Hyphen – A documentary

Words by Heather Heagney

After studying Communications at Concordia, and working as a Video Producer at MediaStyle, Gabriela Warrior Renaud has decided to break out on her own as a filmmaker and tell her own story. With Hyphen, Warrior Renaud makes her debut into the world of documentary filmmaking and begins a storytelling journey that she hopes will help to redefine identity in Canada from a new perspective.


On Saturday, May 30, she will screen the first part of HYPHEN at Arts Court. Her screening is also a fundraiser to help her complete the rest of the film. Sponsored by the Ottawa International Film Festival with refreshments from Seed to Sausage and Beau’s All Natural Brewery, the evening will give the audience a first look at what the overall HYPHEN project will become.


HH: What inspired you to make this film? Do you remember the moment when you realized that this was a film you had to make?


GWR: I’ve always been really passionate about this subject, and it’s come up in a lot of different ways throughout my life. I remember during one of my courses in Communications Studies at Concordia, I think the class was TV Studies, we had an assignment to pitch a TV show. I came up with this series that focused on these 2 sisters who were multiracial, and didn’t look anything like each other or their parents. I really liked the idea of a show that challenged how people perceived the idea of family. But the moment when I knew Hyphen was going to be my film was last summer during a roadtrip across the country with a good friend of mine. Traveling through the country at a slow pace really made me think about what makes us Canadian, and how many different perspectives make up the Canadian identity. The identity that I know more about is the multiracial identity and I wanted to explore that topic more in terms of where it stands within Canada.


HH: Why is it important to you to tell this story and to explore this topic?


GWR: The question of identity is something that challenges everyone. I don’t think anyone goes through life 100% confident in who they are and what they’ve chosen to identify with. Add a multitude of cultural references, some awkward instances of racism and a confused society, and you have a really great example of how identity should not be defined with such strict definitions. Culture is such a big part of how our society structures itself and when you start mixing things it gets complicated. A growing diversity of realities has been brought to the forefront in the last decade. I think awareness is a very important issue for our generation; it’s not because you don’t see that perspective on TV that it doesn’t exist. I know a lot of people have struggled with the same issues as me, and I think it’s amazing that film is letting us finally talk about it. Multiracial couples are much more prevalent now, and I want to be part of the change in people’s perceptions about these families and kids. I know a lot of multiracial kids and I want them to grow up without the stress and pressure from the judging outside opinion. When I am at a restaurant with my dad, we get looks because people assume I’m his girlfriend. I think it’s time for a wake-up call. I think as someone who has struggled with issues like racism and discrimination, I want to allow others an opportunity to speak and share their stories. As a woman who is sometimes perceived as a visible minority, I’ve had my share of obstacles, and I still do. So in my mind, if I’m still struggling, others are as well, and if I can use my position as a filmmaker to give them a voice, then I think that is my responsibility.


HH: Your part of the film is one of several you plan to tell in the overall film project. Have you chosen the other subjects for this documentary? Do you know how many stories you plan to tell?


GWR: My goal is to interview 6 families, including my own. I want to interview people across the country, to explore perspectives in different provinces. I haven’t met my “subjects” yet. I knew I wanted to flesh out my idea before I started pulling in other people and families. It’s been a really challenging project for me, and I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing and was confident in the film before approaching other people. I also want to make sure each story gets the right amount of space to properly tell their story. But I’m really looking forward to just collecting stories! Bradley Cayford, who will be facilitating the Q&A session after the screening on May 30th suggested I could even start a forum for the stories. People can share writing, photos, letters, stories from relatives. I think it might actually be an amazing way to end the documentary. I’ve been thinking a lot about that.


HH: Since you are exploring such a personal topic, has the filming process been difficult, emotional, or therapeutic?


GWR: All of the above! When I decided that I was making this film, I had to tell my parents. They’re divorced, so I had to do this twice. I was pretty nervous because I was asking them to be vulnerable with me, but they were and continue to be incredibly supportive. I used to be the video producer at MediaStyle, a communications firm here in Ottawa. The videos that I would produce, I was able to them objectively. Our goal with all of our projects was to help our clients tell their stories in a compelling way. So during each video shoot I was making sure that the person felt comfortable, that I was editing the video so the message would be clear. But setting-up my mom in the little sound recording booth at SAW video — everything I knew disappeared. When I first announced to her my project, she was thrilled. She dug up all these old VHS tapes that she had taken throughout my childhood. For the first few months, I sat in front of my TV, rewinding, fast forwarding and took notes on all these videos. The first few sessions I spent mostly crying. I saw footage of my late grandparents, my parents in love, my relationship with them evolve. And it’s such an intimate project for me, I have rarely spent so much time with myself, watching myself, listening to my voice. HYPHEN has been the hardest and the most challenging thing I’ve done to date, but holy crap it feels amazing to do this and I can’t wait to hear other people’s stories!


HH: Why do you think is it important to make documentaries?


GWR: Someone once told me that there are so many amazing stories in this world, it’s hard to believe that you could make up something more powerful. Fiction films definitely have their value, and once I get enough confidence, I’d like to give that a shot. Documentaries are how we learn about what’s actually going on. We are able to watch different perspectives and learn about things that are outside of our own reality. If we want to become a more accepting and conscious society, we need to make sure that what we consume in terms of media is diverse.


HH: Do you know what your message is with this film now, or do you hope to find it in the rest of the filming process?


GWR: When you make a documentary film, your message doesn’t come from you. In this case it’s a bit difficult, because I’m part of the story. But I think by the end, the collection of people I will have interviewed and who have participated in this project will have helped shape what the message of Hyphen will be. Right now, my goal is to start a conversation about identity. I want to challenge how people perceive it and I want to start a discussion around it.

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HH: What’s next for you after Hyphen? Are you working on any new projects?
GWR: I’ve never been busier in my life! Right now, I’m producing Hyphen and will be for probably the next year or two. I also co-own a houseware company, Third Son Laserworks; I work part time at the Seed to Sausage General Store, and I still do freelance video projects. It’s been a crazy year for me and I love it! So my radar is staying pretty close to the present these days, because I need to make sure I don’t drop the ball on anything. After Hyphen, I’m not sure —  I know I want to continue to make films, and I think finishing this project will give me the confidence I need to really call myself a filmmaker. I also really want to travel. I talk about this in the film, but I’ve never been to India, and that’s a big missing piece in my world. So my mom and I have a plan to visit when the doc is done. She wants to take me to where she grew up, but also to visit where her family is from. Our family home still stands and I am so eager to see it! I’d like to take that opportunity to visit Asia, and then who knows, make my way back slowly towards Canada; a few (long) pit stops in Europe wouldn’t hurt anyone. I’m sure I’ll find inspiration for movies in there somewhere.



Fundraiser Screening for HYPHEN

Presented by the Ottawa International Film Festival

Saturday, May 30, 7 pm to 11 pm

Arts Court Theatre, 2 Daly Avenue, Ottawa

RSVP at hyphen-fundraiser.eventbrite.ca

Entry by donation

$20 at the door gets you a drink voucher

The Library of Babel

If you could have anything you wanted in a library, absolutely anything, what would you ask for?

The Ottawa Public Library wants to know by Easter Monday, April 6. If you can find time to let fly your wildest dreams, email centrallibrary@ottawa.ca and don’t hold back. We’ve been tasked to think outside of the box here. Don’t be afraid to suggest the most ridiculous things, since the budget hasn’t really been brought up. Let’s set it at approximately $∞.

On Tuesday March 31, the public consultation began at City Hall. One hundred and eighty people attended, 570 watched online, and the Chair of the OPL Board, Councillor Tim Tierney, challenged all of Ottawa to bring up what they’d like to see in a flagship library. So did Mayor Jim Watson, who’s been chomping at the bit to get public input on what he hopes will be a “world-class facility”. He promised a new library in his campaign and is on track to deliver.

“I very much look forward to hearing your ideas, your dreams, your aspirations for a new central library,” he said.

Ideas we’ll hear in spades so let’s push for dreams!

One end of the library should be equipped with a movable type printing press, a silkscreen station, and a carrier pigeon dovecote. The furthest end could include an Oculus Rift station, more 3D printers like the Imagine Space at the Nepean Centrepointe branch, and an e-book database that lends titles via Bluetooth. Between both past and present we could have a tool library and maker space for tinkerers. Instead of a kitchen classroom and a parkour playground in separate locations, we could recreate a larger version of the currently defunct Crooked Kitchen and teach “extreme cooking” classes.

The overwhelming support will probably be for natural light in lieu of the medieval brutalist design of the Main branch. Many say libraries should no longer be dungeons, but I disagree. A search for a physical book should feel like a quest. Plus books, especially old ones, are intolerant of sunlight. This isn’t reason enough to digitize and recycle them, however. Let’s do away with glossy weekly magazines before we put an end to out-of-print artifacts.

I may be old-fashioned but I’m not saying “The Library of Babel” should be built. Where would we link the Confederation Line to an endless universe of hexagons? Still, I enjoy the thought of a fantastical building that houses nothing less than the entirety of human knowledge. Then there’s the Halifax Central Library from where we can learn from their mistakes and integrate their successes. Already the logo on the Ottawa Central Library website looks vaguely familiar to Halifax’s.

The biggest priority of any library should be a fun and safe place for children to read. So why not a giant pillow fort? No parents allowed! Adults really put emphasis on how children need to “rediscover the joy of reading” with seemingly little faith in the kids’ ability to concentrate. Let’s start by having more books that are actually enjoyable to read and an environment where no grown-ups are peering over young shoulders.

And if we’re ignoring budget then let’s ignore reality for a second. A library could be a warm meadow with a giant willow beside a babbling brook. The Internet at your fingertips in the creek, and the histories of all great human beings embedded in the bark of the tree. This is a made-up place, but perhaps not impossible in 100 years. It’s permaculture 2.0: where children can unearth tomes like potatoes out of an earth that maintains a habitat to keep books from turning into compost. Now that would be a quest.


Illustration by Erik Desmazieres

Permission for Violence: Enabling Apartheid through Cultural Curation

Handala, by Naji al-Ali (handala.org)

While in development, Marathon accepted funding by the Israeli Ministry of Culture, as well as by Acco Theatre, and by the Israeli Embassy here in Ottawa for travel. Given the relatively small community of independent theatre that Ottawa offers, the inclusion of such works, which speak on Israeli identity and originate from within the state, must be seen with urgency. My initial intent was to write a review on the performance of Marathon, however the director’s and performers’ decisions to directly accept funding from state institutions placed it in violation of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) principles outlined in the Ottawa Cultural Boycott of Israel. The purpose of this article then, is to discuss the implications of the curatorial decision to amplify the representation of an apartheid state and to show that acceptance of such unilateral representation, though intended to be neutral, is still an act of political violence.

Earlier in February, the undercurrents theatre festival hosted a physical theatre performance called Marathon, choreographed and directed by Aharona Israel, of Tel Aviv. The performance was by Israeli artists Ilya Domanov, Merav Dagan and Gal Shamai.

“Three figures running in a circle spiral out on a journey to the depths of Israeliness,” reads the program introduction. “Through autobiographical stories of the performers, the piece reflects on subconscious elements in Israeli society and mentality, such as a constant sense of emergency and a desperate holding on to ideas and ideals.”

That Palestinian performers were not cast in a work that uses an autobiographical approach to explore Israeli identity, though perhaps inadvertently on the part of any performers, perpetuates the erasure of a demographic that makes upwards of 20% of the Israeli population. To even consider the medium of physical theatre as a mode of exploring this identity, it is the presence of the body, its immediate and visceral presence, that defines this expression. Yet, if  the Palestinian voice is absent this implies a brutal silence, where neither the living body of Palestine nor the urgent voice of its persistence, of its struggle, are made present to this artistic form and narrative. In the depiction of Israeli identity, and the dialogue around its effects, the isolation of this representation from the demographic that the state is actively colonizing is an act of political violence.

Where the Israeli state was carved out of Arab land in 1948 by the British government and the Zionist organization Jewish Agency for Israel, the forced displacement of Palestinians and Bedouins erases the real history and culture of the land. For any conversation to occur around Israeli identity, such an identity can only be considered as inseparable from its role as a militarized state that persists in engaging in government-legitimized genocide.

This militarization can be seen in the mandatory service required from all Israeli citizens by the Israel Defense Force (IDF), and in the torture and abusive conditions of incarceration for prisoners, including children, in internationally condemned prisons like the Negev, Megiddo or Ofer. This inseparability of Israeli national identity from the military conflict is further evident in the economic blockades, obstruction of humanitarian relief and, throughout the occupation, the denial of basic human needs like shelter and water to Palestinian residents in Gaza. It is present in the regular rejection of residency permits for Palestinians, where over 11,000 Palestinians have been forced to leave their homes since 1996 in the “ethnic cleansing” of East Jerusalem. The Israeli state prioritizes colonial use of land and access to water, and will fund incentives for Jewish diaspora who have no connection to Israel in the face of daily displacement of Arab communities whose homes, schools, hospitals, and farms are razed for Israeli settlement.

Any dialogue on the Israeli identity must also consider the systemic demonization of the Arab population and international resistance to occupation, reaching as far as the recent Canadian Progressive Conservative motion on Bill C-51, which could criminalize criticism of Israeli apartheid.

Handala, by Naji al-Ali (handala.org)

How, then, in the midst of a militarized erasure of Palestinian presence, can such absence in a narrative that inquires into Israeli identity be ignored or permitted? This absence within a conflict-ridden narrative is a form of normalization of such erasure in a cultural context. In the case of the Israeli state, it contributes to the effects of a specific rebranding campaign instigated by the Israeli government in 2008, in partnership with the British firm Acanchi. Under Acanchi’s founder, Fiona Gilmore, the corporate strategy sought to rebrand the Israeli state on an international level, to erase the Arab-Israeli conflict from the state’s image, and thus, the integral Arab being from what may constitute an Israeli identity.

“Our research shows that Israel’s brand is essentially the conflict,” said Ido Aharoni, head of brand management at the Foreign Ministry. “Even those who recognize that Israel is in the right are not attracted to it, because they see it as a supplier of bad news. The conclusion is that it is more important for Israel to be attractive than to be right.”

The systemic revision of public image through the voices, or the silence, of artists can effectively change the memory of conflict, and redirect public reaction to expressions of this modified identity. The colonizer’s reconstructed identity is seen as correct, rather than as an assault, contributing not only to the physical displacement but also the cognitive displacement of Palestinians in international representation.

The inclusion of Marathon, on tour through four Canadian cities, in the undercurrents program was described by festival curator Patrick Gauthier as based on an intended neutrality. In Gauthier’s words, the performance was intriguing for its aesthetic rather than its content. This deliberate ignorance, however, raises concerns about the role of curatorial responsibility given the broad reach of its cultural dialogue. Can we so easily forget the dangers of assuming an objectivity that pardons the unilateral voice of an apartheid state? Can we so easily neglect how such objectivity continues to be used as a method of permitting the real effects of political violence? It is unsurprising then, that choreographer Omar Barghoutti draws a parallel between the cultural complicity with Israeli apartheid, and that of South Africa and Fascist Germany, as stated by director of the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid, Enuga S. Reddy.

Active criticism towards the principles expressed based on decisions that involve a clear stance on social conflict are too easily dismissed by a misguided separation of Art and Politics. The insistence of a purity of expression, an objectivity of the audience, is at best naïve, otherwise dismissive and enabling. There is no apolitical vacuum within which cultural expression can exist. Cultural leaders in this city should be responsible for broadening the critical discussion and action on representation in the artistic community. Curatorial responsibility is not negated, nor can it be ignored, in the prioritization of an aesthetic objectivity that dulls the public awareness of complicity to modes of colonization. Every decision that amplifies the representation and voice of an apartheid state further inhibits resistance to genocide.

Cultural boycott is a controversial topic for artists. Many oppose the idea of boycotting art, seeing art as a mode of uniting people across their differences. When performers and artistic agencies, however, accept state funding despite that government’s direct participation in genocide and campaigns to silence international resistance, it is indulgent and harmful to accept the representation of this state’s identity. Particularly in the cultural context, boycott serves as a strategy to affect change on broader levels by directly addressing conflicts of interest while refusing to amplify the privileged expression of the colonizing state.

Ismail Khalidi, playwright and performer, writes,

“The fact is that many of us in the West, even progressives and so-called champions of human rights, squirm and balk, and even express outright indignation, at the very mention of any boycott of Israel. At the very same time, however, we fail miserably to speak with a unified voice (if we manage to speak out at all) against the ongoing collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.”

For the BDS movement directed against Israeli apartheid, it is not an attack against individual artists: there is not necessarily a conflict of interest present if an Israeli artist develops and exhibits their work independently of any state funding. In July 2014, for instance, Scotland Edinburgh Festival Fringe saw an Israeli hip hop opera from Jerusalem boycotted at Underbelly Theatre, while other Israeli performances were not. Simply put, the performances that were ignored by protesters had not accepted state funding, while the boycotted performance from Israel’s Ben-Gurion University had. Elsewhere in the United Kingdom, the UK Jewish Film Festival was cancelled by the Tricycle Theatre, under the direction of Indhu Rubasingham, over its acceptance of Israeli funds through the Embassy. In this case, the theatre had offered to subsidize the festival’s funds so that it could be run independently, but was met with refusal. The official statement from the theatre read,

“However, given the situation in Israel and Gaza, we do not believe that the festival should accept funding from any party to the current conflict. For that reason, we asked the UK Jewish Film Festival to reconsider its sponsorship by the Israeli Embassy.”

Handala, by Naji al-Ali (handala.org)

Outside of insular university-based activist communities in Ottawa, it is hard to find accessible dialogue around apartheid and the strategies of opposition that are effective and necessary. There is a real danger of privileged expression, where any discourse that is critical of Israeli apartheid is classified as anti-Semitic or as radicalized terrorism. Compare the public silence on the absence of Palestinian narrative and the Israeli funding of Marathon with the outrage of Israeli minister Rafael Barak over the June 2014 exhibition of artist Rehab Nazzal’s “Invisible”, a series of images and recordings that portrayed Palestinian prisoners in the torturous conditions of the Israeli Negev prison. Can we so easily forget how Barak and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa demanded the closure of the exhibit from Mayor Jim Watson by absurdly condemning the exhibit as glorifying terrorism? Surely the Israeli torture of detained Palestinians documented in Nazzal’s archival material is evidence of the real terrorism of an apartheid state and deserved uncontested representation? So why is it acceptable to overlook curatorial decisions that amplify the voice of a government-funded narrative about Israeli identity?

The immediate question becomes, how do we deal with these situations? How can the artistic community take greater responsibility for the very real and far-reaching consequences of granting representation to an apartheid state? How do we ask the right questions and demand accountability from each other while approaching these types of situations respectfully and knowledgeably?

While neither the artists nor the festival curator were advocating violence through the performance of Marathon, they nevertheless enabled an imbalanced monologue that perpetuates the cultural erasure of Palestine in Israeli occupation. Seen on a very normal, everyday level, the challenge is to live a conscious and peaceful resistance, not to dismiss the political context and statement that is made through cultural curation. By avoiding the conversation and side-stepping any direct action when confronted with a unilateral representation of Israel, to the exclusion of Palestine and the acceptance of Israeli government funding, on our public stage, we are drawing our own complicity, we are sympathizing, with the apartheid state. The acceptance of this silence, of this absence of body and voice, is participating in the acceptance of colonization. Representation permits identity. Cruelty is apathy, it is the surrender to indecision, or the cowardice of neutrality. As creators and curators, artists and audiences, we must be vigilant in questioning our own permission of political violence in cultural representation. We must seriously consider how the decisions we make about representation in our artistic communities may strengthen the voice of an oppressing state, and its agencies of erasure and normalization of violence.

The State of Our City

On January 28, 2015, our Mayor, Jim Watson, gave his annual State of the City address to City Council. The speech, according to the Mayor’s website, is a “look ahead to significant projects and milestones in store for Ottawa in 2015…[and]…an opportunity for the Mayor to provide an update on projects and priorities related to the City of Ottawa.” Some key projects that were mentioned include: murals at Highway 417 underpasses at Bank Street and Carling, and the opening of the Coventry Road pedestrian and cycling bridge. The speech also referenced upcoming events, including: the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and a public engagement session for a new central public library. All of the initiatives outlined in the speech are important to help make Ottawa a great city; they are helping lay the groundwork for what’s possible.

The State of the City speech is the municipal State of the Union address (which President Obama gave in mid-January). In his speech, Obama talked about the current environment of the United States, while also outlining some of his legislative agenda. It balanced the accomplishments of the past year, while providing somber awareness of socio-economic and social realities. In short, it provided a cohesive narrative of the present state of the United States.

Our State of the City was forward looking too, but undoubtedly too focused on the future. The State of the City shouldn’t be focused solely on what lies ahead, it should tell us about the present, on where we stand now as a city, and how we’ll get where we need to go. Instead, Mayor Watson’s speech reads as a series of election promises, a laundry list of construction projects (sidebar: the only mention of the arts in the State of the City was regarding the Arts Court project – is this what Ottawa’s become – a series of construction projects?). Spoiler: the election was in October and he won! The State of the City should have talked about what was accomplished over 2014 and the previous council term, and where we need to improve in 2015 and what the new council will do to get there. It was an opportunity for our leader to tell us that we’re on the right track, that we did right by re-electing him.

The 2015 State of the City is actually vastly different from the 2014 address. In 2014 Mayor Watson started with, “This morning, I want to speak about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going as a city. Because what takes place at City Hall this year will be a direct result of the actions we’ve taken around this table over the last three years.” Compare this to the 2015 speech, “We have a very busy year ahead of us. Much of that will begin next week as we table our first budget of the term.” The focus shifted away from how we got here (2014) and towards where we’re going (2015). What prompted the shift? Was it because 2014 was dubbed the “year of progress” and 2015 the “year of momentum,” and we needn’t be concerned about how we got here?

Oddly enough, the February 4th Budget Speech came across more like a State of the City address. It talked about how Ottawa had weathered the economic storm through cuts in its biggest industry, and how ground was broken on the Confederation Line. It told a story of how we reached where we are today and the plans for where we’re going. It was the Budget Speech that told us residents about how Ottawa will be moving forward as a city.

The two speeches must complement each other; the State of the City telling the story of the year past and shedding light on where we ought to go, with the Budget Speech providing solid financial commitments to support the path that was laid out by the State of the City for where we’re going.

The Mayor wants to “appeal to the interests of the most highly coveted, highly educated worker” and “attract people for a lifetime.” He also says that “Ottawa has a great story to tell, but…we need to do a better job of telling that story.” Those two points are interrelated and it starts with being able to tell current residents about the great story Ottawa has. In addition to a great story, we need to have a clear (and dare I say audacious?) plan for where we want to go as a city – does everyone have a shared understanding and vision of what a “world-class city” is? Does that mean continuing to create a laundry list of construction projects and squeeze out local arts and culture? Yes, we all need to tell Ottawa’s story better, but if our Mayor can’t even tell our story, then how can we expect our neighbours and community to?

From the Hill to our doorsteps: Canadian colonialism marches on


It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that we’re one of the richest countries in the world, and yet many of our indigenous peoples are living as second-class citizens.

Last week an urgent community meeting in downtown Ottawa took place, to discuss the pending closure of Odawa Native Friendship Centre’s Shawenjeagamik Aboriginal Drop-In Centre.

Astonishingly, a profound strength and modesty were present in that room. There were no harsh words, no hyperbole. Just quiet devastation and anger, and this indescribable faith that despite colonialism, despite residential schooling, despite poverty and marginalization, they will stay strong as a community and fight this – like “they’ve always done, over and over again.”

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Newly-appointed National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, met with Stephen Harper for the first time last week. The meeting could only be classified as disappointing. Some professional photos were taken, a new 24 Seven clip filmed, and zero dialogue of substance took place.

APTN reports that Harper was “non-committal” on most of the issues raised during the meeting, including new investments in on-reserve education and calling a national inquiry in murdered and missing indigenous women.

Opposition Critic for Aboriginal Affairs, Niki Ashton rose in the House of Commons on the first day of the Spring Parliamentary session to ask our indifferent Minister when and how this majority government plans to address First Nations poverty. She received no response.

Maclean’s ran a provocative piece mere days later exploring the death of Tina Fontaine and countless other young indigenous women like her, who have been stolen, raped, and left for dead – all quietly beneath the blanket of an allegedly “peaceful, multi-cultural” Western nation. Still no Federal response.

The Inter-American Commission on Human rights has reported that Canada is “failing to adequately prevent and protect indigenous women and girls from killings, disappearances, and extreme forms of violence.” The report argues that “colonization, long-standing inequality, and discrimination are root causes of this violence,” and that Canada is obligated under international human rights law to address these underlying factors in order to stem the crisis.

This crisis is long-standing, systemic, and, contrary to our Prime Minister’s ideology and opinion, undeniably sociological.

Social infrastructure continues to dwindle and disappear, clean water is scarce, food and sanitary product prices inflate on reservations Nationwide, while indigenous culture, language and history continues to slip away, like sand through our National fingers. A domestic and international disgrace.

Racism is everywhere. And if we choose to open our eyes, we need look no further than a few mere blocks from the Parliamentary precinct to see these post-colonial reverberations in plain daylight.

You may have heard the news earlier this month. Shawenjeagamik (“a place of compassion”) Aboriginal Drop-In Centre, an initiative of Odawa Native Friendship Centre, is located at 510 Rideau Street in downtown Ottawa and serves between 60-100 Status/Non-Status First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples 7 days a week.

The modest Centre ensures that their vulnerable clients have 3 hot meals a day, a place to come in from the cold, engaging programming, laundry facilities, clean clothing, employment, housing and addictions referrals, a place where they can preserve their culture in peace, and meaningful friendship and support.

On January 30, Shawenjeagamik’s staff were shocked and devastated to learn that in 60 days, this facility will be forced to close, indefinitely.


While the Ottawa Aboriginal community has come together with fundraiserscommunity meetings and an upcoming protest to support each other in this difficult time, both Federal and municipal government has done nothing but spout ideological rhetoric.

To date, no negotiations have happened, no productive dialogue has taken place, and no empathy has been shown on the part of Ottawa City Hall or the Federal government. Odawa’s Executive Director, Morgan Hare says the organization is seeking funding elsewhere, but with limited resources, they are still bracing for their Drop-in’s closure on March 31, 2015.

7 full-time staff will lose their jobs, and hundreds of homeless, low-income and street-engaged Aboriginal peoples who use the Drop-in daily will be forced back out into the street.

If I may borrow the words of our indigenous brothers and sisters, we simply cannot stay “idle” on this. Racism is evident on the macro and micro scales in this country.

People are dying. People are starving. Suicides are happening that could be prevented. Unlivable living conditions are being reported on First Nations reserves. More than 1,000 indigenous women are missing or murdered, and our Prime Minister and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs are sitting on their hands.

Nothing will change until we reconcile our pasts, negotiate the fault in our colonial practices, and move forward together.




You can support the Shawenjeagamik Aboriginal Drop-In Centre by making a charitable donation at the following link: igg.me/at/saveodawadropin  [ please share widely ]