Status Update

I have a card in my wallet that says I’m an “Indian”. I was 13 years old when my parents gave me my first status card to carry on my own. I was accumulating other government-issued identification like a health card and my social insurance number, so they figured I was responsible enough to have it all in a wallet on me at all times. It was a proud moment and it was almost like getting a new toy; I’d be able to use my status card at the stores in town to get the tax taken off my purchases. As far as I was concerned in my adolescent naivete, this was a perk of being an Indian from the rez.
The benefits of being a Status Indian didn’t end there, but they really didn’t extend much further. As I got older, the novelty of provincial-sales-tax-exempt CDs quickly wore off as I learned about what the whole status designation was really about. Canada’s Indian Act defines what a Status Indian is and designates who gets to be one. It is both a blessing and a curse, affording Aboriginal people certain rights, while traditionally stripping them of some fundamental human ones. And those of us deemed status are granted the right to carry a card with us that says so, effectively setting us apart from other Canadians in many political, legal, and symbolic ways.
The treaties many First Nations were coerced into signing by British settlers defined land rights and benefits. Once Canada was established as a country, the Indian Act defined what an Indian is in the eyes of the government. If you fit the bill, you were deemed “status”. It’s a complicated definition that continues to stymie both Aboriginal people and the authorities today, but basically if you had a direct connection to a First Nation band (or “reserve”), you were status. 
But under the Indian Act, that also meant that you couldn’t leave the reserve without the permission of a federally-appointed Indian Agent. You couldn’t congregate in large groups with other Status Indians. And you definitely couldn’t partake in any traditional ceremonies. These clauses obviously aren’t enforced today, but they were in place just decades ago to ensure First Nations people were a subordinate culture/society.
Fortunately I never had to endure any of those oppressive and racist official measures in my lifetime. And on the plus side, a status right I exercised is access to funding for post-secondary studies. That paid for my tuition and some of my living expenses when I went to university, and without it I wouldn’t have been able to afford my bachelor’s degree. More and more young people from our communities are exercising this right and it’s very inspiring to see them get their education.
However, outside of the education funding and the tax exemption at the till, being a Status Indian has had few other positive impacts on my life. If anything, seeing my status card in my wallet reminds me of some of the obscene inequalities the Indian Act imposed on Canada’s First Nations people. Many of those social imbalances endured through recent generations and continue to polarize Aboriginal people today. 
It’s impossible to touch on all of these problems in a short blog post, and there’s much more to explore, like how individuals who left reserves to start careers had to relinquish their status, and how First Nations women who married non-Native men lost theirs. In some cases, status has been recently reinstated for some of these people thanks to new laws introduced by the federal government, but these official practices often pitted families and communities against each other. This colonial legacy of abuse is difficult to overcome, and as long as there’s a “status” designation, there will always be a disconnect between First Nations people and the rest of Canada.
That raises some important questions. Is there a solution to move beyond the “status” system while maintaining the rights it provides? Can First Nations be a distinct culture without it? Is it fair that people with status enjoy rights other Canadiansdon’t? Should the Indian Act be abolished altogether? Are enough Canadians aware of what the Indian Act and status are?

The Case of the Speluncean Explorers

The Case of the Speluncean Explorers is a very famous story used by most western Law Schools as a means of introducing some fundamental concepts related to Law and how we deal with each other in society. Yesterday, we took a look at the story, and for today I have asked you to identify the verdict to which you would most closely ally.

CNN Photo of Chilean Miners

Please provide your rationale as to which justice you would support and why. Be sure to think critically about this: What are the significant issues? Is your logic sound? Are you clear? Is your analysis accurate? For a greater understand of critical thinking, check out the Critical Thinking Foundation.

Also, please assume that there can be no constitutional challenges.

We will have some guest bloggers, so be nice!

I would like to wrap this discussion up by Monday. Please remember that I will be assessing this according to this assessment criteria and that you should be commenting on what other bloggers are saying.

What is History? What is your Story?

Welcome back! I trust you all had a rejuvenating summer holiday and that you were able to reflect on your past learning in order to be able to carry and further that knowledge in 2012/13. Whatever, Henderson!

I had a great summer, thanks to the agrarian model we follow, and I was able to slide in some really fantastic reading. One of the books I read really struck me, not because it was earth-shattering, but because it dealt with the concept of History. At the beginning of the holidays, I picked up Julian Barnes’s The Sense of Ending – a novel about how a middle-aged man reflects on his adolescence, failed marriage, and impending death. Throughout the book, there is an underlying theme about the meaning of history. At the beginning, the main character recalls a History class in his elitist London school whereby the conversation goes as follows, ignited by the teacher “Old Joe Hunt”:

“We could start with the seemingly simple question, What is History? Any thoughts, Webster?”

“History is the lies of the victors,” I replied a little to quickly.

“Yes, I was rather afraid you’d say that. Well, as long as you remember that it is also the self-delusions of the defeated, Simpson?”

Colin was more prepared than me. “History is a raw onion sandwich, sir.”

“For what reason?”

“It just repeats, sir. It burps. We’ve seen it again and again this year. Same old story, same old oscillation between tyranny and rebellion, war and peace, prosperity and impoverishment.”

“Rather a lot for a sandwich to contain, wouldn’t you say?”

We all laughed for more than was required, with an end-of-term hysteria.


“History is the certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

I had to reread this line a few times. Were these interpretations, including the last one, really what History was about? Is this what I am suppose to teach? What about this last line by Finn? Or is History, like the book, a story? Do we have collective narratives that we debate coupled with our own stories and connections to history? What is Canadian History? Is it different if you are of Hungarian descent or you just moved from Nigeria? Is it merely about military conquest and nationalism? What does it mean to study or read History?

I hope you can help me clarify and refine this critical concept. I have added an interview of Howard Zinn before his death. What is his take on History? How does his story create his own history and his sense of History? How can his interpretation of History differ from the views of the majority?