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Indy Essay

Good fences make good neighbours and other lies your father told you

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Any number of  critics have noted how a poem, play, or novel appears to shift, to evolve, to grow with a reader. The change can feel quite dramatic in some cases, so much so that even a delicate haiku—all seventeen gossamer syllables—appears to become something quite different. You read it when you were thirty, and childless; now in your thirty-third year, your infant daughter has appeared. You have changed—not the three lines—but the profound change can make it feel like you are reading a new poem. This evolution of interpretation becomes even more intriguing when applied to entire cultures, rather than individuals. After the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, after the fire-bombing of Dresden, after the My Lai massacre, the stirring patriotic speeches of Henry Vread a little differently, perhaps. Or take an example from pop culture: my entire generation has had to learn to reread the classic teen…

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Beothuk Romanticism and Mi’Kmaq Realities

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The Beothuk hold a unique place in Newfoundland culture. Objects of romanticism, they can be found in songs, poems, and paintings. Oft-repeated are claims of how their presence can sometimes be felt in the woods. But what are the roots of Beothuk romanticism and how does it impact the island’s surviving Indigenous people, the Mi’kmaq? As most know, the Beothuk were a small Indigenous group of about 200-300 when Europeans arrived, pushed them away from harbours, and brought disease and violent conflict. The Mi’kmaq were a larger Eastern Algonquian people with a vast homeland, called Mi’kma’ki, extending from Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula through the Maritimes, the Magdalen Islands, St. Pierre and Miquelon, and parts of Newfoundland. Northern Indigenous people like the Mi’Kmaq did not farm but moved from one place to another during the seasons to access resources. As anthropologist Charles Martijn has proven, Newfoundland was very much a part of…

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The rise of xenophobia and the death of Anthony Bourdain

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In 2015 a Canadian Immigration officer handed me a beige laminated card, about the size of a driver’s license, and I breathed a sigh of relief: no longer would I have to worry about being separated from my spouse and my child. After my marriage to a Canadian citizen in 2010, and even more so after the birth of my Canadian-born son, I had grown to expect that my wife would be pulled aside by American immigration authorities, just as I kept a thick dossier of important documents to show to Canadian immigration authorities. That dossier included all three of our birth certificates, as well as my proof of employment by an American university, as well as the sheaf of papers that documented my wife’s application for American permanent residence, as well as my own growing sheaf of papers that documented my own application for Canadian permanent residence. I did…

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Alleviating child poverty would save much more money than it would cost

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Oh God! That bread should be so dear, And flesh and blood so cheap! –Thomas Hood, “The Song of the Shirt.” Canadians are fortunate to live in one of the world’s better countries, but we delude ourselves when we claim to be living in the best—or even one of the best. Not when more than a million Canadian children—15.1 percent or one in seven of them—are living in poverty, many thousands bereft of adequate nutrition and health care. Not when the OECD ranks Canada 15th—third last—among the 17 leading industrialized countries in the extent of its child poverty. (The OECD gives Canada a C grade, not much lower than the D grade given the last nation on the list, the United States.) Not when children in millions of Canadian households are living in sub-standard, crowded, poorly furnished housing conditions. Not when 21 percent of single Canadian mothers have to raise…

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Indian Road Trip: The summer movie you haven’t seen but totally will, once it’s finished

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I suppose the only way is to get in the car with them. How else to tell the story of the production of an independent Indigenous movie called Indian Road Trip? Just get into the car on a reservation somewhere near Merritt, British Columbia, on a hot summer morning and feel the dust enter your lungs as the tires turn.  Allan Hopkins (writer/director): It’s about two young guys who want to leave the reserve because they’re bored. They want to go on a road trip.  Dale Hunter (plays elder Hetta Yellow-Fly):  Once you stay on the reservation you’re a lifer. Hank doesn’t want to be a lifer.  …… Where’s the car going? Wreck Beach, a well-known nude beach in Vancouver, British Columbia.  That’s how the movie begins. …… So much history–First Nation, Métis, and European–has to come together at the right time to make an independent movie like this one.  …

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Imagining the end: an earth without us

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The lead editor of this publication, Michelle Porter, in a brief email a couple of weeks ago: “I’m interested in an intelligent, interesting response to this, if it grabs you.” She continued, “I find the idea that they’ve given up on humanity really interesting.” The first words in The Guardian profile of Mayer Hillman she was referring to? “We’re doomed.” I sent the article to an old high school friend, who now works for the American EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). She barely had time to blink, “. . . unfortunately right on point” was the succinct and rapid response.  Because Michelle and I likely read many of the same things that funnel through the internet that appeal to people of a certain intellectual and political bent, I had already read the piece. Mayer Hillman thinks that it is well past time for the governments and peoples of this planet to…

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Taxes and fairness, Part 2: Anti-social transfers

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Tax cuts are not the primary means chosen by governments in Canada to ensure that our tax regimes systemically favour the wealthy. A myriad of methods undermine tax fairness. The combined effect in 2015 of these anti-social transfers reduced by at least $633 million the taxes paid by those earning more than $100,000 a year in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL). Social transfers are government programmes designed to reduce inequality by helping the vulnerable in society. They can be funded directly out of general revenues, or by contributions from the people and firms who are likely to benefit from the programme. Our income tax system itself can also be thought of as a form of social transfer, inasmuch as it taxes wealthier people at higher rates. A progressive income-tax system is fundamental to reducing inequality in Canada. By contrast, anti-social transfers are government actions that increase inequality. These can take many…

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Taxes and fairness, Part 1: Danny’s other legacy

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We hear a lot about Muskrat Falls as Danny Williams’ legacy, but it is hardly the only problem he left us to sort out. He rejigged provincial income tax rates between 2007 and 2010 so as to primarily benefit our wealthiest citizens. The result is that people earning in excess of $100,000 a year have since received – in the form of reduced taxes – more money than the province normally raises through income tax in an entire year. Income distribution changing Income figures for 2015, recently released by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), reveal our province to be profoundly divided. Our income distribution now exhibits a strangely inverted symmetry: more than half the people earn only a fifth of the income, while a fifth of the people earn more than half. This pattern is new and results from changes in provincial government policy that favour high-income earners. This policy…

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The buggy, from a car window

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There is a man pushing a shopping cart along Elizabeth Avenue. The cart frame is studded with salt and rust. It’s thronging with beer bottles, wine bottles and cans, most of them tied into transparent plastic recycling bags. “Have you talked to him?” my husband asks. The man is a binner: he works scavenging through garbage bins to find reusable and recyclable items that can be exchanged for cash. We’re in a car. In the backseat our four-year-old is covering her nose against the new-car smell. She’s near rebellion. My bag is in my lap and I’m searching for a stale chocolate chip cookie, a broken granola bar, anything that will distract her. The man and the buggy are on the road to the right, just ahead. Is he the one they call “The Governor,” I wonder? I can’t see his face, yet. He leans over the handle as he…

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The stories maps tell: A librarian and his travels through space and time

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I didn’t always think of maps as a way to tell stories. To me, maps were tools that documented spatial relationships. And yet it’s been a while since I thought of maps that way. Over the next few months in this column, I want to take you on a journey through the kinds of stories that maps can tell. Over the years I have been asked “what do you do as a map librarian”? When I take a few minutes to explain the work I do, I often see that I haven’t found the right words. My listener’s eyes might glaze over or they might respond with a polite “oh, interesting.” After one of my spiels, my aunt once said: “I’ll just keep telling people you work in a library.” What I need when I tell people what I do is a map. I need a map I can roll…

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