Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Posts from — November 2008

Some thoughts about thanksgiving

I’m buried in work here this week, but I wanted to take a moment to make a comment about American Thanksgiving.

Many people ask me around here if we celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada, in part because of the dominance of the myth that “Thanksgiving” originates with the Pilgrims and that such an occasion wouldn’t have come to be without them. The story of the Pilgrims and the “first Thanksgiving” is a myth that has been constructed over generations. Even though we have ample historical evidence that is trotted out each and every year by journalists and by teachers like me to show how so much of this story is grounded in fiction and not fact, we still see schoolchildren dressing up as Pilgrims and Indians and parroting the same old received ideas, as I witnessed last week at my own kids’ school.

That said, there are signs that this may be changing. My daughter’s class, perhaps because by the third grade they have learned enough about Pilgrims, has spent a great deal of time this fall learning about the Indigenous peoples of our region. I was also pleased to discover this story about a young girl being asked to change out of the “Indian costume” she had worn to the Plimoth Plantation (her friend was dressed as a Pilgrim). I hope this girl was not unduly traumatized, but they did the right thing and explained the reasons for this request very well. “Native people find it offensive when they see a non-native person dressed up and playing Indian. It’s perceived as us being made fun of,” explained Linda Coombs, associate director of the Wampanoag Indigenous Program. It seems, then, that the Plantation works to dispel rather than perpetuate these myths and stereotypes. I hope to get there sometime in the new year to see it for myself.

One of the differences between our Thanksgivings (ours, too, used to be in November but was moved to October in 1957 to separate it from Remembrance Day) is that it’s a much bigger production here in the US. Instead of a long weekend, my kids’ school and UVM now give students an entire week off, even though for my students the final day of classes is now only about ten days away. I like the idea of Thanksgiving as a holiday, as it is in Canada, that is about celebrating the blessings we’ve been so fortunate to receive over the previous year. I’m all for spending a few days with friends and family to do just that. It is also a good opportunity for all of us, whether we’re in Canada or the US, to take a hard, thoughtful look at some of the myths and stereotypes we perpetuate about the first peoples of this land.

This page on the Blue Corn Comics website is a good starting point if you want to learn more about the myths surrounding the US Thanksgiving holiday. Blue Corn publisher Rob Schmidt has a terrific blog, Newspaper Rock, that I read regularly.

November 29, 2008   2 Comments

Just in case you have not been paying attention to Canada over the last couple of days

There seems to be a real chance that Harper’s government could fall over the move by the Conservatives to eliminate public subsidies for political parties, a move which could bankrupt every party but his own. This could mean either another Canadian election or the possibility that the other parties could join together to form a coalition government, something that has happened only one other time in Canadian history. Former party leaders Jean Chretien and Ed Broadbent are apparently involved in this attempt to bring the parties together.

This is, as one article put it, a political game of chicken. I have to imagine that Harper will be the first to give up his desire to make this a confidence vote. Otherwise, he may wind up the leader of the sole opposition party in a most anomalous sitting of the House of Commons.

November 28, 2008   1 Comment

Canada Reads 2009

Here are the titles for Canada Reads 2009 and the celebrity panelists who will be lobbying for their book to win Canada Reads.

The Outlander, by Gil Adamson. Panelist: Nicholas Campbell

Fruit, by Brian Francis. Panelist: Jen Sookfong Lee

Mercy Among the Children, by David Adams Richards. Panelist: Sarah Slean (Paul’s favourite!)

The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant, by Michel Tremblay. Panelist: Anne-Marie Wittenshaw

The Book of Negroes, by Lawrence Hill. Panelist: Avi Lewis

If you’re not familiar with Canada Reads, this is a feature CBC Radio runs every year where five celebrity panelists battle it out over which book should be the one that all of Canada reads next year. Surprisingly, even to me, this has been a remarkable success over the last few years, with the winner (and often the runners up) become bestsellers in Canada. The books chosen are always excellent and, frequently, challenging works (over the years titles chosen have included Hubert Aquin’s Next Episode and Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers).

Although I usually find the Canada Reads panel discussions and the “voting off” of particular titles to be frustrating to listen to, this is a great program that does a tremendous amount to promote Canadian literature. How can anyone complain about that?

November 25, 2008   No Comments

Proposition 8

Keith Olbermann’s comment on the passage of Proposition 8 in California is worth watching.

In Canada, we’ve seen a major transition over the last decade in terms of how Canadians view this question. In response to court rulings in Canada that saw the marriage laws in Canada as violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the minority Liberal government of Paul Martin (yes, the other Paul Martin) introduced Bill C-38, otherwise known as The Civil Marriage Act. This bill redefined marriage for legal purposes in Canada as “the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.” This bill passed in the House of Commons 158-133, so it clearly was not unanimously supported. Most of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, for instance, voted against this bill. It’s significant, though, that many Canadian MPs and their constituents saw this as an important bill that should be passed. (this site offers some good background on the history of these issues in Canada.

Three short years (and two Canadian elections) later, my sense is that the vast majority of Canadians would not be in favour of revoking these rights and, in fact, see this decision as clearly the right and honourable thing to have done. Many of us are proud of our country for having finally made this decision. Those who opposed this bill have seen that the sky has not fallen. It has not threatened the institution of marriage in Canada. If anything, it has made it stronger. It has finally given same sex couples the same rights and opportunities that heterosexual couples have taken for granted for as long as anyone can recall. Ultimately, this is a simple question of basic human rights. Nothing more, nothing less.

In a week where we should be looking at how much America has changed, how much hatred and bigotry has been left behind, it’s a shame that we also have to be reminded of how much further the country has yet to go before all of its citizens can truly be the holders of equal rights.

Postscript: Some further surfing turned up this 2007 survey which found that 62% of Canadians polled would support adding sexual orientation to the equality rights section of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

November 11, 2008   1 Comment

And the Giller Prize goes to….

Joseph Boyden for his novel Through Black Spruce! What a great win for him. Joseph and I were in touch via e-mail a few weeks ago and he’s agreed to come to UVM to read sometime in the very near future. Congrats, Joseph!

November 11, 2008   No Comments

Lest we forget

Special Event.jpg

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lt.-Col. John McCrae

Remembrance Day has always meant a lot to the Martin family, as both of my parents lost beloved uncles in the Second World War. My father posted a nice remembrance of his uncle on his blog earlier this week. This is always one of the days of the year where I feel more than a pang of regret at not being in Canada sharing the importance of this day with my children as my parents did with me.

One of the ways that we remember, that we must remember, is to speak to younger generations about the story of these wars and of the great human sacrifice and cost that they involved. The Second World War, as I reminded my students yesterday, was the deadliest in history. While Canadians and Americans played key roles in that conflict and suffered a significant number of casualties (45, 300 Canadians and 416, 800 Americans died in battle), both of these countries got off easily compared to the suffering experienced in other parts of the world. Roughly 72 million people died in the war, 47 million of whom were civilian casualties. (stats from Wikipedia)

A survey released in Canada today showed that there are Canadians who have never heard of the Holocaust. It’s a relatively small, yet still shocking percentage, but this is part of history that everyone should know. For that matter, we also need to remind ourselves and our children of the devastation inflicted on millions of innocent people by the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of the unjust suffering our governments inflicted upon Canadians and Americans of Japanese descent during the war. The war was a time of great heroism and sacrifice, and also of barbarism and inhumanity of the worst kind. We must be sure not to forget that we are all capable of all of these things.

Remembrance, then, can and should have many sides. Today, we remember the heroism of the millions of people who gave their lives so that we can live in the relatively peaceful world we live in today. I hope, though, we also take some time to remember all of the others who died as well.

November 11, 2008   No Comments

Three of the many reasons I think it’s cool that Obama will soon be President

1. He collects Spider-man and Conan the Barbarian comics and has talked about being raised on Star Trek (who knew?)

2. He’s uses a Mac (I kind of had a feeling about that one…)

3. The guy’s a great writer

Okay, okay. Number 3 is the most important of these, but the other two are pretty cool.

Fifty things you might not know about Barack Obama

November 10, 2008   No Comments

Oops! Government of Canada website goes down

It’s always a bit embarrassing when one’s website goes down, especially when it’s the Government of Canada website. Ouch!

Here’s what I saw there just now when I tried to open http://canada.gc.ca

Test Page for the SSL_TLS-aware Apache Installation on Web Site.jpg
(Update 11/10 8:39 PM: after being down for a good part of Monday, the site is finally back up. Yikes!)

November 9, 2008   No Comments

Advising for Spring 2009

Fall registration begins for Seniors on Tuesday, November 18, and opens up for everyone else gradually over that week. Make sure to check the UVM Registration schedule to see when you may begin registering for Spring classes.

I’m setting aside enough 15 minute appointments over the next week or so to meet with all 40 of my advisees. I’ll be available to answer any advising questions and to help review your choice of courses for the fall semester. If you’ll be a senior planning on graduating in spring 2009, you should definitely come to see me before registering so that we can make sure you’ll be set to graduate.

Keep reading after the break for further details and to choose your appointment time.

[Read more →]

November 5, 2008   No Comments

The Palin prank

The prank call to Sarah Palin by two Montreal radio hosts last week has had lots of coverage in the American media. Just this morning the two were on CBS’ “The Early Show” (click here for the video of their appearance on CBS). The Globe and Mail has a more accurate transcript of the call than others that have been published. While some media don’t seem to get what was so funny about the whole thing, Salon.com does a pretty good job of explaining it all here.

Today they also published a more detailed account of how this prank came to be, which includes a couple of other amusing details from behind the scenes:

Sébastien Trudel and Marc-Antoine Audette, co-hosts of Les Cerveaux de l’info, the drive-home show on Montreal’s CKOI-FM, spent five days last week persuading Ms. Palin’s Republican Party staff that French President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to speak with her by phone and wish her well in tomorrow’s election.

“When we started to work on the idea last Tuesday,” Mr. Audette said in an interview yesterday, “we thought it would be mission impossible. But after about a dozen calls, we started to realize it might work, because her staff didn’t know the name of the French President. They asked us to spell it.”

Clearly, the joke is not just on Sarah Palin. What’s hilarious is that these guys got so far in just a few days of trying to reach Palin in these last few days of a busy campaign. This says a lot about her staff, who also needed to write down the name of the French President in case they forgot it.

After trumpetting her experience of living next to Canada and Russia as proof of her foreign policy experience, the fact that Palin clearly doesn’t even know the name of Canada’s Prime Minister is only icing on the cake. After all, not knowing the name of the leader of the United States’ number one trading partner has never been something that has prevented someone from becoming President.

(Incidentally, I just discovered a 2000 Democracy Now interview with Rick Mercer regarding George Bush’s famous endorsement by Jean Poutine. Great listening.)

November 3, 2008   3 Comments