Tag Archives: Canadian politics

No laughing matter; CBC political pundit’s wardrobe malfunction

In the midst of tension  between Canada’s federal government and the resolve of #idlenomore to address and redress the treaty rights of First Nations, there is this story in the Toronto Star (01/30/13/ – Tom Flanagan wears huge bison coat on CBC: Top 10 jokes.

It’s no joke that this was reported as a joke.

Even Flanagan is joking about it. Despite striking the wrong pose – politically, socially, and culturally – Bullfax,com reports Flanagan is unfazed by the uproar his stunt caused, saying, “… it makes me an icon of Canadian history.” Hardly an icon; more narcissistic.

Some people – particularly First Nations people – might not think of Flanagan as much of an icon, either, and that this is such a laughing matter.

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The coat is a troubling symbol of the Canadian governments systemic, terrible treatment of First Nations people – the near extermination of the plains bison by colonial fur traders.The government’s desolation of Indian culture; Indian life. But here’s Flanagan – conservative pundit,  author, educator and former adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper – appearing on the CBC’s political program Power and Politics – with his incredibly shrunken head poking out of the neck of his incredibly over sized buffalo coat. (Get this man a stylist.)

Flanagan yaks about the conservative slant on the day’s political cycle and he’s taken seriously in certain circles. But he doesn’t seem to be displaying any seriousness or sensitivity to #idlenomore; to what David Eaves sees as an “existential threat to what we believed Canada was.”

Flanagan is a regular pundit at a round table debate about serious political issues – in this case, trying to make clear the ominously named Clarity Act. (It legislates how the federal government would handle the question of succession by any province.) I watched the segment and was unable to pay attention to anything that he said, seriously. So distracting is the coat and  so insightful its meaning, is it any wonder that none of what he had to say about the Clarity Act was reported or remembered?

Flanagan explains that he was wearing the coat because it was cold in the CBC Calgary studios on the day he appeared for the show’s segment. As a former CBC news anchor, I sat in that same studio under similar studio lights and I can tell you that it never gets cold enough to warrant wearing a great, woolly, fur coat. If you’re cold – and even more so if you’re conservative – put on a sweater vest, for heaven’s sake, not a beast.

Could there be another reason? The American-born Flanagan, according to his Wikipedia entry,

“… has focused on challenging Native and Metis rights. In connection with his multi-year research and publications on Louis Riel, Flanagan published a reinterpretation of the North-West Rebellion, defending the federal government’s response to Métis land claims.

At least we know where he stands and what he wears. Perhaps he should interpret this:

“Fools… wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked this easily — weak people, in other words…” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Time runs out

First Nations Warrior flag

First Nations Warrior flag

Some observations on the First Nations pow-wow showdown with Canada’s federal government:

Bewildered reporters have been chasing around Ottawa all day breathlessly saying how the situation is changing by the second. Toting their cameras and notebooks, they haven’t been able to keep up. It would be comical (if they weren’t all white) if it wasn’t so critically uncertain.

This isn’t unusual for anyone familiar with the expressssion “Indian time” and that includes aboriginals  I am not being insensitive. I am simply repeating the reality of what a friend, and prominent Metis leader and businessman, taught me years ago one summer afternoon outside of the Treaty 4 Governance Centre in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle Valley, and within a few miles of the former Lebret Indian Residential School that his mother had been forced to attend. He taught me a lot more than that, too, including how the Bands are really run.

Natives don’t run on the same colonial clock as the rest of us. To see them forced to the tipping point so quickly is surprising and unsettling for them and us. The Chiefs take time to talk, sometimes at great length, and are not held to deadlines.

But, did they have a choice? They were forced into action by circumstances, in part, beyond their control. Up to this moment, they have been held frustrated and in anguish over the inexcusable state of their people and their living conditions, health, education: the list is lengthy.

When a centre isn’t coalescent it fractures. There was a centre in all of this, once. Attawapiskat Chief Teresa Spence was the rallying point but has now been shoved to the sidelines and uninvited to some of the meetings that came out her demands in the first place. She seems irrelevant in any discussions between the the two nations – Canada and aboriginal. Spence, once a Chief of peace, started it all by going rogue with her hunger strike. That resulted in the grassroots Idle No More movement. That has forced the Chiefs hands to take a militant stand with talk of warriors bringing Canada to it’s economic knees.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Sean Atleo is no Phil Fontaine. Fontaine, who was National Chief of the AFN for three terms (1997-2000), held much more sway with the Chiefs during the Jean Chretien and Paul Martin Liberal terms than Atleo has today. Atleo is cerebral and, up until today with his display of uncharacteristic outburst, a moderate. Fontaine, although a graduate of the University of Manitoba, was from the gut. Most of the Chiefs today are of that character. The truth of that is in some of the militant statements made by the Chiefs throughout the day.

There is only one person in Ottawa tonight more angry than the Chiefs. That man is Prime Minister Stephen Harper and he’s sure to be fuming in a painted corner; in a tizzy because he’s not in control. But then, nobody is in control right now.

The Montreal Gazette says it’s Harper’s biggest challenge yet. It is historical fact that Canada’s First Nations have not been involved in Canadian politics, proportionate to their population and grievances. They are now, and they just might break Harper’s vice-like grip on this country, especially with parliament about to sit in a few days. Harper’s government can no longer continue in it’s flawed and incremental native rights policies.

On the eve of what will or will not be the critical meeting – between all of the Chiefs or some of the Chiefs or none of the Chiefs and the Prime Minister and the Governor General… or not – we do know one thing, other than nothing at all, and that is no one is idle any more.