Monday, October 01, 2012

Testing his DNA-dar; or how I became forever linked to Scott Brown, the US senator from Massachusetts

If you know me, then you know that I have a great deal to say about my cultural roots.  I don't shy away from my identity as a Status Indian, and I've certainly been open to talking about it when it's brought up.

Through my mother, I am fully caucasian.  Her lineage comes from the British Isles, and indeed, I am a direct descendent of the Clan Gunn through her father.  With some time and ingenuity, I could probably do her family tree extending quite a ways back.  When you look at us together, it's fairly easy to see we are family.  From her, I inherited my fair skin and (naturally) blonde hair. 

My dad's side of my genealogy is not as clear cut, which is somewhat understandable, as record-keeping about the Aboriginals is only a recent addition to the historic record-keeping annals.  It would be hard, for instance, for me to trace my great-grandmother's lineage, as her records were destroyed in a fire at a church parish.  So I have to go on family lore, and on what evidence there is that supported my claim to Status.  But I know two key facts:

1. My paternal grandfather was a Status Indian.  He was born a Cree Indian, but I recall once my grandmother telling me that my grandfather's grandfather had white blood--this is not recalled by my father, so I'm not sure if I misheard or am mixing memories from my childhood; and,

2. My paternal grandmother was a Métis.  If you're unfamiliar with that term, it's the designated term for an Aboriginal group of people who trace their bloodline to mixed First Nations and European heritage.  The mothers were most often First Nations women, and the fathers were most often French voyageurs, or English, Scottish, or Irish traders.  In my grandmother's case, I don't know for certain if it was her parents or her grandparents who were in a mixed-race relationship, but I know that her maternal grandparents partially raised her, and as a result, she grew up in the First Nations community, speaking Cree, some Chipewyan, and even a bit of Michif, the Métis language.

So at the very least, I am 3/8 First Nations, give or take the degree and timing of mixing in my both my paternal grandparents' ancestry.

As a kid, I was told that I was a Métis Indian, which I took for granted as being simple.  I always knew that I was Cree, and that I was Métis, but how it all worked didn't make any sense to me until late 1991, when my dad told to go get my Status card, and I asked what he was talking about.  He explained briefly that he and I had regained our Indian Status through Bill C-31 (1985), and that it was Gramma who was the Métis. 

Twenty years later, I have a much better grasp of the implications of my Aboriginal heritage, and I've had to grow accustomed to dealing with the unique challenges of growing up mixed-race.  I'm well aware that my brown eyes aren't enough to make identifying me as Aboriginal an easy task (though in recent years, I've been dyeing my hair dark brown, which I guess has made it easier).  But nonetheless, I am proud of my mixed heritage, and I'll defend it to my dying day.

...Which is the impotus for the actions that led to my 5 seconds of fame on The Rachel Maddow Show on September 28th.

Earlier in the week, Rachel featured the fallout from both Scott Brown's senate race debate against Elizabeth Warren, and demands by the chief of the Cherokee Nation that Scott Brown apologize for his senate staffers' subsequent childish, inflamatory, and racist taunting of American Indians.

During the debate, Scott Brown made a special point of accusing Elizabeth Warren of falsely claiming Native American ancestry to get ahead in her career; his proof her claim is false?  His words: "Professor Warren claimed that she was a Native American, a person of colour, and as you can see, she is not.  That being said, she checked the box."  And he went back to this point again during the debate: "She checked the box claiming she was Native American, and, umm, clearly she's not."

That's it?  That's your proof, Mr. Brown?

It made me angry the first time I heard Mr. Brown go after Ms. Warren's claims several weeks ago, but this time, at the debate, the stakes were higher.  This time, his staffers gift-wrapped Mr. Brown's ugly words and put a big bow on it by acting like complete idiots, going out on the streets, mocking Native Americans by war-whooping and tomohawk chopping like a tragicly racist scene out of a 1940's Western movie.  This prompted the chief of the Cherokee Nation to send a letter to Scott Brown demanding an apology for the actions of the staffers (who were monumentally stupid enough to get caught on tape doing this), which was initially rebuffed.  Mr. Brown eventually made a hollow apology, but it rang false.

I had had enough.  "As you can see..." was the last straw. 

I jumped on Twitter, and in 140 characters and one picture, I did my best to get my point across:

". @MaddowBlog That's me. Do you think @USSenScottBrown can tell I'm almost 1/2 Cree Indian just by looking at me?"

The picture, I admit, is from 1997, but was specifically chosen for this tweet because of two things:

1. Finding pictures of me is hard enough - for years I refused to have my picture taken.  In fact, I'm usually the one taking pictures.
2. I needed one that showed me with my natural hair colour and fair skin colour in all it's pale glory, because as I've already noted, I've been dyeing my hair dark brown for several years now.

I just needed to vent.  I wanted it known that it's not just a possibility -- it's actually a fact that there are those among the population who are legally recognized as First Nations/Native American, but whose biracial roots mean they appear white.  It's been more than 400 years since Europeans settled in North America...could it be that in all that time...there might be some mixing between the inhabitants?

Well, Mr. Brown?  Can you tell?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sully Daniels

My Brother-in-law is allergic to cats, and he's a real dog lover, so it was a surprise, and yet it wasn't, when my sister told me they gave their oldest son, B. a golden lab for his birfday.  They named him Sully (aka. Sul-Sul).  That was more than nine years ago.

Sully grew up to be a wonderful companion, and true to the typical traits of a Lab, he was very big, very strong, and could be very goofy.  Once, when my sister and BIL flew me up to Yellowknife to babysit the kids while they went to Las Vegas, I lost control of Sully when he got outside, and I ended up chasing him for about 3 blocks before I caught up with him.  Without a leash, I had to grab hold of his collar, and try to simultaneously steer him home and avoid being dragged.  And he stopped for a doggie business break, which mortified me because I had no baggies or a leash to manage the situation.  Despite Sully's attempt to break out, he was a good dog, and I still loved him.

When I went to visit again in 2006, I was out for a high school reunion event, and at about 2:30 am, I decided to head back to my sister's.  She told me she was leaving a door open for me, but I guess this message hadn't made it to BIL, because when he got home, he had locked the door.  I was locked out.  So I called and rang the bell for a hopeless 3 hours.  Everyone in that house was dead to the world, with the exception of Sully, who came to the door and tried to keep me company.  I was miserable because I was sobering up, it was cooling off, and the mosquitoes were in full attack mode.  Finally, at 6 am, Sully had managed to wake BIL enough that he came to the door and was shocked to see a messed-up, worn-out Fancy, curled up in a ball on the front porch. 

Last night, my sister texted me.  They have to put Sully down today because he's probably got a tumor and is bleeding internally.  An operation won't likely be successful.  It's so very sad.  Sully, you will be missed greatly, beautiful boy.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Fancy needs a pick-me-up

The Explanation:

It's been a few months since my last post; in that time, I've been in a period of a lot of self-reflection, and I've come to realize that some changes are needed, otherwise my paltry creative spark will burn out.  In the time since the last post, I haven't written anything that was non-work related (i.e. work assignments, cover letters, interview tests), and when I try to write, it's trite and not worth finishing.  You would be forgiven for thinking I've just fallen into a rut, though I'm not sure I would even call this period of uncertainty a rut.  I've also contemplated shutting down this blog on several occasions, since I never seem to have anything to say, and when I do, it seems to be of little consequence. 

It's so easy for me to fall into cynicism and pessimism, given my view of the world, politics, the economy, and society; what's harder for me to do is find something meaningful in every day.  I've become so disengaged by what I see and hear.  While I've been re-examining myself and my life, one recurring theme has been that I need to stop being so negative--when did I become a daily attendee at the snarkfest?  But how do I do this without becoming a bloody Pollyanna, always playing her 'Glad Game'?  While thinking of ways to improve my attitude, I was struck by the irony of being so focused on myself, and totally forgeting about trying to re-engage with the world.  It's been all about me!  Not about the world, with me in it.

So, I came up with an idea. It's a simple idea: a project.  A project is what I need!  Something to get myself out of my head, which is far too occupied with obsessive and relentless self-reflection, and something to re-engage with the world-at-large.

The Announcement:

Starting tomorrow, September 1, 2012, there will be a new blog in town!  The interwebz will be inundated with yet another weblog, as I commence The Daily 'Wish You Were Here' (#TheDailyWYWH on Twitter).  It will be an account of something that needs to be shared--a moment, a meaningful passage, a picture, whatever!

The Concept

As trite as it is, there are moments large and small in every day that we can appreciate.  How often do you share this moment or these moments with someone in the hopes that they will see the meaning too?  Whether these moments are good, great, childlike, x-rated, sad, hopeful, comical, or otherwise, they mean something to me, and I have gotten into the habit of just hoarding them, keeping each to myself, or only mentioning them in passing to someone else.

I should warn you, this blog is not a daily affirmation.  This isn't going to be all 'Life is magnificent!' or sunshine and roses.  But it's also not going to be some depressing missive or snarkfest on what's wrong with my life or with life in general.  It's just going to be a daily moment around me (and maybe not even about or involving me) that I have judged worth sharing.

The Impact

While it would be nice to know people are reading this new blog, a steady, devoted readership is not my goal.  The goal is for me to get outside of myself and be a member of the world.  And what good is an exercise in self-improvement when you aren't sharing the benefits?  So feel free to drop in and read about, hear about, or see those moments when I wish you were here.

"Now What?" will remain as it is--a place for me to ramble on about anything and everything, which I will try to do more of.  In the world of Twitter and Facebook (which i still have, but I've vastly reduced my use of and content on), it's so easy to get swept up in expressing views in 140 characters or less.  That's fine for a joke or a headline, but not for discussion, debate or general blathering, so I will keep "Now What?" for that purpose.

Let the wishing begin...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Why I seriously consider quitting my cushy federal public service job...

At the very bare end of this fiscal year, March 2012, the Harper Government™ tabled a deficit reducing budget that will have a significant impact on federal public servants, and on public services in general.  The budget proposes to cut 19,200 federal public sector jobs, and subsequent reporting seems to indicate that 4,800 of those jobs will be in the National Capital Region.

Despite the news that letters are going out letting employees know they are affected (or, on the list of jobs to be cut, but the employee may find another job through a competition or some other process, and thus remain in the public service), I am 99% sure that I won't be among those receiving a letter.  Why can I be that confident?  Simply put, I am the sole policy analyst on a program that receives a lot of attention from this government.  My team is a team of two: myself, the working-level analyst, and my manager.  What's more, the policy for this program is relatively new (though the program is older than I am), and it is expected that we will continue to develop that policy to improve access for those eligible.  Sure, our team could be reassigned to a new group - I have no doubt this is possible - but that doesn't shake my confidence in my belief I am in no danger of being cut.

So then, why am I seriously considering the notion of walking away from a sure thing?  Am I nuts?  Well, the latter is a question that bears some consideration, but I can answer the former question with more ease.

Before I discuss my reasoning, I have to disclose that I do have external personal reasons, but I have chosen to keep those out of this discussion because they aren't relevant for my immediate purpose.

I suppose the most simple way to sum it up is this: this is not where I should be at this particular moment in time.  I am a relatively young, relatively new public servant in what is known as a professional substantive position, meaning I have the potential to do a lot of things - I can move up, I can change files, I can stay where I am.  But I arrived at a bad time.

I arrived at a time when the Strategic Review and Strategic Operating Review processes were underway, and the door for new hires was already closing.  Thanks to those processes, many departments have been looking for new ways to cut spending, and unfortunately, training and development are among the ways identified for elimination or reduction in order to save money by some departments.  As a result, opportunities for me to develop and advance are disappearing. 

I'm already at a disadvantage in moving around or up.  I grew up in a part of the country where French was not a priority, and even though I took French classes all through school (even into Grade 12), it was not immersion training, so it lacked meaningful, operational foundations, and it was quickly forgotten once I left high school, leaving me with only the most basic skills and comprehension.  When I came to the federal public service, it was on the understanding that I would receive supports to acquire French language skills.  Yet at one opportune moment, my request was denied, and at another, my request was scuttled because of the decision to develop other employees with higher levels of comprehension than I have.

Now, other training opportunities will be cut, or else priced beyond current training budgets, so I have virtually no opportunities to grow and develop beyond my immediate file as an analyst.  I, and others like me will reach the upper limits of our current positions soon (after all, we are highly educated and acquiring experience needed to move up), and we will stagnate.  Our natural ambition, the one that got us where we are now, will not end just because of budget cuts.  So, in light of the reality setting in for the public service, I conclude that it is not the time in my long term career goals to wait this out.

The upshot here is that more than myself can benefit from my decision to leave.  I get to move on to pursue my long term career goals, but I leave behind a job that needs to be filled.  Someone else at my substantive level (or higher), who may have an urgent need to stay attached to the public service, can take my position.  After all, I am unattached, I do not have children or parental/familial responsibilities, and I am not tethered to a home by a mortgage.  It is expected that more people of my age and substantive level have one or more of these obligations, and need this job more urgently than I do.

I can't say yet that I am safe; I know that there is that 1% chance that I will be affected.  But either way, I see this as an opportunity, not a problem.  Once I know if my position is not affected, I can better determine how to operationalize my thoughts.  Until then, still your faithful public servant...


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Identity Politics and Policies

I view the world in terms of continuums - as shades of gray, if you will; to me, rarely is something black and white, and usually only thus after a lot of consideration or experience.  I suppose that comes from years of learning how to think critically about what I see, hear, smell, touch, taste, or learn - those are usually good places to start, but it's a rare instance when there isn't something deeper behind the surface that needs to be considered.  It should come as no surprise that I am baffled by people for whom the world is a lot more black and white than it is gray.  So when I am confronted with a situation that asks me to define myself in a way to fit someone else's ideas, I'm conflicted.

I am currently seeking jobs outside of government, and outside of Canada is an open door for me.  And through the workings of history, I find that I can easily take up residence and work in the US, with fewer hassles - The Jay Treaty of 1789.  This treaty recognized that First Nations peoples migrated north and south with no recognition of an international border, and so under that treaty, I as a First Nations person, can enter the US (now extended to all of the NAFTA region) and get a job without having to go through the usual process.  However, through a strange quirk in the US system, I am required to prove to them that I have at least 50% blood quantum in order to be recognized as "an Indian." 

With no great difficulty, I can get a letter stating something to the effect that I meet the blood quantum, but I find it somehow demeaning that I have to do so.  My national government has seen fit to accept the evidence put forward on my behalf and deem me legally eligible for Indian Status, and I have taken it.  My band has deemed my father's family eligible to be members of that band, and so we are.  That recognition by a tribal government and a national government should be enough for the United States government.

This probably wouldn't be as sensitive an issue were I not so keenly aware of how non-conformity has shaped my father's family heritage.  My grandfather was a Treaty Indian, as were his first and second wives, and all his children.  My father was born a Treaty Indian, and so he lived for nearly a decade, until my non-conforming grandfather made a fateful decision.

He, a grown man with adult responsibilities, was not recognized as being in charge of his own life under the Treaty.  The government, through the Indian Agents on reserves, told him where he could live, how he could live, what he could do to support his family, what he could and could not do in his own house, where he had to send his children to school, what became of his estate after he died, and even what he was allowed to drink.  No, if he wanted to make those decisions that any other Canadian was and is entitled to make on their own behalf, he had to give up his Treaty status. 

The Government saw those and other actions as "proof" that the Indian was assimilating into the white culture, and so "enfranchised" anyone who took any such deemed action, "allowing" them to access the full rights and benefits of Canadian citizenship by stripping the Indian of their status. And around 1956 or 1957, that is what happened.  My grandfather, his wife, and his children were stripped of their Treaty status.  We were no longer allowed to be "Indians."  That my grandfather had Indian blood in his arteries and veins, and had grown up as an Indian didn't matter to the Government.  That such rules were not a part of the Treaties signed between First Nations and the Colonial or Canadian governments didn't matter either.  It was literally a whitewash.

For nearly 30 years, my father's family lived that way, until Bill C-31 in April 1985 revised the Indian Act, recognizing the damage that such policies caused for individuals and families on a personal level, but also recognizing the demoralizing, racist effects that the policies had on First Nations as a whole.  My grandfather, still the non-conformist, refused to take part, but as his children were of majority age, they could seek eligibility on their own.  After he died in the late 1980's, my father began the process.  I was young, so I had no idea what was going on, but one day in September 1991, I woke up, and I was an Indian. 

My family has gone through a lot with regard to its identity.  I'm very protective of that identity.  And I'm sorry, but some magic number blood quantum is not how I define that identity.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Oopsie...I missed some things

Have I missed several major events worth blogging about in my absence?  Yes.  Can I offer a valid explanation?  Not really.  Life just sort of got in the way for a while.

How have you been?

Me?  I've been busy.  Since you last read me, I've been back to Vancouver for a much needed visit in October; I've been to Toronto for training and a much needed visit with several friends; I've been diagnosed with Hypoglycemia after an unfortunate mishap at work; Babe's been diagnosed Celiac as an indirect result of my unfortunate mishap at work; and I've experienced my first xmas in another language.

In between all of this stuff, the world has continued to shock, amaze, amuse, delight, terrify, and haunt me.

In October, suffering from a tear-inducing lack of hugs from my parents, I finally took a leap and booked expensive "cheap" round trip flights for Etienne and myself to Vancouver.  As it was his first time going anywhere west of Niagara Falls, I tried to take it easy on him and still show him some of the things about Vancouver worth missing.  We stayed downtown, and we went across the border to Bellingham to shop; we took the seabus to North Vancouver and wandered around the Lonsdale Quay; we took the Skytrain to Metrotown; we wandered through Gastown and he enjoyed the furniture stores there; and we visited with mum and dad and the dog.  He met some of my Vancouver friends, and we got the dreaded meeting with Rod over with.  Overall, it was a brief, but much needed trip home.  He like Vancouver instantly, and should we move there, he's already got neighbourhoods picked out!

In November, I went to Toronto to be trained as a Speaker/Ambassador for Dying with Dignity.  It was an emotional and informative day, as we were required to tell a 5 minute story about ourselves and our experiences with choice in dying.  You can imagine what you might feel like after 15 people tell their stories...but it was necessary.  While I was doing that, Etienne enjoyed himself by going to the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Hockey Hall of Fame.  During that trip, he met some more MPPers who are now transplanted to Toronto, as well as my dear friends Olaf and Rick.  The friends conspired to show us (me) a good time by arranging for us to attend a Strip Spelling Bee.  Yes, you read that right.  Strip Spelling Bee.  I also had the opportunity to introduce Etienne to Gail
who is one of the most incredible people I've ever had the privilege of meeting.  So Toronto was a quick trip, but packed with good times.

Now, you're probably curious about the medical issues I've mentioned.  Well, it's a long story, but I'll try to give you the cliffnotes.  It was just a few days after the last blog post in September.  I was sitting (important!) at my desk, working away on nothing stressful, when I suddenly felt very dizzy.   You tend not to get dizzy when sitting, so I knew something was wrong.  My pulse sped up, and I started to get sweaty.  I was afraid it was another anxiety attack, but for one, I wasn't stressed, and for two, this was unlike my prior experiences.  I emailed Etienne downstairs and told him I was in distress.  With his help, I got down on the floor in case I did faint, and from there, things went down hill fast.  An ambulance was called, I was given glucose orally, and taken to the hospital in Hull for what turned out to be an 8 hour wait without seeing a doctor.  We left and came home on the understanding that I would go to the clinic in the morning.  At this point, "Hypoglycemia" had been tossed around (in French) enough for me to get an idea of what the nurse and paramedics were thinking.  Etienne had been feeling "off" for months, so he decided to come with me to the clinic and get checked out.  We set off and when we came out from the exam rooms, we each had a sheet ordering blood tests: a two-hour glucose test for me, and for him...well, it would be quicker to list the things NOT checked off for them to test in him.  The doctor he saw indicated that he thought Etienne might have Celiac's Disease.

Since my test required a 12 hour fast, I had to wait yet another day to go, so very early in the morning, I made my way to the lab, sucked down a bottle of flat orange soda-like stuff, and sat down to wait.  For the first hour, I was fine.  I read, and I watched people come and go.  But into the second hour, I started to feel tired.  Then I felt drunk.  Finally I felt sick.  By that time, I didn't need a blood test to figure it out: I am hypoglycemic.  Not a huge surprise to me; my gramma had Type 2 Diabetes for the last 13 year of her life, and daddy was diagnosed with Type 2 as well in his 50s.  It was inevitable, really.  Aboriginals have a higher likelihood of developing Diabetes.  When the doctor did get the results, he confirmed it.  He called it "Pre-diabetic."  I can guess at it, but I think what that means is that I'm getting blood sugar, but insulin is eating it up pretty fast.  Etienne's test took longer to come back, but they confirmed that he did in fact have Celiac's Disease, though the results seemed to indicate that it wasn't a particularly bad case.

Since then, we've both had to make serious adjustments to our lifestyle.  For me, I've had to try my best to shift to five smaller meals a day and snacking in between (the results have been fair...I need to see a dietician to get a better idea of what I'm supposed to be doing); but poor Etienne's had a worse go of it.  For one thing, he's a vegetarian.  So he can't exactly start chowing down more meat to replace the loss of many gluten products.  He's also had to experiment with different gluten-free foods to try to find what works best.  But the hardest part was giving up the beer.  He's found some gluten-free beer-like beverages which he's okay with, but I can tell he misses a good Guinness.  So there's that sob story.  We're doing better, though I have the occasional setback when my blood sugar will drop in a matter of minutes unexpectedly.  I haven't gotten used to how quickly it can happen.

Over the xmas weekend, we went to Montreal to be with Etienne's family.  His brother moved to North American this summer, and his sister and her fiancee are here for a school year, so his mother decided to come over for the holidays.  They are aware that I comprehend some French, but I can't speak it, so they are patient with me.  But there are members of the extended family who have no patience with me, so it was awkward at times.  I felt like I was an intruder, as though I didn't belong there, like I should not be a part of Etienne's life.  I wouldn't say there was hostility at my being an anglophone, but I will say that very little effort was made to engage me by those in the family who are new to me.  It made me miss xmas with my family all the more, because there I would be comfortable and welcomed.  Next year, my French should be improved, but I don't think I'll look back on this xmas season as a fond one. 

So there is the quick (long) version of important events that have occurred since September 24th.  Next time, I'll try to have my groove back, since there is much in the world and my life worth commenting on.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Slowly put down the Facebook, and back away...

There comes a time when people have had enough.  For some, the build-up is gradual, starting out as accepting, tolerant, even happy about change, but then becoming more disillusioned with the pace and/or type of change.  For others, the reaction is almost instantaneous, and they pull the rip cord early, not wanting to be a part of what follows.  Friends...after 5+ years together, I am bugging out on Facebook. 

It's been great finding some old friends, keeping up with new ones, and it's been awkward watching events unfold in the lives of some.  But it's not new anymore, and people don't have the same enthusiasm that they once did.  I can't think of the last time I was invited to an event sent out by friends that *wasn't* a craft fair, promotional nightclub party, or social justice event.  I don't need to get into how I feel about invites to Farmville or Bejeweled.  And I'm tired of being told by companies to "Like" something or join them on Facebook for special deals.

People are just making shit up, forming groups, and others are joining because they are amused by the name, such as this group:

"I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best." — Marilyn Monroe

People don't interact here.  They just like the page title.   

Facebook has undergone likely dozens of iterations in the last five years that I've been on it (to say nothing of those who have been on since 2004), and it seems that the changes they are constantly making are creating a type of superficial social interaction at best.  "So-and-so likes Lamp."  And then we all as friends we "like" their post?  Do we comment, "LOL, nice"?  And that's what qualifies as "keeping up with friends" in the Facebook universe?

Does anyone remember when you actually had to write a status update, and people wrote back on your wall?  How often these days do we even visit the walls of our friends?  We just see what goes on in our feeds.

With the latest round of updates that Facebook has done, we know have a little sidebar telling us what our friends are doing, right beside the live feed which tells us what our friends have been doing.  We have reached a stage where we have a Facebook on our Facebook page.

The dozens of iterations have me thinking that the nice people at Facebook have short attention spans, and they seem intent on creating a space that encourages it as well.  I liked some of the early changes, but lately, it's just become such a big drama.  Privacy this, security that, picture-viewers, blah blah blah...

I'm taking my business to Twitter.