Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Q in "Cultural" Kingston - My Letter to Jian Ghomeshi

Dear Jian,

I’m scribing this letter in regards to your question re: why we think - culturally - our town is somewhere Q should come and celebrate. While it is my own thoughts and opinions, I hope that it will speak to and for others excited to welcome you and your team here.

First of all let me say how amazing it is to consider that the other cities are formulating strong responses with examples of culture. I love that all of these cities provide opportunity for us to delve deep into the richness of our Canada in different ways. I am so grateful to call Canada home and to be afforded the freedom to celebrate and actively engage in our amazing cultural diversity.

I lived in Kingston from 2005 – 2008. I just came back in July of 2011. What I love about Kingston is the opportunity it presents to us, each of us to engage in the development of making our community better, and the challenge to see past the limestone structures to what is just below the surface.

Much of the conversation around Kingston’s Culture focuses on our buildings and the history we have in relation to the development of Canada as a Nation. Many of the pictures we have tweeted and posted of mini Jian have been connected to historical buildings. This is one of the reasons I love Kingston. However there is so much more.

While some of these examples are ones that I posted on your wall two days ago, Kingston provides opportunity to talk about a) the prison farms and restoring communities. b) the Kingston writers fest and the value of local/community talent. c) island commuter communities: WOLFE island and how they are doing amazing things to enrich community. d) hockey and Canada...the first game of hockey in Canada was played here. e) fine arts program at Queens getting cancelled. f) awesome Kingston - $1000 grants for great ideas to better Kingston...........

Moreover, we live out our celebration of culture through a significant number of culturally defined organizations. http://www.cityofkingston.ca/residents/culture/links/index.asp. The list is long. The list is diverse. The list is not complete. What is important to highlight that many of these organizations are supported by and impact our community (our thoughts, our perspective) because of volunteers, people who want Kingston to be about something more than just a City that hosted the first hockey game, was the 1st capital of Canada and was the 1st city in the province of Ontario.  

A really strong of example of how we live out our culture is through the Kingston Multicultural festival. What I love is that the people of Kingston have creatively found ways to celebrate and express the vast cultures that make our city home.  https://www.facebook.com/kmaf2011

I can list for you all the committees that we have, the buildings that some say define our culture. For there is a vast and beautiful list of artist that we have coming through Kingston some at the Grand Theater, some at Sydneham United Church, some in lecture halls on campuses, some in public libraries, some in the screening room and some wherever they can find a place to be heard.

I do however believe that this list will only be complete when you reflect on the sentiments that Mohandas Gandhi shared when he said that “A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people”.

And Jian, I believe that while Kingston boasts amazing talents that have made their way to national and international levels, we also boast people who care deeply about sharing identities and values with each other, who want to find space to display those identities and values. These are people who will continue to work together and live together who will never make it to the Grand Theater or to The Sound Academy or to The O’Keefe Centre but will be part of the story that gets told to our children, and to their children. This story will be about how ordinary, talented people with a passion in their soul for the arts and for culture continued to stay focused and committed to ideals in such a trying time when culture wasn’t to be a topic of conversation. It will be a story that says our Canada is creative and caring and diverse because of people who in cities like Kingston expressed the heart of their nation. 

So Jian, come hang out with us here in Kingston and hear our stories, challenge our understandings and celebrate with us our amazing community and how we are making it better one day at a time. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

letter to PM Harper .....and other leaders.

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

I want you to read this letter. I am aware you probably won’t. I want you to hear these words. I am aware this may only be a hope. I want you to admit that the behavior towards our own people living in the Attawapiskat First Nation is unacceptable. I know this may not happen.

I write this letter so that I can say I did something. It will not be everything. It may not even be close to what I want to do, but it is a start.

I want this letter to clearly articulate my deep disappointment, sadness and anger pertaining to the lack of leadership and what appears to be ignorance from the Canadian government regarding the quality of life afforded to our Attawapiskat First Nation. Our people are living in what Charlie Angus; MP for Timmins-James Bay has said “was like stepping into a fourth world”.   

Mr. Harper, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 25 states:
(1)  Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Notwithstanding this Universal Declaration, as a nation we must be accountable to our most vulnerable and to those in need. With the resources that we have there is no reason for lack of action. I believe that there are creative, thoughtful individual in the government of Canada who can quickly find ways to move money around so that we can get our people what they need, what is their right to have access to.
The Children of Attawapiskat First Nation do not have a school. How is this acceptable?
Mr. Harper. I don’t care if the paint is wearing off our planes. I don’t care if there is gold on business cards. I don’t care (and don’t agree) that we are building more prisons. I want my Canada to be on the world stage for our commitment to caring for our people. I want us to honor and provide a quality of life to each Canadian that shows to the world Canada is a country of opportunity.   

I understand the province of Ontario also has a responsibility. I will write them as well. I understand you have ministers who are in charge of this area and I am copying John Duncan into this letter. That being said, this emergent issue requires more than just a provincial response. This is about leadership. This is about accountability. This is about service.

Do you reflect and consider that as leaders, as those granted power and authority, we are accountability for direction and setting a course for our country? At the national level the action we exhibit and the policy we create must clearly articulate who we are, where we are going and the values that move us forward.

This is not happening at the national level under your leadership. I wonder how you reconcile this. Let Attawapiskat First Nation flourish; allow them to have the same opportunities that are afforded all Canadians. Do not be silent on this matter. Lead this country with dedication to the people not the forces of power and pride.  

Mr. Harper, I didn’t vote for you in the last election. I won’t vote for you in the next election. I will work as hard as I can and use the influence that I have to challenge others to consider how they will vote.  Maybe in this moment while you lead a party that has the majority of power you don’t care but I know that you are aware of how close the margins are right now. I believe that you watch those numbers. If this letter draws attention to the lack of leadership and compels even one person to not cast a vote for you, then I will have done some good.

Mr. Harper, let us not forgot that the very origins of our Canada comes from Kanata, an Iroquois Aboriginal word that means village, a group of people living together in community. Recommit us as a country to live out those sustaining values of care for our neighbors and of citizenship. May it be that those values keep us working to ensure each of us; every Canadian has the best opportunity to flourish and to be an active participant in our Canada’s future.  


Brenda Slomka

Thursday, 17 November 2011

10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 .....blast off

There’s this guy coming to speak at Queen’s tonight. Queen’s has a lot of people come and speak, a lot of alumni who they can pull from to show how successful they are and the great students they graduate.

Before I get to what this blog is about, I’ve had the privilege to work with and learn from a number of Queen’s students who might never come back to their campus to speak, but who are changing and influencing their community right where they are. This is an amazing testament to the other alumni around the world, and those of us not Queen’s grads. It’s the idea of these everyday ordinary people using their education and opportunity to change their communities, our world for the better.

So back to the reason for the post. The guy coming to speak at Queen’s tonight is an astronaut. Dr. Drew Feustel. I have night class so can’t go, but would love to. Ever since I can remember, my mom would always get us to watch the different space shuttle lift offs'. I think I get some of my passion for exploration and dreaming big from my Mom.

I remember watching these men, mostly men until we saw Roberta Bondar go to space, get into their suits and walk towards the space shuttle. I remember seeing them wave to the camera and then get into the space shuttle. I remember watching the shuttle break away from those bridges that the astronauts walked on just before. I remember hearing the news team and those in the launch area speak those famous words “we are go….in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1”…..

There is something about the idea of going to space. There is something about knowing that in eight and a half seconds you can break the orbit of the earth.  John Gillespie Magee wrote the following poem that so eloquently expresses my thoughts when it comes to space.

"High Flight"

 Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
 And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
 Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
 of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
 You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
 High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
 I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
 My eager craft through footless halls of air....

 Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
 I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
 Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
 And, while with silent lifting mind I have trod
 The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
 - Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

I wonder when you are up there, what you would think of. I wonder when you look through the small window of the shuttle and see earth below and the moon beside what goes through your mind. The idea of reflection about how small we really are. The questions about how we shall care for the earth, our home. Consideration of what matters, truly.  I wonder what changes while you are up there looking out at the vast mystery we call the universe. I think about exploration and innovation and if it really does tell us something, or if it shows us that we still have so much more to learn.

I sometimes dream of going to space, and then I realize that I again would be reminded of all that I don’t know and would come back (hopefully) with a passion and hunger to be about learning and exploration and innovation all of my days.

I leave this clip because I feel that it best represents all that which is important. I can’t help be consider how quickly perspective and value and importance change, and how changing moments remind us what matters.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

i will remember, i will honor, i will fight......

In the next days, over the radio, on the news, in the newspaper & at a Remembrance Day service (I deeply hope), we will be focused on those men and woman who gave themselves to stand for those who couldn't stand for themselves. We will be reminded of those who are still standing so that others might, to this day, know the great joy of freedom.

I don’t support war. I don’t support the idea that countries with more money and more educated people seem to suggest they are the powerhouse and have the right to take control, storming into places and communities in which they have no jurisdiction.  However, with that being said I also don’t support bullies. I don’t support those people who think they can control and oppress others and I want to fight against bullies.
There is a scene in the movie A Few Good Men. Two soldiers are on trial for the death of another soldier. The soldier who has died was trying to get off/out of the base that he was serving on. The basic summary is that the court is trying to prove that the base had something to do with the death. In the end when the verdict is read out loud, the soldiers, while not found responsible for the soldiers death are still given a sanction or discharge from the army. One of the soldiers says to the other one “I don’t understand-- what did we do wrong? I don’t understand, we didn’t nothing wrong”. The other soldier says back “Yeah we did. We were suppose to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves, we were suppose to fight for Willy”. This quote might also summarize my sentiments properly:

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.”   - Elie Wisel

It’s that idea of standing in the gap. It’s the willingness to stand for someone else and to be willing to pay the price. It’s that picture I see in my mind of soldiers standing in front of those without weapons saying “before you get to them, you have to get by us”.

When I travelled Europe two summers ago, I had the very great privilege of visiting Normandy – more specifically Juno Beach where our history books tell us of the loss of many of our Canadian Soldiers, and where we also are reminded the great bravery and dedication and passion for freedom that our Canada is (should be) about.

I think a lot about our Veterans, and how I hope they know how thankful I am, not only for the freedom I have, but for the fact that they took a stand and they said they were willing to be counted. I think about our current soldiers who are going and coming from places all over this vast bouncing ball called earth and I hope they know that I support them for their willingness and bravery to stand and support and speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.  I think about those wanting to serve, those young women and men training and already willing to give and I hope with all my heart that we will see that day when we can lay down our arms and until that day comes I will honor those who fought for justice. I will honor those who continue to fight for justice, who desire to work for peace. Let us not forget that "Unselfish and noble actions are the most radiant pages in the biography of souls" - David Thomas