Sun 8 Feb 2015
The middle of February is always a busy time in the United States and Canada, and this year it will be especially busy in Canada. Indigenous activists have announced plans for a one-day, coast-to-coast version of the Occupy movement. More about that in a moment.
Both countries will celebrate Valentine’s Day this Saturday, Feb. 14. President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday will be Thursday, Feb. 12, and President George Washington’s birthday will be Feb. 22. In accordance with Congress’ Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971, California and most other states will celebrate the two presidents’ birthdays together as Presidents’ Day this coming Monday, Feb. 16.
Beyond that, however, things fall apart; the center cannot hold, for the holiday never falls on Washington’s actual birthday although in some years it falls on Lincoln’s. In addition, some states honor different presidents with different holidays.
In Massachusetts and Virgina, only Washington’s birthday will be celebrated Monday. Massachusetts, however, will celebrate a second Presidents’ Day on May 29, honoring Presidents John F. Kennedy, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and the lackluster Calvin Coolidge. Why those guys? They were all born in Massachusetts.
In Washington and Alabama, Washington’s and President Thomas Jefferson’s birthdays will be celebrated next week on Presidents’ Day but not Lincoln’s birthday. Arkansas on Monday will officially celebrate the birthdays of both Washington and Daisy Batson Gates (1914-99), an NAACP leader during the struggle for integration.
Nor will it occur in the United States.
Just across the border, thousands of First Nation people plan to economically disrupt Canada for a day.
Canada geese over Point Reyes Station bring to mind two impending events: Valentine’s Day and #ShutDownCanada.
#ShutDownCanada, as it’s called, is a collection of nationwide protests being organized via Facebook, the Two Row Times of Hagersville, Ontario, reported on Jan. 21. The group is asking for “communities across Canada to blockade their local railway, port or highway on February 13th,” the First Nation publication noted.
“Don’t buy, don’t fly, no work and keep the kids home from school… The goal is to significantly impact the Canadian economy for a day and demand there be an independent inquiry into the 2000+ cases of missing or murdered indigenous women….
“Plans to demonstrate outside city halls, shut down highways, occupy high traffic areas and more have been organized by groups in Calgary, Espanola, Edmonton, Fredericton, Halifax, Hamilton, Kamloops, Lethbridge, London, Moncton, Montreal, Niagara, Oshawa, Ottawa, Regina, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.”
#ShutDownCanada intends to draw attention to both the “missing and murdered indigenous women” and to several “man-made environmental disasters [including] existing and operational fracking wells, open-pit mining projects, the Site C Dam construction [a hydroelectric dam planned in northeastern British Columbia], and the widespread devastation that tar sands and related pipeline projects brings to all life forms, ecosystems, families and communities.”
Drawing particular ire is the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative. Percentage-wise, four times as many First Nation females as white females are being murdered or disappearing in Canada. So says a recent report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the Organization of American States.
In December, however, Harper (at right in Canadian Broadcasting Corporation photo) shrugged off complaints that his government was not looking into the disproportionate number of attacks on indigenous women. “It isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest,” he acknowledged.
“Our ministers will continue to dialogue with those who are concerned about this…. I would rather spend my time focusing on what actions we can take to improve these situations, prevent these situations than have more multimillion dollar inquiries.”
Further offending many First Nation people were comments by Canada’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Bernard Valcourt. When 16-year-old Rinelle Harper, who had been physically and sexually attacked, called for a national inquiry into the violence against indigenous females, he responded: “Listen, Rinelle, I have a lot of sympathy for your situation… and I guess that victims… have different views and we respect them.”
The First Nation reaction was immediate. Referring to the girl’s traumatic ordeal as a “situation” epitomized the insensitivity of the Harper government to indigenous people, one critic wrote.
Beyond fuming at the conservative government’s lack of concern about attacks on indigenous women, many First Nation people also accuse Harper of corruption, saying his government plans to take over more aboriginal land for development of natural resources in violation of a Canadian Supreme Court ruling.
In 1990, Mohawks in Quebec faced provincial and federal troops for six months in a standoff that resulted from a dispute over land ownership. Friday’s conflict will probably be more peaceable. An Eastern Door editorial by editor and publisher Steve Bonspiel, whom I wrote about last week, advised his Mohawk readers: “A unified approach without violence but with plenty of information to inform others is a sound one.”