Thursday, 31 May 2012

Q48: How Do Saskatchewan Doukhobors Preserve Their Heritage?

From: Jarred Webb

BC Doukhobor youth have a wide array of ways to learn and interact with their cultures, Youth Festivals, Youth Councils, Russian lessons in schools, among many more, but what do Saskatchewan youth do to preserve their heritage? Do they put on festivals there? Partake in Doukhobor celebrations? Learn Russian? Being of Independent Doukhobor origin, it has been easier for their families to assimilate into mainstream society; so how do the youth preserve their tradition?

Answer

Strong assimilative forces of the wider society have drastically changed the landscape of the Doukhobor youth in Canada since 7,500 of their ancestors arrived on the Canadian prairies in 1899.

Indeed, two large Community Centres (in Grand Forks and Castlegar-Brilliant), a strong USCC organization, Iskra publication, an active choral program peaking at the annual Youth Festivals in May, Russian language programs, sobranie gatherings, the Doukhobor Discovery Centre, and a number of Doukhobor-led organizations are major institutional supports helping BC youth to preserve their traditions.

With a smaller population, Saskatchewan Doukhobor youth have their supports, too, but in a more challenging manner. These supports include the following:

  • History — A historical tradition of adaptivity to education has led to an early examination of their cultural tradition, not as a sect, but as a social movement. See my Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers...book of 2002 for a classic treatise of this development.
  • Song — The choral singing tradition has been active over the years especially with earlier youth and student choral groups, early festivals, and recent opportunities to travel to British Columbia and participate in the annual Youth Festivals.
  • Holidays — A tie to the nonkilling Tolstoyan tradition has been strongly supported by the Annual Doukhobor Peace Day held at the end of June commemorating the mass arms burning event in Russia in 1895. Here is an opportunity for youth to renew their inner values of love and become active in the wider peace movement.
  • Volunteer — Saskatoon is a city where Doukhobor young and old from the neighbouring communities of Langham, Blaine Lake and Watson have actively supported the annual bread-baking event at the local week long industrial exhibition, and this has brought them local, national and international fame.
  • Museums — The National Doukhobor Heritage Village at Verigin, Sask. has been a hub of public education for many years, as has been the recent Doukhobor Dugout House in the Blaine Lake area. Public tours of traditional areas have facilitated the education process.
  • PublicationsThe Inquirer youth publication in the 1950s has set the trend for inquiry into the Doukhobor movement, which later led to The Dove (sponsored by the Doukhobor Cultural Society of Saskatchewan) and the Doukhobor Sheaf (by the Doukhobor Society of Canada). Out of these efforts evolved major collections at the Saskatchewan Archives, along with major websites such as this one (Spirit-Wrestlers and Spirit-Wrestlers Blog), along with Jon Kalmakoff's Doukhobor Geneaology Website, and the Verigin Heritage Village site. Also many theses, publications and films were stimulated by these efforts.
  • Language — Some Russian language training has been promoted over the years, with recent ties to the University of Saskatchewan.
Over and above the community supports, mention must be made of the structures that have brought all the Doukhobors together, young and old. This includes many activities held during the 1995 and 1999 Centennial celebrations of the Doukhobors in Canada especially that of the unique Spirit Wrestlers Exhibit (1996-1998) at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Also one needs to mention two other structures that today serve as a unifying force: the CCUB Trust Fund Committee (established in 1980) and the Council of Doukhobors in Canada (which evolved out of the Centennial celebrations).

More: Questions and Answers, Comments

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Review of News Article about
Residential School Apology

Forcibly taking children from parents is a traumatizing experience whether this be for Native children or that of the Sons of Freedom in the Kootenays of British Columbia. I fully sympathize for the fate of these children.

An article 'Doukhobors want apology from B.C. government,' by Kalyeena Makortoff, published this week in newspapers across Canada, deserves comment.

First the Globe and Mail shows a photo of John J. Verigin as if he was leader of the Sons of Freedom. He was not. Compare to the excellent photo in the Toronto Star below by Peter Savinkoff which really tells a story in one image.


Second, the story dealt with the 170 survivors of the New Denver School and Dormitory for zealot children, British Columbia, who went through various forms of trauma from 1953 to 1959. In early February of this year, a group calling itself the New Denver Survivors Collective argued before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal that the government has unjustly refused to apologize to the zealot parents. They also pointed out to the hefty compensation packages doled out to other groups who faced abuse at BC-run residential schools as unfair.

Ultimately, the group wants the government to carry out recommendations put forward by a 1999 B.C. Ombudsman report, which called for an unconditional, clear and public apology. The human-rights-tribunal ruling is expected late this summer.

In the 1950s, the zealot parents were given the choice of home schooling using local Doukhobor teachers. However, they chose not to because they were against formal education as well as against governments collecting basic statistics on births, marriages and deaths.

In reaction, the BC Government of the day headed by Premier W.A.C. Bennett, took 'a get-tough' policy of forcibly teaching the children at a special location in New Denver, BC at the site where Japanese Canadians were earlier interned during World War II.  Periodic raids by RCMP on truant children became a routine occurrence as zealots soon developed atrocity stories and new myths. The experiment in re-charting children (which went against the recommendations of the Hawthorn Committee) was termed 'a disastrous failure'.

A comment in the email section of the Globe and Mail, May 22, 2012, by 'Castle1946', states the situation correctly:

'....These were innocent children, victims of their own parents' misguided belief system. The blame, therefore, lies solely with these fanatical parents who made incredibly bad choices, and did not act in the best interests of their children. They used their children as pawns in their fanaticism and rebellion against the government. When the parents of these children and what is left of the Sons of Freedom community apologize to their own children first, and then apologize to me and others in my Doukhobor community who, as children, were traumatized by their terrorist activities, then and only then should the government proceed with apologies on its part if it deems it fitting.'

Another comment comes from Annie Barnes of Alberta, who wrote a letter to the editor of The Province, but it was not published. Annie is a former hospital equipment planner and author. Here is her letter:

Dear Editor:

The innocent children of New Denver paid the price for their Sons of Freedom parents' often misguided and misunderstood beliefs. No question, we have empathy for them. However, innocent children of Orthodox and Independent Doukhobor parents also paid the price for many years due to the actions and publicity about the Sons of Freedom sect.

Orthodox villages were set aflame while these children slept. Their parents were constantly vigilant, on guard, fearful their home could be next.

Independent Doukhobor children and young adults were all tainted in the media by the actions and demonstrations of the Sons of Freedom sect, often stopped and searched during roadblocks because our names ended in Off. In the fifties and sixties, even the seventies, we were sometimes denied our rightful place in society or the community or the university because of the actions and demonstrations of this sect.

Early non-Doukhobor immigrants were often denied many privileges given to others born in Canada. Should everyone ask for an apology, or should we, as pacifist Doukhobors forgive ourselves and others as we were taught to do by our forefathers?

Yours very truly,
Annie B. Barnes

The question of forgiveness and compensation should be critically looked at before any public apology and compensation are considered. This is not to downplay the innocent. The trauma for many of the children (now adults) was no doubt monumental. Their parents ought to take at least some responsibility for that choice. However, the broader victims — the wider Doukhobor community—deserve an apology (and possibly compensation) as well. It would be fundamentally unjust for government to single out the extremists in helping them to rewrite and hijack the wider Doukhobor history. To do so would be a frontal attack on the integrity of the whole Doukhobor Movement.

Monday, 21 May 2012

65th Annual Doukhobor Youth Festival

The Castlegar district of British Columbia was the site of the 65th Annual Union of Youth Doukhobor Youth Festival on May 19-20, 2012. On Saturday night a full house of over 1,000 people came out to watch a multicultural program of singing, music, and speeches at the Brilliant Cultural Centre — the largest cultural venue in the area. The local paper briefly reported on this outstanding event, with links to images of the Festival. Monday, May 21st was celebrated with a sports day.

Among the many messages sent to the Festival was that by Koozma J. Tarasoff and his wife Kristina Kristova from Ottawa, Ontario. Here is their message:

Dear Friends:

In celebrating the youth through the ages, let’s remember our ancestors, their youth, and our historic roots. When they came in 1899 from Russia to Canada, many of them were young in age and strong in spirit. They continued to live with the fundamental Doukhobor values: nonkilling, kindness, love and compassion.

In 1868, the year after Confederation, the Militia Act was amended significantly. It now limited exemption to specific religious groups (Quakers, Mennonites and Tunkers) and others of "any religious denomination, otherwise subject to military duty, but who, from the doctrines of his religion is adverse to bearing arms and refused military service."  The exemption was "upon such conditions and under such regulations, as the Governor-in-Council may from time to time prescribe." Members of the named religious groups had to provide certificates of membership. This legislation limited conscientious objection to a religious basis and made it subject to conditions or regulations set by cabinet. (A Short History of Conscientious Objection in Canada)

In December 6, 1898, the Doukhobors were added to a similar legislation of an Order-in-Council. This was a crucial factor for them to emigrate to Canada. The exemption from military service by these traditional peace groups was a collective expression that war and killing are wrong. If the new Order-in-Council was not passed in 1898, it is unlikely that our ancestors would have come to Canada and this Festival would not take place. Thanks to the precedent set by earlier Conscientious Objectors and the cooperation of the Canadian Government, we today are able to enrich the Canadian society with ideas and actions of nonkilling peace.

Some of the COs who refused to participate in the US-Canada War settled in the town of Stouffville near Toronto. Their descendants in early May of this year asked their Conservative MP to ‘tone down’ a June event scheduled as a celebration to the Bicentennial of the war of 1812. They said ‘it does not accurately reflect the history of the town, which was founded by Mennonites who objected to war’.  The spending by the current government of $30 million in parades, displays, and reenactments of the battles is an attempt to raise the profile of militarism and military history. (War of 1812 celebrations an 'affront' to Ontario town's pacifist roots, The Globe and Mail, Jun. 18 2012.)

As people of conscience, we ought to literally join hands with brothers and sisters of conscience and with one voice call for the building of a culture of peace in Canada and abroad. Let us give hope to our youth — to our children, and our grandchildren. Let this be a message to Canadian Parliamentarians to return to a sane domestic and foreign policy where might is no longer right, where love and nonkilling is the path for Canadians and humanity around the world.

We have to teach our children, our youth, the beauty of singing, and singing will teach them the beauty of life with values such as nonkilling, kindness and compassion.

We wish you a joyful  and memorable 65th Annual Youth Festival.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

May Day in Ottawa 2012


May 1st has always marked the coming of Spring  a time of rebirth and new possibilities. For over a century, May Day has been observed as the International Workers Day when workers around the world (some 99%) have united to seek fairer wages, better working conditions,  and economic equality.

Beginning on May Day 1886, thousands of workers in Chicago and New York City went on strike, joining the call for an eight-hour day. The response on this and in other occasions, the 1% (the 'haves') have employed various tools of repression including the police, the Cold War, the hysteria of McCarthyism, the passage of anti-union laws, and the expulsion of progressive labour leaders from unions.

In 2012, millions throughout the world — workers, students, professionals, homemakers, environmental, indigenous, anti-poverty people, and seniors  took to the streets of big cities to strike against a system which has failed them.


In Ottawa, I attended a downtown rally of 2,000 people calling for social justice in Canada at the time when the Stephen Harper Government is cutting some 30,000 civil service jobs while at the same time supporting wars and the purchase multi-billion dollar killer jet planes. See 50 photos.

As one group marched from Confederation Park towards Parliament Hill, I heard some of the following chants:
  • We'll never be defeated. The people united!
  • Services are for everybody.
  • It's hypocricy to cut services when the government is debating the spending of $35 billion for jets.
  • Respect is what we want. Don't tamper with our pensions.  Health care is a human right.
One of the handouts came from a new local interfaith 'Solidarity against Austerity' group which helped organize this year's May Day event in the City.  It stated:
  • Our government and the corporate elite are deploying measures of austerity that are leading to economic inequality, to the depletion of our much valued social and public services, to environmentally racist practices against indigenous peoples and lands, and to the support of wars that are killing innocent civilians. We need to rally Ottawans who believe there is a better way.
Active participants from The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), stated in their Fact Sheet #1: 'The Conservatives' heavy-handed use of back-to-work legislation has raised eyebrows arguing that the government has effectively put an  end to federal sector collective bargaining, which includes the right to strike.' Here is what CUPW is doing about it:
  • Challenging the constitutionality of the unjust legislation that has denied us of our most basic rights, the right to negotiate and strike if necessary.
  • Organizing the fightback — developing a plan with unions and other allies to regain our right to bargain and strike.
  • Working with others to defeat our federal Conservative government and its anti-worker agenda.
Following the noon-rally, a Teach-In of some 75 people was held at a local church across Parliament Hill; it explored strategies to oppose the government's inclination to privatize the Public Service,  the closing down of the national youth learning program called Katimavik, the loss of jobs across the country, and neglecting the affordability of good public education for the masses.

At the end of the day, I was impressed by the spirit of concerned people to change the terms of the debate from narrow interests to the broader social movement interests of equality and social justice for all. Added to this was the desire to follow a  policy of nonkilling in society.  Getting rid of the $35 billion jet purchase would go a long ways in providing the monies needed for sustainable human programs. As a priority, the state must generously support basic human needs including education, job training, public health care, and culture.

See 50 photos on Flickr.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Dilemma of the Hunger Games

The current rage of the Hunger Games (on TV and in book form) is a grim, persuasive version of Suzanne Collin's novel about 24 teenagers who are forced to compete in an annual fight to the death in a projected future of a class society of a few very rich and the mass very poor.

My wife Kristina and I saw the film version Sunday night. We were the only other couple in a large theatre watching a two-hour film. Personally I was troubled by it because of its zero-sum solution by a poverty-striken heroine (Jennifer Lawrence) who struggles to survive in a cruel social order ruled by a wealthy and amoral elite. All but two contestants out of 24 are killed; the two are saved by the redeeming power of love.

Is the Hunger Games a modern version of the gladiators during the Roman Empire? Is it a view of society in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, as characterized to be the 1% and the 99% tally by the Occupy Movement people?

If the answer is 'yes' to the above questions, then we the people of the world (the 99%) must stand up and be counted using moral suasion of wisdom and the creative power of love to change society. The young students in Quebec protesting for free or cheap public education should be supported as heroes. After all, it is the young people who will be our future leaders.

Education is very important to all. Public education should be a human right, not a privilege (otherwise there is a temptation of the free market to place the rich in the drivers seat). This temptation of the stark class conflict needs to be downplayed and a way found nonviolently for all to be beneficaries of the wealth of society.

In our respective parliaments, this means that we need to create a more inclusive governing body representing the wider populous. This means that most world parliaments need major reforms. It also means that the money required for benefiting all would necessitate a change in public spending, including the labelling of militarism and war as a crime against humanity. Probably we will need to  change our priorities drastically!

As we look at the present Conservative government in Canada headed by Stephen Harper, we forsee a lot of reforms. Here is a list:

  1. Change the tone of the discourse from antagonism  to one of cooperation. Get all the elected members to work together as one Parliament. Allow for public debates of issues such as the pipeline. 
  2. Scrap the multibillion dollar F-35 plane purchase and get out of NATO. 
  3. Stop the militarization of our society in favour of a new paradigm of nonkilling, with a innovative  Department  of Peace becoming a major player in peace-making. Remember that Canada's National Defence spending was $21.185 billion in 2009-2010, making Canada's rank 13th highest in the world, and 6th highest among NATO's 28 members, dollar for dollar. This means that Canada's military spending is now higher than it has been in more than 60 years — higher than it was during the Cold War, or indeed any time since the end of the Second World War. This means that the Conservative government's current priorities are for killing rather than for sustainable peace.  
  4. Instead of budget cuts to social programs, bolster the health, the arts, and education and job training capability to provide access to all citizens for an equal opportunity to have good housing, affordable food, a clean environment, innovations in the energy sector, and much more.
What is it that we really want? Are we only interested in entertainment, or do we really desire a drastic change in society? That's the dilemma.

I guess what really bothers me is the violent nature of the Hunger Games. In the film, killing is entertainment for the rich and self-sacrifice for the poor. It sounds and feels like a zero-sum game as I stated above.

Should we recommend this movie to young children? Karyn Gordon, a parenting expert and author, says she wouldn't recommend parents to let their kids see it, regardless of age, because the movie is based on a violent premise. 'When the entire movie...is built around that, I don't think I'd recommend parents to show their kids at all.' (Is the Hunger Games movie too violent for kids?, by Shelly White in The Globe and Mail, March 23, 2012: L4.)

Monday, 7 May 2012

Bicentennial Opposes Our Pacifist History

The May 4, 2012 story 'Bicentennial events decried as "affront" to pacifist roots' in The Globe and Mail caught my eye. A photo showed Arnold Neufeldt-Fast who represented Mennonite, Quaker and Brethren in Christ churches when he spoke to the town council in Stouffville.

Stouffville is a town north of Toronto where a group of people who belong to the traditional peace churches were in town asking their Conservative Member of Parliament Paul Calandra to tone down a June event scheduled as a celebration to the bicentennial of the war of 1812 between Canada and the USA. They say that it doesn't accurately reflect the history of the town, which was founded by Mennonites who conscientiously objected to war.

'It's an affront to a truthful telling of that history,' said Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, a Mennonite ordained minister and associate academic dean of Tyndale Seminary.

Part of what swayed the pacifists to move from the US to Canada was the Militia Act, which allowed people of conscience who could prove they belonged to peace churches to be exempt from war if they paid a tax.

This legal precedent later allowed 7,500 Russian dissident Spirit-Wrestlers / Doukhobors in 1899 to come to Canada as CO's and settle in what is now Saskatchewan. Their exile in Russia was precipitated at the end of June 1895 when these people held a mass demonstration of arms burning and decreed that killing is wrong, that government has no business in contributing to mass slaughter called war, and that peace and love is the way to a wholesome life.

Here, then, is an opportunity for Canadian Doukhobors to join with their traditional peace groups in an effort to stop the militarization of the country and instead return to the peace-keeping roots of conscientious citizens who see a different vision from that of the current Conservative government headed by Stephen Harper. It is a time to remind Canadians that war is not the answer.

The present Conservative government is spending some $130 million celebrating the 1812 war with parades, displays, and reinnactments of the battles in an attempt to raise the profile of military history at a time when the government is increasing military spending. Its political agenda also includes (as columnist Jeffrey Simpson recently wrote): 'medals commemorating the Queen and yet another royal visit, this one offering Canadians (or at least the handful of them who will care) the emotional surge of seeing their future king and queen: Charles and Camilla'.

Doukhobors (now some 50,000 in Canada) will be holding their 65th Annual Doukhobor Youth Festival in Castlegar, British Columbia on May 19th to 20th. No doubt the peace message will be read before an expected audience of over 1,000 people. This will be time for people of conscience to join hands and with one voice call for nonkilling peace.

Let's remember 'we need to give hope and a future for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.' Let this be a message to Canadian Parliamentarians to return to a sane domestic and foreign policy where might is no longer right, where love and nonkilling is the path for Canadians and their neighbours around the world.