Notes on the Sacred

My hope is that people from different traditions can share with each other.  These are dark times in which “fair is foul and foul is fair.”  We need each other.

I have learned something about the sacred, and something about resistance to injustice, from First Nations people.

When is the sacred?  The sacred is saturated with being, as Mircea Eliade said.  It manifests itself in the relationships of a living universe—I and Thou—intense like fire, inclusive like family.

Scott Momoday, author of House of Dawn, said the theft of the land was a terrible catastrophe, but the theft of the sacred was even worse – the replacing of a living relationship to the world with an I /It relationship of objects, each with a monetary value.

The sacred was not part of the world I grew up in.  That world was one of war, fragmentation and death.  But in the ceremonies of First Nations people, in the singing, drumming, dancing, and in the enduring resistance to imperial policy, I experienced a feeling of astonishment and awe that made me want to revisit aspects of my own culture.

In his book, The Primal Mind the First Nations writer Jamake Highwater, says that modern artists have received inspiration from the caves of Altamira, and in his efforts to explain to Europeans the intensity of an aboriginal world view, he quotes Kandinsky on Cezanne, “he was endowed with the gift of divining the inner life in everything.”

Camara Laye, an African writer, wrote a book called The Guardian of the Word.  In this book he draws parallels between some western art and the traditional African experience of being, of the scared.  Camara Laye quotes from the European philosopher, Karl Jaspers, who talks of Van Gogh’s paintings.  “It seem to me that some secret spring of life is opened to us for a moment, as if the depths hidden in every existence were unveiled right before our eyes,”  Jaspers says.  Think of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” for example.  Camara Laye goes on to say that in the traditional African experience “that secret spring of life is open, not for a moment, but constantly.”

Then the Europeans came.  The vision became blurred, and Camara Laye wrote that Africa is now “a continent in quest of a vanishing spirituality” – or as Scott Momoday might say, a continent experiencing the theft of the sacred.

The culturally formed images of my relationship to the mystery, the ineffable, will not be the same as the images of a person from another culture, but we will both share the experience of astonishment, awe, humbleness and gratitude.

In November, 1988, there was a women’s conference in Vancouver called “Women and Language Across Cultures.”  Out of that conference came an excellent book entitled Telling It, published by Press Gang in 1990.  Jeannette Armstrong, a First Nations writer, speaks in the book and she says, “I have been just sitting, listening…(and)…I have started to ask some questions, not only of myself and of my people as a cultural group, but of my people as a people from this land, from this earth, and as living parts of this universe.  And I think that when we start looking at what we are…we start to speak the real language – and that real language is a language that is understood by babies, and is known between people as relationships.  That language has more to it than words.  I think that when we begin to get to that point, then we can begin to cross these cultural, racial, social and class gaps.”

We have much to share with each other, in sisterhood, in brotherhood.

Prairie Storekeeper

We reminisced
the storekeeper and I
in the front room
waiting for supper.

We talked of prairie wind
and storms and snow.
We talked of the fierce sun,
and how the prairie’s like a mountain peak
for all above is sky.

For thirty years
he kept a general store
in a small town near Regina;
a prairie conservative
independent, stubborn,
and not without compassion.
Men learn to work together
on the prairie.
No one can live in that vast loneliness

He mused about his store;
How tough it was to stay in business
when you weren’t a corporation;
Of those who win, and those who are exploited;
the pressures of a foreign market;
the deals he must accept……or else.

We lapsed to silence,
Sharing each other’s company.
The clock ticked softly on the mantleplace.
And then he spoke again
but deeply, far away as if in dream,
as though he spoke from regions in himself
that opened up on powers scarcely dreamt of.
His voice was heavy with authority,
speaking itself through him.
“If young people really knew,” he said, “what an unjust
system it is, they would tear it down in five minutes.”


The Qu’Appelle River runs through the Qu’Appelle Valley in southern Saskatchewan.  So graceful and harmonious is this valley that it reminds the traveler of that visionary homeland where each thing has what it needs to live a beautiful life.  When I first saw the Qu’Appellle Valley, I thought that this place was like the home I might have had if the Great War of 1914-1918 had not cast a violent shadow over the entire twentieth century.

The Qu’Appelle River flows through the Qu’Appelle Valley like a Queen on parade.  Her name, “Qu’Appelle”, is French for “Who calls?”  This is a rough translation of the original Cree words for the river, and there are many stories as to how the river got its name.  One story goes like this:


Long ago a First Nations person was going down the river in his canoe.  One day he heard a voice calling to him.  He stopped paddling, and listened intently.  Again he heard the voice calling, and he called out in his turn.  No one answered him, so he carefully looked around for the tracks of another person.  He couldn’t find any tracks, and from that time the river was known as “Who calls?” (1)

Today we cannot hear the earth speak in the same way as aboriginal people did before the coming of the Europeans.  In the old days the relationship of First Nations people to nature was intense and personal.  Everything in nature had the power to reveal itself as a living presence, should it choose to do so, and should a person be ready to hear or to see.  This relationship went both ways.  Human beings were part of nature as were fish, trees, rocks and grizzly bears.  And because humans were created later than most other creatures, people were often humbly thought of as the younger sisters and brothers.  So did humans see themselves as members of a larger family on a living earth.  Black Elk said, “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of human beings when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe.”

In our technological, urban world we have lost much of our ability to hear many of the voices in nature.  We long for connection to the beauty we see, and we talk of spirituality rather than formal religion.  Spirituality is about the quality of our relationship to the world.  It is about our ability to see our connection to everything around us, to see the beauty, to hear the voices, to be present to the miracle of that which is simply in front of us.  Chief Seathl, after whom the City of Seattle was named, put it this way:  “Every part of this land is sacred in the view of my people.  Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove….”

We reach out to the people around us with deep caring.  We watch.  We listen.  Rain falls.  The wind is like breathing.  “All real living is meeting,” Martin Buber said.  Life is relationship.  First Nations people close many of their speeches and prayers with the expression, “All my relations.”

In April, 2010, an international conference for the protection of the earth took place in Bolivia.  President Evo Morales of Bolivia invited the peoples of the world to this conference, and more than 30,000 people from over 100 countries came to share their concerns.  President Morales urged the delegates to listen to the voices of indigenous people as they talked about respect for the earth and stewardship.

We can be more aware of the voices around us, and we can start with the people we meet every day.  Can we hear the person who is asking for help?  Eagles fly overhead at many of our ceremonies in the Downtown Eastside.  What are the eagles saying to us?  Waves on the shore of Crab Park have stories to tell. The Oppenheimer Park totem pole speaks to the long history of First Nations on this land, and it also asks us to remember those who have died in the Downtown Eastside, and those who have survived.

The old heritage buidings in our community speak to the early history of Vancouver, and in the streets late at night you can hear the voices of unemployed men during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. They are marching in a snake parade because they are hungry and have no place to sleep.  Chinatown and Japantown have stories to tell of those who fought for dignity and human rights.

So many voices.  So much pain and courage and laughter.  “Who calls?” we ask, and we hear the voice of the other one, reminding us of relationship, or our kinship to the mice in the fields and the stars in the sky.  As Chief Joseph said, “The earth and myself are of one mind.”


(1)               River in a Dry Land, by Trevor Harriot, published by Stoddart, 2000, page 12.



Telling Stories

We need to tell our own stories.
If we don’t tell our stories,
people with power
will tell our stories for us,
And we won’t like what they say.

When we tell our stories,
we reach out to each other
and build community.
We share our pain.
We share our hope.
We share our laughter,
and our determination.

When we tell our stories
we draw our own maps,
and we question
the maps of the powerful.

Each of us has something to tell,
something to teach.
We speak the language of the heart-
here-in the Downtown Eastside-
The soul of Vancouver.

Wild Sheep in the Mountains

Wild Sheep in the Mountains, Illustration by Diane Wood

Wild Sheep in the Mountains, Illustration by Diane Wood

We were doing mining exploration at Godlin Lake in the Mackenzie Mountains, and the geologist told Roy and myself to camp out for two nights in a high valley in order to collect certain rocks he needed to finish a geological map he was working on. “The Jet Ranger will take you to that valley,” the geologist said. The Jet Ranger was a helicopter that could skim over the mountain peaks like an enchanted deer.

“Will I need my parka?” Roy asked.

“Yes,” replied the geologist. “Even though tomorrow is July 1 , and we’re getting 24 hours of sunlight every day, the temperature can drop below freezing at night, and I’ve seen snow in these mountains in July.”

Roy was a thoughtful young man from Vancouver who had always lived in the city. When he arrived at our base camp at Godlin Lake, in the Northwest Territories, he gazed in amazement at the lake, the wide valley, and the surrounding mountains. “Nobody told me about this,” he said.

“Nobody told you about what?” I asked.

“About this beauty,” he replied.

The helicopter took us to the high valley in late afternoon. It was above the tree line, and we couldn’t see a single tree. A small stream divided the two sides of the valley, and each side was like a green meadow. With the sun shining, the valley seemed like a mountain paradise, but if a storm arrived we would be in trouble because the valley offered no protection from fierce winds or snow.

We cooked supper on a Coleman stove because there wasn’t any firewood, and then we sat in the sunny evening silence and told stories. Roy said that he had grown up in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, and he liked the people in his community because they cared about each other. He said that this land in the north of Canada opened up a new dimension in his life, and he repeated a phrase that he had said before, “Nobody told me about this.”

I said that the beauty of the land had pointed me in the direction of justice. “How can people live in a cruel, selfish and violent way in the face of such beauty?” I wondered.

“They can’t see,” Roy said. “People like that are blind.”

I woke up at 5am in the morning to the sound of sheep baaing in the valley. At first I thought I was back on a farm we had when I was a child, but then I remembered that Roy and I were in the Mackenzie Mountains. “How can sheep be in this valley?” I asked myself. Quietly I got dressed in our tiny tent, and then I crawled out to greet the coming day.

The Dall sheep were easy to spot. They were travelling on the other side of the valley at a higher altitude than our tent. There must have been about fifteen of them. All ewes with their lambs. All mothers with their children. They moved majestically across the land, calling back and forth to each other. An Elder led them, in the early morning, with the sun shining on them and on the valley.

Roy was out of the tent by now. He heard the sheep. He saw them.

“Where are the rams?” I asked.

Roy looked with the binoculars. “They’re higher up,” he said. “I can see five or six of them.”

Then I saw the rams with the sun flashing on their horns. They were looking down at the ewes and the lambs. They stood so strong, so proud, on their own land.

We watched the sheep until they disappeared into the next valley. Then I heard Roy mutter to himself, “Nobody told me about this.”

The Forest That Disappeared

The Forest That Disappeared, Illustrations by Diane Wood

The Forest That Disappeared, Illustrations by Diane Wood

I wanted to show Jean a beautiful place where I had camped 15 years ago. It was at the entrance of an ancient forest in a distant valley. Majestic trees cast a green shade there, and a stream carried water from a cool spring. Moss lay thick upon the ground, and the silence of the forest was broken from time to time by the singing of birds and the gentle sighing of the wind.

There were more logging roads in that part of the country than there had been 15 years earlier, and I wasn’t sure which one to take.

“Try one road, and if that doesn’t work, try another,” Jean said.

That’s what we did, and we drove for another 10 miles. “The land doesn’t look the way I remember it,” I said.

“It never does,” Jean said.

Then I recognized a group of aspens. We stopped the car and walked towards them. My old campsite had been on the other side of these trees, and as we walked through the aspen grove, I remembered how beautiful the campsite was. Instead of my campsite, however, we found a wasteland.

Where my tent had stood was an abandoned landing for a logging operation. The grass-covered clearing was gone. The trees that had given me shade were gone. The spring that had given me water was a muddy pool, buried under 10 feet of debris.

The ancient forest was gone. Not one tree left.

I rushed this way and that way, looking for a forest that had disappeared. Jean, struggling to keep up with my furious pace, shouted, “Sandy, what’s wrong?”

I turned to her, not answering. An entire forest couldn’t disappear like that. Maybe I was in the wrong place. “If I can find my bearings, everything will be as it was before,” I said to myself.

Rushing up a steep hill, I reached a place where I could see more clearly. Fifteen years ago, I had climbed up here at night with the moon full and the night so bright I could walk through the forest without danger. From the crest of this hill I had seen the moon shining on the valley, the ancient forest, and the snow-peaked mountains. Fifteen years later all I could see was a catastrophe of stumps and broken limbs.

“I wanted to show you a sacred place,” I said to Jean.

“Yes,” Jean replied.

“There’s no restraint here, no respect,” I said, and I thought of the gigantic corporations that will not rest until they have cut down every tree on earth, or sold every cupful of pure water. “Such utter destruction, and for what moral purpose?” I continued. “They don’t know what they’re doing. It is themselves they murder.”

“And us,” Jean said.


(Note:  When Sandy wrote this poem, the government agency in charge of unemployment insurance and certain kinds of training for unemployed people was called “Manpower.”)

* * *

Rejected you were
by family, school,
and the closed world of work.
Delicately, like a swan,
you sailed into the street,
and sank beneath the violence and despair.

Manpower, procurer of work-units,
has sent you back to school.
You come as one who grasps a dubious raft
in the world’s shipwreck.

Who is to tell you that there are few jobs?
Who is to tell you that we’ve never had enough,
that we’ve been kept like horses in a barn
by our own rich who gain from our distress?
Who is to tell you that a grade ten education
is really good for nothing?
That, having raised your hopes,
your country will abandon you again,
and send you sailing, like a crippled swan,
into the street.

~ Sandy Cameron


One Hundred Years of Struggle

“We need to educate the people about their rights and how to fight for them.”
~ Bruce Eriksen (1)

* * *

The history of
the Downtown Eastside
is a history
of the struggle
for human rights.
First Nations people
have fought for a just
land claims settlement
for over one hundred years,
and we take inspiration
from their example,
especially in these dark days
when we feel
we are losing control
of our lives
to global economic wars,
or mega-projects
that overwhelm our neighbourhoods.

In the Downtown Eastside
working men and women
fought for the eight hour day
and the right
to form trade unions.
The Vancouver and District Labour Council,
one of the oldest Labour Councils in Canada,
started in 1889.
In 1903, Frank Rogers
was picketing for
the striking United Brotherhood
of Railway Engineers
when he was shot and killed
by a C. P. R. hired guard
at the food of Gore Avenue.
In 1918, Canada’s
first General Strike
took place in Vancouver
to protest the murder
of Ginger Goodwin,
a labour organizer
from Cumberland, B. C.
In 1919, there was
another General Strike
in sympathy with
the Winnipeg General Strike
during the Great Depression
of the 1930s.
Unemployed men
in the Downtown Eastside
fought for the right
to food, shelter,
work and wages.
In April, 1935,
Mayor McGeer read the Riot Act
at Vicotry Square
to two thousand
unemployed men.
Willis Shaparla was there,
and he commented,
“When hungry Canadians
were asking for food,
McGeer read us the Riot Act.”
Soon after the occupation
of the Carnegie Museum
by three hundred unemployed workers
in May, 1935,
the men of the
Relief Camp Workers’ Union
began the On-To-Ottawa Trek.
Then in June of that year
one thousand longshoremen
were attacked by police
near Ballantyne Pier
as a result
of a lockout and strike.
Longshoremen had been fighting
for their own union
since the 1800s,
and by 1944 they had a strong union
that protected their rights.
On May 20, 1938,
unemployed men looking for relief
occupied the Vancouver Art Gallery,
the Georgia Hotel
and the Post Office
at Granville and Hastings.
Gradually, the occupation
shifted to the Post Office
which the police attacked
on June 19th.
Over one hundred men were hurt
in the ensuing struggle.
That night ten thousand people attended a rally
at the Powell Street Grounds,
now called Oppenheimer Park,
in support of
the homeless, hungry men.
In September, 1939,
the Government of Canada
would ask these unemployed men
to fight for their country.
They did fight,
and many of them
had the dream
of a better Canada
after the war was over.
In 1995, federal public servants
occupied the old Post Office,
now the Sinclar Centre,
to protest a federal budget
that planned to throw
fifty thousand of these workers
into the anguish of unemployment.

Chinatown and Japantown,
called Powell Street by citizens
of Japanese background,
were also part of
the Downtown Eastside.
At first people lived
in these communities
because they weren’t allowed
to live anywhere else,
but as the years went by,
Chinatown and Japantown
became centers of resistance
against injustice,
and they shaped their history
with courage and endurance.
From 1881 to 1885
Chinese labourers helped build
the Pacific Section
of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
At least six hundred
Chinese workers died
building that track.
In 1887, three hundred white men
beat up a camp
of sleeping Chinese workers
at Coal Harbour.
In 1907, another race riot
Broke out, and a violent mob
Rampaged through Chinatown
and Japantown.
During the Great Depression
one hundred and seventy-five
Chinese people
died of starvation in Chinatown. (2)

After the attack
on Pearl Harbour
on December 7, 1941,
the federal government
uprooted the entire population
of Canadian citizens
of Japanese origin,
and moved innocent people
to internment camps
with no regard
for human rights
or family ties.
True, the war was
going badly in 1941.
Before the end of the year
nearly two thousand Canadians
were killed or captured
when Japanese troops
entered Hong Kong.
Panic, and fear of
a race riot,
may explain the action
of the Canadain government,
but they do not excuse it.
Not one Canadian
of Japanese origin
was found guilty
of any offence
against the security of Canada
throughout the war.
After a long fight
for human rights,
Japanese Canadians won redress,
and on September 22, 1988,
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney
formally apologized
on behalf of
the Government of Canada
for wrongfully interning
and seizing the property of
Canadians of Japanese background.
Although Japantown never regained
Its prewar size,
the Powell Street Festival
has become an annual celebration
of the Japanese Canadian community,
and Chinatown has become
a busy social, commercial
and tourist centre
with a highly respected
international reputation.

In 1968 the Strathcona
Property Owners and Tenants
Association (SPOTA),
was formed to stop
the disastrous urban
renewal plans of city Council.
SPOTA stopped the bulldozers
and saved Strathcona.
Bessis Lee of SPOTA remarked,
“We have to remind the city
that when they decide
to change things in a community,
they must always consider
the total planning
of that community,
and the concerns of the people
who live in it.” (3)

The Downtown Eastside
Residents’ Association (DERA)
would agree with that statement.
Since the early 1970s
DERA has fought
to establish the right
of the community
to change its image
from skid road
to the Downtown Eastside
and to win
much needed services
for the members of
Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood.
“The people who live here,
they call it the Downtown Eastside,”
Bruce Eriksen said,
and in 1983
Mayor Harcourt of Vancouver
presented a civic award to DERA
which declared that
this citizens organization
had helped to change
the perception of
part of Vancouver,
formerly known as skid road,
to the Downtown Eastside.
In the 1980s, DERA,
with Jim Green as organizer,
addressed the right to housing
in the Downtown Eastside
by building low income housing.
The DERA Housing Co-op
was completed in 1985,
and the Four Sisters Co-op
was finished in 1987.

In the 1970s, citizens
of the Downtown Eastside
fought for seven years
to win the Carnegie Community Centre
for the neighbourhood.
Later, they won Crab Park,
and in 1985, they started
the Strathcona Community Gardens
which empowered the community
through the creative act
of planting seeds.
Downtown Eastside poets,
such as Tora and Bud Osborn,
and the Carnegie Newsletter,
edited by Paul Taylor,
gave a powerful voice
to the community,
as did the books of Sheila Baxter.
This writing showed
that human beings
could forcefully reject
the negative image
ascribed to them,
and replace it
with a community of caring
that speaks from the heart.

In 1995, the Downtown Eastside,
in co-operation with friends
all over Vancouver,
defeated a casino mega-project
that would have done great harm
to both the community
and the City of Vancouver,
and in recent years
the Vancouver Area Network
of Drug Users (VANDU),
the occupiers of Woodward’s
in the Woodsquat campaign,
homeless people in tent villages,
and Latinos in Action,
have fought courageously
for respect, dignity,
and the opportunity
to lead a meaningful life.
Remember also the glorious
Downtown Eastside Community Play
that was part of the celebrations
for the Carnegie Library’s 100th birthday
in the year 2003.
This play expressed the energy
and the caring
of our beloved community.

Now the Downtown Eastside
is under siege
from the gentrification
that has destroyed
many inner city neighbourhoods.
The fight for survival
is a desperate one, as developers,
in their haste for profit,
dehumanize the people who live here.
A discussion paper
prepared for the
Gastown Improvement Society in 1992,
referred to Downtown Eastside residents as
“those social service clients who frequent the area.” (4)
A Simon Fraser University instructor,
when talking of the human beings
who call the Downtown Eastside
their home, said,
“they get moved along’
they get kicked out.
Those poor buggers
are used to it.
They always get disenfranchised. (5)

When men of great power
deny the humanity of human beings
and the history of a community,
they tend to think
that they can destroy
both the people
and the place
without moral qualms.
The Downtown Eastside has
a long history, however,
and a rugged identity.
It is not expendable,
and it is not just skid road.
We are strong
when we stand in solidarity
with those who have fought
For human rights
for over one hundred years.
Memory is the mother of community.

 ~ Sandy Cameron

* * *

(1) Quoted in Hasson, Shlomo, and David Ley—Neighbourhood Organizations and the Welfare State, published by the University of Toronto Press, 1994, chapter 6, “The Downtown Eastside:  ‘One Hundred Years of Struggle,’ page 178.

(2)Vancouver’s Chinatown—Racial Discourse in Canada, 1875-1980, by Kay J. Anderson, page 143.

(3)An interview with Bessie Lee in the book Opening Doors, Vancouvers’ East End, by Daphne Martlett.

(4)Carnegie Action Project Newsletter, September 15, 1996.

(5)”Gastown ideal for single women,” by Fiona Hughes, the Vancouver Courier, January 21, 1996.

Why I Am Fasting From March 25th to April 1st, 1996

The Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) goes into effect on April 1, 1996.  It abolishes 4 of the 5 economic rights in the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) which it replaces, and cuts $7 billion in transfer payments to the provinces for health, post-secondary education, and social assistance.

Gone are the right to income when a person is in need, the right to adequate income, the right to appeal, and the right not to have to work for welfare.  The only CAP right maintained in the CHST is the right to income assistance regardless of the province a person is from.

The CHST will place Canada in a position of breaching international human rights law expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the UN Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1976), and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), all of which Canada has signed.

Under the CHST provinces will not be obliged to have financial assistance programs for persons in need.  National standards for social assistance will be gone, and so will one more building block of Canadian unity.

A fast is a reminder that hundreds of thousands of Canadians, many of them children, do not have enough to eat.  A fast is an expression of solidarity with those who are hungry.  There’s a great deal of denial that unemployment, poverty and hunger are serious problems in Canada.  Business lobby groups try to prove that 8% unemployment is full employment, and that poverty is not a major concern.  However, the growing need for food banks is proof that something is terribly wrong with our economy.  The public safety net is collapsing, and with the abolition of national standards for social assistance, the way is open for third world poverty in Canada on a large scale.

A fast is a way of grieving for Canada, the second richest country in the world, where:

(a) the infant mortality rate is increasing.

(b) the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing.

(c) the number of homeless is increasing.

(d) official unemployment is close to 10%, and will continue at that high level for years to come.

(e) the suicide rate for teens between the ages of 15 to 19 is the third highest in the world.

(f) universal health care is being eroded, and a two tier health care system is developing.

(g) our schools are being ravaged by cuts, and many post-secondary students cannot afford a university education because of high tuition fees.

A fast is a way of grieving for the numbness and paralysis of many Canadians in the face of growing injustice.  We see long food bank lines, and we get used to them.  We see more and more homeless people, and we get used to them.  We know that increasing rates of poverty and unemployment cause increasing rates of family breakdown, infant mortality, child abuse, malnutrition, mental illness, substance abuse, suicide, homicide, rape, property crime, youth alienation, and we get used to it.

A fast is a way of grieving for our political and economic leaders who have become dehumanized by the structures they themselves manipulate, and whose acquisitive, aggressive way of being in the world is the opposite of being in the world for others.  They are unable to grasp that it is not just that some people are rich and others poor.  It is that some people live and others die.

A fast is a way of grieving for those who speak out against injustice, knowing full well that the principalities and powers that warp and brutalize our society are so strong that it is necessary to pay a price to oppose them.

A fast is also an act of protest, a powerful action by a powerless person, a time of reflection, an act of penance for oneself or for those who are destroying our country, a way of demonstrating commitment to something beyond one’s personal comfort, and a symbol of hope.

We were proud of ourselves after the Second World War, for we had seen what we could do in a national emergency.  We thought of ourselves as a people with a common democratic purpose, and we even dreamt of having our own flag.  Our dreams were not so different from the dreams of many other people in the world, and were expressed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  It included the right to decent work, decent income, adequate food, clothing and shelter, respectful relationships, and the opportunity for each person to participate fully in the life of a healthy community.

Today Canadians fear the loss of hard-won social democracy in the global economy of competitive impoverishment.  We long for community that lifts being-in-the-world beyond the predatory stage of human development.  We do not want our success to depend on another’s failure, nor our prosperity on another’s poverty.  We want to be in control of our lives, to belong to our land, to live with our traditions.  This dream is worth fasting for.  This dream is worth fighting for.

~ Sandy Cameron

The Slave Ship

In 1840, a famous English painter by the name of William Turner, painted a large picture called “The Slave Ship” which now hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

It is a picture of a ship in a terrible storm, and the ship is in danger of sinking.  To save themselves, the masters of the ship are throwing the cargo overboard – the cargo in this case happens to be human beings – black people brought from Africa to work as slaves in America.  You can see them bobbing around in the sea, abandoned to drown.

Turner got the idea for his painting from a true story about a slave ship ravaged by plague.  The captain ordered the sick and dying Africans to be thrown into the sea because he could claim insurance for them if they were lost at sea, but not if they died on his ship.

When he painted this picture, Turner was not only making a statement about slavery.  He was also commenting on the relationship between the rich and poor of England in the nineteenth century.  “The Slave Ship” was a powerful political, as well as artistic, creation.

Turner’s statement is as true today as it was in 1840.  In these stormy, Scrooge-had-it-right, economic times of corporate mastery, governments and corporations are throwing human beings into the sea of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness so that those who have much can have even more.

~ Sandy Cameron