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Letters from November-December 2008

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ATTEMPTED GENOCIDE

Reading "After 'The Apology'" (September/ October) by Catherine Rolfsen, I slowly came to the conclusions that Ms. Rolfsen was leading me to. I've never devoted enough thought to aboriginal issues (living in Newfoundland often makes them seem foreign somehow) but still I've puzzled over the widespread epidemics of community erosion, abuse, violence, and addictions that seem to plague First Nations and aboriginal groups to an inordinate extent. I never did make the connection between current marginalization of aboriginals and this history of abuse at the hands of "civilized" players such as church and government.

Reading in Rolfsen's article about deputy superintendent Duncan Campbell Scott's desire to "get rid of the Indian problem" through compulsory attendance at residential schools was like a slap to the face: no wonder we see such disintegration, no wonder there's a higher- than-per-capita proportion of aboriginals in Canadian jails, and no wonder why our streets are often the scene of a meltdown of aboriginal culture and society. With the residential school system only ended a little over a decade ago, I think we're seeing evidence of a resilient people who are weathering the after-effects of an attempted genocide.

What we need is to stand back and put ourselves in the shoes of the victims of residential schools, those who were sentenced to this hell and the ones who followed in ensuing generations and their families and communities that live with the scars. Here in Newfoundland we had a similar institution of abuse and neglect, called Mount Cashel, which saw young boys physically and sexually abused by members of a Christian order. The scars are there and we readily acknowledge the inter-generational repercussions; we, as a society, need to acknowledge the contributory factors that residential schools had to the current malaise among many aboriginals and look inward to combat our own incipient racism that clouds a clear view of that fact. Thank-you, This and Ms Rolfsen — I should have woken up a long time ago, but at least I now have some ammunition to combat the continued ignorance and bigotry of others.

Eugene Leger
St. John's, Newfoundland

BILLIONS SERVED

Even at present population and consumption levels the environmental deterioration is accelerating ("Pop goes the world," September/ October). What will happen once global population reaches 9.2 billion in 2050, a near 40 percent increase over the present? In most countries that hold the bulk of human population, birth rates are still too high and religious fundamentalists try to keep it that way. On top of that, billions in the so-called underdeveloped countries are anxious to attain or at least approach the level of affluence we have in the developed regions. Is it social justice to keep them at their present level of existence?

In human evolution populations and per capita consumption levels progressed hand-in-hand, reinforcing one another through feedback. They reached their exponential phase with the industrial revolution. Malthus at the start of the 19th century could not foresee all future events — faults in his predictions do not invalidate their basic tenets. In reality, neither a halt to population increase or a reduction in global consumption levels will alone stop and reverse the environmental deterioration process: the two should go hand- in-hand. We can set an example by reducing our own high consumption rates, while helping the poor countries to bring their population growth to an effective halt. That would be social justice, and promote our collective survival prospects.

Frank S. Tompa
Pender Island, BC

TWO VIEWS OF JACK LAYTON

Until I read James Laxer's article on the need to rehabilitate the NDP ("Look back, Jack," July/August) I had thought that social progressives would welcome an alliance between the Liberals and the NDP. After all, the two parties share many important goals.

Laxer has convinced me, however, that he and many other supporters of the NDP believe that they alone know what's good for Canadian society, and the role of the Liberal Party is simply to adopt their clever ideas and enact the necessary legislation. Everyone recognizes that Tommy Douglas led the way in a courageous battle to introduce medicare, but surely some credit should also be given to Lester Pearson's Liberal government for implementing the national program. Clearly, it would be difficult for the Liberals to join an alliance in which true enlightenment was felt to be possessed only by the NDP. Since an alliance seems unlikely to happen, it's clear that social progressives would be wise to support the Liberals. As Bob Rae has said, "If you vote for Jack Layton, who do you end up getting? Stephen Harper."

David Goodings
Burlington, Ontario

Despite Laxer's well-worn critique of the New Democrats, the NDP is the only opposition party in Ottawa that has consistently shown up to challenge, question and oppose the Harper agenda. It is the only party in the current Parliament that has consistently opposed the war in Afghanistan, the continued detention of Omar Khadr, the sanctioning of capital punishment, security certificates, free trade, the continued mistreatment of First Nations, the abandonment of Kyoto, attempts to politicize the judicial system, the growing gap between the haves and the havenots, and so on, and so on. If This Magazine had been paying any attention to the current state of affairs in Ottawa, you might have observed the numerous occasions in the recent sitting of Parliament when the Liberals' abandoned their principles and gave the Harper Conservatives a pass on confidence motions. It is the Liberals who should be busted for their complicity and cowardice, not Jack Layton.

Dale Kirby
St. John's, Newfoundland

CHASING AMY

Megan Griffith-Greene ends her article about Amy Winehouse and other Hollywood bad girls ("Girls gone wild. So?" July/August) with the conclusion that, "Today's bad girls are tearing down the feminine ideal instead of just redefining it. It is progress. We'll get there in the end — but it will take more than 12 steps." I'm sorry. Did I miss something? Since when did addiction and self-destruction aid the cause of women's rights? While I agree that the media and the public's obsession with Ms. Winehouse and Ms. Spears probably does come partly because they are females who are completely giving the finger to what is expected of them, I fail to see how this represents any kind of "progress." Why? Because the so- called rebellions of said celebrities are not conscious — these women are not trying to set any new feminine ideal or tear down any old one: they are just messed up, rich, famous people who have been caught in a snare that is at least partially of their own making. And how is this progress? Addiction kills people! Ever heard of Janis Joplin? Judy Garland? Marilyn Monroe? Guess what? They're dead. Why? Because they died of addictions, and I don't think that can be said to be "progress." I also wonder why the author fails to mention the various male celebrities who are famous for their partying and stints at rehab. Is Colin Farrell helping tear down some kind of gender ideal? What about Robert Downey Jr.? It seems to me that Mr. Downey has more chance now of making some kind of positive impact on the world now that his addictions no longer command him. Addiction and self- destruction doesn't represent any kind of progress; it represents a dead-end.

Michelle Deines
Vancouver, BC


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