In the interim, Simone Valiceli has begun translating my Man on the Run series into Portugeuse. She created a promotional video (in Portugeuse) and then created one in English. Here it is:
Hello all. It has been a while since I last blogged.
In the interim, Simone Valiceli has begun translating my Man on the Run series into Portugeuse. She created a promotional video (in Portugeuse) and then created one in English. Here it is:
We live in a world full of dystopian movies and books, drawn from the horrors of war, famine, and history. Where do these works of fiction draw their inspiration from? From what recesses of our mind do we create images of the living dead and fears of an enemy so great and powerful that any resistance would be futile? For many in Europe and all who have studied twentieth century history, the Nazi regime springs to mind as the embodiment of that horror and destroyer of all who opposed them.
Did the Nazis create, amongst other things, the concentration camp? We can understand efficiency and organisation—something for which Germany is well known—but when these skills are superimposed on a system that is designed to break the body and mind of the enemy, the result is terrifying. Is it possible that a regime known for its clinical barbarianism could have been inspired by a country like Canada—better known for its wheat fields, Rocky Mountains, and limitless opportunities?
Adolf Hitler was an artist and avid amateur historian before he became one of the biggest mass murderers in history. He was, along with millions of other Germans, a fan of the adventure stories of Karl May. Karl May’s books, still in print, have sold over two hundred million copies to date. May’s Winnetou novels detail adventures of a German surveyor (Old Shatterhand) and a noble Mescalero Apache. At the time, May was as popular as today’s J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. Hitler, as Fuehrer, is quoted (in Table Talk, a series of WWII monologues delivered by Hitler 1941-1944 recorded by Heinrich Heim, Henry Picker, and Martin Bormann) as saying “… I owe him [Karl May] my first notions of geography and the fact that he opened my eyes to the world. … I went on to devour at once the other books by the same author.” As Fuehrer, Hitler kept the entire May collection in his bedroom.
In Alan Gilbert’s article The Cowboy Novels that Inspired Hitler (in the Daily Beast.com), he quotes:
“Of Ukrainians, Hitler insisted, ‘There’s only our duty: to Germanize this country by the immigration of Germans, and to look upon the natives as Redskins.’ “
“To justify the slaughter of Poles, Hitler conjured North America: ‘I don’t see why a German who eats a piece of bread should torment himself with the idea that the soil that produces this bread has been won by the sword. When we eat wheat from Canada, we don’t think about the despoiled Indians.’ “
As a result of May’s works, Hitler was fascinated by all things connected to the North American “Indians” and the cowboys who tamed the Wild West. Of particular interest was the implementation of camps that contained the population of the Indigenous people. (In the United States, these holding areas are called Indian reservations; in Canada, they are called Indian reserves. Despite knowing they hadn’t reached India, Europeans continued to call Indigenous peoples Indians. Canadian legislation forces the continued use of this pejorative word by virtue of the Indian Act.)
When sifting through the archaeology of historical documents, it is impossible to point to any one action and say with certainty that Hitler did x because of y. What we can say is that he was drawn to the conflict of the American “Cowboy and Indian” and merged it with his twisted epic vision of an Aryan German Empire (aka Third Reich). For Hitler, it is difficult to say whether he drew any specific inspiration from Canada’s system of Indigenous containment. What is striking is how he adopted a similar methodology when processing prisoners in his Nazi camps as the Canadians employed in processing its Indigenous in their camps (ie. Indian Reserves combined with the Residential school system).
When Hitler sought to control the politicians and undesirables, he put them in concentration camps. At that time, there was no association with the death and genocide that we think of today. There was abuse in concentration camps as there is abuse in prison; there has always been and will likely always be. Concentration camps existed in Canada and the United States to intern the Japanese and Germans who might have been potential enemy combatants during the same war. The British in South Africa created concentration camps during the Boer Wars (1900-1902). This was just another name for a camp that was something less than a prison but more than house arrest or relying on the integrity of the person. It was the physical movement of people into a concentrated area to watch, educate, and discipline.
Although the United States government created concentration camps as early as 1838, the use of this method of internment became prevalent from the 1860s onwards as the borders of the United States moved ever westwards. The U.S. government referred to these concentration camps as Indian reservations. Reservations referred to land that the government had to set aside to house the ‘Indians’. Canada decided to force the assimilation of Indigenous people from its reserves. It concluded that basic education and training in physical work would make its Indigenous people productive members of Canadian society. Boys would be taught agriculture half a day and girls would be taught domestic chores half a day. The other half would be spent in the classroom. (The thinking was that they could increase labour without threatening the opportunity of European settlers.) In contrast, Nazi camps ensured that all able bodies were put to work—making toys, shoes, counterfeiting foreign currency, as well as munitions.
From before Canada was formed in 1867, the colonial government decided to begin a systematic assimilation of the Indigenous people with the stated objective of ‘taking the Indian out of the Indian’. A boarding school system called residential schools was thought to be the most effective way of washing away the unwanted cultures, languages, and customs. Children were taken from their families and placed in these residential schools (for most, year round). They were not allowed to speak their language, act ‘like Indians’ or even wear their familiar clothing.
It is difficult for us to imagine a world without the harrowing images of the Nazi concentration camps. Broken bodies, walking dead, and sallow eyes in striped prison outfits fill our mind’s eye. Forced labour, strict discipline, and winnowing rations kept the prison population in check. Names were replaced with numbers. Identities all but ceased in the camps. When the Russian and Allied forces liberated these places of death and disease, the world saw a glimpse into the deepest horrors of its collective heart. This was an unthinkable existence perpetrated in and by a modern, liberal European country against its own citizens as well as those it saw as its enemies. This was war.
Since WWII, we continue to witness atrocities perpetrated by nations against others, but few of this scale. Today, we hear of bombings (suicide and otherwise), beheadings, and other medieval-like inflictions by one group over another. We deem these groups outlaws and rogue states and terrorists. This is also the face of war, just updated.
Concentration Camps of Canada, draws attention to both the realities of the reserves where the Indigenous of Canada live to this day as well as the efforts by Canada to forcibly assimilate its one-time allies. The residential schools were not happy places for their pupils. Sadly, the usual sexual abuses existed and these grab the headlines. But the horror was the institutional backing of a policy recently deemed cultural genocide by both the United Nations and Canada’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin. It was a time where corporal punishment was the norm and these schools applied it to the point where it was considered abuse even for the times. Children were stripped of their ‘Indian’ name and given a number or a Christian name instead. They were constantly beaten—for speaking a language other than French or English, for doing anything considered ‘Indian’, and for not conforming to the Church-administered curriculum. Eighty thousand survivors of this system are still alive today (the last residential school was only shut down in 1996). Broken from reliving memories, many testified of the horrors to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This commission published its report in 2015 where it concludes and agrees with the United Nations that Canada committed a sustained and systematic policy of cultural genocide. Where the Nazi camps lasted a little more than a decade, Canada’s continued for almost 150 years.
At the heart of the problem is poverty and a system that is too quick to give the benefit of doubt to those in power and too quick to dismiss concerns raised by those without.
Originally, Concentration Camps of Canada was envisioned as a text book with the main character (Migizi) demonstrating the multitude of injustices faced by Indigenous Canadians. Every element of Concentration Camps of Canada is based on the truth—gleaned from personal interviews as well as stories published by the official Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada 2015. The project was then winnowed into a story for brevity. Written for non-readers, it moves quickly and touches on matters that will, hopefully, resonate beyond the pages.
The story of Canada’s residential schools does not carry the shame history ascribes to Germany’s camps—nor should it. It is a terrible tragedy inflicted on a people who were subsequently forgotten by the world. If that statement were true, this subject would be closed. The truth of the matter is that the misguided approach that manifested itself in residential schools remains alive today in Canada’s treatment of Indigenous children through the Child and Family Services agencies. At present, we watch but rarely see the on-going damage to an already shattered culture.
To quote from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s executive summary at page 37 ff:
“It can start with a knock on the door one morning. It is the local Indian agent, or the parish priest, or perhaps, a Mounted Police officer. … There was a big truck. It had a back door and that truck was full of kids and there was [sic] no windows on that truck.” Larry Beardy travelled by train from Churchill, Manitoba, to the Anglican residential school in Dauphin, Manitoba—a journey of 1,200 kilometres.
… Campbell Papequash was taken, against his will, to residential school in 1946. “And after I was taken there they took off my clothes and then they deloused me. I didn’t know what was happening but I later learned about it, that they were delousing me; ‘the dirty, no-good-for-nothing savages, lousy.’”
…Murray Crowe said his clothes from home were taken and burned at the school that he attended in north-western Ontario.
… Gilles Petiquay, who attended the Pointe Bleus School, was shocked by the fact that each student was assigned a number. ‘I remember that the first number that I had at the residential school was 95. I had that number—95—for a year. The second number was number 4. I had it for a longer period of time. The third number was 56. I also kept it for a long time. We walked with the number on us.’
[at page 101 of the TRC] Discipline was ‘too suggestive of the old system of flogging criminals’. Children were chained together. In at least one instance, a boy was chained to his bed and flogged by the principal.
Abuse was not unreported. As early as 1886, Jean L’Heureux, a recruiter for the Roman Catholic Church, was accused of sexual abuse. No charges were laid. Over time, the government ignored and dismissed claims from the Indigenous alumni as baseless.
The schools were meant to cost the Canadian government nothing—as the forced child labour would generate income and the poorly paid missionaries kept overheads low. This model soon proved unsustainable and schools received a fixed amount per child. The unintended consequences was an increase of students who were too young or too sick to attend officially. This compounded the deaths. Official figures admit around 3,500 children dying while in care but unofficial figures estimate tens of thousands of children buried in unmarked graves—not too dissimilar to recent revelations about a care home run by Catholic nuns in Lanarkshire where at least four hundred (400) children are thought to be buried in a field without any markings. Or Ireland’s Tuam mother and baby home where Catholic nuns buried nearly eight hundred (800) babies and young children who died in their care—all in unmarked graves.
The Royal Mounted Police apologised in 2004 for its role in the residential schools. In 2008, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, issued a formal apology for the creation of the residential schools and the abuses carried out within it. All of the churches involved have apologised except the Catholic Church. The Pope has “… offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity” for the Catholic Church’s role and abuses in the residential schools.
Nazis understood the role of their camps. On the surface, it provided a source of free labour, available subjects for their medical experiments, and a place to put dissidents without killing them outright (initially). The reality is that it formed a key component of Hitler’s strategy. His war was total—cultural, physical, and emotional. His objective was to cleanse Germany and the world of unwanted people (from Jews to Gypsies) and unwanted cultures. The camps have become synonymous with death but there were things worse than death—people being reduced to the living dead.
The consequence of the Nazis and WWII created a crisis of faith amongst Jews (and others). How could God allow such evil to be committed against his chosen people? Yet, three years after the last Nazi camp was liberated, the State of Israel was born.
For the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, the survivors have no land to return to. None of the reserves on which they live are theirs. Everything remains owned by Canada. They don’t even own their home on the reserve. Worse, they are not allowed by law to own their home or anything else on the reserve. For a policy that had its stated aim being assimilation, Canada failed to inculcate the most fundamental tenant of post-industrial modern existence—ownership and money.
War is all about subjugating your enemy’s will to your own. With the Nazis, everyone knew where they stood. With Canada, most of the world remains ignorant of the facts. There has been no Auschwitz-Birkenau or Bergen-Belsen moment in Canada where the world’s consciousness becomes aware of the plight of a people. No news reels would broadcast the images of troops liberating an emaciated people. Unlike Auschwitz-Birkenau or Bergen-Belsen, there would never be a liberation of Canada’s concentration camps.
*** If you are wondering who Duncan Scott was (pictured above), here is an exerpt from Wikipedia***
Prior to taking up his position as head of the Department of Indian Affairs, in 1905 Scott was one of the Treaty Commissioners sent to negotiate Treaty No. 9 in Northern Ontario. Aside from his poetry, Scott made his mark in Canadian history as the head of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932.
Even before Confederation, the Canadian government had adopted a policy of assimilation under the Gradual Civilization Act 1857. One biographer of Scott states that:
The Canadian government’s Indian policy had already been set before Scott was in a position to influence it, but he never saw any reason to question its assumption that the 'red' man ought to become just like the 'white' man. Shortly after he became Deputy Superintendent, he wrote approvingly: 'The happiest future for the Indian race is absorption into the general population, and this is the object and policy of our government.'... Assimilation, so the reasoning went, would solve the 'Indian problem,' and wrenching children away from their parents to 'civilize' them in residential schools until they were eighteen was believed to be a sure way of achieving the government’s goal. Scott ... would later pat himself on the back: 'I was never unsympathetic to aboriginal ideals, but there was the law which I did not originate and which I never tried to amend in the direction of severity.'
while Scott himself wrote:
I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.
The only problem with life is being conscious.
While the ancients may have believed that “…the unexamined life is not worth living”, experience has shown me that an examined life brings mainly torment, anxiety, and a feeling of not quite fitting in. This relates to relationships, nature, and existence itself. There is nothing magical about coupling and reproducing. There is nothing magical about our interdependence with nature. There is nothing exceptional about being alone in the universe—either with or without a Creator. It is life unfolding. Our awareness of this unfolding brings about wonder but also a yearning to find meaning; therein lies our angst.
Perhaps we, as sentient beings, are on a continuum of evolution and this is only a stage in our awareness. Seen over thousands of years, our ability to understand and interpret the world around us (and each other) will increase as we evolve. We have been gathering the necessary tools to do this over the last 5,000 years. We may continue to do so for 5,000 more. If this is true, life is about the journey and not the destination—as none of us will see the end in our lifetimes.
This is not necessarily a bad thing as it allows us to put our existentialism angst into perspective.
Gandhi, if not Christ, is the figure most people visualise when discussing the power of peace. Gandhi was asked whether his pacifism would have worked against Nazi Germany. He replied that he didn't know but it would be something to try. He was a brave man and his pacifism was, paradoxically, aggressive in the face of aggression. Christ tried to bring a message of love to the world. Both men were killed. Both men's philosophies are stronger than ever.
Unfortunately, most of us are not Gandhi or Christ. Is the reality that the threat of violence is the real secret to peace--that which keeps us in line?
Do we slow down to 30 miles per hour in towns because of our concern for children or because we could face a stiff penalty and/or lose our licence? Do we refrain from punching that no-goodnik because we would prefer to turn the other cheek or because we would likely end up jail (or reprimanded and given a 'record'). When we are starving and see food behind the windows of shops, do we refrain from helping ourselves because we want to lose weight or because we will end up in jail if we indulge?
I am prepared to accept that there are really wonderful, honest, and trustworthy people in the world. I would put it at around 1-2% of the population. In like manner, I am also prepared to accept that there are thoroughly rotten, nasty folk who are either damaged from circumstances (external injustices visited upon them from birth) or are intrinsically bad people. I would ascribe a similar number to them (1-2%). The rest of us are on a continuum/spectrum somewhere in between.
Most of us will go the route of least resistance. If a nasty person is in charge, we allow our nasty traits to rise to the surface (again, look at Nazi Germany). If an enlightened person is in charge, we strive to elevate our outlook and see the bigger picture; we put aside pettiness for the larger goal (witness Gandhi's role in bringing riots in a partitioned India to an end). Both leaders demand (and get) sacrifices. Unfortunately, life and history is full of nasty people who rise and aspire to the highest offices. The result is a population that follows (and is pushed by) these nasty people.
How are we ruled? By laws, presumably. What if we break these laws? We are punished. What if we object to the punishment (or are unwilling to subject ourselves to the punishment)? Those who punish bring in reinforcements, usually carrying batons or watercannon or guns. What if we continue to object? We are forcibly subdued, sometimes injured or killed, and almost always face an extreme version of the punishment. In essence, the will of the people is enforced upon us. To project its will, society needs those to carry out its wishes. The most powerful societies self-regulate, content with the knowledge of who and what they are. The weakest societies resort to enforcing laws with police and, in extreme cases, the army. (In various religions, we are kept in check by the threat of eternal damnation or variations on the theme--quite a lot of violence behind the peace...)
The result? We obey the rules.
The threat of violence keeps the peace. Now, all we need to do is to ensure that those who are making the laws and governing us adhere to the same laws and are guided by the unwritten rules that make up our society. If not, the dissonance will create social disorder and dissatisfaction. (We see a lot of this dissatisfaction in the UK today as well as throughout Europe. That, however, is a conversation for another day.)
"Only a fool learns from his own mistakes." When I first heard this, I paused, trying to understand how someone could say something so obviously ignorant. It took a while before I realised that this was a logical statement: only a fool learns by doing; a wise person learns from others.
That being said, we would all be reduced to quivering bowls of jelly if we were afraid of making mistakes. We MUST be willing to make mistakes--and learn from them--as well as scanning the horizon of experiences and learning from those as well.
I would like to share one lesson that I learned the hard way: you can not delegate everything. Specifically, you can not delegate critical decisions. As the protagonist (of your life), you must decide which way you are going to jump. You can listen to advisors, seek out wisdom, and study every decision until you sweat. Life is about making those critical decisions. You can delegate a driver to take you to the intersection (or a manager to oversee your daily operations), but you need to decide whether to go straight, left, or right (or fire, hire, or build).
As I reconvene my non-writing life, my inclination is to delegate as much as possible. I believe in finding and employing talented people. These people are specialists in their field--from litigation to land management. Their job is specific to their field of expertise and they will fill in forms, represent me, and safeguard me better than myself. However, there comes a point where I need to say 'enough', or 'change direction'. I need to say go forward, left, or right.
As I stand at a very real crossroad, I need to decide which way I am going to go. If life has taught me one thing, only I can make this decision.
We live in an age of abundance--if one is lucky enough to be born in a developed country (the 'ovarian lottery' according to Warren Buffet). For those of us who have a full belly and a roof over our head, we look beyond the survival of ourselves towards bettering ourselves and our environment, or satisfying the luxuries of the flesh, mind, and soul. We may eat more or better food. We may partake in gratuitous sex and mind-altering drugs. We may meditate and contemplate the wonderment of life.
But, as Billy Joel famously said, you still wake up with yourself.
As I navigate the social-sphere (ten months since I first joined), I am struck by how irrelevant and important the social media is. Countless tweets and FB comments wash over me--as mine undoubtedly wash over others. And yet... the President of the United States chooses to communicate via Twitter... and we all take notice.
The social sphere has become a virtual crowd on the street with newcomers (ie. those under 30 years old) to life seeing it as their normal. I wouldn't walk around with a sandwich board announcing my wares in real life. Why should I do that in the e-world? People continue to flow past, some glance, and the rest ignore.
To navigate this brave new world I will look to the past instead of the present. That may make me a dinosaur, but at least I will be true to myself. For those who are brazen and like to make a splash in the real world, the e-world will offer unlimited possibilities to make a fool of themselves. They will be true to themselves. For me, I have been generally content with a good book, a good scotch, and a good cigar while having a conversation with another person. I am waiting for a similar experience in the e-world.
It makes me cringe to hear a person who is clearly incompetent boast of their abilities. Inevitably, my mind jumps to my current self-promotion of my books. I ask myself if I am any better? It humbles me and censors my exhuberance.
It also stokes a fire within me to write better.
If you are reading this, you are likely someone who also contemplates existence and the best way to spend our remaining time on this earth. This may mean becoming the best doctor or lawyer or actor or writer you can be. For me, I am trying to become the best person I can be, sans label.
My nephew asked me what I do. Am I an author? Am I a 'businessman' (whatever that means)? What do I do 'for a living'? Leave it to a child to ask the hard questions...
When I was in university, I was friends with two of the smartest people I knew. One was the head medical librarian for the Health Sciences in Winnipeg. The other was the retired dean of Biochemistry at the same institution (it was/is part of the University of Manitoba). It helped that they were married so I got to see them both at the same time. At the time (1987), I was an early AI (artificial intelligence) programmer--I was 16 and didn't know any better. While I say AI, it was really a series of logic-maps that made the user feel like the computer was thinking; it was nothing even approaching what they are doing today. I was helping build medical tutorials for Cambridge university. I was only the programmer; I did what I was told. At the time, I felt very special and important. They treated me as a person with potential--and they talked to me like a friend. The librarian would tell me that she was still wondering what she would do when she grew up (she was 65 at the time). The retired dean would talk to me about a book he was reading and ask my viewpoint on a number of things. He always had a smile on his face, even when he was grumbling about his body falling apart.
At the time, I thought I would be a doctor or computer programmer. Then I was introduced to John Milton through my grade 12 English teachers (they had two teachers for the programme I was in). Paradise Lost changed my life. I took a year off and travelled (hitch-hiked Europe and Middle East) for a year before returning to university to study English and History. I got my Education degree in case I dropped out and wanted to teach. As it happened, teaching wasn't for me and I turned to Law. As it happened, I didn't find the law as inspiring as I had hoped. I finished, but not before starting my life as an entrepreneur.
Life as an entrepreneur has its ups and downs. I have had many downs and many ups. On the whole, I believe that life has been kind to me. I have come to believe that existence is about understanding our environment, ourselves, and the time in which we live. The rest is about risk management and individual desires.
So, when my nephew asks me what I do, I find myself in a bind. He isn't interested in a long-winded explanation from an 'old' man (at his age, anyone older than 30 is an old man). He needs to slot me into his version of the world. He is at the age where he is trying to make sense of his environment. For him, I say that I am a businessman who writes on the side. When he is older, I will explain that I am a writer who does business because we live in a world and time where this is required of us. When he is older still, I will discuss the dangers and opportunities posed by capitalism (for him as an individual and us as a society). When he has found his own way and we are sitting under a tree sipping a nice wine, I will tell him what I really do: seek meaning and relevance and become the best person that I am able to be.
That being said, it isn't as easy as it sounds. I am not trying to save the world (there are better people than me to pursue that). I am not sure what saving means--as it requires an unwavering belief that we know what is right. If we don't know what is right, how will we recognise what is wrong (and, hence, be compelled to 'save' or correct a wrong)? In extreme examples, it is relatively easy (genocide is generally considered a bad thing; abuse of the weak is generally considered undesirable). Even war can be considered both right and wrong depending on which side of the argument you sit. War, generally, is considered wrong. But there are few (other than very enlightened souls like Ghandi) who would have thought not to fight Nazi aggression in WWII.
What I strive for is a world in which each of us can examine our environment and ourselves and find our place amidst each other. The question of my nephew stands: is that really something that one does?
In my attempt to spread the 'gospel' about Concentation Camps of Canada, my newest book, I decided to create a quiz on Facebook. I was told that a quiz engages people and creates conversation. There is an app on Facebook and I tried it (for free). It was very easy to use and I asked questions related to our understanding of First Nations culture and contributions to Canada/North America.
I sent out 100 invitations to my friends. Approximately 10% replied and completed the quiz. (Only one answered all the questions correctly.) I consider that a success. The question is what I should do with it? Create another quiz? To what end? Is our primary objective on Facebook and (places like this blog) to increase traffic to ourselves? Does that make me narcissistic or strategic? Is social media generally making us less humble and more self-obsessed? Does it matter?
Many of us fall into one of two groups: pessimists or optimists. The question is whether we choose to be or simply are one of the two.
Personally, I am an introvert and can drift towards melancholy if I'm not careful. Growing up in a positive family, I have learned to reply with 'fantastic' when asked how I'm feeling--even when I feel the opposite. The result is that I genuinely feel that I am 'fantastic' or, at least, positive most of the time.
Now that I am in the world of authorship, I am facing the reality of selling into a marketplace of one million new books per year. I am confident that I have something to add to the 'great conversation' that is humanity but the slow sales can be demoralising.
Then I look outside and the sun is shining, the rabbits are nibbling on the grass, and I realise that my book sales are irrelevant to the world and my happiness. That, however, is a cerebral realisation. My heart still yearns for more sales!