in Canadian Music

In only seven years of performing, recording artist Susan Aglukark has emerged as a leading voice in Canadian music. Her unique blend of traditional Inuk folklore with contemporary pop sounds has captivated listeners from all walks of life.

On her new release Unsung Heroes, Susan Aglukark once again shines the spotlight on history and heart of Inuit life with beautiful melodies and uplifting rhythms.

Unsung Heroes is the long-awaited, follow up to 1995’s triple platinum disc This Child, which featured Susan singing in both English and her native tongue, Inuktitut. Her fourth full-length album, Unsung Heroes contains 12 new songs co-written by Susan and produced by long-time collaborator Chad Irschick (The Rankins). A soothing and spiritual collection sung entirely in English, it’s Susan’s most accessible release yet.

“I’ve always tried to make it clear that I’m not specifically any one thing,” explains Susan. “Since This Child, I’ve really committed myself as an artist, and if there is a message to communicate, I’ve chosen to do it in the form that will be best understood. In touring This Child, I realized how diverse my audience was. This inspired the songwriting on Unsung Heroes.”

Born in Churchill, Manitoba, Susan Aglukark spent her childhood moving throughout the Keewatin Region of the Northwest Territories, eventually settling with her family in Arviat, NWT a small community on the Hudson Bay. In April 1999, Arviat became part of Nunavut, Canada’s newest territory, which returns the governing of the land to its native residents. This exceptional moment in history is celebrated on the joyful “Turn of the Century,” in which Susan writes from her own personal point of view.

“It’s my emotional interpretation of the event,” she explains. “Being a child of a politician who was involved, I know that the young people gave up a lot, temporarily losing their fathers to go to work out this self-government. Of course, it was worth it in the long run, but the song raises the feelings of the children that I think needed to be addressed.”

Unsung Heroes is rich with message of personal strength, love of community and optimism for the future. Yet Susan Aglukark also explores the often-sorrowful history of Canada’s Inuit people.

The ballad “Never Be The Same” speaks for the victims of tuberculosis who were taken from their northern homes and sent to urban hospitals, often dying far from their families. “It’s about how as soon as you leave your homeland, wherever that is, you lose your innocence.” This is followed by “E186” a solemn remembrance of a government policy initiated in the late 1930’s where Inuit people were identified with dog tags. Susan describes it as a “dark little song,” with a positive message from which the title Unsung Heroes is taken.

“I don’t like making political statements, but I feel that these are stories that need to be heard,” says Susan. “I wanted to write from a different perspective, giving back dignity to the unsung heroes of past generations.”

Susan Aglukark’s musical career began in the early 90’s, after leaving her community to work as a linguist for the Department of Indian & Northern Affairs in Ottawa. Her earliest recording appeared on a CBC radio compilation of Eastern Arctic artists; her first video, for “Searching,” won a Much Music Award for outstanding cinematography.

Susan’s first full album was 1992’s independently released Arctic Rose, a hit with country and aboriginal music fans alike. EMI delivered a worldwide deal in 1993, and quickly released her Christmas album, featuring the song “Little Toy Trains.” Arctic Rose was re-released in 1994 and spawned two hit single, “Song of the Land” and “Still Running.” It earned her Juno Awards for Best New Solo Artist and Best Aboriginal Canadian Recording and the Canadian Country Music Association’s Vista Rising Star Award. Susan was also awarded the first-year Aboriginal Achievement Award in the Arts & Entertainment field in 1994.

1995’s This Child catapulted Susan Aglukark to the top of Canadian music charts. The first single, “O Siem” reached #1 on the Adult Contemporary charts and into the Top 10 on CHR and Country radio. The hits “Hina Na Ho” and “Breakin Down” followed leading to five Juno Award nominations in 1996.

Through her music, Susan Aglukark spreads uplifting messages to her own community and the nation at large. She was praised extensively in publications such as The New York Times, Saturday Night, Macleans, Modern Woman and Chatelaine, who touted her on its cover as a “pop star with a purpose.” As an ambassador of Canadian culture, Susan has performed twice for HRH Queen Elizabeth, for Prime Minister Mulroney and Chretien, for Nelson Mandela and at the World Special Olympics.

Unsung Heroes not only documents Susan Aglukark’s experience as an Inuk, but also as a woman finding her place in the world. Inspired as much by the success and touring of This Child as her childhood, the album speaks of the personal discoveries and growth that each of us ponders. Ultimately, the themes are universal.

“My ultimate message is to learn to be yourself and believe in that person,” says Susan. “It’s a constant fight, an everyday process. If by example I can relay this simple message, that would be great.”

An Interview with Judge Steven Point

Reprinted With Permission From Talking Circle

Judge Steven Point of Skowkale First Nation is one of a handful of First Nations people appointed a judge of the Provincial Court of British Columbia. He assumed his judgeship in February, 1999.

Steven, 47, and his wife, Gwen, have been married for 27 years, and have four children and nine grandchildren.

Steven had a long history of working for Stolo people and communities. He encouraged the revival of traditional singing and dancing by his involvement in Stolo longhouses and by serving as a committee member for the Chilliwack PowWow.

Steven’s other achievements include:

  • Director of the Native Law Program in the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia;

  • Instructor of Native Law at the University of Saskatchewan
    Adjudicator and Administrative Tribunal at the Federal Department of Immigration and Employment; and

  • Practitioner of Criminal Law and Native Law as a partner in the firm Point and Shirley.

In addition, Steven served as Chief of his community for 15 years and was Chiefs’ Representative for the Stolo Nation Government House from 1994 to 1998.

First Nations Drum: Please explain your role as a Provincial Court Judge. Where does that position fit within the legal system?

Steven Point: There are three levels of court in B.C. and the Provincial Court is at the base of the legal system. Directly above this is the Supreme Court of British Columbia and then the Court of Appeal for British Columbia.

The Provincial Court is where a lot of the work happens. It handles in excess of 90 per cent of the adult criminal matters that come to court. Fewer than 10 per cent of the cases go on the Supreme Court. So Provincial Court judges are extremely busy.

We also have the federal court system, in Canada, which has a trial section and an appeal section.

Although one day I hope to move up to the Supreme Court of B.C. and jury trials, I am very happy with the job I have now.

FN: What are you currently doing in the system ?

Steven: At the time I was appointed, the criminal justice system had been severely backlogged. Some court cases were being scheduled up to eighteen months down the road.

The Canadian Constitution says that somebody facing criminal matter has a constitutional right to have his or her case heard within a reasonable time. The provincial government was faced with a situation where they would have to prosecute fewer cases or else hire more judges. They decided to do the latter.

One of the things I have been doing is traveling around the province to hear cases in places where the backlog is particularly severe. I’ve been to Prince George, Penticton, Kelowna, Burnaby, Maple Ridge, Vancouver and Chilliwack.

I’ve enjoyed the travel and the experience because I get to work with other judges. In July, I will be permanently posted in Prince Rupert.

FN: How many Aboriginal people currently sit as judges the BC court system?

Steven: Marion Buller-Bennett and David Joe currently sit on BC Provincial Court benches. Across Canada, we have 16 Aboriginal judges in the court system. In British Columbia, Aboriginal judges make up less than two or three per cent of the total 145 judges.

We are under-represented on the bench, but neither do we have many lawyers in the system. There are a lot of Aboriginal people in law school, but not many native people are actually practicing law.

FN: What impact do you hope to have on the legal systems as an Aboriginal person and as a community leader and former chief of Skowkale?

Steven: I’ve been kicking around this issue for some time, not just in the legal system but also in education and in the immigration system, where I worked previously.

In every community, there is a small group of influential people who are very, very prejudiced – on both sides of Aboriginal issues. There is a group of people in both groups that are trying to fight that racism. And there is a huge lump of people in the middle who simply don’t care about Aboriginal issues.

What I find is that the same situation exists in the justice system, in education, in any institution. The question is, “Do we take a big stick and force these people to get along? Or do we guide them along and show them a different way?”
I’ve learned that I am the only person who controls my emotions. I can’t control other people, I can’t control the weather, I can only control my behaviour. At the end of the day, unless people want to change, they won’t change their minds.

FN: How do you effect change?

Steven: What I found out from talking to people such as Aboriginal constables in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is that change occurred not because they pointed out problems in the system and complained, but simply because they were there….

If a native person got arrested when the Aboriginal constable was present, the other non-native officer would treat the person differently just because the Aboriginal constable was there. The non-native officer was embarrassed and wouldn’t step over the line of authority because of the presence of the Aboriginal constable.

In just the same way, my becoming a judge – just being there – and my background as being chief of my community and speaking on behalf of my community will make a difference.

Barb Cranmer – Messenger of Stories

The woman is short, stocky, compact. She has a face wide and mobile, a sun-filled smile. She speaks in a voice of brightness and enthusiasm, secure in her self-confidence. She appears filled with an intense and compacted energy, lightly reined, distinctly directed. The woman is of the ‘Namgis First Nation of Alert Bay, of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation of British Columbia. The woman is Barb Cranmer, a documentary film-maker of note.

Her film, T’lina: The Rendering of Wealth, has just won the award for Best Short Documentary at the 1999 American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco.

As with all her work, T’lina shares an intimate view of the power of community and the strength of tradition among the 14 groups speaking the Kwak’wala language, who live in a territory that reaches from Port Hardy on Northern Vancouver Island, south to Campbell River area.

“I myself am living my own history through the films that I am making,” said Cranmer. “The strength, for me, in doing this work, comes from my family, comes from my community. I’m basically working in a non-native world, working and fund-raising in Vancouver. The films I direct and co-produce are big-budget documentaries; when I feel I have to be strong, it is the strength of the family and the community that I come from, the community I’m representing, that allows me to carry on. That’s critical. Because I have a strong sense of identity, I feel. Both sides of my family still potlach, still carry on the tradition that’s been passed on to us.”

Her visage is earnest, sincere, intense.

“That’s what drives my work. I give voice to the community, the native community large.”

The woman is also possessed of a becoming modesty, an attractive reticence about herself. Interviewed in advance of the film festival at which T’lina was recognized for excellence, she forebore from mentioning that she is no stranger to such recognition.

Cranmer produced, wrote and directed Qutuwas: People Gathering Together, about the rebirth of the northwest coast canoe culture. This film won the first Telefilm Canada/TV Northern Canada Award, Best Documentary at the American Indian Film Festival, and was invited to the 1997 Sundance Film Festival.

While the economic impact of declines in commercial fisheries has garnered national attention – where the local harvesting of a tiny fish known as the eulachon is concerned, it is the potential CULTURAL loss that is important to the ‘Namgis community of Alert Bay. In the Kwakwala language t’lina (pronounced “gleetna”) is the name of the precious oil rendered from the fish. This oil is a symbol of cultural wealth, a valuable trade item and important food staple. The oil is rich in vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. Historically, it has been traded on “grease trails” throughout the northwest. For thousands of years, the Alert Bay community has made its way by boat each spring to a remote mainland inlet known as Dzawadi (Knight Inlet). Here the eulachon are harvested and rendered after spawning. Habitat loss and commercial over-fishing now imperil this traditional fishery.

“I have wanted to do this film for at least six years,” Cranmer said. “It became urgent because many of our old people were dying and important knowledge and history were close to disappearing with them. When I made a research trip with my family to Dzawadi in 1996, we witnessed a sharp decline in the eulachon run.”

The tiny fish are not used commercially, but have suffered from indiscriminate overfishing as part of the industry’s unwanted “by-catch” – fish that are dumped in pursuit of more saleable species. Habitat destruction from logging is also a major concern.

“It was important to do the story right now,” said Cranmer. “In ten years we might not be going up there. The eulachon may be extinct.”

In Kwakwaka’wakw society, the highest honour a Chief can bestow is to give away, or potlach, the t’lina. In the t’linagila ceremony, families dance with huge carved feast spoons and bowls, symbolizing the pouring of the oil. Hundreds of bottles of t’lina are distributed to guests who have come to witness the potlach.

“The families who travel annually to Dzawadi are strengthed by the experience,” Cranmer said. “Each year brings something new. It is amazing that in these modern times our people are fortunate enough to be able to go to a place where we can still practice a traditional way of life. It is like travelling back in time as we reaffirm our connection to our traditional territory. We have discovered old houseposts, which supported many bighouses in the Dzawadi area. We can only imagine what it must have been like to live two hundred years ago in this same area.

“This film offers a rare opportunity to share these moments inour community’s way of life – for the benefit of audience today, and for future generations. I believe this film will inspire not only First Nations people, but the general public as well. This film is a tribute to our grandmothers and grandfathers. My only regret is not being able to make the trip to Dzawadi years ago, when more elders were still alive.”

The film, co-produced by Cari Green of Vancouver-based Nimpkish Wind Productions and the National Film Board, was made with $275,000 from the Canadian Television Fund.

The Making of a Film Maker

Barb Cranmer was born in Alert Bay and grew up there for 19 years, at which point she moved to Vancouver to take courses in administration at Capilano College. She then returned home to work for her band in economic development.

In 1980, fortune, in the form of an educational camera crew from Chicago, found her and Cranmer found her life’s work.

The quick video course that the visiting crew offered allowed Cranmer and others to learn how to edit on a basic level. What resulted was a library of some 200 tapes, oral histories presented by the band elders, many of whom have since died.

“I was really lucky, getting exposed to the film medium,” said Cranmer, her face alive and her eyes asparkle with intelligence. “Since then, everything I’ve done has been a natural progression. I am definitely a self-driven personality.”
Returning to Vancouver and Capilano College in 1988, she enrolled in an intensive, ten-month media arts course, sponsored by Chief Dan George Foundation.

“I got right into the idea of film right away, being on the video crew at home,” said Cranmer. “I knew this was something I was very interested in. With the whole idea that I was tired of seeing negative images of ourselves and I wanted to change that in some way. I wanted to make some sort of career out of it and so far I’ve been successful.”

Initially, she worked on other people’s films as a researcher, project manager, production manager, until she felt ready to go out on her own. She made her first film in 1993.

“I felt strong enough to make my own films a long time before that but the people who fund these things were not willing to take a risk on me as a first-time film-maker. I had to spend some years networking and establishing contacts.”

Eventually, she found her funding and made such potent documentaries as The Washing of Tears and Lazwesa Wa: Strength of the River, both about the reclamation of Native land and culture.

Cranmer regards her work as educational. She complains that native voices are never really heard in Canada: “It’s not very often our voices ghet heard and when they do it is in the mainstream media, which has its own twisted take on everything. You never really hear from First Nations people in that sense.”

Yeah, Right. Welcome to Canada.

“For me, film is a valuable tool, to be able to have access to this, because it reaches such a broad audience. Much more so than if it were a book. Because everyone has TV at home and can plug it into their VCR. Or they see it at a film festival or on television.

“And it was important for me to get the truth out there, from our own perspective, and do it with the respect and integrity that comes from our community. That’s been a driving force, for me.”

She pauses. She begins to speak. Her voice has dropped a half-tone; her delivery has slowed. Each word is enunciated clearly, precisely.
She wants to be taken seriously. She is.

“For our people, it has been a constant, constant struggle to just be here on this earth . My work is based on the fact that, despite the things that have happened to our people, we are still here. All the powers that be have tried to change who we were, and who we are, and they did not succeed. And I think that is all I have to say on that. I feel strongly about that.”

Barb Cranmer creates stories in film; some folk would call this an art form. She also takes care to go deeply into the background of her stories; some folk would call this history.

Cranmer insists she is neither artist or historian.

“I see myself as a kind of messenger of stories. Basically, the way I see it is that I can look at theses films twenty years from now and know that I’ve helped in maintaining the history and the culture of our people.”

It seems appropriate, in light of her commitments to promoting the expression of aboriginal voices, that her ‘Namgis name is Laxalogwa (pronounced Lak-wa-lo-gwa) which means “yelling for the people to come to feast with her.”

She is adamant. Her work is not mainstream. To use a narrator would be nonsense.

“My work definitely has its own feel to it, in terms of being right up front with the people that are speaking, from the voice of the community. I don’t have the voice of God in there, with a narrator leading us down the garden path, because I feel our voices are strong enough, that they can speak for themselves.”

“The strong point of my films is that they are telling you the straight goods; they are telling you the truth. These people are speaking from what is inside them and that is a very, very strong voice.”

Barb has been told that her body of work has been successful in educating Canadians about native people.

“Another one of my goals is to educate people to the fact that we have existed along the coast here forever,” Cranmer said. “Governments are asking us to prove that we have been here for 10,000 years. But we did not just land here from Mars yesterday; our people have been here forever.”

“There are so many more stories to tell. I have my whole lifetime of work in front of me, telling stories from a First Nations Perspective. I’d like to try directing a dramatic film at some point; I like drama. But that won’t be tomorrow; that’s still some time in the future.”

All of Cranmer’s future stories will emerge through the vehicle of Nimpkish Wind Productions, a company she formed in 1994 with producer Cari Green, following their successful collaboration on the documentary The Washing of Tears. The company, now an established force in the Canadian television scene, is venturing into multimedia, with a CD-ROM series mixing local fishing lore and ongoing political issues.

Barb describes herself as, “a 39-year-old, wise beyond my years, kind of person.”

She laughs: “I’m teasing!”

Teasing or not, the point is has been made and the point has been taken. Barb Cranmer is, indeed, a “messenger of stories.”

David Black’s Attack on the Nisga’a Treaty

Maurice Switzer

Singer Buffy Sainte-Marie exudes optimism, a commodity not prevalent in many Aboriginal circles for 500 years worth of good reasons.

During a television special a couple of years ago, the much admired Saskatchewan Cree singer spoke of how the ability to turn life’s negatives into positives had helped Indians survive the tests of both inhospitable climates and unfriendly neighbours. And she described how her Prairie ancestors used buffalo droppings as fuel for their fires and to shed light on their camps.

I was thinking of that example this week when David Black, a man wealthy enough to own a chain of British Columbia weekly newspapers, made national headlines by forbidding his 53 editors to write opinion pieces supporting ratification of the historic Nisga’a Treaty. Mr. Black thinks it is wrong for governments to endorse the first modern B.C. land claim, to admit that land was wrongfully taken from First Nations’ people. He does not agree with the Supreme Court of Canada’s Delgamuukw ruling that there is such a thing as Aboriginal land title.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Black’s principles don’t extend to his pocket book. While refusing his editors the right to support the Nisga’a deal, he has had no problem with his 53 advertising managers accepting thousands of dollars being spent by the B.C government to buy advertisements in his papers to provide public health care, or clean environments in hopes that someone more concerned about the public welfare would buy and ad instead. Mr. Black’s actions are not so much about principles as they are about greed, the same sort of greed that cheated the Nisga’a and other First Nations out of their land a century ago.

Black’s chosen means of protest is to stifle free speech in his newspapers, whose very existence is designed to promote that democratic principle. His actions insult all Canadians who value such freedoms. It insults the readers of his newspapers, in whom he doesn’t have confidence to make up their own minds on issues of public importance, and it insults the journalists he employs, by dictating to them what opinions they must have in order to continue drawing their salaries.

Finally, this blatant censorship shows contempt for Indians, 12,000 of who fought on two world wars in this century to ensure that Canadians like Mr. Black could enjoy the freedom to write what they wanted.

Drumbeats of the Heart – A short story by Bill Peacock

Her feet touched the ground in an explosion of dust and joy. Crow black hair, long and straight, cascaded past her shoulders waving as she twirled and leaped to the beat of the drums. It was her day; it would be her dance.

Earlier, in the mist of the morning, Old Joe spoke to her. She did not know how he came to be standing outside of the door. He only appeared this way if a grave misdeed happened in the village, or if it was a time of deep sorrow. Sensing this, he spoke to her of her loss. The husband who had just left for the city, quietly, in the middle of the night, leaving only a chaste note that said good-bye. He had taken with him his guitar, and a younger, new woman. He left behind a young wife and a broken heart. The old man knew of the midnight departure, the growl of the motor and tires spinning in haste over a corrugated road. He knew the different sounds of good-bye and abandonment.

“You must be brave now, strong for the young one inside you,” he said. “You must not waste or hurt yourself.” She knew he was thinking of the suicides in the village. His eyes, soft and brown, crinkled in wisdom, caressed the coldness she was feeling, warming her instantly. “Today is Powwow. You must dance, not for the past, but for the new life in your belly. You must dance with joy till the child within you hears the beat of the drums. And someday, many years from now, they will remember the day that you danced just for them.”

She twirled and leaped as a ballerina, majestically, and with joy as the drums reached ad thunderous crescendo. The sun sparkled her eyes as they lit on an older man watching her. He gazed at her as though captivated, while his thoughts raced back to a time long ago; to a woman that he was separated from early in life. To a mother he never knew.

He smiled widely as the dancer spun before him. The drums softened, hauntingly, becoming a whisper as the man’s ile sagged. Unleashed emotions and memories of a child’s loneliness flooded his face in a rush of tears. He did not know his Mother, he could only imagine her beauty, but he knew there was a day that she had danced with the world around her and insider her. The day that she had danced with pure joy “just for him” and had imbued his small body with the beat of the drums. The drumbeats of the heart.

Bill Peacock – A Eulogy

R.I.P. Bill

Bill Peacock passed away last September. He had been suffering from cancer of the liver for the past six months. It was a painful time made worse by hepatitis C and Bill knew that his chances of survival were not good.

He had survived life on the streets of Montreal as a young man and was able to dry up in Calgary after years of drinking. Bill never backed down from a fight, unfortunately no one has gone the distance with the Big C.

He will be remembered by many native writers as a pioneer who published one of the first aboriginal newspapers in Canada. In the early seventies with no financial support from either banks or government; Bill started publishing a native monthly newspaper in Calgary. It was a project long overdue and he showed the way for many native publishers who were inspired by his example.

He moved to Vancouver in the eighties. Now a seasoned AA member, he devoted most of this time to helping people with alcoholic and drug problems working at the recovery club in downtown Vancouver.

Inspired by his own experience and the people he had met from the program, Bill started writing about the ravages caused by alcohol and drugs among the First Nations. His stories written under the pen name Elmer Wildblood appeared in the First Nations Drum and were destined for a book until the cancer became so painful he was unable to continue.

As a tribute to Bill, readers will find reprints of selected stories that have appeared in the Drum over the past few years, in the Culture section of this Web site, starting with ‘Drumbeats of the Heart’. There are touches of humour and a sense of compassion that contrast with the plight of many of his characters.