Wednesday, April 27, 2016

History and Attiwapiskat, cont'd

Greg Poelzer and Ken Coates's From Treaty Peoples to Treaty Nation, which I was starting on last week, is reviewed in the current Literary Review of Canada, now in the mail. That particular review is not part of the online edition, unless you subscribe.

Poelzer and Coates mostly take an optimistic and non-confrontational approach to indigenous/Canada issues. Yes, Prime Minister Harper cancelled Paul Martin's Kelowna Accord, they write, but indigenous issues really were important to the Harper government. They open with a broad historical review -- in impressive detail -- of a wide range of policy approaches that have been advocated by indigenous scholars and leaders as well as by non-aboriginal Canadians. But they themselves mostly endorse the vision of "education and entrepreneurship," arguing that improving the economic circumstances of indigenous peoples over time should be sufficient, particularly if it is supported with reconciliation, respect, encouragement....

Their most ambitious proposal is for First Nations to organize a new "Commonwealth" -- a kind of First Nations parliament that would receive funding based on Canada's existing obligations and take (from Canada's Indigenous Affairs department) management of how the funding is spent.

The word "treaty" though it appears twice in their title, plays little part in their analysis. They define treaties as spelling out "government obligations tied to Aboriginal land surrenders." (p. 274)  -- mostly cash payments. They do not take up the argument that most treaties as actually negotiated were about sharing, not surrendering, land. In looking forward to education and entrepreneurship as the best hope for indigenous progress, they show little interest in the idea that "treaty implementation" --that is, implementing the treaties as they were actually negotiated on the ground -- would immediately make most northern reserve communities not poor but relatively wealthy, as co-owners of immense values of timber, minerals, hydro power, and transportation and recreation potential. Now that could provide some fuel for indigenous entrepreneurship.

Poelzer and Coates's analysis puts almost no new obligations on Canada beyond tolerance and respect. But they do accept and even celebrate the existence of indigenous Canada as a cultural and political reality. They reject the argument, recently promoted by Jean Chrétien, the editor of The Walrus, and Maclean'sthat the solution is simply assimilation: move reserve communities into cities, put the kids in school, let 'em find work like anyone else.  And their acceptance of the existence of self-governing indigenous communities makes them far too radical for the Literary Review's reviewer, Andrew Furey of Sun Media.  Furey rejects any proposal that proposes the ongoing independent existence of First Nations as contrary to Canadian multiculturalism and based on the "stuck in the past" notion that Canadians have colonialist attitudes.

Canadians don't see indigenous issues in terms of a struggle between white people and aboriginal people, Furey declares. He reject the idea of collective responsibility for past injustices.  Duncan Campbell Scott, he argues, was simply too early in his assimilationist program. All we have to do is welcome indigenous Canadians into the mainstream. From that perspective, "the aboriginal narrative is increasingly a good news story."

And there we are. If the problem is solving itself, if Poelzer and Coates's modest proposals, demanding so little of Canadian government and society, are too radical.... well, we have a long way to go.

This will not going to be the last crisis at Attawapiskat, I guess.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Frederick H. Armstrong 1926-2016 RIP

The historian Frederick H. Armstrong, historian of Ontario and Toronto died recently at ninety in London, Ontario. Armstrong grew up and studied in Toronto, but he was one of that group of Ontario history specialists at the University of Western Ontario, where he taught from 1963 to 1991.

He wrote widely (City in the Making, Toronto of Old, etc.) but he may have been most indispensable for the Handbook of Upper Canadian Chronology, a little book where you found every mysterious office title defined, every obscure office holder identified, and every nagging detail of public administration briefly explained.  Still in print, I see.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Prize Watch: Shaughnessy Cohen Prize to John Ibbitson

At Ottawa's stylish Politics and the Pen dinner last night, the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for political writing went to prolific columnist and writer John Ibbitson for his biography Stephen Harper.  (Full shortlist here.)

Book juries were divided last year between those who listed Michael Harris's anti-Harper book Party of One and those who preferred Ibbitson's more sympathetic portrayal.  Score one here for Ibbitson, a stylish and versatile writer whatever you think of his political analyses (as here, where he predicted Harper would rule for a generation).

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Historians as expert witnesses

Speaking of the Supreme Court:  historian William Wicken reports at Active History on his experience as an expert witness on the case defining whether Inuit, Métis, and non-status people come under the constitutional heading of "Indians" -- the case determined at the Supreme Court of Canada last week.

He advised:
‘In sum, at Confederation, Aboriginals formed a diverse and heterogeneous group. Some were more settled than others, some more nomadic. Some were more integrated into the Hudson’s Bay company trading or post networks than others. Some had intermarried with white traders; some were the descendants of white traders and Indian women. The important point is that the framers believed that the central government, as opposed to the provinces, needed to exercise control over all Aboriginal peoples to ensure that they did not interfere with the government’s broader plans in building a railroad, settling the west and the north, and in expanding the economy from the Atlantic to the Pacific.’
Seems to me he's right to conclude that "Indians" was used to indicate all indigenous peoples within what might be Canada, not just some, though I might have said "to exercise control over all relations with Aboriginal peoples."  I'm not sure the constitution anywhere grants Canada a claim to actual control. That's another litigation, however.

History of Hansard: non-historians actually read that thing?

There's a little essay at Policy Options musing on how the Supreme Court of Canada reads Hansard and uses what it finds there to determine the constitutionality of laws.

The court, it seems, struck down a law limiting judges' ability to give prisoners "enhanced credit" for time served pre-trial. It found the law limited individuals' rights without having sufficient grounds for doing so.  And it determined that by reading what Justice Minister Rob Nicholson had said about the grounds for the bill, when he was speaking in support of it in the Commons
What is interesting is that the Court does not treat these remarks as vacuous bafflegab. It proceeds on the basis that, when Nicholson said that limiting the availability of enhanced credit was intended to further public safety and confidence in the administration of justice, he meant it. Having identified the objective on this basis, the Court was then able to find that, in many cases, depriving individuals of access to enhanced credit would not advance public safety or confidence at all. The implicit message is that empty catch-phrases may help a government move its legislation through Parliament, but may also render that legislation more vulnerable to constitutional challenge if life, liberty, or security of the person are in play.
Is this a bit weird, for the court to read Nicholson as if he were Parliament speaking? It is not treating Nicholson's words as bafflegab, true, but it is taking them as if they alone determine what the law means -- which is worse. Mackenzie King's old saw, Parliament will decide, should still have some meaning. What Parliament decides is contained in the text of the law it finally passes, not what one or other politician said in the midst of the argument over the passage of the law.  Surely courts should interpret the constitutionality of laws, not of what someone once said about them before they became laws.

The author, Michael Plaxton, dodges the question of whether it can be appropriate for courts to "cherrypick," that is, to go behind laws to consider what some people may have said in debating the laws. But he does end with what seems like a sensible suggestion:
The Court was inclined to look to Hansard when divining the legislative objective because there were no other signals to be found in the text or context of the statute. This also sends a strong message to governments – namely, that it may be prudent to state their objectives (in “succinct and precise” terms) in the preamble of legislation, and thereby take a degree of control over the way in which Charter litigation unfolds later on.

Update, April 22:  Thanks to tweeters and retweeters who sent this far and wide along networks of legal scholars.  Some of it provoked by the click-baity headline, I fear. Of course Hansard is widely read by political observers and scholars of many kinds.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Prize Watch: History and nonfiction at the Pulitzers

The (American) Pulitzer Prize rolled out its annual slew of awards the other day, mostly for categories of journalism, but also in the arts and letters.

The History winner was Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America, by T.J. Stiles. Apparently, the jury moved that title from Biography, where it was nominated -- presumably preferring it to any of the History noms. Stiles, a history professor at UC Berkeley, had previously won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award for his biography of business tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. A review takes up what might have been my question about Custer -- is there anything to say about him? -- and answers vigorously yes. (He's still a major dick, though.)

The Biography or Autobiography winner, meanwhile, was Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. I happened to read it recently and so can testify that with zero prior interest in surfing, I could not put it down. Its history of how adolescent boys learned and performed masculinity in 1950s-60s California and Hawaii (Finnegan does not phrase it that way!) is astute.  And surfing literature turns out to be a real possibility.

Had I been the jury, I might have moved Finnegan over to General Nonfiction as being more than an autobiography. But there it might have lost to another memoir, Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me, which in actuality lost out in General Nonfiction to Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, by Joby Warrick. Complicated.

Oh, and one more on the history front:  Lin Manuel Miranda's Hamilton won the Drama prize.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The B's are going to die out

No, not the honey bees. I had an environmentalist raising funds at the door the other day who was assuring me that since his organization had stopped neonicotinoid pesticides, the bees were about to come back.  Not so sure about that.  But I'm talking about the B licence plate in Ontario, now running out its decade.

In Ontario they have been rolling out new licence plates in alphabetical order for about 20 years, starting with AAAA 001 in 1997. A certain trainspotting mentality can become intrigued by following the progress of the letters on long car trips or walks through parking lots.

In late 2006, we noted an early B:

Now that BZ is starting to roll out onto the streets and highways, there should be a C in six months or so.

I could argue that some big data historian should work something out about number of plates available for each letter combination, times the months required to move to a new second letter, in order to calculate something about the pace of automobile purchase and re-registration.  But mostly it's just trainspotting.

I've only found one other website that takes an interest; happily, they took an interest ten years ago too.

History and Attawapiskat: towards a reading list

The never-ending and ever-returning scandal of northern reserve communities; Attawapiskat, Pikangikum,Natuashish, you pick 'em. The residential schools legacy. Idle No More's insistence on treaties.  Statistics on the incarceration of indigenous peoples....

Does increasing coverage, in Canada and globally, of the failures of Canadian aboriginal policy, mean that real change is becoming possible. I don't know.  But I have been looking beyond the headlines a little, at what historians and others have been thinking. The conversation is changing there.

To mark its 25th anniversary, The Literary Review of Canada (new issue out) asked readers and contributors to nominate titles for a list of 25 notable works published during its years. What they have on the site is still a preliminary list, I understand, but five of the 26 currently listed speak directly to indigenous matters or indigenous/Canadian issues, and three of those are by indigenous writers:
  • Richard Atleo, Principles of Tsawalk
  • Richard Wright, Stolen Continents
  • Joseph Boyden, Three Day Road
  • John Milloy, A National Crime
  • Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water
That is only the beginning. Focussing on fairly recent research and titles closely relevant to current crises, I come up with J.R. Miller's groundbreaking trilogy: Shingwauk's Vision ((1996, but revised since) on residential schools, Compact, Contract, Covenant (2009) on treaties and treaty-making, and Skyscapers Hide the Heavens (1989, also revised), a survey of relations. Michael Asch's On Being Here to Stay (and his earlier Home and Native Land).  John Ralston Saul's The Comeback. John Long's Treaty 9. Poelzer and Coates's Treaty Peoples to Treaty Nation. Charlie Angus's Children of the Broken Treaty. 

Then there are the recent Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the older Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Affairs.  Or consider the media attention to more specifically historical work like James Dashuk's Clearing the Plains and Ian Mosby's research on food experimentation on indigenous subjects.  And the impact of recent residential-schools survivor memoirs by such writers as Edmund Metatawabin, Augie Merasty, and Theodore Fontaine. 

One of the impressive things about Greg Poelzer and Ken Coates's Treaty Peoples to Treaty Nation, which I was mentioning yesterday, is the literature review it provides, going far beyond the relatively well-known works listed above to explicate policy positions particularly of indigenous thinkers, writers, and policy-makers: Taiaiake Alfred, Patricia Monture-Angus, Sakej Youngblood Henderson, Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, John Borrows, and others. Poelzer and Coates make clear the great diversity of positions advocated, from deep separatism, to "treaty federalism," to enthusiasm about education and entrepreneurialism.

Can we move from all this application of brainpower toward meaningful actions on the headline agonies?  I want to come back to some of the ideas Poelzer and Coates review, and particularly the word that appear twice in their title: treaty.

Monday, April 18, 2016

History of Treaties

The first lines of From Treaty Peoples to Treaty Nation:
In 2012 we published a series of opinion pieces in Canada's national newspapers expressing our outlook on the future of Aboriginal affairs in Canada. At the time the papers were full of stories about the dreadful housing conditions and infrastructure crisis at the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, complete with overheated rhetoric ad finger pointing.
Plus ça change....

From Treaty Peoples to Treaty Nation by Greg Poelzer and Ken Coates, from UBC Press, is among the nominees for the Donner Prize in Public Policy for 2016.

...more to come.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Help: Where is Sophronia buried?

We get mail:
May seem to be a weird question, but I'd like to know!
Where would they bury a prostitute who died in 1883, in Toronto? There is a record of her death, but no record to be found of her burial. So what did they do with them? She left a will for her 2 children and she was a very intelligent lady. So what would the laws have been in such a case? Supposedly her husband found her dead at age of 43-46, at home. Would there have been an investigation of why she died? She adopted my Great Grandmother, and seen to it she'd be well cared for, she also had a son named William Walter Beard. Don't know what happened to him either. Her adopted daughter's name was Gertrude Estelle Marion Howe. Her husband's name according to her will was Joseph Henry Howe, he went by Henry Howe. Her name was Sophronia/Sophrona Matilda Howe, who also went by Mrs. Beard. She owned 3 homes in Toronto, when she died.

Anyways, Senator Henry A. Mullins and his wife Annie, took in my Great Grandmother, in after her mother died, but there was no mention of her in his will, so they didn't adopt her. She died in Saskatchewan.

I have contacted the Cemeteries, so far no burial record to be found for Sophrona.
Any and all useful answers or suggestions for research will be forward to my correspondent - otherwise unknown to me.

Updates:  Chris Raible:

I suggest contacting the Ontario Genealogical Society. They have been most helpful to me in the past.
Or, in this case, maybe the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society too.  The likeliest names don't come up on its online burial index, but it might have additional resources.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How historical is "Hamilton"? How hip is Video Cabaret?

I do like the idea of the hottest ticket on Broadway being a hiphop musical about some 18th century politician: "Hamilton" by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

But it's getting some pushback from historians, even though they like the show.
“One of the most interesting things about the ‘Hamilton’ phenomenon,” [historian Annette Gordon-Reed] wrote last week on the blog of the National Council on Public History, “is just how little serious criticism the play has received.”
Ms. Gordon-Reed was responding to a critical essay by Lyra D. Monteiro, in the journal The Public Historian, arguing that the show’s multiethnic casting obscures the almost complete lack of identifiable African-American characters, making the country’s founding seem like an all-white affair.
“It’s an amazing piece of theater, but it concerns me that people are seeing it as a piece of history,” Ms. Monteiro, an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, Newark, said in an interview.
Historian Ron Chernow, who wrote the biography that inspired the playwright, offers a defence that sounds like a confirmation of Lyra Monteiro's point about the play:
Mr. Chernow, who is the show’s historical consultant, said the criticisms by Ms. Monteiro and Ms. Gordon-Reed were based on “an enormous misunderstanding” of the show, which dramatizes “a piece of political history at a very elite” — and all-white — “level of society.”
I'd still see the show. And Chernow's big serious biography has returned to the bestseller list, so....

Meanwhile, if you are in Toronto and not up for jaunting to New York for the weekend, there's impressive historical theatre in the 'hood. Michael Hollingsworth and Video Cabaret's nth revival of The History of the Village of the Small Huts is packing them in at the Distillery District, the latest being "The Great War."  Critical and popular reaction is ace.  Any historians weighing in?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Lount and Matthews Day

Ashok Charles of the Lount and Matthews Commemoration Committee (who knew?) reminds me that tomorrow, April 12, marks the 138th anniversary of the execution of Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews in Toronto for their roles in the Upper Canadian rebellion of 1837. The annual commemoration of their deaths will be held at 5.30 pm at Courthouse Square (location), the site of the gallows at the time.

Image:  from Historical Narratives of Early Canada

Update, same day:  Chris Raible, who knows 1837, writes:
The image you credit to "Historical Narratives of Canada" was first published in 1839 by W L Mackenzie in his Caroline Almanac for 1840 published in Rochester, New York.
Note the prisoners staring through the bars wondering who's next.

History of Economics

There is an interesting split in professional schools -- business, medicine, applied sciences (maybe law, too?) -- between those that take a serious interest in the history of their field and those that do not.

The website Economic Principals covers an economic history conference at Duke University, and observes how economic history does vital work in a few economic departments and is neglected most everywhere else.
Partly because of the thick-headed self-delight of present-day economics, jobs for historians of thought are scarce, even in business schools. Matthias Klaes, of the University of Dundee, wrote earlier this year: “Certainly in the UK it is not generally possible anymore to pursue history of economics as a specialist based in an economics department.”
The inspiration for Duke's economic history powerhouse, it turns out, is a Canadian historian I had never heard of, Craufurd Goodwin. who has been doing economic and other history at Duke since 1962 and running the History of Political Economy journal since 1969.

Update, April 12: Denis Smith writes:
Craufurd taught for one year in Toronto, during York University's second year of existence, as the first appointee in economics. (I was also a member of the initial York staff, 1960-1963, and seem to recall I had a hand in hiring him.) His office was next to mine on the Glendon campus, and we shared some early discontents about how York was developing. Craufurd, as a result, did not unpack much of his library into his office, leaving his bookshelves conspicuously empty, and quickly decided that he would return to Duke, where he had come from. Too bad for Canadian economic history!
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