Category Archives: Investigations

For sale: Making a killing from Britain’s colonial crimes – Part 1

This investigation contains words, images and videos which may be offensive to some readers1

Screen grab of Hibou Home webpage selling “teepees wallpaper”. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

Covering the walls at £70 a roll

TWO banks, a car rental firm, a pizza company, a rugby team, school playground equipment, a Christmas German market, a wallpaper design. All different, all in the United Kingdom and all making money from using the images of Indigenous peoples of North America.

Tomorrow has collected more than a dozen examples of advertising and products using tipis, feathered headdresses or other aspects to make money.

Ranging from cartoonish figurines of “Red Indians, £22 each” to children’s wallpaper adorned with tipis and arrows at £70 a roll, the imagery is big business.2

Banks, at least one of which helped fund the expansion and claiming of Canadian lands and is now 70 per cent owned by the British taxpayer, use children “playing Indian” to promote their products and services.

Sports teams have made millions off the back of Indigenous names and logos. One has dropped the most offensive term, recognising its “negative or divisive connotations”.

UK branches of major US firms use Indigenous stereotypes to sell business from car rentals to pizza.

Education programmes, schools and teachers can be found mainstreaming the “Doctrine of Discovery”, cultural appropriation and even potentially illegal mockery of Indigenous peoples.

And far-right groups and politicians continue to use similar images and ‎narratives about Indigenous North America to promote racist anti-immigrant policies, mirroring Nazi Germany.

Why is Indigenous imagery so popular for commercial ventures? Why is it more acceptable in the UK? And what role do consumers have in the future of relations with peoples first colonised generations ago and still suffering and dying as a result today?

‘Perfect for your mini adventurer’

In March 2015, a press release trumpeted the latest design from Hibou Home, a wallpaper and fabric firm based in the south-east corner of England.

“Teepees, arrows, tribal motifs and feathers adorn our native inspired wallpaper. Perfect for your mini adventurer!” read the description, with promotional images showing felt headdresses and feather-adorned teepees.3

The “sustainably and ethically sourced” “Teepees wallpaper” sells for £70 a roll ($89USD, $118CAD).4

"Teepee wallpaper"

“Teepee wallpaper” from Hibou Home sells for £70 per roll. Screen grab of website.

Chelsea Vowel’s first reaction to the tipi wallpaper was, “I want it”, followed by “Ugh”.

The Métis teacher, author and activist originally from the Plains Cree-speaking community of Lac Ste Anne, Alberta.5

As Indigenous people, we don’t get to really go out to a store and buy products that represent us in any way,” Ms Vowel told Tomorrow by phone. “And so, unfortunately, we’re stuck with whatever’s out there, the representations that do exist. They’re few and far between, they’re almost always very stereotypical but it’s at least making some sort of nod to my existence.

“And it’s the same thing when looking at buying toys or anything like that. You see a little figurine dressed up as a Native – it’s so rare to see yourself represented that way – that even when you cringe away from it because the portrayal is so awful, part of you is still like, ‘Yeah but it’s still for me’.

“So it’s this very conflicting thing. It’s really just rooted in wanting to see more actual representation, for me, for my kids. 

“But the second reaction of course is sort of disgust and despair because it’s always going back to this very stereotypical, Plains, homogenised Native American stereotypes that we don’t really want to perpetuate.”

Hibou Home did not reply to repeated requests for comment.

Ms Vowel said the stereotypes rooted in fictional views of Plains culture are so widespread that even if an Indigenous artist made them, she would be uncomfortable.

“It’s still filling that niche market of the stereotypical Plains Indian,” she explained. “Even if you have a Plains Indian doing it, it’s still just really appealing to that aesthetic. And that is really unfortunate for me because I come from a Plains culture – this is my culture – and so I feel I don’t have the opportunity to celebrate the symbols of my culture because they’ve so been over-exploited, they’ve so been used to homogenise very, very diverse Indigenous cultures.

“And I think eventually, once there’s more awareness, once people are more aware of the diversity of our nations, that that’s not going to be an issue. But that’s an issue now.”

Canada has more than 600 distinct Indigenous nations and at least 50 languages,6 while the US borders contain another 566 “tribal entities” as designated by the US government, and more than 150 languages7 repeatedly suppressed or criminalised and struggling to survive today. Only a handful of nations traditionally used tipis compared to other housing and ceremonial structures.

Artist Shelley Niro8 lives on the Six Nations of the Grand River territory in Ontario. She said examples such as the wallpaper are using child themes to make racism okay. But it could be used positively for learning.

They’re cartoon images representing another nation and I don’t think we would be able to show those in Canada without some kind of uproar,” she said. “It seems like the people who are marketing that seem to be a little bit behind the times.

“If a child is exploring that, I think that’s fine. But exploration comes from the direction of an adult. I think it just depends on what direction the adult is taking that in.”

Stephanie Pratt is a cultural affairs ambassador for the Crow Creek Dakota based in Exeter, UK, and former associate professor of art history at the University of Plymouth.9 Born in the US, she has lived in the UK for more than 20 years, with a particular interest in depictions of Indigenous figures in art. Over that time in Britain, she has watched periods of appropriation ebb and flow as people test the water. “What if we just use kids?” or “What if we just have it on a little wallpaper for children – that’s going to be ok and nobody’ll notice it, it’s in the background, it’s very small.”

But it’s returned to the mainstream, she said, with examples such as Victoria Secret models in very little except headdresses, musician Pharrell Williams pictured in a headdress on the cover of UK Elle magazine, and the annual issue at music festivals,10 where the Indigenous person is an “envelope in which you can put anything you want”.

And I am shocked that it has come back so quick from the 1990s and the 2000s where I feel we were much more switched on about what was appropriate and what wasn’t,” she said.

Native ceremonies are run through charity, not profit, said Dr Pratt. And £70 for a roll of wallpaper could pay for weeks of food for a family.

“This whole idea that you would take something Native and then make money on it, is so antithetical – it’s like slapping you twice or three times,” she told Tomorrow by phone. “First we have to look at your crummy things you’ve made in a factory, and then you get to make money off of it and then you get go off and la di da. That’s really, really rude to be doing that right now.

“To see somebody like that making £70 per roll, that’s just … I think it’s just despicable, I really do. I think those people should be educated about it.”

Children – and teams – playing

Hardly limited to wallpaper, appropriation or exploitation of Indigenous culture ranges from TV commercials to school playgrounds.

Headdresses, names and logos have been the subject of high-profile debate in North America, particularly around sports team names, such as the American football team in Washington.11

In the example of the wallpaper, the problem is not just the commercial sale of Indigenous imagery, but children playing with the products without knowledge.

“I do feel there are levels of outrage,” said Dr Pratt. “In one sense, to me, it’s all outrageous because first of all a tipi is a lodge usually associated with ceremony or a person’s lifestyle and their home and something that is very sacred on a number of levels.

“It would be one thing if we were having a day where we were going to study and look at tipis and how to build them and how long it takes to actually put one together. There is a danger there.

“But I think the actual dressing up and the use of logos is probably the most outrageous to me, the most shocking display of almost throwing it in your face that you no longer exist, that it doesn’t matter because, ‘You guys are all gone. We can call whatever name we want because no-one’s going to fight back, no-one’s going to say anything’.

“The [Washington] Redskins are obviously a derogatory term – you can’t dress it up to be anything prettier. Even if people did use red colour dye in their skin and they did use it ceremonially, that doesn’t mean someone can call you a ‘red skin’.”

She continued: “I’ve been called that to my face and I’ve been called it here with people who believe it’s a real thing, like this is a traditional way, ‘You people were called Red Indians’. No we weren’t called, first of all, ‘you people’ and second of all, we weren’t called ‘Red Indian’ – that was a term made up by the British to distinguish us from other Indians, East Indians.”

And names do matter, said Dr Pratt, with an increasing drive to use the real language of the people being referred to.

“There’s a lot of sensitivity on one level and there’s a lot of complete, blatant racism on the other level and it’s really hard to reconcile where we really are with it.”

[Tweet ““To see somebody like that making £70 per roll, that’s just … I think it’s just despicable””]

Professor David Garneau12 is head of the visual arts department at the University of Regina as well as being a Métis artist, painter and writer. He previously mounted an exhibition called “Cowboys and Indians (and Métis?)”, adding in representations of Métis to the two-sided stereotypes. He said the tipi wallpaper is a nostalgic part of that tradition he refers to as “white imaginary”.

“It belongs to a larger class of things, perhaps where you’ve got non-Indigenous folks who are interested in the Indigenous, usually in a nostalgic or not very direct way,” he explained. “So you’ll see items of clothing or things that reference aboriginal folks from the high plains era of the 19th century or something like that.

“It’s clearly playing within white imaginary, which has its own interested charm. It’s not outright offensive, in my view, that kind of thing.”

Prof Garneau said the use of a child playing with a tipi and headdress in a commercial was “probably crossing the line”.

“In terms of children’s play, children will do all sorts of things and they don’t mean offence and they’re trying to engage in imaginative play,” he told Tomorrow by phone. “And yes, the responsible person would situate that play in a larger context. And who knows what they’re acting on or what they know.

“What people do in their private space, like with that wallpaper or I suppose if somebody’s doing a tipi, that’ll take care of itself in the sense that people will ask them questions and they can comment or defend.”

But if there are few or no individuals to police the use of such images and products in the UK, is it an issue? If the depiction is meant to be nostalgic, does that allow British businesses, consumers and governments to abdicate from any engagement with current Indigenous populations on the serious and frequently life-threatening issues they face? Do they even know the different proper names for a tipi, such as mîkiwahp in Cree?13

No businesses questioned by Tomorrow about their ads or products for this investigation confirmed any communication with Indigenous individuals or groups.

Ms Vowel said within the debate about appropriation, Indigenous peoples get sidelined or simply erased as current voices.

“I would remind people that we exist, on the internet, quite a bit,” she said. “There are all sorts of primary sources you can go to, different news organisations, different communities that have launched campaigns to raise awareness about these things. Lots of Native people are speaking for themselves.

“Go hear it from the horse’s mouth. And for some reason people are like, ‘Oh wow! I didn’t even realise that you guys are on the internet.” But we are. Go look at what we’re saying.”

One of those voices on the internet is activist and artist RJ Jones, 23, a Saulteaux-Cree youth living in Ottawa.14 They have used an arrow in the symbol for a previous podcast, an image that represents them in the Plains nation.

In an interview with Tomorrow by Skype, RJ said the examples of wallpaper and other commercial products and depictions in the UK were more likely ignorance than deliberate offensiveness, but all represent misappropriation of culture. It is a Hollywood, simplified view.

RJ said the intention of a parent – for example, “I didn’t intend offence” – wouldn’t matter.

“I definitely don’t think parents are going to actively go out and teach the kids about what it means,” they explained.

“The fact that they purchased the tipi for their kids to play in is already an act of ignorance so that would already tell me that they’re not going to go out of their way to educate them. And to buy that is going to enforce ignorance and a lack of education.

“A lot of people are ignorant but in some ways it’s not their fault. But at the same time, when you’re called out on being ignorant, the least you can do is take responsibility and maybe listen and educate yourself. But that doesn’t happen.

“And I’ve rarely – battling cultural appropriation online for years – seen anyone just be like, ‘Ok, I did something ignorant, I am sorry, I am going to take the steps to educate myself’. It’s more of a, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong, it’s freedom of speech’ and pulling every excuse out of the hat.

“To me, it’s like their intension is never to do the thing that will benefit Indigenous people the most. They want to do whatever benefits them.”

A lifestyle taken

What’s lacking in the use of the tipi image may be a sense of history, not only of Britain’s role in colonialism, but also the people who lived in the structures themselves.

Scott Frazier is Dr Pratt’s Hunka father, both Crow and Santee Dakota, living in the US state of Montana. He insisted to Tomorrow he’s not an elder: “I’m never going to be an elder. No way. I’m going to be a kid all my life. I might be an elder when I’m dead. I think too, you’ve got to have a good message. I used to have messages but I don’t have any messages right now.”

Mr Frazier said Indigenous symbols and images have been used since the two cultures met hundreds of years ago.

And while the tipi might be associated with Indigenous lifestyle, most tribes were out of them by the end of the 19th century.

“That’s an image of serenity and home and being able to move freely,” said Mr Frazier, “and it’s an image we don’t get to have anymore as a lifestyle. It was a very holistic lifestyle, and then it was not.

“I think some people get upset about seeing tipis in non-Indian hands because they feel victimised by the conqueror, colonialism. We haven’t been able to get away from that trauma long enough.

“We’re only about, say, 120 years from the last struggle, but it’s been, for some tribes, 500 years since they were able to practice their culture the way that they have for thousands of years.

“A lot of the use of symbols and mascots and logos get Native people uncomfortable because of the trauma, colonialism, misunderstanding, and losing their culture.

“A lot of us, we’re not in those lifestyles anymore – we’re not wearing headdresses … And most of us live in houses and we’re away from the nomadic or migratory lifestyle that we had.”

Some Britons, however, enjoy the tipi lifestyle denied to others.

The social media “event” of the 2017 Glastonbury music festival in the UK includes a main image of tipis, one with Chief Red Cloud on the side. Some individuals called out the photo as offensive. But one individual claimed he and his friends living in “Tipi Valley” were not “playing at ‘being Red Indians’”. This self-declared “tipi folk” had been living year round in one for 37 years and had been creating a circle at the Worthy Farm, home to the festival, since the 1970s.

He insisted: “We are just trying to live simply, as our own ancestors did for very many thousands of years, in a round house around a central hearth. The tipi is a wonderful dwelling enabling us to do it. Tipi like structures occur in many cultures, though I admit we use a design perfected by Lakotas.

“Cultural appropriation of Native Americans more relates to the misuse of their feathered head-dress,[sic] not to this type of wonderful tent.”15

But Britain’s sale of Indigenous culture is not limited to the “wonderful tent” at festivals or on wallpaper for upmarket children’s bedrooms. The profiting goes further – and children and education are frequently at the heart of the exploitation.

PART 2: Feathers on TV

  1. Under our core principle to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the complacent”, the balance in this case must fall with afflicting the complacent, who may be otherwise oblivious of how the words, images and videos afflict others. The use of the content is minimised as much as possible while still giving full exposure for the purposes of accuracy and education.
  2. Tomorrow has chosen to use the “tipi” spelling but the product is referred to as “teepee”. Traditional dwellings should, in practice and where possible, be referred to by local Indigenous names.
  3. Hibou Home website, initially accessed March 9, 2015, reconfirmed September 19, 2016.
  4. Exchange rate calculated on December 4, 2016 through
  5. Chelsea Vowel’s website accessed most recently on September 25, 2016.
  6. The Canadian government department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs states 617 First Nations and 50 languages, as well as Inuit in 53 communities in four territories and as well as individuals living in urban communities or Métis peoples who are outside the government’s “status” designations. Website accessed September 25, 2016.
  7. “Tribal entities” set out in 2015 list from US Bureau of Indian Affairs, accessed on September 25, 2016. The US Endangered Languages Project lists 167 at-risk languages in the US. Website accessed September 25, 2016
  8. Shelley Niro’s website, accessed most recently on September 25, 2016.
  9. Dr Stephanie Pratt’s LinkedIn profile, accessed more recently on October 15, 2016.
  10. Victoria Secret models used headdresses at a 2012 shoot, as pointed out on the Native Appropriations website, accessed on October 15, 2016. Mr Williams apologised for the cover after a swift backlash on the cover, as reported widely, including by Rolling Stone, accessed October 15, 2016. The official Facebook “event” page for for Glastonbury 2017 uses tipis for the main image. Accessed most recently on October 15, 2016.
  11. The name of the team has been designated as racist and will feature in this investigation through interviews and references to teams and decisions. As stated at the start of the feature, the use of offensive terms will be limited where possible.
  12. University of Regina webpage for David Garneau, accessed more recently on October 16, 2016.
  13. From Online Cree Dictionary, accessed most recently on December 4, 2016. This is just example from one language and shouldn’t be taken as the only term.
  14. Artist site for RJ Jones, accessed most recently on December 4, 2016.
  15. Screen grab of Facebook event page and comment. Site most recently accessed on October 14, 2016.

For sale: Making a killing from Britain’s colonial crimes – Part 2

This investigation contains words, images and videos which may be offensive to some readers
RBS/NatWest ad

Screen grab of RBS/NatWest ad “The House that Jack Built”. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

Feathers on TV

THE TV advertisement for the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and NatWest banks shows a child running around in his feathered headdress, a tipi standing next to patio doors as he recounts how his parents got a mortgage so “they could have me”.1

An Enterprise car hire commercial also shows a child running around in a headdress, this time screaming and terrorising the staff as they talk about their great “US customer service” for UK rentals.2

Enterprise TV ad

Screen grab of Enterprise ad. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

New banking app B, from the Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank, sells itself on the premise that, “We aren’t born worrying about money”, showing children playing multiple fantasy roles from astronaut to criminals to knights, all crossing over each other. It includes youths with feathers in their hair and face paint running in a circle making “waw-waw” gestures with their hands to their mouths.3

Enterprise did not reply to repeated requests for comment. Ben Jun-tai, a spokesman for RBS/NatWest, said: “The outfit and props were simply to show a child having fun. As such I’m afraid we won’t be making any comment.”

In a response to questions, Carol Young, a spokeswoman for CYBG plc, the holding company that owns Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks, said: “The aim of the ad was to recreate the child-like world of play and, as you say, it depicts a range of scenarios involving some of the many games played by children. We would not able to disclose either costs or revenue.”

Is it harmless fun or using children to make money out of another culture? What is the definition of cultural appropriation? Why is wearing headdresses such a frequent target for campaigners and such an offence – both moral as well as cultural – to Indigenous communities? And could their use in the UK even be breaking laws?

Playing dress up

Chelsea Vowel is so used to explaining cultural appropriation to white people she’s a bit fed up with it. It’s usually the only interaction the majority population ever has with a minority – when the majority does something wrong and gets criticised for it.

Beneath the issue of headdresses, the most common point of contention, there are other objects and images taken from Indigenous peoples and used by others.

Ms Vowel said a key difference is between representation and appropriation, concepts that often get confused in the controversy over objects or imagery.

Representation might not use restricted symbols, such as headdresses, but it can be just as harmful by homogenising hundreds of different and distinct nations into one group, to be potentially ignored, marginalised, oppressed or killed.

Moccasins, feather earrings, the tipi – those would generally not be restricted as images, though aspects of tipis can also be sacred.

She explained: “Representation is dealing with things like unrestricted symbols, things that are not particularly sacred within the cultures.

“You have people who will dress up like that or use those symbols and what they’re doing is harking back to that homogenised Plains Indian sort of image that has been created by Hollywood. You’re not taking sacred symbols and mocking them, you’re perpetuating a stereotype that homogenises 600-plus different nations – very, very diverse nations.

“There are only a handful of Plains nations and somehow our symbols get used to represent all Native Americans or all Indigenous peoples in North America. And in doing that, in accepting those sorts of portrayals, people lose out on understanding our diversity, both in symbols and culture.

“So they won’t learn anything about the Inuit, they won’t learn anything about the Mohawk, they won’t learn anything about the west coast cultures – it’s just Plains Indians all the time. And that becomes an issue because we’re really invisibilised.

“We’re four per cent of the population in Canada, two per cent of the population in the United States. We’re a super minority. And yet we are the original peoples on those lands and nobody really knows anything about us, other than these representations.

“And we’re fighting back against that so intensely because we need people to see us. And they don’t see us.

“If we don’t present in that stereotypical form that even people in the UK are used to seeing, then they don’t see us, they don’t take us as authentic, they don’t understand that we’re actually present in the 21st century, dealing with very, very serious issues.

“Representation for us is such a problem because it hides us. And so that’s one issue. And it’s a serious one.”

Prof Daniel Garneau said cultural objects might be made by Indigenous peoples but the versions for public consumption would lack sacred elements and would be “policed” by members of the community.

“And then within those communities or outside those communities but membership with those communities, there are artists who are working not as cultural producers but may use their culture’s material in avant garde way and that might upset some elders and traditional people but usually they permit it,” he said.

“There are certain – at least where I’m from around here – protocols that permit artists from a community to do things like that, but if it went too far, you’d be corrected, [though] not in any kind of legal way.

“Then are prohibitions against Indigenous people from one community using the representations of another, so sometimes those are clan affiliations and sometimes they’re just any kind of representation. These are looser and more about being admonished or something.”

He said there was general agreement non-Indigenous peoples should not use representation from any Indigenous peoples.

But, he continued: “If, for instance, a white guy does a painting of a bear, bears aren’t Indigenous or wolves or eagles or anything like that – it’s the style that might have some pretty obvious lineage.

“There are all sorts of Indigenous crafters who are making Indigenous clothing and jewellery and they want non-Indigenous people to wear them and that can be cited as respectful. But clearly anything spiritual or sacred – which don’t include tipis – but pipes, anything to do with ceremony or regalia like headdresses, yeah, that’s probably going over the line.

“There are some things that are clearly offensive and they were intended to offend. There are other things that are clearly offensive and the person was clueless and usually they’re contrite when they understand that.”

Much like the “tipi folk” living in UK structures for decades as mentioned in Part 1, there are others in continental Europe “truly fascinated”, said Prof Garneau. But is that fascination a launch pad to learning more about Indigenous peoples?

“It’s probably unlikely to happen in those particular cases,” he said. “If you were serious about that and included contemporary Indigenous peoples or even people at a powwow or however they’re performing their culture, that would be interesting, but that aspect would be irrelevant in a setting like Britain I would think.

“The only reason why those things exist, would seem to me, is at a very low level as simply a rough signifier of indigeneity and not intended as an entry point to anything wider. And that’s why I would class it as a form of nostalgia for a white imaginary, rather than as something meant to be offensive or meant to be a gateway into contemporary indigeneity.”

Earning it

Unlike representation, appropriation relies on individuals – almost always claiming “freedom of expression” – to dismiss the original culture and use restricted symbols. And the example Ms Vowel consistently uses to teach this point is both military medals and university degrees: they have to be earned.

“You go to university, you get your parchment, that parchment is a symbol of what you’ve achieved,” she said. “And people will and can go out and replicate them, but at that point, when you start doing that, when you start faking parchments and you start faking military medals, you start running into criminal sanctions.

“It’s not just in poor taste at that point. You’re actually doing something actively wrong, you’re misrepresenting yourself in some way. And sure, people can get away with it, but that’s not the point. You’ve crossed a line there because you’ve taken a symbol that is only supposed to be applied to certain people and you’re faking it.

“And I think a lot of people, especially with military medals, they can understand right away why that’s offensive. They’re like, ‘No, that’s just wrong’ because it represents something really important.

“And go ahead and mock it if you want but don’t pretend that you’ve earned one.”

[Tweet ““And go ahead and mock it if you want but don’t pretend that you’ve earned one.””]

Ms Vowel readily admitted she would love to wear a Plains headdress, a beautiful item and important to her culture. But it’s restricted to certain individuals and she can’t.

“So it’s really, really galling to have someone from outside the culture who thinks that they can just do that, they can just put it on and it’s no big deal because they don’t have to follow our cultural restrictions,” she added.

“Well no, they don’t have to – we have no way to coerce people – we have to convince them that it’s not okay.”

False representation as different roles or statuses in the UK, rather than races, has been subject to court cases and public backlash.

A 26-year-old man was found guilty of impersonating a police officer in Scotland and pulling over drivers with flashing lights, when in fact, he was a stripper.4

In 2010, a man attended a Remembrance Day parade wearing medals he was never awarded. He was arrested and later pleaded guilty to “unlawfully using military decoration”. The 1955 Army Act stated it was an offence to “falsely represents himself to be a person who is or has been entitled to use or wear any such decoration, badge, stripe or emblem”.5 The US has a similar act, the Stolen Valor Act against those trying to “gain recognition or prestige” by wearing awards they weren’t given.6

Fake university degrees have been a frequent target of immigration officials and right-wing media outlets, but fake qualifications also come up in court cases.7

But both impersonating someone of a particular role or status, or claiming fake qualifications, are offences in the UK only for those recognised roles. Because Indigenous peoples are not recognised, their military statuses or qualifications can’t be impersonated.

The UK signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.8.

Article 11 states: “States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with Indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.”

And Article 31 states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.”9

Cultural objects have been part of Indigenous life since the beginning, but also became part of their economies, even more so when colonialism began and there was a tourist desire for what outsiders decided was stereotypical.

But the need to feed foreign lust for “other” was the fault of the colonialism too, which destroyed the original North American economies, explained Ms Vowel.

“In some cases you have whole areas where the majority of people who are self-sufficient are artists,” she said. “So yes, of course, we’re producing and have been for a long time, for the western gaze, but trying to also integrate our own culture into these art forms.

“Those things are for sale, but I think they’re also attempting dialogue. When you’re looking at things that we’ve created, there’s a lot of culture embedded in those objects and we’re trying to share a world view, and I think that gets missed because it’s just looked at as ‘cute’ and ‘primitive’ and all of these other disparaging words that are used to downplay our artistry.

“The fact that sometimes some of those things are commercialised, people get the sense that, well, everything is commercialised. But that’s not true at all.”

Ms Vowel said the imagery used in Indigenous commercialised products is very deliberate and careful. While it would be possible to find Indigenous peoples selling headdresses, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to buy them. Often masks or totem poles, for example, are made without sacred images, she said, but the general public would not tell the difference.

“It’s part of a collective culture, it’s not an individual culture – an individual person cannot give you permission to access restricted symbols,” she asserted. “Restricted symbols – symbols that are only available to certain people within our culture – those things don’t tend to become commodified.

“You have people who are taking our symbols or taking the symbols that they think we have – because it’s not always accurate representation – and commodifying it and making money off it and we don’t benefit in any way and it doesn’t increase understanding about our issues, it doesn’t increase understanding that we actually exist as people in the 21st century. It doesn’t do anything for us.

“And then you have people who are actually ripping off our sacred symbols and that’s actively damaging us in an even worse way. Because it’s taking things from us, the items, the symbols, the ideas that we have restricted and it’s just giving everybody free reign to access things, which is something we certainly don’t consent to.”

There is no outward signal to Indigenous peoples that majority cultures want to learn about the minority cultures they are picking and choosing from. The message received, said interviewees, is: “They don’t care about us.”

Activists and artist RJ Jones said: “Because if they did care then they wouldn’t have used the design in the first place because they would have done the research.

“It’s like the headdress – people are using it for fashion but it’s not at all fashion. Headdress is Plains culture and people using that excuse, ‘Oh I’m part-Native too’, the nation you are ‘part of’ probably didn’t even use headdress, so again, there’s that discrepancy inside of culture itself.

“People are wilfully ignorant because they don’t want to have, I guess, the consequences of knowing that they screwed up.”

Exeter Chiefs online

Screen grab of Exeter Chiefs website. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

The Spread of ‘Chief’ and ‘Red’

The Exeter Chiefs rugby team have used the logo of a headdress-adorned chief to propel their marketing and turnover from £19,200 the year before the name change from Exeter Rugby Club in 1999, to £13.2 million last year.10

When asked about by Tomorrow about their name, logo, merchandising and how much of their growth could be traced to the use of “Chiefs”, the club declined to make any comment.

Though the uses of Indigenous identity for sports team names and logos are considerably more rare than in the United States, the most prominent dispute over the issue is not unknown: Washington DC’s football team.

On June 18, 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) of the US Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the Washington football team name “Redskins” and logo as a registered trademark because it was “disparaging”.11 It was the second time they had done so, having a previous ruling overturned. Past imagery used by the team included a tipi on the team’s programmes, headdresses as part of the marching band uniforms, and the “Dancing Indians” or Redskinettes.

In its 2014 decision, the TTAB stated the term “is and always has been a racial designation” and “refers to the real or imagined skin color of Native Americans”. It was not in a dictionary prior to 1966 and thereafter only as an offensive term, and it has been subject to opposition campaigns since at least the 1960s.12

The TTAB found that through national organisations, at least 30 per cent of Indigenous people in the US found the term disparaging.

It went on: “Thirty percent is without doubt a substantial composite. To determine otherwise means it is acceptable to subject to disparagement 1 out of every 3 individuals, or as in this case approximately 626,095 out of 1,978,285 in 1990. There is nothing in the Trademark Act, which expressly prohibits registration of disparaging terms, or in its legislative history, to permit that level of disparagement of a group and, therefore, we find this showing of thirty percent to be more than substantial.”13

“There is an overriding public interest in removing from the register marks that are disparaging to a segment of the population beyond the individual petitions.”14

The ruling was upheld by a district judge in July 2015, then struck down by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2015. The US Supreme Court declined to hear the case but will instead rule on a similar one, which could affect the Washington team.15

Exeter Chiefs "trading post"

The shop for the Exeter Chiefs, the “trading post”, sells items such as this white figure in a headdress. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

In the UK, a trade mark similarly can’t be “offensive”16 but the “Washington Redskins” remains a registered trade mark in the UK and across Europe through a German firm.17

And in August 2016, an application was added to the register from the NFL trade marking “Hail to the Redskins” on clothing and “education and entertainment services”.18

In contrast, the US state of California has banned the word and any teams will be unable to use it from January 1, 2017.19

Prof Garneau said there were mixed opinions on some logos and team names contrasting ones such as the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins, both “clearly offensive – they’re meant to caricature, not to respect”.

But he said some voices fewer representations of Indigenous peoples could also be problematic.

“I don’t think representations of Indigenous people are always and only racist. They’re usually problematic and can be in poor taste,” he added.

The Exeter Chiefs chose their name in 1999 with fans then adding the “tomahawk chop” chant and Devon Teachers Rock Choir even perform a mock, Indigenous-style backing for the team. The video has since been removed from YouTube following a press query by Tomorrow. A copy was made before it was taken down and a short clip made for evidence.20 Both the chant and “chop” appear ripped from the Atlanta Braves baseball team, both widely condemned in the US for being offensive.

Were the chant in Scotland and at a football match, it might fall foul of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act, based on it being “behaviour that a reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive” on the grounds of race.21

Debbie Kent, for the choir, told Tomorrow by email: “The Devon Teachers Rock Choir prepared the Tomahawk Chop specifically for a pre match pitch performance for the Exeter Chiefs Premiership Rugby Club on Sunday 20th March, 2016. This is the only time the chant has been performed by the choir.”

The Exeter Chiefs, said Dr Pratt, might argue they are “honourable”, as the Washington team claim, using the “power of the chief and his presence giving people strength as a community”.

But she has attended games where fans do the “chop”.

“I’ve been to a couple games and they start in the stalls going ‘woo woo woo’ doing a chop on their arm, like a scalping chop or something, and it’s really rude and I think that people just don’t see it,” she said. “They’re not aware that there are people in that audience who are finding that offensive. They just don’t know.”

But she admitted she did not take advantage of the British Museum visiting Exeter Museum with their “Warriors of the Plains” exhibition, to begin some education and at least stop the “chop”. “That would be a start,” she added.22

“I’m truly on the side that we can mediate, that we can find a solution, something that’s acceptable to everybody.”

While the Washington football team is still promoting its trade mark, the Streatham “Redskins” ice hockey team announced in 2015 they were dropping their own name. The team did not reply to press queries but in their original press release, they stated:

A lot has changed since those days in the 1970’s where a set of replica Chicago Blackhawks jerseys influenced us to call ourselves the Redskins. This was done at the time with the best of intentions as it invoked a sense of fierce warriors and was way before any negative or divisive connotations were associated with the name.

“As a progressive and forward looking team who want to attract new supporters, encourage more local kids to join our junior club and create a positive image for ice hockey within our great city we have decided to drop the Redskins name from our team at the end of this season. We have not taken this decision lightly and realise that many of our long time supporters may not agree with the change, but we hope they will understand.

“We must point out that it is not our intention to take sides in the Washington Redskins NFL debate. America is not England and Washington is not Streatham. It is about making the correct decision for us and not to dictate policy for anyone else.

“We have had no pressure to change the name from any politicians, councillors, sponsors or press here in the UK so the decision is ours alone and we wish to make that clear.”23

"Red Indians" for sale

Figurines on sale at the German Christmas Market in 2015 in Glasgow, UK. Similar figures are on sale in 2015. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

Advertising as racism

At the 2015 Christmas German Market in Glasgow, Scotland, figurines were on sale of “Red Indians, £22 each”, bulging, cartoon-like eyes, sitting cross-legged with a pipe on their lap. The woman behind the counter could not explain their origin, merely that they came via her boss in Germany.24

Eurasia CraftsNearby headdresses, often in bright rainbows of colours, hanging on walls like scalps, are easily available in the Eurasia Crafts shop25 in the centre of Glasgow amidst dreamcatchers, T-shirts with Indigenous figures staring off into the distance, and objects from multiple other religions and mythical creatures such as dragons.

Less than 10 minutes walk from the shop first opened in 1971 is the birthplace of Canada’s first prime minister, John A Macdonald. He was committed to the assimilation of Indigenous peoples and was superintendent general of Indian affairs during the push to ban their culture, such as traditional ceremonies and more. It is increasingly argued he is guilty of “cultural genocide” if not genocide more widely.26

Eurasia Crafts did not reply to requests for comment. Glasgow City Council confirmed they had received no complaints about the store, nor about the Christmas German Market items through their trading standards department.

Eurasia Crafts

Headdresses and other items from Indigenous cultures or depicting Indigenous peoples for sale at Eurasia Crafts in Glasgow, UK. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

Why are headdresses and the debate about appropriation something that continue to be the subject of debate, beyond, for example, a lack of clean drinking water in Indigenous communities or murdered and missing Indigenous women? Ms Vowel had a theory.

“It’s one issue that actually impacts non-Native people,” she said. “Drinking water on reserves doesn’t affect non-Native people – you’re not on reserves, you have fine drinking water.

“All these other issues, they’re horrible and you could look at them and be like, ‘Oh that’s terrible’ but it doesn’t actually impact non-Native life.

“But the issue of can you access these symbols? Can I wear this? Can I do that? That impacts on people’s lives; that touches them personally.

“Because it’s closer to them, that’s what they talk about and that’s what they feel strongly about because all of a sudden it’s about them.”

She continued: “It’s interesting that this issue is sort of the wedge into the feelings of non-Natives. Because it seems like a sort of a pointless issue. Like we keep going around it and it’s like why is this even important? But it’s the one intersection between our culture and how non-Native people feel about themselves.

“It’s a weird wedge. But I feel if we can get people to start thinking about it in more nuanced ways, then they will start to see the range of other more important issues out there, and then start to make the linkages about how those things actually do affect them, just not as directly, personally.”

[Tweet “”It’s the one intersection between our culture and how non-Native people feel about themselves””]

The examples of the RBS/NatWest, B app and Enterprise ads with a child in a headdress made Dr Pratt uncomfortable.

“The words ‘Native American’ or ‘Indian’ are never mentioned, so in a way that’s even more ignorant, because it’s not even acknowledging that this is a real culture,” she asserted. “It’s just this is what kids do and they can goof around and do whatever they want and that’s really freedom.

“An ad like that, I don’t think people understand how insidious media is in their lives, how it’s a drip, drip, drip of this is the right way to do things, the nice mother stays at home and looks after the kids, the father that goes out to work, the nice little kids who do what they’re told – it’s so invasive into our lives and to have something like a culture stereotype inside it, what would just be a pretty banal ad, is really potent.

“There’s a lot of Native American people [in the UK] and they see that, but they’re such a small community that they just think one voice in the middle of the field isn’t going to make any difference. And so I think yeah someone needs to stand up and say something, otherwise it will just carry on.”

She added: “I think there is this view that the Native American has gone. They are not part of our society anymore, they are some past culture that’s gone into the setting sun or whatever cliché. I really think people think that, and that’s really sad.”

Shelley Niro was even more blunt: the advertising is colonialism and racism.

“When I see something like [the ads], especially from a Native point of view looking at non-Native imagery, it is colonialism,” she said. “It’s a construct of that whole idea of, ‘Let’s go conquer some land and we’ll bring back the goods’.

“There’s a certain feeling of possessiveness and ownership and those symbols that are shown like that, it’s like, ‘These are ours now so we can do what we want’. And I don’t think Britain would really look at that and have a discourse around the whole imagery.

“It is about ownership and possessiveness and making it okay to play with kind of imagery. In the end, it’s really racism.”

If the conquerer – and their descendants in the British advertising world – get to decide who is Indigenous, their looks and their culture, how do Indigenous peoples define themselves against that onslaught?

PART 3 – Dress for the part

  1. The banks made parallel and virtually identical ads, but with a different child actor in each, one with a Scottish accent, one English, to cater to RBS and NatWest national markets respectively. Ads accessed most recently on December 4, 2016. The RBS ad is no longer visible on Youtube, but Tomorrow has made a copy.
  2. Enterprise ad is no longer public on Youtube but a copy exists at, accessed most recently on December 4, 2016
  3. The ad can be viewed on Youtube, accessed most recently on October 19, 2016
  4. “Officer stripogram found guilty”, BBC news, accessed most recently on October 30, 2016. Legislation on the subject is quite broad, stating it is an offence if someone “(b) wears any article of police uniform without the permission of the police authority for the police area in which he is, or (c) has in his possession any article of police uniform without being able to account satisfactorily for his possession thereof”. However, it is is not an offence if part of a performance – “Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall make it an offence to wear any article of police uniform in the course of taking part in a stage play, or music hall or circus performance, or of performing in or producing a cinematograph film or television broadcast.”
  5. “Is it illegal to wear medals you weren’t awarded?” BBC News, January 10, 2010. The Army Act 1955 legislation was superseded by the Armed Forces Act 2006, and it is unclear if the provision still stands. Sites accessed most recently on December 4, 2016
  6. The 2006 act was later struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional against freedom of speech and replaced by a similar act in 2013. Both accessed most recently on October 30, 2016
  7. “Bogus forensic expert faces jail”, BBC News, February 21, 2007. UK Naric, the national agency for recognising international qualifications, ran a 2015 blog post about “Fraud: a growing problem in education, and how to guard against it” but it is unclear under which legislation this issue is covered. Both websites accessed most recently on October 30, 2016
  8. Background on the process and declaration, accessed most recently on October 30, 2016 and UN general assembly debate points on the declaration. Canada and the US were two of four countries who voted against UNDRIP, though Canada removed its objection in May 2016 and the US has signalled some retreat.
  9. Pdf copy of the full declaration.
  10. Companies House, which incorporates and dissolves limited companies, holds the filings for firms including Exeter Rugby Club Limited, company number 03320422. Full accounts for the year ending June 30, 2015 showed a turnover of £13,222,843. Full accounts for the year ending May 31, 1998 under the name County Ground Promotions Limited showed a turnover of £19,200. Website and accounts accessed most recently on October 30, 2016
  11. TTAB cancellation no. 92046185, “Amanda Blackhorse, Marcus Briggs-Cloud, Philip Gover, Jillian Pappan, and Courtney Tsotigh v. Pro-Football, Inc.” Indigenous mascots were also condemned by the American Psychological Association in 2005 because “they remind American Indians of the limited ways in which others see them. This in turn restricts the number of ways American Indians can see themselves” – Dr Stephanie Fryberg, University of Arizona, accessed most recently on November 13, 2016.
  12. TTAB cancellation no. 92046185, pages 59-61.
  13. TTAB cancellation no. 92046185, pages 71-72.
  14. TTAB cancellation no. 92046185, page 77.
  15. “US top court refuses to hear Redskins trademark appeal”, Reuters, October 3, 2016, accessed October 30, 2016.
  16. “What you can and can’t register”, UK government. The Trade Marks Act 1994 refers to “accepted principles of morality”. Both websites accessed most recently on October 30, 2016
  17. UK case details for trade mark EU003166774, accessed most recently on October 30, 2016.
  18. UK case details for trade mark UK00003166324, accessed most recently on October 30, 2016.
  19. California Racist Mascots Act, signed into law October 11, 2015, accessed October 30, 2016
  20. Rugby message board about the “chop”. The choir video is now offline. Facebook page for the choir, accessed most recently on October 30, 2016.
  21. Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill, accessed most recently on October 30, 2016.
  22. Blog on “Warriors of the Plains” exhibit, accessed on December 4, 2016.
  23. “Club announcement for 2016/2017  and statement on “the future …” of the club name. Both pages accessed most recently on October 30, 2016.
  24. The market in 2016 again has the items, though without labels. The set up is run by Market Place Europe Ltd, website accessed on December 4, 2016.
  25. Website for Eurasia Crafts, accessed on October 30, 2016.
  26. Macdonald was superintendent general of Indian affairs (1878–87) and An Act Further to Amend The Indian Act, 1880 making it a criminal offence to carry out various cultural practices. More information can also be found in the full text of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples 1996, accessed on December 4, 2016.

For sale: Making a killing from Britain’s colonial crimes – Part 3

This investigation contains words, images and videos which may be offensive to some readers
Winter Survival

Screen grab of TV advert for Domino’s Winter Survival Deal depicting “Inuit” admiring a white family eating pizza. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

Dress for the part

The TV advertisement is meant to elicit a shuddering sense of cold, where pizza is the source of comfort and warmth.

Amid swirling snow – a sight admittedly comparatively rare in the UK – the booming and ominous voice states: “Deepest winter and the Inuits [sic] must survive on whale blubber, harvested in warmer months” before immediately becoming chipper: “But there’s no such hardship for the Johnstons of Claremont Road, who’ve ordered Domino’s Winter Survival Deal.”

As the white family tuck into pizza, the camera pans up to show “Inuit” licking their lips at the scene.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)1 in the UK said there had been no complaints about the RBS or Enterprise ads in Part 2 of this investigation, nor any promotion for the Hibou wallpaper in Part 1 nor the Exeter Chiefs team.

But in January 2015 a complaint was made about the Domino’s “Winter Survivor” ad and its depiction of Inuit.

In an email statement, press officer Matthew Wilson said the complaint was not taken forward to a formal investigation stage and the case was closed.

He said: “We have received one complaint about this ad. The complainant challenged whether the ad was offensive because it depicted Inuit people as ‘disadvantaged’ and whether the ad was misleading because it implied Inuit must survive the winter on whale blubber.

“We carefully assessed the complaint but concluded there were not grounds for further action. We did not consider the ad was likely to provoke serious or widespread offence on those grounds and would likely be interpreted as a humorous reference to the exaggerated name of the offer, the ‘Winter Survival Deal’, rather than a comment on the Inuit people or their lifestyle in real life. 

“We also noted that Inuit people do consume the blubber along with the skin of the Bowhead whale in a delicacy known as Muktuk. On that basis, we did not consider that there were grounds to launch a full formal investigation.”

Tomorrow asked Domino’s whether the actors were, in fact, Inuit and how the ad was taken forward. They did not reply to those questions or suggestions the actors were Asian, but they apologised for any offence caused.

Louise Butler, brand and digital communications manager, said in an email statement: “Our winter advert intended to be light-hearted in humour and so we would like to apologise if this has caused any unintentional offence.

“We undertake substantial advance consumer research and go through a strict regulatory approval process for all our adverts and at no point was this raised as a concern. Domino’s will also be using a fresh creative for its adverts this winter onwards.”

Domino’s did not confirm how much money was earned from the campaign, though press reports in 2014 suggested there was a 10.8 per cent boost in sales from the “Winter Survival Deal” push.2

Inuk heart surgeons eat pizza too

Whale Blubber is good,” said Brandon Pardy, an Inuk author, negotiator and hunter currently working for Labrador’s Inuk MP Yvonne Jones in Canada’s capital, Ottawa.3I don’t know what the relevance is and I don’t know why you would call that a hardship. Eating county food isn’t a hardship.

“I suppose it is very much easier to order Domino’s than the hardship of having to go to the grocery store too, or fetching your own eggs if you have hens that lay eggs. I don’t know if one’s culture should be deemed a hardship.”

Originally from Cartwright, Labrador, named after Nottinghamshire’s Captain George Cartwright, Mr Pardy said the Domino’s ad is not the worst he’s seen and the use of Inuit in advertising is less common in North America than it once was, though there are still points of contention such as the “Edmonton Eskimos” football team and the recent controversy over Ungava gin.4

Mr Pardy refuted the ASA statement about the Domino’s ad as “factual”, arguing that just because a people do eat a food, does not define them solely by that fact. And eating food from the land is still an important part of life, especially when imported food from the south costs extreme figures – for example, $20 for 2L of orange juice.

There are thousands of Inuit in urban centres now, and they wear suits or they wear construction clothes and stuff like that,” Mr Pardy, 38, told Tomorrow via Skype. “And even if it were factual, do we call all Americans fat eating a burger just because one or two does?

“Just because some people in Vietnam wear the rice pointy hats, is that really appropriate portrayal of Vietmanese, just because some still wear a hat in the rice paddy doesn’t mean they all do. And it is demeaning to even imply that.

“It’s part of a continuing culture that Inuit still eat county foods and we are very proud of that and in fact a lot of times we don’t have a choice. Like eating seal, that’s actually a requirement to get your nutritional intake for the year.

“So while it might be factual that people eat walrus or whale, they also eat Domino’s, Inuit eat Domino’s too, and tacos and oranges.”

[Tweet “”While it might be factual that people eat walrus or whale, they also eat Domino’s””]

Food security is a significant issue in northern regions currently, not just for the cost of getting goods from the south, but the energy requirements for heating stores and refrigerating items. But assimilation policies have also forcibly moved communities, removed children to residential schools and the care system, restricted hunting or even killed sled dogs, changing fundamental ways of life.

Those policies were matched by “guides” from the government where “your King” instructed western practices of eating food, maintaining homes being good parents.

“You must have food. You must have clothing. You must have dog food. You must have foxes with which to trade. Hear then words of wisdom showing how you may always have a good supply of these things,” reads “The Book of Wisdom For Eskimo”, published in 1947.5

Mr Pardy said relocation of communities was one of the most devastating of many policies against Inuit. When Inuit are then made fun of in commercials, it feeds ignorance and far more serious problems than a pizza commercial, such as access to clean water and a suicide crisis in many communities.

“It’s a respect thing, for any group of people,” he said. “In Canada there’s only 60,000 Inuit so we don’t have that much political power, particularly, to address all of these issues. And I guess that’s one of the reasons why it’s easy to make a caricature of Inuit or First Nations.

“There’s 500 years of history, or 1000 years if we count when we interacted with the Vikings, where power’s been taken away. So when you make a caricature of any people, whether that’s a trans person or Vietnamese, anyone … if we made fun of British, like Austin Powers – ‘All British have bad teeth and glasses and have ridiculous exaggerated accents and only eat bangers and mash’ – aren’t we past the era of that?

“It’s fine if someone makes fun of themselves, but Inuit aren’t in deerskins only having hard winters sitting around chewing the fat – that’s not all we are. And if you lock us in history like that, then it diminishes the fact that we have doctors and lawyers and somebody that’s just finished open heart surgery on you might be Inuk and they might want to go home and eat some Domino’s because they’ve had a really hard day.

“It rolls into the entire history of subjugation and having power taken from us and caricatures. I don’t want to speak for all Inuit either in this regard, but it’s just disheartening when you see it like that.”

‘Forced into being white people’

Just like the Domino’s ad mades assumptions about Inuit dress and food, there have been continual efforts and policies to force actual Inuit to be more white.

And the white majority keep using Indigenous symbols and items for dress and promotion. So what are Indigenous peoples expected to wear? Are they free to dress as they like, or must they conform to the ruling cultures, who themselves can do as they please?

Dress traditional ways and fail to be taken seriously. Become white and be questioned why past ways were abandoned.

“If I go and I speak – and I do lectures in academia – do I wear my Native regalia or do I wear my academic regalia?” asked Scott Frazier.

“I always choose the coat and tie. My grandfather was one of the first Native American medical doctors and he wore a necktie every day of his life.

“When he got educated, you would have never seen him wear a feather or a buckskin or anything like that – he was educated. There is that group of Indians, like my grandparents, they were forced into being white people. They were not allowed to be Indians – it was either that or be killed. So they chose survival.

“I have to respect my elders, my grandparents, I have to respect what their wishes were and I don’t have any war deeds so I can’t wear a war bonnet or any of that. I can’t participate in some of the things that a lot of people do, just because I am not a veteran.”

Britain has long had fascination for observing, capturing and cataloguing everything, including Indigenous peoples. They were viewed from a position of comfort, sometimes literally as well as racially.

In 1710 Queen Anne brought four emissaries over from the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario to the UK to formalise their alliance against the French.

She was so taken with the Haudenosaunee representatives – dubbed “kings” – she had them painted by John Verelst, in a combination of western trappings and traditional items.

They were depicted as both warriors but sitting peacefully as allies. But they were also unique as paintings, with imaginings of Indigenous people usually done from afar and without any direct interaction.

The relationship at the time was, in theory, nation-to-nation, epitomised by the Two Row Wampum representing two ships, or nations, sailing side by side, separate yet equal.6

But as part of the envoys’ visit, a performance of Macbeth was stopped part way through so the guests could be put on stage and the audience could watch both theatre and spectacle.

When the National Portrait Gallery in London hosted the exhibition “Between Worlds” in 2007 featuring the four portraits, Keith Jamieson from Six Nations took the opportunity to remind Britain of the original relationship.7

He stated: “We, the chiefs of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Council in a full session at the Onondaga Council House, Grand River … would like to take this opportunity to remind our English allies that these portraits are an expression of our sovereignty as nations and that we ask the Crown in Britain to remind their representatives in Canada of the commitments that we have together.”8

Keith Jamieson and the Four Kings

Keith Jamieson, of Six Nations of the Grand River, being the centre of attention from press photographers at the “Between Worlds” exhibit in 2007 at the National Portrait Gallery, London, UK. Behind him are the portraits of the “Four Kings”, who were the centre of attention in 1710. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

If the UK has forgotten that relationship, are Indigenous peoples still just something to be watched on stage, now translated to TV commercials?

“Things like headdresses, have such a strong impact,” said Dr Pratt, who was involved in the Between Worlds exhibit. “They are so beautiful to see, they’re delightful, they’re colourful, they’re majestic, but they don’t just happen by going into a shop and buying one – these feathers were earned feathers and people who wore them traditionally were very few. Very few men could achieve that.”

Ms Niro was also involved in the exhibition when the “Four Kings” were loaned from Canada. She said the representation of the envoys and also Joseph Brant was about power and control.

“It just seems like it’s done in such a way that it’s precision in how you’re accepted and when you’re not accepted, that it can be used and then it can be abused,” she said. “The imagery and what it stands for – it’s like a play of power. And it’s up to the dominant culture if they’re going to decide if you’re important enough to have a painting done or they’re not going to bother.”

And she sees a link with the commercial examples of today: “I think those symbols are known and what they represent because people never question them. Why is it so important to be on a wall in a child’s room? It’s something that Indian artists have been working against for many years.”

Why are the British still fascinated with dress and traditions their representatives and successors in North American continually worked to outlaw and ban?

“I think it’s one of those European phenomena maybe,” considered Dr Pratt, “and maybe in all societies, that the strange or the real, if you like, opposite of yourself or who you think is opposite, you’re really tempted by something that seems to challenge the very foundation of who you are because they are so different. And of course difference is always constructed.

“So the men who are on the stage were probably wearing suits, they were probably covered, they probably didn’t have a lot of feathers, they were probably made to look much more acceptable. But having said that, their skin was darker and they probably had some body adornment maybe, things like tattoos which come off.

“There’s an element, ‘Yeah, this is a gentleman but not a gentleman’. It’s the world-turned-upside-down kind of element and a lot of people have linked it to revolutionary thinking, that people explore this because they’re unhappy with whatever’s going on in their own society.

“They’re looking for a way to turn things around but they don’t know how to do it, so looking at another culture is a way of imagining yourself into the position of revolution and so the 18th century is a really big time for people being fascinated with all kinds of people and they just were going for the whole primitivist angle to see what they could find out about themselves.

“It’s a self-interested, ‘I’m going to put on feathers and see what it would feel like and then maybe I might even become wild, I might even become primitive and that would be really exciting’.

[Tweet “”It’s a self-interested, ‘I’m going to put on feathers and see what it would feel like'””]

“And it probably goes both ways. Native people are fascinated with English culture or white culture – however you want to term it. It’s the ‘other’, the person who isn’t like you and you want to know more about it and play with that and see what it feels like to be in the other person’s shoes.”

Dr Pratt added: “But there is appropriation too. So I think there’s that careful line that you need to walk, you can’t totally appropriate somebody else’s culture and make it your own – that’s really dangerous.”

Does a headdress matter if there’s no clean drinking water?

Interviewees for this investigation acknowledged there are much more pressing concerns for Indigenous communities. People are dying because they are Indigenous and all the majority sees are images of headdresses or old Westerns aired on TV.

As of August 2016, Health Canada reported 132 water advisories affecting 89 Indigenous communities, plus another 26 advisories in 22 communities in the province of British Columbia as of September 30, 2016.9

Some of those communities have been forced to boil their water for nearly 20 years.

Rates of disease are higher, rates of incarceration are higher and disproportionate, rates of suicide on and off reserve are higher, thousands of Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered in the past 20 years with little or no justice or even attention from authorities. Those are all contemporary problems exacerbated by or stemming from past crimes against Indigenous peoples.

So does ripping off headdresses or tipi wallpaper really matter?

RJ Jones admitted there was perhaps a generational gap when dealing with the subject of appropriation, something young people see readily online but older generations put as a lesser concern against other concerns.

There are double standards for those who use headdresses, explained RJ, such as happily repeating the “drunk Native” stereotype while they themselves wear headdresses at festivals full of alcohol. They want the image without considering the causes or addressing solutions.

“They’re willing to hold on to those stereotypes of us too,” said RJ. “If you’re going to take something then maybe educate yourself on the actual issues.

“Cultural appropriation is important to stand up against. Even though it always seems like an uphill battle, it’s against something that I feel is important to talk about.

“But in my parents’ generation too, they would be like ‘Oh you guys should be focusing your energy on something else’. I’ve had older people tell me stuff like that. But why do I have to focus on other things? How I’m represented in the media, by the masses, is important and I don’t want to be misrepresented.

“I hate that we have these images that are just a complete joke. People are not taking us seriously because of these images. Or they’ll take our images but they don’t want to take the suffering that comes with it.”

[Tweet “”They’ll take our images but they don’t want to take the suffering that comes with it””]

For the older generation, the objects may be offensive but there is a recognition the commercial uses can be avoided, and there are bigger problems.

Mr Frazer agreed those wearing headdresses or using a tipi are more interested in appearance than understanding. He doesn’t waste time getting upset about someone making money from, for example, a camp ground where there are tipis to rent. Yet he questions himself what is important to protest.

“I just don’t stay in those kind of places,” he explained. “I’ll go to a motel before I go to a camp ground with a tipi in it. It’s just because they don’t understand what that thing was, what that is. They think they’re just utilising the romantic image that Hollywood has designed.

“What do you want to waste your time on? Traditions? Or stereotypes? Or you want to put in time for the people if you want to heal them from that or do you want to heal them from alcoholism? We, as Indian people, have serious issues that really do need attention and they do need people on the ground and if they’re tied up in cultural pieces then that cultural piece better be significant.”

Mr Frazier maintained that multicultural Indigenous peoples are left to walk in their cultural world and in the enforced white world.

“There’s only a very, very small group of people living in an Indigenous way on this planet anymore,” he said. “A lot of us are driving cars, a lot of us have eyeglasses, a lot of us have cell phones, which stands to reason as the Native people in the Americas – the Indigenous people, the American Indian as they were called – we were very adaptable.

“We adapted everything that was shown to us as a tool, whether it was a gun or a horse, an automobile, we adapted to them, we absorbed them into our society as well.

“For myself, I don’t really get upset with too much of some of the stereotyping because it’s been done so long. But I think the United States is in a position right now where if something is inappropriate people point the finger, whereas 10 years ago they wouldn’t say anything.”

He continued: “It’s truly a different situation to have, say, your neighbour put up a little tipi in their backyard for their kids and to go into someone’s private home and see that in somebody’s room as their wallpaper.

“I’m not offended by any of it because art is art and a tipi and many of our sacred items have been utilised in art by our own people, and I don’t buy those things and that’s the way for me to fight against those stereotypes.

“I just don’t put my money into any of those things. I wouldn’t buy wallpaper with tipis on it. And I’ve had tipis in the past and it’s a novelty now, it’s not a lifestyle.”

Britain doesn’t just have individuals pretending to be Indigenous.

Dr Pratt said, contrary to perception, there are Indigenous peoples from North American in the UK but Britons are “just not looking”. Yet it can still be problematic at times for those living abroad but seeking to practice their ways, being criticised for “diluting” or “blending” the culture.

She explained: “We’ve done it our entire history as Native people, we have borrowed, we have switched, we have changed, we’ve manipulated all through our history.

“And I think there’s this kind of last gasp of the authentic: who is the authentic Indian and looking for that like it’s some kind of nirvana or some kind of badge that is going to protect you.

“Unfortunately cultures need to change, they cannot stay ossified, and for the Native American there has been a huge ossification of trying to keep the language going, trying to keep the practices going, trying to stay true to our ancestors and our grandparents and the people who taught us.

“But it’s just not possible. Some of the animals are gone, some of the plants are under threat – we can’t live in a bubble anymore, even if we ever did.”

Dr Pratt said she herself had sometimes failed to understand the meaning of her Dakota identity. Simply having “status”, as she does, doesn’t alone make an Indigenous person, she said.

In 2015, she helped set up the first horse dance in more than 70 years, reviving an old ceremony – but only after two days of testimony on the “women who have lived, breathed and cried and bled there because they face it every day, they can’t walk away from it – they can’t go to a powwow one week and have fun and go back to some other kind of life. They have to live in poverty”.

She was also involved in setting up the first Kunsi-Unci Society, the Grandmother Society on the Crow Creek [Indian] Reservation.10

“The reason that we formed the Kunsi was that we need to support each other,” explained Dr Pratt. “We can’t be isolated and really the grandmothers are the backbone of the people – they are the things that are holding everything together. And the grandmothers are raising the babies, they’re teaching the language, they’re remembering the stories, however distant and fragmented that is, it’s still being transferred.

“My view is people who want to dress up or want to come and have a weekend, just understand what the reality is and try to inform yourself before you do things – try to learn what the traditions mean.

“Why are we coming in a circle? Why do we face east? What are the colours, what do they mean for this particular ceremony?

“And the language itself is very beautiful. Like we’re trying to re-instil it by using the term Tunwin [pronounced Too Ee] is your auntie, Unci is your grandma, and calling each other those names because it re-instills those relationships that are so broken.

“And I am an outsider but I made the move, I made the effort to go and see people and listen. I learned a heck of a lot.”

The language and culture shows signs of resilience and renewal, but in the face of overwhelming oppression. Mr Frazier said in the past, the “outside world misunderstood Indigenous humility and compassion as weakness. And that’s something that we still have. The culture is robust. It’s not something that a person a hundred years ago would recognise – there’s elements that they would but there’s a lot of elements that they would not – I think there’s a big problem in maintaining the language in a lot of the tribal groups”.

He continued: “I would love to have been able to speak my own language but my grandmother forbade it in the house. We would be educated and with the prejudice and racism we would have it no more.

“We would be educated and we would not be hunted or abused like they had been in her time and so … she’s gone, I still have to acknowledge her wishes because she wanted it that way in my life. I did not learn the language.”

Recognising yourself doesn’t come from a headdress in the mirror

Mr Frazier said he doesn’t consider himself Indigenous anymore. Some of the identity comes from self, some from others.

“I mean, I take a shower everyday indoors,” he said. “But I am related through DNA to a group of people that had met the government and had signed treaties and we’ve evolved to a point.

“One of the questions is who am I and who are we and what’s our relationship to the planet, if not the universe? I think there are a lot of kids my age, maybe in their 60s and 70s, we went and we sat with old people and we listened to them talk and we asked them questions like that. And so it’s now time for us to start talking about these things to the youth.

“Some of the questions I think people my age are wrestling with are, ‘When do I become an elder? When is my story important? How can I help the tribe? How can I help the youth?’

“You’re always defined by others, what they think of you; they define you in a way that helps you identify who you are.”

To see yourself, it can’t be in the mirror – it has to be in the earth, in the reflection of water. For those laying claim to that culture, there is a lack of understanding of how frequently access to the land and water was and continues to be taken away.

“To identify who I am, if I want to see my image, I need to go and face the water or look at my face in the water at a spring or in the river and that will identify who I am,” said Mr Frazier. “When I try to identify myself, I can only make myself into a mistake.

“One of the things that’s really destroyed most of our culture is that the government put water into our houses and we don’t remember that we actually have to go to the river and get the water – and that’s when we quit looking at our own image,” he said.

”When we put all these comforts in here, that’s what seduces us into losing our culture, because we no longer connect to the land and we don’t connect to the water.

“When it rains we run inside. Now, if you were in a tipi and it rained, you would hear the water – you would hear those raindrops and every one is different.

“That’s been hard on our identity because for one, we want to be equal to the white guy and the white guy has many more advantages than we do.”

Mr Pardy said apart from ignorance several time zones away in the UK, it is also present locally. He was asked while at university in his own province if he lived in an igloo.

We have modern telecommunications and stuff like that, but people still ask those questions and ads like [Domino’s] and all of them really don’t help,” he said. “It perpetuates the situation.”

The expectation of culture and dress is part of efforts to keep Indigenous peoples in the past and limit their future.

“People want to see Indians wearing headdresses, walking around in feathers – they don’t want to see the guy in a three-piece suit arguing a case representing water rights,” said Mr Frazer.

“And that’s one of the problems we have is that our identification – to be in this society and the economics of it, you have to wear the three-piece suit. Nobody would want to listen to you if you had a headdress on until you get into the mass media. Shoot, everybody remembers the Indian guy who’s dressed up.”

Mr Frazier said these issues of culture and language have at times been used to fragment and distract with internal arguments while land or rights are taken.

“We’re such a small voice as from the United States,” he said. “Worldwide we have a bigger voice but nobody’s listening to Indigenous people. So I think what happens is you look at the different types of approaches to community and I think Indigenous people have always been looked at as inferior and the outside culture coming to study has always been superior.

“And I think that’s bound to change. Indigenous people are starting to see themselves as equals, if not superior.”

If Indigenous peoples are superior, why are governments still promoting the original defeat and destruction of their communities? How are British names part of controlling stolen land? And who is making money from that?

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PART 4: Teaching how to name – and claim – land

  1. The system is based on self-regulation for non-broadcast ads and co-regulation with Ofcom for broadcast ads. Website accessed most recently on October 22, 2016.
  2. Report on financial growth of the company in the UK from The Drum, accessed most recently on October 22, 2016.
  3. LinkedIn profile of Mr Pardy, accessed on October 23, 2016.
  4. CBC article on the accusation of cultural appropriation against Ungava gin, accessed on October 23, 2016. The gin recently started getting sold in the UK in supermarkets and in bars.
  5. Issued by the Bureau of Northwest Territories and Yukon Affairs, Department of Mines and Resources.
  6. An Onondaga nation description of the wampum, or Gusweñta, describes the relationship as brothers, each in their own ships, neither trying to steer the other. Website accessed on October 23, 2016.
  7. NPG website about the Between Worlds exhibit. Accessed on October 23, 2016.
  8. Quote from original coverage by the reporter in 2007.
  9. Health Canada website outlining water advisories. British Columbia’s Indigenous health is managed by the First Nations Health Authority. Media outlet Vice reported discrepancies on the total number, while a 2015 map by CTV News found 164 water advisories affecting 117 Indigenous communities. A more detailed map of Ontario water conditions can be found here. All websites accessed most recently on October 29, 2016.
  10. Facebook page for the Crow Creek Kunsi-Unci Society and the website of the Crow Creek community, both accessed most recently on October 29, 2016.

For sale: Making a killing from Britain’s colonial crimes – Part 4

This investigation contains words, images and videos which may be offensive to some readers
Chatelherault Primary School

A tipi for the nursery of Chatelherault Primary School in Hamilton, UK. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

Teaching how to name – and claim – land

In quiet suburban Silvertonhill Avenue in the town of Hamilton, Scotland, there lies Chatelherault Primary School and its nursery.1 And in front of that, a wooden tipi with holes cut to allow young explorers to weave in and out.

Costume on sale in Hamilton, UK

A costume on sale at Dazzle Fancy Dress in Hamilton, UK. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

Children in the town can also buy an “American Indian Squaw” costume, sold year-round at Dazzle Fancy Dress – “includes dress and headpiece” with bow and arrow to “complete the look”. The outfit with a highly offensive term is made by Rubie’s in the US, a firm having exclusive rights to all Marvel and Disney characters as well as different race categories.2

For the adults looking to buy a tipi for their youngsters instead of a costume, an easy way is through a firm such as catalogue giant Argos, recently bought by supermarket Sainsbury’s. Within their training for staff is a cartoon figure, feather in his hair, one hand raised, saying “Woah there cowboy”.3

Argos training for staff

Screen grab of training program used for staff at catelogue retailer Argos in the UK, submitted by a member of staff. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

From young to old, Indigenous images and colonialism are engrained more deeply in education in the UK than just school yard equipment or corporate training.

Scotland’s government education agency has a dedicated website on the historic links between the nation and Canada, focusing particularly on the exploring and adventurous Scots and their successes in the “New World” in the face of adversary.

It also promotes Canada’s first two prime ministers, John A Macdonald and Alexander Mackenzie, but without mention of their impact on Indigenous peoples.

It boasts: “The Scots in Canada became fur traders and settlers, explorers and adventurers. They became successful politicians, led rebellions and incited uprisings. Scots built businesses, communities and were instrumental in the founding of the Canadian Confederation.

“Scotland was just one of the countries that contributed to Canada’s history, but for such a small nation it had a large impact.”4

And the limited lore of settling is set out as: “Many Scots, lured across the ocean by the promise of free land grants, discovered that the new settlements were still more than a thousand miles away.

“New Scots settlers were often afraid of the people of the First Nations. In Europe, the Indigenous People of North America were described as ‘Red Indians’, as savages, and tales of scalping and Wild West massacres were well known.

“In reality, many Native tribes had become accustomed to trading with Europeans. Although some groups were hostile to white encroachment on their traditional hunting territories, relations between immigrants and First Nation peoples were generally peaceful.”5

And Hamilton is one of hundreds of Scottish place names laid out in a map of all those across Canada bearing Scots identities, a city near to Six Nations of the Grand River.

The “free land” given to Scots and others was taken. And that legacy was firmly linked to those first claims of explorers centuries ago, usually cemented with new names to replace ignored Indigenous ones. The heritage of appropriated Indigenous place names, such as Oklahoma, Manitoba or Dakota, is usually overlooked.

Asking if nursery children were given an education about Indigenous peoples, South Lanarkshire Council’s head of education Tony McDaid told Tomorrow by email: “We have a wide range of outdoor play equipment at our nurseries across South Lanarkshire which is designed to encourage active and creative play, the wooden den at Chatelherault Primary is one such example of this and was put in place after the new school opened some 10 years ago it is very popular with the children in the nursery class.”

Argos did not reply to requests for comment and neither did Dazzle Fancy Dress.

Education Scotland, though their website states is is copyright of the Crown, said they could not speak for the Scottish Government on whether it recognised Scotland’s colonising past.

Scots in Canada

Screen grab of “Scots in Canada” website from government agency Education Scotland, showing all places in Canada with Scottish names. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

Tracy Reilly, communications manager with Eduction Scotland, told Tomorrow by email: “This website is in the process of transferring over to the Scottish Association of Teachers of History and they will make all future decisions on further development of the site.

“There are a number of resources on the Education Scotland website which explore Scotland’s attempts to set up trading colonies, and to settle new lands, for example in South America in the 1700s.”

Tomorrow also asked if any there had been any communication with Indigenous peoples about Scotland’s colonial education programme. Ms Reilly replied: “To our knowledge there have been no discussions of this sort.”

Why should UK education matter to Indigenous peoples in North America, or vice versa? And is history just history, or is it still dominating both economies today?

Doctrines of ownership

For many, colonialism is not some past event easily dismissed to history books and lecture theatres, particularly when Indigenous imagery is thrown back at those people most harmed by it.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada (TRC), which reported in 2015, called for an end to the concept of the Doctrine of Discovery, the historic basis for claiming North America and elsewhere, but linked directly by the commission to the deadly and destructive residential school system.

Its final report introduction bluntly states: “For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. Establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide.”6

There are 94 calls to action, many containing elements that have been repeated in demands from communities and activists and conclusions of many past inquiries and commissions. The sound of actual action has largely been drowned out by the noise of handwringing and stagnation.

At number 45 is the recommendation to reaffirm the original relationship with Indigenous peoples made by the British Crown.

It states:

“45. We call upon the Government of Canada, on behalf of all Canadians, to jointly develop with Aboriginal peoples a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown. The proclamation would build on the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara of 1764, and reaffirm the nation-to-nation relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown. The proclamation would include, but not be limited to, the following commitments:

i. Repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.

ii. Adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.”7

The doctrine basically meant whomever found it first, claimed it, prompting the race for every corner of North America and elsewhere, regardless of existing populations. Similarly, terra nullius or “no man’s land” supposedly left the map open to claims.

That has been used as a moral and legal argument to force Indigenous peoples to prove they were on their own land first, and even then found it difficult to assert this by the set up of the system around them.

Very little if any land was actually ceded, a point increasingly recognised by groups and some governments, such as the unanimous decision by the council of the City of Vancouver in 2014, stating the city “is on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations”.8

The call to reject did not suddenly appear with the TRC in 2015. It was a point in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996 nearly two decades earlier, with battles over the theologically founded concept tracing back much further.

Though previously advocating and benefiting from the doctrine for centuries, churches have made statements again in recent years. In 2010, the Anglican Church in Canada repudiated the doctrine9 as did the World Council of Churches in 2012.10 The Catholic Church in Canada repudiated the doctrine in March 2016.11

Simply rejecting the principles doesn’t turn back the clock on everything justified under them for centuries. And it remains a basis for law in the US, for example, with a decision in 2005 City Of Sherrill V Oneida Indian Nation Of NY12

Despite recent statements, there are hundreds of years of land ownership preceding them. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP),13 adopted on September 13, 2007 by the UN General Assembly, insists Indigenous peoples have the right to “redress” for land that has been “confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent”.

The UK signed the UNDRIP in 2007 but had tempered its support at the time it didn’t apply to “historical episodes” or to “national minority groups” within its borders or territories. Karen Pierce, Britain’s deputy permanent representative to the UN in NY, added that, “United Kingdom had, however, long provided political and financial support to the socio-economic and political development of Indigenous peoples around the world.”14

If indeed there has been benevolent help from the British state, it has not hindered the argument from many Indigenous groups in Canada that, failing legal successes within North American borders, they should be able to apply directly to the British Crown, the original signatory of treaties.

British classrooms, however, taking their guidance from the state – the Crown – are clearly reminded Indigenous people who “won”.

Education Scotland’s website promotes John A Macdonald as a famous Scot in Canada.

Last year, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley Mclachlan, stated: “The objective was to ‘take the Indian out of the child’, and thus to solve what John A Macdonald referred to as the ‘Indian problem’. ‘Indianness’ was not to be tolerated; rather it must be eliminated. In the buzz-word of the day, assimilation; in the language of the 21st century, cultural genocide.”15

If British students don’t learn about the symbols and cultures they’re making use of, with the full backing of the state, where does that leave Indigenous peoples?

Symbols or humans?

Why should the public care about how companies sell symbols to them or about government narratives in schools? For Chelsea Vowel, it’s a simple question of humanity. And it’s frustrating.

“At this point what I have to do now is convince people that we’re human, that we’re worthy of respect,” she said. “And that’s always a weak position when you have to convince other people of your humanity. And that’s what we’re often forced to do, and I really resent that.

“Why should British people care? Well, they don’t have to care because they have all the power to not care.

“But I think if people in the UK want to understand their own history a little bit more then they need to understand why these images become so pervasive – these specific ones, these Plains images in particular. And it’s an interesting history because it really is based on deliberate commercialisation. Those images were used as propaganda to get settlers out to the west.”

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Posters are easy to find – in museums on both sides of the Atlantic, in antique shops and online – with the government promotion of “free land” in Canada available for a new life and the Dominion trips by sea, then across the west by train. As Ms Vowel described it, “Come look at our chiefs, come look at the bison and come look at these tipis”. The images today are the same, this time about consumption of culture rather than the land, now all taken for generations.

“People in Britain and in Canada like these images because it sort of makes them feel nostalgic,” she continued. “It’s like, ‘Ah, this is part of our history, Indians are part of our history, this is exciting’.

“But it has to go beyond the fetishistic happiness of seeing these images into the deeper, darker parts of the history.

“In coming over, in looking at that propaganda, coming over, getting land for free, the incredible displacement, the death toll that happened because the Plains were cleared, deliberately cleared, for British expansion – that has to be acknowledged.

“You can’t just take the fun bits and leave out the all the awful things that happened because those awful things that happened are still having an impact on our health and our education, our access to water, our access to human rights.

“It really comes down to if you’re a so-called civilised people that care about human rights, then you have to start looking at how you violated human rights. You have to start confronting the evils of the past and how those evils have reverberated through time. And take some responsibility for that.

“And nobody wants to do that because that’s really uncomfortable. Why should you have to account for something that was done hundreds of years before you were ever born? Except you’re still benefiting from it.

“Canada continues to have great trade relationships with Britain, our resources keep getting shipped over there, there’s still pretty strong ties between us and all of that is done without the consent of Indigenous peoples.

“I don’t know. You can’t convince people to care. They’ve just got to learn enough that they start seeing things are so wrong that they can’t avoid it anymore.”

The relationship between Canada and Britain is certainly historic, but not only limited to the past.

The Royal Bank of Scotland, profiled in Part 2 with their ad showing a child in a feathered headdress and a backyard tipi, also has a heritage section of its website. Amongst the select items promoted from their archives is a past constituent of the bank, Glyn, Mills & Co,16 and a loan invested “in the development of a whole country” of Canada. Glyn, Mills, Currie & Co was “joint London agent to the Dominion of Canada” and the Province of Canada before it since the 1830s, and was joint banker to the Grand Trunk Railway, states the website.17

RBS helped build Canada

Screen grab of RBS heritage website, showing loan certificate from past constituent of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Glyn, Mills & Co. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

Tomorrow asked RBS, given the bank’s direct role in expanding Canada on originally Indigenous land, what bearing did this have the ad design choices? RBS did not answer the question.

The bank was also recently named for a connection to the disputed Dakota Access Pipeline, a project which has drawn more than 200 Indigenous tribes together in protest and resulted in clashes with heavily armed police. Scottish Green Party MSP Ross Greer wrote to the party to ask about their involvement, but RBS said it was in the past, stating: “RBS has never had a banking relationship with Dakota Access LLC. RBS provided financial support to the parent company of Dakota Access LLC but have since exited the relationship.”18

Apart from banking connections, Tomorrow can reveal one of Britain’s largest pension funds hold investments in the Dakota project and others. The Strathclyde Pension Fund (SPF) hold shares in oil firm Phillips 66, which has a 25 per cent stake in the Dakota pipeline development. SPF has more than 200,000 current and past employees of local government with £17 billion in investments, including Phillips 66 shares with a market value of $3.3 million. The fund also invests in Unbridle Inc, which is behind the Northern Gateway pipeline, and TransCanada Corp, which is involved in both the Keystone XL and Energy East projects, all fiercely opposed by Indigenous groups.19

In response to questions from Tomorrow, an email statement released by SPF stated: “Strathclyde Pension Fund is a signatory to and active participant in the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment and has appointed independent monitors to ensure these principles are adhered to by its investment managers.

“The fund takes its social responsibilities seriously and is recognised as an investor showing leadership both nationally and internationally in actively engaging with the companies in which it invests, in order to challenge them to address risks and improve performance. This covers a diverse range of issues, from executive pay to environmental performance, and does include the rights of indigenous peoples.

“These particular stocks are not direct investments by the fund, but are held passively through an index tracking portfolio – which does limit the influence the fund has, in comparison to direct investments.

“However, the fund notes the concerns raised and is currently seeking further information from the portfolio manager and its responsible investment advisors.”  

As well as the financial investments by the UK into North American resource extraction and development, the import of those goods continues to grow, with Canada exporting more than $12 billion worth of goods to the UK in the past year, much of it resources from the land.20

And the UK is still sending over new immigrants. The 2016 debate about the UK leaving the European Union – now known as Brexit – before and since the successful vote for it on June 23 has carried a couple key narratives.

One has been the pitch for a separate trade deal between Canada and the UK, instead of the newly signed one between Canada and the EU as a whole. But secondly, when the referendum decided in favour of leaving the EU, those who favoured remain in the UK began talking, even if only jokingly, about moving to Canada instead.

There was a move, if only in the narrative beyond practical applications, for one group to emigrate to Canada while the other group bid for commercial deals to sell to and obtain resources from Canada. But the association with Canada and comfort or liveability is based on statistics and quality of life for the majority, not those of Indigenous peoples.

“Is the Doctrine of Discovery still informing a lot of the policy decisions? Yes, absolutely,” said Ms Vowel. “I always talk about this, I say, ‘When did colonisation stop? Give me a date. Tell me when it actually stopped being a thing.’ And nobody can because it hasn’t stopped. It’s just transformed and sometimes it hasn’t even been transformed, it’s just been given a new name.

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“I find the Scots and the Quebecois, they understand colonialism, they understand being under a regime of colonialism, but they can’t take it that further step and see how they themselves are complicit in it and continue to be by furthering these narratives of either they had better relationships or they were great explorers.

“Again, this is one of those situations where I sort of wish people would just be straight out, ‘Yeah, we conquered you and we took over and we won and you lost’ rather than, ‘Oh but we’re kinder and friendlier’ and deny colonialism in that way.

“If we want to get to a point where the Doctrine of Discovery isn’t at play, then we have to recognise that internally colonised or not, whether you were the British or the Irish or the Scottish or the Quebecois, everybody that has settled on these lands has had a part in colonisation and continues to colonise these lands.”

She continued: “We haven’t got to the acknowledgement of that continuing to happen, and we can’t move forward until we do. It’s going to take more nuance than just the ‘brave explorers’.

“Does it ever discuss the current impacts? You let a couple hundred years go by and you can acknowledge some of these wrongs but it’s much harder to then link what happened to how conditions are today. I think that that’s the missing link for a lot of people.

“Even if in the UK there was an acknowledgement of how outright theft of land and resources from the Americas enriched the Empire, if you get to that point, that’s a good starting point.

“What is completely different now from prior to colonisation because of that theft of land? Making those linkages is very difficult because it’s such a span of time and it’s not so clear cut.”

Of all the issues facing Indigenous peoples in North America, why does appropriation matter? Can it be separated from other challenges? Do past wrongs, represented in contemporary advertising and products, make a difference?

“I think racism is such a deeply embedded element of Canadian, North American life, and right now it seems to be that you can live in a city and people are educated in such a way that they don’t have to be friendly to you but they have to abide by society’s rules of how to get along,” said Shelley Niro.

“But at the same time, it’s obvious to me that there is a lot of deep seated racist feelings out there and it’s just beyond the Truth and Reconciliation [Commission] – that’s sort of a layer on top that they’re peeling back and saying let’s really look at these things. Because coming down to the economics of reservations, why are people on reserves so poor? And why is the education so limited? And it’s because Canada is in such a way that it’s okay. Yeah you have your reserves and you have all these other things that you’re supposed to have, but you’ll never really be part of Canadian culture and I think it’s pretty deeply embedded.

“Even those little tipis and I forget what else is on that wallpaper, I think it’s almost like scientifically placed in front of your eyes that these are just images of a nation conquered and we can do whatever we want with it.”

Is the image of nations conquered limited to schools and education in the UK? How else has the image of free, but conquered, peoples been used beyond advertising? And how has a film narrative become part of political propaganda?

PART 5: Filming freedom and fear

  1. Website of Chatelherault Primary, accessed most recently on November 6, 2016.
  2. Dazzle Fancy Dress website, and Rubie’s “Indian” category. Both sites accessed most recently on November 6, 2016. Efforts have been made to remove the word “squaw” from place names in Saskatchewan, Montana, Arizona, Maine, Minnesota. Further news coverage of the Maine banThough it has a mixed background, many find the term deeply offensive, accessed on November 26, 2016.
  3. Screen grab submitted to Tomorrow by a member of staff, whose identity Tomorrow is protecting under core principle 8, “be a safe harbour to the public and staff”.
  4. “Scots and Canada: Famous Scots in Canada”, published by Education Scotland, accessed most recently on November 6, 2016. The site has since moved to the Scottish Association of Teachers of History.
  5. “Scots and Canada: Surviving the Wild”, published by Education Scotland, accessed most recently on November 6, 2016.
  6. “Honour the truth, reconciling for the future: Summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada”, 2015.
  7. “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action”, 2015.
  8. “Motion on Notice: Protocol to Acknowledge First Nations Unceded Traditional Territory”, regular council meeting of June 24, 2014, City of Vancouver.
  9. The General Synod repudiated it, but repairing the mistakes caused by it has been less forthcoming. Accessed on November 6, 2016.
  10. “Statement on the doctrine of discovery and its enduring impact on Indigenous peoples”, February 12, 2012. Accessed most recently on December 4, 2016.
  11. “Catholic church in Canada repudiates ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ and ‘terra nulls’”, Two Row Times, March 30, 2016, accessed most recently on December 4, 2016.
  12. City of Sherrill V Oneida Indian Nation of NY (03-855) 544 U.S. 197 (2005), Supreme Court of the United States, accessed on November 6, 2016. A website for a conference on the doctrine in law in 2014 can be found here, accessed most recently on November 6, 2016.
  13. UNDRIP.
  14. GA/10612, General Assembly, 107th and 108th meetings, accessed most recently November 6, 2016.
  15. “Reconciling Unity and Diversity in the Modern Era: Tolerance and Intolerance”, remarks of the Rt Hon Beverley Mclachlan, chief justice of Canada, delivered May 28, 2015. Emphasis from the speech itself. PDF of speech as delivered.
  16. “Glen, Mills & Co”, RBS heritage hub, accessed most recently on November 12, 2016.
  17. “Object 55 – loan certificate, 1880”, RBS heritage hub, accessed most recently on November 12, 2016.
  18. “Profile: Dakota oil pipeline”, The National, published November 3, 2016, accessed most recently on November 12, 2016.
  19. Strathclyde Pension Fund (SPF) assets to June 30, 2015..
  20. Canadian International Merchandise Trade Database, Statistics Canada, figures for year to September 2016, accessed most recently on December 4, 2016.

For sale: Making a killing from Britain’s colonial crimes – Part 5

This investigation contains words, images and videos which may be offensive to some readers
Drums Along the Mohawk

Screen grab from 1939 film Drums Along the Mohawk. Copyright remains with 20th Century Fox..

Filming freedom and fear

Film4 in the UK, the television sister of a film production company,1 airs classic Western films regularly.

Dumped in the mid-afternoon as opposed to prime time, the films make use of every stereotype created by Hollywood over several decades, particularly of the white woman needing rescued and frequently with white actors playing Indigenous roles. Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), aired earlier this year for example, shows the women defending their fort from attack, gleefully pouring boiling water over the invading “savages”.

Film4 told Tomorrow: “Westerns are happily a consistent part of our weekday afternoon schedule, with titles from the 1930s to the 1960s.

“A small number of the Westerns have had minor edits to make to them to make them suitable for slot.

“Films of the past are never taken for granted and always need to be reappraised. We’re conscious of the way that Indigenous people are treated in older Westerns made anything from 50 to 80 years ago and these films are constantly reviewed in the light of current sensitivities.

“However, film history is also important and the channel seeks to present films in as integral a form as possible, mindful that cultural norms may be shifting. The Western genre is well-known and understood, and viewers seem well able to understand the context and historical standing of these films. We have never had complaints about Westerns shown on the channel.

“To sum up, we are concerned about this issue and review the films accordingly.”

As well as brief, fleeting glimpses of Indigenous objects or culture across advertising, the UK is also exposed to lengthy narratives about conquered peoples. But they are not just passive depictions, and in places such as Germany, they have been used for much more political ends.

Propaganda wars

Dr Frank Usbeck is a post-doctoral research fellow based at TU Dresden with an interest in Indigenous culture and history, particularly how the “frontier” has been depicted and used over the last century.2

Frontier history and its imagery have been tied to cultural practices in Germany and even political ideologies, he explained, with a fascination with Indigenous peoples as information passed through the German centres for printing.

“As soon as Europeans knew that there were Indigenous peoples in the Americas, Germans talked about them,” said Dr Usbeck. “And Germans were fascinated about them and came up with pre-conceived notions about them.

“And also as soon as Germans talked about Indigenous peoples in the Americas, they were quarrelling among themselves who had the authority to make correct depictions of these people.

“The quest for talking about the ‘real Indian’ or the ‘authentic Indian’ as H Glenn Penny described it, has been going on ever since the so-called discovery.

“However, it became a big feature in the Germanies in the late 18th century or sometime around 1800 and that has to do with the emergence of German nationalism.

“From the beginning, talking about Native Americans in Germany is tied very closely to a quest for the self – discussing ‘who are Native Americans’ since about 1800 has been a large part of asking what makes Germans German, what is German?”

[Tweet “”‘Who are Native Americans’ has been a large part of asking what makes Germans German””]

The comparatively late development of a German national identity led people to seek similar traditions to their own “tribal” origins, said Dr Usbeck. They concluded they could relate to Indigenous peoples in North America because of their own experience with “having to fight back numerically and technologically superior invaders, people who come in and tell us our culture is primitive, our technology is primitive, we don’t have the right religious beliefs and we should change our ways”.

In their view of history, German tribes had to battle the Roman Empire, then the Roman Catholic Church, then France and by the time of the founding of the Kaiserreich in the 1870s, the narrative about a people battling for survival was well entrenched. And by World War I, American imperialism, British colonialism and French aggression were seen as direct parallels to what happened and continued in North America.

There evolved an “Indianthusiasm”, a term developed by Canadian studies scholar Harmut Lutz3 to describe the fascination for Indigenous peoples, something both constant through different political regimes and war propaganda, but also malleable to suit their needs.

It could appeal to Germans from different walks of life, social backgrounds, regions, during the Kaiserreich, the Weimar Republic, the Nazi era, and beyond into Communist East Germany, West Germany and even in the resurgence of far-right groups today.

Dr Usbeck described the theory as: “We and Native Americans have common enemies and on top of that as descendants of a tribal people we have similar group character traits that we share with Native Americans’ and supposedly only Germans can understand Native Americans very well.”

Novels featuring the character Winnetou by Karl May were published between 1875 and 1910 depicting a lone character always looking for “white people he can help” and who eventually converts to Christianity on his deathbed.

Dr Usbeck said: “The original novels, there is some element of longing for freedom at the frontier, going away from the constraints of German bourgeois society – while at the same time everything in those novels promoted values that represent a German bourgeois society.

“They were very simply and clearly about good versus evil in which evil is always punished and good always prevails, in which even Winnetou, the Native character, exudes those very, very German bourgeois ideals.”

When the novels received a cinematic adaptation in West Germany, they proved so popular that East German state-owned productions cashed in on Indigenous topics. They didn’t use Karl May, but portrayed Indigenous peoples as victims of American imperialism, where critics drew “clear parallels” to the Vietnam War.

“The East German government drew their own conclusions and used the imagery of good versus evil for their own political and ideological means,” explained Dr Usbeck. “As a Nazi you could use Indianthusiasm in very different ways as well – you could blame the Americans for their colonialism. And it was fairly easy for Germans to do so because Germany did not have colonies in the Americas, and they would just stay very quiet about German genocide, for instance, against the Herero [and Namaqua] in South West Africa, in the early 1900s.”

Joseph Goebbels’ Nazi propaganda ministry in 1938, described Dr Usbeck, countered articles about German treatment of Jews, such as with Kristallnacht and the pogroms, and redirected attention to Americans and their Indigenous peoples.

Two weeks before Kristallnacht, the Chicago Daily Tribune published an article headlined: “Remember Fate of Indians, Nazis Tell Roosevelt”.4

And just days after Kristallnacht he directed reporters to go freely criticise US-Indian policy in response to outrage about the pogroms.

American journalist Fletcher Pratt, published a piece in the American Mercury referencing massacres of the American Indian, which was then promoted by Goebbels’ ministry.

It said: “A mirror was held up to the Americans, they were shown that the entirety of American history is paved with murder, arson, robbery, etc. It was an answer to the Americans from an American source, which preempted a necessity for our own answer [to US outcries over Kristallnacht].”5

And while militarism and race cards were both part of the propaganda, so too was the connection to the environment. It was argued National Socialism, as the application of natural law, left a duty to protect the environment as it was tied to “national character”.

Dr Usbeck continued: “And there have been instructions, for instance, where schools were given areas in the forest, and teachers were instructed to take the kids out for outdoor instructions, teach them about healing plants and animals, tell them ancient legends about German ancestors who used these plants and animals and in this instruction teach German children how to cherish their home environment and how that is supposed to build up their pride – their national pride and racial pride.

“Many educators also made the reference – and you see that in newspaper articles about Native Americans – where people explicitly make the parallel, saying, ‘The Indians protected nature, we protect nature because we know how to do it and we don’t trash our environment as the Americans are doing’.”

Dr Usbeck said the Nazis didn’t have to steer thinking too much. They merely took the interests of the populace and existing imagery and promoted them to fit their ideology, keeping quiet when there were contradictions.

And the same imagery is being used now by the Lega Nord in Italy, the FPO in Austria and others. The references to historic frontier massagers such as at Wounded Knee and Sand Creek were used by the Nazis after they declared war on the US and are still used by far-right groups and politicians citing variations of, “They [Native Americans] suffered immigration: Now they live in reserves”. 6

Dr Usbeck said similarities between anti-immigrant forces in the US, and German neo-Nazis demonstrated how nativism and xenophobia and racism used Indianthusiasm for “distinctly national problems”.

“Colonialism from a Native American perspective is used to denounce multiculturalism and immigration in clever ways: to infiltrate an Indigenous people and destroy its culture and society from within and eventually take that nation’s land base until the Indigenous group is pushed to the side and sits on small patches of land – reservations – where they are strangers in their own country and a minority.

“That is done very, very explicitly,” he said.

In modern Germany, this is a contrast between the mocked Indigenous figure and the supposedly more respectful but ultimately still stereotyped portrayal.

The German ad for Kytta-Salbe Indianer, which used Native American actor Sam Bearpaw, aimed at the idea of “fierce and stoic warrior – the notion that an Indian knows no pain or an Indian never cries”.7 It’s an image Germans could relate to and “makes total sense” in selling pain-killer medication.

“I would also think not many Germans would see that as a derogatory or a diminutive depictions of Native people,” commented Dr Usbeck.

Taylor Swift with a Bravo Otto award

Screen grab of Bravo Otto awards showing Taylor Swift with her past win. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

On the other side are the periodic Bravo Otto awards, given out by Bravo magazine in Germany and other European nations, with their Golden Otto, a small caricature of an Indigenous boy. Past winners have included celebrities Olly Murs, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift.8

Dr Usbeck noted one counter aspect of how Indigenous imagery and peoples were used in Germany: a welcome and a support for Indigenous peoples, for example with issues such as cultural appropriation.

He said: “That’s in the tradition of siding with Native Americans, in Germany, to begin with. So if you look at movies, most Germans watching a Western would root and would have historically rooted for the Indian characters.

“And it’s always interesting for me to read accounts of Native Americans and so on, how much of a revelation that is to Native people to come to a place where a you’re not the pariah automatically and where you don’t have to defend yourself but you are considered the pop star. Which has its own problems obviously, but it is a huge difference.”

And while there remains a large Native hobbyist movement, Indigenous peoples also made use of the German market for goods and traditions, for example with “Wild West” shows in the 1880s through to the 1930s. There has been, in turn, debate back in North America about whether ceremonies such as Sun Dances should be closed to German tourists. And there has been debate about how much “agency” the “performers” of the past had when using or being used by Germany.

“Some Germans would see that this is outright commercialism and we do not accept it,” said Dr Usbeck, “and on the other hand sometimes people don’t see it and let themselves be baited by the Native image dangling on front of them that they know, that they want to see and want to see confirmed.

“There are currently Native people who live in Germany who tour schools and zoos and tour local country festivals to perform, do dances, do whatever like knife throwing and archery workshops and stuff like that – who basically make a good living off of the ongoing fascination with Native American topics.

“We should talk about how ethnicity is being commercialised, and appropriated and exploited – yes. But at the same time selling ethnicity is very often the best way, sometimes the only way, for an ethnic minority to make a profit, or to promote their cultural and ethnic identity.

“Who does the selling? Who does the promoting? If Native people have control over that, be it travel tourism or be it Indian gaming, then those are immense economic opportunities for that group which can in turn be transformed into cultural opportunities to continue your cultural identity.”

Back in North America, Scott Frazier can’t help but laugh at those wanting to buy the Indigenous items.

“For me, if they’re buying those things they’re just in love with images that seduce them away from their money, again,” he laughed.

“The European loves the image of the free Indian because they’ve never been free. The European has always struggled with that understanding because there’s always somebody in the group that wants to be the leader and control everything, which defeats the purpose.

“So when they see that Indian and the image of the tipi and all of that, it’s an image of freedom that they just don’t understand that that freedom was strangled out of the Indian. We’re not free anymore.”

‘They don’t want our struggles’

Dating back hundreds of years, the Two Row Wampum belt was one of a number of similar defined relationships between Indigenous peoples in North America and the invaders, of two nations separate but equal.

That continued to be a general approach of trade and military relationships and underpinning treaties which applied to about half of Indigenous peoples. They pushed non-interference that lasted into the initial years of the “Indian Department” for British North America.

But the desire to settle the “free” land with settlers increasingly displaced old military alliances that were less crucial after the war of 1812. So British-born leaders began setting up a system to “civilise” Indigenous peoples to assimilate them into white, Christian society, ultimately taking their land and, in theory, eliminating the need for an Indian Department.

In a series of pieces of legislation before Canada formally came into being in 1867, the definition of who could and couldn’t be “Indian” began. Limits were placed on traditional government, with supervision from government and encouraging private land ownership.

The “warrior” image, still celebrated today in the use of headdresses and “freedom” depicted in German film and anti-immigrant propaganda, was replaced with a stated goal of no distinct identity at all – or rather, an imposed one.

In the preamble to the Act for the Gradual Civilisation of the Indian Tribes in Canada, 1857, it stated:

“Whereas it is desirable to encourage the progress of Civilization among the Indian Tribes in this Province, and the gradual removal of all legal distinctions between them and Her Majesty’s other Canadian Subjects, and to facilitate the acquisition of property and of the rights accompanying it, by such Individual Members of the said Tribes as shall be found to desire such encouragement and to have deserved it …”9

Legislation in 1869, after confederation, meant women who married non-Indigenous men were no longer “Indian”, nor were any children born to the union. The US similarly created confused legislative and judicial decisions on who was, or wasn’t, pure or “status”.

It was the Canadian 1876 Indian Act that pulled everything together and has continued to affect almost every aspect of Indigenous life since, from taking lands, to children from their homes in the “60s Scoop” and through the modern care system, to thousands who were abused and died in the residential schools system. Despite campaigns to scrap it entirely, successive governments have only tweaked the Indian Act, most recently with a promise to end the rules defining status by sex.10

David Laird, son of a Scot, pushed through the Act during the prime ministership of Alexander Mackenzie, born in Perthshire, Scotland. In 1884, Prime Minister and Superintendent of the Indian Department, John A Macdonald, born in Glasgow, pushed the banning of traditional ceremonies, such as the potlatch, and cultural items.

In Glasgow today, he is remembered with a plaque citing “under his administration large territories were added to Canada, a transcontinental railway built and settlement of the West encourage. At his death Canada’s autonomy, based on rapid economic development and a close British-Canadian relationship, was assured”.

John A Macdonald was here

Plaque marking the area in Glasgow, UK, where John A Macdonald, first prime minister of Canada, was born. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

Despite the treatment by the British Crown, there were communities which still maintained their alliance. When World War I broke out, a battalion from Six Nations of the Grand River answered the call, travelling to the UK and touring various centres where their different appearance was both celebrated and denigrated.

“The presence of the chiefs in their barbaric attire amidst the monuments of ancient feudal life in Scotland presented by the Castle and the Old Town, inevitably stirred the imagination.”11

And when the members of the battalion returned to Canada, they were forced to choose between their Indian status and that of veterans: are you Indigenous or not?

In the decades that followed, communities have been forcibly moved, children ripped from their mothers’ arms, women have gone missing or been murdered with little interest or casual indifference by police and wider society, dozens of nations within Canadian borders don’t have clean drinking water, rates of incarceration are higher, rates of disease are higher, there is a suicide crisis in many small communities.  Each of the acts by the state and society have resulted in death.

Does Britain maintain any responsibility? The Canadian constitution was only repatriated to Canada from British soil in 1982 and even then, it was never signed by Indigenous peoples.

Shelley Niro said the British do have to educate themselves, and the Two Row Wampum mandates it.

“That would be a very nice thing if they could be educated into the thing because they’re the ones who are benefiting from all the ‘discoveries’ that happened,” she said. “And sometimes people come here and then all of a sudden they have ownership.

“My father always used to say ‘Why do people say “Our native people”? We’re not anybody’s Native people. We don’t belong to anybody’. A lot of other people say, ‘We have to take care of our Native people’ – well I don’t think we are your Native people.

“Education would be a great thing. My daughter, when she was in high school, she had a British teacher and the British teacher in history saying, ‘Oh the British are so famous for going around the world and discovering different lands and doing all this sort of thing’.

“And my daughter, who wasn’t politicised at the time, at all, she said, ‘How can you brag about going around the world’ and she went on and listed the diseases that were brought and all the hardship that was brought with coming to different continents.

“And the teacher was not too impressed and she said ‘sit down and be quiet’.”

Ms Niro continued: “I think it [Two Row Wampum] was designed that way. I think it was an agreement drawn up and people shook hands on it, saying, ‘This is how we’ll live in this land’.

“People who came here in the beginning they needed help, they needed to be shown how to live in the cold, harsh land. But then once they got their foot in the door and made their own little village, it changed. And it didn’t change for the best.”

[Tweet “”Once they got their foot in the door and made their own little village, it changed””]

Chelsea Vowel said she wanted people from any culture to think about their own symbols that they respect and value.

“The symbols themselves are not the thing,” she said. “The parchment is not the education that you got. The military medal is not what you did to earn it – it’s just a symbol representing an achievement.

“And for us too, we have these symbols that represent achievements and it’s deeply disrespectful to go and take those symbols and use them without permission. That’s it.

“And all we want people to understand is that we can’t force you. People from outside of our culture have a lot more power than we do, they can take them all they want.

“But don’t then turn around and pretend that it’s honouring us when we’re telling you it’s actively disrespectful. I would just like people to be a bit more honest about it and say, ‘You know what? We really don’t care about your feelings, we don’t actually care about you at all. We want this thing, we’re taking it’.

“I would prefer that than having all the people hand-wringing and saying, ‘But I just really love your culture and I just really want to honour you’.”

Scott Frazier said it was a good time to think about images and talk about the stereotyping.

I don’t know if anybody can sit down and pinpoint the exact thing why it pisses you off. Maybe it’s because you’ve been mistreated for all this time and it just continues,” he concluded.

“But it’s a good discussion. And it’s good to have people that don’t hear those discussions to listen. Will it change? Maybe, eventually. They’re all starting points.”


The UK advertising spending was forecast to exceed £17 billion in 2016.12. Hundreds of ads are produced and shown on TV and in cinemas. The examples in this investigation are a fraction of those.

But, they are consistent in direction at one race of people. And there is a necessary question to follow on from that: what other race gets that attention, where cultural or sacred items are donned by white actors to sell products and/or services? What other culture or race is advertised by white children for mass consumption and profit? And then, why?

Cultural appropriation alone didn’t prevent clean drinking water or effective sanitation on communities, or put Indigenous children into care or murder Indigenous women in North America. But those problems, said interviewees, stem from colonialism and they aren’t getting fixed because of a lack of education and willingness to learn.

RJ Jones concluded people wanted their symbols and culture, but without taking responsibility. And they want the public to educate themselves.

“I think they’re taking what they want to take and not actually putting effort into what is happening,” said RJ. “They want our culture but they don’t want our struggles.”

  1. Film4 listings can be found online, accessed on November 20, 2016
  2. Personal and research page of Dr Usbeck, and his TU Dresden webpage, accessed most recently on November 20, 2016.
  3. University of Szczecin profile page of Prof Lutz and interviews about the term.All accessed on November 20, 2016
  4. Headline from October 28, 1938.
  5. Quote provided by Dr Usbeck by email citing from his own book, Fellow Tribesmen, Frank Usbeck, New York: Berghahn Books, 2015.
  6. Translation of Lega Nord poster from “Italy’s Northern League resurgent”, BBC News, April 17, 2008, accessed most recently on November 20, 2016. Variations of this anti-immigration line tied to Indigenous reservations continue to be widespread.
  7. German-language website promoting the Merck product. Accessed most recently on November 20, 2016
  8. Bravo magazine website with photos of Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift with the statues Accessed most recently on November 20, 2016
  9. 20 Victoria, c. 26 (Province of Canada) “An Act to encourage the gradual Civilization of the Indian Tribes in this Province, and to amend the Laws respecting Indians”, June 10, 1857.
  10. Ottawa to change Indian Act in response to Descheneaux ruling by February”, CBC News, July 29, 2016 accessed most recently on November 20, 2016
  11. The Scotsman, “Canadian Indians in Edinburgh: Chief Clear Sky at the Castle”, December 11, 1916, p9 – see “The independence battalion” for more.
  12. “Facts on the advertising market in the UK”,, accessed on November 12, 2016

Data politics: Do web trackers win votes?

Exclusive Tomorrow investigation examines 1,113 trackers used by 163 political parties and candidates around globe

Tracking, by Jason Skinner

Tracking, by artist in residence Jason Skinner. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International.

Political party and campaign websites are tracking voters with up to 52 different pieces of code, a Tomorrow investigation has found.

Some countries show huge variation between the largest parties as each compiles information on visitors or tracks them around the internet.

Green parties have more than other parties combined in Canada, Chile, Brazil and England and Wales, while Labour parties top lists in Scotland, Australia and New Zealand for use of trackers, which are facilitated by cookies and other coding.

A crowded United States presidential race is using almost 300 trackers between them, with an additional 272 coming from some of the biggest Super PACs (political action committees) as campaigns get more sophisticated.

And in Canada, currently in the midst of a national election campaign, the official website of the prime minister loads more trackers, many of them from advertising and marketing firms, than the other G8 leaders combined.

Even world bodies show significant differences, from the United Nations using just two trackers to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) deploying up to 21 when you load their website.

Major spy agencies already being scrutinised for their surveillance of personal data, officially use no trackers or two at most.

Diego Naranjo, advocacy manger with the European Digital Rights (EDRi),1 said: “Regardless of people understanding or not what cookies are and how they function, people do not have a real choice rather than press ‘accept’ if they want to continue accessing a website.

“Politicians and anyone else using tools to count visitors should use tools which do not allow them to identify individuals.”

And former chief electoral officer of Canada, Jean-Pierre Kingsley,2 said the use of data may need to be reviewed after the election.

But political watchers in the US said no campaign could do without technology and none would “unilaterally disarm”.

Tomorrow used privacy browser extension Ghostery3 to examine 163 political websites across 25 countries, as well as another 70 from international organisations, banks and news media.

The free extension allows visitors to see how much tracking code is found on any website you use, and switch them off.

Trackers serve a variety of functions, from counting the number of hits to a site, to enabling social media plug-ins for comment sections, to following the public around the web, allowing advertising to be targeted and re-targeted to them based on their browser history.

Almost all websites – including Tomorrow – employ at least one basic analytics tool to count visitors. And some sites can load ads or trackers via linked accounts, such as YouTube videos, outwith the control of the sites themselves.

But how many are needed on political websites? How is data being used and how aware are voters? And is new technology the only way for smaller or opposition parties to get to voters?

Top 10 political parties for number of trackers

  1. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), India – 26
  2. Australian Labor Party – 25
  3. Tied: Green Party of Canada / Green Party of England and Wales – 22
  4. Eesti Reformierakond, Estonia – 21
  5. Tied: Movimiento Ciudadano, Mexico / Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), Italy – 19
  6. Republican National Committee – 18
  7. Scottish Labour Party -17
  8. Tied: Scelta Civica (SC), Italy / Propuesta Republicana, Argentina / Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Pakistan / Welsh Labour Party – 16
  9. Accion Democratica, Venezuela – 15
  10. Partido Verde, Brazil – 14

View the Google Spreadsheet HERE or click the icon below to download a zip file of the spreadsheet and all 314 screen grabs

Download spreadsheet and screen grabs of website trackers

Ian Koski, adjunct professor at George Washington University’s graduate school of political management teaching digital strategy,4 said most campaigns will use the technology to get a second chance to reach voters once they’ve clicked elsewhere.

“The use of internet technology is now ubiquitous,” he told Tomorrow by phone. “You have to do it, no matter what race you’re running here in the United States and increasingly internationally. It depends very much on internet penetration, broadband penetration and people’s comfort level. Here in the US though, digital is an absolutely fundamental part of just about every electoral campaign.

“What you do with it though could be anywhere on a pretty wide scale.

“The reality is, though, that no-one’s going to unilaterally disarm and not employ the types of re-marketing technologies and targeting technologies that could be what allows them to reach the right number of volunteers or donors or voters to win their election.”

Select a link below for more detail or continue reading

Canadian politics

US politics

UK politics






In almost all the countries surveyed, the main political parties or those with legislative or executive power, do not have the most trackers on their websites. It is usually opposition and in particular smaller parties deploying the technology.

While left-wing parties lead the field in many countries such as Scotland, Australia, New Zealand and Israel, conservative parties are top in France, Argentina and Turkey.

In only four countries surveyed are the parties currently in government using the most trackers, in Estonia, Wales, Turkey and Tunisia. Germany and Nigeria are the only countries with equal use across all examined homepages, with German parties using just one each.

Other nations show less developed deployment of trackers, with just one between three main parties in Kenya, for example.

Union websites, banks, world sporting bodies and others all use varying numbers of trackers on their homepages. Most official government websites have just one or two pieces of tracking code. Spying agencies such as MI5, the NSA and the CIA – who have been embroiled in controversy over the extent of their high-tech surveillance – have none or one.

But the number of trackers on political websites is minuscule compared to those used by the media, with several approaching or beyond 100 different trackers. Some sites have so many that they drag the loading of pages for several seconds with developers increasingly being aware of so-called “bloat” on site design.

Tomorrow only considered website homepages, which can show significant variation in the number of trackers from visit to visit and differ even more within a site, such as individual news article pages.

Ghostery, whose press representative declined to comment for this story, details about 2,000 trackers in existence, breaking down broadly as:

  • advertising – a tracker that shows you ads
  • analytics – one which counts visits and general location, browser and other information for websites
  • beacons – single-pixel, clear images used to watch behaviour, known as “attribution measurement”; they are also used to determine if someone has opened and seen an email you’ve sent
  • widget – these can range from “share” buttons or comments sections

Some cookies have been found with duration periods of almost 8,000 years compared to an average of one or two, with a quarter of websites not offering notice of use of them and more than half not seeking prior consent of the user, according to EDRi.

While European legislation requires websites notify users about the use of cookies and consent to their use,5 rules vary around the globe with many sites assuming consent based on use. Most privacy rules will apply to certain uses of information, such as medical records, or rely on self-regulation across an industry or within individual organisations.

In the other direction, data is being pushed to not only help media publishers gain income from clicks and site visits, but also as law enforcement experiment with “predictive policing”. New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton recently declared that using data to calculate potential locations, victims or perpetrators of crime, was the “wave of the future” and already a reality.6

EDRi warned that unless someone is using Ghostery, Privacy Badger, Disconnect or other browser plug-ins, there is no way to know if you are being tracked.

Seth Ulinski, a senior analyst covering advertising and marketing technology at US-based TBR (Technology Business Research, Inc)7 explained there were a number of types of data collection, tracking and functions.

“If you’re a publisher,” he told Tomorrow by phone, “you’re really looking to monetise your audience. Creating content takes work and good content doesn’t just grow on trees – people need to produce it, it’s a business.

[Tweet “”Good content doesn’t just grow on trees – people need to produce it, it’s a business.””]”News sites, other media owners, publishers, etc, having a better understanding of their audience allows them to then go to advertisers and say, ‘Hey, now we can prepackage different audience segments and deliver more value to you versus you’re going to buy a run of site and target everybody who comes to our site’.”

Dr Jason Turner, lecturer in advertising at the Dundee Business School at the University of Abertay,8 said everyone was “obsessed with measurability” and advertisers want to reach customers as directly as possible.

“Re-targeting has proved to be a useful online strategy and will continue to grow, targeting browsers based on their identity and specific buying behaviours,” he explained. “The advertising content on websites will continue to be re-marketing across social media channels to connect and re-connect to existing and potential purchasers alike.

“However, advertisers cannot lose sight of the fact that relevant and engaging content is integral to successful digital campaigns, whether that is through consumers driving the advertising content or the advert being integrated in an appropriate way into a consumers social identity and social timeline.”

A web user can be an advertising target based on being part of a market segment or based on their interests from surfing the web, whether they have signed up to a particular service or just by their search engine history. But if web users don’t feel content is relevant, they will switch off, Dr Turner insisted.

Mr Ulinski said that while industry bodies such as Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) explain how re-marketing or re-targeting work, the other side of the argument is that trackers shouldn’t be used at all.

“It is a high-wire act as far as giving people notice and choice but not to the detriment of being able to analyse and do all the smart marketing that advertisers are looking to do,” he continued.

“So far the industry has done a pretty good job of self governing. But as far as do consumers understand? I think they know a lot more now than they did maybe three years ago, particularly with something like re-marketing or re-targeting. They might not get all of the mechanics behind it, but I think at that level people definitely have a better understanding as far as why things are going on.”

As the level of awareness increases, so does the number of people switching on ad blockers. Ad blocking software is estimated will cost $22 billion US dollars to publishers this year, with a report by PageFair claiming 198 million people worldwide are now using such tools. That number is up 41 per cent in a year and more ad blocking possibilities are on the way.9

So how much responsibility lies with a website publisher, such as a political party or candidate, and how much with the voter or web user?

Ian Koski, at George Washington University, said trackers don’t exist in isolation in political campaigns and the question is how digital technology broadly is used. And while internet users should be paying attention to such issues, many don’t care.

They assume that the bounds of their privacy are being tested and most of the time it’s for convenience,” he said. “It’s tough to limit that, tough to regulate that. Privacy is a difficult line to walk.

[Tweet ““The bounds of their privacy are being tested and most of the time it’s for convenience.””]“How you use those platforms, how they link together, how they talk to each other, how your Facebook followers are pushed to join your email lists and how your email subscribers are pushed to take other actions. That’s really where the digital space has moved.

“It’s not necessarily just about inventing a new platform or getting on a new social media site – it’s about coordinating all of those investments and tactics and leveraging them for actual electoral outcomes. It’s the strategy that’s getting more refined and what we’re seeing is websites that are coded in a more sophisticated way to take advantage of those strategies, that work together.”

Mr Ulinski said as more people move to mobile devices, which don’t easily support third-party cookies and trackers, the identity of the devices themselves will be more important.

Instead of a line of code or ‘cookie’ being stored on the consumer’s computer, a non-personally identifiable (non-PII) device ID is assigned and saved on ad tech platform of the publisher, advertiser, or agency,” he explained. The trackers used on desktops will decrease as new options rise.

With technology inevitably moving so quickly and the ability to reach voters changing constantly, can legislation keep up? Should it?

Diego Naranjo with EDRi said legislation usually follows what society needs, but what society needs to do is “adjust law and reality as soon as possible”.

ABC News website

Screen grab of ABC News, loading up to 122 trackers, more than any other of 313 sites surveyed.

“In an era when technology has gone far from what most people would expect only a few years ago, we need to develop policies which tackle these new issues around technology in the best way possible,” he told Tomorrow by email. “In particular in the field of privacy this means having policies which are effective, suitable for the technologies that exist and that may develop in the future, and be long-lasting policies.

“We are living in a crucial time for privacy not only for our generations but for those to come. The way we define privacy now will define how private we will be allowed to be in the future.”

But Jean-Pierre Kingsley said society and governments could only react if a problem was proven to exist. Comparing it to allowing smoking in public places or driving regulations, he said bluntly that people die before rules change to adjust to new realities.

We let people smoke all over the place and then we have to try to find out how do we cut that back,” he said. “It’s like the telephone: we find out we’re killing more people by letting drivers talk or text on the phone while they’re driving than we are with alcohol and then we say, ‘Okay that’s a problem we have to solve’.”

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Update August 28, 2015: Alliance Party of Northern Ireland was missed out and has now been added to the spreadsheet and total.


No relevant issues on principles 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 or 10.

3. Independence and accountability: Tomorrow publishes its Google Analytics data regularly and we remain open to any and all questions about how we use trackers and plug-ins.
6. A duty to openness: This feature and the spreadsheet analysis includes this website as we must be open about our own use of trackers, even as we examine their use by others.
8. Be a safe harbour for the public and staff: Tomorrow is looking to upgrade to https and at switching from Google Analytics in the coming months to Piwik so we maintain more direct control over collected statistics about site visits, thereby meeting the requirements of this principle.
11. Promote responsible debate and mediation: How many trackers are enough? Which ones are appropriate? Should political parties use them differently from businesses? Is more transparency required? Or education of the public?

  1. European Digital Rights, which uses no trackers.
  2. Archived Elections Canada page on Mr Kingsley, no trackers deployed.
  3. Headquartered in the US, Ghostery shows three trackers on its homepage.
  4. Ian Koski’s GWU profile page, with three trackers.
  5. European Commission details on cookies – with one tracker.
  6. New York Times video of the speech, with two trackers
  7. Profile page Seth Ulinski, with 1 tracker
  8. Profile page of Dr Jason Turner, with five trackers.
  9. PageFair report available here, with 19 trackers

What are we wearing – Part 1

Thread bare

What are we wearing

What are we wearing, by Jason Skinner, artist in residence. Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported

What on EARTH are you wearing right now? And where was it made? And where are the materials from? And how much of what you paid went to the local economy?

Even if many consumers might pose the first question to their friends or family, they rarely if ever ask the latter ones.

Textiles are more than just clothing: from our wallpaper and floor coverings, bedroom and bathroom decoration, to stage and screen costumes, they include practically everything around us.

Tomorrow has investigated the state of the economy in the Canadian province of New Brunswick and what role textiles play or could play.

Could examining buying habits, agriculture and production and the assumptions made by economists lead to a textile economy? Could an area with an historic strength in crafting material and goods once again lead?

Over more than four months, Tomorrow interviewed dozens of businesses, farmers, artists, economists and others from across New Brunswick and as far as Hong Kong, Scotland and Saskatchewan.

The investigation found historic expertise and budding talent in the province, but significant and severe disconnects within government and between key players. And serious questions will need to be asked by the public about what future they want for the area and how their buying habits control whether that potential is used or abandoned.

History, economics, agriculture, land use and land rights, optimism, realism, sustainability, localism, consumerism, industry and industriousness are all bound up in the subject of textiles. And the future of a province could hinge on a mix of government action, business ingenuity and personal choice.


The long-lasting thread

Briggs & Little produce yarn.1 They’ve been doing it for more than 150 years, making them Canada’s oldest woollen mill, selling their generations of skills to generations of customers. But it’s getting harder.

“People have to realise that there’s a reason why their kids or grandkids, nieces or nephews are travelling to Alberta,” said John Little, co-owner of the family firm that employs 23 people in York County, New Brunswick. “People aren’t supporting enough local stuff. And how can [anybody] compete with the oil patch anyway? It’s almost impossible.

“If you’re a small industry and you think that you’re going to try and change people’s habits, it’s going to be a lifelong journey. I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. People are so used to shopping for the dollars and cents price, they don’t necessarily think of the social price that they’re paying in order to save those pennies or dollars.”

Click to download a two-page summary of this investigationBriggs & Little keeps moving forward, trying to find new markets and appeal to new trends, but there is a long-term struggle.

“They used to say the highs and lows in textiles are every seven years,” Mr Little told Tomorrow by phone. “Well, that was maybe true up until the ‘80s but since then, there haven’t been five highs since 1980. So the cycles are a lot more than seven years now.

“Our mill burned 20 years ago and when we rebuilt, it was a big decision. If we had known then what we know now, how long it would take to get back, you’d have to wonder if you would do the same thing over again.

“I’m third generation in my family, and my son works here, so we’re really trying to keep it going and wait for people to realise that they have to support more things in their back yard if they’re going to still be there next year.”

For every elder and prolific knitter that retires, the business needs to find three or four new young knitters to replace them as their need for yarn is lower for less output. And their demands are changing just as the supply moves ever further from New Brunswick.

All the wool comes direct from producers or a wool-growers co-op in Ontario and Mr Little said they have tried to vary their output over the years, including softer wools to appeal to those seeking just merino yarn, considered the best thanks to marketing, as we will report in Part 5. New Brunswick accounts for 25-30 per cent of their sales, followed by Newfoundland.

Making items at home has been a way of coping during tougher times and economic downturn, but there is so little time in most households now, particularly in two-income families and a multitude of choices for leisure activity. And Briggs & Little depends on that leisure time for their business to survive.

“That’s what it feels like,” added Mr Little. “You’re working to maintain the volumes that you have.”


The alpaca thread

To the south east in Sussex is one of New Brunswick’s newest textile firms, Legacy Lane,2 working predominantly in alpaca fleece since September 2006 and cited by nearly every single interviewee for this investigation as an example of the future potential of the sector.

Legacy Lane

Legacy Lane textile mill in Sussex, New Brunswick.

Co-owner and production manager Alyson Brown and her sister Amy Tonning won a $25,000 New Brunswick Innovation Foundation prize in 20073 after completing studies in textiles and business administration respectively in the province. They had originally considered fibre farming, specifically of alpaca, because it was new and luxury and appealed to those looking for a hypoallergenic option. But they realised it was processing that was needed in the Maritimes, not more farms.

What are the bare threads of the business?

  • You get 2–3lbs of fleece per alpaca animal, generally only producing once a year, from the end of May through June
  • 25–30lbs needs to be processed per day for the business to run
  • Just 3–5 per cent comes from New Brunswick
  • Another 5–7 per cent comes from the rest of the Maritimes
  • 85–90 per cent comes from the rest of Canada

There are fewer farms than when Legacy Lane opened, said Ms Brown, and large farms of 300-head would be needed to develop a full clothing line.

But transport, already a challenge in New Brunswick between a lack of public transit and ever rising fuel costs, has made business harder for Legacy Lane – a “continued thorn”, says Ms Brown. And if mills pop up between Sussex and producers in Ontario, shipping costs guide those producers to the closer mills.

Legacy Lane, employing eight or nine people depending on the season, processes fleece through to October and November for farmers who need fibre back for production in a hurry.

A farmer would tell the mill how much fleece they were sending, booking a set number of days for its processing before being sent back as finished fibre. But if not enough raw material comes in, the business struggles to meet its operating costs and they have expanded into producing wholesale lines for yarn shops and fibre enthusiasts to offset the ups and downs of farms.

Legacy Lane

Yarn from Legacy Lane textile mill in Sussex, New Brunswick.

“Had we only stayed just on fibre producing, I think we would probably be out of business now,” explained Ms Brown. “We have small retail space now – we’re trying to develop products and it seems to be taking off – people want to have beautiful yarns.”

Ms Brown’s education came at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design (NBCCD),4 a centre that turned 75 last year and has become internationally reputed for their textile work.

Rachel MacGillivray is an instructor there, and someone who moved into the province even as hundreds regularly move west for high-paying energy sector jobs.

She grew up on an eastern Ontario dairy farm before going on to study fashion design at Ryerson University in Toronto. She went to work for one of the country’s largest family-owned companies as a designer in what is known as “fast fashion”, where clothing can go from concept to store rack in 15 days.

Working with large Canadian brands and their factories in China and India, Ms MacGillivray said she realised the job was not for her.

“The whole way that the fashion industry works, I had a really hard time with,” she said by phone. “The model most in use is very much [to] convince people that what they have is no good so they’ll buy more, and make as much stuff as you can, as cheap as you can so you can sell a tonne of it. There was a huge value-disconnect for me.”

It was then that Ms MacGillivray discovered the NBCCD textiles programme, moving there to learn to weave and planning to study microeconomics and developing countries in the fashion world. But the hands-on work was what she missed about fashion, leading her to stay and study fibre arts and textiles, then work as a technician and finally get taken on as an instructor.

“I’m a really avid spinner – kind of like the old fairytales,” she explained.

“I exist in the world of textiles. I’m definitely not ignorant to economics; I enjoy concepts of economics, but I’m not an economist.

“My husband and I, we’re currently looking for land to build a small farm on, to have a fibre flock. And I think that part of that business model for me is getting tours on to the farm, so people can see, okay, this is where fibre and material come from.

“When you can help people make the connection between this material which was made by these hands, it came from this field, which supports this community or it came from this animal, then people start to be more willing to pay more and then also treasure that thing, so they need less. So it’s not, ‘I’ve got to spend $200 for four sweaters every four months’.

“Connect the producers of fibre and fibre animals with the people who have the nous, the process and the equipment, the hobbyists, the knitters, weavers, and then also the people who can do it on a small-scale commercial scale to make products and sell [them].”

Ms MacGillivray said that drawing on the example of the local food movement and a backlash against fast fashion, could bring success to New Brunswick.

She argued that education, marketing and a strong local presence from farm to weaver to designer, would be key.

“Fifteen years ago there was an attitude of people, ‘I just want the cheapest stuff I can get’,” she said. “The stereotypical answer to ‘where does my food come from?’ from people in the cities was, ‘Well, from the store’.

“And then the local food movement did a really job of educating people as to why buy local, why pay more, and elevated their product into a health product that supports your community. It also has a bit of a luxury kind of feeling to it. And I think that’s what we need with textiles.

“Fashion has evolved along the same lines as fast food.

“That, I think, is a really unsustainable model, just in terms of the amount of waste created by that model. We see the horrors of that industry in the news with the factory collapses in Bangladesh because the producers are sort of forced into more narrow margins by the companies that are selling the stuff.

“And I think that that is not what we need in New Brunswick. We need a really good PR campaign to get people away from buying cheap – which is actually low quality and it’s not going to be good in six months’ time – to spending more money, investing in the community. And if you can see that this is supporting New Brunswick, there might be more of a drive to do that. Spend a bit more money but have a piece that will last longer. And you can wear it for 10-20 years.”

What would a local economy look like in NB?

Illustration by Artist in Residence Jason Skinner. Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported


Will local sell?

Briggs & Little and Legacy Lane are emphatically local, but source raw materials for weaving from further afield and sell to further afield because there isn’t enough production or sales in New Brunswick. Could changing the local system, from farm to shop, help?

Alex McIntosh oversees business and research at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London, and is also managing director of fashion brand Christopher Raeburn.5 The centre does education, consultancy, business development and research into how fashion can exist within ecological limits and deliver better lives for those working in the sector.

Mr McIntosh, having a business himself, said that while he likes and encourages the idea of localism, it isn’t something he would force on businesses. In the case of Christopher Raeburn, the UK no longer has the skills or manufacturing base for technical, sports-wear focused items, meaning the work is best done outside the UK while they focus on heavy wool outerwear made at home.

“I also recognise that fashion is a massive global economy, for good and for bad,” he said by phone from London. “And certainly I never assume that working locally is automatically a more sustainable option. It is if you’re doing it for the right reasons and you’re doing it in the right way, and if it really is about connecting to your community and finding the skills and the materials and the resources you need. I don’t assume that that is always the right option for a business.

“You have to be clever and you have to think about the real specialism or a particular geography. What can that place deliver? What resources are available?

“If you’re going right back to the farm, and flax and linen, I’ve looked at this a lot in the UK and we have a big problem because we simply don’t have the technology or the machinery in place, or available affordable workforce to be able to engage in a human-resource heavy textile industry like linen production.

“It’s really hard to make it financially viable when you set it against the cost of producing some of the things in the East Asia. I don’t necessarily think that’s good, but it’s the reality.

By contrast, John Little said that people love the idea of buying local, but when push comes to shove, and consumers could save a dollar on something from elsewhere, “More than likely I think a lot of them would save the dollar”.

“Even if it’s developed with the idea of local, you’re still going to have to export out of here probably to make it viable,” he added. “And that isn’t really easy either. We’re so far from everywhere, from bigger markets. It’s the same for things coming in as well as going out too.”

Mini mills, said Mr Little, can produce the uniqueness of wool from one farm or area, but the cost can be 5–7 times the going price of similar commercially produced yarn. That has a market, but a lesser one. Everything was local at one time, with a mill for processing wool every 40–50 miles in New Brunswick, he said. Transportation has changed all that. It has made it easier to get products in, and so North American production, of wool and also dyes, has gone east.

“Our local stores in the little community we live in now, they’re basically just convenience stores,” he lamented. “People don’t buy their week’s worth of groceries at the local general store anymore. Everybody goes to Fredericton – it’s a 45-minute drive from here, so they are going to one of the big chains. And that’s the bulk of their supplies and then they just buy the fill-in stuff through the week at home.”

Alyson Brown said part of the problem is that local crafting has been confused with “crafts”, either the cheaper goods sold in tourism stops, or the quality goods that consumers perceive to be beyond the range of their wallets. You don’t need to be from a higher social class to celebrate industriousness and industry of craft.

“It can be an everyday thing,” she said. “Make it more accessible to people, have it more celebrated, have more fairs and more funding to things that celebrate it. Educate people on the history of it and how things were done.

“Even in New Brunswick we’ve got a pretty strong textile industry if we look at Briggs & Little. If we could somehow get people learning about the history of textiles, from where it was and where it is now, and doing that full circle. . .

“I am positive. I think there’s real promise for it and for craft in general, not just the textile industry. I use the word craft a lot because I feel like I understand its meaning. The unfortunate thing about the word craft in the rest of the world is there’s two different kinds of craft: there’s fine craft and hand-made art, and then there is kraft with a K, the tole painted birdhouses and the glued stones, the not-real-silver rings. And I don’t mean to be too harsh in that, but I think that’s kind of the importance of craftsmanship.”

Ms Brown is emphatic that there is an “absolute necessity” of pairing natural fibre with the textile industry, in New Brunswick and beyond.

“A lot was lost when the industrial revolution happened and we started working with the synthetic fibres,” she said. “Sure, a lot was gained too, but unfortunately we lost a real sense of an age-old craft and tradition that happened in homes all over the world.

“All of our clothes at one time we created by use of two sticks or a loom or a needle and thread. This is an age-old craft. To abandon that and leave the hand-made behind is just a really sad thing.

“We just don’t know where anything comes from anymore.

“Have that connection with ourselves, what we wear and what we eat, put on ourselves and put into ourselves – if you want to get corny, interweaving of people’s lives – growing something and raising something and harvesting it and transforming it.”

What is New Brunswick’s connection to textiles beyond the businesses operating today? The heritage is worth remembering.

PART 2 – The fields of blue, and ‘Scratchy as hell’

What are we wearing – Part 2

The fields of blue, and ‘scratchy as hell’

What are we wearing

What are we wearing, by Jason Skinner, artist in residence. Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported

The summer breeze used to blow across fields of blue in parts of New Brunswick. Where now flax is grown as a “superfood” and source of omega-3, in the 19th century, it was used to weave linen.

Those days are gone except in the museums keeping the memory alive, such as at St James Church Textile Museum in Dorchester.1

St James Textile Museum

St James Textile Museum, Dorchester, New Brunswick. Courtesy Denyse Milliken.

The frame church, built in 1884, became a museum in its later life to display the artefacts of the late 1800s and the “hands on” chance to try weaving that is part of so many historical displays.

Museum supervisor Denyse Milliken said she was taught by Betty Adams who learned weaving from Pamela Black, who started the collection of textiles and tools. As much as she displays historical items, she is also a passionate weaver herself.

“I think weaving is absolutely magical,” said the 49-year-old by phone. “It’s a magical process, to go through the whole process. I will talk to elementary schools and how important all these skills were and some have never seen someone sew on a button or knit.

“I value those skills, quite a lot.

“I was explaining to somebody about one of the blankets we have that was all darned and patched and everything, and we don’t really know the history of this blanket, but it may have been the only blanket that somebody owned.

“And was it because they were poor? Or was it because they were holding on to this blanket because it had sentimental value? Chances are it was because they were poor and it was the only blanket they had.

“I find textiles being part of this throw-away society that we have now, that nothing’s built to last and there’s no pride in craftsmanship. People are so happy to buy a $4 t-shirt from Walmart and then when it falls apart they get mad.

“Whereas when we only had enough clothes to fill a quarter of the closets we have now, and something had a rip in it, it didn’t happen third time you washed it, it probably happened six months into owning it and you could repair it because you valued it more.”

Rag rug

Rag rug being woven at St James Textile Museum, Dorchester, New Brunswick. Courtesy Denyse Milliken.

Ms Milliken goes to schools to demonstrate spinning and weaving, and captures the imagination of the boys.

“Some of the kids think it’s really neat,” she said. “When I demonstrate at the market too, quite often it’s little boys that will come over and take a look, more so than little girls.

“The men quite often were the weavers because they had the upper body strength – it is quite a physically demanding thing because you’ve got to get the loom all set up and you’re leaning over it and underneath it tying up things and then you’re threading it. And if you’re working on a wider loom, you have the strength to shoot the shuttle across and then beat fabric – that can be physically demanding for some people. It takes a while to get the feel of it and then after you’ve got the feel of it, you build up your strength.

“There [are people] in this age group in the 20s and 30s now who are interested in home spinning and organic food and living simpler lives, they’re interested in slow food and local food and they’re starting to get interested in the possibility of local textiles.”


350,000 yards of cloth

Spinning, weaving and other parts of textile production used to be at the core of New Brunswick life – they had to be when there was no “away” or box-store alternatives filling urban sprawl.

Dr Judith Rygiel2 spent the first two decades of her 44 years of weaving as an artist, largely working in wool, before moving into academics and silk and becoming an expert on Acadian textiles and 19th century New Brunswick. Originally from Moncton, she spoke to Tomorrow from her home in Ottawa.

In her work on census records from Westmoreland and Charlotte counties, she found quite different organisation of textile mills and varying numbers of workers. The statistics only go as far as 1871 because census records from the decades following were destroyed in the 1960s.

But they show – and Dr Rygiel described these as conservative figures – at least 500 people weaving 500–700 yards of fabric per year. Potentially totalling 350,00 yards, that’s far more than households would need, meaning it was sold at shops. This was the homespun economy, and while industrialisation elsewhere led to a sharp decline in spinning and weaving at home, New Brunswick was marked by slower change and “industriousness”, said Dr Rygiel.

“In NB and other places in the Maritimes, big time industrialisation didn’t happen until 1877,” she said. “[Prime Minister] John A Macdonald had this national policy of trying to encourage self-sufficiency and that’s when the cotton mills kind of started growing.

“In the [United] States it was 1820; in Canada it was 1877. That’s quite a bit different.

“When you look at the mill production of fabric, which competed a lot with home production, the mill factory workers did not require a great deal of skill. You just went to work, came home.

“Home production kind of peaked in the 1880s when industrialisation happened – this is when home production took a dive in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In Ontario it happened sooner because industrialisation happened sooner.”

Click to download a two-page summary of this investigationWhen larger mills of up to 500 people started up, such as in Marysville, that changed the scope of production. But the homespun economy was not always measured the same way, with census takers not always asking the same questions.

“They were really vague,” said Dr Rygiel. “In Northumberland County I found almost 400 people declaring small business, whereas in the other counties, nobody declared a small business of textiles. Yet in Westmoreland County, there’s some of the people there who are making 5 or 700 yards of fabric. You don’t make 700 yards of fabric for your family. This is going out to customers of some sort, and it’s mostly the outdoor workers.

“Farmers, fishermen, lumber people – that’s the economy that really pushed this whole thing. It was basically a rural economy: outdoor people need strong, sturdy fabric. You might not have been getting it from the mills and you may not have been able to afford it, so cost avoidance is a big part of the story too.”

Dr Rygiel said that anyone making more than 100 yards of cloth is putting it into the market, and she found ads in Fredericton asking for readers to supply socks, mitts and homespun fabrics. And it was durable.

“Have you ever worn that stuff? I have. It is scratchy as hell,” she declared. “But it’s durable, for the kind of work that was being done. Somebody’s not necessarily going to dress up in a suit, but that happened and in America there was a whole trend in the 1850s to dress up in home spun. And in Quebec too in the rebellion years of 1838 people were encouraged to wear home spun as patriotic fabric.”

She added: “People don’t usually write about this kind of thing. One of the other issues with textile production and some of the other crafts, is that people don’t write about it. It’s the same thing as making a cake – well, who’s going to appreciate a cake? A cake is a cake and cloth is cloth.”

Most of the weaving was initially done by men, a skill brought from Scotland. But the sons did not pick up the craft and it was left to the daughters as men found more profitable work.

Training schemes or apprenticeship programmes common in Scotland were not evident in Canada, said Dr Rygiel. The men were pioneers and some may have continued on weaving, but then found more profitable work. And many, when they arrived, had more important needs to meet, such as building a home and clearing land, rather than making cloth.

She said: “When they had enough money to be able to buy product instead of making product – because it’s labour intensive and time intensive – they might make a decision about where they’re going to put their money.

“The gender thing had always been part of the household, but maybe not the weaving part – the weaving was a male activity up until maybe the beginning of the 19th century. The immigrant men still continued some of that, but women took over some of those roles because they [fit] in with some of their other activities whereas men were out there chopping down trees and whatever else they had to to make a household. Is it more important to put a roof over your head or to make cloth?”

Nobody got rich from weaving, something Dr Rygiel admitted remains true today.


Crafts for art

And yet crafts came to be viewed as the potential saviour of the economy in the revivalism of mid-20th-century Nova Scotia. Mary E Black was the figure instrumental not only in pushing the newly designed provincial tartan, but also pushing her own aesthetics and tastes for crafts, which still linger today.

Historian Dr Erin Morton, from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, focuses on the visual and material culture production in North America, researching the connection between textile production and therapeutic culture.3

She said the tendency with arts and crafts revivalism in Euro-American societies in the late 19th and early 20th century has been to “valorise and romanticise rural textile production”.

“This was a very common feature of urban, middle-class consumers. On the one hand, rural producers were, and I’m speaking very broadly, producing for home use. Textiles were things that were made for the home, often out of scrap material.

“The home economy of textiles is one thing. The consumption of that type of production outside of a home economy then brings that textile item into a new realm [of use].”

Black, who started working for the department of handicrafts in the Nova Scotia government in 1943 and until 1955, had trained as an occupational therapist, before traveling to Europe to find people serious about revivalism. She did a residency at a school in Sweden in the 1930s and brought back particular aesthetic ideas, which often meant rejecting what objects looked like, even if the skills used to make them were fine. The crafting worked, but the finished craft did not.

Dr Morton said in Nova Scotia she wasn’t pleased with the pre-existing home-made craft objects.

“She didn’t really like the colours. She didn’t like the style. So she made her career by re-teaching people how to make ‘better’ things. And then once those things were made better – I’m speaking facetiously of course – they were distributed to a new audience, and largely tourist audience, but also, importantly I think, urban middle-class elite audiences that would be buying these things as decorative objects, as art objects, rather than as useable objects.

“They were used in a different economy than they would have been used by the producers in their homes. They were used in the homes of [the] elite in a different way.”

Revivalism was fed by the perception that a type of handwork was being lost to industrialisation and the machine.

“There was a real anti-modern sentiment to it,” said Dr Morton. “So even though [a loss of homemade items] never really happened, there was a fear of that happening. [And] especially in Atlantic Canada, that never happened. It’s not as if people don’t make textiles any more by hand. It’s just done differently and for different reasons.

“[Black’s] idea was that she could take the base level of technical skill and improve it with good design, and also teach people to do it for different reasons. So there’s kind of this classic arts for arts sake rhetoric behind this kind of thinking. On the one hand historians have shown that Mary Black was a commercial anti-modernist, [and] she was very interested in making things for economic sustainability in Nova Scotia. She saw a gap in the Nova Scotia economy that she wanted to fill. But on the other hand she also had very specific aesthetic problem that she wanted to solve.

“She wanted to take what she saw not only in Sweden but also throughout New England. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the same ideas were circulating [in New Brunswick at the time] as well.

“Black was not a unique apostle of these ideas – they existed throughout the region.”

The tartan is an example of something that Mary Black justified aesthetically, but was perfectly happy to have machine produced and sold en mass. When Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, visited Nova Scotia in May 2014, the tartan was on her lapel.4

Dr Morton said tartans, and art more generally in English Canada, was frequently used to distinguish the country from the United States, and impose a colonial mastery over the land.

“Culturally speaking,” she said, “it was very important to establish that European settlers had historical roots here, even though they didn’t, and often that was done through art and cultural objects.

“[It was] the idea that Canadians – English Canadians in particular and French Canadians to a certain extent – were participants in a long history. If the Group of Seven is painting a landscape, it has an aesthetic trajectory that can be traced back to Britain, even though that tradition has been written about as uniquely Canadian at the same time.

“That has very clear connections to wanting to establish colonial dominance over indigenous people, because there wouldn’t have been that effort to historicise something that really was contemporary, in the late 19th, early 20th century in particular.

“While someone like Mary Black wanted to raise [textiles] to the status of [an] art object by the way that she designed and curated them, and in her mind teaching people how to make something that is better, part of that is because there is a rejection of what was here. There is a rejection of not only settler textile traditions but also indigenous textile traditions, which did exist and have a much longer history.

“There really was an effort to marry the aesthetic with the European model and also to try again to historicise settler occupation of the land through their textiles.

What goes in to the Nova Scotia tartan?

Illustration by Artist in Residence Jason Skinner. Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported

“Why would someone like Mary Black in 1953 want to promote a tartan, for example? There’s a racialised implication there, as historians have shown, to connect Nova Scotia with Scotland. Part of the idea is to make something that is a contemporary object historical by giving it a lineage that doesn’t really exist. But it calls up a lineage when you look at a tartan because you think of it as historical – you think of it as very old and people today think of the Nova Scotia tartan as very old. Most people don’t know that it was invented in this manner or that it only goes back to the 1950s.”

And there were whole charts of what the tartans that Black helped to promote meant, encouraging Nova Scotian weavers to produce many kinds: the blue of the sea, the grey twill of a French girl’s dress, and “Empire Loyalist yellow”. Everything was meant to be rooted in the land. Except that it was Mary Black’s definition of the land. Textiles certainly came from the land already, but they didn’t meet her aesthetic criteria. And in some cases, they didn’t meet the politics.

“Mary Black’s work was definitely a cultural and economic success to a certain extent,” said Dr Morton. “The fact that the Nova Scotia tartan is a recognisable object and something that is collectable and reproducible and that people buy, I would say, is enough evidence to say that she was successful.

“Was it successful in lifting Nova Scotia out of economic depression as she had intended to do? Absolutely not. And Black specifically missed a lot of opportunity because of her aesthetic ideals. She missed the opportunity to work with many makers who didn’t quite fit [into] her mould.

“She really was tapping into a mid-century idea that tourism could benefit Atlantic Canada economically. I don’t think we’re quite out of that. But I think at least there is perhaps greater understanding now of the negative side of that type of thinking, to try to recreate an area according to a tourist ideal. I think anybody with half a critical mind could see how that could go wrong.”

Living museums today – such as St James’ Church Textile Museum – portray a performance where you can participate and get a souvenir of a moment in time that can never truly be known. It commercialises a historical moment for tourist consumption, said Dr Morton. And that connection has a basis in the tourism economics that Mary Black pushed.

Black’s idea was not unique to her time period, putting people on display for the heritage industry.

“If you think about craft and economy, there’s been a long history of people trying to capitalise in one way or another on craft production for various purposes,“ said Dr Morton. “Often, in the moment, it is seen to have a very good mission. It’s seen to be taken up for very good reasons. In her time, and even now, people have very fond memories of Mary Black because she was somebody who was seen to take an interest in the work that people were doing and that she had genuine desire to improve the economy and to get people jobs.

“On the other hand, she comes in and says, ‘Okay, you’ve got some of the skills but you’re doing it wrong; let me show you how to do it better’.

“There’s a long history of people trying to do good things through craft work.”

Many of those good ambitions came at the expense of other types of production, working outside of the norm, either aesthetically or economically, said Dr Morton. “Mary Black very carefully chose the things that she wanted to advance and she was able to do that because of her government position, because it came with a budget, and because she had marked authority in her field. She was able to pick and choose what kind of makers she wanted to work with, and what kind of objects she wanted to produce.

“That’s a real historical lesson for anybody who’s kind of interested in this in the contemporary moment because I think that is often the case.”


The pride of the workers

Dr Morton said what’s often lost in the story of textile production is the many women and collaborative work behind them. And in northern New Brunswick, hundreds of workers in the past decade were more than familiar with the financial and community costs of attempts to impose a textile economy.

The story of Atlantic Yarns and Atlantic Fine Yarns – both owned by Sunflag Canada – could be an easy example for economists of failure. Around $80 million in taxpayer money was written off when the firm went bust in 2009.5 But Keith Steeves, who was then in charge of Local 208 with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (now the Unifor Union) remembers how non-New Brunswick the business was.

“I never had no background with the textiles,“ said the 67-year-old by phone. “I learned a lot while I was working there: how do you make the yarn and how it was shipped out to India through the States and all that. And they used to make t-shirts and bring them back to Canada. What really happened with Atlantic Yarn is, it was the market that really killed them.”

Cotton and orlon came in to New Brunswick, was processed, sent back abroad and then returned to North America as products that, even after tax revenue to the US or Canadian governments, still made them very cheap shirts for consumers. By the time of the third expansion of the business, Mr Steeves said they went too far, ultimately costing 360 jobs at two plants at Atholville and Pokemouche.

“When they came to Canada,“ he said, “we went on a wildcat strike because they weren’t treating the people right. I don’t think any of them knew Canadian law.

“We even fought about certain holidays, like Remembrance Day. One time they didn’t want to give us that and we told them we’re allowed so many holidays in a year. And then they start fighting with us. So we decided one time, ok, we’re going to fool them, we’re going to just walk out. We walked out for nine weeks. And they lost a lot of money then.

“The old saying is they were trying to bite out more than they could handle. They used to make t-shirts, ship it to the US. The t-shirt might cost $2.50 to be made over in India. By the time it got to the US, they had to pay a tax on that t-shirt to bring it into Canada. So you’re looking at a t-shirt now that’s about $8 by the time it hits the US border. And by the time it hits the US, into the stores, you’re looking at $12 for each t-shirt.”

Did Mr Steeves and his colleagues want to work in textiles? Now a night security on the Campbellton waterfront, he said: “People enjoyed working there. They were good paying jobs.”

Were the Atlantic Yarns jobs good because taxpayer money brought in an outside employer? Were the workers productive enough? Was it a sign of the economic decline that continues to plague New Brunswick?

PART 3: Is New Brunswick unravelling?

  1. St James Church Textile Museum.
  2. Dr Judith Rygiel. There is also further information in “Survival or adaptation? Domestic rural textile production in easter Canada in the later nineteenth century”, Beatrice Craig, Judith Rygiel and Elizabeth Turcotte. Agricultural History Review 49, II, pp 140-171.
  3. Dr Erin Morton.
  4. The palace told Tomorrow the tartan was a gift and they did not know where it was made.
  5. Past news coverage from 2009 is available here and here, and the PWC report on the factories here.

What are we wearing – Part 3

Is New Brunswick unravelling?

What are we wearing

What are we wearing, by Jason Skinner, artist in residence. Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported

Ask about a textile economy in New Brunswick and people refer to the Atlantic Yarns case, even if they don’t know the name. One economist cited it as proof the industry wouldn’t work in New Brunswick. John Little, of Briggs & Little, referred to the province bringing in people for a synthetic textile mill and “they’ve sort of lasted as long as grants or assistance did, and then they just seem to be gone”.

There is an economic problem in the province. Compared constantly, and unfavourably, to resource-rich powerhouses Alberta and Saskatchewan, the provinces are draining talent from New Brunswick and across the Maritimes while government deficits continue, debt climbs and one in 10 are unemployed. Some have suggested it is heading for bankruptcy.1

The solution, from the current government, has been to propose felling more trees from what is known as Crown land in a deal with the Irving corporation, the province’s dominant firm. Fracking or shale gas exploration is the other supposed growth market, but one so controversial even economists won’t include it in their outlooks for New Brunswick. But the world demands natural resources, and that’s where the money is. Shouldn’t the province deliver? Is it a lost cause if it doesn’t?


‘Out of their hands’

The New Brunswick department of economic development did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. But the economists who rate and rank the province did.

NB legislature

The provincial legislature of New Brunswick, Canada, in the city of Fredericton.

Robert Kavcic is a senior economist with the Bank of Montreal2 and said the strength of the Canadian dollar up until a year ago, and the weakness of the US economy, hurt exports and manufacturing. The reversal of both those trends will now be in Canada’s, and New Brunswick’s favour.

But the province’s ongoing deficit and growing debt is restricting government investment. Mr Kavcic said that was likely to continue.

“You’re seeing very sluggish if not negative population growth, and part of that is because of a pretty significant movement of migrants from not only New Brunswick but basically all of Atlantic Canada to western Canada,” he said.

“Depending on what’s happening with oil prices, Alberta will either be at the top of the pack or near the bottom. It’s not necessarily saying that one is better than the other or policy makers are doing better in Alberta than in New Brunswick. It’s just the nature of the game is a lot different. And right now, with higher oil prices and a strong Canadian dollar, that’s playing right into Alberta’s hands.

“The flip side is it’s playing heavily against pretty much anywhere from Ontario east. And Atlantic Canada a bit of an added challenge on the population side because you’re just not getting enough immigration that you’re getting in somewhere like Ontario.”

What can New Brunswick do? Not much.

“A lot of it is just the macroeconomic environment that’s pretty well out of their hands,” said Mr Kavcic by phone. “On the policy side, just balancing the budget and getting a handle on longer-term finances is probably necessary at this point.

“We’re going into a slower long-term growth environment. A bit of a structural deficit in New Brunswick and most of Atlantic Canada needs to be addressed. Once that gets addressed, then we can talk about some other measures like on the tax side, because the tax side is relatively uncompetitive, in provinces like New Brunswick [and] Nova Scotia versus the rest of Canada.

“But at this point they can’t really do anything about that because they’ve got that deficit to deal with. If the US economy picks up and the Canadian dollar falls, that’s going to be a boost to revenues and should help to close that budget gap. But we’re still a few years away from that.”

Is a slow-growth economy better or safer? Mr Kavcic said New Brunswick could do with more diversity through developing resources, just as Alberta could do with more manufacturing or other areas of the economy, where it currently “runs entirely on oil”.

“The one thing you can take away from what the private sector’s saying right is that the conditions are probably going to get a little bit better over the next two years, not worse,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the choice to move out to Alberta when there obviously are jobs, or higher paying jobs, it’s a personal choice.”

Click to download a two-page summary of this investigationMarie Christine Bernard is the assistant director of the provincial forecast service at the Conference Board of Canada. The board published a report in April on the long-term outlook for New Brunswick and other provinces, projecting as far ahead as 2035.3

The Conference Board monitors GDP, output by industry, housing, demographics, trade and market conditions, and other factors, producing five-year forecasts.

A spokesman for the Conference Board said reporters aren’t allowed to see the 20-year forecast, but the public summary is bluntly negative, saying real GDP growth will average 1.2 per cent annually, “good enough for only ninth place among the 10 provinces”. It predicts population decline, slowing growth in potential output and limited revenue-generating capacity.

Do the negative reports hurt business investment in the province? Are the economists making things worse?

Ms Bernard told Tomorrow that the weak economy, lack of big capital investment and low consumer demand has held the province back. Though the Conference Board compares and ranks provinces, Ms Bernard could not say whether that would, in turn, put off investment in a province, but admitted the long-term forecast “could be one of the factors”.

She said: “The long term we don’t discuss with reporters. It’s impossible not to judge against Alberta. The fact that Alberta is doing very well is not taking anything away from New Brunswick. You look at the economic potential of the province.”

The forestry investment – controversial across much of the province – was cited as a specific boost to industry and jobs. But Ms Bernard said a report on the short-term forecast identified a problem with productivity looking at output and the number of hours worked.

Ms Bernard added: “New Brunswick got a C in productivity – it’s not much different than in the rest of Canada. We don’t invest a lot in innovation – [we] need to invest more in machinery and equipment. That’s a problem for productivity compared to the United States.”

“Clearly,” added Mr Kavcic, “if somebody’s at the bottom of the pack in all these reports, it’s going to make investment decisions a little more tentative in that part of the country.

“But I don’t know if the reports specifically are responsible for that. Any thorough business would look at the labour market and regional finances and stuff on their own before they make an investment. I don’t know if it’s the function of the report or the function of the economic environment.”


Where the money goes

New Brunswick does offer a comparatively good bang for your buck on investments such as property, with the Canadian Real Estate Association saying the national average price of $400,000 would buy you double the space in Saint John compared to Toronto or Vancouver and easily more than in resource-rich Alberta or Saskatchewan. But your money would not go as far as in comparatively nearby St John’s, Charlottetown or Halifax.4


Money…how far does yours go?

And transport, as businesses reported in Part 1, is a major problem for costs and accessibility. The unemployment rate, as of August 20145 was 8.7 per cent in New Brunswick, compared to 7 per cent in Canada overall and 4.9 per cent in Alberta and 4.2 per cent in Saskatchewan.

Without jobs, what is the state of the middle class?

The median income in Canada may have reportedly passed that of the US6, though politicians continue to argue about whether the middle class is doing well or hurting. Regardless, the demographics will be different within New Brunswick with the higher unemployment rate and shrinking population. Marketing products such as textiles solely to the middle class, and tourists, was an approach that didn’t work for Mary Black and Nova Scotia, as we reported in Part 2.

And while retail remains the biggest employer, more than manufacturing, healthcare or construction, according Statistics Canada,7 investment is retail of the cheap goods. Wal-Mart announced in February spending of $1/2 billion to expand in Canada.8 That offers cheaper clothing options and low wages for workers, compared to what New Brunswick textile producers might create for inconsistent income.

Somebody could choose to make textiles for a living, but not if consumers choose the Wal-Mart alternatives. And if all consumers opt for cheap products from overseas, who would choose to create local alternatives? The economics require both supply and demand.

But demand might be changing.

Pierre Cléroux is the vice-president of research and chief economist at the Business Development Bank of Canada, which published a report on consumer trends in October 2013, found “Made in Canada” to be one of five major driving forces for consumers.9

The survey found it was even more important in the Atlantic provinces. When asked, “Have you made a specific effort to buy a product that was made in Canada?”, 45 per cent of Canadians said yes. In Atlantic Canada, the figure was 57 per cent.

And when asked if buying locally made products was important in making a decision, 39 per cent of Canadians said it was, compared to 45 per cent on the east coast.

Mr Cléroux said it was about creating demand and offering the choice.

“The buy locally movement is stronger in the Atlantic provinces,” he said. “Consumers value locally-made products, they value products that are good for your health. So it’s important for businesses to understand what consumers put value on, first to offer the right products and also to market your product with those communication techniques.

“For example, if you look at the marketing campaign of the milk producer, you will see that they advertise themselves as 100 per cent Canadian milk. And the milk in Canada has always been Canadian – we don’t import milk.

“But they realised that people put value on locally made products or Canadian products. So now they market themselves as 100 per cent Canadian milk. The milk is the same – the milk is not different than 10 years ago. But they understand now that people put value on that.”

Mr Cléroux said major clothing and furniture brands were offering Canadian options at the till and, combined with marketing more to the web, were changing how consumers make choices. And consumers are willing to pay more for local.

He said: “People would prefer to buy a Canadian product, but there’s a limit at the price difference that they are willing to pay. We estimate that the price difference is between 10 to 15 per cent. It’s a limit in terms of the gap of the price they can afford.”

Alternative textile economies

Illustration by Artist in Residence Jason Skinner. Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported

Kelly Drennan is the founding executive director of Toronto-based Fashion Takes Action10 and said the trend in the next 10 years will be toward more local manufacturing, whether for finished production or a hybrid of offshore and local work.

She said the organisation’s definition of sustainability is quite broad and could include eco-friendly fabrics such as Tencel, organic cotton or hemp, or recycled fibres, “vintage” or second-hand clothes, fair trade, local, natural dyes and “slow fashion”.

“Canadian-made garments and textiles mean there is a reduction in environmental footprint because there is less shipping involved,” she explained by email. “It also positively impacts the economy.

“If there is still a market here in Canada for Canadian-made textiles, then that plus the benefit to the local economy would offset the environmental impact of shipping. The reality is that exporting/importing will not be done with. There are things we rely on from overseas, and likewise other countries rely on our exports.”

Ms Drennan said there is a cost per wear to clothing. Using the example of a $40 fast fashion dress from H&M versus an organic cotton version made locally for $100:

$40 trendy dress, cheaply made – the number of wears over an average of two seasons = 20. Cost per wear = $2

$100 seasonless well-made dress – the number of wears over 6 years = 200. Cost per wear = $0.50 

She said she is still wearing a pair of locally made pants that are now 12 years old, and they work year round, and she estimated they have had 600 wears for an original cost of $300. A pair she bought at Club Monaco five years ago cost $90 but were too trendy and have only been worn around 30 times, making a cost per wear of $3.

“Buyers are not asking the right – or important – questions,” she continued. “This is mainly because they don’t realise the implications of fabric made offshore – in most cases but not all – or the environmental damage that the textile industry creates each year, such as landfill, polluting fresh water etc.

“Consumers need to stop and think about their clothing purchases. If something is dirt cheap, there is likely a human or environmental cost – the true cost of fashion. There is no way that a garment worker was paid fair wages, or that a company was responsibly disposing of its waste (including toxic waste water) if a garment costs $5 or $10. We need to invest in our wardrobe and buy quality pieces that are going to last us, not only in terms of durability but also in terms of not being overly trendy. Buying seasonless classic pieces is a much better use of our money and in the long term will be more economical.”

Ms Drennan insisted that a growing number of people did care and were asking questions, but not to the “tipping point” required for meaningful change.

“There is a myth that being a sustainable consumer costs more and is exclusive to only those with disposable income,” she said. “In fact the opposite is true if you look back a couple of generations ago, when times were tough our relatives were being sustainable by reusing and repurposing not just clothing but other household items.”


Businesses aren’t asking questions – or answering them

If most consumers don’t ask where their clothing comes from, neither do the shops selling fabric to make clothing.

Calls to the three New Brunswick outlets of Fabricville11 – with 24 stores from Quebec east – to ask if they had material woven in Canada yielded:

Saint John: “We wouldn’t know – they don’t give us the details when they ship them from the main warehouse.”

Moncton: “No. Most of our fabrics come from India.”

Fredericton: “I couldn’t answer. From around the world.”

Tomorrow also asked Ryerson University’s school of fashion12, one of the nation’s leading centres and in Canada’s biggest city of Toronto, where their textiles came from.

Initially, Professor Sandra Tullio-Pow at the school directed the question to the Canadian Apparel Federation but later said the only fabric they regularly order is muslin, a factory grade cotton used to make prototype garment designs. She said the muslin is from India.

That basic detail took several queries and more than a month to obtain, hinting at the reluctance of the fashion trade to discuss their methods and materials. Similarly multiple emails and phone calls to Tristan Style in Montreal 13 – which sells “Made in Canada” garments – and to Heritage Textiles in Moncton went unanswered.14

20100731.nbflag1389WBNew Brunswick’s biggest and most powerful firm is JD Irving Ltd,15 set to benefit most from any west-east pipeline for Alberta bitumen sands, set to benefit most from proposed increases to forestry in New Brunswick,16 and backed by a monopoly on all English daily and most weekly newspapers. Amongst its subsidiaries is Chandler, producing much of the outerwear and branded wear for companies across the east coast.17

Mary Keith, vice-president of communications for JD Irving, said they would not reveal the profitability of their apparel division, but said they were unaware of any in-province supplier that could meet the needs of Irving or Chandler. Chandler’s manufacturing facility, specialising in outerwear and custom fire retardant gear, is in Newfoundland.

Ms Keith said in an email statement: “Chandler offers many Canadian manufactured products, and sells Canadian manufactured products as often as competitively possible. Many of our main suppliers in both the apparel and promotional fields are providing products manufactured in Canada. One of our largest suppliers of work wear manufactures almost exclusively in Canada.

“Our fabric suppliers are Canadian companies that purchase grey goods – from textile mills – in the United States and then bring them into Canada to prepare them as finished fabrics, i.e. dying or coating of fabrics.”

How much wear do you get from your clothes?

Illustration by Artist in Residence Jason Skinner. Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported

Would local really work?

So consumers and businesses have money to spend on textiles, the historic knowledge is there to produce them, and as we will report in Part 4, the land and expertise exists to grow the raw material.

But New Brunswick’s economy remains driven by natural resources and, particularly, Irving. What economy and environment does the region want?

Alex McIntosh, from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in London, said products don’t necessarily need to be expensive simply because they’re produced with environmental impact taken into account. But certain textiles are more expensive to produce.

“If you are working in a labour market that is expensive and you want to work locally,” he explained, “you can sell a certain quality and a certain finish and a really strong narrative story. Then you deliver a product at a price that is not going to be easily accessible for everyone, but it’s not about easily accessible for everyone. It’s about an aspirational, desirable product with a strong story about localism embedded in it. Which is a powerful message – it’s one of the few sustainability messages I think that has really had some legs in the last few years in the UK, but I think globally as well.

“If you’re interested in democratic product that is readily available to everyone, you’re not going to be able to deliver that. So you have to be thinking about what kind of market is there. What do people want?

“If you’re talking about changing the whole domestic market, then there’s a massive shift in consumer thinking and behaviour and a kind of shift back to the kind of attitude of things being investment piece and stuff that you actually save up to be able to acquire. And it’s a big mindset shift. And when you’re talking about a particular youth generation that have grown up with fashion being accessible at all times in every place, you’ve got a tricky task at hand.”

Mr McIntosh said there were few examples of fully integrated, larger scale supply chains – from farm to finished product. But sometimes smaller options, focusing on localism, can work.

He said American Apparel is an example of local manufacturing, while not sourcing the raw material locally.

“They manage to counter that with being a brand that is very, sort of, edgy and fast fashion in the rest of their approach to things,” he said. “I personally think it’s a hideous brand, but I can’t deny their success. They somehow make that local agenda sit with selling very cheap, quite nasty product – but that’s the market they’re going for. And to me that’s demonstrative of the fact that it doesn’t always have to be about quality and finish and wonderfully beautifully manufactured product in order for that message to fly.

“But it’s still not even close to being a fully integrated thing. They’re not sourcing their yarns in California.”

Mr McIntosh said there is an awareness of how fashion is produced and that it’s not a great system currently – but that understanding doesn’t really extend to the general populace, or, as we have reported earlier, the businesses in New Brunswick at the moment.

“It’s a very long way off genuinely changing people’s behaviour,” he acknowledged. “I would love to say that in the last 10 years of working in fashion and sustainability I had seen a tremendous shift in terms of attitudes and investment in clothing. There has been a shift but I don’t think it’s been as dramatic as sometimes people would like to make it sound.

“There’s also really big dangers that sustainability as a concept is being owned by corporations and being translated into corporate language and becoming about corporate social responsibility and not really about individual commitment. And it takes that individual commitment, because a corporate social responsibility just doesn’t work without that. It’s not solely a production problem; it’s an attitude problem.

“All you’re going to do if you change the production system is you incrementally make things a bit better. But because people continue to think that they can consume in whatever way they wish, that increment is completely cancelled out by the increase in people’s consumption.” Mr McIntosh said the 2010 consumption of textiles went up by 45 per cent globally, offsetting any potential improvement in environmental management systems. Nothing can counteract that growth.

“Things are getting better, but they’re also getting worse,” he added. “For me, as a person, there’s a massive amount of work to be done around the kind of psychology of consumerism and how we really start to dig into that and change people’s behaviour.”

As we will report in Part 4 looking at the land in New Brunswick and its potential, and current waste, much of the technology is missing for flax and linen production, as is the case in Europe. Mr McIntosh said for a human-resource heavy textile industry on linen production, it makes it hard for make something financially viable against cheap and efficient competition in East Asia.

“I don’t necessarily think that’s good, but it’s the reality,” he said.

In the realm of textiles, the concept of doing things “more efficiently” is nearly impossible, with machines having proved more than a century ago to put textile workers out of employment. So would a rise in that industry in the province be useless as far as economists comparing provinces are concerned?

New Brunswick and Canada, said Mr McIntosh, is a very developed economy with wage expectation relatively high, set against profitability from most textile production being relatively low. That clashes with the “economic growth” argument of the economists rating and ranking New Brunswick.

“If you work on the assumption that the intention is to make an economy grow in conventional terms, then I’d be amazed if textiles is the way to go,” admitted Mr McIntosh. “If that’s not the end goal, then I think you’ve got a really interesting dialogue to be had.

“And I think it’s a really good opportunity to have that conversation about whether, actually, this might be a good example of a post-growth economy, an economy that might be self-sufficient and efficient but doesn’t necessarily have massive growth potential.”

For New Brunswick can choose a different kind of economy, it needs the land – and the land is hurting.

Part 4 – Connect to the land and the people who live with it

  1. Past reports have warned the province is facing bankruptcy.
  2. Robert Kavcic.
  3. Press release on NB’s “D” grade and link to long-term forecast report, only available to subscribers.
  4. CBC graphic comparing house prices, based on CREA March 2014 figures.
  5. Latest employment stats here. Image of August 2014 figures here.
  6. New York Times article on the middle class in Canada.
  7. StatsCan figures on employment by sector.
  8. Reported Wal-Mart investment.
  9. Made in Canada report by BDC.
  10. Fashion Takes Action.
  11. Fabricville.
  12. Ryerson University’s School of Fashion.
  13. Tristan Style.
  14. Heritage Textiles.
  15. JD Irving Ltd.
  16. Forestry proposals.
  17. Chandler Sales.

What are we wearing – Part 4

Connect to the land and the people who live with it

What are we wearing

What are we wearing, by Jason Skinner, artist in residence. Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported

“I was just a small child – couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 – stood on the veranda and watched my father’s face when hail wiped out his potato crop for the year,” recounted Betty Brown. “And he just said, ‘Enough of that’ and cut his acreage down to just a few acres and built a piece on the barn and started milking more cows.”

Ms Brown is stepping down as a director on the Canadian board of the National Farmers Union.1 As well as being a past executive director for the union and past president of the NB Farm Women’s Organisation, she has a small herd of 38 cows. And she knows farmers are hurting.

Speaking from her Summerfield farm, Ms Brown told Tomorrow that with the local auction barn gone, the next nearest is 45 minutes, transport costs make farm finances even harder. Driving the family car has gone from costing $30 a week to $70. And fuel costs get added to fertiliser, equipment and anything else connected to farm life.

Local purchasing power was not enough on its own to keep farmers afloat and Ms Brown said she had branched into “value added” products, such as baking or cooking meet at farmers’ markets for sale. And some members of her family work off farm to bring in income.

“It’s really tough and it’s not the way it should be that a farmer has to work off the farm to feed their family,” she explained. “That’s the way it’s always been here – one of us has always worked off the farm or we had a small sideline trucking business and you’ll see that on 95 per cent of the farms.”

With farms facing financial strains, more are giving up as small farms get swallowed into ever larger farms with more financial clout, less flexibility and different risks if they go under. And supplier firms are also merging, driving up costs. Even small bits of pasture ground are getting used up for corn and soy beans because of their high prices.

“I see the struggle,” said the mother of three. “We’re losing farmers here everyday.

“They kept telling us big is better, big is better. And I don’t see it. I think we need the small family farm. And that’s what I’m seeing coming back – the young people buy or rent five acres and they’re working by hand, sometimes without even a tractor. They’re producing food. And it’s the most important occupation there is – producing food. Because you can live without a lot of things. You cannot live without food.”

Click to download a two-page summary of this investigationMs Brown said she tried to get the provincial government to put signs on the four-lane highway for every exit with a farmers’ market, and they wouldn’t do it. Similarly, she condemned the policies of the federal government, particularly ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly in 2012.2

“Until politicians get hungry, we’re not going to have the support we need for agriculture. If you’re a big company and you’re involved in agriculture, that’s the ones they talk to.”

The state of agriculture is not a uniform picture, with shades of success and struggle in different sectors and varied regions.

Jennifer MacDonald is president of the Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick.3 Speaking by phone from the field of her farm just outside of Bouctouche, she said fewer people are getting into farming and more are leaving. Sometimes there is nobody to take over your farm or the operation, some are hit by land costs, and others lose out to urban sprawl.

New Brunswick has seen an increase in urban populations, but rural was a higher percentage until 1966 and the 1980s and 1990s, and even today remains split 53/48.4 But within that clash of urban and rural is the start of renewed interest in agriculture, particularly with smaller plots of land.

“There’s a bigger interest in growing your own food or supplying a small community, and that’s where we’re seeing the biggest growth,” said Ms MacDonald.

“Larger operations are a little more self-sufficient and sustaining, however, they’re facing more challenges with finding labour. And finding labour is the biggest challenge of the larger operations.

“You’re kind of caught between a rock and a hard place. Do you stay small enough to do it all yourself? Do you stay a medium size where you only need somebody periodically? Or do you go large where you need somebody all the time or more than one and face those challenges?”

New Brunswick had 33,500 unemployed residents in August, according to StatsCan5 but little education about agriculture as an option. And even then, said Ms MacDonald, many could not or would not consider working on a farm.

“It takes a special kind of attitude to work on a farm,” she admitted. “You hire for attitude and train for skill.

“In the urban areas a lot of people don’t necessarily want to travel to a farm because of the hours and the workload. There’s a lot of other reasons too. There are some people who are unemployed who would be willing to work on a farm but they have no place to leave their children or they have no transportation and where they live in an urban centre they rely on the transit system.”

Ms MacDonald said government departments were disconnected, but that there was some slow progress. The problem was a failure to learn from the past and a need for the agriculture community to be more vocal in contributing to the education and wellbeing of New Brunswick.

Ms MacDonald said 80 per cent of the effort needed to be on education, 20 per cent on marketing.


The next generation

Quite apart from consumer education, there will only be a next generation of farmers if they have the education and training. There are now just two high schools teaching agriculture, and in 2012, the provincial government made the class an elective, instead of counting as a science credit towards a high school diploma.

Yet the department of agriculture in the same government offers grants and assistance for new farmers and expansion of agriculture, if individuals have the required agriculture education. University level training is offered outside the province and any inspiration to try it would come from school.

The department of education did not reply to a request for comment on the changes to the credit or educating for the future of agriculture in the province.

NB farmland

Farmland near Sussex, New Brunswick. Photo courtesy Katie Stevens.

Daniel Reicker took over teaching agriculture at Sussex Regional High School6 four years ago, one of only 53 teachers there with any agriculture background. His own father runs a vegetable farm in the area, one dominated by agriculture and home to Legacy Lane mills, as reported in Part 1.

“What we are trying to do is set up students for success,” he said. “More so now because these students are not getting the science credit.

“We need to whet their appetite, we need them to see what’s going on in agriculture – there are more opportunities now and more need. There will always be a job here.”

Out of 29 students who took the class in the last two years, only about three or four were from farming backgrounds and just four moved on to further education in agriculture.

“People don’t know where their food is coming from because we are not teaching it,” said Mr Reicker, who said he would buy farmland himself if he could meet the steep price. “Our whole society has said there’s no future in farming. Get a government job, get something that’s going to pay a pension versus having to budget over the year.”

Mr Reicker admitted that textiles and the related agriculture is not part of his current course, but the curriculum would allow for it.

“I know New Brunswick can be successful in agriculture,” he said. “It’s pinpointing the various departments or the various needs of the market, and pinpointing what our land does best. We have the perfect opportunity to excel.

“The curriculum is open to whatever we need to make agriculture more attractive to new students. I do know if we had the passion and a little bit of support, there must be a way to be successful.”


Back to the land

Even if there was more interest sparked in schools and the wider public, Jennifer MacDonald said only 2.5 per cent of the province has the topsoil available for agriculture. It needed to be preserved and house building on it halted under a province-wide approach, not the inconsistencies of local and regional planning.

“If we had a land-use policy,” she said, “then that would circumnavigate a lot of these issues. And with the land use policy then we would have a Topsoil Preservation Act [with] teeth. This would limit or eliminate the ability of people to strip top soil and move it to lawns in urban jurisdictions.”

But actually, nobody knows how much farmland is active or unused, and nobody knows where it all is to save it.

Just one of the 12 Regional Service Districts, put in charge of planning as of January 1, 2013, has mapped agricultural land and how much is currently in use. Tomorrow contacted all 12 and most said they were awaiting local municipalities telling them of their land use – with no deadline of when that information is needed. Others directed us to the provincial government’s agriculture department, who in turn admitted they have just one statistician and rely on the federal Statistics Canada for current agriculture figures.7

NB Regional Service Commissions

New Brunswick’s Regional Service Commissions and the unknown farmland within them.

The Finn Report in 20088 recommended the provincial government issue “planning statements” under the Community Planning Act, but none of the listed issues mention top soil preservation or agriculture. These statements would be reflected down through regional and then local plans.

Yet “holistic” regional service plans are meant to, “Serve as a social and economic development strategy for the region in accordance with sustainable development principles” and “Plan and coordinate the major land uses and associated activities in the region”.

And it states plans should cover, “Policies affecting the use of land in the region; a) identification of urban and rural development boundaries and propose location of residential, commercial and service locations in accordance with sustainable development principles; b) identification of agricultural lands and mineral resources such as peat moss, granulate, gravel, sand, etc, and policies concerning their existing and potential uses” and would be compulsory for municipalities and others in the area.

What has resulted is much more complex.

Karen Neville is the planning director of Regional Service Commission 8 (RSC8), covering land stretching north east from Hampton towards Sussex and on towards Moncton.

She explained that because much of the land in the province is considered “unincorporated”, much of it has no planning or zoning at all. That land is legislated to be part of the RSC and receive planning services from it. Municipalities can also get planning services from the RSC, but aren’t legislated to.

Two villages in RSC8 – Sussex Corner and Norton – have “rural” zones where agriculture is permitted, but are not defined as specific agriculture zones.

Two larger towns – Sussex and Hampton – have their own planning services and don’t use those of RSC8.

Within an RSC are local service districts (LSDs), sometimes still referred to as parishes, which can have their own local plans, as can municipalities such as towns or villages.

Only one LSD, out of 14, has a land use plan, which has both an agricultural zone and a rural zone that permits agricultural operations, said Ms Neville.

And three of those LSDs adjoin but are separate to the towns of Hampton and Sussex and village of Norton, all with separate planning rules and designations.

The rest of the area defined as RSC8 has no formal land use planning.

Ms Neville said: “Historically this region is an agricultural community, but over the past number of years the number of farms have been on the decline.

“The previous planning commission which was responsible for this region was very supportive the protection of agricultural land.

“At this time many our unincorporated communities do not want a land use plan/rural plan. RSC8 is responsible for developing land use plans for communities, but only do so when the community expresses an interest. The content of those land use plans would be driven by community interest. If the community expressed the need to protect agricultural land we would ensure that the land use plan would do so.”

She added: “Since we have only been establish for a year and a half we are still developing how best to deliver the other mandated services.”

The RSCs have not yet pursued regional planning, as originally laid out in the Finn Report, because they are awaiting fresh legislation.

Gérard Belliveau, executive director of Southeast Regional Service Commission (formerly called RSC7) and himself an advisor to the Finn Report, said both this and the Commission on Land Use and the Rural Environment (CLURE) in 1993 recommended the provincial government adopt land use policies. What came about were “broad policies. . .without legislative clout”, said Mr Belliveau by email. He added: “The RSC have been established by the regional plan format and provincial land use policies have yet to materialise.”

Mr Belliveau said they were working with groups such as the Westmorland Albert Food Security Action Group to find more agricultural opportunities. And while most regions would be in favour of more agriculture, a provincial land use policy on agriculture, under the Community Planning Act, would enable “regional and local communities to plan and respond to agriculture production needs, including flax and livestock for wool production. At this point in time, the department of agriculture lays the groundwork on a case-by-case basis without a comprehensive provincial land use policy.”

Jack Keir, executive director of Fundy Regional Service Commission (RSC9), said getting community plans from each community “can be somewhat like pulling teeth, trying to convince rural NB they should have a land use plan telling them what they can do with their land”.

Only the Chaleur region (RSC3),9 covering 3,307km2 of land, was able to answer Tomorrow’s questions about current agricultural land use. Excluding the city of Bathurst, which has its own zoning rules, the other nine municipalities have 455km2 of zoned land, and 326km2 of that allows for farming.

Using information from the Farm Land Identification Program (FLIP),10 a provincial scheme to provide tax credits to help protect farmland, RSC3 said they had 337 properties covering 59km2.

Going one step further, RSC3 used 2007 aerial photos of the region, tracing out fields and farms by hand, said planning technician Mariette Hachey-Boudreau. Comparing this data with FLIP data they found only 19km2 of 59km2 is active farms, meaning 40km2 of farmland, or 67.8 per cent, is not currently in use.

What is most important about this 40km2 of unused farmland is that the Chaleur region is next to RSC2 and RSC4, including the communities of Atholville and Pokemouche respectively, homes to the Atlantic Yarns and Atlantic Fine Yarns factories that we reported on in Part 2. They were set up at a cost to taxpayers of millions to process fibre from overseas, ultimately closing down when land potentially capable of producing raw material for processing was just a few kilometres away. The taxpayer money was invested, then written off, weaving equipment sold off, all while agricultural land and skilled labour went to waste and unemployment went up.


Whose land is it anyway?

Quite apart from the preservation of topsoil and administrative ignorance of where agriculture land might be, the land belongs to somebody else.

Maliseet elder Alma Brooks from St Mary’s First Nation,11 on the banks of the St John River (Wulustuk in Maliseet), has been a vocal opponent of shale gas development in the province. She said many people looking at alternatives to shale gas, mining and the extractive industries. And it was a concern for both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.

“A lot of our land has been destroyed as the forest goes,” she said. “The Irving empire has been in there, stealing our resources for several generations. All of that would have to stop to have some kind of alternative.

“These companies that are doing this, they run the government. They are the government.

“When [settlers] first came to these shores, there was a paradise here, and it was a paradise because our people looked after the land. We worshipped the land we walked on. We didn’t manage it, but we didn’t forget to say thank you either. So there’s a whole different ideology about the land and the water, the natural world.”

The recent Supreme Court decision about the Tsilhqot’in First Nation in British Columbia12 could have profound effects on land disputes across the country, not only over clashes over public or Crown Land, but also private land.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, leading the unanimous ruling, said indigenous title to land “flows from occupation in the sense of regular and exclusive use of land … Occupation sufficient to ground aboriginal title is not confined to specific sites of settlement, but extends to tracts of land that were regularly used for hunting, fishing or otherwise exploiting resources and over which the group had exercised effective control at the time of assertion of European sovereignty”.

New Brunswick is part of the vast territory including Nova Scotia, parts of Quebec and Maine that define the traditional Wabanaki Confederacy, made up of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki and Penobscot peoples. There still exist traditional grand councils and are places where people need to start talking about how the territory is being used and will be used in future.

“The Tsilhqot’in case says that wherever the land has not been seeded, then whenever the land has not been officially surrendered, it still belongs to our people. It’s still Wabanaki territory,” said Ms Brooks.

“Private land is still our land, it’s really occupied territory. In the Tsilhqot’in case, it did not include the private property because they were looking for the support of the non-native citizens, so they’re scared that they’re going to lose their farms or lose this or lose that. So Tsilhqot’in-ans said, ‘Well, we’ll just include in our court case land that’s not occupied’. And the other would just be unresolved issue that would have to care of some time later.

“I really think a dialogue needs to happen about ways to use the land that is not going to be destructive to waters and forest and how to restore the damage that’s been done, and yet be able to produce jobs for people.

“It doesn’t matter who is using the land, they still have to have the consent of our people if they’re going to use our land. That would have to happen. Does it matter to me who’s stealing my resources, whether it’s Irving or whether it’s someone else?”

Ms Brooks said the homestead farmers had been put out of business by larger firms that had less concern for the land.

“The small farmer, who cared for the land and who took the pains of looking after it properly, a lot of them have got so discouraged because they couldn’t make a living because of these big big companies.

“What has to happen is we have to really reconnect ourselves spiritually to the land again.

“People have to see something sacred in the life of others. Things here, right here on earth.

“Because we can’t destroy if we believe that it’s sacred. And that’s the connection that our people had and still have, some of us, with the land. That’s why our people didn’t sell the land, that’s why our people didn’t surrender the land, because they knew that we hold the key to the survival of life on this planet, if people will wake up. I just hope that they don’t wake up too late.

“People need to demand change, and if we don’t do that, it won’t even be safe to have sheep or anything else.”

What industries does your shirt support?

Illustration by Artist in Residence Jason Skinner. Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported

The opportunities

If topsoil can be protected and opportunities for new farms established with communities and indigenous title holders, there is potential in New Brunswick.

The province’s department of agriculture already promotes localism for food, though not textiles, which is considered crafts and part of the department of tourism, heritage and culture.13 Marketing is a key element of the future potential, but who is responsible?

The New Brunswick department of tourism, heritage and culture said crafts and artisan support, as part of “culture” for the past decade, was part of the economic development department. “The economic value of this sector is recognised,” said Jane Matthews-Clark, director of communications at the department.

But the true strength is not being recognised, said Jennifer MacDonald. She cited it as the second-largest resource-based revenue generator in the province. And with the right policies, it could grow to number one.

“When we look at how we’re going to help the New Brunswick economy,” she said, “I’m not saying agriculture is the only answer. But agriculture is one of the strongest investments that we can make to help the economy grow.

“We have an ageing population here and we need to revitalise the economy and provide jobs to stay.

“With a revitalisation of the agriculture industry, that would be a good investment to grow the economy and help all other sectors. Currently, with $1.3billion in value added, it wouldn’t take much to increase that to $3 or $4 [billion], just with the products we already grow. Textiles could be a significant part, whether it’s direct through wool or weaving or even growing hemp or through biproducts. And there’s a lot of value added from our history and there’s lots of new ways to do it too.”

The agriculture options wouldn’t be starting from scratch. Hemp would suit the climate, and flax could be grown – the fields of blue could return.

One of the problems with flax is that most grown in Canada is for linseed oil and for industrial uses, from paints and varnish to linoleum.

William Hill, president of the Flax Council of Canada,14 said flax growing declined when the crop couldn’t compete with returns from other options. He said there was now a resurgence from the health benefits of omega-3 in flax seed, to fibre in composite textiles.

“It’s just the cost per acre relative to return per acre,” he said by phone from Winnipeg, Manitoba. “And flax has difficulty at times competing with other crops as it is, and then to go to something that involves more management and I think the same situation is happening with Europe as the subsidies are reduced for growing alternate crops.

“New Brunswick and southern Ontario and parts of Quebec have a lot of alternatives, everything from corn, soy beans through all the grains in western Canada, the oil seeds, and then horticulture crops and other things that tend to return a little better. But there’s nothing agronomically that says flax couldn’t grow.”

He added: “It’s positioned in kind of a neat space in today’s environment and certainly, if the agronomics can get there and the return per acre can get there and you can build an industry around that, it’s a pretty good story to tell.”

Alvin Ulrich, president of Biolin Research Inc. in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is one of those leading efforts to find a textile use for the remnants of flax production for industry.15 The stalks in that process currently go to waste, when their linen variety equivalents would be used for making textiles.

His business associate Eric Laugier had done trials in Maine and Quebec in the 1990s to produce “long line” flax for pure linen, halted only by a market collapse in Hong Kong.

Mr Ulrich explained: “I realised that fibre from oilseed flax was not genetically inferior in quality from European fibre varieties. It actually was inferior and/or totally not suitable for many uses, including textiles, because of the crappy way the straw was treated.

“This, in turn, meant that we had the potential to use the fibre from oilseed flax straw for many end uses, including textiles. I was so intrigued and fascinated by this possibility that I wanted to keep working with flax straw.”

The 1990s trials in Maine were near Presque Isle on former potato lands, an extension of the St John River valley, said Mr Ulrich, and European flax experts were impressed by the good yields and fibre quality.

But, he said: “One of the big constraints to developing fibre industries in New Brunswick or other parts of Canada is reaching the threshold of commercial viability. Given the wages people expect in Canada, even in rural areas, means that labour has to be relatively productive both in the growing and in the processing of flax straw and fibre.

“Large potential users of flax fibre generally need a consistent supply of fibre every month at prices that are relatively competitive with other fibres they might use (e.g. cotton, polyester, nylon, jute, kenaf, imported flax fibre). This can be very challenging since an emerging farm product like flax fibre is just that – emerging. Volumes may not be big; qualities may vary greatly; early profits may not be forthcoming.

“Deep pocket investors and/or government subsidies can be very helpful and may be absolutely necessary in overcoming these challenges in the first few years.

“There is a small market for artisan fibres and fabrics made by hand or with simple machines. This is one way to gain experience in growing, harvesting, retting and processing flax fibre. However, it would often be a labour of love because of the small scale of operation. Still, it can give tremendous satisfaction to those involved and set the stage for future commercial expansion. I know this from experience.”

Wool production has continued in New Brunswick even as flax for linen disappeared a century ago. The Campaign for Wool, a project launched by Prince Charles to promote the benefits of the fibre, launched in 2010 in the UK and is now expanding into Canada, seen most recently in his May 2014 visit to Nova Scotia.16

Matthew Rowe, with the Prince’s Charities Canada arm, admitted that the amount of Canadian wool on the market is a “niche within a niche” but they hoped to replicate increased UK sales.

He said: “Wool is all natural and has properties that you look for in other fibres. The Prince saw a generational gap and wool has come to be seen as something your grandmother knits. Orders for wool are going up. We want to demonstrate to farmers that we are able to improve business.”

Mr Rowe insisted that wool was an animal friendly fibre, though PETA campaigns against sheep sheering17 and New Brunswick’s own animal protection legislation has come under fire in the past decade for being inadequate.

But one of the biggest challenges New Brunswick wool faces on the market is that the climate doesn’t suit merino sheep, and the public are convinced that’s the only wool worth talking about.

In fact, Cathy Gallivan, a sheep breeder in the province and publisher of Sheep Canada Magazine, said the up-to-40 breeds registered with the Canadian Sheep Breeders Association could flourish in the area, and there are 33 purebred sheep breeders already.18

Most of the varieties are Suffolk, Dorset, Rideau Arcott, Canadian Arcott, North Country Cheviot, Polypay, Shetland or crosses of some of these, she explained. While her focus is mainly selling the animals for lamb, she does do some value-added processing of the fleece from her Shetland sheep.

“I don’t know anyone in NB who makes their entire income from raising sheep,” she added. “Which isn’t to say it isn’t possible, but it would require a lot of animals. A lot of people who attempt to go that big find they have to hire help, and then they need even more sheep to pay for the help.”

Rachel MacGillivray at NBCCD said the naysayers against New Brunswick wool are a powerful voice, with both weavers and sections of the sheep industry agreeing that they don’t have any good animals and need to concentrate on something else.

“I don’t know how this mindset got here, this idea of, ‘Well what we have isn’t good enough’,” she lamented. “But we do have really great animals here. Why aren’t we investing in what we have, rather than trying to remake our economy or our environment to match somebody else’s?”

She explained that Shetland sheep can produce a very fine fleece, used for traditional Scottish wedding shawls, while Icelandic sheep can produce a soft undercoat and a long guard hair coat, and a foundation for part of Iceland’s economy. Cotswold is another option for the province, she said.

So while Maritime yarn might not be destined to become underwear, there are many other products suitable for wool, and a Canadian climate that makes wool an ideal choice.

“All this money goes into new man-made fibres and stuff and I’ve tried every single one of them and, honest to God, none of them are as good as wool,” she said.

“Rather than trying to force crops or animals, which might not necessarily do that well, into our environment, or trying to change our environment to match them, it’s about figuring out what naturally works really well here, and there’s a lot that does, and what are their properties and how can we market that.”

Does New Brunswick just need a really good PR campaign? Will consumers ever break away from fast fashion? And is there any optimism?

Part 5 – Is New Brunswick ready to wear a different garment?

  1. Betty Brown at the NFU.
  2. Canadian government page promoting the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act.
  3. Agriculture Alliance of NB.
  4. NB rural/urban population since 1851.
  5. Latest employment stats here. Image of August 2014 figures here.
  6. Sussex Regional High School and agriscience curriculum.
  7. Figures quoted by NB department of agriculture from StatsCan, divided by 15 counties.
  8. Finn Report.
  9. Chaleur RSC.
  10. Farm Land Identification Program.
  11. St Mary’s First Nation.
  12. Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia, 2014 SCC 44.
  13. Dept of Agriculture “buy local initiative“.
  14. Flax Council of Canada.
  15. Biolin Research Inc.
  16. Campaign for Wool.
  17. PETA’s anti-wool campaign.
  18. List of all purebred sheep breeders in NB.