"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for December 2012

The Burden of Lost Heritage

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For several years I have been researching my family history. I suspect a part of that motivation is approaching 1/2 century of life and wondering where I’m going, and where I’ve come from. I know that part of the motivation is to figure out my Métis heritage which seems to have fallen into a black hole between about 1900 and 2005.

I found out about that history in the early 1990s during a discussion with my father about genetics. He related to me a conversation he had with our family dentist who had remarked that my cousin’s wisdom teeth had hooked roots. The dentist then said, ‘The only people I’ve seen with such roots are Indians.’ My dad proceeded to explain that our family was Métis, and in The Genealogy of the First Métis Nation (Sprague and Frye).  When he told me this I remarked – but I had hooked roots on my wisdom teeth as well.  If not for that discussion, I wonder how long it would have been before I had uncovered this bit of my history.

Well, last year my daughter and I submitted our family tree, complete with proof that a number of direct relatives had received land script in the Red River settlement, to the Métis Nation of Alberta.  After several months our registration cards arrived in the mail.  Now, under the Constitution Act of 1982, we can claim that we meet the legal definition of being part of the aboriginal peoples of Canada. [I suspect we are the first two in my direct family line.]

In my search for some family history I came across an article written by my great-grandfather, Archdeacon Jacob Anderson concerning a Métis churchman, Thomas Vincent in Leaders of the Canadian Church c. 1920.  (sorry for a raw text source…I couldn’t find a formatted original)  That lead me on to a series of other articles that used the original article as source material.  Front of the line was an article from a Canadian academic titled, “ARCHDEACON THOMAS VINCENT OF MOOSONEE AND THE HANDICAP OF “METIS” RACIAL STATUS” (Canadian Journal of Native Studies III, 1 (1983): 95-116).

[For my Roman Catholic friends…Archdeacon is an Anglican title, which is probably closest to Monsigneur in the Roman hierarchy, although not exactly.  Archdeacon is a title given to clergy who have been selected to serve the bishop in a particular manner.  In the era of Jacob, he was a rural archdeacon, and acted as the bishop’s agent in supervising and disciplining the clergy in western Manitoba.]

Documented in both those articles is some pretty nasty racism on behalf of Vincent’s supervising bishop, Horden.  Here’s a snip:

He objected to the Society’s use of the term “Country Born.” The distinction between Country Born clergy, like Vincent and his contemporary John Sanders, and seemingly purer Native clergy gave the impression that there was a caste feeling between the two. Sanders was “not a pure Indian” and Vincent was “not a pure white” but there was, even between them, a difference of “degree.” Though Horden himself referred to Vincent’s parents as “half caste”, he recommended the terms Indian and Country Born be abolished in favor of the all-inclusive Native category. Horden revealed his racism most clearly in his theories of hybrid vigor and rigor mortis. The “declension of the European intellect in the second or third generation” resulted from a Native’s choice of mate. If he married a European woman, as Mackay did, Horden predicted children of “fair intellect” – hybrid vigor. Otherwise mental rigor mortis  would set in as with Vincent, whose sons were “all stupid”, or Sanders, whose sons were “equally so or worse. ”

It is quite direct, and not to separate Horden from his peer group, as I suspect that such an attitude was quite common in that era (1835-1900 or so).  There was an interesting shift in attitudes.  In the early days of the HBC (Hudson’s Bay), ‘the Company’ intermarriage with First Nations women was encouraged.  I suspect it was the only thing that allowed some of the earliest settlers to survive what would have been the harshest climate they had encountered (I know it gets cold and wet in Scotland, but not cold and dry as in -40F).  There was an attitude shift that developed as those settlements became more settled, and that shift is well documented in Dr Long’s article.  Vincent was passed over for bishop in favour of a much less experienced English cleric.

Now, what really sparked by interest in this case was my great-grandfather’s involvement, and the fact that neither he nor Faries mentions that they were of  Métis descent themselves.  That related article by Long identifies that Faries was “country-born” but says nothing of Anderson.  In fact, as I went through all the family records I could get my hands on, I cannot find any mention of that Métis connection.  We are in that genealogy by Sprague, but there is little mentioned afterwards.

What really blows my mind (having just discovered it this moment as I was reviewing my family tree), is that Jacob Anderson was a relative of the Thomas Vincent he wrote about in the article – 1st cousin 3 times removed according to ancestry.ca’s algorithm.  Now, if there was anything for a biographer to note, you would think it would be a familial relation to the subject of the research.  Dr Long apparently did not know about that relationship either.

The story gets even more interesting when you consider the son of Archdeacon Anderson, my great-uncle and Godfather, John Ogle Anderson, was coadjudicator bishop of Rupert’s Land, and later Bishop of British Columbia (the office he died holding in 1969).

When I was at seminary, my principal related that he had been a choirister at the cathedral in Winnipeg when John Anderson was Dean [another Anglicanism…rector or chief priest of the cathedral].  He off-handedly mentioned that he had always thought John Anderson was the first aboriginal bishop consecrated in Canada.  That really shocked me – because I recall the articles written (and the rightly deserved brew-ha-ha) when that happened in 1989, when Bp Charles Arthurson was consecrated in the Diocese of Saskatchewan.  I wonder if those articles should have read, First, First Nations Bishop Consecrated?  John Anderson was consecrated in 1961, and might very well have been the first Métis bishop to hold that office.  That has never been reported publically.

John Anderson was Métis (my heritage comes through his sister, Kathleen), and yet there is absolutely no mention of that history in any church documents I’ve been able to review.  John Anderson served as the Dominion President of the Legion in the mid-1950’s, and those writings also lack any mention of his family history.  How can that be?

When I challenged my father on this point – asking if the family heritage had been suppressed for a time, he denied it.  Yet, I distinctly recall when growing up many discussions about family heritage – Icelandic, Scottish, British – but no mention of Métis.  Even during the many grade school projects on aboriginal topics, there was nary a mention that I had a personal stake in that history.

Combined with the article by Archdeacon Anderson that fails to mention his kinship with Thomas Vincent (an Anglican priest who was discriminated against by reason of his Métis heritage); my god-father’s well-documented life that also fails to mention it; and the article by Dr Long which documents the discrimination, I am left concluding that this portion of my history was ignored for an extended period between about 1900 and 2000.  Perhaps it was done for the practical reason that it would have impacted adversely on the career of two notable clerics?

It appears that this was not hidden knowledge.  In about 1997 I spoke to a priest who John Anderson had brought over from the UK to serve in Canada, and he related meeting Jacob Anderson.  He specifically commented on Jacob’s high aboriginal cheekbones.  Something was known – but why not in any of the official or quasi-official writings? 

In that same encounter in 1997, I heard a retired archbishop, David Crawley, speak about “the Residential Schools issue” as he phrased it.  He started his talk with a lament, that “5o years ago the Residential Schools issue would have been solved over good brandy in some of the finer clubs in Toronto.”  I was left speechless.  I will be one of the first to defend Residential Schools, for we have forgotten much of the good that was done through that program…but one must also admit there was a healthy dose of cultural genocide going on, by will of the government to be certain, but genocide nevertheless.  Perhaps exactly what the church needed was to recognize our involvement with that evil, so we could repent.  I’ve heard many aboriginals comment that the public apology (by Michael Peers) was the  real turning point in their ability to be Christian again.

[That encounter took place in a room full of white, older Anglicans who all nodded their heads at the comment.  As a newly-aware aboriginal I was shocked at how blatant and patriarchical the racism was, and how much agreement he had in the audience.  Of course, I didn’t speak out, a sin of ommission in not challenging the attitude.  It did highlight for me that in some ways the Anglican church was still not a safe place to be aboriginal.  Maybe it is only slowly changing now – a younger status colleague commented to me that prior to the change in inheritance laws in the 1980’s he was ‘an Indian bastard’…as he was the child of a status mother and a white man.]

To hear that archbishop lament that the problem could no longer be solved by a group of white guys in TO, made me realize that there was perhaps good reason that my family history had not been openly discussed in the church through the 1900s.  That some degree of racism existed in the church leadership up until the 1990s suggests to me that it was self-preservation that led to the Andersons not speaking out about their genetics until more recent years.

It is an interesting history, and probably one that will keep me guessing as many of the principal players have gone to their glory.  I’m aware of a lesson I learned from a classmate at seminary, that the most important question is often to ask what voices have not been heard?  As a person who grew up white, and has all the benefits of looking European, to find out that I was a part of an unheard voice was disturbing (even while a Cree classmate acknowledged my heritage and stated she would accept me as aboriginal).  The challenge for me, as I seek to re-create a family heritage for my young daughter, is understanding who I am in light of what has not been said, as much as what has been said.

As a closing word, I’m not trying to suggest that Jacob or John or any of my other ancestors deliberately suppressed family history, in an active act of denial.  What I think is more likely is they just didn’t ever bring it up – for good reason, as it turns out.   I suspect that also answers why my father denied the question about deliberate supression, as it was perhaps not deliberate or suppression, but just looking the other way.

I came across this bit in a thesis about Métis heritage that rings so true (as I guess I’m coming out of the closet on this topic):

All the people involved in this study recounted how at one point in their lives they quite simply did not know they were Metis! Or more accurately, knowledge of their Metis ancestries was denied, hidden, or suppressed. They claimed many external forces such as racism, social stigma and discrimination, the church, and government policies, were largely responsible for this erasure. Barbara Waterfall referred to her experience as “coming out of the Metis closet:” 

[As an interesting aside, I recall a co-worker, in about 1997, telling me that he was French Métis descent.  He mentioned his grandfather telling him about that, and about some black heritage, which he cautioned him never to mention in public…the Métis part was ok, but not the black part.]

Written by sameo416

December 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Gun Control 2…

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Prof John Stackhouse has produced a post on the questions not being asked in the USA concerning violence. I find myself in violent agreement with his words.  He points out that we really don’t want to hear God’s answer to the question ‘why does evil happen?’ because it would turn the pointing finger right back on the asker: 

Even when violence erupts unavoidably in front of us, we refuse to think hard about what is actually happening, in an appropriately broad frame of reference, and what it all tells us—about ourselves, about how we have run things, about God, and about how God runs things.

We certainly don’t want to look any harder than easy, quick, simple solutions, whether more rigorous gun registration (Jeffrey Goldberg mounts a brave, scary attack on that idea from the left) or putting an armed security guard in every school (the NRA’s “answer”).

We don’t want to look at our own stinginess, our systemic disregard for the mentally ill and their caregivers, or our reflexive (and therefore too easy) recourse or resistance to the state.

We certainly don’t want to look at what it might mean theologically for God to allow us to do so much harm to ourselves and others: What possible agenda could God have that is so huge and so important that it could warrant such a program of dangerous freedom? What would it mean for us to live our lives in the light of that agenda?

Nah. Let’s just be there for each other. Let’s just do that One Thing That Will Solve the Problem. And then we can just get back to business as usual. Like Pilate so badly wanted to do.

This author (following) is also one of the first to point out that armed citizens have stopped several mass-killings to be…by being in the right place with a pistol at the right time.  He also notes a contrary police attitude, and then notes that the officer’s anecdotal comments are not borne out by the crime statistics.  The fact of the matter (as well proven by a number of studies like Lott’s) is that suitably trained and licensed citizens carrying concealed handguns has a calming impact on violent crime.  Opponents of such laws need to acknowledge that the primary basis for their counter-argument is borne in emotion.

From an article in the Atlantic by an author that Stackhouse identifies as left leaning, another excellent perspective (and the first journalist I’ve read who refers to John Lott’s study).  He argues a hybrid of more guns and more gun control, which is right alongside my thoughts on the subject:

James Alderden put it another way: “Your position on concealed-carry permits has a lot to do with your position on the reliability and sanity of your fellow man.”

The ideology of gun-ownership absolutism doesn’t appeal to me. Unlike hard-line gun-rights advocates, I do not believe that unregulated gun ownership is a defense against the rise of totalitarianism in America, because I do not think that America is ripe for totalitarianism. (Fear of a tyrannical, gun-seizing president is the reason many gun owners oppose firearms registration.)

But I am sympathetic to the idea of armed self-defense, because it does often work, because encouraging learned helplessness is morally corrupt, and because, however much I might wish it, the United States is not going to become Canada. Guns are with us, whether we like it or not. Maybe this is tragic, but it is also reality. So Americans who are qualified to possess firearms shouldn’t be denied the right to participate in their own defense. And it is empirically true that the great majority of America’s tens of millions of law-abiding gun owners have not created chaos in society.

A balanced approach to gun control in the United States would require the warring sides to agree on several contentious issues. Conservative gun-rights advocates should acknowledge that if more states had stringent universal background checks—or if a federal law put these in place—more guns would be kept out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally unstable. They should also acknowledge that requiring background checks on buyers at gun shows would not represent a threat to the Constitution. “The NRA position on this is a fiction,” says Dan Gross, the head of the Brady Campaign. “Universal background checks are not an infringement on our Second Amendment rights. This is black-helicopter stuff.” Gross believes that closing the gun-show loophole would be both extremely effective and a politically moderate and achievable goal. The gun lobby must also agree that concealed-carry permits should be granted only to people who pass rigorous criminal checks, as well as thorough training-and-safety courses.

Anti-gun advocates, meanwhile, should acknowledge that gun-control legislation is not the only answer to gun violence. Responsible gun ownership is also an answer. An enormous number of Americans believe this to be the case, and gun-control advocates do themselves no favors when they demonize gun owners, and advocates of armed self-defense, as backwoods barbarians. Liberals sometimes make the mistake of anthropomorphizing guns, ascribing to them moral characteristics they do not possess. Guns can be used to do evil, but guns can also be used to do good. Twelve years ago, in the aftermath of Matthew Shepard’s murder, Jonathan Rauch launched a national movement when he wrote an article for Salon arguing that gay people should arm themselves against violent bigots. Pink Pistol clubs sprang up across America, in which gays and lesbians learn to use firearms in self-defense. Other vulnerable groups have also taken to the idea of concealed carry: in Texas, African American women represent the largest percentage increase of concealed-carry permit seekers since 2000.

But even some moderate gun-control activists, such as Dan Gross, have trouble accepting that guns in private hands can work effectively to counteract violence. When I asked him the question I posed to Stephen Barton and Tom Mauser—would you, at a moment when a stranger is shooting at you, prefer to have a gun, or not?—he answered by saying, “This is the conversation the gun lobby wants you to be having.” He pointed out some of the obvious flaws in concealed-carry laws, such as too-lax training standards and too much discretionary power on the part of local law-enforcement officials. He did say that if concealed-carry laws required background checks and training similar to what police recruits undergo, he would be slower to raise objections. But then he added: “In a fundamental way, isn’t this a question about the kind of society we want to live in?” Do we want to live in one “in which the answer to violence is more violence, where the answer to guns is more guns?”

What Gross won’t acknowledge is that in a nation of nearly 300 million guns, his question is irrelevant.  [emphasis mine]

My conclusion is that the USA does not want to seriously engage the question of violence…which makes perfect sense given the state-sponsored torture of terrorists, and the frequent use of Hellfire missiles launched from drones to take care of enemies of the state.

Written by sameo416

December 29, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Firearms Control…again

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After a horrible mass shooting in the USA, the predictable rhetoric about firearms control is in full swing. It amazes me the effort with which people on either side work to demonstrate they are occupying the moral high ground, when in reality both groups are exploiting the murder of children to forward their political objectives.

I wonder how rational people can stand up and say…an assault weapons ban is needed; magazine size limits are needed; more rigourous background checks are needed…and on the other side, it is my right to own any type of firearm I desire. Neither position seems connected with reality.

(You’ll note I avoid the word ‘gun’ which most of the media rely on. I was taught very early on with pushups that it is not a gun…as that term only applies to artillery pieces. The rest are firearms.)

I write as a retired soldier, a competitive shooter and a hunter. I support background checks before purchasing a firearm (and I’ll note the most recent shooter had attempted to buy his own rifle, but was stopped by the need for a background check, as CT has some of the more restrictive laws in the USA). I support licensing of firearms owners, and a requirement to demonstrate continued eligibility for that license. These seem to be reasonable measures that are not an undue imposition on personal freedoms in a first-world culture. I enjoy shooting assault-style firearms, because I spent 20 years of my life carrying one, and it’s a reminder of that past life. I’m not so sure that we all need 30-round magazines on an HK416, but even on that I’m uncomfortable with restrictions – if the people are properly cleared by the state, than what is the problem?

The rational angle is what seems missing, as all of the statements miss any connection back to solving the problem. How will an assault weapons ban have prevented this? How would magazine limits have prevented this? The answer, without fail, is that this is common sense. In this case, as in most cases, common sense does not reflect reality.

The problem is attempting to solve random events with legislation. How will that change in the law prevent one (usually not totally sane) individual from taking other’s lives? The story that caught my eye was of 22 school children in China injured when a knife-wielding man attacked them at their school. None died, but even a ban on firearms would not remove the threat.

The link between firearms control laws and mass shootings is not an easy one to tease out, mostly because the permissiveness of the law seems to have little influence. In this case it looks like the shooter took his mother’s firearms after killing her – and I would have more respect for the political perspective that argues for stiffer firearms control laws if they would just admit that their ultimate goal is a total ban on civilian-owned firearms of any sort. In this case, what laws would have been able to stop the chain of events that lead to so much death? I can’t think of any one, except an all-out ban on firearms (even then I’m unconvinced). A co-worker suggested to me that there was less availability of unregistered firearms in Canada because of our stiffer laws…I don’t believe that to be true. Take a look at the number of significant weapons seizures at Canadian border crossings with the US, and ask how many vehicles don’t get inspected. I also recall an acquaintance in high school once offering me a .45 with the serial number removed for $75 (I didn’t take him up on the offer) and that was more decades ago than I want to remember.

All of the debate misses the real problem that faces the first world – which I believe all comes back to a fundamental devaluing of human life. Scott Peck addressed this in his book, Denial of the Soul. When we cease to believe that humans have any transcendent existance, the cost of killing becomes much like harvesting fruit. That sounds shocking, but if you listen to the debates going on right now in the courts around the question of euthanasia, that belief is at the root. It is my life, if I chose to end it, no one has the right to argue with me. In his fictional world, Robert Heinlein imagined a place where every citizen had a suicide switch in the wall of their house, and were able to opt for death at any moment of the day by flipping the switch. That fictional place is looking more and more like our present reality.

In a world where the moral leader of the free world – the USA – uses Hellfire missiles off drones to kill their enemies from an air conditioned trailer 1000’s of miles away…along with their entire family in some cases, it starts to become clear where some of the breakdown in those values is starting. We are told to teach our children that violence does not solve anything…and when we’re old enough to watch the news we realize that in fact, violence is a pretty efficient way to solve otherwise intractable problems. The restriction against the use of deadly force by one nation against non-combatants seems to have been pushed aside for want of speed (and for the Obama fans, I’ve read that he used more drone strikes in his first term than the evil George W did in both terms). Human life, which we’re taught is sacred, is disposable. That is the key problem.

Back to the firearms question. The definitive work on the question of firearms control laws and crime is John R Lott, More Guns, Less Crime. I’ve seen his conclusions criticized, but I’ve not found anyone who successfully takes a run at his statistical analysis. You have to undertake multivariate analysis to find the trends between firearms laws and crime rates – a simple “this one goes up when this one goes up” doesn’t cut it.

Lott’s conclusions are quite startling – with a concealed carry rate of only a few percent, the violent crime rate (and particularly crimes against women) drops dramatically. The property crime rate increases slightly (meaning a break-in at your home when you’re absent). He suggests that the knowledge that citizens can be armed provides such a strong deterrent that it has an overall protective impact on the entire population. Shocking – and probably the reason I never see Lott mentioned in any of the media stories or discussions. I’m particularly shocked when you hear the rhetoric about violence against women being increased with looser firearms laws, when Lott’s work suggests that the opposite is true.

One of the things that amazes me in these debates is that no one ever mentions the abundance of first-person shooter games like Call of Duty. Those programs are highly effective at conditioning people to kill without thought – using many of the same training techniques the military uses to train soldiers including developing marksmanship skills. Dave Grossman has offered some compelling analysis on that subject (On Killing, On Combat, Stop Teaching our Children to Kill).

Why no mention of violent video games? I suspect it is counter to the social liberal mindset which says that restrictive legislation will create a utopia, if only we can find the right rules, and if only if everyone thought the same way that we do.

The real issue underlying such tragedies is not magazine capacity, or the types of firearms available, but rather a culture which refuses to deal with their fascination with violence. A lower firearms homicide rate in Canada is not due to tighter firearms laws as much as it is to a different cultural perspective (although that is changing for the worse here too).

You would like to think a few laws will solve the problem of firearms murder…but reality is much more complex. Until we learn to live out, ‘love one another, as I have loved you’ (paraphrasing John 13:33) in a real, tangible way, I suspect we will continue to hear of horrific events, and we will continue to debate how to best arrange the deck chairs as the ship slips beneath the waves. I’m infinitely hopeful, but I’m also keenly aware of the brokeness of humanity. As long as we endorse our leaders using remote control lethal force to kill our enemies, and their families and friends, I’m not sure we’ll see a much different path followed back at home.

—–

Just noticed this news story, as the investigators delve into the life of the shooter in CT.  One of the problems with these events is the instant fame that is afforded to the criminal.  Some of these types are motivated by a desire to ‘leave a mark’ on the world.  As I’ve heard suggested it would be much better to prohibit any discussion of the person’s name after such a crime…to effectively blot them from the public record.  As opposed to the media storm that always follows such tragedies, would it not be better to make the criminal a non-person?

The news story speaks about the shooter deliberately destroying his computer hard drive, to the point that the FBI forensic specialists are having trouble reconstructing it.  That suggests a fairly high level of sophistication – most computer users would not think to pull the drive apart and disrupt the magnetic media.  There was also a note about video games (just ‘a source’ at this point, but it will not surprise me to find out the shooter was a great fan of first-person shooter games):

Two law enforcement sources said the hard drive had been removed from Lanza’s computer and broken in pieces. They said that forensic electronics experts at the FBI will examine the drive in an effort to determine with whom Lanza corresponded electronically and how he otherwise used the device.

One of the sources said that Lanza used the computer to play a violent video game in which life-like characters engage in graphic battle scenes.

As long as our culture glorifies violence, and encourages our youth to spend hours conditioning themselves with those virtual reality first-person shooter games, we should not be surprised when a troubled few decide to act out the fantasy.  All the talk about magazine capacity and bans on firearms misses the mark entirely.

Written by sameo416

December 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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