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Northern Ireland’s Unlikely Spirit of Freedom: The Art of Laurence McKeown

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“Do you think it will ever end?” one character asks another in Laurence McKeown’s 2016 play Green and Blue. He is referring to the Troubles, the decades of violence in Northern Ireland that saw over 3600 dead, 16,000 shootings, and at least 10,000 bombings. McKeown is a former member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), sentenced to life imprisonment in 1977 for attempted murder. He joined the IRA at 17 after seeing people he knew interned without trial and feeling that his freedom amounted to hypocrisy. He was released in 1992 following a campaign that framed IRA prisoners as political hostages kept behind bars indefinitely while ordinary “lifers” were set free after 7 or 8 years. Today, at 62, McKeown works as an artist, producing films, books, poems, and plays aimed at responding to the political struggle that has shaped his life.  For centuries Ireland had been under British rule.…

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Newfoundland and Labrador Considers How to Save its Romance

in Featured/Indy Fiction/Post-Oil NL by

Part 1: You discover your lover’s email by accident. You aren’t sneaking — it’s addressed to you after all, even though it’s still lingering in the drafts folder. How are you not supposed to look at something for you? How do you ignore a message with a subject like Us? I have been thinking about leaving. You’re frozen to the computer chair. Your bare legs slowly paste themselves onto the warm vinyl upholstery. You bought the chair together on an excursion to a big box store where you weighed the pros and cons of ergonomic furniture. You both decided to go for the one on sale. Now there is always an ache between your shoulder blades after a long day of writing. Lately, it has become too difficult to envision our future. I know some of this is for my own personal reasons, but an unavoidable part of this decision is…

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A Post-oil Newfoundland and Labrador?

in Featured/Journalism/Post-Oil NL by

Sure, the province decided to double-down on investment in oil in its last budget. That doesn’t change the fact that we’re heading toward a world with a lot less oil. There’s a lot of ink that could be spilled here about the various failures of leadership, citizenship and the media in getting us to the brink of a post oil-dependent world without any thought (never mind planning). But we want to focus on talking about what a future without oil might mean to us here. We’re not delivering solutions. We’re not prescribing tough medicine or pretending we know what medicine is the right kind. We are asking questions about what our future is going to be like and opening a dialogue. We’re hoping that, as a result, a few good ideas, some change-making energy, and some broader good comes of it all. We’re trying to move a mountain with a…

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Global warming and corporate greed combine to destroy forests with fire and felling

in Featured/Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

The razing of millions of acres of forests by wildfires has been increasing in scale and intensity for the past few decades. This year has set new records for the number of trees and shrubs destroyed by fire—not just in the United States and Canada, but also in many other countries, including England, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Sweden, Latvia, and North Korea. Wildfires, of course, have been a yearly occurrence in the summer months for centuries. Triggered mainly by lightning, they were Mother Nature’s way of disposing of dead timber and providing fertile ground for new plant growth. That is still an important natural process, although many conflagrations today are unnaturally caused by human carelessness, such as poorly tended campfires and flipped-away cigarette butts. Far more devastating for the world’s forests today, however, are the effects of global warming, mostly caused by the greenhouse gas emissions that emanate from the burning…

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From Manitoba to Newfoundland – why understanding the significance of the treaty relationship is so important

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When Loretta Ross was a young girl growing up in Manitoba, her school had a career day. The place was full of professionals from all sorts of fields. Yet there was only one Indigenous person. Ross was therefore drawn to him, and it was he who put the idea in her head that was to shape her future. “He said [Indigenous people] need lawyers. He talked a little bit about why we need lawyers—and I said that’s it! I’m going to do that. That’s what I want to be.” After the session, students returned to their classrooms, and their teacher asked them what careers they had decided they wanted to pursue. “I put up my hand, and she said: ‘What do you want to be?’ I said ‘I want to be a lawyer. I’m going to be a lawyer!’ And she squished her nose at me, and she said ‘Don’t…

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“God Curse Thee Megadam”: Greg Hewlett on Muskrat Falls

in Featured/Indy Essay by

Six chance descriptions of the Muskrat Falls project: A project touted for its contribution to a sustainable energy future, and pursued doggedly for its renewable energy credentials by provincial and federal governments failing to meet emission targets, that not only produces huge amounts of CO2 and methane, but also becomes the foremost source of a debt that effectively binds provincial economic survival—at least in the near-term—to oil and gas production. A project presented as the cornerstone of the province’s long-term economic and energy security becomes a palpable threat to both. A project whose massive capacity is justified solely on the merits of future export revenues becomes one with no discernible viable markets. A project proposed as a major public asset, becomes the medium through which an essential service and its customers are financialized into a source of revenue on the global bond market, in an upward transfer of wealth that is as subtle as it is significant. In response…

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Will the latest report on Canada’s shoddy childcare help to reduce government neglect?

in Featured/Opinion/The Nonagenarian’s Notebook by

A recent report on Canada’s abysmal failure to protect and care for the country’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens—its children—made headlines and stirred ripples of shame and outrage. Compiled by Children First Canada and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, the study found that children in Canada suffer from shockingly high rates of poverty, obesity, infant mortality, abuse, suicide, and declining mental health. Calling these grim statistics “deeply disturbing,” Sara Austin, director of Children First, pointed out that “Canada ranks as the fifth-most prosperous nation in the world, but there’s a big disconnect between the well-being of our country and the well-being of our children. All levels of government need to do more to ensure that children benefit from Canada’s overall wealth.” This plea for decent high-quality child care in Canada is only the latest in a long list of such supplications. It is only the latest such report detailing…

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Talking about the weather in Windsor Lake…

in Featured/Opinion/To Each Their Own by

It’s unusual for this publication to let an election or even byelection go by with nary a comment. Yet despite the rapidly approaching Windsor Lake byelection, it took me a while to figure out what to say. I considered focusing on the Liberals. Oh, where to start? Their failure to tackle unemployment, which is the province’s biggest crisis and one nobody seems interested in talking about? Their failure to do anything remotely constructive to grow or diversify the economy over the past three years? The fact they fall to their knees grovelling at any big industry that comes knocking, handing the big mainland industrialists whatever they ask for on a silver platter, whether it’s royalty concessions or waiving environmental regulations? The fact that they’ve done nothing to secure the people of the province against ruinous energy bills as a result of the Muskrat Falls debacle, besides some vague promises that…

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Two thousand hours: Speaking Mi’kmaw in Newfoundland and Labrador

in Featured/Journalism/Q&A by

When Marcella Williams’ grandmother was angry at Marcella’s mother, she’d let loose a string of words Marcella didn’t understand. It was only as an adult, when she started learning Mi’kmaw from fluent speakers in other provinces, that she realized her grandmother had been calling her mother thick-headed, or stubborn. And, it was only when she started going to gatherings and heard Mi’kmaw songs that she realized that some of her early childhood campfire songs were traditional Mi’kmaw songs. She didn’t know because nobody in her family identified the words or the songs as Mi’kmaw. That’s the long reach of colonialism: it forced generations of Indigenous communities in Newfoundland and Labrador (and around the world) to hide their culture for survival (if they could) to avoid discrimination. As a result, languages began falling away, one by one. Marcella says her great-grandmother would have spoken Mi’kmaw fluently. Her grandmother spoke phrases and words…

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

in Featured/Indy Essay by

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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Is creativity overrated? On the arts in Newfoundland and Labrador

in Arts & Culture/Featured/Opinion by

Is creativity overrated? Oli Mould is a human geographer at University of London in the UK, and the title of his latest book—Against Creativity—might lead you to think so. The provocative argument Mould makes in his book is that “creativity is a barely hidden form of neoliberal appropriation. It is a regime that prioritises individual success over collective flourishing. It refuses to recognize anything…that is not profitable.” He’s referring to the manner in which neoliberal, corporate capitalism has appropriated everything we thought of as creative—from the arts to scientific innovation—and harnessed it for the exploitation of profit. His book offers numerous examples. Real estate developers have taken to spray-painting graffiti in housing developments in the hope of making them seem trendy and appealing to the hip and wealthy. Other developers will convert empty warehouses into art galleries or offer free apartments to artists, not because they want the arts to…

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Waste, weeds, and poetry

in About Books/Featured by

Waste defines not only the modern era, but modern humanity, according to some writers. We are what we throw away. Or: we are because we throw away. Yet, waste has been invisible to many of us most of the time. No longer. Today waste is appearing everywhere. It isn’t staying neatly out of the sight of the middle and upper classes. It’s on our streets; it’s on our beaches; it’s in our fish and in our birds. There’s a waste research fund here at MUN. Researchers are grappling with questions about social justice and micro plastics in our oceans and mapping e-waste as it travels around the globe. Amidst all this, one small book of poetry appears on the scene in Newfoundland and Labrador: Mary Dalton’s Waste Ground, a book of short poems from the point of view of local plants that have been categorized as weeds. Defined as waste,…

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‘You’re not this and you’re not that’: author Lorri Neilsen Glenn

in About Books/Featured by

A few years ago, an aunt told writer Lorri Neilsen Glenn  about her great-grandmother’s tragic death in a steamboat fire in 1908 in northern Manitoba. Wanting to know more, she started a journey that led her to histories she didn’t know were hers. Neilsen Glenn learned that she had roots in northern Indigenous and prairie Métis communities. The haunting account of her journey became Following the River: Traces of Red River Women, a book that gives the reader insight into uncelebrated histories, including the stories of Neilsen Glenn’s ancestors and their contemporaries. The book mirrors the fragmented nature of these women’s lives, Neilsen Glenn says. She shows us who these women are in a mix of evocative poetry, documentary material, and narrative prose. Together, these pieces offer the reader incredible glimpses of the lives of Neilsen Glenn’s ancestors based on what she could find in newspaper reports, archives, and museums. I wanted…

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A modern harassment policy for the House of Assembly could help change the political culture of this province

in Featured/Opinion by

The provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador is moving to establish a new harassment policy to apply specifically to elected officials within the House of Assembly—for the fall of this year. This policy comes on the heels of three accusations of harassment against two cabinet ministers. Both Eddie Joyce and Dale Kirby have been removed from cabinet and caucus following harassment and bullying accusations. They remain on paid leave until an investigation has been conducted and a report is made. Both ministers had requested leave from the House for an unspecified amount of time and were approved with pay. In the absence of a harassment policy specific to the provincial legislature, complaints are currently being directed to the Commissioner of Legislative Standards, Bruce Chaulk, who has stated he will be hiring an independent investigator to assess them (where he deems that an investigation is warranted). Under the rules governing the…

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Coming out and finding a home in music: Gays of Our Lives comes to NL

in Arts & Culture/Featured/Inkshed by

I was in my early twenties when I told my happy-go-lucky uncle Jim I was gay. He froze with a look of shock and horror on his face, he even started to cry, which utterly bewildered me because he, too, was gay. This was not the reaction I was expecting. Wait this isn’t about me. It’s about the Vancouver Men’s Chorus. Let me refocus. I live downtown in one of the densest areas of North America and if I leave the house I have almost a 95 per cent chance of seeing someone from the chorus. Actually, as I was told, Sandra Oh was in town and she almost collided with one of us named Yogi; that alone would be a tale, be like her bumping into Vancouver’s very own Kevin Bacon/Glinda the good witch. So, frankly, we are literally everywhere. There’s a 130 plus guys engaged in what I’d…

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Beothuk Romanticism and Mi’Kmaq Realities

in Featured/Indy Essay by

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

in Featured/Indy Essay/Journalism by

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

in Featured/Indy Essay by

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

in Featured/Indy Essay by

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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