Documenting Nepal’s earthquake survivors


I passed this damaged building walking in and out of Chisapani a couple of weeks ago. The village is on the northern edge of the Kathmandu Valley, in Shivapuri National Park.

The Asia Foundation in Nepal continues doing a series of post-earthquake surveys of households whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the 2015 earthquakes.

I am impressed that more than two years after the devastation TAF continues to follow-up and I suspect that the information they’re collecting will be useful in future post-disaster situations. More than that, I hope someone at the Nepal government body responsible for earthquake recovery, the Nepal Reconstruction Authority, is reading these reports and seriously considering their recommendations. Continue reading


Indigenous peoples’ protection of the land limits climate change

Tauli_Cortuz_post_081017This a follow-up to my last post, where I took issue with an argument in a recent op-ed in the New York Times by Kenan Malik. He contended that the common claim that Indigenous People have a “special attachment to the land and a unique form of ecological wisdom” is the flip side of the historical argument that they are primitives who cannot adapt in the modern world. He calls it a “reworking of the ‘noble savage’ myth.” Continue reading

Should Canadians treat First Nations like charities?

ski-doo_blog_140213A teenage girl working as a page in Ontario’s legislature hears then lieutenant-governor, James Bartleman, talk about how, growing up as an aboriginal person in a small community in northern Ontario, books were his ‘ticket out of poverty’.

Bartleman went on to describe how the shortage of books contributed to lower education outcomes in many Ontario First Nations, and how the situation endures today. Determined to do something, the girl and her sister begin collecting books to send to remote northern First Nations. To date, their organisation, Books with no Bounds, has delivered more than 15,000 books to such Ontario communities, and earlier this month the sisters, Emma and Julia Mogus of Oakville, received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal from Mr. Bartleman.

Good for them. I sincerely mean that. They are doing something, they are acting on their beliefs.

But … Continue reading

Why First Nations cling to their reserves

If you truly want to try to understand Canada’s First Nations ‘issue’, please read this piece by Richard Wagamese.

When you’re down to the last thing that represents a connection to who you are, when you’ve watched everything that was part and parcel of the story of your people get torn away, and you’re left to stand with only one thing to hold onto, you will cling to that last thing with everything you have in order to not disappear. Any human being would.

Read more:

Haida elders educate Enbridge hearing

It’s like Russian roulette. That’s what I see happening if you have an oil spill. Our culture and everything would die

Local newspaper coverage of the federal-provincial joint review panel hearing into the Enbridge project in the community hall in Old Massett, Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), 28 Feb:

The drums pounded rhythmically, the song filled the hall, the hereditary chiefs proceeded solemnly down the main aisle, as more than 250 people looKed on.

It was just after 9 am on day one-Tuesday- of the federal-provincial joint review panel hearing into the Enbridge project on the islands in the community hall in Old Massett. Continue reading

130 years to heal from attempted genocide?

Emphasising hard truths may not be the best route to reconciliation

The head of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) said last week that it could take 130 years for indigenous people to heal from the “genocide” of the country’s former residential schools system.

While both parts of that assertion may be true – the residential school system was an act of genocide, and the devastation it wreaked will take more than a century to overcome – was it wise for Justice Murray Sinclair to make that statement now?

In his speech to students at the University of Manitoba on Feb. 17 (as reported by The Globe and Mail) Sinclair argued that taking 150,000 aboriginal children from their parents and putting them in Church-run schools over more than a century was a form of genocide. As is now well known, residential schools in Canada were designed to assimilate indigenous children into mainstream culture.

Sinclair is certainly then not the first person to apply the term genocide to residential schools. But to what purpose?

Accusing Canada of genocide is shocking, a slap in the face. True, such an accusation could motivate some Canadians to inquire further into one of the darkest chapters of this country’s history. Others in positions of power might be anxious that Sinclair’s assertion could have legal implications, and send lawyers scurrying to their research libraries.

But I believe many other Canadians will react with disbelief, if not anger. Yes, our governments fully perpetuated the residential school system over generations, they will admit, but this system was the product of racist thinking of a bygone era (even if the last school didn’t close until the 1990s).

They would argue that the federal government has apologised for that system – in the process establishing the TRC – and that it is unimaginable that a Canadian government would ever again support the stated aims of such a system.

It would be easy to label those sentiments as just the wishful thinking of a generation of blinkered Canadian settlers. And while their reactions might not contribute to the Commission’s mandate of establishing the truth of what happened in those grim residential schools, they are more than wishful thinking – they represent the challenge of achieving reconciliation, which is the second part of the Commission’s mandate.

I would like to see the TRC do more to try and bring indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians together. Beyond publicising the painful stories told by former students at its hearings across the country, it needs to reach out to ordinary Canadians; to motivate them to sincerely try to understand how physical and mental abuse in one’s childhood can reverberate through a family for generations, and affect entire communities of such families – and eventually all of us.

Yes, Canadians need to hear the awful truth of what happened when our former leaders set out to erase an entire category of people from this land, but we also require guidance in understanding how families’ pain still lives today and leaders who will demonstrate that healing the wounds of the residential school system is essential to moving this country forward, and requires the combined efforts of indigenous and non-indigenous alike.

Human rights and impunity in Nepal

A group of interesting articles in today’s Republica newspaper. (Myrepublica is the online site).

The first is an interview with the head of the UN human rights office in Nepal (my former boss – I worked at OHCHR-Nepal from 2007 to June, 2009).

In the interview Richard Bennett reiterates that the government and Maoists are doing nothing in response to multiple allegations of human rights abuses during and after the conflict (1996-2006), in essence strengthening the climate of impunity in Nepal.

The second article is a report that one of the accused in one of Nepal’s best-known cases of human rights abuse during the conflict – the case of Maina Sunuwar – is working in a UN peacekeeping mission.

The third, and headline article in the paper quotes the US Embassy in Kathmandu saying that the US will withdraw financial support to Nepal if the proposed Chief of Army staff is appointed without having undergone a thorough, independent review of allegations that he was responsible for human rights violations during the conflict.

I have said for some time now that it won’t be moral suasion that forces Nepal’s government to respond to such allegations and that hitting their bottom line would be more effective.