Culture in Transition


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12″ x 16″ Acrylic on stretched canvas

 

Enough time has passed that a generation have reached adulthood without seeing the six grain elevators once situated beside the CNR tracks running through Maidstone, Saskatchewan. Like the majority of elevators on the Canadian prairies, they were decommissioned and demolished years ago.

As a youngster, I often accompanied my Dad when he was hauling grain from our farm located fourteen and a half miles north of the town. Dad had built a wooden box on the back of a  two ton Ford truck and in that, we made the trip. This was a big improvement over the days before my time when my Grandfather and his neighbours used horses and wagons to do the job. Riding in the truck with Dad was always a good time. Occasionally if I was very lucky, Dad would take the time to buy us ice cream cones as a special treat.

Years later, when I had a go at farming, I hauled my own grain from my place five miles further north,  past my Dad’s farm, down through the Big Gully and back up, and on into the town. If I began early in the morning and if everything went well, I could sometimes make three round trips in one day with two hundred bushels of wheat or canola on each load. However, if there was a snag, like a loader that wouldn’t start, or a truck that got stuck, or a line-up causing delays, or a side trip to get machinery repairs, or groceries that needed to be bought, that meant two trips with perhaps enough time at the end of the day to load the truck for an early start the next morning.

With the elevators now gone, grain is hauled by semi-trailer to high through-put elevators located much further away. It has become “big business” – no time for ice cream cone treats for youngsters anymore.

When painting this, I referenced a numbered print drawn by friend and very well respected local artist, Velma Foster. The print hangs in my Mom’s home in Maidstone and brings back memories for me every time  I see it.

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20″ X 16″ Acrylic on canvas $245

In 1910, the first members of a new community made their way north from Oklahoma to Saskatchewan to stake out homesteads in an area north of Maidstone. These African Americans came in response to advertisements from the Canadian government, inviting people to settle and occupy the western part of the area called Canada.

These homesteaders built themselves a place of worship, using locally harvested logs from the nearby North Saskatchewan River valley. A section of the churchyard became the cemetery for the community.

I grew up on a farm three miles west of the Church, on the farm that was started by my grandfather and great grandfather in 1905. The reference for these paintings are photos that I took in 2007 during one of my sojourns to Shiloh.

For more information, read this recent post by Leander Lane, one of the descendants of the original settlers.

Here is another article from the University of Calgary that provides some of the history of the community.

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10″ X 12″ Acrylic on canvas $90

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12″ X 16″ Acrylic on canvas $145

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It is never too late, right? This morning, as I prepare to leave later today for West Africa, let me enter the Idle No More fray. This movement of the people has captured my attention since the beginning. I have not written about it because others have been so much more articulate and knowledgeable on the subject. But, like I say, it is never too late so here goes.

In 2011 I returned after a 10 year period out of the country. As I readjusted to life in Canada, I realized that it was not the country that I had left in 2001. Instead, there seemed to be more emphasis placed on business, in particular, BIG business, business that has little connection to “the people”. On one hand I saw governments privatizing services that had previously been administered by the government itself under the rational that private business is more efficient and capable. On the other I saw these same governments handing “bail-out” money to private corporations that were failing. Something was wrong – if business was a better idea, then why would they need bailing out? And at the same time that banks and corporations were getting hand-outs, government services for the people who were paying taxes were being cut back. Canadians seemed to accept this – in fact they re-elected the party to power that was responsible for these actions.

But then came the summer of Occupy.  Something seemed to be changing and people were expressing their discontent. I was hopeful. Of course, as the summer changed into fall and then into winter, the tents were taken down, not always peacefully or willingly, and the Occupy movement seemed to fizzle out. With the fizzle went my naive memories of an earlier time in my life – a time of long hair, of protest, of sit-ins, of love-ins, of a generation that thought we were going to “give peace a chance”.

Other events took over. Enbridge. The expanding Tarsands. Another pipeline proposal, this one to the west coast, crossing First Nations lands, endangering watersheds and wildlife habitat and coastlines, all in the interest of  the share value of oil companies bent on making profits at the expense of environment and people, particularly First Nations people.

In May, 2012, the Yinka/Dene Freedom train  rolled across the country to create awareness about the proposed pipeline to the coast. I joined the crowd  at the  station that had come as a show of support when the train passed through Saskatoon on its way to Ottawa (https://vimeo.com/41514349).

As I looked around the station, I recalled another First Nation protest, almost 40 years ago, when I sat at the back of a room in Yellowknife to listen to the Berger Inquiry into the proposal of that time – the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline.  And I recalled occasions after that, travelling with Saskatchewan chiefs and elders to Ottawa, meeting the Minister of Indian Affairs, meeting with Members of Parliament, scouring the National Archives for supporting evidence,  taking part in strategy meetings,  reading the history and terms of Treaty 6… all in an effort to urge the Government of Canada fulfill the legal obligations that flow from that treaty.

Last year, we saw an escalation in Conservative tactics to further change the nature of the country and clear the way for further environmental exploitation. The first omnibus bill, Bill C-36, was introduced to the House of Commons.  Some dissent was expressed but not enough and the Bill proceeded and was finally given Royal Accent later in the year. The Prime Minister and his parliamentary cronies ignored criticism of their bully-boy approach with arrogance and disdain and in fact, they followed up with yet another omnibus – Bill C45.

This time, they may have gone too far. Here, in the territory covered by Treaty 6 and signed 136 years ago at Fort Carlton and Fort Pitt, four women invited people to join them to discuss common issues and concerns. From that meeting spawned a movement which has caught the attention of people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, in Canada and around the world. Is this the time that we take our stand? that we ensure that our government do the right thing – for our children and for our unborn children? that we honour past agreements? that we  safeguard our future environment?

Idle No More presents us with an opportunity as Canadians, all Canadians, First Nations and non-First Nations, to redress our history and to ensure a healthy, vibrant, all-inclusive future. January 28 has been designated as a World Day of Action in support of the Idle No More movement. I will not be able to join the people on the streets in Saskatoon but my support will be coming in spirit from the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. Idle? No More!

Bicycles have long been used as a means of transportation in Africa. Here in Ghana, the use of  bicycles was first introduced into the northern parts of the country with working bicycles made in China but they have also become popular in the southern regions, with an assortment of used bikes imported from Europe and North America.

Biking has taken on a new dimension with the first Mountain Biking Festival held in the Western Region on the weekend of February 19 and 20. Seventeen teams from villages including and near Akwadae and Cape Three Points competed on Saturday over a 5 kilometer course set through the rubber tree plantation near the village of Aluaso. On Sunday a 2o kilometer social ride was organized through the countryside with locals and visitors enjoying the scenery and exercise. For future events, check the website: http://www.ghanawestcoastmountainbiking.com

It is a new year and time for a rant!!! Just before Christmas, I went to Takoradi to buy a few items that were needed to replace faulty components in my hotel.

Call me naive. Call me foolish. But I think that we should all contribute to “Helping Build a Better Ghana”. God knows that I have done my share of collecting and paying taxes for the Government of Ghana since I built the hotel and made the country my permanent home in 2001.

“What happened to bring this on?” you may ask. Well, the week before that trip I asked a friend who has a shop that sells various building supplies if she could supply our hotel a water heater to replace one which is faulty. She offered to have one brought on her next load of supplies from Accra. She called her supplier for the price and I gave her the money in advance. I stopped to pick up the water heater on the appointed date and requested a receipt from my friend, the shop keeper.

My friend and I have had discussions about the VAT before so she knows how I feel about it, but she proceeded to tell me that she could get me a receipt but not a VAT receipt and she would have to  get it directly from her supplier. She explained that the supplier would not provide her with a VAT receipt for that item or any of the other items which she had brought from Accra. She went further to tell me that none of the wholesalers in Accra collect or pay VAT. Bottom line – no VAT receipt for my purchase, and no credit to offset the VAT which my hotel collects from all of our guests and submits to the Government of Ghana.

Not good enough for me – I have been down this road too many times. This is an area that you don’t see many folks here talking about and I am going to offer my guess of the reason why. Folks fit into several categories:

1. they live off the land and do not use cash in their day to day living

OR

2. they don’t give any consideration or care about what happens to the country

OR

3. they know that their family and/or friends are dodging the VAT tax and they don’t want to be seen as traitors

OR

4. They are in business and are themselves actively avoiding the collection and payment of the VAT tax

This is not a complete list. The bottom line is this: the VAT tax is not working and a lot of businesses are falling through the cracks in the system.  The VAT Service and ultimately the citizens of Ghana lose out in this situation, and so will my friend – I will not be buying from her shop until she starts to conform to the laws of the land.

This happens over and over, every day, in this country. The original VAT is a tax which does not work in this country. It is too complicated for many businesses, whose book keeping is not able to deal with a Value Added Tax. Apparently the VAT Service recognize this problem and that is why they have implemented the VAT “Flat Tax” of 3%. Unfortunately they did not have to courage or the insight to scrap the “value added” idea altogether and change the regime to a straight flat sales tax for everyone, with a lower rate. This would be something that would be much easier for retailers to understand, for consumers to accept, and for the Service to administer. It would also be much fairer to all businesses – at the present time, the hospitality industry is required to collect and submit 15% tax with very few VAT inputs to offset the output, while retailers are allowed to collect and submit only 3% tax. Where is the fairness in that?

2011 is a new year and I for one think that it is time for the Government of Ghana to revisit the VAT system and make it fair for all by changing it to a flat tax and by ensuring that it is enforced uniformly.

Centred at the Centre

The annual holiday season is here once again and with it the closing days of another year. I am reminded that it is time to take stock of my life and to be grateful for all of the good that I have experienced in the past year. This is a time of year when it is easy for me to be distracted, whether by the stress or by celebration. It is time for me to remember to stay centred. And that is what I wish for all of my friends and family – that we are able to stay centred in the present as we move into the future of a new year.

(The photograph was taken as sun rose this past Sunday at Cape Three Points, the closest land location to the centre of the world at four degrees latitude and two degrees longitude)

 


Director Leila Djansi has raised the cross bar to a much higher standard for producers and directors in the Ghanaian movie industry. The movie going public no longer has to settle for the mind numbing mediocrity that has characterized Nollywood products for so long. Djansi’s psycho-drama, “Sinking Sands,” attacks the difficult social topic of spousal abuse in a very direct fashion. On Saturday evening this left the audience at the VIP Special Viewing  uncertain and uncomfortable in their response.

The movie begins by depicting ordinary everyday village life and then proceeds to demonstrate the effects of spousal abuse in very graphic form.  Members of the audience recognized themselves or close loved ones as perpetrators and/or victims  and they responded with nervous twitters at inappropriate times to intensely dramatic scenes. Director Djansi had succeeded to move her audience.

Djansi wrote the script and directed and produced the movie, shooting it all in Ghana with a predominantly Ghanaian cast and crew. Well known television personality, Ama K. Abebrese, and actor Jimmy Jean-Louis are in starring roles. This movie will inspire all Ghanaians who are interested in reviving the Ghanaian film industry – “Sinking Sands” demonstrates clearly that Ghana can produce a world class product. “Sinking Sands” premieres at the National Theatre this Saturday, November 13. Be sure that you are there.

 

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