September 2012 edition

Infected at birth

When in early August a Facebook friend posted a copy of the “150 Forward” poster promoting Victoria’s 150th Anniversary Celebration, I was reminded of Rob Wipond’s  article in Focus. I found Rob’s examination of Tom Swanky’s new book, The True Story of Canada’s “War” of Extermination on the Pacific, compelling and devastating. I commented on my friend’s post that while Victoria is a lovely city well worth celebrating, a silent vigil of remembrance is also called for. I pointed her and other friends to Rob’s article and Tom’s book for an explanation as to why a vigil is in order. Kudos to Rob and Focus and particularly to Tom Swanky and his monumental detective work for providing a more fulsome presentation of the historical record. It deserves our vigilant and respectful attention.

Patrick Wolfe


First I want to thank Rob Wipond and Focus for another great piece of journalism.

The real story of how this city and province came to be is both sickening and not in the least surprising. What is astonishing is how surprised the UVic professors interviewed in the article are by the facts unearthed by Tom Swanky (“I’m shocked, shocked, that gambling is going on here” says Claude Rains’ character in Casablanca).

I earned BAs in history and politics from Brandeis University. Part of our training was to go into special library collections such as the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, and read diaries and letters and other firsthand accounts of whatever we were investigating. All of my professors researched their respective subjects this way, whether it was about the Scottish Clearances, Revolutionary War-era America, etc…That it took an “amateur” historian to bring to light the actual details of the genocide of First Nations people and the theft of their land is almost as bad as the original events.

I’m glad the street I live on is named for a gem, not a person. Douglas Street, Finlayson Street, Helmcken Road, Tolmie Street, et al. Can you imagine if you lived in a city where its streets were called Hitler Avenue, Goebbels Road, Speer Way, Eichmann Street, Goerring Avenue? 

The psychological and emotional pain inflicted upon First Nations people is continuous. How can there be reconciliation as long as the past is so clearly in your face in the present? Names of streets, mountains, cities, etc. may seem like a small thing, but if the names were changed to honour First Nations people, trees, flowers and wildlife, instead of murderers and thieves, that could be a good place to start symbolically.

Helene Harrison


My knowledge of the history of BC (and of the basis for native land claims) is negligible. However, thanks to your article I’m on a journey to become better informed. Thanks for igniting the spark!

Judy Stiles


Reading Rob Wipond’s stunning article about Tom Swanky’s The True Story of Canada’s “War” of Extermination on the Pacific has got me thinking about my 50 years of living and co-creating with the First Nations communities of Canada and abroad. In researching for a PhD in Anthropology at the University of Toronto (“Kinship and Culture: A Study of the Kanehsatake Mohawk,” 1988), and while teaching Native Studies there, I interviewed many elders who claimed that during the American Civil War, 1861-1865, local Catholic priests had smallpox-ridden blankets brought up from the Union army camps and gave them to the Mohawk of Kanehsatake. The results were genocidal. As a direct result of the massive number of deaths, many of the Mohawk lands were taken by the Messieurs de St Sulpice. Then in 1881, many Mohawk were forcibly removed to Wahta in Muskoka near Bala, Ontario, and their lands stolen. During the next century, timber land, farm land and waterfront land was taken by the local community in Oka. 

In 1990, the famous Oka Crisis occurred when the local town council planned to expand the nine-hole golf course to 18 holes by expropriating sacred land, thereby eradicating the ancient Mohawk cemetery. The intense war of the summer of 1990, which garnered world-wide concern and support, became a rallying cry for First Nations across Canada and globally who have suffered for centuries the thieving of their lands and natural resources. In Kanehsatake, where the Hodenausaunee and their ancestors have lived for at least 8000 years, the land base is still diminishing, with no treaties after 500 years of invasion and colonization.

In the 1860s, the smallpox virus was spreading across Turtle Island through the swarming of Europeans, whether among the Coast Salish, Tsimshian and Haida on the west coast, or the Mohawk and other First Nations in eastern Canada. It was also killing multitudinous thousands of Marquesans and other Pacific Islanders at this time.

What comes to mind, having just watched and read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, is the following question: Is the outright planning for extermination and genocide of indigenous and Third World peoples a longer, more heinous story than we have yet imagined? Were there earlier hints of “disaster capitalism” in the “free market” European colonial policies? These social cleansing attempts and resource appropriation acts of “democratic” terror seem similar to the contemporary suspicious political rhetoric of “shock and awe” through the “war on terror.” Swanky seems to suggest ways to trace the historical smallpox warfare; nowadays biological and chemical warfare can be released, seemingly under the radar of collective awareness.

Due diligence is always a prerequisite for true democracy. And Truth and Reconciliation is one of the most powerful social-political forces among cultures today. In Canada it may be one of the best pathways to co-creating “A Fair Country,” which bases our emerging collective identity on the pre-existing First Nations and Métis heritages, according to John Ralston Saul. Key to this seems to be the will and effort to learn about each other, as sisters and brothers, and support one another, thus co-creating a more respectful, integrative, visionary sense of unity for the next 77 generations for us all. 

Joseph Martin


The kitchen walls are closing in

In regards to Trudy D. Mitic’s piece about her kitchen walls closing in, obsessing about what one eats is far more detrimental to one’s health than that which actually passes the lips.  My advice: simplify.

I start with raw (unprocessed) ingredients. I use no vegetable oils or margarines and all meals are cooked from scratch. All this obsessing with and catering to individual wants and needs puts too much emphasis in the wrong place.

My grandmother grew most of her food and fed a family of ten when everything was done manually—even firing up the stove, and yes, she worked outside the home, full-time, as well. So arguing there isn’t enough time today isn’t valid. Priorities, people. What’s the point of living complicated, but unhealthy lives?

Jana Kalina


The magic of Duncan Regehr

I must firstly say that the article on Duncan Regehr by Christine Clark is a very well written, very insightful, very intuitive article and Christine does indeed capture the essence of Duncan Regehr.

I first met Duncan Regehr in 1986 at the opening of his Henge exhibition in Los Angeles. My artistic experience with Henge was so powerful, so moving, that I promised myself I would one day experience again, firsthand, a Duncan Regehr exhibition. It has taken me 26 years and 8000 miles to fly from Brisbane, Australia, just to see Duncan’s Retrospective at the Legacy Gallery in your beautiful city of Victoria.

Christine is right—to be with Duncan Regehr, “to be in company with his paintings, is an emotional experience, and one that lingers...”

I spent three enchanting hours at the gallery on opening day, methodically studying each and every oil, oil and mixed media, oil and acrylic, ink and wax pigment, ink and prismacolour, watercolour, ink and prismacolour… Everything was alive! Everything spoke to me. Everything moved me, enthralled me, captured my imagination and sense of wonder and magic, and challenged my perception of reality, of time and space, of truth.…[It] was worth every moment of the gruelling journey there—and back!

Axèle-Brigitte Mary, Brisbane, Australia


Notes from subscribers

I always rush to the Courtenay Library for Focus—sometimes lucky, sometimes not. So we are buying a subscription.

Your July/August edition blew us away—especially Briony Penn’s article (as usual) and “Infected at Birth.” Thanks for your hard work and good writing.

Rosemary Baxter, Courtenay


I discovered your magazine while visiting relatives and read every copy they had on hand. Once back home, read your publication online.

Sadly, such investigative writing is becoming a rare commodity in Canada. I do wish we had Focus in Ottawa, as there is certainly no lack of fodder.

Enclosed is a small donation to help you keep up the wonderful work.

June Seguin, Ottawa


One of the great joys of our annual trip to Victoria is to pick up a copy of Focus. How wonderful to discover that now we can get it year-round by subscription.

Susan Bennett, Rocky Mountain House