Dear Prime Minister Harper
I’m a singer-songwriter who has put out 12 full-length albums of my poetic, storytelling songs. I’m sending you my latest one, ‘Armageddon Blues’, not just to make you aware of myself as a guy who’s been creating art in Canada for twenty-five years, but also because I feel this album has something to say about currents events in the world in general, and those of our country in particular.
I feel that Canada is unique because it has more land mass than any other country in the Western hemisphere. Because of that and because of my idea that we are here to be stewards of the land – (I think the Bible says that too)– I feel that Canada and we as Canadians have a special vision to show to the rest of the world, since we take up more space on it than practically anyone else does.
It’s a vision that has something to do with survival and sustainability, and it also has to do with conserving – just as the name of your political party says. When it comes to the precious gift we’ve been given of earth and water and sky, I’m sure conserving is something that people of any political stripe can agree with.
However, I feel that Canada, along with the rest of the world, has lost its way. I don’t say this because I dislike my country – just the opposite. I believe that the problem lies in the country’s history, and that Canada needs to come to terms with this history in order to move ahead.
Attached are the lyrics of my songs, which concern the ways in which I feel Canada and the world has lost its way. If you only have time to listen to the album once, you’ll probably gain from reading the lyrics as they go by. I’ll highlight a couple of the songs that show just what I’m talking about.
On Track #6, ‘We Own it Now’, I give a mini-history of our country https://soundcloud.com/kyp-harness/we-own-it-now. I describe its creation and growth, but I also make mention the toll it took on the original inhabitants of the land, and later on the Chinese population when the railway was built. I make mention of these not to dwell on the negative, but to say that the suffering that went into building the country needs to be acknowledged. I believe this should confer on us a humility, both for how our country was created, and, going forward, a humility in knowing that we occupy our precious space because of the sacrifice of many innocent people.
The second to last song on my CD is ‘Ipperwash’, https://soundcloud.com/kyp-harness/ipperwash , the story of the tragic overreaction of the Province of Ontario and the OPP in 1995 to the unarmed men, women and children occupying a provincial park that was their burial ground, which the government had “borrowed” and never gave back. I’m sure you’ll agree that meeting a peaceful demonstration with snipers and submachine guns wasn’t appropriate, that Dudley George didn’t have to die that day, and that the incident was the result of an adversarial way of thinking. I believe this mentality still lives in us to some degree, and will continue to lead to tragedy, until we really come to terms with our history, and reach out and embrace our fellow First Nation fellow Canadians.
Along with this, on the CD, I sing about the environmental toll taken by the development of our country. In ‘We Own it Now’ I sing of ‘a dyin’ lake by a glass-strewn shore’ and in a satirical song, ‘Low Dishonourable Men’ https://soundcloud.com/kyp-harness/low-dishonourable-men, I talk about the ones who pollute the earth and sky, the ones who want to kill and drill for oil.
Frankly, I think a lot of Canadians are kind of lost right now because they had an image of themselves living in a country that was better than most when it came to the environment. Now they can’t hide from the fact that their country has changed in a very fundamental way, going into an adversarial relationship with the environment, and an exploitative one.
The knowledge that the present government censors scientists who speak of climate change doesn’t create a lot of trust in Canadians for their government. They begin to suspect that their health isn’t as important to the government as money. As the song says ‘They really hate your grandchildren/It’s their world they’re trying to wreck’. Most people know now that the ruin we make of the environment will have harmful effects on generations to come. The present government’s attempts to cover up the scientific truth of climate change so they can proceed with its plans in the Tar Sands for money isn’t going unnoticed by everyone.
It all stems, again, from a lack of humility – a humility you can’t help but feel when you stand in nature, in the immensity of the vast land we live in. In place of this humility is arrogance, which stems from a relationship to the land which is adversarial and exploitative instead of treating it with awe, as the giver of our lives. Just as our adversarial and exploitative relationship with First Nation people has led to tragedy, so applied to the environment, it will end in our own demise.
It stems from the same urge I try to write about in ‘We Own it Now’, the need that defined us when we came here from the very beginning: using, killing, exploiting, consuming – all under the idea of “owning”.
I can’t help but think of a story in ‘Clearing the Plains’ (University of Regina Press), a book published last year by James Daschuk, about the disparity between the health of our indigenous people and that of the mainstream Canadian population. In the 1600s, before the Hudson’s Bay Company came, the Niititapi and A’aninin tribes had a difficult time finding water on the Saskatchewan prairies. They realized that the actions of beavers in building dams aided them in procuring the water they needed to survive, protecting them from drought. So the beaver became for them a sacred animal that they realized help give them life, and in their culture it was forbidden to hunt them. This put them at a disadvantage when the Hudson’s Bay Company came, for they couldn’t hunt and trade the beaver pelts that were in great demand for hats in England. They only sold the fox pelts, which were considerably less valuable.
Ultimately the beaver was hunted nearly to the point of extinction. Again we see the difference in perceiving the environment – the tribes learned that the beaver was necessary for its survival and so never hunted it, allowing it to help them to survive. The Europeans saw the beaver only as a resource to be exploited and so hunted it, like the bison, to the point of extinction. Aside from the shame of depleting a species, we see that such a practise isn’t commercially or capitalistically intelligent either, in the long run. We are part of the environment. When we view at as apart from us, as something to exploit, we’re only hurting ourselves.
It’s meaningful – to me, anyway – that this example concerns a beaver – Canada’s official national animal. The meaning, to me, is that we have to change our way from looking at our environment like the Hudson’s Bay Company looked at the beaver, purely as something to exploit for a buck. Far better, and truly right and revolutionary for Canada is for us to look at the land as the Niitsitapi and A’aninin looked at the beaver – a sacred gift given to us which gives us life. To exploit it and hunt and kill it – all for money – is to kill ourselves. We need to exchange the former way of looking at our land for the latter if we’re going to survive.
This is a paradigm shift, a revolution in consciousness, which it is in your power to effect. Canadians aren’t really comfortable with the predatory attitude which their country has taken towards the environment lately. They aren’t thrilled to hear the New York Times say the Canadian government, working to restrict the flow of scientific information on the Tar Sands, is “engaging in an attempt to guarantee public ignorance”. Canadians aren’t heartened to hear that their government’s suppression of scientific thought is “…designed to make sure nothing gets in the way of the northern resource rush – the feverish effort to mine the earth and the ocean with little regard for environmental consequences. The Harper policy seems to be designed to make sure that the Tar Sand project proceeds quietly, with no surprises, no bad news, no alarms from government scientists” *
When Canadians hear a journalist from another country say these things about their government, beyond the immediate shame and foreboding, the inevitable, terrifying question comes: what scientific information is my government hiding from me that is so dire it would cause me to oppose the Tar Sands? My government knows that it is taking an action puts me in danger and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, so it cuts off my information on the danger and goes ahead with it anyway.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can effect the change, to turn the paradigm around and save the country. On the present course, sure, maybe you’ll get all your pipelines built, and retire quietly. But history won’t remember you well. It will remember you as a man who put his citizens in harm’s way, and starved them of the knowledge they needed to protect themselves from his rule. Wouldn’t it better to be the one who saved Canada instead of destroyed it, who preserved it, even conserved it? People are tired with the John Wayne adversarial-attitude-toward-the-environment crap anyway. It isn’t just that the beaver gave life to the Niitsitapi and A’aninin people, it’s that everything keeps each other alive – an interconnected web of mutual survival, a natural harmony in which Canada has to take it place if it is to survive. You can be the one – in an instant – to restore Canada to its harmony. Reality isn’t a hierarchy, but a web that connects us all, and to deny that for money is to separate us from each other, and from all that gives us life.
If you’d like more CDs to give to your cabinet, they are available at maplemusic.com, or you can go the iTunes route.
*Silencing Scientists, New York Times, September 21, 2013.