First Nations ceremonial shaming rite targeted at federal government

An ancient First Nations ritual steeped in symbolism is going to take place in the nation’s capital this summer.


 by Carlito Pablo on Jun 25, 2014,, Vancouver BC


First Nations carver Beau Dick says a copper shield, like the one he holds, will be shattered in Ottawa in a symbolic gesture of anguish.Carlito Pablo
First Nations carver Beau Dick says a copper shield, like the one he holds, will be shattered in Ottawa in a symbolic gesture of anguish.
Carlito Pablo

A copper shield will be smashed on Parliament Hill, an act believed never to have been done before in Ottawa. Called copper cutting, the ceremonial shaming practice will evoke what many consider to be a broken relationship between the federal government and Canada’s aboriginal people.

“Our coppers are a symbol of justice, a symbol of truth, a symbol of balance,” according to Beau Dick, a renowned carver from Vancouver Island’s Namgis First Nation.

At his UBC studio, the resident artist in the department of art history, visual art, and theory explained that breaking copper constituted an insult in old times.

“It is banishment. It is an expression of extreme disappointment and anguish,” Dick explained to the Georgia Straight.

The ritual, indigenous to Natives of the Pacific Northwest, had not been practised for decades until the 59-year-old artist revived it last year.

After marching for a week from the northern tip of Vancouver Island with relatives and supporters, Dick shattered a copper shield in front of the B.C. legislature in Victoria on February 10, 2013.

During a gathering at UBC later last year to celebrate his artist residency, the idea was born to perform the ceremony in Ottawa. One of those present at that social event was Giindajin Haawasti Guujaaw. Also a famous carver, Guujaaw is a former president of the Council of the Haida Nation.

When aboriginal representatives meet on Parliament Hill on July 27 for the shaming ceremony, it will be Haida copper that will be split.

“We’re facing a federal government here that has shown total disregard for the environment, for the wildlife, for the people of the coast, and we want to express that in the best way that we can and that’s in the breaking of the copper,” Guujaaw told the Straight in a phone interview.

Foremost among the grievances is Ottawa’s recent approval of Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway oil pipeline, a $7.9-billion project that has divided First Nations in B.C.

“It’s a one-show pony over there. They’re only interested in oil,” Guujaaw noted.

The Haida artist also mentioned cutbacks to Fisheries and Oceans Canada undermining the conservation of marine resources that many Native groups rely upon for food and cultural purposes. Guujaaw said he doesn’t expect anything to change on the part of the government anytime soon.

As to what aboriginal people want to put across to Ottawa, Guujaaw said: “The message will be the ceremony.”

In the past, copper was a marker of Native wealth and status, according to Eldon Yellowhorn, chair of SFU’s department of First Nations studies. When chiefs held a potlatch, the metal was given as a gift, said Yellowhorn, who hails from Alberta’s Piikani First Nation.

Although the planned breaking of copper may be symbolic, he noted that it’s indicative of Native sentiment about processes around projects such as oil pipelines. “Many of them feel that they haven’t been consulted,” Yellowhorn told the Straight by phone, “so I’m sure this is a way of illustrating to the government that they’re not pleased.”

Like broken metal, frayed relationships can be restored, but there should be amends, according to Dick. “There has to be atonement,” he said.

On Wednesday (July 2), Dick and Guujaaw will meet at the UBC First Nations House of Learning for ceremonies to kick-start a cross-country journey to Ottawa. Dick’s five-year-old grandson and an almost 90-year-old aunt are coming along.

“We as a First Nation group want to move forward together in unity with our fellow men to create a better world,” Dick said. “I think that this is where we start this notion of reconciliation and unity.”

Dori: Political correctness to blame for Seattle City Light fake Native American scam

Three men are charged with theft for stealing $125,000 worth of copper wire from Seattle City Light by posing as native American charity workers. (AP file)
Three men are charged with theft for stealing $125,000 worth of copper wire from Seattle City Light by posing as native American charity workers. (AP file)

By Josh Kerns,

Totally gullible, ridiculously politically correct or some combination of the two? When it comes to Seattle City Light, KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson argues both in a scam involving some supposed Native American charity workers and the theft of 21 tons of scrap copper.

King County Prosecutors have now charged three men for the brazen theft. And it’s not just what they took but the way they got it that has Dori and a lot of other people scratching their heads.

Charging papers say two of the men showed up at City Hall in April clad in full Indian garb, claiming to be “Chief Little Bear” and “Joe Wolf” – tribal members they said were running an arts and crafts program for disabled Cherokee kids, the Seattle P-I reports.

The men – whose actual names are Michael George and Jim Costa – managed to talk their way into a meeting with City Light Superintendent Jorge Carrasco.

The suspects displayed copper bracelets, necklaces and other trinkets, and asked Carrasco to donate copper to their charity.

A police report says when asked for a business card, the men instead claimed they had a bus full of disabled children circling the block and needed the wire right away. So rather than vetting them further, Carrasco approved a donation and another City Light executive met them at an Industrial District storage lot and pointed out 100 pounds of copper wire they could take.

The men returned later on with a couple of rented trucks and loaded them up with far more than just 100 pounds of wire. The scammers managed to take off with 42,500 pounds of scrap wire worth $120,000.

City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen tells the P-I all the stolen wire was ultimately recovered in Fort Worth, Texas, where it had been shipped.

“Unfortunately, we were victimized by these con artists,” Thomsen says. “These guys are professional at this.”

Needless to say, Dori has no sympathy for City Light.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. You fell for this and you’re assigning the blame to the fact that these guys were professional con artists?” Dori says.

“We can’t even get politicians on our air to talk to me, and because we have a culture at city hall, and everybody is so politically correct down there, they start falling all over themselves.”

Producer Jake couldn’t agree more – once he stopped laughing at the absurdity of the situation.

“This isn’t an Ocean’s 11 scenario. They just walked in with a headdress and a fake name and got them to give them everything.”

While City Light recovered the wire, Jones and Costa remain at large. Officials say they’ve pulled off similar scams around the state.

“This is what political correctness does to you. It makes you into boobs and ninnies,” says Dori. “You’re so afraid to offend that you don’t even do the slightest amount of vetting before you take people down to your secure facility because you are so desperate to help out the Native Americans and the disabled kids that you don’t even check them out?”