From Johann Hari’s list of 5 underappreciated people, these are three that particularly bekon to me:

Under-Appreciated Person Two: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The only African leader who appears with any regularity on our TV screens is the snarling psychopath Robert Mugabe, spreading his message of dysfunction and despair. We rarely hear about his polar opposite. In 2005, the women of Liberia strapped their babies to their backs and moved en masse to elect Africa’s first ever elected female President. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was a 62 year old grandmother who had been thrown in prison by the country’s dictators simply for demanding democracy. She emerged blinking into a country trashed by 14 years of civil war and pillaged by dictators — but she said she would, at last, ensure the Liberian state obeyed the will of its people.

In the face of a chorus of cynics, she did it. She restored electricity for the first time since 1992. She got the number of children in school up by 40 percent. She introduced prison terms for rapists for the first time. Now she is running for re-election in a fully open and contested ballot. I look at her and I think of all the women I have seen by the roadsides of Africa, carrying impossibly heavy loads on hunched backs — and I know what they will achieve when they are finally allowed to.

Under-Appreciated People Four: The Saudi Arabian women who are fighting back. Women like Wajeha Al-Huwaider are struggling against a tyranny that bans them from driving, showing their face in public, or even getting medical treatment without permission from their male “guardian”. The streets are policed by black-clad men who enforce sharia law and whip women who express any free will. Saudi women are being treated just as horrifically as Iranian women — but because their oppressors are our governments’ allies, rather than our governments’ enemies, you hear almost nothing about them. Al-Huwaider points out that her sisters are fighting back and being beaten and whipped for it, and asks: “Why isn’t the cry of these millions of women heard, and why isn’t it answered by anyone, anywhere in the world?”

Under-Appreciated People Five: The real N’avi. The people of Kalahandi, India, saw the film Avatar and recognized it as their story. The land they had lived in peacefully for thousands of years — and they considered sacred — was being destroyed and pillaged for by a Western bauxite mining corporation called Vedanta, whose majority owner lives in luxury in Mayfair. The local protesters were terrorized — for example, in one case documented by Amnesty International, they were abducted by local gunmen and tortured. But they didn’t give up. They appealed for international solidarity, so Vedanta meetings in London were besieged by people dressed as N’avi. The Indian government finally responded to co-ordinated democratic pressure and agreed the corporation had acted “in total contempt of the law.” The real N’avi won. They saved their land.

See the complete list at Johann Hari: Let’s Hear It for the Unappreciated Heroes of 2010.

As Hari ends with,

“In 2011 we could all benefit from turning off the tinny, shrill newszak and hearing more real news about people like this — so we can resolve to be a little more like them.”

In the case of the Saudi Arabian women, I think that a lot of Westerners who have a case of the “Almighty Westerner who wants to save the poor oppressed Arab women” should here stories like this. Let’s support people in their struggles by following their leads instead of imposing our views on them.

UPDATE: In my excitement of using the newly discovered (by me, anyway) Press This feature on WordPress, I neglected to mention that I got this link from The Cranky Linguist, although I think it was on his FB page… Thanks Ron!

Posted by: J.V. | December 26, 2010

Quebec City OK’s First Nation expansion

The Huron-Wendat First Nation’s plan to expand its reserve in Quebec City has been approved by the municipality, meaning it can begin the arduous process of buying two large lots next to its current territory.

At 59 hectares, the Huron-Wendat reserve of Wendake, within the boundaries of the provincial capital, is tiny in comparison with many aboriginal territories.

“Many people tease me. They say, ‘Konrad, your reserve is so small I could throw a rock across,’ ” Konrad Sioui, grand chief of the Huron-Wendat, said Friday in a CBC interview.

“So it won’t be hard to double the size of the reserve. But we want to prepare for the next 40, 50 years, making sure that the next generation will have room to build a house and will also be able to have an interesting industrial and commercial site to do partnerships and to do commerce.”

Wendake’s population is about 3,000, but Sioui said forecasts call for 1,600 new residents within 10 years.

The two parcels of land to be purchased lie east of the reserve and are vacant. In addition to industrial and commercial space, Sioui said, the new areas will likely be used for an arena complex and, eventually, houses.

But it will take at least a year for the Huron-Wendat First Nation to acquire the land because of the complicated bureaucratic process of land and money transfers needed.

The Huron-Wendat are funding the nearly $10-million purchase from an $11.7-million settlement with the federal government in the 1990s.

via CBC News – Montreal – Quebec City OK’s First Nation expansion.

Interesting news. As one of the comments say, it’s ironic that Aboriginal people have to buy back land that was more than likely stolen in the first place.

Posted by: J.V. | December 26, 2010

New stuff

I’ve reorganised the links a bit by adding more categories and more links. I’ll add new stuff as it comes along. Please feel free to recommend any blogs that would be relevant here: social justice type blogs (anti-racism, Indigenous rights, feminism, LGBT rights, anti-ablism, neurodiversity awareness etc), anthropology or other social science blogs, travel blogs etc. In terms of anthro or similar blogs, I’m particularly interested in blogs that are accessible to people that don’t necessarily have a degree in anthro.

I’ve been lazy about blogging but will try to write soon. Not there’s nothing to say . . . there’s TOO MUCH to say!


Posted by: J.V. | December 26, 2010

How racist is American anthropology?

If anthropology truly begins at home as Malinowski states, how come, as I had thus far observed, anthropology tended to focus on the “exotic”? How come only a small percentage of fieldwork and scholarship by Western anthropologists focused on their own cultures, and when they did it was among individuals and communities on the peripheries, their own “exotics” such as those in extreme poverty, in gangs, ad others outside mainstream culture? (…)

via How racist is American anthropology?.

The above is a quotation from a book the that I would like to read and engage with. Certainly relevant questions for me as a (mostly) non-Native (mixed blood but raised as white) anthropologist working in a Native Canadian community. After I read the whole book, I’ll have a better idea of where the author is going with it.  But I’m sure it’s a very interesting read! Thanks to Lorenz for the book tip!

Posted by: J.V. | November 14, 2010

Hockey night in Chisasibi

Aside from a brief period when I was a pre-teen, I’ve never really been a hockey fan. I don’t know if it’s left-over resentment from the days when my parents, both French Canadian, used to watch hockey when I was a kid living in the US and scream “score” at the top of their lungs, thus keeping me from sleeping. Or maybe it’s just that I’m not a very competitive person (more of the cooperative sort, really) and am therefore usually turned off my anything that heavily smacks of competition. But I’ve pretty much ignored hockey in spite of pressure from certain people who claim that one needs to watch hockey to be able to identify as a Montrealer (you know who you are).

However, I realised early on that I would have to get at least a little bit into hockey if I want to have a social life in Chisasibi this winter. Hockey is very important here. People watch NHL hockey but there are also teams and tournaments. This weekend, there was a big tournament between teams from different Eeyou Istchee communities. I found out about it last Thursday when a group of students that are usually very focussed were going batty with antsiness. I asked them what was going on and they told me they were excited about the tournament they would be playing in this weekend.

So today, I went to my very first hockey game. It was fun! I wouldn’t really care if I wasn’t rooting for a team in particular but of course I wanted the Chisasibi Hunters to win, especially since a bunch of my students are on that team. The arena (Job’s Memorial Gardens) was packed and people screamed in fear when the opposite team came close to scoring and shouted encouragingly when our team came close. In the end, Chisasibi won and I was as happy as anyone there. It’s funny how quickly one comes to identifying with the local community when it comes to stuff like this. I found myself thinking of them as “our” team.

On another note, I got my first taste of rabbit! At the table where they were selling food and drinks, I got a plate of rabbit dumplings! Mmm! And when we came out of the arena, the snow had been falling and there was a nice layer of snow through which to walk home, with yet more snow falling on us in the darkness. It was beautiful and a good sign for the coming winter as far as I’m concerned.

Posted by: J.V. | October 31, 2010


One of the things that I remember feeling during my first stay in Chisasibi is relief. For the first time in my life, my dreams were taken seriously. One day, when a few relatives and friends of the people I was staying with were over, I asked J., the mom, if there was a Rachel with their family name. She asked me why, and I told her that I had dreamt of meeting a young woman named Rachel who had their last name. She thought for a minute, then asked around the room if any of the young men in the extended family was dating a Rachel, who would then potentially adopt their last name through marriage. No one could think of anyone but they said they would keep an eye out.

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Posted by: J.V. | October 30, 2010

Halloween in Chisasibi: past and present

Ah, Halloween in Chisasibi! People sure do get into the spirit around here! I love it! Halloween, like many other things during my stay here, has special meaning for me because of the memories of my first stay here. But it is also aquiring new meaning and nuance during my second long-term stay.

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Posted by: J.V. | October 30, 2010

Agudah: Language, culture and meaning

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook today. Of course, I found it very interesting. I grew up bilingual (English and French) and I’ve always known about words in both languages that couldn’t easily be translated into or even explained in the other language. Sometimes they can be translated but the nuance (one of my favourite words) wasn’t quite the same, or the colloquial use of the word was different. If this happens between two relatively similar languages that grew out of the same broad region (western Europe) imagine how it is between languages that are further apart and that are situated in vastly different cultural settings.

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Posted by: J.V. | October 30, 2010

How a bunch of high school students won my heart

When I was young (in my 20s), I swore I would never be able to teach. I didn’t think I had it in me at all. Then I started teaching anthropology in cegep (a post-secondary learning institution unique to Quebec that provides either vocational training or pre-university programs) and realised that I did indeed have it in me. However, I still vowed that I would never teach in high school. I already found many of my incoming students, at 17, quite immature and difficult to deal with. I learned to enjoy working with them after a couple of years though but I still got shudders at the idea of dealing with anyone younger than that. I remembered my own high school years and all the brats that made it a passtime to make their teachers’ lives difficult. They would go as far as they could with the goal of making a teacher lose it. I figured one needed a very special kind of personality to be able to deal with that.

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Posted by: J.V. | October 1, 2010

An important leader in Eeyou Istchee dies

I haven’t read it yet, but Billy Diamond wrote a book called Chief.

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