Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Oh, oh, oh - those good intentions...

Sometimes, it's hard to know what to say.  Ok - often, it's hard to know what to say.

Tonight I went to a lecture in a human rights series, given by Lesléa Newman at the University of Alberta. I wanted leave feeling inspired and moved. Lesléa is someone who has written books that my children and I have read together many times over, so in this way has been a part of our household language and rituals. And the talk itself was pretty good, though probably a bit rudimentary for those of us already steeped in queer history and goings on in the United States. But I greatly enjoyed hearing Newman's take on these things. I liked, in particular, hearing Lesléa read from many of her works. She is an expressive reader and her poetry is quite powerful. I loved, in particular, her reading from A Letter to Harvey Milk. I cried a tiny bit, listening to the poems from October Mourning (of which I now have a signed copy). And I was most certainly choked up listening to her read Donovan's Big Day.

After the talk ended and the standing ovation subsided, someone from the University got up to say a few words of thanks. And I found myself listening and watching, with no small amount of horror, as this white guy in a suit (sigh - always the white guy in the suit...) began to talk about the importance of Aboriginal and Inuit culture in Canada, and then proceeded to present Ms. Newman with a carving of an Inukjuak as a token of our collective appreciation. And I found myself laughing, almost uncontrollably, in sheer disbelief.  There may also have been some snorting. And guffawing.  It wasn't pretty. Or particularly quiet. (I can't control myself when I'm that surprised, people. I just can't).

This gesture was surely intended with good will. I hope (hope, hope, hope). But you know what they say about good intentions (pretty sure it has something to do with the road to hell). Given the history in Canada of cultural and physical genocide, given our current state of state sanctioned oppression and suppression of First Nations people, and given that this is, in fact a lecture series in human rights - surely - people cannot have thought this appropriation of art and culture, and absolute misrepresentation of the treatment of First Nations people in Canada was in any way, you know, appropriate?


I don't want to fault the organizers, or make it sound like the event wasn't important, well organized and put together. It was. But my appreciation of this fact has indeed, and rather unfortunately, been overshadowed.

A friend and I voiced our concerns before we left. Though this was uncomfortable-making, and not something I'm particularly good at, I'm glad we did. (Oh man - I'm just pissing folks off left, right and centre today. Who knew I had it in me? It may become a new hobby, who knows where this kind of willy-nilly self-expression will lead?!)

I wanted to leave feeling inspired and moved.

And instead I left feeling angry. Slightly ill. And profoundly weary.

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